What is a Goddess Pilgrimage and why are so many US, Canadian, and Australian women making pilgrimages to ancient holy places in Europe and Asia? The simple answer is that women are seeking to connect themselves to sources of female spiritual power that they do not find at home.
Traditionally pilgrims leave home in order to journey to a place associated with spiritual power. “Leaving home” means leaving familiar physical spaces, interrupting the routines of work and daily life, and leaving friends and family behind. For the pilgrim, “home” is a place that has provided both comfort and a degree of discomfort that provokes the desire to embark on a journey. The space of pilgrimage is a “liminal” or threshold space in which the supports systems of ordinary life are suspended, as Victor Turner said. A pilgrim chooses to leave the familiar behind in order to open herself to the unfamiliar—in hopes that she will return with new insight into the meaning of her life.
For feminist pilgrims, “home” inevitably involves the institutions of patriarchy that frequently intrude into personal relationships, structure the conditions of work, and deform the spirit. The feminist spiritual seeker desires to leave patriarchy behind. She sets off hoping to find a pre- or post- patriarchal world, a world in which female power is honored, and she is seeking the Goddess.
Because pilgrims generally leave home alone, it may seem surprising that Victor Turner named “communitas” as a central element in pilgrimage. In The Canterbury Tales, the pilgrims travelling together tell their stories. So too, on feminist spiritual pilgrimages, women tell stories. For some, the feminist community that emerges on the pilgrimage is the first they have known in which their stories, their questions, and the unspoken desires of their hearts are acknowledged. Even for those who have been part of feminist spiritual communities at home, a pilgrimage community is different. In the luminal space of the pilgrimage no one has to take a call from work or to leave early in order to tend to the needs of family members. Pilgrims have “set aside” time and space to focus on spiritual questions. They tell their stories to each other not to “pass the time” or to “fill in space,” but rather to search out the meaning of the story.
Place is an important aspect of pilgrimage. Pilgrims leave home, not only because they are seeking “something more,” but also because they think they know where they may find it. Shrines of saints are said to be places of extraordinary power. North American and Australian women have been cut off from their ancestral connections to sacred places, and do not yet have traditions that connect them to the sacrality of their adopted lands. They are drawn to places where others have experienced the sacred as female—sacred caves and mountaintops, Goddess temples, shrines of the Black Madonna. Visiting sacred places of the Goddess while inhabiting luminal space, in the company of like-minded women, feminist pilgrims open themselves to revelation. As they walk on ancient paths, climb into the womblike spaces of sacred caves, and set their offerings on ancient altars, a knowing that had been intellectual enters into the cells of their bodies. Some receive insights that come in a flash. For others, the meaning of the journey unfolds over time. Few are disappointed. She is there.
Carol P. Christ , a founding mother in the fields of women and religion and feminist theology, is currently on a Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete with 19 other women. The next tours are in spring and fall of 2013. Carol’s books include She Who Changes and Rebirth of the Goddess and the widely used anthologies Womanspirit Rising and Weaving the Visions.