Why a Goddess Pilgrimage? by Carol P. Christ


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

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Categories: Feminist Awakenings, General, Goddess, Goddess Movement, Goddess Spirituality, Herstory, Sisterhood, Spiritual Journey

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13 replies

  1. Yes, I want to go on a Goddess pilgrimage! I always wondered why there are no Goddess pilgrimages in North America. I believe the Goddess is accessible to all women but especially the poor, those who cannot afford Europe. How do/can we accomplish these pilgrimages with the poor women of North America?

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    • What a great question!! Some possible places that come to my mind are the serpent mound in southern Ohio, since serpents are sacred to the Goddess, and the stone circle in New Hampshire known popularly as “America’s Stonehenge”–it seems likely that female divinity was part of the belief system of those people. I have also felt Goddess power on the site of the ancient Native village in St. Augustine, Florida where people lived in presumably matriarchal societies for 4000 years before the Europeans arrived, and at the sacred spring there that the Europeans called the fountain of youth. I haven’t yet been to Seneca Falls, but I know there must be goddess energy in a place that empowered so many generations of women to come. Also, the Salem Witch Museum in Salem, Massachusetts has a very well done and inspiring display on Wicca, the most recognized and organized Goddess worshipping religion. I hope others will share their ideas, caren, because I agree it is high time we found and/or created goddess sites on this continent! I am currently working to build a spiral monument in Portland, Maine that I hope will serve someday as a pilgrimage spot for those seeking an experience of the Goddess in New England. Cheers, Annie

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    • I don’t know what the terrain is like where you live, but personally, I find the Goddess most clearly and cleanly in the woods behind my own house! Perhaps there is a natural area close to your home to which you might pilgrimage on a regular basis? I read a book this year in which the author (I forget the book/author) was pointing out how many involved with Goddess spirituality have an interest in Greek/Roman/Asian/Egyptian goddesses and perhaps it might more sense to explore the goddesses of your own time/place (I.e. if you live in the U.S., explore the traditions, cultures, beliefs, of the original people’s of *that* area and make a spiritual connection domestically, rather than thinking you need to travel or to connect to a Goddess from halfway across the world!

      Please note I’m not saying that a Goddess pilgrimage to an international location isn’t a good idea–I’m sure it is amazing and transformative and significant! What I’m suggesting is that maybe it isn’t the only avenue available to you!

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    • We can find our own sacred places in every land. In Laughter of Aphrodite I describe a spring ritual to Demeter and Persephone in Alum Rock Park in San Jose. It was set there because I hiked the trail regularly. We need to be respectful of Native American wishes for their sacred sites, which often are, please don’t come there if you are not Native American. There is a issue of appropriation that we who are not Native American need to respect. That said, my teacher Carol Lee Sanchez said that non Natives can and should learn from Native American philosophies to view the earth as sacred. We don’t need to visit the places they found to be sacred without invitation, but we can find other sacred places in the American land and create our rituals in those places. The whole earth is holy, after all.

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  2. There is nothing more valuable than the transformational experience of pilgrimage.

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  3. What a beautiful post, Carol. Having had the deep joy of visiting one of your pilgrimages to share my poetry and travelling for a while with your group on Lesbos, I can attest that a goddess pilgrimage with you is without doubt a life changing experience! Blessings on you and your current and future pilgrims.

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  4. Reblogged this on Journeying to the Goddess and commented:
    This is on my Bucket List :) “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.” Carol P. Christ

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  5. Many First Nations peoples honour earth as Mother. Perhaps we need to build partnerships with aboriginal sisters to be shown the sacred Mother places in North America. In Terra Mandala Meditation Garden, we honour “The Great Mother” at a rock formation in which she appears to be lying down, resting. She has a giant vulva and her womb is full of mint. Nearby an ancient snake petroform draws the linkage between women’s fertility, healing and serpents – even here in North America. See
    http://www.terramandala.ca/garden2.htm

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    • What a beautiful spot! I hope to go there someday and I completely agree with your thought about building partnerships with women of the First Nations to work on honoring those sacred places here. I wonder if there is an existing site or blog where such conversations are already happening…

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  6. The annual Kwan Yin festival for peace and healing will be held in the village of Lytton B.C. Canada on Sunday June 22 on the site of the joss house dedicated to Her that stood in Lytton !880 – 1928.

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  7. Link to YouTube video of Kwan Yin ceremony in Lytton, B.C. on June 22, 2014:

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  8. This is a photo of the 150 year old statue of Kwan Yin that is being donated to the restored joss house in Lytton B.C. Canada:

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  9. Lytton Chinese History Museum
    Opened May 2017
    http://www.lyttonchinesehistorymuseum.com/

    Includes a Kwan Yin shrine where incense may be offered and prayers made.

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