From the 1993 Re-Imagining Conference:
Our mother Sophia, we are women in your image:
With the hot blood of our wombs we give form to new life.
With the courage of our convictions we pour out our life blood for justice.
let your milk and honey pour out,
showering us with your nourishment.
From my reflections on the Re-Imagining Conference presented at Hamline University on Novemeber 1, 2018:
One reason the creative re-imagining of God as female has not taken hold in churches and synagogues is fear of paganism and the Goddess. The creators of the Re-Imagining Sophia ritual took great care to guard against this charge by connecting it to Bible and tradition. Commenting on the reasons for the backlash against the Re-Imaging Conference, Sylvia Thorson-Smith stated:
One was the liturgical use of the biblical image of Sophia – but blown up as evidence of Goddess worship. Second was the milk and honey ritual – an ancient part of early Christianity, but attacked as a pagan substitute for communion.
While I understand her reasons for doing so, “the lady doth protest too much, methinks.” As invoked in the conference, Sophia did sound very much like a Goddess, and sacred rituals involving milk and honey surely have other than Jewish and Christian roots. Even if all of the imagery in the ritual could be attributed to traditional sources, this begs the question of the origin of the images.
It is widely thought that the authors of Wisdom of Solomon were influenced by images of the Goddess Isis in the Greco-Roman world. Was what Moltmann-Wendel called a “matriarchal” image of a land flowing with milk and honey a solely Hebrew invention, or was it shared with or derived from other cultures that associated the image with Goddesses? In drawing boundaries between the Goddess movement and Christianity, the Re-Imagining Conference distanced itself from a very important fact: the suppression of the Goddess in the Hebrew Bible and in Christian traditions.
While the history of the Hebrew Goddess may seem distant to Christian women (though I do not know why), the history of the suppression of pagan religions that worshipped Goddesses (as well as Gods) is part and parcel of Christianity becoming the official religion of the Holy Roman Empire and of its spread into Europe. The hegemony of Christianity was not achieved by peaceful and willing conversion of everyone in Europe.
Yes, many chose to convert, especially in the cities. But the country people whose lives were intertwined with the seasons of planting, growth, and harvesting were unwilling to abandon the rituals that for centuries and millennia had ensured that the cycles of birth, death, and regeneration would continue in the land and in their communities.
In the early twentieth century Marija Gimbutas collected hundreds of folk songs for planting and harvesting still in use in Lithuania, some of them invoking Goddesses. Whatever good conversion to Christianity may have brought to the peoples of Europe (and elsewhere), it must be acknowledged that a great deal was lost, and that in many cases conversion to Christianity was achieved through violence, including warfare, conquest, and the persecution and killing of those who refused to conform to the new order.
Recognizing all of this, I ask Re-Imagining feminists if they can acknowledge that they are reclaiming aspects of paganism and ancient Goddess religions which were suppressed, sometimes violently, without relinquishing their specific identities as Christians.
Priestess and Rabbi Jill Hammer and the Kohenet Hebrew Priestess Institute model a different way of re-imagining. Hammer and Kohenet boldly reclaim the Hebrew Goddess and Hebrew priestesses as part of Jewish history. In doing so, they reject those parts of the Bible and Judaism that identify worship of female divinities with apostasy or turning away from the one true God. They do this in full recognition that the prohibition of Goddess worship and paganism is one of the central ways Jews differentiate themselves from others. Hammer and Kohenet have one foot firmly planted in Jewish tradition and the other firmly planted in feminist and New Age spiritualities.
Kohenet challenges Judaism to embrace the Goddess and new forms of Jewish leadership that are embodied, ecstatic, and in touch with the rhythms of the body and nature. At the same time, Kohenet affirms Jewish identity through ties to Jewish history that include reflection on every mention of female religious leadership that can be found in the Bible, the rabbinical tradition, Kabbala, and wherever Jewish women have left traces of their spiritual lives. Kohenet is lucky that Hammer is not only a trained rabbi familiar with the Bible and rabbinical teachings, but also an intrepid researcher and interpreter of texts.
Not afraid of being charged with idolatry, paganism, or Goddess worship, Kohenet proudly displays a photograph of an altar created by Kohenet Marni Rothman featuring the Paleolithic Goddess of Willendorf next to a plaque inscribed with the word “Yahweh” in Hebrew on one of its webpages. Kohenet training involves three years of intensive retreats and deep inner work leading to ordination as Hebrew priestesses. Could Re-Imagining Christians follow this lead?
What might a new vision of female leadership in Christianity, a Re-Imagining Christian Priestesshood, based in recovery of suppressed Goddesses and priestesses and the suppressed history of women’s spiritual leadership in the Bible and Christian history, look like?
I will be speaking 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.
she speaks today at the Parliament of Religions in Toronto, Canada on November 5 at 4:15 to 5:45pm at The Metro Toronto Convention Centre (MTCC) located at 222 Bremner Blvd, Toronto, ON M5V 3L9, Canada. Registration required;
at Memorial University of Newfoundland on November 8-10 (information: 709 864 4538 or firstname.lastname@example.org).