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Feminist Spirituality And Goddess Religion In The United States

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Thousands of years ago, the Goddess was viewed as an autonomous entity worthy of respect from men and women alike. Because of societal changes caused by Eastern influence, a patriarchical system conquered all aspects of life including religion. Today, the loss of a strong female presence in Judeo-Christian beliefs has prompted believers to look to other sources that celebrate the role of women. Goddess religion and feminist spirituality have increasingly been embraced by men and women as an alternative to the patriarchy found in traditional biblical religion.

Within a few thousand years the first recognizable human society developed worship of the Great Goddess or Great Mother. For these people, deity was female. The importance of fertility in crops, domesticated animals,wild animals and in the tribe itself were of paramount importance to their survival. Thus, the Female life-giving principle was considered divine and an


This culture lasted for tens of thousands of years, generally living in peace. Males and females were treated equally. Their society was matrilineal--children took their mothers' names, but not a matriarchy (Christ 58-59). Life and time was experienced as a repetitive cycle, not linearly as is accepted today.

However, Easterners soon brought modern civilization to this culture, including war, belief in male Gods, exploitation of nature, and knowledge of the male role in procreation. Goddess worship was gradually combined with worship of male Gods to produce a variety of Pagan religions, thus losing some of its singular focus on the female as a deity.

Goddess Worship during the Christian Era was molded by more dominant outside forces. As Judaism, Christianity & eventually Islam evolved, the Pagan religions were suppressed and the female principle was gradually driven out of religion. Consequently women were reduced to a level inferior to men. The God, King, Priest & Father replaced the Goddess, Queen, Priestess &

Mother. A woman's testimony was not considered significant in courts, women were not allowed to speak in churches, and positions of authority in the church were (almost without exception) limited to men. A feminine presence was added to Christianity when the Virgin Mary was named Theotokos (Mother of God). However, her role was heavily restricted and included none of the fertility components present in Pagan religions. A low point in the fortunes

of women was reached during the Renaissance, when hundreds of thousands of suspected female witches were exterminated by burning and hanging. These combined factors propelled women who did not find traditional structures, views, and rituals fulfilling to return to a feminine based spirituality more suited to their specific needs.

At the turn of the century, scholars began writing about a "Mother Goddess". By the 1950s, Gerald Gardner claimed initiation into a coven of English witches in England. He began publicizing this "Old Religion" of Wicca. Gardnerian Witchcraft recognized a Goddess of Earth-moon-sea as well as the Horned-hunt-sun God (Corbett, 290). Women could be High Priestesses,

but much sexism still prevailed.

Wicca schismed after Gardner's death, but these traditions continued to be founded by and named after men. Meanwhile, women in the US and elsewhere were beginning the feminist movement. Defining 'patriarchy' as the oppressive force they were battling, they began reexamining all aspects of their lives, including religion. In the 1970s, women began using the concept of "Goddess" as part of the feminist movement. DianicWicca began: a women-only version that eliminated the God and all male aspects, as well as many 'traditional' Wiccan elements such as hierarchies, secrecy, and


During the 1980s, while the name Wicca remained, many groups began using the term "neo-Pagan" which retains the God as well as the Goddess, but incorporates the increased status given to the Goddess and women. The Goddess is oftenidentified with the Earth and elements in nature explicitly. It has been referred to as "eco-feminism" to reflect this increased emphasis. This stems from the Wiccan ideology that people have a unique responsibility toward the environment because of our ability to make conscious choices (Corbett 292).

Goddess worship broadened to include African, Asian, and Native American ideals

beyond the classic Wiccan deities. It became"politically correct" by beginning to include gays and lesbians (formerly neglected with the emphasis on male-female fertility) as well as the ecological movement and an openness to people of color and other minorities.

Now considered the fastest growing religion in America by some scholars, neo-Pagans were represented at the World Council of Religions in 1993. Despite the spread of feminist and goddess belief, many witches still face discrimination because of their faith. People outside the neo-Pagan community still often confuse Wicca with Satanism, feeling that witchcraft

is not a valid religion and should not be afforded the same protections as more 'mainstream', consensus religions. However, Wicca and other goddess religions are not Satanistic. Satanism focuses on the Christian idea of the devil, whereas these spiritualities predate Christianity and have no link to those beliefs (Corbett 292).

Another common misconception is that witches cast spells in order to hurtothers for their own or someone else's benefit. This myth has developed through years of media and literary misrepresentation. While Wicca does not have many concrete beliefs, a universal code for behavior does exist. Best exemplified in the Wiccan Rede (An ye harm none, do what ye will) and the Threefold Law (Whatever we do returns to us three times over, be it good or

ill), personal freedom and choice are essential to Wiccan morality and ethics (Corbett 292).

Modern Goddess worship today can best be described as a renaissance of Paganism. Its worship of Goddesses and Gods occurred in the middle of this century with the reemergence of Wicca. With the rise of feminism, new traditions within Wicca were created in which the Goddess grew in importance, and the role of the God shrank into obscurity.

The Goddess in both Goddess Worship and Neo-Paganism is often visualized in three aspects: Maiden, Mother and Crone (Corbett 290). Her aspects are mirrored in the phases of the moon: waxing, full and waning.



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