I grew up Calvinist and Republican in a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri. My parents belonged to—but rarely attended—Immanuel Evangelical & Reformed Church in Ferguson, Missouri. When children reached the age of twelve, they were “confirmed” in the church, which meant taking a Bible class taught by the minister, Rev. Press, and then going through a ceremony that made them eligible to take communion, which in that church was grape juice and tasteless crackers. Transubstantiation? I learned what the word meant, but I had (and still have) no idea if it really happens.
I’ve always been one to ask untidy questions, so of course I asked a lot of questions in confirmation class. God tells us half a dozen times in the Old Testament, for example, that he is a “jealous god.” How, I asked Rev. Press, can a jealous god be a loving god? What’s good about a jealous god? (A couple decades later, when I was studying the Aramaic Bible as translated by George M. Lamsa from the Pshitta manuscripts, I learned that the correct word is “zealous.” That was no help. I still don’t see much good in either jealousy or zealotry.) A week or two later, I asked Rev. Press, “What’s good about Good Friday?” Shortly thereafter, my mother advised me to stop asking questions in confirmation class. (Can we assume she’d received a pastoral phone call?)
Flash forward a few decades to when I was writing Pagan Every Day, which the publisher mis-titled because it’s a daybook in which I wrote about holy days, holidays, and saints from many of the standard-brand religions—Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Baha’i, Zoroastrianism, and Islam—as well as pagan pantheons and holy days. (It’s also the book in which I declare Miss Piggy to be The Goddess Of Everything.) About that time, I somehow made friends via email with a member of the staff of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), which defines every word in the English language and gives both etymologies and chronological examples of usage from the day the word entered the language to the present. When the OED was still in print, it was twenty extremely thick volumes. I used to fantasize about having it on a shelf in my living room. English has the biggest vocabulary of any language on the planet, so now the OED has outgrown book form and is only on line.
When I needed a good definition for something I was writing, therefore, I’d send a note to my friend at the OED. She’d send me a link, and I’d print the definition. I learned a lot. The full definition of “god” in the OED printed out to eighteen pages. The word comes originally from the Old Teutonic guðo. Part of the definition of “god” is “a superhuman person (regarded as masculine) who is worshiped as having power over nature and the fortunes of mankind….” The chronological examples of how the word was and is used start with a quotation (alle godas) from an Old English psalter dated 825. In Old English, “god” was spelled godu, got, goð, and guð. The word “god” looks and sounds very much like the word “good,” which has been spelled gód, gode, godd, and goode.
The full definition of “goddess” is one page long. The first definition is “a female deity in polytheistic systems of religion.” Variant spellings, from about 1340 to about 1600, are goodesse, godesse, goddes, goddis, and goddace.
My friend at the OED and I had some interesting conversations. When I made a wisecrack about the comparative lengths of the two definitions, she replied that the OED’s creators (both men and women) gathered linguistic evidence. The disparity, she said, is not linguistic but social and historical. Yep. It’s more evidence of the social and historical pervasiveness of the patriarchy.
“Good Friday” first appeared in English in the 13th century. So here’s my theory about what’s good about Good Friday. Nothing. Nothing is good about a day that appears to celebrate—with appropriate solemnity, of course—the torture and death of a human being. Human sacrifice is not good. But pax, my friends. Peace. I think people just elided the words “god” and “good” and it’s really God’s Friday. We still substitute “good” for “god,” as in “for goodness sake” and OMG = Oh My Goodness, and we know of minced forms of oaths and ejaculations that have been common since Shakespeare’s time—“golly,” “gosh,” “gad,” “gog,” “ods” (as in “ods bodkins,” which means “God’s body”), even “cocks.”
As I wrote in Pagan Every Day, let us therefore make every day of the year a godu, got, goð, guð, goodesse, godesse, goddes, goddis, goddace day.
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.