“Seeking Harbor in Our Histories” – ASWM 2016 Conference

aswmThe Association for the Study of Women & Mythology (ASWM) will be hosting this year’s Conference, “Seeking Harbor in Our Histories: Lights in the Darkness” at the Boston Marriot Burlington Hotel on 1-2 April 2016.

ASWM conferences strive to support the scholarship, artistry, & practice of those who explore and engage the sacred feminine through study and creativity. Offering keynote presentations at this year’s conference are Dr. Elinor Gadon, Dr. Margaret Bruchac, and Dr. Lucia Ciavola Birnbaum.

On Friday night, there will be a plenary session and book-signing moderated by Miriam Robbins Dexter and Vicki Noble and featuring Max Dashu, Starr Goode, Mama Donna Henes, Donna Read, Genevieve Vaughan, Cristina Biaggi, Lydia Ruyle, Miranda Shaw, Elinor Gadon, and Susun Weed. They will be sharing stories from the anthology, Foremothers of the Women’s Spirituality Movement: Elders and Visionaries. FAR contributor Carol P. Christ has a chapter in the book.

FAR is excited to share that three of our contributors are on this year’s conference schedule!

Nancy Vedder-Shults will be joining the “Artists, Activists, & Scientists and the Lineage of the Goddess” panel with her presentation, Science and Divination: The Blurring Lines between the Secular and the Sacred. 

Jill Hammer will present The King and the Priestess: Mythic Motifs and Motives in the Tale of Judah and Tamar as part of the “Male-Female Relationships in the Hebrew Texts: Three Feminist Analyses” panel.

Kate Brunner will be participating in the “Women’s Spirituality, Transformative Scholarship and Personal Quest” panel with Rhiannon, Great Queen of the Mabinogi: Ancient Mythology in Modern Context. She will also be offering her meditative writing workshop, Becoming Branwen the Peaceweaver. 

In addition to the main conference, there will be a Matriarchal Studies Day seminar and celebration, in the same location the day before (31 Mar). Hosted by Vicki Noble and Lydia Ruyle, the program looks to be a great addition to the weekend. Dr. Heide Goettner-Abendroth, founder of Modern Matriarchal Studies will present via Skype. Other presenters will include Max Dashu, Polly Wood, Beverly Little Thunder, and Genevieve Vaughan, exploring woman-centered arts, themes of motherhood, and the gift economy. There will be a keynote presentation by Lucia Chiavola Birnbaum, and evening entertainment by folksinger, Julie Felix.

For registration information & more conference details, see the ASWM 2016 Conference blog.

Feminism & Religion Project contributors past, present, & future interested in connecting with FAR at the conference, are encouraged to get in touch with Kate Brunner at feminismandreligionblog@gmail.com. If there is enough interest, we may be able to organize meeting up for a meal together some time during the weekend.

Holy Well and Sacred Thread by Nancy Vedder-Shults


I usually share this myth as a storyteller and singer.  After introducing each of the goddesses, I sing a verse pertaining to that goddess from Starhawk’s chant, “No End to the Circle.”  When I’ve finished the tale, I sing the chorus one more time: “There is no end to the circle, no end.  There is no end to life, there is no end.”


Before the very beginning were the Norns.  Older than the oldest gods, they sat from the very beginning of time and even before at the root of the World Tree Yggdrasill.  There they spun the web of life and watered the World Tree from their holy spring, the Urdarbrunnr.

This story, like all good stories, has a beginning, a middle and an end.  But unlike most stories, the ending is not the end of the story, but a new beginning.  The beginning, of course, is Urth, the first Norn, She who started the spindle turning and who spins the thread of life to this very day. You might guess from the sound of Her name that Urth was the Earth Mother.  As the Earth Mother, She knew no temperance.  She was a creator, so She created.  She spun the thread of life, and spun and spun and spun some more.  Soon there was thread everywhere.  As far as the eye could see thread curled and tangled, twisted and twined, criss-crossed and matted itself into little balls.  Thread coiled around Her feet, becoming knotted and dirty, then wound around the tree Yggdrasill, looping through its branches and getting caught in its leaves and on its tiniest twigs.  Finally the thread began to clog the Urdarbrunnr, the holy well at the foot of the ash tree.  Continue reading “Holy Well and Sacred Thread by Nancy Vedder-Shults”

Tiamat’s Tale by Nancy Vedder-Shults

nancymug_3About 15 years ago, I was writing a book entitled Embracing the Dragon: A Myth for our Times.  In it I critiqued the so-called heroic myth, which I call the dragon-slaying myth.  My research led to the discovery of many Western dragon tales, which I retold from the dragon’s perspective. “Tiamat’s Tale,” transcribed below, was one that I offered orally – as a storyteller.  


“The ocean is the beginning of the earth.  All life comes from the sea.”  And at the outset Her name was Tiamat.  Tiamat, the watery womb where all is amorphous and malleable. Tiamat, the primeval cauldron where one thing shapeshifts into another in the eternal whirlpool of creation.  Tiamat, the unfathomable abyss. Before Her there was nothing.  Without Her there is nothing.  And after Her there will truly be nothing.

Those who learn to trust Her, discover Tiamat’s bliss, the creative ebb and flow of Her salt flood.  Foremost among these was Apsu, Tiamat’s husband and lover, for he was the first to issue from Her tidal wave.  His sweet waters mingled with Her salty brine, and together they brought forth gods and goddesses as silt precipitates from a stream or sand washes up on a shore.  Tiamat’s undulations and Apsu’s wet dreams stirred the ardor of their children in turn, and soon there were many generations of gods and goddesses. Continue reading “Tiamat’s Tale by Nancy Vedder-Shults”

Kali Ma (Part 3 of 3) by Nancy Vedder-Shults

nancymug_3In contrast to the linearity of our time concept in the West, Indians view life as infinite and cyclical.  Although Hindus, like ancient Greeks, believe in four ages of humanity (the so-called yugas), these occur not just once, but repeat cyclically every several million years.  Similarly, the creator god Brahma is said to have a daily cycle which has recurring effects on the existence of the world.  When Brahma awakes the world is created anew, and when he falls asleep it dissolves once again into the primal waters of eternity.  Fortunately for us, Brahma’s day lasts 4,320,000,000 human years.

Holland Cotter, in reflecting on Eastern art, once brought these temporal differences into sharp focus when he contrasted two of the major icons of East and West  — Christ on the cross and the dancing Shiva.  He said, “The Christ figure embodies the Judeo-Christian concept of divine history as a straight, purposeful line from the Fall of Man (sic.) to redemption, but with a tragic human story of self-sacrifice, loss and atonement at its heart.  The dancing Shiva is, by contrast, a dynamic, joyous cyclical image: a poised, uplifted foot and hands form a circle echoing the nimbus of flames surrounding the figure.  The image represents a culture which…views both humans and gods as participants in a cosmic game that periodically grinds to a catastrophic halt only to begin again.”[i]

Like Shiva, Kali has been depicted surrounded by a halo of flames.  But unlike Shiva, her portrait is far from a joyous image.  In one example, a 17th or 18th century North Indian sculpture, Kali is personified as a voracious, old hag squatting on a victim whose entrails she eats.  Slicing open the belly of the anonymous corpse, Kali scoops out its intestines with her bony fingers and gobbles them with her protruding teeth.  The anonymity of the victim brings home to the viewer the fact that ultimately we are all Kali’s prey.  And the flames burning around her head reemphasize this point, for as the aureole of the Dancing Shiva, they are the fires of the final conflagration at the end of each world period.  But in this image we realize that such flames flicker constantly, since time erodes all that has ever existed and Kali swallows all she has ever birthed.[ii] Continue reading “Kali Ma (Part 3 of 3) by Nancy Vedder-Shults”

Ramakrishna Devotion to Kali-Ma (Part 2 of 3) by Nancy Vedder-Shults

nancymug_3Ramakrishna was one of the major poets who popularized Kali’s worship in Bengal, the northeasternmost province of India. Born in the early part of the 19th century, he was a Hindu saint in a tradition known as bhakti, where devotees lovingly surrender their hearts, minds and spirits to their chosen deity in a practice which leads to ecstatic union with the divine. Such devotion is easier for us in the West to imagine when the beloved is the playful Krishna with his sublime flute-playing and sacred lovemaking. But in Ramakrishna’s case, the object of his devotion was the fierce Kali, the wild and uncontrollable aspects of the sacred, to whom he devoted himself as a child would to its mother.

Kali with baby
Kali as the mother of Shiva

In his best-known evocation of the Goddess, Ramakrishna observes her as a graceful young woman sinuously emerging from the waters of the Ganges. As her belly breaks forth from the waves, we realize that she is late in pregnancy, coming to dry land to deliver her child. When she reaches the shore, she gives birth to a beautiful baby whom she fondles affectionately and lifts to her breast, where the child suckles until it is content. Holding her baby once more in her arms, the woman becomes the Kali we are more familiar with, a frightening old hag, gaunt with age and hunger. In her ferocious aspect, Kali then lifts the infant to her mouth, crushes it between her teeth and swallows the baby whole. Without a backward glance, she returns to the waters from which she emerged, disappearing again from view. Continue reading “Ramakrishna Devotion to Kali-Ma (Part 2 of 3) by Nancy Vedder-Shults”

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”

Kali Ma, The Dark Creator and Destroyer by Nancy Vedder-Shults

nancymug_3In contrast to our dualistic thinking here in the West — thinking that separates light from dark, life from death, and chaos from order –there are a number of Eastern philosophies and religions that have retained a more holistic approach to reality. One religion that has done a good job of preserving the awesomeness of its deities by representing them through the full spectrum of life, death and rebirth is the Hindu culture in India. Remarkably, most of the major Hindu gods and goddesses represent divinity as forms of “coincidence of opposites.” In other words, the great deities like Shiva, Vishnu and Devi (the Goddess), simultaneously encompass life and death, good and evil, darkness and light, creation and destruction. For Westerners who live in a society which easily polarizes such distinctions, looking at the living mythology of one of these divine figures might offer us some ideas of how we can create a more unified mythology for ourselves.

It is no surprise to me that in India people acknowledge death as an inevitable part of life, just as they see darkness as half the daily round. When I visited India 35 years ago, I found it to be an overwhelming experience. The streets were filled to overflowing with people, oxcarts, cars with horns blaring, trucks inching along between the pedestrians, camel carts, bicycles and more people, food stalls, markets with vegetables and spices I had never seen before and people on top of people. As a Westerner I found all this lively interaction disconcerting, especially since it was very difficult to find a time and place to be alone. Life — even human life — was abundant to the point of excess. Continue reading “Kali Ma, The Dark Creator and Destroyer by Nancy Vedder-Shults”

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