Actually, it’s very hard to say what the Goddess is. She’s ineffable. She’s both abstract and concrete at the same time. She created the universe, but she also brings destruction to beings and things whose time has ended. Even as she is (perhaps) the earth embodied and is (perhaps) a sort of universal spirit of loving-kindness and is (perhaps) the powers of life, death, and rebirth, she is as global as the oxygen we must breathe to live.
I do my end-of-the-month spending tables and balance my checkbook and find that there’s enough for me to send donations to politicians and nonprofits I want to support, like the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. I write a couple checks, put stamps on the envelopes, and as I drop them in the mailbox, I say, “Thank you, Goddess.” Everybody who lives in Long Beach knows there is no place to park in the whole city. I rent a parking space in a driveway across the street. Thank you, Goddess. I have nice little chats with strangers in adjacent seats during the intermissions of Les Miserables and Spamalot. Thank you, Goddess. I’m breathing every day, I live with two friendly cats, I earn my living doing something I enjoy doing and that’s useful to the people I do it with. Thank you, Goddess.
Does the Goddess run my life? Not the way you may be thinking. Please don’t think I think the Goddess is a big fat woman wearing a crown and sitting on a big fat throne up in the sky and sending little goddessettes and superheros and superheras down to earth to chase editing clients to me, puff my lungs full of oxygen, and carefully arrange that I sit next to nice folks at the theater or find places to park when I need them. (I have a Magic Parking Place Word for that last item.) That’s not the Goddess. She’s not the Boss of the Universe, she doesn’t live “up there,” she doesn’t dictate how I should live my life.
Actually, it’s very hard to say what the Goddess is. She’s ineffable. She’s both abstract and concrete at the same time. She created the universe, but she also brings destruction to beings and things whose time has ended. Even as she is (perhaps) the earth embodied and is (perhaps) a sort of universal spirit of loving-kindness and is (perhaps) the powers of life, death, and rebirth, she is as global as the oxygen we must breathe to live. In many of the oldest creation stories, it was she who created the universe. We know she’s older than the gods. She was already there when the gods arrived. Lucia Chiavola Birnbaum, author of dark mother, tells us that people walked out of Africa more than 70,000 years ago carrying the earliest goddesses, their dark mothers, with them. They walked north along the eastern end of the Mediterranean. Some of them turned right and went into Asia, thence to the Americas. Others continued north, then turned left and populated Europe. (Please note that it’s been established that it was only about 4,000 years ago that Abraham lived and met his god. That’s a comparatively recent event.) The Goddess is therefore both one Great Goddess and a pantheon of individual goddesses claimed and named by cultures throughout history and around the world. She is Isis, Astarte, Diana, Hecate, Demeter, Kali, and Inanna (Deena Metzger’s Goddess Chant) and many more. One thing she is not is the standard-brand god wearing a skirt.
You know what’s majorly cool about being a pagan? We have neither pope nor popess. We have no received doctrine, no orthodoxy, no creed or confession. We are liberals and conservatives, we’re theists and deists and atheists, we’re pantheists and panentheists and monotheists. Some of us are fluff bunnies and newbies working up our learning curves. I guess more than anything else, we are rebels (moi?) against the dictates of, well, anyone who would dictate what we should believe. We like to think for ourselves and—guess what—we also argue a lot among ourselves. But most of us agree that before the standard-brand gods and also before the old gods there was the Great Mother, who was and is the creator of stars and black holes and human beings. (But probably not fleas or brussels sprouts or long division.)
Who is the Goddess? Perhaps you’ll find an answer in the following passage from Chapter 22 of Secret Lives. The women have just survived a horrific attack that left them weak and wounded, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. They’re trying to figure out why the Goddess let that happen to them.
“Worshipping the Goddess, living a life ruled by Her,”Cairo’s voice was flat and controlled, “is not, as they say, all beer and skittles. It can be very hard work. It’s not all dancing and chanting. Not just doing pretty meditations and making pretty little goodies to put on our altars. Not just sitting in a comfy circle with pretty flowers and shiny crystals.”
Some of the women nodded.
“It’s dealing with the world as it is,” the novelist continued, “and the world’s a bloody mess. No, girls, don’t worry. This isn’t going to be one of my famous anti-patriarchal harangues. I’m merely making a point.” They waited. “Like the bumper sticker says, shit happens. We know white light isn’t the solution. It doesn’t help anyone to blame the victim, either, to say they brought whatever it is into their lives. Sometimes you just gotta fight back. Women went for five thousand years without fighting back, and look where it got us.” She paused for breath.
“If you choose to make it so,” Margaretta said, “worshipping Her is a life commitment, with all of life’s ups and downs.”
“And there’s plenty of ups and downs,” Sophie said.
“However much we will it to be so,” saidCairo, “it’s not all just peace and love. There is no instant nirvana. In spite of what some of those famous authors tell us, it just doesn’t work that way.”
“Worshipping the Goddess doesn’t automatically solve every problem you have,” Julia said.
“Well,” said Maude, “there is something else. Nobody’s used the word yet, so I will. And you must hear this. A life rooted in the Goddess is a life rooted in the web of the universe, and that web is made of consciousness. It’s made of love.”
“And,” said Margaretta, takingCairo’s hand, “it’s not the spiritual, bloodless, bodiless, abstract love invented by the patriarchs my girl friend here loves to rail against. It’s bloody love. Earthy love. Connective love. Love as tears and sweat.”
“And also,” said Herta, “it’s the pure energy and the strong will that weave the energies of the universe together. It’s the glue that holds it all together. That holds us together.”
So why do I say, “Thank you, Goddess” every day? Do I say it only when something good happens, like when I get a Facebook note or a Tweet that someone has purchased or is reading Secret Lives? No. I also thank her for the lessons I get, and sometimes they’re hard ones, as when I was once homeless for a month. I say, “Thank you, Goddess” because I am grateful to be alive, to have words, to be able to write, to be able to live the kind of life I want to live. Thank you, Goddess.
Barbara Ardinger, Ph.D. (www.barbaraardinger.com), is a published author and freelance editor. Her newest book is Secret Lives, a novel about grandmothers who do magic. Her earlier nonfiction books include the daybook Pagan Every Day, Finding New Goddesses (a pun-filled parody of goddess encyclopedias), and Goddess Meditations. When she can get away from the computer, she goes to the theater as often as possible—she loves musical theater and movies in which people sing and dance. She is also an active CERT (Community Emergency Rescue Team) volunteer and a member (and occasional secretary pro-tem) of a neighborhood organization that focuses on code enforcement and safety for citizens. She has been an AIDS emotional support volunteer and a literacy volunteer. She is an active member of the neopagan community and is well known for the rituals she creates and leads.