“THE OLD RELIGION” OR A “NEW CREATIVE SYNTHESIS”? by Carol P. Christ


carol christIs Goddess feminism an old religion or a new creative synthesis? Can it be both?  Goddess feminism draws on the feminist affirmation of women’s experiences, women’s bodies, and women’s connection to nature; the feminist critique of transcendent male monotheism as the symbolic expression of male domination of women and nature; and 19th and early 20th century discussions of Goddesses and matriarchy.

Most Goddess and other spiritual feminists have experienced Wiccan rituals, which are often simply called Goddess rituals.  For many of us, elements of Wiccan practice strike a chord of knowing, while other aspects seem odd or strange or even just plain weird.  What are the roots of Wiccan ritual?

In their syntheses of women’s experiences, ancient Goddess religions, and feminism, Z Budapest and Starhawk drew upon the earlier creative synthesis of the Englishman Gerald Gardner which he variously called “the Old Religion,” “Witchcraft,” and “Wicca.”

Gerald_Gardner,_WitchGerald Gardner (1884-1964) in his books books, Witchcraft Today (1954) and The Meaning of Witchcraft (1959), claimed to have learned “the Craft” from a witch in the New Forest of England who inherited her knowledge from “ancient” traditions passed down in folk practices and rituals kept secret because of the witch persecutions of the early modern era in Europe.

Gardner’s books were known to Budapest and Starhawk.  Starhawk was initiated into the “Faery Tradition,” which was influenced by Gardnerian Witchcraft. Both accepted Gardner’s depiction of “the Old Religion” and his reconstruction of “Wicca” at face value, speaking in authoritative tones of “our tradition,” “Wicca,” and “Witchcraft” as having roots in the deep past.

Gardner’s notion of Wiccan High Holy Days set on the Equinoxes, Solstices, and “Cross-Quarter Days” in between has been adopted into feminist Goddess practice without question. In fact, festival days in agricultural religions are tied to the seasons, but not necessarily to specific positions of the sun. Gardner’s designation of the practice of “magic” as the mark of a “witch” was accepted as the defining element of the Old Religion. Many of those influenced by Budapest and Starhawk (or by other followers of Wiccan traditions) are not aware that what is presented as “tradition” is in many respects the creation of Gerald Gardner.

In fact, as deconstructionist historian Ronald Hutton has shown in The Triumph of the Moon, Gardner cobbled together his version of “the Old Religion” from his wide knowledge of the alchemical and magical tradition as passed down in the rituals of the Golden Dawn, the Rosicrucians, and the Masons; his study of folk religion in England and its colonies; his own interests in naturism and nudism; and 19th and 20th century reconstructions of ancient Goddess religion.

Many feminist Wiccans assume that practicing “skyclad” (without clothes) is a necessary part of “the Old Religion,” when in fact the “tradition” of nudism in Wiccan practice derives from Gardner’s reaction against Victorian sexual repression. Neither Victorian nor post-Victorian, priestesses in ancient Crete exposed their breasts but wore elaborate long skirts and aprons that covered their lower bodies and genital areas, while priestesses in ancient Greece wore flowing robes that covered all of their sacred parts.

Feminist Goddess worshippers (myself included at one point) follow Starhawk in calling upon the “Guardians of the Watchtowers” of the East, West, North, and South without recognizing that this ritual phrase derives from the western alchemical tradition and not from ancient Goddess religions.  Similarly feminists use athames (ritual knives) to draw pentagrams (5 pointed stars) without knowing that these symbols are more prevalent in magical traditions than in ancient Goddess religions.

Starhawk presents magic, which she defines as “the art of changing consciousness at will”as the meaning and purpose of ritual.  Z touts magic in the form of spells as an essential feature of feminist witchcraft.  My focus is different. I would argue that the meaning and purpose of ritual is the community’s acknowledgement of its participation in the cycles of birth, death, and regeneration in all of nature. One could argue that such participation changes consciousness, and this would be true.  However, I would argue that the purpose of ritual is to align the community with a power or powers greater than that of any individual. In other words ritual is not about me, not about achieving my will, and not about getting what I want through magic spells.

To recognize that Gardner created Wicca from a variety of sources is not to devalue his achievement. In his book Creative Synthesis and Philosophical Method, philosopher Charles Hartshorne defines the creative process not as creation from nothing, but as “creative synthesis” in which previously existing elements are combined in a new way. Looked at from this perspective, Gerald Gardner’s creation of Wicca was a highly successful new creative synthesis, which spoke to and continues to speak to many.

The fact that Gardner said he discovered rather than created Wicca can be understood as a partial truth. For all of us who have discovered the Goddess and religions that celebrate the human connection to rather than separation from nature, there is a strong element of rediscovery of ancient truth. However, the fact that Gardner spoke authoritatively of all aspects of “Wiccan tradition” as having been inherited from the past can now be understood as false. Whether he deceived himself before he deceived others on this matter may never be known.

z budapeststarhawk 2Similarly Z Budapest and Starhawk should be understood as having produced new creative syntheses of feminism and Witchcraft that have spoken to hundreds of thousands of women–and in the case of Starhawk to men as well. I do not believe that they understood the degree to which Gardner created–rather than transmitted—Wiccan tradition when they spoke of its roots in the deep past. The truth in their statements has to do not with the details of Wiccan practice, but rather with the deeper truth that there was a time when female power and female wisdom were symbolized by the Goddess.  One of the key elements in their new creative syntheses is their insistence that women can be our own spiritual authorities and that we can and must end patriarchy.

Now that we know that Wicca was Gardner’s creative synthesis and not a simple inheritance from the past, we are free to pick and choose which elements of his synthesis we wish to affirm and which we wish to reject as we continue the process of co-creating a new creative synthesis which is a Goddess religion for our time that affirms the full equality of women and the human connection to the powers of birth, death, and regeneration in all of nature.  My suggestion would be to pay less attention to magic and more to the earth and all our relatives in the web of life.

Carol P. Christ has just returned from the spring Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete which she leads through Ariadne Institute.   Space available on the fall tour.  Carol can be heard in a recent interviews on Goddess Alive Radio and Voices of Women.  Carol is a founding voice in feminism and religion and Goddess spirituality. Her books include She Who Changes and Rebirth of the Goddess and the widely-used anthologies Womanspirit Rising and Weaving the Visions.  Follow Carol on GoddessCrete on Twitter.

 

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Categories: Feminism and Religion, General, Goddess, Goddess Movement, Goddess Spirituality, Herstory, Paganism

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44 replies

  1. Dear Carol, I do agree. When I began to re-invent the Sacred Wheel in Britain, which is not the same as the Wiccan Wheel, I was harassed in many places because people thought the Wiccan Wheel was a fixed and ancient Wheel and no-one should tamper with it. In my book ‘Spinning the Wheel of Ana’, I tried to go back to first principles of nature, legend, and tradition, and a new Wheel formed itself with British Goddesses being honoured at the different festivals of the year and the elements being located in different directions to the Wiccan Wheel. We have now worked in ceremony with this Wheel for 20 years and it is a powerful Circle for invoking the indigenous British Goddesses. We train our overseas priestess students to seek out the indigenous Goddesses in their homelands and to recreate their own Wheels. All my later books are based on working with Britannia or Brigit-Ana’s Wheel. (We have reclaimed Britannia as a nature Goddess).
    I really enjoy reading your articles! with blessigns Kathy

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    • Love that.

      One of the things that always bothered me about the Wiccan wheel is that the God is the one who undergoes the journey of the year. Yes the Goddess is the ground of the journey, but it smacks too much of essentialist Jungianism or Campbellism for me.

      I also do not find the sacrifice of the son-lover of the Goddess to be an “essential” theme in the ancient Goddess religion or one I want to reinstate. “The king must die” was popularized by Robert Graves and he is often quoted on this without checking his sources. There is no compelling evidence that I know of for human sacrifice in pre-patriarchal societies; in patriarchal societies there is no compunction about sacrificing soldiers and their victims in the interests of conquest. Some patriarchal war societies may also have practiced ritual human sacrifice, though there is little evidence that such practices were widespread even in patriarchy.

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      • I think the idea of human and animal sacrifice only comes in with patriarchy. Life is too precious. In agreeing with some of your email – I got carried away – I do not in anyway want to be seen to criticise Starhawk or Zsuzsanna Budapest whose work in bringing Goddess back into our awareness I deeply admire and support. As you can see I am a Goddess-loving woman with blessings Kathy

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      • I love them too.

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      • Some Dianic Wiccans — for e.g. the Reformed Congregation of the Goddess — practice the Wheel of the Year only with Goddesses, so it is the Goddess who undergoes the journey.

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  2. I highly recommend Sabina Magliocco’s book Witching Culture: Folklore and Neo-Paganism in America (2004). “The art of magic allows our imaginations to transcend the boundaries of blood and geography, to experience, at least in part, other cultures and time periods and feel empathy with other living beings” (p. 237).

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    • I am all for empathy with other living beings, but I am not sure it requires transcending anything or magic to feel such empathy. I felt it as a child as do most children, and I never let them (university professors especially) convince me that such empathy was misplaced.

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  3. Thanks Carol! More attention to the web of life is right on! Our planet is dying. The first thing we need to do is switch over to electric cars. In NYC, currently, all buses and more and more cabs are now electric. The laws against dumping stuff in the air are strict. Meanwhile trees have been planted on both sides of the streets throughout the city, creating abundant canopies, and thus happily with a variety of birds arriving. Every city in the world should be doing the same thing!

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    • P.S. Starhawk’s brave title, DREAMING THE DARK, broke through into mysticism, magic, psychic perception, and all forms of the occult for feminists, Certainly, for this femiinist. She was for a time a miracle worker for me so that intellectually I ceased to be afraid of the intuitve or the illogical response vs. science and reason.

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  4. Brava! Thanks for writing this and explaining what too few of us know–that Gardner made a lot of it up. It’s also true that Wicca–especially the Gardnerian and Alexandrian–brands can be patriarchal, with a High Priest (they capitalize the words) who tends to dominate the High Priestess even as he “uses” her to “draw down the moon.” I once knew a High Priest who always made sure his High Priestesses were younger and less educated than he was. I also know someone who says that her “ancient” tradition goes back to ancient Greece and that the Dianics–a tradition (the word roughly equates to “denomination” as the Protestant churches use the word) actually created by Z.–goes back to the days in Rome when some members of her “ancient tradition” decided they wanted to worship Diana. I also once edited a children’s book about the birth of Jesus in which a witch named Magda lived in the Roman colony of Judea. Not remotely possible. And I once edited a book for a preacher in Georgia who went to my website, found out more about me, and demanded that his publisher (whose books I’d edited) take everything I’d done out of his book because I had “put the devil in it.” Ahhh, yes. Modern life is interesting if you call yourself a witch or a pagan.

    Me, I think ritual is largely theater, but it’s worshipful theater. Newbies tend to bring lots of New Age elements to Wicca and witchcraft. Many witches I know call themselves eclectic. That’s probably the best description. We’re also trying to bring honor back to the word “witch” and show that she is a wise woman. And except for Elphaba we don’t have green skin.

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    • As you know (of course, hee hee) the drama arose from ritual. So yes ritual has theatrical elements, but I would say that the purpose of ritual is worshiping, praising, thanking, blessing, the Source of Life, and acknowledging our participation in the web of life. Part of the way we express and evoke these feelings in ourselves is through theater. However, when there is more watching other actors than acting on the part of all participants, I am less happy.

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  5. I can’t speak for Starhawk, but my reading of her books over the years gives me the impression that she is quite aware (or became so) that Gerald Gardner invented much of modern Wiccan “tradition.” My early completely spontaneous encounter with the Goddess (through life experience, not books) led me to discover Starhawk’s work. My experience of ritual with Starhawk very much resonates with your definition of ritual as “the community’s acknowledgement of its participation in the cycles of birth, death, and regeneration in all of nature.” I am grateful to Starhawk for teaching me (and many) how to create a safe and trustworthy ritual container that allows for spontaneity and mystery, collective and personal transformation. She encouraged us to be rooted in our own place and see what elements we found in the directions rather than clinging to what Gardner or anyone else called tradition. I never used words like guardian or watchtower in the 18 years I helped facilitate rituals at The Center at High Valley. We drummed, danced, sang, and ecstatically embodied the elements that are the source of all life on this earth. The purpose of our rituals was not to work our will, but to renew ourselves and regain our perspective, find our way and our place again in the whole of creation and to strengthen our commitment to play our own parts, however small, in restoring justice and balance.

    Thank you for the reminder that we don’t need to be fundamentalists or literalistic in any way. We can do historical research, find inspiration and instruction from the past, as we respond to our own present conditions and claim our own authority.

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  6. I believe also in eco-spirituality, the idea that safeguarding the environment itself is a form of worship.

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  7. I think there is a distinct difference and lineage between Wicca and feminist spirituality (or Goddess feminism), though they may share some elements and in some senses co-evolved.

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    • Oops, I didn’t finished. Meaning, growing up in an agnostic household as a kid and then as a young adult in the world, I wanted “something else” and was intuitively connected to earth-based paths, but could not connect with the “measured pageantry” of Wicca. It took me a lot more years and coming through Unitarian Universalism to discover Goddess-oriented feminist spirituality, which, perhaps having some overlaps with Wicca and paganism, had a distinctly different quality and flavor to it that led me to know that this was IT for me. :)

      (This includes your books, Carol!)

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      • I too like to keep things simple, and I prefer to be out of doors in nature. I do think there is a place for large group celebrations and am grateful to Star and Z and others or putting them on, although they don’t appeal as much to me as smaller group rituals.

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      • I did some research about the origins of feminist spirituality and Wicca, and I discovered that feminist spirituality had its roots in Wicca as it was passed on by Z. and Starhawk. It changed over time, but the roots were in feminist Wicca.

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      • I would add that in addition to roots in Wicca feminist spirituality also had roots in women’s experiences of celebration in nature–see WomanSpirit magazine, and of course in women moving toward God the Mother and God She out of Biblical religions without the addition of Wicca. The roots therefore are not only in Wicca. But as Z and Star published early, the Wiccan themes have had a wide impact.

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  8. When I first became aware of women’s spirituality, the main thing that drew me to it was the connection between the sacred feminine and Gaia – the Great Mother of All. I had had no concept of the “sacred feminine” before, and I had never known that there was another way to conceptualize the sacred except as “transcendent.” The idea of “immanence” made perfect sense to me, and I loved the way women’s spirituality focused on the CONNECTION of all living things, rather than the Biblical “God gave man DOMINION OVER the creatures of the earth.” It is absolutely critical for humans to move away from “dominion over” to “partnership with,” as Riane Eisler has proclaimed. It is time for Sharing and Stewardship, rather than Competition and Control.

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  9. Thank you for your post. Your inquiry is crucial and context is such a valuable offering. I’m glad I happened upon it now as I’ve recently become very interested in Goddess religions due to a poem coming through me in Her voice, (surprise!) denouncing patriarchy for the sake of life on Earth and calling for a creative synthesis that honors both the divine male and female. Here’s a link to it in case you’re interested.

    http://emergeinnerlifecoaching.com/2014/05/20/ode-to-god/

    With regard to what this creative synthesis might look like practically, I like the idea of meaningful, self-created ceremony (mentioned by Kathy Jones) and of “eco-spirituality, the idea that safeguarding the environment is a form of worship,” (mentioned by Meg.) Those ideas together make incredible sense to me, mean that instead of worshiping the Earth/Goddess and/or the Sun/God, we worship Life on Earth – not the creators and but the creation.

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    • I do sense a power greater than the creation which I wish to honor . As I have written on this blog, one of my favorite ritual songs is “As we bless the Source of Life, so we are blessed.”

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  10. So good to have this background as I have not studied goddess religions, or Wicca although I have a friend who practices Wicca. What you say about the origins and the fact that Wicca is a recent development unleashes the ability to be creative and invent or rework certain rituals to fit one’s own worship. I think once we free ourselves from rigid doctrinal dogma, true spirituality releases itself and it can be a very healing moment. Touching the sacred is a creative act and one that more people need to understand and feel free enough to create with our Creator whoever that might be for us. This is a great post. The Goddess is alive and well and thriving in us!!

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    • Yes, when ideas and rituals are introduced with phrases like “our tradition teaches” or “in our tradition” and so forth, some will hear “rigid doctrinal dogma” irrespective of whether or not the speaker or writer meant it that way. I think these phrases are used to “give weight” to what is being said, which itself may be a bit of a deception if it is not made clear what comes from “the past” and what is relatively new. In the feminist practice of Wicca, as I said, women are also encouraged to be our own authorities, which the opposite of following rigid doctrinal dogma–which opens everything up again.

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  11. Carol, I have recently been contemplating the same ideas as what you postulate in your article. It is as if I was reading your mind! Thank you for stating the above so eloquently. I enjoy the pageantry of ritual occasionally but as an ongoing process, I find the authenticity of being in small women’s circles more authentic, less political and the integrity of community magikal vs magical. Thank you. Jayne 4 http://www.womensheritageproject.ning.com

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  12. Excellent post and discussion! As I understand it, Starhawk’s spiritual practice is absolutely dedicated to ecofeminism, environmentalism, and earth healing. She truly forged her own path and opened up a path for others to follow.

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  13. I hope my criticism of some aspects of Wiccan tradition that were carried forward by Z and Starhawk will not be read as a criticism of their enormous contributions to women’s spirituality and Goddess feminism. We would not be where we are today without them.

    I suspect we are witnessing here the difficulty we as women (myself included) have in making a distinction between not agreeing with everything another woman says and not respecting her overall contributions. My friend Judith Plaskow and I are working on these very issues as we air our differences on the nature of God and Goddess in the new book we are writing together.

    If my blog is critical, it is to bring forward issues that I think need more open discussion–not to discredit the overall work of two of our brave and in many ways wonderful foremothers!

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  14. thanks for this article. I agree and I have been thinking about the whole synthesis thing lately…I think I am pagan/wiccan/a witch because this religion is an opportunity to study the past (as well as we can based on what is left to us) and build the future with only the practices, ethics, and beliefs that we see as best. I really like your last line about paying more attention to the web of creation, especially at this crucial time of environmental instability. as a vegan pagan, I seek to learn from the past but also build toward the future, and account for my actions toward both human and non-human creation when I consider magic, ethics, daily practices, and the “rule of three.”

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  15. Hello, Carol! I could not agree more.

    I have read a sort of a popular history book on Western Magic and I could see how much of modern Witchcraft and also Dianic Wicca comes from Western alchemical and esoteric tradition (with its roots in Catholic and male cultures). I am eager to share the Goddess wisdom and call with my friends back in Russia, for instance. However, I was doubtful about sharing with them the more esoteric practices originating from the male secret societies. Now I am completely certain that when I am in Russia and we put a Goddess ritual together, it will not involve the four direction, for example, nor the circle (at least not in the most common understanding in modern Wicca).

    And I can confirm that in Russian pagan culture, which is obviously rich and also very resilient, with many holidays being celebrated even today, there are many seasonal holidays, but they are all celebrated strictly dependant on actual climatic seasons in every given region, with the exception of Summer and Winter Solstices, both of which are very important festivals.

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    • Yes, this is exactly what I was getting at in my essay. Living in a culture (rural Greece) that still has deep ties to pagan traditions through Orthodox rural churches and celebrations not tied to the big church in towns, I have found aspects of paganism that seem more real to me than as you put it traditions originating in male secret societies. These include walking together (procession, pilgrimage) to shrines in the countryside, sharing food, singing, and dancing. In Crete our rituals are in sacred places in the landscape (these are everywhere), and we too do not call down the directions or create a closed circle, nor do we use ritual knives, or raise a cone of energy in the way I used to do it with nonverbal chanting. We do create altars, pour libations, sing, and in the rituals, move and perform ritual acts one by one as well as together. In Greece the summer harvest festival is on August 15, the Dormition of the Panagia, bonfires are lit on the 23rd of June for St John, and Christmas is on the 25th. I don’t think this is because the rural Greeks got the dates wrong or because the Church did, but rather reflects the fact that the times of these rituals were based on feelings in the body and the agricultural cycle which varies with location, not on a strict solar calendar.

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    • Oxana —

      If you research a little deeper, you will find that many indigenous traditions have four directions in their practices. So you certainly could retain them, but as Starhawk always admonished, base them on north, south, east, and west as experienced in Russia or in Russian indigenous traditions.

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  16. Earlier this week, I had a conversation with a young woman here where I am waiting for my daughter to deliver her baby and I found myself explaining how humans make religions as a response to the sacred, the Ultimate, but we are not locked into human constructions even when we wish to relate to the sacred.

    It came up that, for example p, the divide between religion and spirituality is a recent phenomenon and a century ago, no one made that distinction or considered it so significant. Thus, I said to her, I find the history of human responses to the sacred so fascinating and like to learn about them.

    You have provided an excellent example of just that process. How to both hold the Ultimate sacred, while relinquishing the binds put by humans over how It is perceived and experienced.

    Sure, the sacred spirit flows freely and always has, but we, we are it’s medium, so the present, the past and the future are in our hands and hearts, and we should never fear this revelation of other processes.

    Thank you

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  17. Great article, Carol. I think you’re right that many people have been unaware of Gerald Gardner’s role in creating modern Wicca. And I think when Hutton first published _Triumph of the Moon_ fifteen years ago, it caused quite a bit of consternation in the intellectual Wiccan community. In fact, I remember one of my friends calling and asking if I believed Gardner made it all up out of whole cloth. I told her that for me it didn’t matter whether or not Wicca was a new or an old religion, because in its feminist version it had always been a home-coming for me — to the Earth and Her seasons, to women’s experiences and our passages, and to each other as our feminist community.

    We’ve all changed over the last 40 years (for me it was 1976 when I first discovered Goddess Spirituality). Some of us have become more rigid (you indicate this with your description of people talking about their “traditions”), and some of us more flexible. Starhawk is certainly among the latter category. Even when I first met her in 1982, she no longer used “Guardians of the Watchtowers” in ritual and urged us all to rename the full moons according to the experience of those times in our part of the country. But she continues to celebrate the equinoxes, solstices, and dates halfway between, because they have a historical precedent in the Celtic tradition (maybe even further back — If you go to Newgrange, there is a 5,000-year old temple that is illuminated on the winter solstice, plus two other so-called “passage tombs” that are illuminated on the equinoxes and the summer solstice). If you read Hutton’s previous book _Stations of the Sun_, you can see that in Britain there are still remnants of pre-Christian practices that hark back to these Celtic roots, part of what Gardner was working with when he created Wicca.

    I have one small quibble with your essay. You write, “However, I would argue that the purpose of ritual is to align the community with a power or powers greater than that of any individual. In other words ritual is not about me, not about achieving my will, and not about getting what I want through magic spells.” I agree with this statement in large part and believe it is a good antidote to the individualistic nature of our culture. But I sense a bias against petitionary ritual in your statement. In contrast (perhaps) to your understanding of ritual, I find that ritual can align me with powers greater than myself in order to celebrate the seasons, commemorate a happening, or access intuition, inspiration or creativity. But it is also a space where I can align myself with the Goddess in order to heal, mourn, activate myself towards a goal, begin a new project auspiciously, transform a situation, or encourage personal growth.

    These last purposes are about me and my life as an individual. In a general sense, I would call them petitionary, i.e. I’m asking for divine help and support. Lately, I’ve been asking for healing, but soon I’ll start asking for help in getting my book published (Any human help out there in FAR-land?). Susan Starr Sered, in her groundbreaking study _Priestess, Mother, Sacred Sister: Religions Dominated by Women_, shows that religions dominated by women are this-worldly in their orientation. These religions emphasize life in the here-and-now, relationships between people, and solving concrete problems. The goal is to enhance the lives of the women who participate. I believe the world will be a better place if women’s lives — including mine — are enhanced, so I have no problem with petitionary ritual.

    The term “magic spell” is also problematic for me. When I first began practicing Wicca, I never performed any spells. Even the term implied some sort of manipulation to me. But I realized after a number of years that spells are just mini-rituals. They have the same goal as ritual, namely focussing energy towards a particular goal, whether it’s healing the planet or healing myself. For me, they both involve aligning my conscious will with my unconscious and with the energies of the situation on which the ritual is focussed and, of course, with the Goddess (or a particular goddess).

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    • I love your thoughtful responses. It is nice to have someone really read what I am saying in my blogs not only read but digest and responded to from the depths of experience and mind.

      As you say we agree on many things. I am not opposed to pettions. I make them in times of need and in general in rural shrine churches — of all places.

      What I was referring to was a tendency sometimes to focus on the psychology the seasons so that you could get the sense that “the darkness in my life” and “my rebirth to the light” is the “main point” while I now see that the main point is not my individual ego and my individual problems. I do however believe that “the Goddess” also cares about individuals though even She cannot “make” things turn out the way the petitioner wants them too.

      What I object to in spells (if I do, in any case I don’t practice them any more) is the illusion that I can get what I want–through spells. I experienced great disappointment there. Also the western alchemical and magic tradition in general is more about shaping reality–think about turning a rock into gold, than about being part of reality. All of that seems too mental to me, too focused on the will of the individual or group, and too exhausting.

      I do work to achieve my will too, in the Green Party, in my writing, etc, and in ritual in the larger sense of attuning myself and others to the interdependence of life, and the love that undergirds our world.

      xxx

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  18. Very helpful, Carol. Thanks, MEH

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  19. Carol, Nearly 30 (shocking!) years ago I was part of the Aegean Women’s Studies tour. We stayed mostly on Molivos. You might remember me as a fat woman who wrote poetry and sometimes wore a gold lame’ Caftan. Now my son, who was then a toddler, is 33. I am a member of the Red Oak Coven of the Red Grail Tradition, in my home town of Lincoln, NE. We are updating our student readings, and would like to add your essay. I can assure you that only a couple dozen copies will ever be printed out, and no money will be involved. Of course, if you would like a fee, let me know.

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  20. It’s important to understand that in the very early 70s, feminist women began forging our own spiritual path grounded in reverence for Earth, life, and Nature. It was not just “Wicca,” a term that has always annoyed me because it is based on the masculine form of “witch,” and a relatively disused one at that. When i began searching for authentic European roots (in pagan tradition) i discovered Gardner and the various Wiccan offshoots such as the Farrars. I was very quickly turned off by the pomposity of invoking “watchtowers” and the deeply heterosexual bent of Wiccan ritual of that time. I soon found that this stuff was rooted in ceremonial magic of elite men (many of them clerics drawing on Jewish ceremonial magic). However, Doreen Valiente stood head and shoulders above Gardner, with his fake archaic English liturgies; it was she who penned the Charge of the Witches (reputedly on a napkin in a pub) which I still regard as inspired. Here’s a key point that i see getting lost: the women i knew identified ourselves as *witches*, not as “Wiccans,” and this meant something different to us. It was a reclamation of our birth right (one denied us by compulsory christianity and its disenfranchisement of women) and we saw ourselves as finding our way back. For many of us, this was not about spells but recovering the shamanic dimension of the witch, defined as a wisewoman, seeress, healer, enchantress. I personally rarely use the word “magic”, but i understand many women to be using this word to mean entering into profound states of consciousness in which aspects of reality can be shifted and transformation occur. Forget “hexes” and that mess. It’s about sitting out (utiseta as the Norse völur called it) on the land, seeking vision, tasting and invoking the Divine, gazing at the movement of wind in the trees, the rushing waters; sacred incantation and movement. Thank you for mentioning Womanspirit magazine, which was one manifestation of this current, growing out of the women’s land movement. Women created circles in many parts of the country, before the coalescence of Z’s feminist Wicca and Starhawk’s Reclaiming. I would not like to see this part get lost, or flattened out.

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  21. I see the Red Tent Movement as another step in the evolution of this creative synthesis that is feminist spirituality today. Its growth feels so organic to me and balances a lot of what is being discussed here- exploring & understanding herstory, creating organic ecstatic ritual, encouraging the continued growth of “power with” in a group setting. In many ways it seems to me like the next chapter or a powerful re-emergence of the women created circles of the 70s- not better or worse than, just how those concepts are growing & manifesting through another generation of women in some parts of the world. I can see the influence of many women like Starhawk, Dr. Jean Shinoda Bolen, & you, Carol, in how various Red Tents I’ve attended are manifesting & thriving. But I also sense a fantastic independence. A growing fearlessness for the “revelation of other processes” as amina mentions. Being present as women midwife their own spiritual growth in that container is some of my favorite spiritual work in a group setting.

    Creative synthesis is also something that the Sisterhood of Avalon embraces, from my perspective. Encouraging scholastic understanding of the Celtic Archetype, Hermetic Principles, & other past influences, but also embracing each woman’s sovereign experience in how those understandings are applied creatively to her spiritual practice.

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