“Light and Darkness” of the Goddess by Carol P. Christ


Carol Molivos by Andrea Sarris 2“Light and Darkness” is a song written and arranged to one of the oldest known European melodies by Ariadne Institute founding Co-Director Jana Ruble, following her first Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete. Every year since then, we have sung it in the caves of Crete during our rituals. A pilgrim told us that she learned it at the (Christian) Re-Imagining Conference. Last spring another pilgrim said that she knew it because her choral group sings it. You can listen to “Light and Darkness” and see pictures of an altar in a cave on a new video created by Goddess pilgrim PJ Livingstone after the 2015 spring tour.

In our culture we have been taught to fear the dark. We have been told that monsters come out in the dark, and that they will eat us. Such fears have not always been part of cultural memory. Before the Indo-Europeans arrived in Europe and later in Greece, light and dark, day and night, winter and spring, were celebrated as part of the cycles of birth, death, and regeneration. Women, the first agriculturalists, knew that a seed must be hidden away in a cold dark place (often a cave) to rest before being planted again. The setting sun marked the end of the day, ushering in a time to rest from tasks requiring the light of the sun. Winter was a time of rest from the hard work of planting and harvesting in spring and summer.

bull leaper rhytonThe arrival of the Indo-Europeans upset and vilified traditional ways of knowing that had been passed down for millennia. In ancient Crete, ritual games played with bulls were part of the rites of spring. Leaping over the bulls celebrated the leaping up of nature after a long winter’s sleep. I suspect that adolescents, both girls and boys, reared and the trained the young bulls for the spring rites. Though bulls too have been vilified as vicious and dangerous, even today they are led around auction halls on leashes. In order to make bulls fight, someone must first frighten and injure them. Although bull-leaping took place in the open and the light, other rituals of ancient Crete took place in caves, where the darkness was celebrated as a place of transformation leading to rebirth and regeneration.

The Greeks took these two ritual themes and turned them into the story of “Theseus and the Minotaur.” In the Greek story, Pasiphae (the name is Greek not from the ancient Cretan language), said to have been queen in ancient Crete (though there were were no queens), falls in love with a bull and asks the engineer Dadaelus (father of Icarus who features in another story) to make a contraption that will enable her to mate with the bull. Here, the love that the children of Crete must have had for the bulls they reared is turned into something dirty. The idea of women mating with the large animals is the stuff of pornography up to the present day.

After mating with the bull, Pasiphae gives birth to a monster-child, half-bull and half-human male. Horrified, she abandons him in a labyrinth, most probably a cave. The monster-child survives to become the Minotaur who demands 7 girls and 7 boys to be sacrificed to him each year. The darkness of the cave becomes the place where evil monsters dwell. The monster eats children. The children who played with the bull are transformed into human sacrifices demanded by the evil bull.

The hero Theseus, with the help of a thread given to him by Pasiphae’s daughter Ariadne (her name is pre-Indo-European and may have been a name of the Goddess), who has fallen in love with him, enters the labyrinth or cave, slays the Minotaur, and finds the way out using Ariadne’s thread. Because he has slain the monster, Theseus is a hero whose his name will be known for all time. In stories told by the victors, the cultures they conquer are vilified as brutal, barbarian, and orgiastic. In this story, it is added that a woman from within the old culture precipitated its demise because of her love for the man who came to destroy it.

It makes me very angry to retell this story because in so-doing, I am re-minded and my body re-members the damage that was done and is still being done. Women are lustful creatures. The dark is the place where evil monsters dwell. The wombs of women are dark places where evil dwells. Only the hero can save us.  The old culture must be destroyed. Women know that. Even the Goddess gave her thread to the hero. In this story, the hero does not save Ariadne, because he soon abandons her on a nearby island.

In our rituals in the caves of Crete we enter into the darkness and celebrate it as a place of rebirth and regeneration. We re-write history in our bodies, re-claiming all that has been stolen from us. The song “Light and Darkness” celebrates our new knowing. Please feel free to share it widely, giving credit to Jana Ruble.

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: Early Bird Special until February 15. Follow Carol on Twitter @CarolP.Christ, Facebook Goddess Pilgrimage, and Facebook Carol P. Christ.  Carol speaks in depth about the Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete in an illustrated interview with Kaalii Cargill. Photo of Carol by Andrea Sarris.

A Serpentine Path Cover with snakeskin backgroundA Serpentine Path: Mysteries of the GoddessGoddess and God in the World final cover design 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.

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Categories: Abuse of Power, Feminism, Feminism and Religion, Feminist Awakenings, Gender and Power, General, Goddess, Goddess Spirituality

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21 replies

  1. Thanks Carol, it’s important to be re-minded of this and to re-claim our inherent birthright.

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  2. Thank you Carol, you re-mind us that there was once a holistic understanding of all of life, light, dark, sad, joyful, etc… and yes, I get angry too when the myth of woman’s sinful/destructive sexuality is perpetuated and the “hero” gets lauded…

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  3. Carol, this is very moving. Thank you for bringing this essay to us. You’ve helped me to understand in greater depth why I’ve always despised the Chinese concept of yin and yang. I excoriate the idea that “male” means everything that is light and good, and female means everything that is dark and evil, especially when my whole life has provided me with evidence that the opposite is true.

    It’s important to reclaim our rightful “herstory,” and I thank you for it.

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    • I agree with you, D. Read, that we must “excoriate the idea that ‘male’ means everything that is light and good, and female means everything that is dark and evil.” However, in my study of Taoism, yin and yang are more nuanced than our common Western dualities. Although they can be read a including some of the stigmatization of the female/dark/etc. that you imply, the understanding is that yin always contains some yang, yang some yin, and that there’s a cycle from yin to yang and back again, just like the cycle of day and night, seasons, etc. For me, yin/yang is more related to our pagan understanding of the cyclicity of life than the dualistic understandings of Western patriarchy.

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      • Thanks for these insights, Nancy, Taoism is the path I follow, mostly Tao Te Ching, and I Ching. I’ve mentioned this site before at FAR I think, but I’ll link it again, it’s so very wonderful, and a great place to learn about the Way of Nature, which is what Taoism is all about in my understanding, see:
        http://www.cafeausoul.com/iching/way-of-tao

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  4. “Leaping over the bulls celebrated the leaping up of nature after a long winter’s sleep.”

    Thanks Carol, to celebrate winter becoming spring in that way seems to me very beautiful. Love the video.

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  5. Loved PJ’s video. Thanks for sharing it, Carol. Wonderful to be reminded of our beautiful time on Crete last June.

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  6. Interesting post, Carol, and so timely with your upcoming book on the “Serpentine Path” this spring. I’m looking forward to reading that: enough despair in past year, it’s been weighing me down!

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  7. Thanks for this post Carol. I live in rural Oregon where we have had armed supremisists take over MalHeur Wildlife Refuge near Bend, Oregon. Going on past 40 days. One supremacists has been killed by the authorities. 100 armed Pacific Patriot supremacists are currently in Bend. There is great potential for violence. Prayers for peace, democracy, resolution of long standing issues between rural residents
    and the federal authorities, restraint from the heavily armed police
    and healing to that land. The Piute people have sacred space there in a berial grounds that the supremacists have built a road over. Prayers that the sacred grounds be returned to the Piute elders. There will be a Grief Ritual that Sobonfu Some will conduct near the end or April
    see her website http://www.sobonfu.com for complete information and if you
    want to come and help out. Not a new age gathering- hard working spirit workers only. Please pray for peace and justice and life to return
    to rural Oregon. thanks, Ellen Greenlaw

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    • I’ve been reading about the violence in Bend, Ellen. It seems to be escalating. Is that correct? I love Oregon, having visited many times, and will pray for peace in it’s fullness.

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      • Thanks Barbara, Yes the supremacists are escalating. Cliven Bundy and a state legislator from Nevada are showing up in Portland on Thursday. Prayers for peace and careful deliberation from the authorities. OPB News http://www.opbnews.com has the most current and reliable information. Happening as I write this. Thanks for your prayers and concern.

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  8. Dear Carol, I love your reading of the Minotaur myth. (It’s mine, too). The simple way you moved between the the pre-patriarchal understanding and the patriarchal understanding, using italics, worked really well. I loved it. I think it would make a great dramatic reading for two voices.

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  9. Great post, Carol! Now I realize the connection between the minotaur myth and the story of Adam and Eve, i.e. women are evil, etc. I love the video, too. My women’s singing circle sings “Light and Darkness,” so I was thrilled to learn who wrote the song and see it connected to your pilgrimage.

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  10. Thank you for this wonderful post and video. I’ve heard so much about your Pilgrimages and it was so moving to see and hear even just a few moments of it. The dark has indeed been stolen from us – I strongly believe that humans need the rich, fertile, nourishing and nurturing darkness you describe. Here in New England we have not had much of a winter at all till just the past few days when we’ve finally had two snowstorms. We have been robbed of our days of winter, darkness, cold, rest and waiting for rebirth. I found this to be tremendously disorienting and disturbing. I may be one of the few people in New England who has been thrilled at the snow, dark gray days, and cold. I feel as if the cycle of death and rebirth is complete again. Now I have to go out and do some shoveling!

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  11. Have you come across Frankie Armstrong’s song “Out of the Darkness”? Frankie is a folksinger, one of my heroes, her songs can move between traditional ballads, feminist songs and other political songs, humorous songs, etc. I haven’t found an online version of her singing, but the lyrics are available. This one comes from her connection with the anti-nuclear movement.

    One of my friends was caught in a “whiteout” once, snow all around, and just pale light. He said he could never regard the idea of being surrounded by light as only positive after that experience.

    While I am posting (which I don’t do very often) I will mention that the last week has been a difficult one for me, because it is the anniversary of Asphodel’s death. And also, though I don’t feel that in a personal way, of Marija Gimbutas.

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  12. A beautiful video, Carol. Thanks so much for sharing it. Lots to reflect on.

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  13. Wonderful analysis, thanks for sharing this. And loved the ritual in the cave! I wish I could have seen it…..
    It is so important to teach people about the ways that myth is used to indoctrinate and supplant or co-opt the Goddess, thank you for being so elequent. I also throught of the way the old Horned God or Stag God, a symbol of the fertility of spring, was re-mythed to become the “Devil”. And one of my favorite examples of this is the devolution of the word “hora” or “hara”, a word that once meant both fertiflity and priestess – people talk, for example, of the “hara center” in the body, the generative womb. And to this day the Hora, a circular fertility dance, is still performed at Jewish weddings. Yet this word is the source of the word “whore” – from priestess of fertility to the most degraded term a man can use to call a woman.

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    • Whore: “From Middle English hore, from Old English hōre, from Proto-Germanic *hōrǭ, from Proto-Indo-European *kāro- ‎(“dear, loved”), *keh₂ro-; cognate with German Hure ‎(“whore”), Middle High German huore, Old High German huora, Dutch hoer, Old Norse hóra ‎(“whore”), hórr ‎(“adulterer”) (Danish hore, Swedish hora). Non-Germanic cognates include Latin cārus ‎(“dear”), Albanian koj ‎(“to feed, lure, bribe”) and Sanskrit काम ‎(kāma, “love”).”

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  14. Thanks to all of you for your comments.

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