Legacy of Carol P. Christ: Curiosity About Everything and the Language of the Goddess

The was originally posted on April 14, 2014

mochlos altar stone

My recent discovery of Marija Gimbutas on Youtube rekindled my admiration for her work. In her slide-lecture “The World of the Goddess” Marija Gimbutas allows us to follow the line of reasoning she used to decipher the “language of the Goddess” in Old Europe.

Careful attention to her lecture shows that Gimbutas did not close her eyes, dream, and then attach her own ideas and intuitions to the artifacts she later discussed. Rather, she catalogued groups of images with similar symbolism and used her knowledge of nature (what does a water bird or an owl look like?) and folklore (she collected thousands of songs connected to the agricultural and life cycles in her native Lithuania in the 1930s) to unlock the meaning of ancient symbols.

Continue reading “Legacy of Carol P. Christ: Curiosity About Everything and the Language of the Goddess”

Legacy of Carol P. Christ: Religions and the Abuse of Women and Girls: God Is the Problem

This was originally posted on November 12, 2018

At the 2009 meeting of the Parliament of World Religions, former US President Jimmy Carter called the worldwide abuse of girls and women the greatest unaddressed human rights crisis of our time. In the book that followed the speech, he compared sexism to the racism he witnessed in the US South, stating:

There is a similar system of discrimination, extending far beyond a small geographical region to the entire globe; it touches every nation, perpetuating and expanding the trafficking in human slaves, body mutilation, and even legitimized murder on a massive scale. This system is based on the presumption that men and boys are superior to women and girls.

Continue reading “Legacy of Carol P. Christ: Religions and the Abuse of Women and Girls: God Is the Problem”

Return to Mountain Mother[1] by Jeanne F. Neath

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 [2]. 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.

Continue reading “Return to Mountain Mother[1] by Jeanne F. Neath”

Legacy of Carol P. Christ: Woman and Nature: Our Bodies Are Ourselves

This was originally posted on June 26, 2017

This earth is my sister; I love her daily grace, her silent daring, and how loved I am how we admire the strength in each other, all that we have suffered, all that we have lost, all that we know. We are stunned by this beauty, and I do not forget: what she is to me, what I am to her.

These words are from Susan Griffin’s Woman and Nature which I often recommend as one of my favorite books. Over the years I have read this passage and others from Woman and Nature aloud with my students, and we have always been moved, most  of us to tears. More recently these words have become the center of the “Morning Blessing” on the Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete.

Continue reading “Legacy of Carol P. Christ: Woman and Nature: Our Bodies Are Ourselves”

Rhiannon by Diane Finkle Perazzo

This poem is dedicated with gratitude to my “Women in the Mabinogi” writing group…

Rhiannon comes to me in my dreams.
She ebbs and flows like the waxing and waning  
of the moon.

Steady hoofbeats, 
clop, clop, clop  
and then, in a rush of beating wings
she vanishes,
leaving a swirl of tiny white petals that spiral like stars.

Continue reading “Rhiannon by Diane Finkle Perazzo”

Woman’s Sacred Hand – and Handkerchief by Laura Shannon

Berber Hamsa. Photo: public domain.

In my recent post ‘Forty Days After Childbirth, Mary Returns to the World,’ I wrote that ‘the woman’s power to bless and protect, as well as to create, is shown in the symbol of her hand.’ We see expressions of this power in the Orthodox Christian icon of the Three-Handed Madonna, whose third hand is over her womb, and the Hamsa, the hand-shaped talisman common to Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions. Also known as the Hand of Fatima, Miriam, or Mary, the Hamsa often incorporates eye or vulva motifs, which also offer protection.

Hand, womb, and eye all signify female creative power, personified in the image of Goddess and revered in Neolithic Old Europe. This life-giving principle is expressed in many ways apart from childbearing: as Carol Christ affirms, early technologies of spinning, weaving, pottery, and agriculture, along with Neolithic religion, were most likely invented by women. 

Continue reading “Woman’s Sacred Hand – and Handkerchief by Laura Shannon”

Legacy of Carol P. Christ: Speak the Truth about Conflict, Pain, and Suffering: It Is Not All Love and Light

This was originally posted on July 23, 2018

Nurture life.
Walk in love and beauty.
Trust the knowledge that comes through the body.
Speak the truth about conflict, pain, and suffering.
Take only what you need.
Think about the consequences of your actions for seven generations.
Approach the taking of life with great restraint.
Practice great generosity.
Repair the web

Continue reading “Legacy of Carol P. Christ: Speak the Truth about Conflict, Pain, and Suffering: It Is Not All Love and Light”

From the Archives: Brigid, Goddess of Healing, Poetry, and Smithcraft by Judith Shaw

This was originally posted on January 31, 2013

Brigid, the Celtic Goddess of Healing, Poetry, and Smithcraft, begins her reign on Imbolic, February 2, the midpoint between winter solstice and spring equinox. On this day the ancient Celts held their Fire Festival in honor of Brigid and the growing light. In Scotland, as recently as the mid-twentieth century, houses were cleaned and the hearth fires rekindled on February 2, to welcome in  Brigid.  Remnants of this festival are found in America today on Groundhog Day.

Like the Cailleach, She existed in many places and  was known by many names.  The Irish called her Brighde; she was Bride in Scotland,  Brigantia in Northern Britain, and Brigandu in France.  Some called her Brid, Brig or Brighid.  Later she was transformed by Christianity into Saint Bridget.  Her older name was BREO SAIGHEAD.   Her name has various interpretations, many relating to fire – “Power,” “Renown” “Fiery Arrow of Power ” “Bright Arrow”, “The Bright One”, “The Powerful One”, “The High One” and “The Exalted One”.

Continue reading “From the Archives: Brigid, Goddess of Healing, Poetry, and Smithcraft by Judith Shaw”

Legacy of Carol P. Christ: “What Would Happen If One Woman Told the Truth about Her Life?”

This was originally posted on September 24, 2018

According to poet Muriel Rukeyser, “the world would split open.”

This poem accurately describes what many women experienced in consciousness raising in the 1970s and what many women experience today in the #MeToo movement.

For many of us the world did split open. We began to take ourselves and our experiences seriously. To do so we had to question received wisdom encoded in such questions as: “What was she doing there in the first place?” “Was she drinking too?” “Why didn’t she change out of her bathing suit?” Underlying these questions is the assumption that: “whatever happened, she must have asked for it.”

A lot of people are wondering why congressmen and voters who claim to uphold Christian principles are not more outraged about credible allegations of sexual assault against a child whose name was Christine Blasey. What this question fails to address is the fact that the Christian principles (if any) held by conservatives are steeped in patriarchy. Liberals may argue that Jesus would have cared about the girl, and I believe they are right. But the Christianity that developed after his death was centered on the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, all of whom are male. This Christianity is patriarchal to the core: its deep message is that power belongs the hands of males and that male power is not to be questioned.

Continue reading “Legacy of Carol P. Christ: “What Would Happen If One Woman Told the Truth about Her Life?””

Legacy of Carol P. Christ: The Mountain Mother: Reading the Language of the Goddess in the Symbols of Ancient Crete

The blog was originally posted on May 22, 2017

Before he told the story of how his people received the sacred pipe, Black Elk said:

So I know that it is a good thing I am going to do; and because no good thing can be done by any man alone, I will first make an offering and send a voice to the Spirit of the World, that it may help me to be true. See, I fill this sacred pipe with the bark of the red willow; but before we smoke it, you must see how it is made and what it means. These four ribbons hanging here on the stem are the four quarters of the universe. The black one is for the west where the thunder beings live to send us rain; the white one for the north, whence comes the great white cleansing wind; the red one for the east, whence springs the light and where the morning star lives to give men wisdom; the yellow for the south, whence come the summer and the power to grow.

But these four spirits are only one Spirit after all, and this eagle feather here is for that One, which is like a father, and also it is for the thoughts of men that should rise high as eagles do. Is not the sky a father and the earth a mother, and are not all living things with feet or wings or roots their children? And this hide upon the mouthpiece here, which should be bison hide, is for the earth, from whence we came and at whose breast we suck as babies all our lives, along with all the animals and birds and trees and grasses. And because it means all this, and more than any man can understand, the pipe is holy. [italics added]

In this passage Black Elk illustrates the multivalency of symbols: the sacred pipe does not have a single meaning, but many meanings, in fact, more meanings than anyone can understand.

Continue reading “Legacy of Carol P. Christ: The Mountain Mother: Reading the Language of the Goddess in the Symbols of Ancient Crete”

Legacy of Carol P. Christ: Mountain Mother, I Hear You Calling

This was originally posted on July 7, 2014

The mountaintop shrines of Mount Juctas in Archanes, Crete are situated on twin peaks, which may have symbolized breasts. Ancient shrines on the northern peak date from 2200 BCE until at least the end of the Ariadnian (Minoan) period in 1450 BCE. A crevice in the rock was filled with offerings of pottery, clay images of women and men in ritual dress, diseased bodies and body parts, sheep and cattle, and other objects. Excavations to a depth of 13 meters did not reach the bottom layers. Many offerings had been burned, suggesting that the objects were first thrown into fire and then dropped into the crevice. People who climbed the mountain for the festivals would have spilled over both peaks and there may have been shrines as well as fires on both of them.

Continue reading “Legacy of Carol P. Christ: Mountain Mother, I Hear You Calling”

Legacy of Carol P. Christ: Think About the Consequences of Your Actions for Seven Generation

This was originally post on Aug 6, 2018

Nurture life.

Walk in love and beauty.

Trust the knowledge that comes through the body.

Speak the truth about conflict, pain, and suffering.

Take only what you need.

Think about the consequences of your actions for seven generations.

Approach the taking of life with great restraint.

Practice great generosity.

Repair the web

In Rebirth of the Goddess, I offered Nine Touchstones of Goddess Spirituality as an alternative to the Ten Commandments. The Nine Touchstones are intended to inform all our relationships, whether personal, communal, social, or political.

Continue reading “Legacy of Carol P. Christ: Think About the Consequences of Your Actions for Seven Generation”

From the Archives: “The Importance of Religion for Ecofeminism,” by Ivy Helman.

Author’s note: Originally published on January 8, 2017, this post still speaks to me 6 years-to-the-day later. Now, when I teach ecofeminism, I dedicate a week to religion as we cannot deny the way in which Western patriarchy and religion have coexisted and often fed off each other. The only distinction I would add to this original post is that not all religions are equal when it comes to patriarchy and its misdeeds. Christianity has had more power and influence than others. However, Christianity is not the only religion to hold patriarchal views. That needs to change. May the New Year bring more of that needed change.

“Why is religion important to ecofeminism?” A student, in the Master’s course I teach at Charles University, asked this as we began the class session dedicated to the topic. Given the overwhelming presence of atheism in the Czech Republic, I wasn’t too surprised by the inquiry.  Nonetheless, the idea has been at the back of my mind ever since: what does religion have to do with ending patriarchy and bolstering the health of the planet? While I may take the connection as obvious, it is clearly not for many feminists out there. Here is how I understand it.

Continue reading “From the Archives: “The Importance of Religion for Ecofeminism,” by Ivy Helman.”

Legacy of Carol P. Christ: ERA—Equal Rights for Women—in the US: Has Our Time Finally Come?

This was originally posted on Nov 18, 2019

On August 26, 1970, I borrowed an old VW bug from my mentor and summer employer Michael Novak to drive from Oyster Bay, Long Island to New York City to take part in the Women’s Strike for Equality march down Fifth Avenue. Some 50,000 women attended the march and another 50,000 took part in sister actions around the United States. The march celebrated the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Women’s Suffrage Amendment that gave women the right to vote. The ERA was on our minds, but it was not the only issue on the feminist agenda. We believed that all the walls created by patriarchy would come tumbling down, and soon!

Continue reading “Legacy of Carol P. Christ: ERA—Equal Rights for Women—in the US: Has Our Time Finally Come?”

From the Archives: New Year and Sustainable Resolution by Sara Frykenberg

This was originally posted on January 3, 2017

I am writing this blog on New Year’s Day, so Happy New Year! Today I say these words as both a statement of hope and as invocation. Happy New Year: may it be! My twin told me that our horoscope said that 2017 would be a party: we should throw our energies into anything and everything we want to see happen in our worlds because it can and will happen this year—may it be! Because it certainly doesn’t feel like a time for flourishing. I echo the introductory sentiments of Kate’s blog last Friday:

I am fried. These last two years proved personally & professionally exhausting. And yet, another year looms ahead unavoidably — another incredibly demanding year which will require more than I can fathom I actually have to give at this moment.”

Yes Kate. Oh my god/dess yes. This is exactly how I feel… and sitting down to write this blog this morning, I felt overcome with a wave of anxiety and stress, focused on all the things I have to do, the lack of time I have to do them, and the lack of energy I feel. Lurking beneath this stress is real pain and fear. What should we expect this year, in light of what’s already happening, in light of the hate already ignited? I think I have been locked in this pain and this fear.

Continue reading “From the Archives: New Year and Sustainable Resolution by Sara Frykenberg”

Legacy of Carol P. Christ: What I Celebrate at Christmas

This was originally posted December 28, 2020

Though I have not been Christian for many years, I love to decorate my house for the holidays. I have many decorations that I have collected over the years, including a Hummel angel gazing at the Christ child that was my father’s mother’s and a small crocheted Christmas tree given to me by my mother. My Christmas tree is a living one in a pot, and I usually manage to keep it alive on the balcony or outside for several years. One of my hobbies is collecting ornaments for the tree. Among my favorites are glass icicles and snowflakes crocheted by my friend Alexis many decades ago. There are white doves and brown birds that land on the tree branches and glass balls that have come into the stores again in recent years.

Christmas tree and newly laid carpets

Continue reading “Legacy of Carol P. Christ: What I Celebrate at Christmas”

Deconstructing and Reconstructing Love by Chasity Jones

Note: This is based on a podcast which can be heard here.

“Black love exists and Black women deserve love that does not require pain.”

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.

Continue reading “Deconstructing and Reconstructing Love by Chasity Jones”

Legacy of Carol P. Christ: On Believing Things That Are Not True

This was originally posted on August 19, 2019 (when the former guy was President. Although former guy isn’t in power now, Carol’s points are still operative in our world.)

Anyone who is following American politics these days knows that the American President and his acolytes have little respect for what the rest of us consider to be the truth—or at least the best approximation of the truth that we can discern. Last week, while discussing the “lie” of white supremacy that approximately 40% of the American public has bought hook, line, and sinker, I had occasion to reflect again on the relation between traditional religious beliefs and rejection of reason and common sense. As is also well-known the President and his supporters have no respect for factual truth.

Continue reading “Legacy of Carol P. Christ: On Believing Things That Are Not True”

The Legacy of Carol P. Christ: Meeting the Windigo

Towards the end of Braiding Sweetgrass, mother, biologist, and member of the Citizen Potawami Nation Robin Wall Kimmerer sets out at the end of winter to visit a forest area near her home that she considers hers not in name but in virtue of her love and care for it. On arriving, she discovers that the forest is no more, having been clear-cut by the owner. The wildflowers and the plants she has harvested over the years have sprouted up, but Kimmerer knows that without the forest cover they will be burned by the sun and their places taken by brambles.

Kimmerer is overcome by anger and despair, her feelings for the land she loves merging with her knowledge that not only her forest, but the earth itself is being treated as nothing more than a product by so many—without second thought for all that is lost.

Continue reading “The Legacy of Carol P. Christ: Meeting the Windigo”

Carol P. Christ: Weaver of Visions by Beth Bartlett

Author’s Note: Today’s post is the 4000th FAR blog post!  I first became aware of the Feminism and Religion blog when participating in a symposium honoring the life and work of Carol P. Christ in October 2021. I was inspired to write a piece on Christ’s contribution to ecofeminism, that was posted in the FAR blog a year ago today. I wanted to post another piece on Christ on the anniversary of that first post. I’m delighted that it is the 4000th, and so fitting that it is written in honor of Carol Christ, who was such an important part of the FAR blog.

A while ago, a friend asked me what spiritual reading I’d been doing lately. I told him that I’d been revisiting classics from the past. When he asked me who specifically, the first name I mentioned was Carol Christ. Even though he was a minister, he had never heard of her. Sadly, I suspect the same would be true for the vast majority of ministers, priests, rabbis, theologians, and other religious leaders. Yet, I can think of no one who has had a greater influence on my religious and spiritual thought and beliefs.

Continue reading “Carol P. Christ: Weaver of Visions by Beth Bartlett”

Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete – Reborn! by Laura Shannon

Thirty years ago, Carol P. Christ founded her Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete, which she wrote about in her book A Serpentine Path: Mysteries of the Goddess (original 1995 title Odyssey with the Goddess) and in numerous posts on this site over the years. She led over 40 groups of women Pilgrims to encounter the history and sacred sites of the peaceful, egalitarian civilisation of Bronze Age Crete. 

Here, the Goddess-honouring culture of Old Europe survived the longest, when patriarchal Indo-Europeans were taking over in the ‘Kurgan waves’ Marija Gimbutas has described. The sophisticated artworks of ‘Minoan’ Crete show women in positions of honour and authority, and do not depict violence, slavery, or war. People celebrated at ceremonial centres, made offerings at cave and mountain shrines, and worshipped the Goddess in sacred trees and stones.

Snake Goddess, Knossos, Crete, ca. 1600 BCE [photo: Heraklion Archaeological Museum]

As many readers know, before Carol passed away, she asked me to take on the leadership of her Goddess Pilgrimage, and to serve as her literary executor and the director of her Ariadne Institute for the Study of Myth and Ritual. Deeply moved by her trust in me, and guided by very clear dreams I received around the time of her death, I accepted Carol’s request. In October 2022, after a three-year delay due to the pandemic, the Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete was reborn. 

Continue reading “Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete – Reborn! by Laura Shannon”

Legacy of Carol P. Christ:“Ursula Niebuhr, Ursula Niebuhr”: Unacknowledged Co-author of Great Works of Theology?

This was originally posted on August 26, 2019. It fits in with our new project of Unsung Heroines.

A few days ago while watching the movie The Wife, I kept hearing the words “Ursula Niebuhr, Ursula Niebuhr,” in my mind. I knew the reason was Ursula’s unacknowledged collaboration on the work of Reinhold Niebuhr, which I discovered while writing an earlier blog on uncredited co-authors.

I had not been particularly interested in seeing The Wife because I assumed it was the familiar story of the woman who gives up her career interests when she marries. Want to become a rabbi? Marry one. Want to become an artist? Live with him and become his muse. This is a very old story, and for me, not a very interesting one.

Continue reading “Legacy of Carol P. Christ:“Ursula Niebuhr, Ursula Niebuhr”: Unacknowledged Co-author of Great Works of Theology?”

Willful Women, Feminist Killjoys, and Jesus: Reflections on Sara Ahmed’s Living a Feminist Life by Liz Cooledge Jenkins

I’ve been thinking about willful women and feminist killjoys—two main guiding images in feminist scholar Sara Ahmed’s book Living a Feminist Life (Duke University Press 2017).

The idea of the willful woman (or willful girl, or willful person) is something I can easily get behind. The way I understand it, it has to do with women getting in touch with our own wills and being willing to speak and act and live out of our wills. Particularly if these wills turn out to exist in opposition to the things other people might will for us.

It’s about learning to stand up for ourselves, learning to affirm our full humanity in a world that often expects…less. It’s a way of consciously, intentionally being willing to be called “willful” as a negative thing—as in, stubborn, selfish, antagonistic, difficult—because the affirmation of our own wills is worth it.

I like all of this and find it helpful. Be willful. Expect pushback and penalties for it. Be willful anyway.

Continue reading “Willful Women, Feminist Killjoys, and Jesus: Reflections on Sara Ahmed’s Living a Feminist Life by Liz Cooledge Jenkins”

The Problem of Jehosheba: Reading One Biblical Character in Two Different Feminist Ways by Jill Hammer

Tucked away in II Kings 11 is the story of a mother-daughter feud that is personal, political, and ultimately fatal. Jehu, a charismatic military commander, is anointed by Elisha as the next king of the northern kingdom of Israel. Jehu kills the previous king of Israel, Jehoram, and also Jehoram’s mother Jezebel (yes, that Jezebel—the famous/infamous queen). As part of his violent rise to power, Jehu also kills Ahaziah, king of the southern kingdom of Judah. Ahaziah’s death should mean that Athaliah (Atalya), who is queen mother of Judah as well as the daughter of Jezebel, cedes power to a new king and a new queen mother. Instead, according to the Book of Kings, Athaliah has the rest of the king’s sons and grandsons murdered, and seizes the throne for herself. 

All seems lost for the Judean line, except that Jehosheba (Yehosheva), wife of the high priest Jehoiada and sister of the murdered King Ahaziah, saves one of Ahaziah’s sons, along with the child’s wetnurse, and hides them both in the Temple. Jehosehba keeps the boy, Joash, and his nurse in the Temple until he is six years old. At that time, Jehosheba’s husband, the high priest, anoints Joash king, stages a coup, and executes Athaliah as a usurper. Jehosheba’s action saves the Davidic line. The collection of Jewish legends known as Otzar Midrashim lists Jehosheba as one of the righteous women of the Jewish people.

Continue reading “The Problem of Jehosheba: Reading One Biblical Character in Two Different Feminist Ways by Jill Hammer”

Legacy of Carol P. Christ: His Terror

Moderator’s Note: This was originally posted on March 25, 2019. AND the issues are still with us and as vivid as ever.

The first two parts of Susan Griffin’s Woman and Nature, “MATTER” and “SEPARATION,” are written in the authoritative voice of western philosophy and science that declares matter to be dead and the body an impediment to thought, and proceeds to separate the mind from the body. All of this, Griffin suggests, is based in the fear of death.

As Griffin notes, in this equation woman is identified with the body and her voice is silenced. Re-reading these parts of Woman and Nature for the umpteenth time for a class I am teaching felt even more painful than it had before. I was reliving parts of my own story.

I was brought up in the tract home suburbs of post-war Los Angeles in a world of women. Both of my grandmothers played central roles in my upbringing, introducing me to nature and the spirit of life they experienced as we explored trails the Los Angeles County arboretum before it was fenced or when we frolicked in the waves and picked up sand dollars at the seashore south of San Francisco. When I was ten years old my family moved to a new neighborhood that was almost entirely made up of families like ours with small children, fathers who worked, and mothers who stayed home.

Continue reading “Legacy of Carol P. Christ: His Terror”

Unsung Heroines: Self-Worth takes Time: The Transformation of Angela di Foligno by Elisabeth Schilling

Angela di Foligno was a 13th century Umbrian Franciscan mystic who began her initiation on the spiritual path when she was almost 40. She was officially declared as saint in October of 2013. Her works were dictated to a relative who was scribe and a Franciscan brother in the church, and so we unfortunately do not have access to the complete depth and intimacies of her ecstatic visions and commentary (both she and her scribe discuss how he was writing in such haste and fear from admonishment from his religious brothers that it is a “short and defective version” of her experience). Nevertheless, as readers, there is still so much for us to gain in terms of inspiration and commiseration.

In “The First Twenty Steps of the Blessed Angela in the Way of Penance and Spiritual Perfection,” the Franciscan saint details the arduous journey of mastering both fear and love, a requirement to evolving in our human consciousness to realize our divine spark and transform shame. I want to discuss three aspects of this journey that relate specifically, as I see it, to the challenges set forth by many women: love for the body, love for one’s relational boundaries, and love for one’s time and space. Most cultures fail to honor women in all of their desires and powers, and so we must learn to honor ourselves and each other. Angela, as we shall see, was fiercely willing to honor herself.

Continue reading “Unsung Heroines: Self-Worth takes Time: The Transformation of Angela di Foligno by Elisabeth Schilling”

Biblical Poetry – Trees by Janet Maika’i Rudolph

Image from an Egyptian tomb ca. 1314-1200 BCE. Isis is giving nourishment in the form of fruit and drink,

In many cultures of the world, including our own, trees are considered the ancestors of humanity – own our ancestors.

Trees are connected with great goddesses throughout antiquity. We see this in the bible where, as I’ve noted before, the Tree of Life is Eve’s tree for the word Eve means life. It is, in essence, the Tree of Eve. Goddesses in trees feeding humans were common themes in ancient Middle Eastern art. The tree was Hers to give freely of as she wished.  

Anthropologist and religious scholar, Mircea Eliade writes extensively about the associations of trees ancestral connection to humans. He calls them both mystical and mythical.[1] His examples include the Miao groups of Southern China and Southeast Asia who “worship the bamboo as their ancestor.” He also notes Australian tribes who view the mimosa as their progenitor. And there is a tribe from Madagascar, called Antaivandrika which means “people of the tree,” who considered themselves descended from the banana tree.

Continue reading “Biblical Poetry – Trees by Janet Maika’i Rudolph”

The Guru Question: Are Spiritual Hierarchies Inherently Oppressive?

Painting of a noblewoman seeking counsel from two Tantric yoginis, in the Mughal style, about 1750. From the British Museum’s recent exhibition, Tantra: Enlightenment to Revolution. A beautiful starting point to learn about Indian spirituality in its original context. May all our paths be crossed by wise teachers.

I’ve received a tremendous response to my essay on cults, published on Feminism and Religion in December last year. The topic continues to be a burning issue as more and more survivors break their silence on the spiritual abuse they suffered. Cults are a feminist issue because women and girls suffer the worst abuses at the hands of male cult leaders.

To fully understand how this cult dynamic works, I highly recommend watching Dan Shaw’s lecture on the subject, in which he explains how cult leaders are traumatizing narcissists whose goal is to subjugate their followers and “purify” them by utterly destroying their sense of self. Yet for me, the most haunting moment of his presentation came just near the end, during the Q & A session. An audience member and survivor of Siddha Yoga, the same cult that Shaw once belonged to, asked, “Are there gurus that people can trust?” She asked if guru-driven spirituality was “inherently subjugating.”  

Shaw, perhaps understandably not wanting to come across as a white man casting judgement on another culture’s deeply-rooted spiritual traditions, wiggled out of answering by saying that it was up to the individual to discern if a particular guru was safe or not.  

But I think this anonymous woman’s question deserves a more nuanced answer.

In Hinduism, since the age of the Upanishads, gurus have played a crucial role in preserving wisdom teachings in a religion with no centralized authority figure or governing body. The teachings are passed on orally to disciples who worship the guru as a divine being in order to realize their own innate divinity. I would love to hear from Indian feminists on how this guru-disciple relationship plays out in India today, particularly with female practitioners.

However legitimate and honorable these systems might be in their original cultural context, I think it’s fair to say something gets lost in translation when Eastern spirituality moves West. Great abuses have come to light. Katy Butler, in her article, “Encountering the Shadow in Buddhist America,” writes that guru abuse has become so prevalent due to the “unhealthy marriage of Asian hierarchy and American license that distorts the student-teacher relationship.”

It’s pertinent to point out that many of these misbehaving gurus, lamas, and swamis are white men. Spiritual hierarchies can be abusive across cultures—look at the sex abuse scandals in the Catholic Church. Cults are not necessarily “Eastern” or “foreign.” There are plenty of Christian cults, self help cults, and wellness cults.

Another thing that often gets lost in translation is what Eastern spirituality actually intends to offer the student. Many Western students turn to Eastern disciplines like meditation and mindfulness for stress reduction, but that is not their original purpose. These disciplines are intended to liberate the practitioner from the wheel of death and rebirth, to transcend this world of suffering and our worldly attachments, in order to enter an enlightened state—i.e. not to be reincarnated again, a goal some Western people might find world-denying and nihilistic.

Dr Willoughby Britton, professor of psychiatry at Brown University, speaking to Rachel Bernstein on IndoctriNation podcast asks, “How problematic or paradoxical is it if you believe that enlightenment is a destination that someone else can take you to? What dependence does that create?”

The goal is unmeasurable and the endpoint keeps shifting according to the power dynamics. You become much more dependent on the teacher who decides if you have reached this invisible destination. If you’re being charged a lot for the teachings, the teacher may decide that you don’t achieve the end result for a very long time.

Willoughby says practitioners can empower themselves by asking themselves the following questions:

Where do you want to go with this practice?

If you are seeking enlightenment, what does that mean for you?

You get to define your own outcomes and measure your success by what you want to show up in your life, i.e. better sleep, reduced anxiety, improved relationships, and inner peace.

In evaluating teachers and spiritual groups, ask yourself:

What were you initially promised?

Has it been achieved after all your hard work?

Do you feel you are closer to your goal?

Or have your initial reasons been shifted by the teacher into their reasons and their goals that are no longer yours?

Are you under pressure to perform for and please the teacher?

Are you expected to use scripted, stilted language to describe your experience?

If you question the teacher and the teacher retaliates, that’s your tipping point, says Britton. If you say that a practice isn’t working for you and the response you get is, “Well, that’s because you don’t have the right karmas/aren’t dedicated enough/haven’t reached the right level of spiritual maturity”  etc., you need to leave and find a different group.

In order for anyone to have a healthy experience with a teacher, you need the freedom to say, “I think this isn’t working for me, and, in fact, it’s hurting me and I need to move on.” Depending on how people respond to you setting your boundary, you’ll know if you’re in a healthy space or not.

As Dan Lawton says on another episode of IndoctriNation Podcast, a spiritual practice can only be as healthy as the person teaching you that practice. The endgame for a lot of teachers is often building a personal brand around the supremacy of a certain spiritual practice. Once you’re locked into that box, there are a lot of things you’re not going to be able to see and there’s a possibility of doing real harm to your students.

Good, ethical teachers, whether they call themselves gurus or not, are deserving of deep respect. But they need to be vetted and held accountable. And maybe in the West, at least, the obligation to see the teacher as enlightened or divine is indeed too subjugating. Maybe it would much healthier to look up to them as a wise elder or mentor. Surrendering our agency to another human is always going to be subjugating.

Perhaps we can follow the example of the female seeker in the 18th century painting above, who is taking counsel from two yoginis, female practitioners who live in the forest, outside the strictures and hierarchies of patriarchal society. Instead of placing all our hopes in one exalted individual, why not instead seek the deep wisdom of the female collective?

Mary Sharratt is committed to telling women’s stories. Please check out her acclaimed novel Illuminations, drawn from the dramatic life of Hildegard von Bingen, and her new novel Revelationsabout the mystical pilgrim Margery Kempe and her friendship with Julian of Norwich. Visit her website.

Legacy of Carol P. Christ: Practice Great Generosity

This was originally posted on August 20, 2018

Nurture life.

Walk in love and beauty.

Trust the knowledge that comes through the body.

Speak the truth about conflict, pain, and suffering.

Take only what you need.

Think about the consequences of your actions for seven generations.

Approach the taking of life with great restraint.

Practice great generosity.

Repair the web

In Rebirth of the Goddess, I offered Nine Touchstones of Goddess Spirituality as an alternative to the Ten Commandments. The Nine Touchstones are intended to inform all our relationships, whether personal, communal, social, or political.

The eighth touchstone asks us to practice great generosity.

Continue reading “Legacy of Carol P. Christ: Practice Great Generosity”

Legacy of Carol P. Christ: Restored in Beauty

This was originally posted on May 11, 2015

The path leading to the Klapados Waterfall begins at the edge of an open meadow in the pine and oak woodlands of a mountain in the island of Lesbos. After driving several miles on a very rutted dirt track, we parked under an oak tree, crossed the meadow and scrambled down a winding path. After about 20 minutes, it ended at a stream surrounded by plane trees. From there, we climbed over rocks to reach a pool created by the seasonal waterfall.

waterfall at klapados 1

On the day we visited it, the waterfall was only a trickle of cascading drops that moistened its moss-covered path to the pool. The roots of a plane tree growing at the top of cliff followed the path of the water, weaving a web over the rockface all the way down to the pool.

Continue reading “Legacy of Carol P. Christ: Restored in Beauty”
%d bloggers like this: