One day, during a holiday at the home of Italian friends in the province of Lazio, some forty-five minutes by train from the centre of Rome, I experienced a powerful impression of the Sacred Feminine. She came to me in the Vatican of all places, centuries old male stronghold, and power centre of the Roman Catholic Church.
Even more surprisingly, her presence was more prominent in the Sistine Chapel, the Pope’s own place of prayer, where Cardinals sit in all male conclave. But there she was, shining through the restored colour on that famous ceiling through the brushstrokes of Michelangelo. I was picking up loud echoes immortalised for centuries through his art, tuning into the soul of the artist, seeing his inspiration in terms of angels speaking in colour and light. But then he was called after an Archangel whose name means Who is like God. God is creative, He created heaven and earth according to the scriptures, but now it was looking like She might have created it with him. Somehow over the years in Christianity, the real Sacred Feminine has been hidden away, negated, turned into a virginal statue with little visible life energy from earth.
Part of what poetry does is to give us the world around us seen with a clear eye, without judgement or preconceptions. You are stating just what is, but always with a foot in both worlds, always seeing the mundane in its place in the universal. In “The Earthen Cloak,” I was blessed with the hospitality of a Quaker friend who guided me through a hidden graveyard deep in the woods, where Friends had chosen to be buried under trees and amid rhododendrons, leaving a legacy of their own love of the Earth. (It’s legal to be buried “straight into the ground” in North Carolina, without a casket but often with a shroud.)
In prisons in Canada and around the world, a large percentage of criminalized people, who are more often than not, victimized people, Indigenous people make up significant percentages. In a recent *talk I gave, accompanying Indigenous Elder and Artist Philip Cote, we addressed what happens when colonial narratives and patriarchal narratives collide. The result is that our worldviews are shattered. When our worldviews, which are our foundational way of meaning-making, are dismissed, denied, and in the case of cultural genocide: decimated, our heart health fails. Our bodies, our minds, our souls become disconnected become dissociated. Become imprisoned. Imprisoned in the figurative sense and eventually over time, in the literal sense.
Mountain Mother, I hear you calling me. Mountain Mother, we hear your cry. Mountain Mother, we have come back to you. Mountain Mother, we hear your sigh. Lyrics by Carol P. Christ . Sung to the tune of “Ancient Mother.” (origin unknown)
What do a bunch of feminist women do while riding a tour bus around the Mediterranean island of Crete? If they are on the Goddess Pilgrimage started by Carol Christ and continued by Laura Shannon, they sing songs honoring the Goddess. The song that drew me most from the first time I heard it on the fall 2022 Goddess Pilgrimage was “Mountain Mother.” Not surprising since the rocky, sparsely vegetated, yet hauntingly beautiful mountains of Crete surrounded us much of the time as our trusty bus wound its way up and down and around the island.
The recent backlash against women and feminism, highlighted by the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, has left many people asking: Is feminism dead? Or if it isn’t dead, is it lost? The decision dealt a blow to one of the most basic freedoms of women—control over their own bodies. In the rush to protect the life of embryos and fetuses, the lives of millions of women will be compromised if not lost altogether, especially poor and BIPOC women.
The Court is inflicting its right-wing views on a country that does not share its values; a majority of Americans support a woman’s right to abortion. “The “triumphal right,” says Susan Faludi in an interview with Michelle Goldberg, “has taken the gloves off and is pursuing a scorched-earth campaign against women’s most fundamental rights.” [i] And although the feminist movement cannot be reduced to the fight for reproductive justice (with issues such as maternity leave, equal pay, childcare, healthcare, etc., still on the table), banning abortion has become the tip of the patriarchal iceberg.
“The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” Audre Lorde
Question: What tools do we have that are powerful enough to dismantle the Master’s house?
Storytelling does not belong to the “master.” Storytelling is subversive because it belongs to the collective and not to the individual; it gives agency to the powerless; it is not dependent on time or money, and it makes visible those who are overlooked and ignored in our globalized industrialized system.
We are not seeking to overthrow the patriarchy or “master,” and replace him with a queen. We are seeking something which Riane Eisler (2002) would call a partnership society or a society in which polarities are well balanced, in which the masculine and feminine values which we all hold are given equal weight. We have become so indoctrinated in the patriarchal master’s way of thinking that we think we need some show of force, some violence, some upheaval to create the more beautiful world. But – truthfully – it won’t look like that. It might actually look like a group of women and men gathering together in a circle, in community, to tell stories. Storytelling is subversive because it belongs to the community; it is a medicine to transmute the toxins of industrialized society; it is a spiritual practice. Storytelling is the antidote to empire.
I believe many could and would characterize abuse and exploitation as varying degrees of sin, from gossip and verbal intimidation on one end of the spectrum to murder, rape or thievery on the other. Yet, while we’ve normalized some acts that we recognize fall into the categories of abuse and exploitation, if you asked someone if society has normalized sin, I suspect most people would say “of course not.” I believe that cognitive disconnect is proof we’ve become numb and acculturated to many forms of abuse. The concept of sin, and what constitutes sin along with redemption, purification and penance are not on the minds of people today as they once were, despite the rampant abuse and exploitation, aka sin. We accept it like we’ve come to believe greed is good when it once was one of the Seven Deadly Sins. I think prosperity gospels too need to be evaluated for the anti-Jesus message these teachings perpetuate that does little to advance an evolved and compassionate humanity.
This past summer, my family and I lovingly carried my brother’s ashes to a favorite spot of his, in the woods at our grandparents’ Catskill farm. My mind was on the simple, beautiful ritual, each of us stating memories and scattering some of the ashes around the tree, and singing a few songs. It had slipped my mind that this tree grew at the entrance of the very meadow where, at age 11, I felt urgently compelled to create a ritual for myself, just at puberty, where I connected with the Grandmothers of the four directions. No one had taught me this, and I am still in wonder at what we carry with us, undoubtedly from prior lives. I feel that this poem was my self initiating myself into the world of the Goddess, and preparing for my own future.
In this poem, the Grandmothers are speaking to me, with a bit of disdain and fond teasing.
When I became a feminist, I realized that somebody had to write all about this women’s art that was out there being totally ignored, and it was going to be me. And of course the ideas and the discoveries about what women’s art was……. I look at it for the information it gives me about women’s imagery, women’s psyches, women’s lives, and women’s experience.”
I have been making art, masks, and theatre about “surfacing” for a very long time. As a child I was always digging at the roots of trees, fascinated by their interwoven strength, wondering how far down they went. That fascination never really left me. Sometimes it occurs to me that I and most of my colleagues are “spiritual archeologists”, sorting through artifacts and the mythic overlay of the past to re-discover and re-vitalize the present. I joined many of those colleagues for over 20 years: un-earthing, re-inventing, and animating stories of the Great Goddess throughout world culture with the Masks of the Goddess Project (1999-2019), among other collaborations. I am not religious, so much as I am a mythologist, following archetypal trails of myth back and back, seeking the sacred source they often reveal.
Note: This is based on a podcast which can be heard here.
What is love? What’s love got to do with pain and suffering? Are they related? Pain and love? Must one always be present with the other? In this blogpost I explore pain and suffering through a womanist perspective (centering the perspectives and lived experiences of Black women) and discuss how to live into wholeness and wellness. This is especially important because the Black community/women in particular’s experience in the US (and globally) has been and continues to be defined by pain and suffering. What are the theological implications?
How have Christian frameworks at associating love with sacrifice and pain justified the pain and suffering of Black women? How can we decolonize love so that liberated Black women are empowered to embrace a love that does not hurt first with false promises of rewards later in life or afterlife? Black women, pain does not equal love.
Part 1 was posted on December 18. You can read it here.
But what was the straw that broke the camel’s back in my case? What hurled me into that dark abyss I described earlier? The paranoia, the anxiety, the nightmares and sleeplessness. Not opening my closet in three years or not caring about much of anything. The fear of being alone in a place or in a crowd of strangers. Fear of going to unfamiliar places. Of driving myself across town. Did it start with the collective trauma and abuse mentioned earlier? I can’t be sure, but therapy definitely points to my attack by an inebriated young woman wielding a stun gun. She looked to be college age. One would never have guessed her capable of such a senseless assault. I told few people about it but it was years before I realized how that event stifled my voice. Yet “they” – the authorities in society – say if we don’t talk about assault right away it must not be true. Or we’ve waited too long to talk. They want us to talk on their timetable about damage done to us when there might not be visible wounds or we even understand the psychological scars that might not have surfaced yet. It was a few years after the attack that I finally sought the help of a therapist and was diagnosed with the PTSD or post traumatic stress disorder that changed my life.
I considered myself savvy and educated and an advocate for peace, fairness and equality. I thought abuse was something that happened to others, not me. But it was happening to me. It had happened to me and I didn’t see the danger signs as my life careened off the road. I became aware abuse and the resulting trauma can happen to anyone. I came to realize we have to examine all aspects of our lives for both blatant and insidious abuse. We must recognize it and take steps to eradicate abuse from our lives and society. That’s where I’ve been on for the last five years and I’m only now able to begin to share that journey. To write a new book, Normalizing Abuse, and bring my radio show, Voices of the Sacred Feminine, back on the air after a long hiatus.
If you knew me before my unraveling, you might remember I was the hostess of the Voices of the Sacred Feminine podcast for more than a decade where I had the privilege of interviewing some of the most prominent thought leaders in spirituality, politics and academia. I’d published six books, gave talks at the Parliament of World Religions, the Academy of Religion and various other public and private associations. I had done dozens of interviews and was all over YouTube. I was out there and then gradually I wasn’t. I faded away and became a shadow of my former self. And for a time I don’t think I cared if I ever came back. I had no motivation or inspiration. I didn’t open my closet for three years. I didn’t care if I bathed or brushed my teeth. I was dreaming someone was trying to push me into a dark hole in the wall of a building. I’d hear floorboards creaking and feared the foundation of the house I was living in would collapse. I’d wake up with heart palpitations because the latest dream was one where our home had no ceiling or roof. I’d think cars slowly driving by my house were surveillance.
This blogpost is a reflection on my experience creating a podcast series concerning religious trauma experienced in cults as well as how to heal from traumatic cult experiences.
Firstly, I had to be very intentional about the word survivor as opposed to victim. Survivor was the obvious choice because I used to cringe when thinking of myself as a victim. However, As I heal, I can honor both the survivor and the victim, for they are the same. I cannot forget to acknowledge though that some victims do not survive and this is the same concerning cults. Many people at this very moment are in exile or in hiding from their cults when they escape and for that reason some of the people who engaged in this series were forced to engage anonymously.
Moderator’s Note: Margot reads each of her poems aloud. They can be heard through the links in the titles.
“And what then is poetry?” We ask this time and time and time again. And poetry HERself answers. SHE needs no descriptor. Mimetic sagacity spells HER clarity. ~~~ Dreams be Fed I am a body that remembers
The joys of falling into hues of
Brilliant blues and greens.
I am a soul that trades in Cinnamon and spices.
Elevating chance. Caressing mystery. I am a will that conceives fat Ebullient Moon as Golden Goddess. Divine.
On Friday, September 16, 2022 Mahsa Amini died in a Tehran hospital having been arrested by Iranian morality police on September 13 for wearing “inappropriate attire”. She was 22. Mahsa’s family claims she had bruises to her head and limbs from being beaten. The Iranian police dispute that claim saying Mahsa died from a pre-existing health condition.
Mahsa’s death sparked major protests against the Islamic Republic in Iran and protests of support are occurring around the world. Women are burning their hijabs, which they are mandated by Iranian law to wear, chanting, “Women, life, freedom”. They are cutting their hair which is a longstanding symbol of protest and loss in Iran’s history. This action harkens back to the epic Persian poem “Shahnameh” by Ferdowsi in which hair is a theme and the cutting of hair a symbol of mourning. Around the world, people have followed suit by cutting their hair in solidarity with the protesters in Iran. A recent chant by the protesters is “it’s the beginning of the end” as they challenge their theocratic government.
The Cailleach is a Celtic Ancestor-Goddess, a Divine Hag, a Crone who controls the winter winds in the far reaches of remote places. Living in the still-wild mountains of Western North Carolina, I’ve found it is easy to conjure up the Cailleach rising up through a rhododendron “hell.” She certainly took my breath away, and captured my consciousness, when I wrote this poem in 1995. Some years later, Lisa Sturz of the Red Herring Puppets created for me the eight-foot tall, wearable Grandmother puppet you see here. She has appeared in a number of my theater productions to the Goddess, while the poem was being dramatically read, with improvised music on the psaltery. Grandmother is happy to be coming out of my basement once more, for the Samhain service at our Unitarian church here in Black Mountain.
Last night I found myself crying over Tiamat. Tiamat is one of the most ancient Babylonian Creatress Goddesses. She is known as the Goddess of the Salty Sea and is considered the primordial Creatress in Sumerian religion. Tiamat was slaughtered in the vilest of ways to demonstrate the death of the Goddess and the rise of the God. She was defiled and written about in such a way as to discredit women and provide justification for the slaughtering, defiling, and enslavement of “enemy” women abroad and “bad” women at home.
As I was reading Carol Christ’s Rebirth of the Goddess, I found myself shaken to the core at the ways in which Tiamat was defiled and destroyed in the “epic” called the Enuma Elish. As someone who is well aware of the ways in which the Goddess and women have been usurped throughout time and space, I was still so broken down after reading it that I had an actual ugly cry in my living room. I want to tell you to read the Enuma Elish to understand why I feel this way, but I also want to warn you about the way you might feel afterwards. It is a difficult read.
This post started as a comment to Annie Finch’s part 1 of Abortion As A Sacrament post. Realizing it was a story that was getting too long, I’m sharing it here as a reiteration of the practical significance of ritual, and finding our way through the no-longer-charted territories of being a female human — in the sense that if we were a female of any other animal form, we would still know exactly how to navigate all the challenges.
I had a years-long pregnancy-related experience in which ritual was the only thing to finally bringing closure, though the real issue was more the other being’s feelings or intent than mine. About a year after the birth of my only child, still nursing full time and using what should have been sufficient birth control, I became pregnant and aborted at Planned Parenthood. I had been well along, not having suspected anything because my menses hadn’t yet returned.
At the time, there was no debate in my mind, if I had added another responsibility to my already excessive load, I would have failed at everything, the most important being my daughter.
Part 1 was posted yesterday. You can read it here.
Though becoming a witch has been a lifelong, gradual process during which I have enacted and developed many rituals, if I had to choose one moment to mark the time I entered my full witchy power, this would be it. This ritual was the first time in my life that I had been thrown entirely on my own resources as a witch, to craft a ritual that was necessary for my survival and that I had no idea how to obtain in any other way. With this ritual I saved my own life, both in a spiritual sense and on a more literal level, since living with such misery and anger would surely have debilitated my physical health.
A friend who is a therapist tells me that she feels many of the women in her practice who are most troubled carry unresolved grief from abortions, and that therapy doesn’t seem to be addressing it. I used to wonder why, as a person who has successfully used many kinds of therapy, I didn’t seek out therapy after my abortion (although a fabulous book by a therapist, Peace After Abortion, truly was helpful). My sense of it now is that I was suffering, not from a wound within my separate self, but instead, from a more raw and basic need that had to be satisfied outside myself, with others: the simple hunger for the spiritual nurturing of communal ritual at one of the most profound moments of my life, the moment when I encountered not only the blood mystery of birth, not only the blood mystery of death, but both of them combined, together, at once.
There is great insight in this feminist truism from the 1970s: “if men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.” According to Faye Wattleton’s memoir, this pithy remark was first spoken by a female cab driver as she drove Wattleton and Gloria Steinem to a feminist rally in New York City. We might think of the sacrament part of the quote as an ironic joke, an over-exaggeration for comedic effect. But I began to take the remark much more seriously after I had an abortion myself, as a 42-year old witch and a mother of two, and encountered a profound spiritual depth in the experience. It was then that I finally came to understand the complex web of will, mind, body, heart, and spirit, of family, self, and society, of future and past, that may be summoned and considered and experienced in the choice to end a pregnancy.
By the time I had the abortion, I had considered the decision deeply and—for reasons I needn’t go into here— was sure it was absolutely the right one for myself and our family. The procedure itself was smooth and painless, even beautiful. The doctor was experienced, gentle, and sensitive. The clinic was so aware of the spiritual and psychological dimensions of abortion that I was invited me to choose a lovely smooth small stone to hold during the operation and bury afterwards to create closure. It would be hard to imagine a better abortion clinic experience.
My book Sitting on the Hag Seat carries the blue cover I designed. Buried in the blue, riding the spiral Wheel of Return, stands a small Sheela-na-gig. The Sheela’ s origins remain unknown and controversial. It sometimes seem to me that the less explanation exists for a mysterious object or occasion, the more emotional attachment accrues to the opinions of diverging theorists. However, no matter what symbolism is ascribed to Sheela-na gig, her frequent placement above church doors or in the walls of cities, castles and watch towers, does seem to support a protective aspect not necessarily at odds with other attributions.
Part 1 was posted yesterday. You can read it here.
Arriving in Heraklion on Crete, I was enlivened by the sea air and the informal “island” vibration. My sister and I made our way through its labyrinthine streets, following Daedalus, a pedestrian street named after the legendary creator of the labyrinth at Knossos, the prototype of the artist, who Joyce names as his stand-in in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses. Our hotel was on Theotokopolous Street. (They’d call you El Greco too if your name was Domenikus Theotokopolous.) Nikos Kazantzakis was also from Heraklion, a city noted for its artists.
Knossos was a small, contained place circled by pine trees, unlike the sprawling sun-drenched expanse of a typical archeological site. There were restored ocher columns, four storeys to the palace, open courtyards for bull leaping, and cisterns that had been used for self-purification. Its red clay and turquoise frescoes were so familiar to me, with their vivid colors and playful lines that Matisse could have envied. No wonder it was the prototype of a work of art!
My sister and I arrived in Athens midafternoon on Lamas, the feast day of the first harvest. A blast of dry heat greeted us as we left the airport and surveyed the barren brown hills. It transported me to my childhood when I’d lived in distant and exotic climates, and I felt the old excitement of being abroad again.
Going to Greece had long been a dream of mine. It was a spiritual pilgrimage, a Hajj to be undertaken at least once in a lifetime. Greece figured prominently in the college classes on the Goddess I had taught for ten years, but I’d only known it through the books and slides I lectured from. I longed to see its sacred sites in person.
Our hotel was at the base of the Acropolis, within a block of the Acropolis Museum, a stunning work of modern architecture that quotes the structure of the Parthenon. The Parthenon and Erechtheon had been stripped of their bas reliefs and engravings—even the famed Karatydids– were now housed in the museum, either already or soon to be replaced by copies on the temples.
We have to thank a woman named Natalie M. Kalmus for her contributions to the development of color on screen. Being a woman and the executive head of the Technicolor art department in the 1930’s was nothing short of extraordinary, and, in 1935 she released a document titled Color Consciousness in which she explored color theory and the use of color on screen. And, while this was illuminating and groundbreaking at a time, we also have some serious problems with the document that need to be re-examined from an anti-racist and feminist perspective.
Kalmus tells us how and when to use color given that particular color’s moral and psychological associations. She tells us that different colors evoke emotional reactions from the audience because these colors paint a realistic worldview. This presents a problem because, if, as Kalmus suggests, the usage of color and its associations represent a realistic worldview then the worldview Kalmus presents is an inherently racist one. Kalmus writes that black “… has a distinctly negative and destructive aspect. Black instinctively recalls night, fear, darkness, crime. It suggests funerals, mourning. It is impenetrable, comfortless, secretive.” In stark contrast to the color black, Kalmus writes that white “… reflects the greatest amount of light, it emanates a luminosity which symbolizes spirit. White represents purity, cleanliness, peace, marriage… White uplifts and ennobles, while black lowers and renders more base and evil any color.” To put it simply: black is evil and white is good. What does any of this have to do with spirituality? Well, the way we think and feel about color and how characters are depicted on screen taps into our psychological understanding of how “good” or “bad” a color is. This trickles over into our magical and spiritual practices with the notions of “Black Magic” vs. “White Magic.” We often associate someone who practices black magic as someone who works with dark or evil forces, and white magic with someone who practices magic for the good of others.
Gratitude to the FAR community for welcoming my poems as of April of this year. Various earlier poems have been my way of introducing myself.
My work as a poet and composer has been centered around welcoming the reemergence of the Goddess in all Her forms. So this time I’ve submitted two poems referring to two of the many Goddesses who have influenced my life so profoundly.
Ix Chel is a Mayan Goddess of childbirth, midwifery, medicine and the moon. She has been especially honored and featured in artwork and sculpture on the Isle of Women (Isla Mujeres) in Mexico. She appeared to me in Her aspect as a young woman, the Jaguar Woman. In my mind’s eye, I associated Ix Chel with my beautiful son Peter who passed away in 2004, imagining them living joyously together in the Otherworld. Thanks to Deb Pollard for showing all aspects of the Moon above our heads as we sleep.
My second poem was born on a trip through the just-blooming peach orchards of South Carolina. A vision came to me of the Peach Maidens reaching out over millennia to the young priestesses of ancient Crete, dancing in celebration of each other’s beauty. And also sharing of their truth-telling and hard-earned wisdom.
There have been a few intriguing posts recently on creating new narratives (by Carolyn Lee Boyd, whose ‘dollops of mud’ inspired the title of this post), and reinterpreting existing ones that are deeply embedded in the fabric of our cultures (such as Moses and Rambo by Janet Rudolph). I distinguish re-creating personal and collective narratives as two aspects of this fascinating task.
The first aspect addresses our capacity to rewrite our personal narrative. What story do we tell about our lives? One of my teachers, Ya’Acov Darling Khan, says ‘we humans are story tellers by nature, so we better tell a good one!’ This doesn’t mean ‘making up’ a story, embellishing the facts, or putting sugar over shit, but exploring our own hero/ine’s journey, overcoming obstacles with courage, seeking help from allies, daring to go into the darkness and emerging with new insights, and most of all, what I call the skill to ‘harvest the wisdom gifts’ of life’s experiences. I look forward to writing more about this another time.
An excerpt from SpiritualiTEA with Chasity Podcast Episode 3: Why are we afraid of Divination??? What is divination?
Divination is from Latin divinare “to foresee, to be inspired by a god”. (Goleman, David. The Varieties of the Meditative Experience. London: Rider, 1975.)
“DIVINATION IS A SACRAMENT!!” – Chastity S. Jones
This is beautiful to me because it reminds me of how when the prophets would begin to prophesy in the bible or even the explosive forward movement of the spread of the gospel- driven by the Holy Spirit, as well as those who documented the gospel are all described as being inspired by God.
The most popular form of divination right now is tarot cards but we will discuss how there are many other forms- including forms that are acceptable in the church RIGHT NOW.
There are many bible verses cursing those who divine but I want to reiterate that one bible verse cannot be a comprehensive ethic or set of ethics, especially when there are other verses that contradict that verse.
Nature and dance are my gateways to the mystery, where I can bring my worries, exhaustion, prayers, celebrations and gratitude. These gateways open to places deep within and far beyond my perception and imagination. They create an impromptu sacred space that emerges, flexes, stretches, and nurtures, and always ‘meets’ me regardless of my emotional state.
In this post I reflect on the possibilities of danced spirituality in relation to the overarching theme of Feminism and Religion. How does dance relate to our sense of personal expression, freedom and take on life as gender-aware people, and our experience of spiritual intimacy?
Dance is a versatile practice to move through life in an empowered way and to strengthen our connection with the numinous. I truly believe that everyone can dance, and one of my roles as a ceremonial dance facilitator is to help people re-connect with the dancer inside them.
Greetings Feminism and Religion family! It has been soooo long and I have missed you so much!!
I have been working on a few projects that were rudely interrupted by a heartbreaking divorce, decisions of survival, and the subsequent recovery that followed this period. I have spent the past at least 6 months healing from the shame, guilt, pain, and blame that was placed in my lap for the collapse of the marriage. Needless to say, that shit is heavy and it kept me in an endless and perpetual night- not the beautiful mysterious, infinite, expansive darkness that I have come to know but the night that I was afraid of when I was young. No one could save me from the ways that I tormented myself or questioned my womanhood, motherhood in particular. Even more, no one could save me from being an emotional punching bag from my ex-spouse, who also torments himself.
That being said, I am on the mend and am settled in my own apartment furnished with peace, wholeness, and healing for myself and my daughter. As an earth sign, stable ground and a comfortable home in which I can be myself means the world to me. I am a spiritual advisor at a recovery center in Massachusetts and therefore have studied the art of recovery in many ways. Recovery from loss and recovery of self are two procedures that I address in my upcoming book, Black Gold: The Road to Black Infinity!!