Embracing the Goddess
The Goddess Movement
©January 21, 2005
Thousands of years ago, before the dawn of written history, feminine energy was an important part of people's lives. Clans venerated wise mother goddesses, dark destroyer goddesses, and cyclical fertility goddesses, of which women were the natural embodiment. But as politics evolved, these goddesses were forgotten or relegated to positions as wives or concubines, and their energy was lost to time. But, as some people are discovering, contemporary people need the guidance of the goddess more than ever. The goddess movement seeks to recapture that energy and to bring civilization back into touch with its history of feminine power.
Members of the goddess movement believe that goddess energy emanates from many aspects, which exist both as all-inclusive deities as well as individual goddesses such as Isis, Inanna, Demeter, and Kali. Throughout history, the goddess has taken on the role of mother, virgin, warrior, creator, destroyer, hunter, artist, lover, witch, and healer. Goddess spirituality is diverse, incorporating both the loving and the terrible, the dark and the light, the maiden and the crone. It is because of this that it can be conservative or radical, feminist, celebratory, or simply the recognition for nature's purity.
The common factor, however, is the balance sought by the goddess movement. The goddess is an emblem of wisdom, creativity, and individual evolution. Her divine nurturing energy is alive, ever-changing, and the perfect counterpoint to the energy of the divine male. With it, we satisfy the need for strong female role models and expressions of female prowess to help us tap into our own feminine energy. Embracing the goddess can take many forms, from building a personal meditation space or alter to the goddess, to participating in goddess festivals and group rituals, yet all are valid. It is never too late to begin a new tradition.
Many cultures throughout the world continue to honor the goddess. Buddhism, Hinduism, Native American traditions, and African religions each pay homage to the divine feminine. But each seeker in the goddess movement is encouraged to find their own personal goddess, and to recapture the potent energy embodied by feminine spirituality in order to experience first hand a greater personal fulfillment and to discover the goddess within.
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The Goddess Movement
Glastonbury is a small town in South West England with a big spiritual tradition. Some people believe that this is where Christianity in England began, and it's still a place of Christian pilgrimage; but it's become a centre for alternative spiritualities, too.
Glastonbury now has a goddess temple, a sacred space set aside for the exploration and celebration of the Divine Feminine. The Temple, in the loft of an old house, is painted all in purple and decorated with large wickerwork images of various goddesses.
The Temple, which opened at Imbolc (2 February) 2002, is believed to be the first of its kind to have opened in Europe in fifteen hundred years.
Glastonbury is an appropriate place for a Goddess Temple, since followers of the movement believe it is connected to many Goddesses. Among them:
To clarify: Our Lady Mary of Glastonbury refers to Mary, the mother of Jesus. This can cause confusion since although Mary is regarded as a goddess by some pagans, Christians do not consider Mary a goddess or part of the Godhead.
On the day of the BBC's visit the Temple was set up to worship Domnu, an ancient Irish goddess of the deep ocean, celebrated as the mother of water.
In celebration of Domnu the main altar was decorated in blue and turquoise - the colours of water, or of sky reflected in water. On the altar was a statue of a goddess known as Gliten, with dolphins on her dress.
After a solemn act of calling Domnu and other goddesses into the temple, there was a time for the seventy women (and a few men) taking part to reach out to the goddess in an act of personal prayer.
They did this by writing their wishes on a piece of paper which was made into an origami boat, and set afloat on a large bowl of water.
The worshippers blew their boats to the other side of the bowl with a straw, as an act of faith in the goddess and the universe that wishes for the good of all would be granted.
Britain's ancient pagan traditions contain many hundreds of goddesses. They are closely bound up with the cycle of nature, with different goddesses being celebrated at different times of year.
But at heart, all of the goddesses are one, says Kathy Jones, a researcher into Britain's ancient goddess traditions and a priestess of Avalon, as the mystical, invisible side of Glastonbury is known.
I think there is one goddess, and she has ten thousand thousand faces. ~ Kathy Jones
Kathy says that many of today's goddess images come from five thousand years ago, before patriarchy changed the face of religion. And Kathy thinks the many faces of the goddess are a profound advantage for the worshipper in that:
...we can each of us be attracted to the face that we like the look of and that we resonate with ~ Kathy Jones
There is a close connection between the Goddess and nature. The Goddess is said to be present in all creation, in trees and flowers, streams and lakes, the sun and the earth.
Starhawk, who calls herself a witch and is one of America's best-known practitioners of goddess spirituality, explains the Goddess in nature like this:
For me the Goddess is identified with the Earth, not just in the sense of the ground, but the Earth as the planet Earth, as the whole living being that we're part of, which itself is part of a whole living Universe.
So in a sense the Goddess is another way of saying the great creative forces of life in the Universe, the great cycles of birth and growth and death and regeneration.
And today there's a whole scientific theory - the Gaia theory - that says the Earth is a living organism.
"But scientists are always very careful to say but that doesn't imply there's any consciousness.
I say well that's the advantage of being a witch, you don't have to worry about being respectable and you can just say 'yes the Earth is alive and everything on earth has a consciousness, and everything is interconnected and everything is constantly in communication.'
It's learning to open our ears to that communication and learning to attune ourselves to that connectedness that brings us into a right and a balanced relationship with all of life... ~Starhawk
Goddess worshippers honour the whole cycle of nature, and with it the whole life cycle of women.
Brian Charles, a priest of Avalon, says that in so doing they reject the strong element in Western culture which casts aside the old woman. Old women are devalued in the modern world because they are of no use to men, since they are no longer potential lovers or mothers.
But followers of the Goddess not only honour the woman as maiden, lover, and mother, but also as the old woman, or crone.
Do goddesses have an objective, independent existence? Or is goddess spirituality more about finding one's place in nature and at the same time empowering women, giving them a more positive self-image?
Patricia Monaghan, one of the founders of the American goddess movement, thinks it's a case of 'both and' rather than 'either or':
I've always had a sense that there is spirituality in nature, that nature is more than simply a supermarket for us to shop in. And that it has its own power and reality that is different and compellingly different...
I think that you can be using Goddess mythology as a way of strengthening oneself but also being reverent toward the complexities that surround us in the natural world. ~Patricia Monaghan
But how much is modern Goddess spirituality about authentic images of the ancient goddesses - and how much do today's worshippers make up as they go along?
Patricia Monaghan thinks that the relationship between humanity and the divine has always been something fluid:
I think there's always been in humankind a creative relation to the divine... I don't think there's ever been the one true version of god... So I think that although people say well, this is just a re-creation, I think it has always been a re-creation.
We live in the moment and we create toward the divine, and I don't think there was one point at which goddess religion was right and now we've got it wrong, but rather that we're reinventing the connection to the feminine divine, and sometimes it looks silly, and I suspect that sometimes in the past it looked silly. ~ Patricia Monaghan
So what does the Goddess mean to her followers? Sally, a priestess of Avalon, explains how the Goddess changed her life.
I'm 54 and I consciously came to the Goddess in this lifetime when I was 50, so really quite late.
And until then I was brought up as a Christian, born and bred in nunneries, schooled in convents all my life, wanted to marry Jesus when I was 17, and then met Buddhism.
My husband died in quite a big sort of tragedy when I was young, and I went into healing and homeopathy and Buddhism and travelled all along that road, but always with a very male concept of god you see...
And really this new path for me 4 years ago has been a complete revelation in my life... Complete healing, complete reversal of a lot of psychological concepts of the empowerment of the female divine within me, you know... the recalling of a very ancient set of beliefs that used to exist inhabit this land a long time ago. So it's like a rebirth inside and out really. ~ Sally, Avalon priestess