Learning Gratitude for the Gifts of Life on the Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete by Carol P. Christ

In Crete we are always being given gifts—fresh cherries, ice cold bottles of raki, yogurt swimming in honey, and so much more. Over the years it finally hit me that this spirit of great generosity is a living remnant of the ancient Cretan egalitarian matriarchal tradition of gift-giving.

In egalitarian matriarchal cultures gift-giving is not something reserved for birthdays and holidays. It is a way of life rooted in the primary understanding that life is a gift that is meant to be shared.

Our lives are a gift from our mothers. Our individual lives have are not something we create or created for ourselves. We all emerged from the body of a mother. We were all given the gift of care and feeding by a mother or others. Our mothers did not create themselves. They emerged from the bodies of mothers and were cared for and fed by mothers or others. And so on back to the original mother of the human race, known as the African Eve.

Our lives are a gift from the original African Mother. Our individual lives can be traced to an African Mother who lived some 200,000 years ago and gave birth to daughters whose mitochondrial DNA has been passed on to every human being living today. But even the African Mother did not create herself. Her birth is the product of the evolution of early hominds and mammals, which is part of the evolution of life, during four and a half billion years of evolution on planet earth.

Our lives are a gift from Life Itself. Our individual lives on planet earth are rooted in an evolutionary process began four and a half billion years ago on planet earth. But even that is not the beginning. The atoms and particles of atoms that swirled together to become our planet were born in a great pang of birth that scientists unimaginatively call “the big bang.” And even that was probably not “the” beginning, but only the beginning of this universe.

Egalitarian matriarchal peoples honor the Mothers who have given us the “gift of life.” They imagine the Source of Life as a Great and Giving Mother. You can read more about egalitarian matriarchal cultures in Heide Goettner-Abendroth’s Societies of Peace and you can savor images of the Source of Life as female in egalitarian matrifocal cultures in Marija Gimbutas’s The Language of the Goddess.

In egalitarian matriarchal societies, both boys and girls are taught to be as loving and giving as the mothers who raised them. There is no sharp distinction between “feminine” and “masculine” attributes or personality types.

Rituals in egalitarian matriarchal cultures focus on gift-giving. The seeds to be planted are blessed on the altar of the Source of Life with prayers that life will sprout up again in the fields which are Her Body. First fruits of every harvest are given back to the Source of Life on altars dedicated to Her Great Generosity. At the end of the rituals, these gifts are shared in community feasts.

Gift-giving is a way of life in egalitarian matriarchal cultures. In these cultures you neither give “in order to receive” nor do you give with “no expectation of receiving.” When giving to others is understood to be the highest value and when everyone is taught to give to others, giving is neither a calculated risk nor self-sacrifice. It is quite simply a way of life.  You do not need to save “for a rainy day” because you trust that if you are in need, someone will give to you. You can read more about gift-giving economies in Genevieve Vaughn’s For-giving: A Feminist Criticism of Exchange. This book can be downloaded “as a gift.”

I have to admit it. When I began leading the Goddess Pilgrimages to Crete 25 years ago, I was not particularly grateful for what I had been given. I was angry and frustrated that I had not been given “my true love” or “my true job.” I had worked very hard all my life. I thought I “deserved” both.

On the first pilgrimage, I lost my voice. I could not say everything I thought I needed to say as tour leader. Back home but still not able to speak, I realized that I was being taught a deeper lesson. “I” could not control everything. This meant that I could not “make things happen” exactly as I wanted them to happen in my life.

When I returned to Crete the next spring, I was overwhelmed by expressions of love for me from our helpers along the way—especially from Christina who cooks for our group and from Mr. Nikos who guided us for many years into the depths of the Skoteino Cave. I who thought I was unloved was being shown love in the pilgrimage of my life–in the most unexpected places.

Through the process of the pilgrimage my heart has been opened to the love I do receive, and I have learned that it is everywhere. This once small opening in my heart now overflows with gratitude for the gifts of life I am given by others every day and for the Gift of Life of which my individual life is one small part.

When we recognize that life is a gift, we realize that nothing is “ours” and that everything we have been given is meant to be shared. You may be nodding your head as you read this, but to truly embrace the idea that nothing is ours is a very far cry from the values inculcated in our culture which are based on “mine” vs. “yours” and the idea of that we have the right to own things because we or our ancestors worked for the right to own them.

Blessed be.

* * *

a-serpentine-path-amazon-coverGoddess and God in the World final cover designCarol’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.

Join Carol  on the life-transforming and mind-blowing Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete. A few spaces available on the fall tour. Sign up now for 2018! It could change your life!

Carol’s photo by Michael Honegger



Author: Carol P. Christ

Carol P. Christ is a leading feminist historian of religion and theologian who leads the Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete, a life transforming tour for women. www.goddessariadne.org

9 thoughts on “Learning Gratitude for the Gifts of Life on the Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete by Carol P. Christ”

  1. Oh Carol, this is a beautiful and oh so instructive essay about giving as a way of life. I didn’t understand until very late in my life that in this culture “giving to get” is a dominant reality, By that time I had been used, again and again and believed that I had been stupid to be so dumb. But then I decided that I would CHOOSE this way of being in the world because it fit like my own skin – and felt just right. What I did learn was to watch out for the “takers” of the world. There are many. This choice and my willingness to be ever alert watching for people’s behavior (which reveals who they are – not what they say) has helped me stay free of some traps that I used to fall into regularly. I did not grow up in a loving-mother family. I did have a grandmother who loved me but who was harshly criticized by my mother (origin of an impossible split) so I am not sure where this way of being came from, perhaps from She Who is Mother of Us All. I may have had a direct link without knowing it… Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. its to bad that so many are so distracted , to realize just how precious life really is . We see this on every level, even our own government use us and life as a bargaining chip, can can we stoup so low ? I think in our evolution we as a race have forgotten something , I think man have become slaves and are trapped in a me complex .thanks good read , good week .

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you, Carol, for the gift of this essay. Remembering the gift of life, and “paying it forward” (a term I dislike, because it assumes a contractual, exchange-based culture), i.e. generosity as a practice, will light up my life. Even in our culture, which is based on private property, we all need to realize that life is a gift, that ultimately we own nothing. We all learn this lesson –most of us the hard way — at the end of life. Practicing this understanding during our lives in our culture is hard (because it’s not the way people think and act here), but ultimately full of joy.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Gift giving seemed to be a minefield in my family. Everything had strings attached, expectations planted, exchanges required. It was so exhausting! It still is when I meet it outside family now.

    It’s always a relief to be with Indigenous people who have this simple community mindset, and with others who espouse it. Thank you for this post Carol, and for the gifts of yourself.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. In our culture, if you give, you lose something. The givers are disminished as losers. Thruth is inverted as usual in patriarchy. Nice to hear healthy behaviors towards life.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for a beautiful article. So on the spot. This is the true essence of prepatriarchal societies; the art of giving and sharing. I feel in my heart that this is how we are meant to live, but it is so contradictionary to the middleclass way of life in western societies, which is all about competing and grabbing as much as you can. I certainly hope that this will change in future generations……………….

      Liked by 1 person

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