When I was 17, I left the US to live and study in Europe for a year, with Womanspirit Rising crammed into my backpack. This book, edited by Carol P. Christ and Judith Plaskow, gave me the solid ground of a feminist worldview which honoured women, the body, and the earth. My favourite chapter was the last one: Carol’s foundational essay ‘Why Women Need the Goddess’, where she writes, ‘The simplest and most basic meaning of the symbol of Goddess is the acknowledgement of the legitimacy of female power as a beneficent and independent power’. These words, indeed that whole essay, became the pole star for my journey through the world, helping me name what was missing in both the academic world and the world of dance.
I was deeply impressed by Carol’s presence in the beautiful film about Marija Gimbutas, Signs Out of Time, by Donna Read and Starhawk. Although Carol’s contributions were brief, her striking poise and quiet dignity shone from the screen, in an exquisite embodiment of the ‘legitimate female power’ she wrote about.
Our paths finally crossed, in a most improbable way. In the year 2000, I began teaching annual seminars of women’s ritual dances on the Greek island of Lesvos – not knowing that Carol lived there – and by 2005 was spending most of every summer there, immersed in studying traditional music and dance. One evening, playing Greek music in an outdoor taverna in Molivos, I spotted a tall blond woman in the audience whose quiet presence kept drawing my attention. It took a few minutes for me to realise who I was looking at, and then the penny dropped: ‘That’s Carol Christ! It’s her! from Signs Out of Time!’
When the band took a break, I went to her table and introduced myself. She was as startled to be recognised as I was to see her, saying, ‘Nobody here knows who I am’. I discovered to my shock that this was true. Apart from her colleagues in the local Green Party and the WWF, who knew her as a passionate ecological activist, neither locals nor expatriates in Molivos seemed to realise that one of the great minds of feminist spirituality was living among them. We kept talking, and I remember the band had to play quite a few songs without their drummer before I reluctantly returned to the stage.
From then on, my friendship with Carol was a highlight of my Molivos summers, and we grew very close. We had wonderful times swimming, sitting in her garden, discussing books, sharing meals; wherever we (or any other musicians) were playing, she loved to listen to the live music and join the Greek dancing. She invited me to make use of her amazing library, with its views of the glittering Aegean through windows framed by handmade lace curtains, for whatever papers I was working on. And every year I invited her to give a talk on ‘Goddess cultures in ancient Greece’ in my seminars of Women’s Ritual Dance. This photo shows one of the deeply thought-provoking sessions we enjoyed with her.
Knowing Carol/Karolina as both mentor and friend was one of the greatest gifts in my life. Excited by my research into Balkan women’s circle dances and their links to Old European Goddess cultures, Carol urged me to return to academia, saying over and over that the work was important and I had to get it out there. She encouraged me with rituals to find my voice, got me blogging on FAR, and helped open numerous other doors. And she generously offered supportive critiques of my work in progress, always able to spot just where an argument needed pruning, strengthening or focusing.
In 2011, after years of dreaming, I finally joined Carol’s Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete. The tour was amazing – especially when I experienced a miraculous healing from debilitating perimenopausal bleeding at the thousand-year-old myrtle tree of Paliani. I treasure this photo of the two of us on that day, with her favourite nun, under the sacred tree.
Carol told the story a couple of years later in her FAR blog, telling how she went back to Paliani (since I could not get there myself) to offer a ‘tama’, a votive, on my behalf. With the money I gave her, Carol chose the perfect offering – a pendant of a heart with a vulva shape in its center – and hung it for me on the holy tree. (More lovely photos of Paliani are at Paula Mariedaughter’s blog from the 2017 tour. Recently Paula also wrote a moving tribute to Carol.)
We kept in touch. Most days we emailed or spoke on the phone, and in the final months of her illness we did gentle yoga together daily via Skype. Before she passed to the realm of the ancestors, Carol asked me to take on the directorship of her non-profit organisation, the Ariadne Institute for the Study of Myth and Ritual, and was delighted that I was willing – with the help of experienced co-leaders Mika Scott and Tina Nevans – to continue the Goddess tours. (The next tours will be October 1-15, 2022 and September 16-30, 2023; details coming this fall on goddessariadne.org). We aim to follow Carol’s template as best we can, to keep her knowledge and wisdom alive for future generations of Goddess pilgrims.
Carol also left me her unpublished papers (with instructions to bring them into the world), as well as her astounding collection of books on Goddess studies, feminist spirituality, egalitarian matriarchies and ancient Crete. My intention is to create the Carol P. Christ Memorial Library in one room of my Greek home – not far from Athens airport – so that visiting Goddess scholars may have access to this invaluable resource. I hope this will help maintain the golden thread of Carol’s life and legacy, so that other seekers may be guided by her, as I was.
Dearest Carol, may you rest in peace, with the blessing of the Goddess.
“The serpentine path is the path of life, a snakelike, meandering path, winding in and out, up and down, with no beginning and no end, into the darkness, into the light.” – Carol P. Christ, A Serpentine Path: Mysteries of the Goddess
PHOTO 1: Womanspirit Rising, edited by Carol P. Christ and Judith Plaskow. First edition, 1979.
PHOTO 2: Carol P. Christ, 2014. Photo by Monika Klinger.
PHOTO 3: Under the holy myrtle tree at Paliani. Photo courtesy of Carol P. Christ.
PHOTO 4: Carol P. Christ.
Laura Shannon is one of the ‘grandmothers’ of the worldwide Sacred / Circle Dance movement. She trained in Intercultural Studies (1986) and Dance Movement Therapy (1990), and holds the M.A. fin Myth, Cosmology, and the Sacred from Canterbury Christ Church University in England. Her primary research in Balkan and Greek villages seeks out songs, dances, rituals and textile patterns which descend from the Goddess cultures of Neolithic Old Europe, and which embody an ancient worldview of sustainability, community, and reverence for the earth. In 2018 Laura was chosen as an Honorary Lifetime Member of the Sacred Dance Guild. Her articles and essays on women’s ritual dances have appeared in numerous publications. Laura is also Founding Director of the non-profit Athena Institute for Women’s Dance and Culture. She lives in Canterbury, Greece, and the Findhorn community in Scotland.