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Freeing the Feminine

Freeing the Feminine

Elspeth and Gordon Strachan 1985.

Labarum Publications Ltd, The Abbey, Dunbar, East Lothian, EH42 1J P, Scotland.

Republished on our website with permission of the authors


1. The problem

2. In the beginning . . .

3. Yahweh and the Queen of Heaven

i. In the shadow of the Goddess
ii. The patriarchal spirit and hints of transcendence

4. The marriage of heaven and earth

i. Yin and yang
ii. A question of numbers
iii. The alchemical transformation
iv. Animus and anima
v. The Judeo-Christian tradition

5. The battered bride

6. The devil’s gateway

i. Made not in God’s image
ii. Woman: the soul’s death
iii. The European witchcraft craze
iv. The schizoid heresy

7. Archaic fears

i. I’m OK-You’re OK
ii. The enduring shadow of the Goddess
iii. Christian consequences
iv. The archaic fear of nature

8. Freeing the feminine

i. The return of the Goddess
ii.- Finding the balance


This book began its life among the carrots and quiches of the Netherbow wholefood restaurant in Edinburgh. As we chopped up the organic parsnips for vegetable stew, cleared the tables and washed the dishes, it occurred to us that we were involved in a more traditionally feminine sphere of life. What we were doing was ‘woman’s work’; the vegetables we were chopping had been gathered from the lap of ‘mother’ earth; they had grown in ‘virgin’ soil and owed their health and beauty to the beneficence of ‘mother’ nature, with her warm sunshine and life-giving rains. The feminine imagery was very striking.

We enjoyed this work, knowing it to be healing, creative, economically sound and of crucial importance in terms of health and wholeness, but the church authorities who owned the Netherbow Arts Centre were unimpressed. What we were doing seemed far too menial to them to be worthy of serious attention. As an ordained minister and a history graduate we should have been using our brains to preach and teach, not our hands to serve and cook! But for us the excitement of the kitchen and of the Netherbow Arts Centre as a whole was that it brought together head and heart, mind and hand, soul and body, art and craft, and represented a more feminine approach in what we saw as an overmasculine church and society.

We came to the Netherbow in 1974, at a time when groups such as Christian Aid and Oxfam were pleading for more practical compassion to be shown those millions of people in our world who are towards starving. They urged us not just to give more money, but to recognise that all life on this planet is one, that we are inextricably connected with each other. How we live affects others, they said, and so we in the west must learn to live more simply that others might simply live. In response to this challenge we decided to put basic needs before luxuries and to make the kitchen and cottage garden, rather than the theatre and galleries, the heart of the Netherbow. Although we appreciated the arts as an essential part of life’s harmony and creativeness, as well as a powerfully prophetic medium, it seemed to us that before any harmony could be real the first priority was to recognise and meet people’s basic needs. This changed our whole perception of life and our attitude to lifestyle. It was for this reason that we could be found working away in the restaurant, serving simple, vegetarian food and helping to dig our tiny cottage garden to produce herbs, flowers and vegetables to grace our tables. It became increasingly clear to us that what was needed was a new understanding of the feminine and a release of the feminine qualities in ourselves, our church and in society.

Another dimension to our desire to free the feminine was our interest in ecology. We began to see that if all life is one, then we have a responsibility not just towards our poorer neighbours, but towards all of creation. Conservationists were telling us that ‘mother’ earth on whom we depend for our very survival is exhausted and polluted by our industrial expansion and greed. She is in a state of rape, they said, and unless something is done to respect her needs and renew her fertility, we will be in serious danger ourselves. We discovered in the bible that God’s answer to the land’s need for rest and renewal was for every seventh year to be fallow. This sabbatical year was an intrinsic part of the rhythms of creation and a biblical conservation strategy for all of nature, including humanity. Although the church refused to grant the Netherbow itself a sabbatical, after six years there, we decided to leave and take one ourselves. In an attempt to recover a sense of the rhythms of life and our unity with, rather than. domination of nature, we went into the country to read and write, and try our hand at gardening.

This book is one of the fruits of that sabbatical year. Together we discussed, read and wrote about many of the issues covered here. Elspeth felt particularly drawn to explore the meaning of the masculine/feminine balance and the connection between women and nature, feminism and ecology. Gordon was fired by the desire to study the Romantic Movement and the bible’s attitude to nature. This book is the fusion of our ideas. It was researched and written by Elspeth and edited by Gordon. The whole process has been one of growth, discovery and sharing and we feel very privileged to have been given the opportunity to think, study and work together in the way we have.

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