Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Rise of Radical Feminism in Mainline Churches: A History # 4

In my last posting of "The Rise of Radical Feminism in Mainline Churches: A History #3" I showed how the myth of the killing of millions of witches by the church had been perpetrated without any proof. This posting deals with another myth:

Matilda Joslyn Gage also helped perpetrate the radical feminist belief that at one time a golden age of a matriarchal society existed. This idea was perpetrated by many in the nineteenth century including Margaret Murray who wrote The Witch Cult in Western Europe in 1921.

The idea of an early golden age with women in charge was melded to the idea that there had always existed a religion resembling witchcraft throughout the whole of the medieval ages and that these survivors of ancient paganism were the victims of the “burning times.”

This myth was also melded with the belief that during pre-history most of humanity worshiped a female deity and this lasted until patriarchal warriors set up a male god in her place. Gage included this information in her book and that information has only recently been discredited by historians, including Ronald Hutton with his book The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft and Cynthia Eller author of Living in the Lap of the Goddess: The Feminist Spirituality Movement in America.

Nevertheless, women’s organizations in the mainline churches still push these ideas of an early matriarchal society which worshiped a goddess by pushing such books as The Dance of the Dissident Daughter by Sue Monk Kidd who writes of this supposedly ancient time,
The ancient Goddess cultures were probably not utopia, but still they appear to have been remarkably egalitarian and nonviolent. The feminine was honored, sexuality was sacred, and the cultures apparently supported no splits between nature and spirit.”13
Until recently, with the change to a new web site, the National Network of Presbyterian College Women recommended the books Woman Word; Woman Wisdom; Woman Witness by Mirian Therese Winter, who in her chapter on Sarah refers to Savina Teubal’s book Sarah the Priestess, and the idea that the story of Abraham is one tradition replacing another, the story of Sarah and matriarchy.

Winter writes, “The ‘Sarah tradition’ was part of a non-patriarchal system in which women were dominant, descent was matrilineal (traced through the mother), residence was matrilocal (in the mother’s homeland), and ultimogeniture (succession through the youngest child) not ultimogeniture (through the firstborn), was the norm.”

She goes on to explain that, “The narratives of Genesis matriarchs reflect the earlier tradition’s struggle to survive, and clues to its strength and to Sarah’s importance can be found in the texts.”14 Winter’s books have been a popular mode of spirituality among women in mainline churches thus keeping alive the myth of an early golden age belonging to women.

Because accounts of a pagan religion, often referred to as witchcraft or Wicca, are the subject of much of the mythical history endorsed by radical feminism and since this history was originally written by nineteenth century occultists, words shaped by occultists often show up in supposedly Christian articles in mainline church magazines.

For instance, Aleister Crowley was an occultist and a magician whose contribution to the formation of nineteenth century British Witchcraft was an understanding of the goddess having a triple aspect related to the aspects of the moon. This view, very prevalent in Wicca today, sees the aspects as three supposed stages of women's life.

Leading occultists, including Crowley, named those three aspects maiden, mother and crone. Sometimes the crone aspect is referred to as a wise woman. The Wiccan, Starhawk, in a meditation on the crone aspect of the goddess writes, “The Crone is the Wise Woman, infinitely old.”15 That leadership in the women’s organization feed on such concepts can be seen by references to these terms in their materials. In the September/October 2004 Horizons the official magazine for Presbyterian women, in an article on possible ways of affirming girls who are becoming women, the author refers to older women as crones.16

In a more recent Horizons', Sept/Oct 2007, Louise Davidson, one time Presbyterian Women’s Vice Moderator for Justice and Peace in her article “Here’s How One PW Celebrates,” writes of looking for a ceremony to mark her passage into an older age; she came upon a ceremony called a “croning” ceremony. She explains that a crone is a woman of age and wisdom.

It is probable that some women using these terms have no idea of their origin, but it is certain that some women have added such words to their vocabulary by way of a book extolling paganism or by participating in some kind of women’s spirituality group.

So, the question is still unanswered, how did women, who in many ways are indoctrinated by cultural or radical feminism, start replacing early 19th century Christian women’s theology? The transformation mainly began with several women’s movements from the sixties through the nineties in the latter part of the twentieth century.

In the next installment I will look at the women’s spirituality movement in the United States in the twentieth century and its impact on both Wicca groups and mainline church women’s groups. I will also explore the various definitions of feminism and how those definitions tend to confuse Christian women attempting to be faithful Christians while yet staying involved in ministry.


13 Sue Monk Kidd, The Dance of the Dissident Daughter: a Women’s Journey from Christian Tradition to the Sacred Feminine, San Francisco: Harper San Francisco 1995), 144, 45.

14 Miriam Therese Winter, Woman’s Wisdom: A Feminist Lectionary and Psalter; Women of the Hebrew Scriptures: Part One, (New York: Crossroad 1997), 16.
15 Starhawk, The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess, (10th Anniversary Edition, (New York: Harper & Row Publishers 1989) 93.
16 Robin Miller Curras, “Girls Becoming Women: Rites, Responsibilities and Reality,” Horizons, September/October 2004 10.
17 One book that offers Croning ceremonies is Women’s Rites: Feminist Liturgies for Life’s Journey, by Diann L. Neu.

2 comments:

Quotidian Grace said...

Viola, thanks for this series. I find it very interesting and informative. I appreciate your research and writing on the subject.

Viola Larson said...

Thank you Jody. Although I have posted something on IPMN above this I will continue on tonight with my series.