Voices of a New Spirituality
from Women and Spirituality, Ursula King, Macmillan 1989, ch. 5, pp. 118-153.
'We dare to raise the issue of spirituality for women, to begin to redefine it, and to say it is of vital importance to the women's movement.
Feminist spirituality has taken form in sisterhood - in our solidarity based on a vision of personal freedom, self-definition, and in our struggle together for social and political change. The contemporary women's movement has created space for women to begin to perceive reality with a clarity that seeks to encompass many complexities . . . We choose the word spirituality because this vision presupposes a reverence for life, a willingness to deal with more than just rational forces, and a commitment to positive life-generating forces that historically have been associated with a more limited definition of spirituality. . . .
In its broadest context, spirituality is being open to reality in all of its dimensions - in its rational, irrational and superrational complexity, and acting on that understanding. This requires a radical departure from the present compartmentalized ways of perceiving and determining action.' Judy Davis and Juanita Weaver, 'Dimensions of Spirituality', pp. 368f.
Many different dimensions and definitions of spirituality exist, even within one single religion. Feminists, too, vary widely in their understanding of spirituality, but there is no doubt that the issue of spirituality provides an important focus for the thinking and being of contemporary women. 'Women talk about Spirituality', 'Women's Spirituality Rediscovered', 'Discovering Spirituality for Ourselves', 'In Search of the Feminine' are only some of the titles given to women's workshops and publications in Britain. In the USA the interest is much greater still and began much earlier. Some of this is associated with the so-called free spirituality movement which links women's spirituality with a separate women's culture. There is also the journal Womanspirit, published since 1974, which insists that spirituality is not just the pursuit of a privileged or fringe group but that 'womanspirit lives in the lives of all women'. It is a matter of women trusting their own experience and evolving their spiritual consciousness, power and strength within and among themselves.
In one of the early numbers of Womanspirit the editors wrote: 'Our intention is to put women in touch - in communion - with each other and ourselves. . . We feel this is a time for searching and sharing, for something is stirring the inner space of women. We do not know, cannot guess, what direction it will take. . . We believe that many women, like us, need space to get in touch with their energy, wisdom and strength. (Womanspirit 3, 1975). This underlines the experimental and experiential character of contemporary women's search for spirituality which is a quest for personal and social wholeness often powerfully expressed through the medium of art and literature.
As far as traditional religions are concerned, many feminists find the historically available models of spirituality too restricting and oppressive, too onesided and male-dominated for their new understanding of self and community. They see all existing religions as irrevocably cast in a patriarchal mould which remains dualistic and therefore cannot give women the vision of wholeness they need. Whilst traditional, patriarchal forms of spirituality are vehemently rejected, new forms of spirituality are eagerly sought, created or recreated through the use of ancient symbols, rites and beliefs. The result is a new kind of spirituality which as 'feminist spirituality' or even 'a religion for women' sees itself as altogether different and separate from other forms of spirituality.
Throughout this book spirituality has not been understood in this separate sense. Instead I have tried to explore a wide range of different dimensions which link the experience of women with that of spirituality or point to the spiritual implications of contemporary feminism. It is important, however, to realise that a separate feminist spirituality exists among particular individuals and groups who practise and voice it in different ways. Mary Anne Warren discusses this development in her encyclopedia The Nature of Woman (1980) under the heading of 'spiritual feminism', a term which according to her
refers to that segment of the women's movement which is concerned with the development of an explicitly feminist religious awareness . . . Some spiritual feminists hope to discover in the ancient worship of the Great Goddess not only an empirical refutation of the misogynist assumptions fostered by patriarchal religion but a source of authentic religious vision, a woman-centred world view free from the patriarchal taint. Some feminists have investigated (and even revived the rituals of) ancient and medieval mystery religions and witchcraft traditions . , . Those who draw religious inspiration from such nonstandard sources constitute what might be called the revolutionary or heretical portion of the spiritual feminist movement. (Warren, 1980, p.441)
This assessment is made from the perspective of traditional religion which spiritual feminists might well question, for far from seeing themselves as 'heretical', they consider themselves perhaps more as innovative and truly creative or in some cases as carrying on an ancient tradition relating to women rather than men. This spirituality is seen as truly woman-centred; it is a vehicle for their self-enhancement and revitalisation, a source of energising power, but also an inspiration for collective identity.
This is an important point not mentioned by Mary Anne Warren. Separate feminist spirituality is not only linked to a personal search for meaning and greater inwardness, but is often closely connected with the acceptance of social responsibility and political activism. Whilst individual women may have found a sense of identity and spiritual empowerment in spiritualist groups (Haywood, 1983), theosophical circles (Burfield, 1983) or other movements which provided an alternative to established main-stream religion, some feminists see their new spirituality not only as important for themselves, but even more so for the construction of a new social order and the destruction of the old one. This is where their approach is truly revolutionary, at least in spirit.
However, many concerns of the separatists overlap with those of other feminist groups. Mary Anne Warren also refers to a more inclusive meaning of 'spiritual feminism' when she goes on to say:
The majority of spiritual feminists, however, are not revolutionaries. Instead, they seek to work within the various Christian, Jewish, and (in a few instances) Islamic churches, to increase the participation of women, to gain entry for women to the priesthood or clergy and other church offices, to alter the antifemale elements of the church's teachings, and so on. Some even hope eventually to eliminate the presumption that the deity itself is male, or exclusively male ... so long as the patriarchal aspects of these major religious traditions persist, reformist efforts by the spiritual feminists will be important as a way of making, feminist ideas accessible to women whose religious convictions might otherwise preclude their sympathizing with, or even understanding, feminist demands. (Warren, 1980, pp. 441f)
In many ways the 'new spirituality' of feminists cannot be easily defined or circumscribed as there exists no strong embodiment or institutional core yet, but only small cult groups. Expressions of the new spirituality are varied and diffuse; attempts to describe them are more like capturing a mood or pointing to a potentially powerful transforming vision than discussing particular beliefs and practices, although these exist too. At the same time feminist voices on spirituality express many concerns shared by other contemporary movements seeking personal and social transformation. Above all they share an empowering holistic vision pointing to a richer sense of reality, a reverence for life, and a commitment to new forms of community.
But in spite of this common orientation feminist spirituality has developed distinctive elements and themes of its own. These include especially the veneration of the Goddess in diverse forms and, linked to Goddess worship, the emergence of matriarchy groups and a new witchcraft movement. Much use is also made of the symbol of the androgyne which seems to express for many the new forms of wholeness and integration women are looking for. Each of these strands consists of a wide variety of phenomena, often not without contradictions. Some of these will be examined in the following sections.
In search of the Goddess
The voices of a new spirituality draw their inspiration from a great number of different sources which are newly interpreted from within the perspective of contemporary feminism. Reality in its fullness, the source of all life within and without is today experienced, envisioned and conceptualised by many as Great Goddess. Her presence and power are affirmed in their own right, as different from and prior to the appearance of the traditional figure of God who has become almost completely identified with the male norms of patriarchal tradition. The Goddess is associated with an earlier matriarchal age of ancient times which, it is claimed, was superseded and suppressed by the ascent of male supremacy in all fields of human endeavour. Contemporary worshippers of the Goddess often refer rather indiscriminately to goddess figures and symbols of different periods and religious traditions which tend to get fused in a new understanding of a female form of ultimate Being.
But who is the Goddess and what does she stand for? Is she primarily a powerful symbol corresponding to a deep psychological need of human beings? Or is she a metaphysical reality in her own right? And what historical evidence do we have for the worship of goddesses in earlier times? And how does this relate to goddess figures in contemporary religions in Japan, India or Africa for example? Most important of all, what can the Goddess possibly mean for women today?
So much is written about the Goddess, both for and against her, that one can be truly bewildered as to her meaning and significance. Many works are published in praise of particular goddesses of the past, sometimes with relatively little critical assessment of the available evidence. The development of a feminist perspective of enquiry has encouraged a number of women scholars to undertake historical studies on goddesses which present us with new data of great importance for women's self-understanding and that of the cultures of the past.
Yet it is important to realise that most contemporary women's interest in the Goddess is less concerned with historical evidence than with the existential significance of her presence in their lives now. Thus quite a few publications on the Goddess are primarily confessions of faith in the strength of the feminine principle symbolised by numerous goddesses of different religious traditions, whether living or extinct. The return of the Goddess is seen as 'a way of initiation for women', a path 'for renewal in a feminine source-ground and spirit', 'a vitally important aspect of modern woman's quest for wholeness' (Perera, 1981, p. 7). The power of the Goddess is something that women, traditionally marked by powerlessness, can experience in the pattern and rhythm of their own lives. As one of the authors of the book The Ancient Religion of the Great Cosmic Mother of All wrote: 'For a woman now to be able to recognise and love the Goddess she must also be able to love herself and the Goddess in other women. Women's ancient love for each other has been diverted and has been forcibly directed exclusively towards the male as representing the Godhead . , . Feminism means the rebirth of the Goddess in us. She the One universal and infinite Self (Sjoo and Mor, 1981, p. 5)
How is this rebirth taking place? Let us look more closely at the return of the Goddess into contemporary religious consciousness and trace the emergence of a new Goddess spirituality and worship. As recently as 1982 a review of publications on 'Femininism and Spirituality' could still begin by affirming that 'Femininists often react with hostility, or at least, with hesitation, to the concept of "female spirituality", discussions about a female deity, or to "matriarchy" (Asphodel, 1982, p. 103). By now these subjects have entered much more widely into the general discussions of feminists, though not necessarily those of the public at large. More and more women have begun to explore the heritage of the Goddess and ask about its meaning for us today. As the same reviewer went on to say:
A new era of feminist research is delving into prehistory, history, theology, anthropology, archaeology and many other disciplines and showing there is ample room for reconsideration. They are claiming that female deities, reflecting women's culture and women's power, were universally accepted by humankind until the modern era of immediate pre-industrial societies; that women's lives were not subordinate, and that women's values were indeed uppermost. Such values linked the physical with the spiritual, and were monist and holist rather than split and dualist. There is, claim the researchers, a huge area of female-defined spirituality which generates and feeds into feminist philosophy and activity.
Side by side with this comes an explosion of interest in the participation in women's rites and rituals, both those assumed to come from the past, and other re-created for the present. (Asphodel, 1982, p. 103)
A pioneering work written several decades ago from a psychoanalytic perspective and often quoted today is M. Esther Harding's Woman's Mysteries Ancient and Modern (first published in German in 1949, translated into English in 1955 and reprinted many times since). It discusses many aspects of the feminine principle as portrayed in ancient myths, stories and dreams and draws out their significance for contemporary women. Details chosen from Babylonian, Assyrian, Egyptian and other sources of the ancient Near East highlight the symbolism of the Mother Goddess and other figures in ancient times. These provide an inspiration not so much for a new religious cult as for the reflection on woman's deepest nature and the development of the feminine self. Esther Harding's primary aim is to lead her readers to the inner development of the much neglected emotional realm and feminine side of human nature without which spiritual life will be atrophied. Writing from the perspective of the 1950s, she assesses the significance of the Goddess for her own time as follows:
In the image of the Mother Goddess - ancient and powerful -women of olden times found the reflection of their own deepest feminine nature . . . Today, the goddess is no longer worshipped. Her shrines are lost in the dust of ages while her statues line the walls of museums. But the law or power of which she was but the personification is unabated in its strength and life-giving potency. It is we who have changed. We have given our allegiance too exclusively to masculine forces. Today, however, the ancient feminine principle is reasserting its power . . . men and women are turning once again towards the Moon Mother, not, however, through a religious cult. . .but through a change in psychological attitude. For that principle, which in ancient and more naive days was projected into the form of a goddess, is no longer seen in the guise of a religious tenet but is now sensed as a psychological force arising from the unconscious, having, as had the Magna Dea of old, power to mold the destinies of mankind. (Harding, 1982, p. 241)
The feminine principle is indeed asserting its power, but since Esther Harding wrote her conclusion, modern women's interest in the Goddess has grown beyond psychological explanations into a new religious cult. This development has been strengthened by newly available historical evidence about goddesses of the past whose worship has been linked with theoretical explanations about the nature of society and women's power within it.
Widely acclaimed has been Merlin Stone's work When God was a Woman (New York 1976), published in Britain as The Paradise Papers (London 1976; new edition 1979) with the subtitle The Suppression of Women's Rites'. Some consider this book a feminist classic which, among other things, defends the matriarchal theory first put forward by Bachofen in 1861. Stone examines wide-ranging archaeological and mythological evidence for the veneration of the Great Goddess in the ancient Near East. She may have been worshipped as early as 25 000 BCE and her worship was certainly well established throughout the whole area by 7000 BCE and prevailed for many centuries until it was superseded by a patriarchal deity introduced by Indo-European invaders. These established the dominance of their own religion by the third and second millennia BCE, yet the earlier Goddess worship continued to survive for many centuries thereafter.
The book also argues that Goddess worship was coexistent with a matrilineal family system, that women were priests and prophets and worshipped the Goddess through sexual rites which were later misunderstood by male scholars who described these worshippers disparagingly and wrongly as 'temple prostitutes'. They were equally wrong in describing the Goddess religion as 'a fertility cult' and the Goddess as an 'earth mother' whilst she was in fact the Queen of Heaven, creatrix of the universe, giver of life and death, the supreme deity of sexuality and childbirth. She was often associated with a consort who was her son and lover.
Unlike the earlier matriarchy theorists of the 19th century, Merlin Stone does not consider matriarchy as a universal, but relatively primitive stage in the evolution of human society and culture, later to be superseded by higher stages, but as a condition highly conducive to culture creation and progress, as the cultures where the Goddess was worshipped developed agriculture, architecture, writing, mathematics and law.
Yet all this material raises a host of further questions, some of which are difficult to answer. Is the worship of goddesses in ancient times - or in living religions today for that matter - in any way a proof for the existence of female power and the high status of women or does this worship ultimately rest on male projection? If earlier societies were matrilineal, that is to say descent was counted through the woman's rather than the man's family line, does this imply that they were also truly matriarchal, i.e. the main economic and social power rested in the hands of women rather than men? Were women really better off in matriarchal and matrilineal societies, and did the worship of goddesses enhance their own position and power?
A good deal of further research is needed to clarify historical evidence so that the significance of ancient and classical goddesses can be more fully elucidated for earlier periods of history as well as for today when feminists are re appropriating the insights of an earlier age for their own needs. Sarah Pomeroy (1975) has studied the goddesses of classical antiquity whilst Charlene Spretnak (1981) has attempted to reconstruct the 'lost goddesses' of early Greece from a collection of pre-Hellenic myths. She contrasts the goddesses of classical Greece from the 7th century BCE onwards with the Great Goddess of pre-Hellenic culture whose mythology was matriarchal whilst that of classical Greece is patriarchal. Spretnak's interest in ancient historical materials is mainly motivated by the current interest in spirituality. She considers mythology as a helpful path-in the spiritual quest, and pre-patriarchal Goddess tradition is a rich source from which women and men may draw great benefit whilst searching for new paths of inner growth and spiritual awakening. She also stresses the limitations of a Jungian interpretation of Greek mythology and of the widely quoted 'feminine principle' which may be far from large enough to be equated with the all-encompassing power of the Great Goddess. Spretnak also makes a clear distinction between pre- and post-patriarchal spirituality and maintains that the work done by contemporary women writers and artists on the myths of the Goddess has as its goal 'not the reinstatement of prehistoric cultural structures, but rather the transmission of possibilities (l98l, p. 41).
One of the most detailed and widely cited historical works of recent years is Marij a Gimbutas' new edition of The Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe 6500-3500 BC (1982). By 'Old Europe' she understands a 'pre-Indo-European culture of Europe, a culture matrifocal and probably matrilinear, agricultural and sedentary, egalitarian and peaceful. It contrasted sharply with the ensuing proto-Indo-European culture which was patriarchal, stratified, pastoral, mobile, and war-oriented, superimposed on all of Europe . . . between 4500 and 2500 BC. During and after this period the female deities, or more accurately the Goddess Creatrix in her many aspects, were largely replaced by the predominantly male divinities of the Indo-Europeans' (1982, p. 9). She mentions the persistence of Goddess worship for more than 20 000 years from the Palaeolithic to Neolithic and beyond. After a thorough examination of the sculptured figurines, shrines and mythical images of Old Europe Gimbutas provides a detailed interpretation of the Great Goddess of life, death and regeneration (see especially ch. 8) who 'is associated with moon crescents, quadripartite designs and bull's horns, symbols of continuous creation and change. The mysterious transformation is most vividly expressed in her epiphany in the shape of a caterpillar, chrysalis and butterfly. Indeed, through this symbolism our ancestor proclaims that he believes in the beauty of young life' (1982, p. 237). The Great Goddess appeared in different manifestations as 'Virgin Nature Goddess' reflecting the free, untamed and savage forces of nature, its brilliance and wildness, its guiltless purity and strangeness whose dark roots could cause madness and death, or as 'Earth Mother' who gives birth to life, sustains it and in the end receives it back into her bosom. She is distinct from the 'Pregnant Vegetation Goddess' who is able to influence and distribute fertility. In the figurine art of Old Europe each of the feminine aspects, virginity, birth-giving and motherhood, as well as the Terrible Mother aspect, are represented. All are linked to nature's life cycle concerned with death and regeneration and all were worshipped as symbols of exuberant life. Gimbutas' examination of the mythical imagery of Old Europe leads her to the following conclusions:
The new discoveries have served only to strengthen and support the view that the culture called Old Europe was characterized by a dominance of woman in society and worship of a Goddess incarnating the creative principle as Source and Giver of All. In this culture the male element, man and animal, represented spontaneous and life-stimulating - but not life-generating -powers. . .
The pantheon reflects a society dominated by the mother. The role of woman was not subject to that of a man, and much that was created between the inception of the Neolithic and the blossoming of Minoan civilization was a result of that structure in which all resources of human nature, feminine and masculine, were utilized to the full as a creative force. (1982, pp. 9 & 237f.)
Besides our growing knowledge about the goddesses of Old Europe, Greece, and the ancient Near East, materials from other cultural and religious sources are now becoming more widely available to reveal the many facets of goddess worship. An example of this is The Book of the Goddess Past and Present, An Introduction to Her Religion (Olson, ed., 1983) which sets the cult of the Goddess in a cross-cultural context. This collection contains several essays on goddesses in India, China and Japan as well as in the religion of North American Indians on which far less information is available than on the goddesses of the ancient Near East and classical times. The Hindu tradition in particular has developed the ritual, devotion and theology of the Goddess perhaps more profusely and profoundly than any other religious tradition and can provide a rich resource for the contemporary rediscovery of the Goddess. On the great Goddess or Mahadevi see especially David Kinsley, Hindu Goddesses, Visions of The Divine Feminine in the Hindu Religious Tradition (1986); additional material is found in J. S. Hawley and D. M. Wulff, The Divine Consort, Rādhā and the Goddesses of India (1982); for a general overview see the article on 'Goddess Worship' in The Encyclopedia of Religion 6, pp. 35-59.
The above discussion demonstrates that several different perspectives are possible in interpreting earlier goddess-worshipping cultures from a contemporary point of view. There is first of all the question of the cumulative evidence of historical facts and of the appropriate criteria by which we can explain them in a meaningful way. There are psychological and psychoanalytic levels of meaning that can be given to historical data about the Goddess, and there is also another possible interpretation at the level of spiritual awareness and religious practice. In many writers these different levels are not clearly distinguished or are simply confused, for the current cult of the Goddess, though still comparatively small, uses materials rather eclectically by drawing inspiration from very different sources.
The contemporary rediscovery of the Goddess cannot do without historical data yet the main significance of the Goddess for a growing number of women today is not historical, but religious. In any case, perceptive feminist writers are well aware of the problematic of historical reasoning with regard to the status and power of women and the nature of a female deity since the past cannot provide us with ready-made, adequate solutions for the religious, social and political needs of the present. The contemporary search for the Goddess takes many different forms. Some may seem extreme, heretical, deviant, or simply exotic and bizarre; they are certainly not without inherent paradoxes for, as history tells us, the different goddess figures are profoundly ambivalent. There are not only the benign, protective, mothering figures associated with life-giving power, creative renewal and transformation which affirm the strong, dynamic and powerful energy of women, but there are also numerous goddesses of terrible demonic and destructive aspects representing the powers of darkness and death, horrible figures which are irrational, merciless and devouring. Much less has been said and written about these aspects than about the positive, life-giving and life-enhancing powers of female deities. Such an emphasis implies a choice which indicates that the contemporary rediscovery of the Goddess is not a simple historical reconstruction, but a new creation with the help of ancient materials. Thus it is perhaps less appropriate to speak of a return or rebirth of the Goddess than of her new birth and second coming.
Contemporary Goddess worship and feminist witchcraft
Many women feel in the depth of their being that they can identify much more closely with a female form and manifestation of divinity than with traditionally male metaphors of Godhead. Perceptions and constructs of the inexpressible, mysterious nature of Ultimate Reality are of profound significance for our own self-understanding and the way we shape our lives in society. A male writer who explored the female aspects of divinity in India under the title God as Mother (Brown, 1974) expressed these ramifications of feminine and masculine dimensions of Ultimate Reality in the following questions:
What difference, we may ask ourselves, would it make to us personally if the Supreme Reality were a Woman, instead of a Man, or some union of the two? How would it affect our own faith, our attitudes and conduct towards men and women in our everyday lives, our ultimate fate? Would it alter our perception of the relationship of man and nature, spirit and matter, mind and body, intellect and feelings, subject and object? (Brown, 1974, p.l)
Worshippers of the Goddess feel that all these perceptions are altered, that they have found a new wholeness not found elsewhere. They are drawn to the Goddess because she accepts and affirms them and gives them new power. Meditating on the Goddess, celebrating and worshipping her can take many different forms through individuals either working out an approach of their own or joining small groups or newly developing cults which have spread throughout the USA and Britain.
The individual search is well articulated in a letter sent to me by an older woman who wrote:
I am one of those women who, in my own and very individual way, worship the Goddess. (I wish we had some word to use which was not merely a male word, differentiated!) ... I am using my study of the Goddess, in the past, and in myself and my own experience, as a process, a method of consciousness-raising. I am very isolated here, both by my way of life and by my age, and I can't find any group I could reach, though I would join one if I could find one.
For 30 years, I was interested in all aspects of religion and philosophy, and in particular in the Goddess, but until the last few years, resisted the idea of worshipping her. It never entered my head, I suppose partly because I had always resisted the accepted religions, and had worked out my own private religion, devoid of rituals, for there were none I could inherit. I knew that all things are One, each individual thing not really separated from everything else, known and unknown. The One, I taught my four sons, is of all sexes and no sex, since all these exist.
A few years ago, after a traumatic experience, I woke up one morning, saying 'I know where my loyalty and duty and love are owed - to my Mother, the Earth, who births us, feeds us, protects us, and takes us back into herself when we die, to give new life to other life-forms'. I felt it was, philosophically speaking, a backward step, but one absolutely necessary AT THE PRESENT TIME. It's only since then that I have realised how difficult it must be to get rid of the God-in-the-head ... To me, the idea of the God is a false and forced idea, a lie. The idea of the Goddess (which I deliberately build up in my head) is nearer to the truth. It can never be an authoritarian religion or it changes into the God. If she ever takes on the definition of the god in patriarchal religions, she will, once again, bear the male child who will become first before her, again. She is something at the edges of one's vision, in between the salt sea and the sand, the night and the day, something wild which we need to make space in us to live alongside us, but which we can never imprison by too clear a vision.
This letter is a moving expression of the depth and sincerity of a personal search, a witness to a new sense of the divine which makes its all-encompassing presence and power felt within us and throughout all of life and nature. But beyond the perceptive insight of particular individuals, Goddess worship has by now gained considerable collective momentum. In 1978, American feminists organised a conference in Santa Cruz on 'The Great Goddess Reemerging' which was over-subscribed and attended by more than 500 people. By 1976 a regular publication devoted to the Goddess appeared under the title Lady Unique. Theological reflections about the Goddess are described as theology which is seen as fundamentally different from traditional male-oriented and male-dominated theology. Theology gives primacy to symbols rather than to rational explanations which are so prevalent in theological thought. So far however most writing on the Goddess, when not historical, is either inspirational or devotional, and a systematically ordered body of thought, even with reference to symbols, is only slowly coming into existence.
Much of contemporary Goddess theology, sometimes also described as 'coven theology', is produced by the feminist witchcraft movement with its characteristic covens. Organised cults of the Goddess can be found among such groups as the 'Church of the Goddess', the 'Sisterhood of Wicca' and the 'Covenant of the Goddess' which is officially recognised as a church in California. This witchcraft movement blends earlier beliefs and practices said to stem from women's lore and ritual of medieval times or before with modern views about the power of the Goddess. Contemporary witches' covens are not identical with the witchcraft practised in medieval times; they are a specifically new blend of the feminist movement. Their emergence is linked to a process of retraditionalisation using elements of the past, whilst they represent at the same time a religious innovation of the 20th century.
Here again one must distinguish between the historical and contemporary phenomenon of witchcraft. A large literature exists on witchcraft and sorcery in pre-modern and non-literate societies which describes witchcraft as either beneficial or harmful. Some writers maintain that the term witchcraft should be restricted to cases where it is believed that supernatural means are used for harmful, evil ends and that the term is erroneously used when adopted by self-styled witches of modern times who claim to be adherents of an ancient pagan religion which apparently predates Christianity, but was eventually displaced and driven underground where it survived until its re-emergence today. This claim, considered to be discredited by scholars, is often traced to the widespread influence of Margaret Murray's article on 'Witchcraft' in the Encylopedia Britannica (1929) and of her popular books on this subject (1970, 1971) which gave new respectability to witchcraft in the West.
This theory about witchcraft as an ancient religion, whether factually correct or not, must be considered separately from the accusations of witchcraft brought against countless women of the past who practised the wise craft of nursing and healing the sick (Ehrenreich and English 1973) and from the explanations about the use of such accusations as a way of annihilating women's power and its challenges, as occurred in the frenzied witchhunts and past persecutions of western Europe (O'Faolain and Marlines, 1979, pp. 219-30; Lamer, 1983, 1984; Heinsohn and Steiger, 1986) or is manifest in the charges levelled against women in a situation of fast social change in contemporary Africa (Amoah, 1986).
Medieval witches may well have been linked to folk medicine and traditional healing practices, but this is quite different from seeing them as members of a pre-Christian matriarchal religion or as a dissident feminine movement organised against the medieval church. However, all these claims can be found among members of the modern feminist witchcraft's movement.
Apart from the historical, religious, socio-economic and political explanations which may be adduced, the persecution of witches must be seen as the epitome of misogynism in western culture which Rosemary Ruether (1975, pp. 89-114) has tried to explain by the development of paranoid patterns and the demonisation of female sexuality in Christianity. Several feminist writers look at medieval witches from a very positive perspective by exploring legends and rituals of witchcraft as part of women's spiritual heritage and by seeing the witch of the past as an inspiring image of female strength. But witchcraft has also emerged as a new syncretistic religion which combines the insights of ancient folk religions with Goddess worship and modern feminism.
The best known descriptions of feminist wicca or witchcraft come from Starhawk or Miriam Simos, one of the high priestesses of the American witchcraft movement, author of The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess, and first national President of the 'Covenant of the Goddess' which has been characterised as 'a union of pagan and goddess traditions' (Christ, 1983, p. 247), 'Wicca' are the wise ones, the women priestesses, diviners, midwives, poets, healers and singers of power. Starhawk maintains that a woman-centred culture based on the worship of the Great Goddess underlies the beginnings of all civilisations. For her and her followers the old religion of witchcraft or 'the craft of the wise' was handed down in the covens of Europe where the mythology and rituals of ancient mother-centred times were preserved through the age of persecutions. This religion which existed before the advent of Christianity is said to have been an earth-centred, nature-oriented worship that venerated the Goddess, the source of all life, as well as her son-lover-consort who was seen as the 'Horned God' of the hunt and animal life.
Witchcraft covens within the contemporary feminist movement are extremely diverse. Some consist of hereditary witches who claim to practise rites unchanged for hundreds of years whilst others prefer to create new rituals. There are covens of so-called 'perfect couples' with an even number of women and men permanently paired, but there are also covens of lesbian feminists or of gay men, or covens of women only who prefer to explore women's spirituality in a space removed from men. The latter are sometimes described as the Dianic, the women-only tradition. To be a witch can be understood in many different ways, as can be seen from a statement of New York covens:
WITCH is an all-women Everything . . .
WITCH lives and laughs in every woman. She is the free part of each of us, beneath the shy smiles, the acquiescence to absurd male domination, the make-up or flesh-suffocating clothing our sick society demands. There is no 'joining' WITCH. If you are a woman and dare to look within yourself, you are a Witch. You make your own rules. You are free and beautiful. You can be invisible or evident in how you choose to make your witch-self known. You can form our own Coven of sister Witches (thirteen is a cozy number for a group) and do your own actions.
Whatever is repressive, solely male-oriented, greedy, puritanical, authoritarian - those are your targets. Your weapons are theater satire, explosions, magic, herbs, music . . . your own boundless beautiful imagination. Your power comes from your own self as a woman, and it is activated by working in concert with your sisters. The power of the Coven is more than the sum of its individual members, because it is together.
You are pledged to free our brothers from oppression and stereotyped sexual roles (whether they like it or not) as well as ourselves. You are a Witch by saying aloud, I am a Witch' three times, and thinking about that. You are a Witch by being female, untamed, angry, joyous, and immortal. (Quoted in Morgan ed., 1970, pp. 605-6)
This declaration emphasises the independence and power of the witch, her strong self image which relates in a new way to others, whether sisters or brothers, without referring to the Goddess at all. But many witches worship the Goddess because they see in her the ground and source for a positive image of women in all stages of life. They teach that the Goddess appears in three forms, as maiden, mother and crone, and these are linked to both the stages of women's lives and the cycle of the moon. To quote from Starhawk's article on 'Witchcraft and Women's Culture'-
Our great symbol for the Goddess is the moon, whose three aspects reflect the three stages in women's lives and whose cycles of waxing and waning coincide with women's menstrual cycles ......
The Goddess is also the earth - Mother Earth, who sustains all growing things, who is the body, our bones and cells. She is the air - the winds that move in the trees and over the waves, breath. She is the fire of the hearth, or the blazing bonfire and the fuming volcano; the power of transformation and change. And she is water - the sea, the original source of life; the rivers, streams, lakes and wells; the blood that flows in the rivers of our veins. She is mare, cow, cat, owl, crane, flower, tree, apple, seed, lion, sow, stone, woman. She is found in the world around us, in the cycles and seasons of nature, and in mind, body, and spirit, and emotions within each of us. Thou art Goddess. lam Goddess. All that lives (and all that is, lives), all that serves life, is Goddess. (1979b, p.263)
Starhawk encourages women to join together to explore a life-affirming. Goddess-orientated spirituality. She considers all traditional patriarchal religions as 'death cults' and maintains that the necessary transformation of our culture towards love of life, of nature and of the female principle will come from the cult of the Goddess which values independence, personal strength, and the self, but has no set doctrines other than the law of 'love unto all beings'. She candidly admits that her considerations about the Goddess are limited to traditions from northern Europe. She states that southern and eastern Europe, Asia, India, Africa and the Americas all possess rich traditions of goddess religions and matricentric cultures without giving attention to their individual differences. In any case, historical details matter less than the 'inner' or 'mythic' history of the Goddess which provides the touchstone for modern witches: 'Like the histories of all peoples, its truth is intuited in the meaning it gives to life, even though it may be recognized that scholars might dispute some facets of the story' (1979 b, p. 268 n. 1).
The way into witchcraft is usually through initiation into a coven, Organisation and beliefs are extremely diverse and so are the different rituals celebrated by different covens. According to Starhawk, rituals usually take place within a circle to allow for the free flow of energy. Each ritual begins with the casting of a circle, whether it takes place on a moonlit hillside or in a modern apartment. The circle is considered as a space 'between the worlds', between the human world and the world of the Goddess, and its casting as a transition into an expanded state of consciousness. A particular witchcraft ritual may involve
wild shouting and frenzied dancing, or silent meditation, or both , . . The best rituals combine moments of intense ecstasy and spiritual union, with moments of raucous humour and occasional silliness . . .
The Goddess, and if desired the Horned God (not all traditions of the craft relate to the male force) can be invoked once the circle is cast. An invocation may be set beforehand . . . but in our coven we find the most effective invocations are those that come to us spontaneously . . . The power generated within the circle is built into a cone form, and at its peak is released - to the Goddess, to reenergize the members of the coven, or to do a specific work such as healing.
Energy is also shared in tangible form - wine, cakes, fruit, cheesecake, brownies, or whatever people enjoy eating. The Goddess is invited to share with everyone, and a libation is poured to her first . . .
At the end, the Goddess is thanked and bid farewell, and the circle is formally opened. Ending serves as a transition back into ordinary space and time. Rituals finish with a kiss and a greeting of 'Merry meet, merry part, and merry meet again'. (Starhawk 1979b, pp. 265-6)
It is impossible to describe in further detail the numerous feminist rituals which have developed inside and outside the witchcraft movement (see Turner 1978), but by far the most detailed account of the celebration of the seasonal festivals of the old Celtic calendar of New Year, Winter Solstice, Candlemas, Spring Equinox, Summer Solstice and Autumn Equinox, as well as many other rituals, is found in Zsuzsanna E. Budapest's two volumes of The Holy Book of Women's Mysteries (1979 and 1980). An exile from Hungary and daughter of a woman artist, Zsuzsanna Budapest is now a high priestess of the Susan B. Anthony Coven Number One in Los Angeles and foundress of the 'Sisterhood of Wicca' which combines insights of the Hungarian witch tradition inherited from her mother with those of contemporary feminism. A major part of the work presents specifically created rites in answer to modern needs, whether they be a self-blessing, welcoming a new baby into a circle of mothers or freeing political prisoners.
How is the 'self-blessing ritual', said to come from an ancient oral tradition never written down, related to the Goddess and what is its meaning for women today? Zsuzsanna Budapest explains:
It is a woman's own blessing on herself; her own divinity is honored in a ritual with herself. It is a self-affirmation, a very private, and a very powerful ritual.
To do it, first take a shower or a bath to purify yourself. Have assembled on your altar some salt, in a nice container, and some wine and water. The altar is an important part of women's rituals, and a very female part of dwellings. Every house used to have an altar, for the house spirits, for the ancestors. Every women would do well to have one of her own. On it, you represent the Goddess in some symbolic manner - by a rose, for instance, or any flower . . . Arrange your altar in a creative manner, for example, with a white cloth, two white candles on the two sides, and a rose in the middle. Put your chalice in front and fill it half with water and half with wine. Take the salt and put it down in front of your altar.
After explaining the symbolism of each element used and describing the ritual step by step, she points out its general significance:
In self-blessing, you affirm the divine you. Self-blessing is very important for women, because too many of us have internalized our own oppression . . . Self-blessing rituals are a way of exorcising the patriarchal policeman, cleansing the deep mind, and filling it with positive images of the strength and beauty of women. This is what the Goddess symbolizes - the divine within women and all that is female in the universe. (Budapest, 1979b, xpp.269&271f.)
In her chapter on 'Feminist Witchcraft - The Goddess is Alive!' Naomi Goldenberg, (1979, pp. 85-114) argues that modern witches are using religion and ritual as psychological tools to build up individual strength. Many women can draw power and inspiration from the image of the Goddess in feminist witchcraft, so whatever the scholarly arguments about witches of the past, the witches of the present seem to be developing a religion for women which, according to its followers, is the only one on the west that recognizes woman as divinity in her own right.
Feminist witchcraft and worship of the Goddess are not only present in America and Britain but also emerging elsewhere. For example Judith Jannberg (1983), drawing on similar sources and experiences, has described her newly found identity as a Goddess- worshipping witch for German readers in her book I am a Witch (Ich bin eine Hexe') wherein she states the same ideas: 'We have the Goddess within us. Every woman can enter into contact with the Goddess through her inner Self. For our religion, for this relationship, we need no church, no building, no mission, no organisation, no covenant, no bible, no studies. The laws of the Goddess are effective within us and around us in nature' (1983, pp.148f.). Recent statistics on different religious groups in Great Britain and Northern Ireland state that there are 'about 30000 practising self-styled witches who practise occultism and black magic' in Britain (Barrett, 1982, p. 700) but unfortunately no mention is made of how many among these might be female witches worshipping the Goddess. In any case, not every Goddess-worshipping woman is necessarily a feminist witch nor would wish to be considered as such. There are other groups too, besides feminist covens, which practise and promote the modern cult of the Goddess.
Goddess worship in matriarchy groups and the debate about matriarchy
Several groups, whether consisting of a loose network of contacts or of a more formally organised structure, relate their worship of the Goddess to wide-ranging notions about matriarchy which are often not too clearly defined either. The most coherently formulated theology and community structure is represented by the small madrian group Lux Madriana. It claims to trace its ancestry back to a primordial matriarchal tradition and refers in its publications somewhat contemptuously to the 'self-styled witches' and other modern women cultists whose 'occult traditions' are nothing more than 'modern fabrications' with which its own worship has nothing in common. Lux Madriana, which began with a women's group in Oxford in the mid-seventies, but now seems to be centred in Burtonport on the west coast of Ireland with affiliated groups elsewhere, produces a regular magazine The Coming Age which first described itself as 'Magazine of the religion of the Goddess' and later as that 'of the British matriarchal tradition'.
Members of this group have created a small, self-sufficient community far removed from modern life, as they believe that we have fallen from a golden age to one of the worst possible materialism which has to be overcome by returning to a primordial tradition where all of life is governed by spiritual principles. According to their teaching, traditional society was first matriarchal and then patriarchal and is to be distinguished from modern patriarchal society which represents the worst of all possible worlds. The return to primordial tradition expresses itself in the group through a traditional way of life (without electricity or the television set), the wearing of traditional clothes and the pursuit of traditional crafts. Thus the madrians wish to bring in a new age, the coming age, linked to a new language, or at least new terms which they have created for the months of the year, their festival and rites. From within their own matriarchal perspective members of the group have developed ideas on cosmology, theology, ecclesiology, salvation history and liturgy with domestic and public rites, sacraments of initiation, and even religious education for the children in the community. The basic beliefs are stated in The Catechism of the Children of the Goddess whilst The Creation and the Crystal Tablet takes the place of scripture. Another brief work, The Mythos of the Divine Maid, relates the nativity, life, death and resurrection of the daughter of the Goddess. There could be no closer parallel to Christian theology, but in the reverse, from creation to redemption to the idea of the Trinity, all expressed from a female perpective. All souls are female too, whilst males embody the material principle; the spiritual principle is female and thus are men's souls. In the section on 'Deity' the catechism of Lux Madriana deals with the question 'What is the Goddess?' in the following way: The Goddess is the one Spirit of the universe, complete in Herself, uncreated, and infinite in potency, perception and perfection.' The 'Mystery of the Divine Trinity' is described as 'one Goddess, yet she is three Persons' who are 'Our Celestial Mother, Her Divine Daughter and the Dark Mother who is Absolute Deity'. The Celestial Mother is 'the Creator of the world and Ground of all being' from whom all life, all action and all thought flow. Her Divine Daughter has a threefold nature as Princess of the World who governs all cycles of life and nature, as Priestess of the World who gives us Communion with Her Mother, and as Queen of Heaven who brings us to the Celestial Throne. The Dark Mother is described as as Absolute Deity 'Who existed before the beginning of existence and is beyond being and unbeing . . . She is outside space and time; She is all that is and all that is not'. It is also said that 'The exhaltation of Her breath or Spirit is our Mother, the Creator of the world', a function already associated with the aspect of the Celestial Mother. The Goddess has no beginning or end; she creates the world now and in every moment and she is in every place at all times. Though given many different names, there is only one Goddess and there are no other deities. From among the prayers to the Goddess listed in the catechism I would like to quote 'A Morning Offering':
Celestial Mother, grant me this day that every work I do shall be as lovingly and well performed as though I were to give it into Your divine hands.
Fill me with Your energy, that I may both give beauty to the world and perceive the beautiful in all of Your creation.
Grant that this day shall add a stone to the temple of my soul.
Besides Lux Madriana there are other groups in Britain devoted to the cult of the Goddess. They are as diverse as the Fellowship of Isis, the Earthforce, the Goddess of Maat, the Goddess of Truth and Love Centre, the Matriarchy Study Group and the Matriarchy Research and Reclaim Network, to name only a few. In a recent study of matriarchy groups in contemporary Britain Kayoko Komatsu (1986) has examined the development, composition, activities and rituals of some of these groups. Matriarchy study groups were founded first and then the development of ritual came later. The 'Matriarchy Study Group' was founded in London in 1975 and began to publish Matriarchy News. In 1981, a 'Matriarchy Research and Reclaim Network' was formed which publishes its own newsletter. In Sheffield a matriarchy group first appeared in 1977. The subscribers of the 'Matriarchy Research and Reclaim Network Newsletter' were found to be of varying ages, but largely in their late twenties and thirties, frequently of graduate background and with prior experience of political involvement, especially in the peace movement. Often disenchanted with politicial activity alone, these women were looking for an appropriate spirituality which can give meaning to their lives today. The worship of the Goddess is a self affirmation of the strength and wholeness of women; it suggests immanence and encompasses a holistic understanding of nature as the earth is seen as body of the Goddess. As the manifestation and expression of divine energy and presence nature has to be reverently approached, not manipulated as an object which human beings can possess and exploit for the purpose of domination. Thus the Goddess religion connects the wholeness of self to the wholeness of nature and aims to overcome the dualism between nature and culture. The awareness that the Goddess is All and that all forms of being are One is expressed in the following invocation:
All is one and one is all
She is us and we are she
Our will be done
we shall be free. (Newsletter No. 7)
Although matriarchy groups are relatively small and insignificant in absolute numbers, their search for an alternative worldview connected to spiritual values has a great potential, not only for women but for men too, as it implies a profound transformation of religious consciousness and envisages a different attitude to both nature and the social order. Whilst the expression 'women's spirituality' used by these groups is understood in an exclusive sense by some members, it has a universal connotation for others and means a new spirituality for a new age.
The relationship between feminism and spirituality is much discussed in these groups, as is the meaning of Goddess worship which should not be seen as mere self-seeking or as a rejection of the world as it is, or as a simple replacement of the worship of the patriarchal Judaeo-Christian God with a matriarchal Goddess. Another important theme is the interconnection of spirituality and politics, for it is one of the symptoms of patriarchy that these two decisive aspects of human experience have been dangerously divorced from each other, much to the detriment of personal and communal development. Thus the Matriarchy Research and Reclaim Network stresses emphatically, in a cyclostyled statement about itself, that women's involvement with matriarchy and Goddess religion is 'most certainly NOT a cop-out or a withdrawal from the political struggles of feminism'. Not tied to specific creeds women are free to interpret their own feelings and experiences in a way that is personal and meaningful to them. Against the understanding of a male-centred creation, they affirm that the creative principle or energy is female rather than male and 'can be symbolised as the Great Mother or the Great Goddess'. The question 'Who we are' is answered by members of the Matriarchy Research and Reclaim Network in the foil owing declaration:
We are women who have been meeting to celebrate and exchange knowledge at the full and dark moons and at the eight festivals of the old religion. We have gathered information about women's past which has been lost until recently because of male cultural bias . . .
We are women who want to discover or rediscover our spirituality and to affirm and work with energies which are specifically female.
Involvement in Matriarchy enables us to look back into the past, to Matriarchal religion and societies and to relate the concepts and images of women found there to our everyday lives. It is an opportunity to explore and interpret our female nature and strengths in positive ways, very different from patriarchal ideas of us. It is also a confirmation of the knowledge that we can and will overcome patriarchal domination, (cyclostyled paper prepared by a group of women within the Matriarchy Network)
Whilst matriarchy groups propose a woman-centred worldview linked to Goddess religion, there is no general consensus as to their precise understanding of the meaning of matriarchy in historical or theoretical terms. An early discussion of matriarchy in relation to Christianity is found in the pioneering work of Matilda Joslyn Gage, Woman, Church and State: A Historical Account of the Status of Woman through the Christian Ages: with Reminiscences of the Matriarchate, first published in 1893 (and reprinted in 1982). Among scholars, including many women anthropologists, the question of the actual existence of matriarchies in the past is disputed since historical evidence is ambiguous. For the purpose of feminism the historical debate as such is perhaps less important than the need to construct a theory of matriarchy for contemporary women whose aim it is to create a new social order. The controversy is not new, however, and was originally not started by women. It has its roots in the nineteenth century, especially in Bachofen's Das Mutterrecht (1861). For Bachofen and his followers 'mother right' marked an earlier stage in the evolution of human cultures whilst Briffault's encyclopaedic work on The Mothers (1927) asserted the existence of a primitive matriarchy that universally preceded patriarchy. Much of his evidence was drawn from comparative religion and he maintained that the widespread existence of lunar deities in ancient cultures proved the early social dominance of women. These two earlier works, together with Neumann's treatment of Goddess worship in his psychoanalytic study The Great Mother (1955), were an important influence on the contemporary feminist debate and are often quoted in feminist works.
Still more influential in the development of the matriarchy debate were the writings of contemporary women. Elizabeth Gould Davis's extremely popular book The First Sex (1971) interpreted myths literally and argued for the existence of a golden age of matriarchy in the past in a way which fired many women's imagination. The work has been praised as visionary and inspirational, but many of its details have been criticised and shown to be unsubstantiated. Also much read are Merlin Stone's publications When God was a Woman (1976) and Ancient Mirrors of Womanhood: Our Goddess and Heroine Heritage (1979, 1980). Critics, however, often refer to this and similar material as promulgating a modern 'myth of matriarchy'. Whilst the lively controversy about matriarchy has become a 'quasi-religious issue', anthropologists maintain that the data on goddess worship in ancient societies cannot be associated with a stage of matriarchy (Preston, 1982, 1987). In a brief critical article on 'Myths and Matriarchies' Sally Binford (1981) has argued that the belief in earlier matriarchies represents a 'new feminist fundamentalism' (for a reprint of her article with responses and counter- responses see 'Are Goddesses and Matriarchies Merely Figments of Feminist Imagination?' in Spretnak, 1982, pp. 541-62).
Many different arguments have been put forward against the theory of historical matriarchies. Feminists are accused of mistakenly assuming that the presence of goddesses is evidence of matriarchies and that goddess worship proves the rule of mothers in earlier stages of human history. Also the idea that matriarchal societies are survivals of an earlier matriarchal era or that matrilineality and matriarchy are directly related to each other cannot be taken for granted. The ancient symbolism associated with the worship of goddesses cannot give us incontrovertible evidence about the actual social position and roles of women in the past. This lack of equivalence between the symbolic and empirical realms of existence is also evident from the contemporary situation in such societies as Japan and India, for example, where the widespread veneration of goddesses has not enhanced that status of women. This shows how speculative our conclusions about these matters are and how tentative any parallels remain between the characteristics of sacred images, statues and symbols, the cult of female deities, and the life of actual women in society.
It has been argued that the myth of matriarchy is damaging to the cause of feminists and that women are not really freed by perpetuating this myth. Whilst matriarchy groups have tended to emphasise the historical existence of matriarchy and seen that stage of society as characterised by a communal life-style in which women enjoyed authority and respect as well as true social power, the lack of historical evidence and the critique of the myth of a matriarchal golden age has also led to a certain disenchantment. Some women now want to play down the importance of the historical issue about matriarchy and concentrate instead on the evidence of goddess-worshipping communities of ancient times without necessarily concluding that these were matriarchal. Certain writers, such as Starhawk, also argue that even the archaeological discovery of goddess worship is not essential for women's belief in the Goddess today. Present and future are not dependent on a hypostasised past. In other words, women do not really need history to justify their religion, for whether there was a religion of the Great Goddess in ancient times or not, there certainly exists one today.
We are thus faced with many contradictory arguments regarding the significance of both matriarchy and the Goddess in contemporary feminism. Whilst even enthusiastic feminists react to 'the unfortunate excesses and leaps' of Davis's popular publication (Spretnak 1982, p. 129n) and accept that this and similar works discredit their cause, critical women scholars go on collecting data about goddesses which allow for the development of much more differentiated interpretations. The issue is by no means closed, and currently accepted academic views may well have to be revised in the future. For the present, Margot Adler (1982) has briefly summarised the multiple meanings of matriarchy in feminist debate clearly showing the uncertainties about whether women's power, associated with a possibly mythic matriarchal age, is predominantly understood as social, political, religious or psychological power.
However, beyond the question of whether matriarchies ever existed or not, women can make creative use of the idea of matriarchy as a vision, an ideal which has considerable transformative potential for the contemporary lives and communities of women. Adler rightly points out that the critics of the matriarchy theory fail to deal with the central issue of the matriarchy argument among feminists, namely, 'that there have been ages and places where women held a much greater share of power than they do now and that, perhaps, women used power in a very different way from our common understanding of it' (1982, p. 128). Because of this, further research on earlier, prepatriarchal societies which were more egalitarian and gave more freedom to women is of great importance in feminist scholarship and self-understanding. Thus many women now define 'matriarchal' as
a different kind of power, as a realm where female things are valued and where power is exerted in nonpossessive, noncontrolling, and organic ways that are harmonious with nature . . .a worldview that values feelings of connectedness and intuition,, that seeks nonauthoritarian and nondestructive power relationships and attitudes towards the Earth. This is far different from the idea of matriarchy as simply rule by women. (Adler, 1982, ep.132)
Here matriarchal values are understood in almost the same way in which other writers speak about the rediscovery of feminine values or of the feminine dimension in all of us. For some women the word matriarchy has come to mean mainly an age of universal Goddess worship, irrespective of questions of social and political power or control. (For important German studies on matriarchy dealing with historical and contemporary aspects and the relationship between matriarchy, aesthetics, and religion see Göttner-Abendroth, 1980, 1984; and Mulack, 1983.) The main issues in the current matriarchy debate thus lead back to the central figure of the Goddess whose meaning, like that of matriarchy itself, is controversial and can be considered at several different levels. To disentangle these we have to find an answer to the following questions: What are the different meanings assigned to the Goddess today? And what is their significance for the spirituality of contemporary women?
The many meanings of the Goddess
Does the Goddess assume the same place in women's worship as that assigned to God in traditional religion? Is the Goddess contemporary women's new way of naming what is ultimate for them because the term God has so many patriarchal associations which they must reject? Many women understand the meaning of the Goddess in this way, but this is not unproblematic since the Great Goddess is often associated or even equated with the Mother Goddess, or with an Earth Goddess, or with past goddess figures which represented fertility goddesses and functioned as such in ancient cultures. This is why some writers question whether the word 'Goddess' can ever become a truly monotheistic term for us. The equation between the Great Goddess and Mother Goddess is expressed in the following statement as is the claim that the Goddess is not simply a reverse female image of the male God:
The Goddess or Great Mother is NOT a female but otherwise mirror image of the male god; we do not think of a 'Big Mummy Out There' as the patriarchs think of a 'Big Daddy'. Neither were Matriarchal societies mirror images of our own but where women dominated men. The Goddess is not separate but is in everything. We are her and she is us. Her agency is our energy: it is in all of us at a deep personal level as a source of power and we have many choices as to how we may wish to express this power. The Goddess is also a symbol for our energy, for our being. We are all individual sources of energy but we are also all joined as one great pool of power, strength and creativity as are all things in the universe and beyond. (Cyclostyled paper prepared by a group of women within the Matriarchy Network)
Another source, a hymn about the Great Mother Goddess in Womanspirit (Spring, 1984, p. 2), equates the Goddess with the Earth Mother:
I am the MOTHER. The GREAT MOTHER. The EARTH MOTHER. MOTHER SEA. The MOTHER of all. Your Mother.
I have an abundance of energy. I have an abundance of love I AM abundance! I am the creative force of the Universe. Some call me LOVE, Some call me EMPRESS. They say that love rules the universe and that my laws are unalterable. But I do not desire to rule you. I would set you free. I would bear you and suckle you and set you free, for you will come back to me when your life is over; all come back to me.
With regard to historical data, however, there is the difficult question of how far ancient goddess figures may primarily be symbols of fertility and sexuality created and projected by men rather than signs of women's independence and power. The role of the Great Mother is often an ambiguous one too, as it raises the paradoxical issue already mentioned regarding the specific value assigned to women's experience of giving birth and mothering. Some feminists have celebrated this experience as liberating and enriching whilst others see childbearing and motherhood as oppressive because of the dependent and subordinate position in which it places women. To draw a parallel between the experience of human motherhood and the divine Mother Goddess is thus not unproblematic as a reviewer of The Ancient Religion of the Great Cosmic Mother of All pointed out:
I must call in question . . . that women's spirituality and creativity are linked to motherhood, to parturition itself. [The authoress] has explained how the natural birth of her second child opened up for her these previously blocked off areas, but for many there is no connection. On the contrary, in our society, Motherhood cuts women off from the time and confidence to create anything personal, and motherhood is generally undervalued. Even if this were not so, I think that our creativity and our biological capacity are aspects of ourselves, no more specifically linked than other aspects. The goddess religions presented Isis as Mistress of Science, Nephtys as inventor of the arts of spinning and weaving, Demeter as bringing the art and science of agricultures to the world. Science . . . was part of the creativity associated with women's culture and religion and did not depend on reproduction. (Asphodel, 1981, p. 18)
To interpret the meaning of the Goddess raises question in the realms of biology, history and theology. In his transpersonal account of human evolution Ken Wilber (1983) emphasises the difference between the Great Mother and the Great Goddess whose genesis and function must not be confused. He gives a naturalist explanation for the existence of the Mother Goddess whose image arose as a
correlate of bodily existence, with such biological impacts as womb birth, breast feeding, separation anxieties, and so on - all of which necessarily centre on the biological mother. That simple biological dependence, amplified by the notion of the earth as the mother of farmed crops, accounted for the prevalence of the Mother Image in the basic mythologies . . . All manifestation was seen to be mother, maya, measure, menses, menstrual, metered -which are all words stemming from the same Sanskrit root ma (or matr], which means essentially, 'production', (pp.146-7)
Not unlike other writers who have looked at the Goddess from an evolutionary perspective, Wilber maintains that the Great Mother reflects the mythic-membership level of reality when human beings were still close to the body, instincts and nature, whereas the Great Goddess reflects a metaphysical truth, namely, that all is One. Many writers today make the mistake of either reducing the Great Goddess to the biological Great Mother, an image of bodily dependence and seduction, or they elevate the Great Mother to the status of the Great Goddess and then, according to Wilber, are forced to read deep metaphysical insights into all Great Mother rituals when they were in fact mostly nothing but primitive, magical attempts to coerce the fertility of the earth.
This distinction between the Great Mother and the Great Goddess is a valuable one. Whilst a symbol might integrate and reflect different aspects of experience and fuse them into one - in fact, this very capacity endows a symbol with a special power of attraction - from the perspective of critical reflection one must none the less ask how far the symbol of the Goddess is primarily biology-dependent (a symbol of fertility, birth and motherhood), or whether it can be truly biology-transcendent, i.e. express characteristics of beauty, power and independence as well as true ultimacy. The two aspects need not necessarily be completely separate; the first may well point beyond itself and lead to the second. The important point, however, is that whilst dimensions of immanence and transcendence can come close together, touch each other and be intertwined in the understanding of the Goddess, the human vision and conceptualisation of the Divine can never be solely grounded in women's experience of motherhood as exclusive starting point for reflection about ultimate reality. However rich and revelatory of dimensions beyond ourselves, human birth and motherhood are only one of the many possible expressions and manifestations of the Divine within and around us.
In her reflections on the power of the Goddess for women today Carol Christ (1979) has distinguished three major views. The first sees the Goddess as a personification, a divine female who can be invoked in prayer and is believed to really exist. The second considers the Goddess primarily as a symbol rather than a metaphysical reality; she symbolises above all life, death and rebirth energy in nature and culture, in personal and communal life. The third view also understands the Goddess as a symbol, but reads it differently as affirming above all the legitimacy and beauty of female power, made possible by the new becoming of women in the women's liberation movement.
Thus the idea of the Goddess is often interiorised and psychologised, without being linked to any metaphysical claims about an absolute Godhead. This view is most prevalent among writers influenced by psychology and psychoanalysis. Edward Whitmont, in his Return of the Goddess (1983), describes the re-emergence of the ancient Goddess myth as the most important psychic event of our age, the recovery of the feminine aspects of the soul. Whilst modern society has been dominanted by male-orientated concepts of power and aggression, he thinks that we are now entering a new period where the world may be fundamentally changed through greater emphasis on traditional feminine values such as instinct, feeling, intuition and emotion. But does this really require the return to an old myth or the creation of a new one about the Goddess?
Quite a few writers stress the significance of the emergence of the image of the Goddess in the psyche of modern women. This emergence can be seen as 'symbolic of women's sense that the power which they are claiming for themselves through the women's movement is rooted in the ground of being itself (Christ, 1983, p. 247). However the main point, not sufficiently stressed by feminist writers, is the need for the values associated with the Goddess and her worship to emerge not only in the psyche of women, but in those of men too. Otherwise it will be impossible to bring about the necessary transformation of the social and political order of our world. For this reason the question arises whether Goddess worship can bring about a greater integration of the sexes or rather works towards their greater separation. Naomi Golden-berg, in Changing of the Gods (1979), has argued that feminism spells the end of all traditional religions and that the religious future lies largely with Goddess worship whilst Carol Ochs, in Behind the Sex of God (1977), maintains that for a new religious consciousness to emerge, both the patriarchal God worship as well as matriarchal Goddess worship must ultimately be transcended. What is certain, a religion for women alone is not enough to change the social and political distribution of power in the contemporary world. As Angela Carter has sarcastically remarked:
If women allow themselves to be consoled ... by the invocation of hypothetical great goddesses, they are simply flattering themselves into submission (a technique often used on them by men) . . . Mother goddesses are just as silly a notion as father gods. If a revival of these cults gives women emotional satisfaction, it does so at the price of obscuring the real conditions of life. This is why they were invented in the first place. (Quoted in Spretnak, 1982, p. 559)
There is not only the serious objection of the social and political irrelevance of Goddess worship, or its description as 'neo-paganism' by Christian writers, but there is also the criticism that it may simply be a 'sanctified materialism'. In a pamphlet circulated by Lux Madriana, but not one of its official publications, it is pointed out that whilst feminist religion claims to hold no dogma, it is none the less very dogmatic in maintaining the right of every woman to define her own spirituality and sexuality. This new Goddess religion practised by women outside and unconnected to the ancient madrian tradition seems to reflect more the dark side of the Goddess for she 'becomes the mother of lust, the mother of drugs, the mother of self-indulgence, the mother of fearful minds' in the feminist spirituality movement. The same writer asserts that the principles of this movement stem from relativism, scientism, materialism and atheism. In short, it preaches some kind of hedonistic gospel to justify the self-indulgence of contemporary women without paying due attention to the soul, to prayer and worship as traditionally understood. Most of the criticisms in this pamphlet (Madrian Literature Circle: 'The Hollow Tree. Feminist Spirituality or Sanctified Materialism?' no date), however, seem to be directed against political involvement, especially the left-wing politics and Greenham Common demonstrations of women Goddess worshippers. Based on a special understanding of matriarchy, the author questions whether there can be a common ground between matriarchy and anarchy, as supposedly preached by the feminist spirituality movement whose supporters 'look to a de-structured society' or 'matrianarchy' rather than work for a true transformation of the world.
Other critics, by contrast, maintain that the new Goddess spirituality must be primarily criticised because it represents an apolitical stance among women today and expresses a tendency towards irrationalism and occultism. Against these rather negative points of view one must consider Merlin Stone's (1978) balanced emphasis on three important aspect of contemporary Goddess spirituality whose rise in recent years has been a most unexpected occurrence within the feminist movement. Briefly these are, first, the emerging interest in the history and prehistory of ancient cultures that worshipped a female deity; second, a growing concern with a feminist perception of spirituality and theology; and third, an examination of the specific ways in which the organised male-worshipping, male-clergied religions of today have instituted and maintained a secondary status for women.
These are important developments, not only for women, since these insights have wider implications for religion and society, for theology and spirituality. Women today are redefining their spiritual heritage but in so doing, their vision often still remains too circumscribed, too much rooted in the western past. There is also the Goddess heritage of black women or that of Hindu, Buddhist, Japanese and Chinese women. Rita Gross (1978) has argued that in re-imagining the Goddess women can find an important resource, overlooked so far, in Hindu female deities in addition to the hidden tradition of western female God-language or the pre-Biblical goddesses of the western world. Living religions with strong Goddess imagery can inspire feminist thought and worship although we must remember that this is not unproblematic. Whilst ancient goddesses are temporarily distant from us, contemporary goddesses in non-western religions are culturally distant and are susceptible to misinterpretation, both positive and negative. Drawing primarily on Hindu iconography rather than textual materials, Gross examines several basic images of the Goddess in Hinduism. First there is the image of the divine couple and related to it the fact that every divine manifestation from insignificant spirits to the great Gods appears in both female and male form. An extension of this polarity is found in the images of God as bisexual and androgynous. More important still from the point of view of women are the independent manifestations of the Hindu Goddess. There is the image of the widely worshipped Bengali Goddess Durga, a combination of strength and beauty, of transcendence and dynamic creativity, but also an image that points to universal significance. This image, like that of other Hindu deities, also demonstrates a symbolism of the coincidence of opposites, of both creation and destruction, as the Goddess has a dark, destructive side in the form of Kali. Another important feature is the emphasis placed on God as Mother (see Brown, 1974), basically understood in a metaphorical rather than a literal sense. This image refers to the life-giving, creative motherhood of God, the creative potential of the Goddess in the absence of physical offspring, for there are few icons of the Goddess giving birth and none of the Mother and dependent child. Thus divine motherhood refers to the creative bestowing of life in general rather than literally to the physical act of birth. Related to this metaphorical use is the Hindu custom of calling rivers 'mothers', noticeably 'Mother Ganges'.
Hindu Goddesses are involved in a broad range of culturally valued goals and activities. Lakshmi, for example, distributes wealth and good fortune whilst Sarasvati promotes learning and the arts. Another important aspect concerns the pervasive sexuality in Hindu images of the Goddess and the importance of sexuality as a significant religious metaphor which can help women to overcome the body-spirit dichotomy and correlate sexuality and spirituality. Gross argues that whereas one cannot prove that goddesses, whether ancient or Indian, are a product of women's religious imagination one can none the less demonstrate that goddesses often present imagery that is significant to contemporary women seeking wholeness and self-respect. What is significant about the Goddess is 'Her sheer presence as female. By being there as female, She validates me as I am. Her limitlessness is exemplary for me. It is good to be in the image of the Goddess. That is the most important of Her many meanings' (1978, p. 288)
There is no doubt that the worship of the Goddess can provide deep personal affirmation, profound emotional satisfaction and spiritual sustenance for women as individuals and in small groups. But how far will these in the end always remain insignificant cult and fringe groups without any real social power, unable to change the position of women in society at large or to provide a viable spirituality for all? Can individuals define their spirituality in relative isolation, or do we need a more widely shared symbol system and generally accepted ciphers for ultimate meaning? Numerous women feel quite unable to identify with the Goddess and do not, in spite of all feminist claims, experience her as a ground for empowerment and affirmation. Some criticise the Goddess religion as 'neo-pagan' (whatever that may mean), whilst others see the insistence on matriarchal power as simply a substitute for patriarchal domination, a kind of sexism in reverse. We do not only need a religion for women, but a religion for both women and men. If the exclusive worship of a father God could not encourage a holistic spirituality, then replacing it with the worship of the Goddess cannot lead to this either. The Goddess may be one of the resources for spirituality and the affirmation of life today, but she is not the only one, nor is it true that life-hatred is inherent in all patriarchal social and religious systems, as some radical feminists maintain.
Where can a deeply longed-for spiritual balance be found which both integrates and transcends our polarities and divisions? Many women, as well as men, look to the ideal of the androgyny as the most comprehensive symbol to express new forms of wholeness and integration. But is this ideal always clearly understood or does it remain profoundly ambiguous too?
The ideal of the androgyny
What is the androgyny? The symbol of the androgyny has a long history in human thought and is found in widely different cultures. It expresses the unification of opposites or the integration of sexual polarities into one unity, and examples of it are found in ancient Chinese, Indian and Greek thought as well as in early Christianity (Meeks, 1974). At its simplest androgyny might be described as an integration of male and female, less at the physical than at a symbolic level, where androgyny has been used as a model of divine reality, especially in the experience of the mystics. In feminist literature the term 'androgynous' is given a psychological and symbolic meaning, and one can even occasionally come across its sociological usage.
From the perspective of spirituality both the psychological and symbolic meaning of the term are important. The OED makes no reference to these meanings at all, but simply describes 'androgyny' in three different ways as 'a being uniting the physical characteristics of both sexes; a hermaphrodite', 'an effeminate man: a eunuch' and in biology as referring to 'androgynous plant'. The 1974 edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica states about 'androgyny': 'in mythology and other symbolic religious systems, sexual ambivalence of biformity in gods, mythical beings, heroes, and others' (Micropaedia I: 364). The new Encyclopedia of Religion provides much more information and begins its long entry on 'Androgynes' as follows:
The androgyne (from the Greek andros, 'man', and gune, 'woman') is a creature that is half male and half female. In mythology, such a creature is usually a god and is sometimes called a hermaphrodite ... In religions parlance androgyny is a much more comprehensive and abstract concept than is implied by the literal image of a creature simultaneously male and female in physical form. To say that God is androgynous is very different from saying that God is an androgyne. (O'Flaherty and Eliade, 1987, p.276)
There is no reference here either to the contemporary psychological or symbolic usage of the term where androgyny is primarily understood as an integrative psychological model which, by analogy, can be transferred to divine reality as encompassing all difference in unity. Feminists are obviously less interested in possible forms of mythological bisexuality than in androgyny as symbol of integration which can transcend sexual polarity. It comes as some surprise, though, that the term 'androgyny' has been taken over without criticism, as feminists might wish to emphasise more a woman-man integration than that of man-woman. The linguistic terms should accordingly be 'gynandry' rather than 'androgyny'. (I have only come across the term 'gynandrous' once; see Sjoo & Mor, 1981, p. 16.)
Many writers on androgyny maintain that both sexes possess feminine and masculine characteristics which each person must integrate within themselves to achieve inner harmony and maturity. Androgyny is not something external, but rather an ideal, a vision, a myth, as described in the following introduction to a working bibliography on androgyny:
Our androgynous vision can be informed by tradition and history, but it must be free of the misogyny and sexism which has pervaded much of what men have written about it heretofore. The continued use of the term androgyny is necessary if we are to transcend the dualistic culture and the sex roles we have inherited, but feminists must clarify that the androgynous society can exist only if women as well as men can live their lives in accord with the androgynous ideal. Moreover, many before us have demanded the 'feminization' of their male-dominated societies, but now feminists must clarify what they mean by 'feminization', how that will change economic and social structures. If we rout sexism from the idea of androgyny and enrich it with feminist ideals, we shall have a vision to guide us in the struggle ahead. (Bazin, 1974, p. 217)
References to androgyny in a psychological and sociological context relate closely to our understanding of sexuality and gender construction, i.e. what we mean when we speak of 'feminine' and 'masculine' (Kaplan and Bean, 1976; Singer, 1976; Vetterling-Braggin, 1982). Much current research tries to investigate the biological and psychological characteristics of women and men. Is the 'feminine', for example, a universal relating to definite characteristics present in all women and cultures (Dickason, 1982), or does its understanding depend on upbringing, and on different cultural and religious expectations? What are the feminine and masculine stereotypes in our culture? Does it help or lead to further conceptual confusion to see androgyny as an answer to sexual stereotyping (Warren, 1982)? What, if anything, can androgynous life consist of?
In her study Toward a Recognition of Androgyny Carolyn Heilbrunn expressed her vision in the following way:
I believe that our future salvation lies in a movement away from sexual polarization and the prison of gender toward a world in which individual roles and the modes of personal behavior can be freely chosen. The ideal toward which I believe we should move is best described by the term 'androgyny'. This . . . defines a condition under which the characteristics of the sexes, and the human impulses expressed by men and women, are not rigidly assigned. Androgyny seeks to liberate the individual from the confines of the appropriate . . . Androgyny suggest a spirit of reconciliation between the sexes; it suggests, further, a full range of experience open to individuals who may, as women, be aggressive, as men, tender; it suggests a spectrum upon which human beings choose their places without regard to propriety or custom. (Heilbrunn, 1973, Introduction)
Psychological androgyny, as widely advocated by some feminists, can then be seen as the combination in a single person, of either sex, of so-called feminine and masculine characteristics, a person 'who is able to be both rational and emotional, strong and nurturant, assertive and compassionate, depending on the demands of the situation. Her character, or his, defies the limitations imposed by the traditional stereotypes of femininity and masculinity' (Warren, 1982, p. 170).
It is an inherent paradox of feminism that feminists sharply criticise sexual stereotypes and argue against innate characteristics of the two sexes whilst they also launch a fundamental critique against the 'masculinity' of western culture or plead for 'freeing the feminine' within us (Strachan, 1985). Both these positions, as well as the ideal of androgyny, presuppose in some form the stereotypes they wish to reject. The analysis of masculinity has shown 'that the cultural ideal of the competent, aggressive, competitive and emotionally uncommunicative male is a psychological straight jacket which limits men both in their capacity for personal fulfillment and in their moral sensitivity' (Warren 1980, p. 305). Feminists also reject a false idealisation and romanticisation of femininity, but does such false idealisation not come into play when so much emphasis is placed on the feminine as a desirable psychological trait?
Psychological models of femininity and masculinity, whether constructed on the basis of Freudian or Jungian theories, have attracted much criticism from contemporary feminists (Mitchell, 1974; Goldenberg, 1976,1977,1979: ch. 5; Weiler, 1985; for a cross-cultural discussion of femininity and masculinity see Gupta, ed., 1987, Sexual Archetypes East and West). Many women feel particularly drawn to Jungian archetypes and his theory about the integration of feminine and masculine traits in the psyche which each individual has to achieve to find wholeness and completion. Yet Jung still remains locked in a very androcentric perspective as he is much more explicit about the integration of the feminine anima in men than about the masculine animus in women. The whole ideal of androgyny is so often perceived from a predominantly male perspective for, as one perceptive male writer noted, 'men have rarely had the imagination sufficiently capacious to envisage a female androgyny, i.e., a woman entitled to the same self-completion that men require for themselves' (quoted in Warren, 1980, p. 22).
The American sociologist Philip E. Lampe (1981) has argued that a move towards androgyny in society may be expected to be accompanied by a change in religiosity. If the ideal of 'a genderless or androgynous lifestyle' became more common, it would result in an androgynous society defined by the Encyclopedia of Sociology (1974, p. 11) as a society 'whose members would have the social and personality characteristics of both sexes. In such a society roles, behaviours and personality traits would no longer be defined as either male or female, but each individual would incorporate characteristics of both, regardless of biological sex'. Lampe also points out that feminists, while on the whole less religious than non-feminists, can identify more easily with androgynous thinking regarding Ultimate Reality.
Much of this depends on what precisely one understands by androgyny. Whilst it may be psychologically and spiritually enriching to meditate in a general way on the nature and worldview of an androgynous person and society (Nornengast, 1970), from a more critical perspective one must seriously consider the question whether the ideal of the androgyny remains too dependent on an oppositional mode of thought by implying a fundamental difference between male and female. If one does not agree with such differences and sees them primarily as culturally constructed sexual stereotypes, then the symbol of the androgyny is perhaps less satisfactory.
It certainly remains profoundly ambivalent as different authors consider androgyny as either tied to such polarisation, or as denying all differences, or as a symbol of truly transcending them. In their model of sex-role development Rebecca, Hefner and Oleshansky (1976) have proposed a first stage of undifferentiated sex roles, a second stage of polarised sex roles and a third stage of 'sex-role transcendence' which they see as sharply differentiated from what some authors discuss as androgyny. They write:
For some, androgyny means a completely uni-sexual society, with no sex difference . . . For others, androgyny is a stable psychological trait with equal balance of male and female characteristics, which allows the individual to conform to environmental demands to behave in either a masculine or feminine way. (1976, p. 95)
They see their concept of 'sex-role transcendence' as going beyond this, implying flexibility (over time, over situation, and over personal moods), plurality and personal choice for individuals and society:
Given the diversity of situations a person encounters (some of which lend themselves to assertive, independent behaviors, and some of which lend themselves to expressive, nurturant, cooperative behaviors), that person will have to synchronize the particular situational expectations and personal inclinations and abilities. To a transcendent person, assigned gender is irrelevant to decision-making. (1976, p. 96)
Here the notion of transcendence is applied to personal behaviour, as going beyond the understanding of an androgynous model. Carol Ochs (1977) has similarly argued for the need to transcend an androgynous mode of thought with regard to our perception of ultimate reality. Matriarchal and patriarchal categories about the Divine remain in an oppositional mode whereas androgynous thought goes beyond, but still presupposes this opposition. Thus she argues that the three modes of religious thought developed so far - matriarchal, patriarchal, and androgynous - all require transcending if we really wish to get 'behind the sex of God' and find the true meaning and centre of our lives. In her search for the Ultimate she seeks for a God concept that transcends all previous models and maintains that the contemporary phase of androgynous thinking is only a transitional one. She maps out a monistic position which sees 'reality in one, undivided, with no unrelated aspects' and opts for a 'theistic monism' where 'God is not father, nor mother, nor even parent, because God is not other than, distinct from, or opposed to creation' (1977, pp. 135, 137).
This search for a more unitary or monistic way of thinking indicates again the need for integration, but it is not really a new alternative, as Ochs claims, nor is it clear from her discussion how this transcendent view can be translated into new religious and social structures. Many feminists simply do not realise that an integral concept of God is already available in the classical theologies of many religions with their profound reflection on the interdependent immanence and transcendence of Ultimate Reality. Whether particular authors advocate a spirituality of God, the Goddess, androgyny or transcendence may be due to a difference in personality, education, experience and overall perspective, but these are less important in the end than the question whether any particular vision is large and dynamic enough to ensure individual and social well-being by providing a path to true harmony and integration. That question is as important for feminist spirituality in general as it is for the spirituality growing out of Christian feminist theology. This new theology will be our concern in the next chapter.
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