On 15th May, 2016 thea Gaia left this earth which was her home for 85 years. thea was born
Dorothy Ivy Wacker in Gatton, Australia on 9th February, 1931, the eldest of four children.
Her family were descendants of German immigrants who came to Australia in the 1860s.
In primary school, Dorothy was a bright student, winning a bursary enabling her to continue
her studies at high school which she completed in 1947. She then studied primary teaching
at Queensland Teachers’ College and from 1950-52 she worked at School for the Deaf,
Dutton Park, Brisbane.
Dorothy joined South Brisbane Congregational Church and became President of Queensland
Congregational Youth Fellowship. At age 22, she decided to take theological training to
become a Congregational minister. Dorothy studied for Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Divinity at the University of Queensland. In 1959, she was awarded a Certificate of Ordination by the Queensland Congregational Union. Dorothy was ordained on 17th April, 1959 at Broadway, Woolloongabba, the first woman ordained as a Minister of Religion in Queensland. Over the next 10 years she was minister for Belmont, Broadway and Chermside Congregational Churches.
Dorothy was Director of Christian Education (1965-68) and Acting Secretary of Queensland
Congregational Union (1966-67). In these roles she was often involved in women’s issues
e.g. as member of the Council preparing for the Uniting Church which decided that women
should comprise a third of all committees and councils.
In 1970 she was called to Applecross Church in Perth. She was State President of the
Congregational Union (1973-1974); Vice President (1973-75), then President Elect of the
Congregational Union of Australia (1975-77) and Member of the World Council of Churches,
There was a growing mood for ecumenical activity with the Uniting Church about to be
birthed (1977), unifying Congregationalists, Methodists and Presbyterians. Many Catholics
were also moving towards ecumenism. Dorothy was President of Australian Church Women
(1975-77) and worked very successfully with her Catholic Vice-President, a ground-breaking
In 1977, Dorothy was called to Pilgrim City Church, Adelaide. There, Dorothy was
Chairperson of the Australian Consultation of Theologically Trained Women (1978) and the
Australian Representative at the Christian Conference of Asia discussing women’s roles in
church and society.
In 1979 after 20 years in the ministry and much soul searching, Dorothy resigned as a
minister and member of the Uniting Church. Her spiritual journey had brought her to
seriously question the validity of religious systems in a person’s spiritual quest, with all their
hierarchical structures, authority, tradition and patriarchal emphasis, and the general place
of women in church and society. Her courageous decision was largely unsupported and led
her to a place of solitude, meditation and reflection. She lived for a year in a cottage by the
sea, exploring the possibilities given by solitude and rediscovering nature. It was a time to
renew herself, paying attention to her experience and needs as a woman.
Dorothy emerged very different, with a new way of thinking. She returned to studying
Religious Education and Women’s Studies and began establishing women’s spirituality
groups, encouraging women to become empowered by exploring their own spirituality.
With other feminists, she initiated The Rainbow Circle in Adelaide. In 1982 she changed her
name from “Dorothy” (gift of God) to “thea Rainbow” reflecting her understanding that the
Divine could be imaged as female, a gift of Goddess.
She taught courses: Ancient Images of Women, Women of Spirit throughout the Ages,
Women and Personal Power. With two others, she established a quarterly magazine, “The
Rippling Web: a Womanspirit Linkup.”
In 1984, thea travelled to the United States, living in California, visiting other cities, and
researching Women and Religion. In 1985, she and another woman created “Womandala”
Spirituality Centre, Adelaide.
In 1987, thea and Rosanne Debats created a series of posters of ancient Goddesses – Venus
of Willendorf, Marble Woman of Sparta, Snake Goddess and Dove Crown Goddess of Crete,
Kali Ma of India, Ishtar and Lilith of Sumeria , and the Ivory Seer of Kalach-Nimrud. The
posters sold in Australia, New Zealand, United States, Canada, and England. Women
responded differently to each image, but all provided sustenance and support to women
seeking to recover their spiritual heritage in a world dominated by male images and stories.
thea moved to Canberra in the early 1990s. She tutored at the University of Canberra, focussing on women’s mental health and spirituality. She was a natural scholar and teacher so this work suited her well and she was greatly respected in these roles. thea set up a women’s spirituality centre, which became Gaia Womanspace at Manuka and with other women ran spirituality workshops and seasonal rituals.
As her own spiritual journey continued, in 1994 thea again changed her name, reflecting an
understanding of the sacredness of Earth as Mother…thea Gaia. This same year, the first
Women’s Spirituality Conference in Australia was held.
During the late 1990s in Canberra, thea gathered committed and dynamic women who
together created and celebrated a series of wonderful and sometimes elaborate seasonal
rituals. These were held at thea’s home and later at the homes of others, in natural
environments and public parks. This period was a highlight both for thea and for the women
who participated. There was an extraordinary flowering of creative energies and profoundrichness, learnings and discoveries.
thea initiated Woman’s Spirit Rising in Canberra and in 1997 was instrumental in founding
Sisters of Gaia, a network bringing together women committed to living a feminine
spirituality. As a Sister of Gaia, thea states : “I treasure life. I treasure my life; I acknowledge
that my life comes in a woman’s form. I undertake to lead a life with a woman’s wisdom to
create spiritual paths, to affirm women, to use female symbols.”
Like thea, many women had left mainstream churches, feeling disillusioned and alienated
from institutions where symbolism, imagery and language about God were exclusively male.
This overt superiority of “male” flowed down to the practices, worship, government and
culture of the church itself, creating religious institutions where women were diminished.
Through women’s spirituality, many were introduced to the Goddess and felt a resonance in
relating to the Divine as female.
From Canberra, thea moved to the Blue Mountains to study and work with community
groups. She is especially remembered for her service at Winmalee Neighbourhood Centre.
Women were always welcome at her home in Springwood, a “sacred space” where she held
empowering workshops, discussions and rituals.
The final years of thea’s life were spent back in Canberra where she connected with the
Centre for Progressive Thought in Christianity, at St James’ Uniting Church. Here, she
brought her woman’s perspective and understanding of feminine divinity to nudge away at
the edges of patriarchy within the Christian tradition.
thea continued making new friends, initiating study groups, starting social circles,
participating in meditation gatherings, continuing seasonal rituals and in many other ways
being a catalyst for change. Often women would tell of how thea came into their lives when
they were at a crossroads and speak of their gratitude for her support and inspiration.
thea was a great “ponderer” as she would say, of the universe and the mystery of life. She
was an insightful, independent thinker and something of a non-conformist. She was a great
communicator, inspiring others and changing the lives of countless women. She challenged
their thinking, helped them grow spiritually and supported them. She was a teacher,
philosopher, writer, mentor and a friend to all who passed her way.
Above all, she was compassionate with a deep, unconditional love for people. Despite some
challenging difficulties in her life, thea emerged a woman of true worth and of great
significance – a pioneer and midwife of Women’s Spirituality in Australia.
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Glenys Peacock was co-ordinator at Womenspace in Brisbane, Australia from 2003-2014 and has long been an advocate of Women’s Spirituality and feminist thealogy. She holds a BA (Hons) and a BTh.