A pilgrim leaves home and sets off on a journey, seeking healing, revelation, and direction in her life. She finds companions along the way whose stories reflect her own, validating her quest and shedding light on her journey. According to anthropologists Victor Turner and Edith Turner, pilgrimages have common structural elements. A pilgrim separates from family and friends, work and obligations. She steps across a threshold into “liminal space” in which daily routines are suspended, opening herself to discovering new ways of being and living.
For spiritual pilgrims, the goal is a place or places said by others to be a “sacred” because healing or revelation have occurred there through the intervention of a deity, a saint, or spirits. The place is often on a mountain, in a cave, or near a spring. Along the way, pilgrims meet and share stories as in the Canterbury Tales. Some pilgrims say that the experience of sharing community with other seekers is as important as the revelation gained at the destination. When the pilgrim returns home, she must re-integrate into the community she left behind or find a new one.
A contemporary Goddess Pilgrimage undertaken by culturally western women, differs from other pilgrimages in that the journey begins in dissatisfaction with or rejection of the dominant Christian religion or its antecedent, Judaism. Goddess pilgrims go to places known to have been sacred in the past, before Christianity proclaimed older Goddesses and Gods to have been surpassed and superseded by the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and reluctantly, Mother Mary and the saints.
The places visited by Goddess pilgrims may have been destroyed and recovered by archaeologists. They may have been renamed by Christians. For example, sacred springs once dedicated to the Goddess Bridget were dedicated to Saint Bridget in Ireland, while caves sacred to Mother Goddesses of Greece became known as the birth place of the Mother of God.
While Catholics visiting Lourdes are following the cultural norms of their communities, Goddess pilgrims visiting shrines of the Goddess are self-consciously challenging the religions they have inherited. Goddess pilgrims seek healing from the “illnesses” known as patriarchy and patriarchal religions. The insights they gain may be considered “heretical” or “fantastical” by friends and families.
Contemporary Goddess pilgrims visit sites of pre-Christian worship in Greece, Crete, England, Ireland, France, Spain, Lithuania, Malta, Egypt, and elsewhere. While many pilgrims visit temples such as those at Delphi that were constructed in patriarchal times, others prefer to visit prehistoric sites such those in as Crete or Malta where the patriarchal overlay is absent.
Many Goddess pilgrims travel alone or with one or two friends, while others join organized groups led by Goddess writers, artists, and teachers. Some individuals and groups connect with spiritual energies through singing, chanting, meditation, or ritual; others want to learn what can be known about the pre-patriarchal history of sacred places; and many combine the two.
The Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete I have been leading for more than for two decades is a two-week tour for up to 18 women. Although we have had participants as young as ten and as old as eighty-five and almost every age in between, the majority of participants are in the late forties to early sixties, a time when children are grown or can be cared for by others and women have time to reflect on the meaning of life and their own spiritual convictions.
Though most who come on the tour are seeking or have already found the Goddess, some are also practicing Christians or Jews and a few have been Protestant ministers and Roman Catholic nuns. Others decide to join a mother, daughter, sister, or friend on a trip to Crete without knowing much about the Goddess. They are likely to find Her in Crete. One mother wrote, “I came expecting nothing, and I found everything.” What she found was a spirituality rooted in the earth than made sense to her and a lifelong commitment to creating labyrinths and labyrinth rituals.
A forty-seven-year-old woman brought her seventy-year-old Italian mother and her thirteen-year-old daughter. At the end of the tour both her mother and her daughter confessed that though they had believed Goddess spirituality was not “their thing” it had become theirs as well. On the same tour a secular feminist told us that she had joined the tour to accompany a friend and had been worried about the rituals. She found them so simple and meaningful that she “fell” right into them. She is now interested to learn more about Goddess spirituality.
One of the things that separates the Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete from other Goddess tours in Greece is the fact that ancient Crete in the Neolithic and Bronze Age precedes the Olympian pantheon headed by the serial rapist Zeus and his warrior daughter Athena, who exonerated a mother-murder and stated that the father is the only true parent of the child. Archaeologist Marjia Gimbutas believed that Bronze Age Crete is the final flowering of the Neolithic cultures of Old Europe.
According to her, the cultures of Old Europe were settled, agricultural, highly artistic, peaceful, matrilineal and probably matrilocal, and worshipped the Goddess as the power of birth, death, and renewal in all of life. She contrasted the cultures of Old Europe with those of the patrilineal, patriarchal, warlike, horse-riding Indo-Europeans who worshipped the shining Gods of the sky as reflected in their bronze armor and weapons.
This is an excerpt from the speech I will be giving at Memorial University of Newfoundland on November 8 and discussing on a panel on Nov. 10. Information: 709 864 4538 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
I will be speaking on November 1-3 at Hamline University on Re-Imagining and on November 5 on “Religions and the Abuse of Women and girls at Parliament of Religions 4:15 to 5:45pm at The Metro Toronto Convention Centre (MTCC) located at 222 Bremner Blvd, Toronto, ON M5V 3L9, Canada. Registration required.
Carol P. Christ is an internationally known feminist writer, activist, and educator living in Greece. Carol’s recent book written with Judith Plaskow, Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology, is on Amazon. A Serpentine Path: Mysteries of the Goddess is on sale for $9.99 on Amazon. Carol has been leading Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete for over twenty years: join her in Crete. Carol’s photo by Michael Honneger. Carol will be speaking at the 25th Anniversary Celebration of the Re-Imagining Conference at Hamline University in St. Paul Minnesota on November 1 and 3; on at the Parliament of Religions in Toronto, Canada on November 5; and at Memorial University of Newfoundland on November 7-10.