Moderator’s Note: Carol Christ died from cancer in July, 2021. Her work continues through her non-profit foundation, the Ariadne Institute for the Study of Myth and Ritual and the Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete. This blog was originally posted February 4 2013. You can read it along with its original comments here.
The more I practice the spirituality of the Goddess, the more I understand that earth-based spiritualities are rooted in two fundamental principles: gratitude and sharing. We give thanks to the earth for the gift of life. As we recognize our interdependence and interconnection in the web of life, we are moved to share what has been given to us with others. *
When I first began to lead Goddess Pilgrimages in Crete, I was inspired by a line in Homer to begin a pilgrimage tradition of pouring libations of milk, honey, water, and wine on ancient stones. At first I knew the form, but not its deeper meaning. It gradually dawned on me as I thought about the large number of pouring vessels in the museums, the altar stones, and the Procession Fresco from Knossos, that an important part of Minoan rituals involved processions in which people offered first fruits back to the Mother whose body had produced them, and poured libations on altars.
Over twenty years of performing the ritual of pouring libations has convinced me that this was not “a” but “the” central Minoan ritual. Its purpose is to thank Mother Earth for the bounty She has bestowed on us. The pouring of libations is not primarily “fertility magic,” performed to induce the earth to produce another harvest. First and foremost, it is an act of gratitude for the gift of life and the gifts of life. The act of moving to and from the altar, in conjunction with others, and the act of pouring liquids onto stones embodies the grace of the flow of life.
The pouring of libations is also central in African-based spiritual traditions, where liquids are often poured onto the earth or into rivers or streams.
When everyone in a community approaches an altar and pours a libation, the community is integrated without hierarchy. The essence of these rituals is expressed in Faith Rogow’s song, “As we bless the Source of Life, so we are blessed,” which was taught to me by my friend Judith Plaskow. I have come to see that expressing gratitude for what we have been given and celebrating our place in the flow of life is one of the primary purposes of prayer and ritual.
The other basic principle of earth-based spirituality, sharing, is an outgrowth of gratitude. We did not “make ourselves,” but were given the gift of life out of and from the long history of our universe, our mother earth, the places where we live, our ancestors, and our mothers’ bodies. When we realize this on a deep level, and with gratitude for what we have been given, we are motivated to share what we have with others–in the human community and also in the whole web of life. In traditional communities ritual feasting is also a way of redistributing wealth.
Some spiritual feminists have asserted that ethics stem from a transcendent principle of justice that calls to us from outside the world. Others would say that we require the words of the prophets or the model of Jesus to convince us to act morally. Some might even speak of the fear of God. But I would say that the impulse to share what we have and to work to create a more just and harmonious world stems from recognizing how deeply we are connected to each other and to all others in the web of life in the body of our mother earth. The rituals of earth-based spirituality always end in feasting, the sharing of food and drink, the original communion.
*Thanks to Mary Hunt who in her introduction of me on the WATER teleconference featured these lines from one of my recent blogs, prompting me to write the words in this blog, as part of one of the chapters of the book I am writing with Judith Plaskow, tentatively titled, Goddess and God after Feminism: Body, Nature, and Power.
[Moderator’s note: The book which came out in 2016 is Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology. You can find it here]
BIO: Carol P. Christ (1945-2021) was an internationally known feminist and ecofeminist writer, activist, and educator. Her work continues through her non-profit foundation, the Ariadne Institute for the Study of Myth and Ritual.
“In Goddess religion death is not feared, but is understood to be a part of life, followed by birth and renewal.” — Carol P. Christ