Challenging Christian Feminists to Re-Imagine the Goddess by Carol P. Christ


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.
Sophia-God, Creator-God
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?

Also see: Sophia, Goddess, and Feminist Spirituality: Re-Imagining the Future

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.

Carol spoke at the 25th Anniversary Celebration of the Re-Imagining Conference at Hamline University in St. Paul Minnesota on November 1 and 3; 

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 pdold@mun.ca).

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Categories: Feminism, Feminism and Religion, Feminist Theology, God-talk, Goddess, Goddess Spirituality

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

10 replies

  1. Thanks, Carol. Although in the end I was not able to attend, there are a dozen Kohenets at the World Parliament and I have let them know about your talk. Great description of the program!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Re-Imagining must absolutely be revitalized!! As Elizabeth Ursic observes in Women, Ritual, and Power, mainstream Christian worship is hegemonic and ultimately a key site where significant social change must happen for religion to be a concrete (as opposed to just conceptual) and widespread part of the solution to women’s oppression, rather than a big part of the problem. One major challenge in this project is actually seeing all the misrecognized, highly abstracted symbolic constructions in Christian ritual and biblical myth that amount to what Mary Daly referred to as “religious rapism.” In other words, it is difficult to change these things and liberate the Goddess from underneath them if we don’t know their detailed mechanics. Empowered by such knowledge, however, feminists can re-configure Christian ritual and biblical story-telling as both continuous with tradition and compatible with true justice. Stay tuned… my colleague, Erica Ramirez, and I are both finishing our dissertations at Drew on these topics this academic year and hoping to contribute to the Re-Imagining cause!!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Enjoyed reading this article! We don’t have to leave the identities and traditions of our recent families and ancestors to reclaim Goddess. She is indeed hidden in the sacred literature, folklore, and customs of Judaism and Christianity. We can weave our current cultural identities and practices with our knowledge of what our ancestors held sacred going back millenia: back to the original She/Source. Also: the photo is from a Kohenet Shabbat held in El Cerrito, California on 9 Kislev 5775 / 30 November 2014. The YHVH is a tiny travel shiviti (Jewish meditational tool on the Holy Name of Being) I carried with me on my travels, and the candle given to me by Kohenet Taya Ma. I actively work to weave these ideas in my practice: reverence for the YHVH of my ancestors, a Name which stands for Presence for me, and is beyond gender, with reverence for the Great She of creation known by many Names throughout the world. I do this with the knowledge that YHVH is thought to originate in the 9th c. BCE as a metallurgic and war god; and the “Venus of Willendorf” figure is 25,000 to 30,000 years old. By placing them together, in ceremony and ritual, I am “reprogramming” my mind to move beyond all the patriarchal and destructive ways YHVH has been used. I am re-claiming YHVH for myself, as I have known this diety, and I am adding to the lore and ways of my cultural group (Ashkenazi). May all our weavings be blessed! – Marni Ashirah Rothman, http://www.marniashirah.com

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  4. It’s pretty well known that there were people who worshiped Isis well into the so-called Christian era in Europe, but, yes, the Fathers of the Church were terrified of the Goddess or any goddesses. That’s just one element of the official church misogyny. I hope we can cure or perhaps overcome that official misogyny today. Well, I hope we can. I am not optimistic that the standard-brand churches will change.

    Thanks for the good and hopeful post.

    Like

  5. I love the challenge of whether or not we can have one foot in a feminine-leaning Christianity and one foot in the framework of the goddess. I have always seen the Jesus stories as congruent with feminism. Seems to me that, for the planet to survive, we have to move in this direction. Thanks for the challenge, Carol. Count me in! (Wish I were in the Midwest and could hear your presentations.)

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I wonder if it is time to go beyond gender images for “God”. When I see photos of the Universe through the Hubble telescope, I think of energy, not male or female beings. When I think of embodying that Energy, I think of all the creations that we are a part of.

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  7. What a wonderful post and what a challenge for some. I was struck by these words:”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.” Fear of the Goddess, fear of Woman’s Power, Fear of Nature, go hand in hand don’t they? In my way of thinking every woman needs tor e- examine her relationships with other women beginning with “mother” to discover the source of her discomfort, and from there she needs to turn to Nature asking the same kinds of questions and re-evaluating assumptions…

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thank you, Carol, for this article. Lately, I have come to feel an urgency about this issue. During my younger years, we seemed to come so far. Then the Re-Imagining Conference happened and doors began closing and a Great Silence began to prevail, not only in the USA but in Canada where I am. In the 90’s I published three books of what I called feminist-Christian prayers. One reviewer, a Hebrew Bible professor in a theological seminary, commented that my references to “fertility” and female sexuality were related to the old fertility religions and inappropriate in a Christian context. I wasn’t surprised, but was also amazed because I had already perceived that the whole Bible is a history of the suppression of the Goddess, despite female elements that continued into its later pages. Later I was asked to do a diocesan workshop on Wisdom. Recognizing (sadly) the risk of undertaking such a workshop, I prepared an academic, highly footnoted presentation in which I showed the roots of the Goddess in Hebrew scripture and explained what various feminist scholars had brought to light. Then we prayed using some of the images. Perhaps this was not the best approach, but even with this care, that diocesan council spent months discussing the “heresy” that I was accused of presenting to their women. Then I wanted to do an anthology of feminist liturgical scripts and was cautioned by feminists in the know that we no longer write these things down. Obviously, one person cannot attempt to transform a community understanding of the Divine alone. I believe that Christian feminists need more networks (like Feminism and Religion) to develop an (excuse the word) apologetic to do what you are saying in this column — not avoiding the connection with ancient (and modern) paganism but opening a vision of how the female religions have enlightened and contributed to the Jewish and Christian faiths, similar perhaps to how we talk about the Greek or other influences on these faiths. This may be too intellectual an approach. It is only where I am in my thought process at this time.

    Liked by 1 person

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