Goddess Movement

In mid-September in a sparsely furnished Washington Park home, about 12 women, mostly in their 30s and 40s, will gather to celebrate Mabon — or fall equinox (Sept. 23). After a vegetarian potluck dinner, the group will sit in a circle around a basket filled with apples, tiny pumpkins and acorns — fruits from the harvest.

One woman, who started this feminist spirituality group two years ago, will start the ceremony by casting the circle — creating sacred space by invoking the elements (earth, fire, water and air) and Goddesses associated with each element. During the ritual, the women will ask for individual healing, then pass around a globe while asking for planetary healing. One might request the universe to heal the suffering of the world's women; another will seek healing of the oceans; yet another asks for healing in Bosnia. More and more, all over the country, women (and some men) are gathering together to practice a woman-based spirituality. They give themselves many names, and their rituals vary from group to group.

"Feminist spirituality combines different movements," explains Starhawk, author of The Spiral Dance, an introductory text to witchcraft. "Some are working within Jewish and Christian traditions to resurrect female images; others are outside any organized traditional; others participate in the Wicca tradition. There is a lot of diversity in the movement. What feminist spirituality does is put our experience, as individuals and as woman, at the center of our spirituality."

There are no estimates of the number of people worshiping this way, although journalist Margo Adler, in her book "Drawing Down the Moon," estimates there are 100,000 American pagans, people who call themselves witches, Druids or Goddess worshipers — people who "look to the old pre-Christian nature religions of Europe."

There are many clues of the prevalence of the Goddess. A young scholar completing her Ph.D. at the University of Colorado said, "I know a number of women who are big into the Goddess." Bookstores are filled with books dedicated to women's spirituality. Even driving the highway, you'll notice discreet bumper-stickers like "Goddess Bless."

In Goddess spirituality, the cycles of nature are worshiped and celebrated — winter, spring, summer and autumn — and are viewed as metaphors for birth, growth, fading and death. Attributes traditionally viewed as feminine (i.e., intuition and nurturing) are revered. Defining the Goddess religion, however, is about as easy as catching fish with bare hands. But there is a rich and ancient history associated with it. Old Europe, with its woman-focused religions, was settled prior to 4000 B.C.E. Similar earth-based, female cultures existed in Crete, Greece, Catal Huyuk and elsewhere.

"A lot of this occurred in rural centers," explains University of Denver an art Historian M.E. Warlick. "In agrarian societies, they think of the earth as the mother and typically the earth is a Goddess." Eventually, the Goddess-based religions were displaced by warrior gods like Zeus and Yahweh. Some scholars suggest that Goddess worshipers went underground, and that the religion survive in secret.

In the '60s, that began to change. The feminist movement, which brought a new ethic of control to women, also allowed women (and men) to look toward feminine images for religious sustenance. Women and men began to practice openly in the Wiccan traditions or create their own feminist spirituality.

To oversimplify the Goddess: There are no rules, except freedom; there is no bible, no major doctrine; what has survived of ancient Goddess religions has come down in fragments. Most Goddess worshipers do share the goal of living in harmony with nature.

"As a witch," explains Elisa Robyn, a Denver-based spiritual counselor, "I have an intimate relationship with the deity, that is the Goddess and the God. I believe in reincarnation. And I believe in karma — whatever I create inside of me are the energies the world hands back to me." "A couple of years ago, I was at Sunday school at the church we were attending," she remembers. "We were talking about virgin birth. I raised my hand, trembling, and I said, 'I think I'm not a Christian anymore. I don't think Jesus intended us to worship him.'"

Confused and troubled by this realization, Rebecca held a birthday party for herself, inviting all of her female friends to talk about God. Not satisfied with this intellectual approach, Rebecca, 43, began organizing rituals in accordance with the eight Sabbats of the Wiccan year: Yule to acknowledge the winter solstice; Brigid, or Candlemas, dedicated to the Goddess of fire and inspiration; the Ecostar Ritual to celebrate the spring equinox; Beltane, or May Eve; Litha, or the summer solstice; Lughnasad to mourn the dying Sun King; Mabon, or the fall equinox; Samhain, or Halloween, that marks the end and the beginning of a new year. Due to Rebecca's urgings, a small group of women has evolved to conduct rituals and tentatively celebrate the seasons. Rebecca's mailing list is now up to 30 women.

The Goddess movement is "attracting a wide range of people," explains Starhawk, who was raised Jewish, "from a middle-aged women who have lived very conventional lives to young, punk anarchists."

Lois Yackley, 49, a Denver elementary-school teacher and member of Rebecca's Goddess group, sees her involvement as an outgrowth of her mental health. Like many women who are seeking a woman-based spirituality, Lois, a former Catholic, always felt the absence of women in the church. As she grew in therapy, women's issues became increasingly important to her. "The next step in the feminist movement," Lois says, "is spiritual. Some feminists are saying that there will be nore mor progress (in the movement) unless it's spiritual."

Lois became involved in Rebecca's group through a growing friendship with Darcie, the mother of a child in Lois' class. As their friendship matured, they shared books on feminist spirituality and attended Rebecca's rituals and parties. "Women are getting together to see how we feel about things. We validate out feelings and thoughts. This feels right."

Darcie, 43, is an artist and homemaker, who struggles with her conflicting feelings for her church (she is a Methodist and a church trustee) and her blossoming interest in feminist spirituality. "I no longer have a strong belief (in Christianity), but I'm interested in the structure of my family," she explains. "It's a difficult situation for me, emotionally and psychologically. I feel very strongly about the family worshiping together, so I'm not ready to give (the church) up until I have something to replace it with."

Rebecca's group gives Darcie a place to explore her new ideas about spirituality with women who feel the same way. "I'm trying to move toward believing not in one power over all, but a multiple power within," Darcie explains.

"This matches the political climates of the times," explains Robyn. "Women are looking for something about themselves that's special. So the Goddess is becoming more prevalent." Robyn, who also was raised Jewish and now practices in the Wiccan tradition, adds that, "Women are looking for their power. This is right in line with the ecology movement, the women's movement, the personal growth movement."

"When women get into witchcraft, it is a blossoming experience. There are role models — women of power, Goddesses — it's a totally different energy and perception."

"Never did Nature say one thing and Wisdom say another."

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