Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Goddess Spirituality: from a Christian perspective 2

Goddess beliefs
Mythological History: Herstory: Members of Wicca or Pagan groups accept a different kind of history for their movement. Many call this “herstory” rather than history. According to this view the first civilizations were matriarchal and worshiped a goddess. They believe this was a universal and golden age. The coming of patriarchal warrior societies destroyed the peace of the golden age. Although many members of Wicca groups understand this to be myth they still accept the view as an important foundation for their worldview. 14 Blood Mountain picture by Penny Juncker

Wiccan members, aligning themselves with both the modern and the nineteenth century radical feminist movements, regard many religious texts and past history as patriarchal. Likewise, they view all patriarchy as war-like, domineering and harmful. For many, goddess spirituality is a safe haven from what they perceive as gender-based religions that contribute to the destruction of nature and fail to respect women and nurture life.

The Goddess:
Those involved in goddess spirituality understand the goddess in several different ways, however, she is not considered a personal mother goddess meant to replace a father God. Starhawk gives the classic description of the goddess as understood by most Wiccans and other pagans, “She is reality, the manifest deity, omnipresent in all of life, in each of us. The Goddess is not separate from the world-She is the world, and all things in it: moon, sun, earth, star, stone, seed, flowing river, wind, wave, leaf and branch, bud and blossom, fang and claw, woman and man.” 15

Seeing all reality as deity is, of course, pantheism, however, it should be noted that unlike some forms of Eastern pantheism, most adherents of goddess spirituality believe the material world to be absolutely real. They see their religion as a spirituality that affirms nature. The goddess spirituality is also a polytheistic spirituality because the various ancient goddesses or goddesses of different cultures are seen as the manifestations of the one reality. 16

Resonating with the above definitions is the understanding that the Goddess is those attributes that mark women universally and woman in particular. Carol Christ states, “The symbol of Goddess aids the process of naming and reclaiming the female body and its cycles and processes.” She notes that the “Goddess is celebrated in the triple aspect, [having to do with the aspects of the moon], of youth, maturity, and age, or maiden, mother, and crone.

The “potentiality of the young girl,” is equated with the maiden; the mature aspect corresponds to the mother who gives birth both to children and to creativity. The older woman or crone is, “The wise old woman, the woman who knows from experience what life is about, the woman whose closeness to her own death gives distance and perspective on the problems of life.” 17 So the goddess corresponds to women's basic being and supposedly affirms them in a way that other religions cannot.

The Rituals:
Most adherents of goddess spirituality are deeply committed to celebration, ritual and traditions. Many of the rites of witchcraft include drawing a circle and a ceremony referred to as “drawing down the moon.” Graham Harvey, author of Contemporary Paganism: Listening People Speaking Earth, writes of this, “In ritual the Goddess is `drawn down' into the High Priestess or female leader. Sometimes the God is “drawn down” into the High Priest or male leader.” Harvey explains that in the ritual of drawing down the moon, “The invocation allows that which is already immanent, innate and incarnate to be seen, revealed and experienced. It makes those involved-both invoker and invokee-aware, and permits a shift of consciousness. The Goddess becomes manifestly obvious.” 18 The deity who is everything is revealed in a special way in the rituals of the circle.

The circle drawn in goddess groups is meant as a “sacred space.” Margot Adler in, Drawing Down the Moon, writes that it is “a place where time disappears, where history is obliterated. It is the contact point between two realities.” 19 One of the uses of the circle is to raise energy. It is called, “raising a cone of power.”

Adler writes, “This is done by chanting or dancing (or both) or running around the circle.” She explains that, “The `cone of power' is really the combined wills of the group, intensified through ritual and meditative techniques, focused on an end collectively agreed upon.” 20 The ceremonies may be participated in skyclad, (the nude) or otherwise. Starhawk writes of this: When we take off our clothes, we drop our social masks, our carefully groomed self-images. We become open. The mystical meaning of the naked human body is “truth.” 21

Ethics and Death:
The whole of the material world is seen as a web of life that is interconnected and also as a manifestation of the goddess. So goddess spirituality and ethics are tightly bound together and focused on nature. Nature is the authority, and that kind of authority has its basis in experience, not dogma or rules. As Harvey explains, “Paganism is not a revealed, scriptural, priestly, supernatural or dogmatic religion. Its chief sources of authority are in Nature: the observable cycles of the planet and the experienced cycles of the body.”22 Since nature involves both tragedy as well as the rich joys of being alive, ethics for those who embrace the goddess will include both experiences.

Harvey suggests that just because such things as cancer or violence are in nature does not mean they should be used as imperatives for action.23 Aligning with this is the “the Witch's rule” or “Wiccan Rede:” “An it harm none, do as you will.” However, the goddess is still seen as fang and claw as will as rose and bird call, and with experience providing the real authority there is no stable ground for a defining view of good and evil.

A person's religious world-view usually draws together their moral outlook as well as their view of death. As Harvey writes, “The keynote of Pagan dealings with the dead is the attempt to accept what is natural. Hopes and beliefs about some sort of life continuing beyond death do not entirely overwhelm these concerns.” 24 Goddess spirituality holds both ethics and death in tension.

In her book, The Pagan Book of Living and Dying: Practical Rituals, Prayers, Blessings, and Meditations on Crossing Over, Starhawk writes, “Death is not an extinction, a final end. It is transformation, a dissolution of one form so that new forms can be created.” According to the author it is also, “the loss of that consciousness which makes us who we are.” 25 Tied to this are some rather Eastern views about reincarnation, but the point for Starhawk and others is that death is the way nature, seen as the goddess, replenishes her being.

Carol P. Christ, author of Laughter of Aphrodite: Reflections on a Journey to The Goddess, explains that Goddess's adherents do not deny death, as she believes the Christian does since the Christian believes in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Stating her own beliefs she writes, "Death is implicit in life. The cycles of nature include birth, fruition, and decay. We all die so that others may live. This is neither punishment nor sacrifice. It is simply the way things are.” 26

14 This mythological history is outlined and expressed in various books and articles. See, Harvey, Paganism, 72-74; Vicki Noble, “Marija Gimbutas: Reclaiming the Great Goddess,” Snake Power, vol. 1 (October 31), 1989; Denise Lardner Carmody, Women & World Religions, second edition (New Jersey: Prentice Hall 1989), see chapter two, “Women in Primal Societies.”

15 Ibid. 22.

16 See, Judy Harrow, “Explaining Wicca: an Overview of the Teachings of Today's Predominant Form of NeoPaganism,” Gnosis: A Journal of the Western Inner Tradition, no. 48 (Summer 1998), 23. And Harvey, Paganism, 75.

17 Carol Christ, “Why Women need the Goddess,” in Womanspirit Rising: A Feminist Reader in Religion, Carol P, Christ and Judith Plaskow, Eds. (San Francisco: Harper & Row 1979) 281.

18 Harvey, Paganism, 39.

19 Margot Adler, Drawing Down The Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America Today, Revised and Expanded edition, (Boston: Beacon Press 1986), 109.

20 Ibid.

21 Starhawk, Dance, 60.

22 Harvey, Paganism, 187.

23 Ibid.

24 Harvey, Paganism, 203.

25 Starhawk et al., The Pagan Book of Living and Dying: Practical Rituals, Prayers, Blessings, and Meditations on Crossing Over, (San Francisco: Harper Collins Publishers 1997), 72.

26 Carol P. Christ, Laughter of Aphrodite: Reflections On a Journey To The Goddess, (San Francisco: Harper & Row 1987) 218.

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