August 1 is the Neo-pagan and Wiccan holiday known as Lammas. For many witches and pagans this is the time when the young male God identified with the harvest of the seasonal wheat crop is sacrificed in the interest of the larger cycles of birth, death, and renewal. Here in Greece August 15 is a major holiday celebrating the Dormition and Assumption (death and rebirth) of the Panagia, She Who Is All Holy.
In her ground-breaking book The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Goddess, Starhawk identified the ancient religion of the great Goddess with Wiccan tradition defined by the Englishman Gerald Gardner and transmitted to her through her initiation into the Faery (or Feri) tradition of the Americans Victor and Cora Anderson. In her vision, the ancient religion of the great Goddess is understood to be a magical tradition in which spells play a prominent role.
While the magical traditions on which Gerald Gardner drew spoke of an alchemical process in which base metals could be transformed into gold, Starhawk redefined magic in psychological terms, as “the art of changing consciousness at will.” She explained the Wiccan Wheel of the Year and its eight seasonal holidays through the metaphor of a psychological journey of the soul from birth, through death, to rebirth.
In Starhawk’s rituals, participants are typically asked to focus on their own desires, wishes, and struggles. In spring they might plant a seed bound with a spell: willing that as the seed sprouts, so may a new love or a new job spring forth in their own lives. At Lammas, they might ask themselves what they need to sacrifice or let die in their own lives—for example a bad habit or a bad relationship—in order to achieve balance and wholeness.
As a young woman, psychologizing the religion of the great Goddess appealed to me. My life was still unfolding, and I was attracted to the idea that I could achieve my desires and manifest my will through the use of spells and rituals. But try as I might—and I did try very hard—my life did not unfold according to my will.
Now that I am older, I think the whole enterprise of psychologizing the religion of the Goddess is misguided. I believe that the great Goddess loves the world and every individual in it: Goddess is always there not only to hear the cries of the world but also to rejoice in its joys. At the same time, I have learned that the world does not revolve around me. While I do believe that rituals can heal and make us whole, I no longer believe that their purpose is to enable me to achieve my will in the world.
Rather, rituals help me to understand that I am part of a whole much larger than myself. And that no matter what happens or does not happen in my individual life, I am part of and participate in an interdependent life that is much bigger and infinitely more complex than my individual desires and will. I have learned that ritual is not about me. Rather it is about giving thanks for the gift of life and the gifts of life and sharing those gifts with others.
This season I will pour a blessing of water onto the parched earth with this prayer:
As we bless the Source of Life, so we are blessed.
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Carol’s photo by Michael Honegger
Carol’s new book written with Judith Plaskow, is Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology.
FAR Press recently released A Serpentine Path: Mysteries of the Goddess.
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14 thoughts on “As We Bless the Source of Life in Midsummer by Carol P. Christ”
This post is so comforting. It’s exactly what I need at this time. Thank you, Carol, and blessed be.
“Now that I am older, I think the whole enterprise of psychologizing the religion of the Goddess is misguided.” I do too Carol, and like you there was a time when the idea behind spell casting seemed appealing but I too have come to see that the Great Goddess just is, and she is focused on All of Life, not just individual desires. It was by being in relationship with Her/Nature that taught me this. I think many young women are still being drawn to/ taught this willful ideology and I do not think it is helpful. Thanks for this post.
I appreciate you sharing how your viewpoint has shifted over time. My understanding of Goddess Spirituality is still in development; for me, it is relevant to inner healing and how I understand myself. I do not see my relationship with the Goddess as leading directly to Her granting my desires or allowing me to control how my life goes. I think it’s possible to achieve a sense of awe at how much of a minuscule existence each of us is in the general time-space of the universe while also experiencing powerful inner transformation through our relationship with Goddess.
Powerful inner transformation, yessssss. Getting everything we want or think we have to have, nooooooo.
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What a beautiful blessing, Carol!
My life did not go as I willed, either. I haven’t kept up with Starhawk, but I am guessing her understanding of life and the goddess has changed over time. (She changes everything she touches, and everything she touches changes.) When I first encountered Starhawk’s early work, I was in my thirties, and it was shocking and scary for me even to acknowledge my will or desires as anything positive, Christianity (my own understanding of it) was so deep in my bones. I really couldn’t distinguish between self and selfishness, will and wilfulness. I still struggle with such distinctions. It was probably good for me to have my assumptions challenged.
Now paying attention, showing up, and saying thank you seems like enough. As you said it so well, as we bless the source of life, we are blessed.
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AS I entered cronehood,about a decade ago,I also came to the understanding of my place in the larger scheme of Things. My rituals mostly focus on gratitude and divine open-ness to my greatest good, and the good of my world.I gave up asking or willing specifics. My practice continue to be honing an appreciation for Nature, friendship, continued spiritual growth and Love in my life.. I try to be an example of what i used to ask for from outside myself.. this is a lovely article to commemorate Llamas!! Thank you!
Thank you, Carol. We and the world need all the blessing you can pour out in these dark times.
I’m having some difficulty with the dualisms that seem to underlie your post today, Carol. You seem to contrast an individual’s will and/or desires with the interdependent life of the larger matrix, namely the Goddess, and also contrast things that are “about me” with “sharing” (“I am part of and participate in an interdependent life that is much bigger and infinitely more complex than my individual desires and will. I have learned that ritual is not about me. Rather it is about giving thanks for the gifts of life and sharing those gifts with others.”), i.e. you seem to outline a dualism of the individual vs. the Goddess, and the self vs. others.
In contrast, I see myself in relationship with the Goddess. In fact, I’m a panenthesist. I experience myself as a part of the Goddess — who makes up the whole of creation — and experience Her as a part of me (She indwells within me). I also see myself as part of the feminist community. I believe that my successes help our feminist community. So in performing rituals (or spells, which are only mini-rituals) to better my life — whether it’s healing, a better job, better success for my book, a better relationship — I believe it will better my community as well, i.e. it’s a win/win situation. This is the normal standpoint of communal societies, but is less evident in our highly individualistic culture. Matriarchal cultures understand this. They realize that each person’s special talents and viewpoints is needed for their society to function best. As opposed to our hyper-individualistic culture, which believes that if you succeed it diminishes me, matriarchal societies know that the success of each bolsters the community at large. In our culture, we generally see things as win/lose propositions.
I agree with you that we do not control our lives. Our will power is not solely what creates change in our lives or in our communities. Instead it is co-creation with the actualities of the situations we live in, i.e. the other people involved, the Earth and Her resources, and ultimately with what you call the Great Goddess. That doesn’t mean to me that I shouldn’t attempt to make change and use my energy for that purpose. Part of my energy will go into ritual that aligns my desires with the realities of the situation and with the Goddess. Otherwise, I might be attempting to consciously create certain changes while unconsciously sabotaging those desires. That’s what I see as the major purpose of ritual.
In past FAR posts, you have said that you are “sort of a Buddhist.” I think I am “sort of a (tantric) Hindu” and as a result, have some difficulties with Buddhism’s view of the ego, which I think may be at play here. Buddha himself taught that the ego was something created by the mind, a tale or myth that we keep telling ourselves. According to Buddhism, this story is the foundation for our feelings of self-importance. This non-existent ego wants at the very least to protect its interests and as a result, begins to see other people as competitors in this process. As a result, self vs. other problems arise. The ego desires something and fights to obtain it.
Within Hinduism, you and I would be considered “householders,”people who live in the world, rather than in monasteries. As Lorin Roche recounts from his early days while teaching Transcendental Meditation (TM) and studying with the Mahrarishi, a Hindu master, “[The Maharishi] made it clear to me that householders evolve through the adventure of following their passions, daring to be attached, tolerating great intimacy, and dealing with the ever-changing structure of their relationships.” Those relationships, aspirations, and attachments necessitate a well-developed ego. And women, I believe, have a special need for strengthening our egos, and striving for our own desires. We tend to be socialized to be care-takers, to be other-oriented, not always looking out for ourselves sufficiently. In fact, I want MORE feminists to focus on their desires and struggles, because I think it would be better for all women.
It seems to me that the ego is just a tool. It needs to become well-honed, so that it isn’t arrogant or subject to low self-esteem or addiction. But when well-integrated, it’s simply the part of the self that makes plans to fulfill desires now or in the future — and for feminists, that means desires to create a world that’s more egalitarian or for environmentalists, it’s desires to protect our natural world. Of course, we will be disappointed sometimes when we can’t accomplish what we want, but as Jalaja Bonheim says in The Hunger for Ecstasy, “to consistently resist the future-oriented thrust of desire is to suppress an important manifestation of our creativity. In every moment, the real and the possible dance together within the ground of our being, and out of this dance the future is born. This creative dance of desire is essential to our nature and deserves to be given a place of honor within our spiritual practice.”
I also believe that religion is by definition psychological. It’s just a matter of what kind of psychology the religion adheres to. Fatalistic religions will have a fatalistic psychology. Fundamentalist religions will have an inflexible psychology that desires rules and regulations. And I believe that Wicca, by definition, will have a co-creative psychology, one that sees the self and the other as needing to cooperate; one that sees the larger matrix of “Nature” as sacred; and one that celebrates our embeddedness in the Goddess in order to open us to a sense of wonder.
I delivered the sermon yesterday at my UU church. Maybe I’m still in the pulpit!
Hi Nancy, It is nice to have my thoughts engaged so seriously.
There is a lot that you are saying here and maybe I will respond in a blog one day.
Meanwhile let me say that I say I am a kind of a Buddhist because I do not think the world revolves around me. On the other hand, I am not a Buddhist because I have not given up the ego or desire entirely nor am I interested in doing so; I am not a nondualist. Like you I believe the world is relational. And I believe that the individual self is both related and real, but not eternal.
What I was criticizing here may be the wedding of the magical tradition with earth-based spiritualities. In fact I am not criticizing having desires or hopes for the self or the world. What I am criticizing is a tendency to focus on the self and its desires (which is common in an individualist world) and also to believe that the self can have what it wants if only it does the right spells and rituals and thinks the right thoughts. This did not work out for me. Of course someone might say I just didn’t do the right spells or do them the right way. I on the other hand concluded that the idea that we can create our own reality is misleading or false. And I shifted the focus of my spirituality from trying to get what I want.
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Thanks, Carol. It’s always enjoyable to engage with you and your posts, because you always think the through thoroughly. Thanks for your thoughtful response.
First, I wish to extend my condolences. I am very sorry that your father died and I am also sorry that your relationship with him was so fraught with hurt. Parent’s are supposed to love their children unconditionally for their whole lives. I can’t imagine that kind of hurt. Just know that You are not responsible for your Dad’s inability to love his children unconditionally.
Carol, I have been reading your books since Diving Deep and Surfacing was first published. A long time ago you wrote an essay about why you threw away your tarot cards. That essay reflected my own experiences with magic. Simply put, if magic could be counted upon to make changes in one’s life, humanity would not have needed to invent science and all the disciplines that come out of science. At it’s best science is grounded in an awe that were are here on this beautiful blue planet and we’re AWARE of it. Whoa, How cool is that!
My Goddess worship focus has for years centered on aligning myself with nature and on promoting a oneness with nature which is really hard living in the USA. We Americans have created such strong institutional structures to separate ourselves for the natural world, like needing a car to get around. I have found that I agree with most of your theaology especially your ideas expressed in this essay.
The one idea in which I disagree with you, is the survival of the human soul after death. I’ve had too many unexplained experiences of departed friends and loved ones that have reached out to me from the beyond that I simply can’t dismiss because it doesn’t fit into my scientific world view. Now does that mean that the human soul is eternal? Eternal is a huge word. Even the sun is not eternal, In a few billion years the sun will have expanded and then collapsed. So I don’t know. What I am comfortable with is the idea that I don’t need concrete answers for everything. I am OK with living the questions.
There is so much in your post that I respond to, Carol. Especially the line: “Now that I am older….”! I find so many older women who have taken different spiritual paths, reaching a point of … “one-ness” with themselves, others, and divine mystery. It’s certainly different than a Washington DC “Prayer Breakfast” of self absorption and “give me’s”
Exactly this: “I have learned that ritual is not about me. Rather it is about giving thanks for the gift of life and the gifts of life and sharing those gifts with others…”
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