A few days ago I received a message out of the blue on Facebook:
Thank you for your accepting my friend request. I am fighting to find my way out of depression during a life transition as I move into retirement from my years of work as an educator. I look forward to your book this spring. I have long called myself a Goddess feminist having struggled with patriarchal Christianity since my youth, but have felt abandoned by the Goddess for many years now. I’m not sure how I found you today. I stumbled onto a blog from you on your book while googling something else. Your words gave me a spark of hope. Laurel
In my blog I said that when I began to write A Serpentine Path, I felt abandoned by the Goddess. I wrote back, hoping that sharing what I had learned on my journey would be helpful.
The short answer is that the Goddess has never abandoned any of us. However, She does not have the power to make everything turn out as it could be or should be or we wish it would be. Hers is the power to inspire but not to control. If you have been unhappy, She is with you, She understands your pain, and She will be with you as you seek to find your way. I hope this doesn’t sound too preachy. It is from the heart of my experience. Take care of yourself.
I immediately received an answer back.
Thank you. Those were just the words I needed to hear with my heart. I am “too much in my head,” having spent a life in academia.
This interchange got me thinking about how we import toxic ideas from traditional theologies into what we believe are new religious worldviews. In this case the toxic idea is omnipotence—the idea that the Divine Power is in control of everything. It follows from this that the Divine Power can answer our prayers. If the Divine Power does not answer our prayers, there must be a reason. The reasons we give are many, including: because we are sinful and unworthy or because the ways of God are not our ways. We sometimes conclude, as Laurel and I did: the Divine Power simply does not care about me.
The prominence of magic in Wicca, the most widely known form of contemporary Goddess religion, can contribute to this feeling of abandonment. The Western occult or magical tradition teaches that there are practices, including rituals and spells, through which we can manifest our wills and achieve our deepest desires. In Goddess practice rituals and spells are directed to or through the Goddess. In this situation, it can feel logical to blame the Goddess when, after working very hard and doing every ritual and spell we can think of, our will or desire is not manifested. “Why me,” the child within us asks. “Why has the Goddess abandoned me?”
In the story I tell in A Serpentine Path, I felt precisely that. What I learned was that the Goddess had never abandoned me. She had been with me all along. Where I went astray was in believing that the world could become as I wanted it to be.
The world is made up of a multiplicity of wills, including my will and the will of the Goddess, but also the wills of every other individual, human and other than human, who has lived or is living now. If individuals, human and other than human, have the power to affect the world, then even the Divinity cannot have all the power. This means that Her power (and our power) is the power to influence the world, but not to determine or control it. This is one of the key metaphysical insights of process philosophy, but it is also an existential truth.
The Divine Power is not omnipotent. And neither am I. It may seem odd to put these two statements together. Yet they are mirror images: both ideas deny the reality that a multiplicity of wills have shaped and continue to shape the world we experience. The world really is not at my beck and call. Not even the Goddess gets that.
I would never have said that I believed that the world revolved around me. Stating it so baldly makes it clear how silly idea that idea is. For me “enlightenment” came when I realized—really understood—that the world is not “about me.” Once I gave up having to have what I thought I needed to have, I found, felt, and experienced love and beauty all around me. This truly is a-mazing grace. To feel love and beauty is not to deny suffering. Yet much of our suffering is caused by ideas about how life should be, as Laurel recognized, by living too much in the thoughts of our heads.
Email from Laurel Tangen-Foster, Ph.D.
Carol P. Christ is author or editor of eight books in Women and Religion and is one of the Foremothers of the Women’s Spirituality Movement. She leads the Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete in Spring and Fall. Photo of Carol by Michael Bakas.
A Serpentine Path: Mysteries of the Goddess will be published by Far Press in the spring of 2016. A journey from despair to the joy of life.
Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology with Judith Plaskow will be published by Fortress Press in June 2016. Exploring the connections of theology and autobiography and alternatives to the transcendent, omnipotent male God.