From the Archives: That Which Is Sacred by Max Dashu

Moderator’s note: This marvelous FAR site has been running for 10 years and has had more than 3,600 posts in that time. There are so many treasures that have been posted in this decade that they tend to get lost in the archives. We are beginning this column so that we can all revisit some of these gems. Today’s blogpost was originally posted June 30, 2012. You can visit it here to see the original comments.

We are going through a huge cultural shift toward restoring the female to her full radiance. However you want to define that, it is rising now, through us.

That which is Sacred, what should we call it? We’ve been told to name it he, him, his. That it was blasphemy to do otherwise, to say she, even as they desecrated the Divine with comparisons to mortal overlords, those cruel masters, despoliators, persecutors. No. Reconsider. That fearful address to an authoritarian punisher takes us far from true reverence. Rather revere the roots of Being, manifesting in all Nature around us, within us. The profound silence, and the Deep calling to the Deep.

Deeply I go down into myself. My god is Dark and like a webbing made of a hundred roots that drink in silence. ― Rainer Maria Rilke

There are myriad emanations of the indescribable Source, but Goddess women call it she, as medicine to what they have forbidden in us, to us. That Shakti, the effulgence that pours through all living beings, including the rocks. The Shekhinah, the ever-flowing waters of Nummo, of Anahid. The Tao that is “the mother of whatever exists under the sky, upon whom myriads of beings depend for their birth and existence,” as the Dao De Jing says.

“The Universe is the Goddess. She is not separate from it, She did not create it and then let it be. She is what is, what was, and what will be.”1 So the Kemetic people praised Neith, Mother of the Neteru, on her great temple at Sa in the Nile Delta. Inscribed magnificats exalt her in some of the greatest spiritual literature of the world:

Neith, Mother of the Neteru

Greater is her name than of all gods and goddesses

The primordial One, eldest of the primeval gods

She who made that which is

She who created that which exists…

Who gave birth to Ra,

Who brought forth in primeval time herself,

Never having been created.

But not all wisdom is written. In Colombia, the Kogi have passed down oral traditions about the Mother of Songs who bore all kinds of people in the beginning.

She is the mother of the thunder, the mother of the rivers, the mother of trees and of all kinds of things. She is the mother of songs and dances. She is the mother of the older brother stones. She is the mother of the grain and the mother of all things. … She alone is the mother of things, she alone… 2

The Nahuatl litanies of Mexico are resonant with the same majesty : In teteu inan, in teteu itah, in huehuetéotl. “Mother of the gods, father of the gods, the Old Spirit.” 3

So much confusion has been sown about Goddess reverence. Even the word “goddess” is contested today. It’s considered blasphemy by the Abrahamic religions that define religion for billions of people. In popular culture it has been totally desacralized, stripped down, and trivialized. People talk about a pop star as a “sex goddess” or diva—which means “goddess” in Italian, but is now used to describe performers with overinflated egos. “Goddess” has no cultural standing in mainstream society, except as a negative. Few people are conversant with the rich and ancient history of goddess reverence. Instead they see press reports about finds of an “8000-year-old sex goddess.”

Not many people understand what spiritual feminists mean when we speak of Goddess or goddesses. Many, probably most of us, conceive of Goddess and the Sacred Woman as a continuum, encompassing living beings, spirits, ancestors, essences, qualities and vast governing principles like Maat, Tao, and Wyrd—Fate being another name for divine Law, the Way. We see parallels in the pagan Gothic Halioruna (“holy mystery”) and the Great Mystery of aboriginal North America. For us Nature is holy, ultimate Reality, and the fount of wisdom.

Spider Grandmother, detail from the Wisdom Scroll (Max Dashu, 2001)

That there are Mysteries does not necessarily lead to the mystification practiced in authoritarian institutions. Our reverence has nothing in common with abasement, or the submission demanded by  hierarchies and their doctrines. It flows toward what is valued and admired, what causes awe: a rushing river, wind moving through a great forest, the fire-patterns in embers. It is roused by powerful music and beautiful art, incantation and drumming and dance. There we enter into the Presence where knowing and healing come, into connection, wholeness, the Center.

We have deists and atheists and polytheists and panentheists among us, and adherents to many majoritarian religions too. Each aspires to follow the deepest truth she can uncover within herself. For that reason there are many different approaches: some pray, some invoke, some take the deities as symbols, others as beings, or as Being. Others ride the currents of mystic bewilderment, recognizing the impossibility of condensing their experiences into language.

We affirm the long-reviled Female, now expanding out of ancient cultural confinements. In her liberation males will be transfigured too. There is room for the gods, without the taint of lordship and oppression, and for co-gendered expressions of the Sacred. In the ultimate sense gender is ephemeral, and in a just world it would not matter, but we live in a world that is severely out of balance, afflicted with male domination to a high degree. So in our invocations it is She, as Afrashe Asungi says, the Divine She. As Judy Grahn has chanted for us, She, She Who.

Many say that this She is found in our own inner spark, a microcosm of the entire Vastness, and a gateway to it. We say She rather than It, rejecting the impersonal object in favor of a numinous and melodic approach to consciousness. In the same spirit, many of us say Goddess rather than “the Goddess,” which carries a sense of A Thing or Idea rather than Essence and Presence. However she is understood (and whether she is experienced in body-knowing or relational or conceptual ways) we address what we hold sacred through this mirror of Goddess. We know this will create a profound transformative impact on the patriarchal world we live in. The opening of cultural doors that have been slammed shut and tightly locked up, in some places for millennia, is momentous and hugely significant.

Andean Medicine Women. Detail from Lifegivers of Tahuantinsuyu (Max Dashu, 1984)

Women’s recognition of our mythic exile is powering a widespread impulse to revive and restore Goddess culture. Longing for a female face of the Divine is pouring forth from diverse cultural directions: women of European descent who feel cut off from their pagan roots by a long history of compulsory Christianity; Jewish women reclaiming the Shekhinah, and some the ancient goddess Asherah as well; African-Americans reaching for the pre-captivity sacraments of their ancestors, and sometimes back to ancient Egyptian wisdom; Koreans bringing forth Mago, Puertorriqueñas remembering Atabey, and Mexicanas affirming la Guadalupana as Our Mother Tonantzin.

Invoking the names and images of Goddess answers a deep hunger in women, and among a growing number of men, to restore balance, for justice and truth. This longing is felt beyond pagan circles. It’s a call, a cry mounting from women within the majoritarian religions, a movement that transcends traditional religious boundaries. A great expansion is opening, from the nuns who won’t be silenced, women in the gathering Islamic reformation, all the overturnings of decreed female inconsequence, of patriarchal frameworks and hierarchies, in the flowering of an interfaith movement centered in love, not authority.

The world’s largest female ceremony, Pongala, is carried out annually in Kerala, India. A million women assemble to boil rice porridge for the goddess Attukal Amma, Bhagavati. In this massive Goddess event, women of all religions and castes make offering and blessings together, in a spirit of reverence, sisterhood, and generosity. 4 We are going through a huge cultural shift toward restoring the female to her full radiance. However you want to define that, it is rising now, through us.

1   Cheryl Straffon, Daughters of the Earth (2007), p 55

2   From Neumann, Erich, The Great Mother, Princeton University Press, 1972 (1963), p 85.

3   From Miguel León-Portilla, Aztec Thought and Culture: A Study of the Ancient Nahuatl Mind (1963), p 32

4   Dianne Jenett, “A Million Shaktis Rising: Pongala, a Women’s Festival in Kerala, India. Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 21.1 (2005) 35-55

BIO: Max Dashu founded the Suppressed Histories Archives in 1970 to research women’s heritages in the global cultural record. She teaches with images about matriculture, ceremony, medicine women, witches, female rebels and untamable women. Her new course Matricultural Eyes is here, along with streamable videos. She is the author of Witches and Pagans: Women in European Folk Religion, and a forthcoming book on  Women in Hellenic Myth and Culture. Access thousands of photo essays here.

Author: Max Dashu

Max Dashu founded the Suppressed Histories Archives in 1970 to research and document global women's history, reflecting the full spectrum of the world's peoples. She amassed a collection of 15,000 slides and 20,000 digital images, and has created 130 slideshows on female cultural heritages. For over 40 years, Max Dashu has presented visual talks in North America, Europe, and Australia (as well as via webcast and online courses). She teaches with images, scanning the cultural record: archaeology, history, art, spiritual philosophies, and orature. She has keynoted at various conferences and published in journals and anthologies such as Goddesses in World Mythology (Praeger 2010). She is also a well-known artist whose work has been featured in many feminist publications from Judy Grahn’s She Who (1976) to Manushi, a journal in India and Foremothers of Women’s Spirituality (2014). Her daily posts on the Suppressed Histories Facebook page are followed by 150,000 people. She has created two dvds: Women's Power in Global Perspective (2008) and Woman Shaman: the Ancients (2013). Her book Witches and Pagans: Women in European Folk Religion, 700-1000 has just been published by Veleda Press.

12 thoughts on “From the Archives: That Which Is Sacred by Max Dashu”

  1. O Maax – so well said! Deep and wide and relevant – such a succinct evocation of what I and so many others not only believe, but know, because we have found it to be true in our own lives. Over and over life confirms through physics and metaphysics the way of the universe that we call Mother. Blessed be, beautiful woman, for all the gifts you bring and share so generously.

    I support Max monthly as one of her matreons I urge you to do the same. A stipend by each means steady support for all the work Max Dashu does unceasingly to uncover, rediscover and perpetuate the heritage of all. Support her at

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Brava!! My dear friend, for as long as we’ve know each other (decades), I’ve been saying you know more about the Goddess and goddesses than anyone else on the planet. That’s true! Your work, both in scholarly words and as beautiful art, is unsurpassed. Keep writing! Keep creating your art. Keep bringing the Sacred Feminine to a weary, divided world. Write for FAR more often. Brightest blessings to you and your fine work.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Oh, such an excellent essay. I love these words of yours “Invoking the names and images of Goddess answers a deep hunger in women, and among a growing number of men, to restore balance, for justice and truth.” I think this is going to the ‘root’.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Max, this post brings me hope. You have such a gift for looking across the globe and over millennia to see the richness of women’s spiritual history and its deep importance to both the past and the future. It is easy to forget how powerful Goddess is and the transformation that can happen as individuals and as a society just by opening ourselves up to her, however we perceive her. Thank you for all your decades of work that you’ve already done, are doing, and will do! And please do write more often for FAR!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. You may enjoy the video of _Creatrix Litany_ that I created last year:
    “Glimpses of the Divine in female form, with images and excerpts of traditional sayings, verse, chants, and inscriptions from around the world. Poem by Max Dashu, originally published in the anthology _Talking to Goddess: Powerful Voices From many Traditions_, ed. D’vorah Grenn, 2009


    1. Very much so. It is horrifying to so the predominant pornification of Goddess, reducing her down to sex object in the narrowest possible register: thin, glam, pouting, and with breasts thrust forward.


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