ESCORT SERVICE by Esther Nelson

These days, I spend most of my time in Roanoke, Virginia.  I moved here—a three-hour drive west—from Richmond, Virginia.  One of the ways I’m settling into my new community is by volunteering as an escort at Planned Parenthood.

The job is straight-forward:  Greet people as they exit their vehicle when they arrive at the medical facility’s parking lot.  Usually, there are several protestors in front of the building, and clients must drive past them before turning right into the driveway.  Protestors wave pink, plastic bags filled with anti-abortion literature as well as pamphlets that outline a specific, Christian view of “salvation.”  Not many drivers stop.  If they do, I walk over to the line that divides Planned Parenthood property from public space and wave the cars forward.  The drivers are grateful.  So many clients are nervous, upset, and unsure of protocol.  One woman asked me if I was associated with “those people out there,” pointing to the protestors.  “Not at all,” I assured her.  She smiled with relief.

Continue reading “ESCORT SERVICE by Esther Nelson”

Reclaiming Forgotten Voices by Freia Serafina

Marduk fighting Tiamat

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.

Continue reading “Reclaiming Forgotten Voices by Freia Serafina”

What’s Your Feminism I.Q.? by Barbara Ardinger

Let’s begin a new year by finding out what we know about feminist history and goddess scholarship. Take this little quiz and find out where you stand as a Feminism/Goddess Scholar. (It’s okay to laugh at some of the choices. Laughing shows you’re paying attention.)

1. Who wrote When God Was a Woman?

            a. Ernest Hemingway                         b. Merlin Stone

            c. Sharyn McCrumb                           d. Isabel Allende

Continue reading “What’s Your Feminism I.Q.? by Barbara Ardinger”

My Grandmother’s Clocks

Four hands
are spiraling
around a circle
breaking time
into increments.
 Resonate bells
 call up dark nights,
independently
ushering in a season
without need
 to harmonize.
Percussive voices
soothe an aching
heart overflowing
with grief.
Chimes intoning
the inside out.

Recently I gave myself an expensive gift. I had my two beloved clocks cleaned and oiled, and now both are ticking and chiming again.

Today they circle time.

Continue reading “My Grandmother’s Clocks”

Carol Christ Symposium ~ Call for Papers by Mara Lynn Keller ~ Deadline for Proposals this Week!

Carol P. Christ
A Symposium in Celebration of Her Spiritual-Feminist Activism and Women’s Spirituality Scholarship

“The Goddess is the intelligent embodied love that is in all being.”
~ Carol P. Christ

Free Symposium via Zoom hosted by
Women’s Spirituality Graduate Studies Program California Institute of Integral Studies
October 22, 2021. 10:00 am to 4:00 pm

Call for papers focusing on Carol P. Christ’s scholarship and activism in the key areas of Women’s Spirituality, Goddess Studies, Ecofeminism, and Women and Religion.*

Please speak to what you think and feel are Carol P. Christ’s most important contributions to one of the academic fields listed below, and then also, to how her writings are important to you personally. We will arrange papers into the following six panels of 3-4 presenters.

  1. Ecofeminist Philosophy and Activism 
  2. Goddess Studies and Egalitarian Matriarchal Studies 
  3. Spiritual Feminism and Peace Activism 
  4. Spiritual Feminist Literary Criticism  
  5. Women and Religion
  6. Women’s Spiritual Pilgrimage 

Please send an abstract of your proposed paper (in 300 words or less) to Mara Lynn Keller at mkeller@ciis.edu, by Wednesday, September 16, 2021. Acceptances will be sent out Friday-Monday, 9/24-27/2021. Papers are to be 12 minutes in length.  

*Primary Sources include:

  1. Diving Deep and Surfacing: Women Writers on Spiritual Quest (1986)
  2. Woman Spirit Rising: A Feminist Reader in Religion, anthology co-edited with Judith Plaskow (1992)
  3. Odyssey with the Goddess: A Spiritual Quest in Crete (1995) 
  4. Weaving the Visions: New Patterns in Feminist Spirituality. Anthology co-edited with Judith Plaskow (1989) 
  5. Laughter of Aphrodite: Reflections on a Journey to the Goddess (1987)
  6. Rebirth of the Goddess: Finding Meaning in Feminist Spirituality (1998)
  7. She Who Changes: Re-imaging the Divine in the World (2004)
  8. Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology. Co-authored with Judith Plaskow (2016) 
  9. Carol’s blogs on Feminism and Religion can be found at: Carol P. Christ (feminismandreligion.com)

In addition to the panels, the Symposium will include:        
In Memoriam: Ritual Honoring Carol’s Life and Death (1946-2021)
Circle of Remembrance: Personal reminiscences and reflections on Carol’s life and work.


Talking about Death with my Daughter & Remembering Carol Christ

Recently, facing the reality that I do not have definitive or perhaps, static “answers” for my little one when she asks me about death, I find comfort in Carol’s words—in the idea that I don’t have to “answer” my daughter with one, forever “truth.” Because I have to ability to give her “enough,” at least for now.

As I sit down to write, I am reminded of a post I wrote many years ago entitled “Where Do Cat’s Go,” about my mother’s cat, Mimi, who passed away at the age of twenty-four. At that time, I was struggling with what death meant outside of an Evangelical Christian ideology. I had rejected the doctrine of heaven (and hell) itself; but doubt lingered. Fear still held sway over my emotions. I wanted to “believe in,” something else. Whether to regain control or simply for comfort, I hoped for new belief.

Carol Christ, who has touched so many of us, who was my teacher and whom I miss, replied to that post (paraphrasing here), “Why does [Mimi] have to go anywhere? Isn’t it enough that she is a loved and remembered part of life?”

At the time it was not enough. But recently, facing the reality that I do not have definitive or perhaps, static “answers” for my little one when she asks me about death, I find comfort in Carol’s words—in the idea that I don’t have to “answer” my daughter with one, forever “truth.” Because I have to ability to give her “enough,” at least for now.

 As a feminist mom, I frequently think about what will give my daughter strength and a sense of her value outside of hetero-patriarchal standards. I am also an ex-vangelical agnostic married to an atheist. He and I want our daughter to have choice in her spirituality and freedom to explore her own directions. I think this is a good commitment, though it is frequently a little more difficult in practice. My partner wants to protect our daughter from all religion and Christianity in particular. I tend to take an educational approach, answering her questions about spiritual matters with, “well, people believe all sorts of things about that,” then listing several beliefs or mythologies that might give her some information on the matter.

Continue reading “Talking about Death with my Daughter & Remembering Carol Christ”

Remembering Karolina by Judith Shaw

judith shaw photo


Early in the morning of July 15, 2021, I was sitting amid the chaos of boxes in my new home which I had just closed on a week earlier. I had woken at 5 am to a leak in the new roof and was feeling very tired and somewhat dazed by all the work to be done. Then I got a text with the news that Carol Christ had passed away the previous day.  It took a few minutes for that reality to sink in past my state of overwhelm and exhaustion and then the tears and the memories flooded through me. 

Carol and I became friends in 1987 when we both had begun living on the Greek island, Lesvos, in the village of Molyvos. At that time Carol was mainly using her Greek name, so for many years I called her Karolina. As the months wore on we discovered our mutual interests –  in Goddess, in social justice, in living a life more connected to nature and in the desires of younger women to kick up their heels and have some fun. We became constant “parea” (company) for each other. 

Continue reading “Remembering Karolina by Judith Shaw”

Beltane and Greek Easter: Mary and the Goddess by Laura Shannon

Today, May 1, we celebrate Beltane, the Celtic festival between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solstice. Starting tonight, we also celebrate Greek Easter, with its ritual drama of life and death. 

In the Western Church, Easter never falls as late as May, but in the Orthodox calendar, Easter and Beltane more or less co-incide every few years. It’s a reminder of connections between Christian and pre-Christian traditions, both in the archetypal cycle of life, death, and regeneration, and in links between the Christian Mary and the pre-Christian Goddess in her various names and forms.

Continue reading “Beltane and Greek Easter: Mary and the Goddess by Laura Shannon”

God’s Womb by Joyce Zonana

The first time I came across the phrase, I thought I must be making a mistake. “Que Dieu l’enveloppe dans sa matrice,” the passage read in French, “May God’s womb enfold her.” or possibly, “May God enfold her in His womb.” His womb?

Joyce Zonana
The first time I came across the phrase, I thought I must be making a mistake. “Que Dieu l’enveloppe dans sa matrice,” the passage read in French, “May God’s womb enfold her,” or possibly, “May God enfold her in His womb.” His womb?

I’d just started translating Ce pays qui te ressemble [A Land Like You], Tobie Nathan’s remarkable novel of Egypt’s Jews in the first half of the twentieth-century, and I couldn’t be sure I was correct in thinking that “womb” was the proper rendering for “matrice.” But a quick search confirmed my hunch. Matrice (from the Latin matrix < mater) might be translated as “matrix” or “mould,” but that made no sense here. “Uterus or womb” was the anatomical meaning, and it was the first meaning listed in my French dictionary.

The phrase, or something very like it, kept turning up, always after a dead person was named:  

Que Dieu accueille son âme en sa matrice.

Que Dieu l’enveloppe dans sa matrice.

Que Dieu la berce dans sa matrice. 

May God’s womb welcome his soul.

May God’s womb enfold him.

May God’s womb cradle her.

In all, “God’s womb” is mentioned seven times in this novel set in Cairo’s ancient Jewish quarter, Haret al-Yahud. Each time, it’s part of a ritual prayer, a formulaic wish for the wellbeing of a departed soul. But what extraordinary wellbeing is wished for here, what a remarkable envisioning of God as the possessor of a welcoming, warm womb. Continue reading “God’s Womb by Joyce Zonana”

Forty Days After Childbirth, Mary Returns to the World by Laura Shannon

All week we have been warming our spirits at the sacred fire of Candlemas / Imbolc, the Celtic holiday in honour of Brighde, Irish saint and Goddess of poetry, smithcraft and healing. Imbolc falls approximately 6 weeks between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, one of the 8 festivals of the Celtic year.

In the Greek Orthodox Church, February 2 is celebrated as Ypopantis, the presentation of Jesus at the Temple, 40 days after his birth, in accordance with Mosaic law. This day also marks Mary’s ritual return to the world after forty days of postpartum seclusion. This practice was known in the Western Church as ‘churching’ or blessing a new mother after 40 days; Hindu tradition also recommends women spend up to 40 days in rest and isolation after childbirth.

image of Mosaic of the Nativity
Mosaic of the Nativity

In the west, the customs of confinement and churching have dwindled since the 1960s, but in Greek Orthodox tradition until very recently, these forty days of isolation for mother and child were routine. A special word, lechóna (λεχώνα), from the ancient Greek for ‘bed’ or ‘couch’, denotes a woman in this special time. Continue reading “Forty Days After Childbirth, Mary Returns to the World by Laura Shannon”

The Navajo Mountain: A Feminist Perspective Chant by Sarah Wright

Mountain Chant image
Frighten Him On It – Sand painting used in the Mountain Chant, circa 1907″ by E.S. Curtis

Like the Navajo Night Chant celebrated at winter solstice the Navajo Mountain Chant is the last important winter ceremony, one that marks the shift in seasons and the return of the light. The Mountain Chant was once nine days in duration; today it has apparently been shortened to a four – day ceremony. It is celebrated in early February and each night different holy songs are sung.

The Mountain Chant is also a very complex healing series of ceremonies. Elaborate sand paintings are created and then destroyed after each healing. Disease may be diagnosed by either a woman or a man, but a Medicine man always leads the ceremonies. The intention is to cure a person of the disharmony that is creating the illness. The ceremonies are also enacted to pray to the holy people (Yei) for rain, and to receive assistance with the crops, and most importantly they are done to restore balance and harmony between the People and nature. Continue reading “The Navajo Mountain: A Feminist Perspective Chant by Sarah Wright”

Living with Uncertainty by Sara Wright

I was deeply moved by Carol’s willingness to share deeply personal feelings about how her visit to the hospital , enough so that I decided to write about how the Covid virus has impacted my life and the lives of those around me.

Here in my corner of the world summer is a time to be outdoors, and so returning to Maine in the early spring has allowed me to be emotionally present in a joyful way for Nature’s turnings, first from winter to spring, and then from spring to summer. But I am a naturalist and only too aware that my love for the wild is not shared by everyone.

Because I have no family, the longing to be with loved ones does not pierce my heart in the same way it does for others. Continue reading “Living with Uncertainty by Sara Wright”

Lammas after Lockdown by Laura Shannon


Today, August 1, 2020, is Lammas, the Celtic festival of late summer, the ‘feast of bread’, time of harvest and of golden grain. Here in the UK, Lammas arrives just as we are emerging from our coronavirus lockdown. It’s hard to feel a personal sense of ‘harvest’ when most people’s lives have been on hold since the spring.

Confined to our homes, many people could throw themselves into tending their own gardens (if they had one), but most of us could not cultivate the symbolic gardens of our lives and work in the way that we wanted. Many have faced deep loss, the withering of seeds planted in the past which could not now come to fruition.

Despite the tragic times, the earth continues to dance to the sacred rhythms of sun and moon. The trees are full of fruit, the fields are full of grain. Although I too have had my share of sorrow and grief in recent months, today I feel moved by the season to look at what we can harvest from our experience of the coronavirus pandemic.

Continue reading “Lammas after Lockdown by Laura Shannon”

Canada Goose by Sara Wright

Canadian Geese have been on my mind a lot lately. This past winter I have missed the skeins of geese that fly back and forth up and down the river appearing every single morning like clockwork. In Abiquiu when winter turned to spring I noted that the geese were behaving in much the same way the Sandhill cranes did before they migrated, splitting into pairs or groups of three and flying erratically. I was puzzled. I didn’t recall witnessing such behavior before this year. I wondered about migration patterns. Were the geese shifting their flight patterns too? Or perhaps the small groups I saw were staying year round? Some days it almost seemed as if these water birds were confused by something.

I saw three Canadian geese on the last predawn walk I took to the river/Bosque in New Mexico – just an hour or two before leaving for Maine. I knew that a perilous journey was ahead because we were driving cross-country from NM to ME. The C/virus was a frightening threat even though I brought all food, and planned to camp/use woods as bathroom. The first morning after my arrival at home I saw and heard three geese honking over my head. I was struck by the odd synchronicity remembering the mother goose tales of my childhood – and later as a graduate student when I learned about their mythology. Continue reading “Canada Goose by Sara Wright”

Navajo Night Chant and the Sacred Dark by Sara Wright

With Winter Moon’s passage and the approach of the winter solstice just a little less than a week away I am much aware of the (potential healing) dwelling place that I inhabit that also characterizes these dark months of the year.

Unfortunately, even those who acknowledge our seasonal turnings rarely honor the dark as sacred. At the winter solstice the emphasis is still on light.

As Carol Christ writes so succinctly we manage to celebrate light at both solstices – at its apex and at its return.

This attitude reveals to me an inability to be present to dark, in both its generative and non-generative aspects. The original inhabitants of this country honored the dark months of the year very differently than westerners do. Their most important ceremonies occurred during the winter months. Both aspects of the dark were acknowledged and explicated through ceremony. What follows is a history of one of the Navajo healing ceremonies that occur only during the winter months of the year. Continue reading “Navajo Night Chant and the Sacred Dark by Sara Wright”

Ritual Dances for Greek Easter by Laura Shannon

In a previous post on FAR I wrote about some of the Easter customs in Greece in which pre-Christian and Christian practices intertwine, and I would like to pick up this thread again here.

Today is ‘Bright Saturday’, the Saturday after Greek Easter (one week after Western Easter in 2019). This week is known as ‘Bright Week’, and is the joyful culmination of the Orthodox calendar cycle which began with carnival back in February. During Bright Week, people come together in celebration and feasting. Fasting is not permitted, a welcome relief after the seven weeks of Lent.

While Carnival and Twelfth Night customs are mainly performed by men, spring rituals and dances are almost exclusively in the hands of the women. Many of the dance songs are sung a cappella by the women themselves, typically in unison, emphasising group unity and solidarity. Continue reading “Ritual Dances for Greek Easter by Laura Shannon”

Longing to Heal Family in our Differences and Distances by Elisabeth Schilling

I can’t even save myself. I make bad decisions just like the ones in the world – bombs and wars and the industrial revolution with chains of greed. But then I go on and, without even knowing any part of the story, want to save others. Carol Christ’s post yesterday on family brought me to tears and I instantly had to write a poem. First, it made me think of the memory of my own mother telling me to wait for my dad to get a belt and him saying it will hurt him more than it does me.

Except when I told my mom this, she said it never happened, so I don’t understand the vivid visions in my head that I have being little and hearing the words and being afraid, and why the sight of men’s work belts make me nauseous. I believe my mother. It doesn’t matter either way, I guess, now, in my opinion about my own experience. What I mean by that is I don’t want to do the work of being suspicious or thinking about what is at stake at the moment. I’m okay with shelving it. Let’s just say I believe and don’t feel like trying to explain those visions. I suppose everyone will have an opinion about my decision and perspective on this. Feel free to voice it if it makes you feel better. Continue reading “Longing to Heal Family in our Differences and Distances by Elisabeth Schilling”

Women’s Ritual Dances and the Nine Touchstones of Goddess Spirituality – Part Four by Laura Shannon

In Rebirth of the Goddess, Carol P Christ 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.[1] In this four-part blog (here are parts 1-3 Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) I am exploring ways in which these Nine Touchstones are inherently embodied in traditional women’s ritual dances of the Balkans, which has been my spiritual practice for over thirty years.

Carol’s Fourth Touchstone is: ‘Speak the truth about conflict, pain, and suffering.’ Many women’s dance songs which allow the women to speak and sing their grief and pain. When we bring that pain into the healing container of the circle, sharing simple steps, Dancers in the circle simultaneously give and receive support for their own and others’ sorrow. Ultimately, the sense of community  and solidarity in the circle transforms our grief so that the burden becomes manageable. Many historical songs, too, tell stories of women being abducted or abused, and how they fought back or got away – or not – so that they are remembered and honoured by future generations.

Continue reading “Women’s Ritual Dances and the Nine Touchstones of Goddess Spirituality – Part Four by Laura Shannon”

Women’s Ritual Dances and the Nine Touchstones of Goddess Spirituality-Part Three by Laura Shannon

Women’s apron from Pentalofos, Greek Thrace

In Rebirth of the Goddess, Carol P Christ 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.[1] In this series of blogs I am exploring ways in which these Nine Touchstones are embodied in the traditional women’s ritual dances of the Balkans, which I have studied as a spiritual practice for more than thirty years.

Carol P Christ’s Second Touchstone is: ‘Walk in love and beauty.’ As she says, ‘love and beauty are the great gifts of bounteous earth’.[2] Dancing women of the Balkans walk in love and beauty each time they put on their festive dress to dance together in the courtyard or the village square. Their ceremonial costumes are created from the bounty of the earth – just a couple of generations ago, this was literally the case, as the women tended the sheep, prepared and spun the wool, wove, sewed, embroidered and ornamented their garments with the work of their own hands. Even now, the cloth they buy is purchased with money they have earned from working and harvesting the land.

Continue reading “Women’s Ritual Dances and the Nine Touchstones of Goddess Spirituality-Part Three by Laura Shannon”

Women’s Ritual Dances and the Nine Touchstones of Goddess Spirituality-Part Two by Laura Shannon

In the first part of this article, I looked at how Carol P Christ’s Nine Touchstones of Goddess Spirituality from Rebirth of the Goddess are related to traditional women’s ritual dances of the Balkans. After more than thirty years of researching and teaching these dances and the way that they pass on information in encoded symbolic ways, I have come to see them as an educational system, a women’s mystery school.[1] The main message which the dances convey is an ethic of community, partnership, mutual support, and other life-enhancing values aligned with the Nine Touchstones, which can be directly experienced in the dance.

We know from the research of Marija Gimbutas that these values were central to the Old European civilizations which honoured the Goddess, while Yosef Garfinkel and Elizabeth Wayland Barber show that circle dances have their roots in these same early Neolithic cultures of Eastern Europe and the Near East. This leads me to suggest that Balkan women’s circle dances surviving today may have their origin in early egalitarian matriarchal cultures of Neolithic Europe. The Nine Touchstones of Goddess Spirituality provide an perfect template through which to explore the ethics of women’s ritual dances.

Continue reading “Women’s Ritual Dances and the Nine Touchstones of Goddess Spirituality-Part Two by Laura Shannon”

Women’s Ritual Dances and the Nine Touchstones of Goddess Spirituality-Part One by by Laura Shannon

In Rebirth of the Goddess, feminist theologian Carol P Christ offered a list of ‘Nine Touchstones of Goddess Spirituality’.[1] She revisited the Nine Touchstones in an interview with Karen Tate on Voices of the Sacred Feminine titled ‘Gratitude and Sharing: Principles of Goddess Spirituality‘, and in an inspiring series of blogs on this site recently exploring each touchstone in depth.

In her incisive analysis of the ethics of Goddess religion, Christ argues that Goddess spirituality can offer the ‘ethical guidance that we need to combat the forces of evil in our world’, and that this ethic is not imposed from a set of rational principles nor from a transcendent God known through the prophetic traditions of the Bible, as suggested by Rosemary Radford Ruether.[2] Rather, the ethics of Goddess spirituality are discerned through intuition and reflection on the world of which human beings are a part.[3]

Continue reading “Women’s Ritual Dances and the Nine Touchstones of Goddess Spirituality-Part One by by Laura Shannon”

The Power of Black Panther by Xochitl Alvizo

Note: Black Panther movie spoiler alert.

I attended my friend’s dinner party (now my beautiful partner) recently in honor of her birthday. It was an intimate gathering of nine, mostly her immediate family, so I felt privileged to be included. At one point during the dinner, her sister-in-law initiated a ritual in which we went around the table taking turns to share words of wisdom in honor of the birthday woman. Her words in particular stayed with me. And looking back, I see how the ritual she initiated was in itself an embodiment of the words she spoke:

Stand in your power. We got you. We have your back.

She said more, but the gist of it all was summed up in those three short sentences. Looking my friend in the eye as she raised her glass in her honor, her sister-in-law’s words meant something. I could feel the truth of them – I have seen the truth of them in her relationship with her. She, along with her wife (who is my friend’s sister), really do have her back and truly do want to see her “stand in her power.”   Continue reading “The Power of Black Panther by Xochitl Alvizo”

Notes from A Goddess Pilgrimage by Joyce Zonana

JZ HEADSHOT

The solar eclipse has had me sensing deep alignment with earth, sea, and sky, with my sisters and brothers and Self. This, then, from my 1995 journal of my first Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete with Carol Christ, a trip still engraved in my heart:

June 3  – Yesterday, anointing us with rose, lavender, or olive oil, Jana said, “Your journey has begun.” But for me it is this morning, with the purchase of this journal at the biblio on the square across from the hotel, where I sit now in the lobby, traffic noise outside, our group gathering, preparing for our journey . . . happy to be here . . .

Bleeding at the home of the Panagia, the all holy, the sacred mother, sacred myrtle, ancient tree of Aphrodite, Mary, black-bent nuns: we tie ribbons to the tree, sing, “all manner of things shall be well. Blessed be, walk in beauty.” And I am utterly in tears as I walk on the grounds of this ancient place, the birds singing everywhere, yet there is quiet, stillness, an ancient peace . . . A pilgrimage, a shrine, a very holy place.

Continue reading “Notes from A Goddess Pilgrimage by Joyce Zonana”

Foremothers: A Book Review & So Much More by Kate Brunner

foremothers-of-the-women-s-spirituality-movementI sometimes feel as though I live caught between feminism’s assorted waves. I am too young to have experienced the rise & crest of the Second Wave. I only just began to learn there was an actual -ism type name for this collection of thoughts, desires, feelings, & beliefs shaping themselves within me during my adolescent years as the Second Wave was decidedly ebbing.

Coming into my own as a very young adult, I found the rising Third Wave frustrating, though. Arguments over even using the word “feminist” to begin with exhausted me and it seemed like there was more debate raging about what was or was not feminism than there was meaningful change-agent action in the world around me. While I now recognize that was probably a necessary step in feminism’s evolution, at the time I was more concerned with confronting the immediate challenges of my work in a massively male-dominated career field under extremely stressful conditions than endlessly defending my conceptual feminist identity. This was the socio-political setting in which I came to Women’s Spirituality.

I came with little knowledge of the herstory behind the re-emergence of Goddess spirituality. I was too young to know the names of the Second Wave women who created the vessel anew. And too put off by my contact with the early Third Wave to study it formally. What I did know was that there was a thing called Women’s Spirituality and it spoke to me body, mind, heart, & soul. So, I eschewed study for direct experience, fumbling my way through creating a personal spiritual practice between myself & Goddess as a very private solitary. Years later, my penchant for autodidacticism & a huge, ugly feminist-on-feminist argument on a blog post I wrote led me on a quest to discover more about both my feminist and spiritual roots. Who had come before me? How did feminism & Women’s Spirituality get to where it was now- in theory & in practice? What was my herstory?

That was when I finally met the work of the women whose stories make up Foremothers of the Women’s Spirituality Movement: Elders and Visionaries. This volume, edited by Miriam Robbins Dexter and Vicki Noble, is precious to me and it is honestly an honor to write a review for it on FAR today. Continue reading “Foremothers: A Book Review & So Much More by Kate Brunner”

Give Me That “New” Time Religion! by Susan Gifford

Susan GiffordI want a new religion. I have changed to the point that I cannot be a part of a patriarchal religion and I feel that all of the major organized religions fall into that category. It has taken me a long time, but I can now see that these organized religions were created largely to support the patriarchal culture that most humans have lived in for at least the past 5,000 years.

I started reading Mary Daly, Riane Eisler, Merlin Stone, Carol Christ, Marija Gimbutus and other similar authors in recent years. I was amazed at how much I did not know about life before patriarchy. I was never taught in school that there were cultures – civilized cultures – for tens of thousands of years prior to patriarchy. These pre-historical civilizations were largely matrilineal although not matriarchal.

Women had power in such cultures, but not “power over” others. These cultures were organized as partnership societies, not hierarchical societies. The Divine Presence worshiped was feminine which, of course, makes perfect sense since the female sex is the one that gives birth. As far as I can tell, there is little known about the specific religious beliefs and rituals of these civilizations. However, from the art work that has been discovered, there appears to be a theme of a Great Mother Goddess who gave birth to the world and all that is in it. Although we can’t go backwards to this ancient goddess religion, knowing more about it may open our eyes to other ways of conceiving a Divine Presence. Continue reading “Give Me That “New” Time Religion! by Susan Gifford”

Twelfth Night: Men’s Dance Rituals in Northern Greece by Laura Shannon

Laura Shannon square crop

The twelve days between Christmas and the New Year are still held to be holy days in Greece, a mystical and dangerous time when mischievous spirits emerge from the underworld, seeking to wreak havoc in the human realm. On the 6th of January, Theophania or Twelfth Night, masked men in goatskins and sheepbells dance through the streets to dispel these spirits, awaken the fertility of the earth, and ensure a good year. The name Theophania, literally ‘the appearance of god’, here refers to the return of the sun after the winter solstice, and fire and light are very important to this holiday.

The rituals I describe here come from six tiny villages in the region of Drama, just south of the Rhodope Mountains, close to the border between northern Greece and Bulgaria. Similar rituals featuring masked, bell-wearing men appear all through the Balkans and Central Europe as far as the Swiss Alps. They will dance through the village streets, in the cemetery, and in front of every house, in a ritual of blessing and catharsis which has roots in age-old worship of Dionysus, god of fertility and wine.

For me, who came to Greece to study women’s traditional songs, dances and costumes, it makes a refreshing change to observe ritual customs almost exclusively performed by men. These activities take place in winter, either at Theophania or during Carnival, in contrast to spring and summer rituals which are chiefly in the hands of the women.  However, as we shall see, in order for men to assume ritual abilities and responsibilities normally ascribed to women, some of the men must dress in women’s clothes.

Here I would like to mention Carol Christ’s recent analysis of essentialism in feminist theory in her excellent post of September 15. In Carol’s words, the essentialist view holds that the “‘essential qualities’ of a thing (a table, a horse, a woman, or a man) precede the ‘existence’ of any individual in the group to which it belongs; these qualities are universally—always and everywhere—expressed by members of the group.”

Carol and I both live in Greece, where, as in many other parts of the world, tradition assigns quite different tasks and attributes to men and to women. Without reawakening the essentialist discussion here, I would just like to say that modern-day feminists do not have to agree on whether women and men are essentially or inevitably different; however, in order to understand Balkan culture, we do need to realise that people here believe in these differences and have done since ancient times.

Angelos Keras, the Archigos (leader) of the Arapides in Monastiraki (photo: Spyros Taramigos)
Angelos Keras, the Archigos of the Arapides in Monastiraki

Back in Drama, in the village of Monastiraki, preparations have been underway for days. The night before the big event, a designated house – half-ruined, but still with a roof intact – slowly fills with the joy of friends and acquaintances greeting one another. Red wine flows, and traditional goat soup is served free to all. A fire has been kept burning here continuously throughout the twelve nights of Christmas, producing sacred ash with healing and protective powers. Musicians play through the night, producing archaic sounds on the Macedonian bowed lyra or kemene, accompanied by large goatskin tambourines called daheres. These are the only instruments. The overall effect is all the more hypnotic as the musicians play in absolute unison; even the singing is monophonic, in a musical structure intended to emphasise old values of community and coherence.

Meanwhile, people dance the same few dances over and over. As on all ritual occasions, the repetition of familiar simple step patterns frees the dancers to focus on the inner work of igniting their own good mood and raising good energy (kefi) to bless the community.

After dancing and drinking all night, the male celebrants help each other dress in the early hours of dawn. They are truly fearsome in shaggy dark skins, tall conical masks, and wide leather belts from which swing three pairs of heavy double bells. One of their names, koudonofori, means bell wearers; they are also called Arapides, the Black Ones or Moors.

Looking behind the apparent racism of the terminology, these ritual dancers blacken their skin with burnt cork both to invoke the power and protection of the sacred fire, and also in order to enter the realm of darkness. Here, the dark is seen as the repository of the earth’s fertile powers, which their bells and dances aim to awaken, as well as the realm of things ‘not seen’ , such as the spirits known as kallikantzari, which pose a threat to the new light and the new year. They themselves must go unseen, in masks and disguises, to enter this realm.

'Arapides', masked ritual dancers at Theophania (January 6) in Monastiraki (photo: Lenka Harmon)
‘Arapides’, masked ritual dancers at Theophania in Monastiraki

Brandishing long wooden swords, this group – known as a tseta – appears fully capable of driving out any number of kallikantzari. The phallic swords and headdresses leave one in no doubt that the Theophania rituals are men’s rituals, yet the ability to give new life, to enter the realms of the dead, and to bestow the blessing of fertility are essentially women’s powers. To claim these powers, some of the men must dress as women, as Dionysian revellers have done since ancient times. These are theGilinges, or Brides. 

Pappoudes ('Grandfathers') with lozenge-shaped beaded amulets, and Gilinges ('Brides') in Ksiropotamos (photo: Lenka Harmon)
Pappoudes (‘Grandfathers’) with lozenge-shaped beaded amulets, and Gilinges (‘Brides’) in Ksiropotamos

Wearing women’s clothing may be a means for men to temporarily gain access to the realms of life and death, where normally only women may go, or to symbolically give birth to the life-affirming fertility and joy which bring renewal at this dark and hungry time of the year. (Men wearing women’s clothing for ritual purposes are depicted in archaeological finds dating back to the 5th C. BCE; I think we see it today in the ecclesiastical robes worn by Christian priests.) In an additional affirmation of what is seen as women’s power, the Brides’ costume is rich in goddess embroideries, while all the members of the party wear beaded amulets in the lozenge-shaped symbol of female fertility going back to Neolithic times. Goddess symbols are also stamped on many of the bells.

As well as the Arapides and the Brides, the tseta includes Pappoudes or Grandfathers in Thracian men’s traditional dress, and Evzones or Tsoliades wearing short white pleated foustanella kilts and thetsevres, a special garment made of twelve large white kerchiefs sewn into a triangle densely fringed with beads, sequins and coloured threads, which takes four months to prepare.

Musicians and 'Tsoliades' ritual dancers in Monastiraki (photo: Lenka Harmon)
Musicians and ‘Tsoliades’ ritual dancers in Monastiraki

There is also an occasionally appearing Bear, who some say represents ancient worship of the Goddess Artemis.

As they journey together through the village, the bell-wearers leap and stamp, swinging their bells back and forth in an apotropaic din – this will indeed awaken the earth! – almost drowning out the eerie sound of the lyras and daïres. The Evzones dance with athletic half-turns which send their short kilts sailing up to their waist, emphasising (so I am assured) the fertile power of the male generative organs, without revealing the organs themselves.  At every house the entire tseta is rewarded with abundant food and drink, in the living tradition of sacred hospitality which is the most powerful blessing of all.

Hospitality to strangers in Ksiropotamos (photo: Lenka Harmon)
Hospitality to strangers in Ksiropotamos

By three o’clock, the whole village gathers at the plateia to dance. Hundreds of people spiral into a single circle with one leader, keeping the large centre open as a sacred space for the tseta to enact ancient rituals of death and resurrection, plowing and planting, and the hieros gamos or sacred wedding. The dancing goes on until dusk and then continues at a taverna through a second consecutive night.

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Everyone joins in the great circle dance in the plateia of Monastiraki

Each village has its own variation of the Theophania rituals. In some places, children and women also participate: in Ksiropotamos young girls dance in traditional costume, while in Petrousa, all the dahereplayers are teenage girls. Some traditionalists view this change with unease, but I must confess my pleasure at seeing thirteen young women lined up like priestesses of Cybele from the time when the drummers were women. Here too, people dance at crossroads, springs, sacred trees and finally around an enormous bonfire.

Cauldrons at the crossroads in Ksiropotamos (photo: Laura Shannon)
Cauldrons at the crossroads in Ksiropotamos

Fire is important in all the Theophania rituals, and cauldrons on open fires are a key part of the festivities. This is another symbol of women’s power adopted on this occasion by men – traditionally, women cooked in pots; men roasted meat over an open fire. In Petrousa, the Dance of the Cooks can still be seen. Although it is no longer danced around the cauldrons themselves, the symmetrical step pattern still focuses the energy or ‘fire’ of the dancers in a particular way.

It seems to me that these fire-focused rituals hint at the unnamed presence of the Goddess Hestia, whose domain is centred on the hearth, source of light, warmth, food and all that is beneficial to the home. The nikokira, the lady of the house, was seen since ancient times as Hestia’s priestess. Her role is to tend the sacred fire through practical and ritual work and to literally focus its brilliance (estiazo, fromHestia, means ‘to focus’) so that it may bless the household and all its inhabitants. In ritual activities such as the Theophania, through the mediation of men dressed as women, this focused fire can be brought once a year from the private space of the home – the realm of the women – into the public space of the village, the realm of the men.  This union of men’s and women’s fertile powers is the hieros gamos, the holy spark of blessing which ensures health, wealth, happiness and abundance for all in the coming year.

Nikos Papadimitriou, an Arapis in Ksiropotamos (photo: Lenka Harmon)
Nikos Papadimitriou, an Arapis in Ksiropotamos

Continue reading “Twelfth Night: Men’s Dance Rituals in Northern Greece by Laura Shannon”

Essentialism Reconsidered by Carol P. Christ

carol mitzi sarahIn my Ecofeminism class we have been discussing essentialism because some feminists have alleged that other feminists, particularly ecofeminists and Goddess feminists, are “essentialists.” They argue that essentialist views reinforce traditional stereotypes including those that designate men as rational and women as emotional. I too find essentialism problematic, but I do not agree that Goddess feminism and ecofeminism are intrinsically essentialist.

Goddess feminists and ecofeminists criticize classical dualism: the traditions of  thinking that value reason over emotion and feeling, male over female, man over nature. We argued that the western rational tradition sowed the seeds of the environmental crisis when it separated “man” from “nature.”

Goddess feminists and ecofeminists affirm the connections between women and nature in an environmental worldview that acknowledges the interconnection of all beings in the web of life.

This view has been criticized as essentialist. Is it? Continue reading “Essentialism Reconsidered by Carol P. Christ”

We are Worth the Time it Takes to Create a Practice by Xochitl Alvizo

Incarnation, Goddess spirituality, Xochitl Alvizo, god became fleshRecently, in response to the excellent conversation following Nancy Vedder-Shults’ post on the goddess Kali, Carol Christ commented to Nancy, “I too love our conversations, wish there was more in depth talk on our blog [FAR], maybe there will be.” Carol’s comment* struck a deep chord within me. One of the main objectives that the FAR co-founders had in creating Feminism and Religion was that it be a place where we could and would engage with one another across a diversity of feminist issues and the broad range of feminist passions and work – where we could discuss, critique, and build upon on each other’s efforts.

So two things came to mind as I reflected on Carol’s comment. The first was my personal lament that I have not been as actively participating in the discussions that follow the FAR blog posts as I did when we first started Feminism and Religion. FAR has such rich and valuable material – it really does provide a great opportunity for conversation and dialogue – and sadly I have been a passive participant as of late. I read and learn from the discussions, but I have not been joining in. I lament that. FAR is definitely a place where I could engage with others in deep conversations, but how actively am I actually doing this? Continue reading “We are Worth the Time it Takes to Create a Practice by Xochitl Alvizo”

Women’s Ritual Dances: The Dancing Priestess of the Living Goddess by Laura Shannon

Laura ShannonKyria Loulouda calls to her sister to help her wind the yards of woven girdle around and around my waist. Kyria Stella’s aged fingers, still strong, tuck the sash ends in tightly, smoothing down the fabric she and Loulouda wove themselves. The snug embrace of the sash supports my back and encourages me to stand proudly upright.  As they help me with the intricate tucks and pleats of the festival dress, and the careful tying of the flowered headscarf, I see their tired, careworn faces come alight with joy and expectation. When they are satisfied, they turn me towards the mirror, smiling.

We gaze at ourselves, a row of three women, dressed alike. Like the butterflies embroidered in bright silks on the dark cloth of the bodice, we too are transformed. The food is prepared, the housework is done, the animals taken care of for the night; the other women await us in the square where, by tradition, they will open the dance with their own singing as they have done countless times throughout their lives. We are in the village of Pentalofos in Greek Thrace in the early twenty-first century, living a timeless scene which has been repeated through the generations for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. Continue reading “Women’s Ritual Dances: The Dancing Priestess of the Living Goddess by Laura Shannon”

Deciding to Leave or Remain in the Religion of Your Birth – Part II by Judith Plaskow

Photo by Manhattan College

This is a response to Carol P. Christ’s blog of April 29, 2013 on why she decided to leave the Christian tradition. Carol and I discuss these questions further in our forthcoming book Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology.

You raise the important question of what factors lead feminists to leave or remain within the religion of their birth. Your central challenge to me is how I can commit myself to a tradition in which God is imagined as a violent warrior when these images have harmed and continue to harm women and the world. How can I not recoil from using such images in worship? Why is the power of symbols less important to me than to you?

The first thing I would say is that, like you, I find these images profoundly problematic. One of the projects I have taken on in my retirement is reading the Bible from cover to cover, and I was appalled in going through all the prophets together at the amount of violence in their teachings. When I have spoken on the topic of dealing with difficult texts in the Jewish and Christian traditions—a subject that is dear to my heart—I always talk about God’s violence in addition to texts that demean women. And, yes, I have sometimes asked myself how I can remain part of a tradition in which God is depicted in this way. So I do not disagree with your critique of this imagery, but obviously for me, it is not decisive. Why not? Continue reading “Deciding to Leave or Remain in the Religion of Your Birth – Part II by Judith Plaskow”

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