Foremothers: A Book Review & So Much More by Kate Brunner

foremothers-of-the-women-s-spirituality-movementI sometimes feel as though I live caught between feminism’s assorted waves. I am too young to have experienced the rise & crest of the Second Wave. I only just began to learn there was an actual -ism type name for this collection of thoughts, desires, feelings, & beliefs shaping themselves within me during my adolescent years as the Second Wave was decidedly ebbing.

Coming into my own as a very young adult, I found the rising Third Wave frustrating, though. Arguments over even using the word “feminist” to begin with exhausted me and it seemed like there was more debate raging about what was or was not feminism than there was meaningful change-agent action in the world around me. While I now recognize that was probably a necessary step in feminism’s evolution, at the time I was more concerned with confronting the immediate challenges of my work in a massively male-dominated career field under extremely stressful conditions than endlessly defending my conceptual feminist identity. This was the socio-political setting in which I came to Women’s Spirituality.

I came with little knowledge of the herstory behind the re-emergence of Goddess spirituality. I was too young to know the names of the Second Wave women who created the vessel anew. And too put off by my contact with the early Third Wave to study it formally. What I did know was that there was a thing called Women’s Spirituality and it spoke to me body, mind, heart, & soul. So, I eschewed study for direct experience, fumbling my way through creating a personal spiritual practice between myself & Goddess as a very private solitary. Years later, my penchant for autodidacticism & a huge, ugly feminist-on-feminist argument on a blog post I wrote led me on a quest to discover more about both my feminist and spiritual roots. Who had come before me? How did feminism & Women’s Spirituality get to where it was now- in theory & in practice? What was my herstory?

That was when I finally met the work of the women whose stories make up Foremothers of the Women’s Spirituality Movement: Elders and Visionaries. This volume, edited by Miriam Robbins Dexter and Vicki Noble, is precious to me and it is honestly an honor to write a review for it on FAR today.

To create this book, Miriam and Vicki asked their contributors to write about how and when they came to Women’s Spirituality, what they think the movement achieved, and what each contributor is working on now. The anthology documents the lifetimes of work these women invested in reclaiming feminist spiritual space during the Second Wave in their own voices; voices that are candid, reflective, honest, & humor-filled. In these essays, they share not only their work but their humanity with us. In doing so, I can see pieces of my story in theirs, connecting us across time, across waves.

Now, the potential of a Fourth Wave seems to be building. But I also feel an alarming trend seems to be coming with it and once again, I feel trapped between waves. Today’s youngest feminists do not seem all that interested in knowing their herstory and too readily dismiss the power of their foremothers’ stories, assuming their elders are too set in their supposedly now archaic ways to be of any use to future discussions. And many older feminists, understandably not taking kindly to this, rail against their young successors over divergent perspectives surrounding any number of contentious issues. What we all need, across all waves, is the willingness to listen to each other as we tell our stories. Foremothers is a huge, powerful contribution to that effort. As Brooke Medicine Eagle says in her piece, “This movement into connection and cooperation is central to our happiness and empowerment.”

Within the pages of this anthology, young Goddess feminists who are willing to pick it up and read it will hear the deep, honest reflection that is hindsight’s gift. Many of the contributors speak openly about what they now see as short-comings of the Second Wave and their hopes for successive generations. But younger women will also hear the creativity & courage it took to step off the cliff and into the void in order to weave the tapestry of Women’s Spirituality we now take for granted. Reading Heidi Göttner-Abendroth’s work is one thing. Reading her share her early fears that people would think she was insane for pursuing the line of study she did is quite another. In her essay, Carol Christ speaks of preparing one of her earliest presentations and asking herself over and over again “Can I say that?” As I read her words, I tried to imagine for a moment what it must have been like– not to be openly debating what makes one Goddess-based tradition more feminist than another, but to be worried what would happen to me, personally & professionally, if I publicly asserted there should be a thing called Goddess spirituality in the first place.

So Goddess feminists of all ages– read this one. Read it if you were a part of the nascent Women’s Spirituality Movement of the 60s and 70s and be proud of what you all accomplished. Read it if you first stumbled across the second edition of Starhawk’s The Spiral Dance when you were a teenager in the 90s. Read it if you’re about to graduate from college this spring. Whichever of the Great Goddess’s Waves you have ridden or will ride, read this anthology and listen to the voices within. This book is a part of our legacy, our heritage, our never-ending story.

Miriam writes in her introduction that she hopes this anthology will help to inspire future generations of women. I believe it will. In creating this work, she and Vicki provide my daughters with what will become the sort of valuable primary source material I rarely had access to as a young feminist & spiritual seeker. By being courageous enough all those years ago to reawaken women’s spiritual legacy in this country and to rediscover our global herstory, these women became part of it. They became my spiritual foremothers. For what they have done and for what my daughters will be able do, I honor them and thank them for sharing their stories.

Foremothers of the Women’s Spirituality Movement: Elders and Visionaries recently co-won the Susan Koppleman Award for the Best Anthology, Multi-Authored, or Edited Book in Feminist Studies in Popular and American Culture awarded by the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association and is available via Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or directly from Teneo Press.     

Those attending the Association for the Study of Women and Mythology Conference in Boston, 1-2 April, 2016, should be sure to attend the plenary panel moderated by Miriam Robbins Dexter & Vicki Noble that will showcase the voices of several of the anthology’s contributors including Max Dashu, Starr Goode, Mama Donna Henes, Donna Read, Genevieve Vaughan, Cristina Biaggi, Miranda Shaw, Elinor Gadon, and Susun Weed. You can be sure I will be there!

Kate M. Brunner is a writer, healer, ritualist, & member of The Sisterhood of Avalon, studying at the Avalonian Thealogical Seminary. She is a somewhat nomadic American, homeschooling her children with the world as their classroom. She holds a BA from Tulane University, where she studied Economics, International Relations, & Religious Traditions. Kate is a presenter for Red Tents & women’s retreats. She also hosts seasonal women’s gatherings, facilitates labyrinth rituals, and leads workshops on an assortment of women’s spirituality topics. During 2016, she will be presenting at the Association for the Study of Women and Mythology Conference in Boston, MA, at the SOA’s first open online conference, AvaCon 2016, & at the inaugural Ninefold Festival in Orange, CT. 

Categories: Books, Divine Feminine, Feminism, General, Goddess Movement, Goddess Spirituality, Herstory, Major Feminist Thinkers in Religion, Review, Women's Spirituality, Women's Voices

Tags: , , , , , , ,

6 replies

  1. Kate, thanks for this beautiful reflection on our history and the conflicts among us, from one who likes to think she is not too set in her supposedly archaic ways to continue to learn from others and her own new experiences.


  2. We often take our rights for granted now as women, so we sometimes forget the enormous struggle that preceded our freedom. The National Women’s History Museum online states the following:

    “Gaining the vote for American women, known as woman suffrage, was the single largest enfranchisement and extension of democratic rights in our nation’s history. Along with the Civil Rights Movement, the woman suffrage movement should be considered one of the two most important American political movements of the 20th century. The woman suffrage movement was a full-fledged political movement, with its own press, its own political imagery, and its own philosophers, organizers, lobbyists, financiers, and fundraisers.”


  3. Brava! Thanks for writing this personal, insightful review of an excellent book. I reviewed it for SageWoman, but I don’t think that issue is out yet. Hooray for Miriam and Vicki for doing the hard work of creating this book!


    • Kate, Bravo for this thoughtful piece. I’m going to buy this anthology. As a member of the 70’s feminist movement I am so hungry for the your generation to know how it was for us and for us to to know how feminism feels for you now. again, Bravo!


  4. Thanks for this heartfelt review of this wonderful new anthology. Chronologically, I am a feminist of the second wave. I came to feminist spirituality later, in my thirties, as an element of healing deep trauma. Most powerful for me were women’s stories about their own search for a woman affirming spirituality – books like ‘Longing for Darkness’ by China Galland, ‘A God Who Looks Like Me’ by Patricia Lynn Reilly, anthologies such as ‘Earth Walking Sky Dancers’ edited by Leila Castle and ‘Weaving the Visions: New Patterns in Feminist Spirituality’ edited by Carol Christ and Judith Plaskow. I have heard about the dismissing of older women’s work and stories by young feminists. Disagreement and/or critique are to be welcomed – it’s often how growth occurs – but in my view it’s sad and unfortunate that anyone who identifies as a feminist would allow themselves to minimize or dismiss out of hand the work of other feminists. The need for women’s studies and feminist spirituality emerged from our realization that women’s stories and work had been practically erased by patriarchal men.

    So I applaud Miriam and Vicki for their visionary work and for gathering these wonderful stories. I would only say that the reader won’t find much racio/ethnic diversity among the contributors, which is fine, but not obvious from the book’s cover or in the promo materials.


  5. I thoroughly enjoyed the review and plan to read this anthology! I came late to feminism coming through the back door as an eco -feminist not knowing that I was one! I am a ritual artist, naturalist and writer who has practiced what I call “Earth – based (goddess) ritual) for 30 plus years. I also taught Women’s Studies for ten plus years (2002 -2013) and marveled over how few women were familiar with the goddess tradition. I have been told that what I taught changed the way many women think…I sincerely hope this is true. I did note while teaching that the earlier feminist waves didn’t seem to interest my students and that it was necessary to assign weekly readings. The feminist movement still seems fragmented to me (perhaps because I am too isolated), but the goddess tradition has become a way of life.


Please familiarize yourself with our Comment Policy before posting.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: