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“Who is the Goddess, Who is the Goddess? We are!”
We sing these words each year at the big Spiral Dance ritual put on by Reclaiming, the spiritual network of teachers and ritual-makers I work with.
In The Fifth Sacred Thing, the Goddess is a character, much as Aywah is in Avatar. Although the story includes many different religious traditions the three main characters, Maya, Bird and Madrone are Pagans who honor nature as sacred and worship the Goddess, the immanent life force embodied in the cycles of birth, growth, death and regeneration.
I’ve been learning, teaching and writing about the Goddess for many decades now. In my first book, The Spiral Dance, published more than thirty years ago, I wrote:
“Once again, in today’s world, we recognize the Goddess—ancient and primeval; the first of deities; patroness of the Stone Age hunt and of the first sowers of seeds; under whose guidance the herds were tamed, the healing herbs first discovered; in whose image the first works of art were created; for whom the standing stones were raise; who was the inspiration of song and poetry. She is the bridge, on which we can cross the chasms within ourselves, which were created by our social conditioning, and reconnect with out lost potentials. She is the ship, on which we sail the waters of the Deep Self, exploring the uncharted seas within. She is the door, through which we pass into the future…”
Growing up in the ‘50s and ‘60s, I had no concept of a female image of the divine. I was raised Jewish, and God was supposedly beyond gender, yet always referred to as ‘he’. At that time, women were not allowed to be rabbis or cantors, and there were few if any women ministers or religious leaders of any kind. As a young feminist looking for alternatives to patriarchal religion, I began to read about the ancient Goddesses of Europe and the Middle East, who predate Christianity, Islam and Judaism. I met Witches—people who claimed to follow an indigenous, nature-based European religion that had survived centuries of persecution in hiding. The stories appealed to my sense of romance and I found the image of a Goddess tremendously empowering. The Goddess allowed me to view my own body, my curves and breasts, my sexuality and sensuality, my intellect and ability to lead others all as aspects of the divine.
I found a community of others—women and men both—so inspired, and we learned to celebrate and create rituals, and to practice the discipline of magic, defined by occultist Dion Fortune as “the art of changing consciousness at will.” I wrote books about the Goddess and our practices. In the late ‘80s, I met director Donna Read and consulted on three films she made for the National Film Board of Canada: Goddess Remembered, Burning Times and Full Circle. Later we formed our own company and produced Signs Out of Time: The Life of Archaeologist Marija Gimbutas. Gimbutas did some of the primary research on the ancient Goddesses of Old Europe.
The Goddess is generally seen with three aspects corresponding to the phases of the moon: Maiden, Mother and Crone. The Maiden, the New Moon, is wild, free—the huntress running with her dogs through the forest, the power of new beginnings. The Mother, the Full Moon, represents both sexuality and nurturing, the power of fulfillment. But the primary Goddess in The Fifth Sacred Thing is the Crone, who represents old age and death. Death, however, is not a final ending but a transformation.
“The Crone, the Reaper, is not an easy Goddess to love. She’s not the nurturing Mother. She’s not the Maiden, light and free, not pretty, not shiny like the full or crescent moon. She is the Dark Moon, what you don’t see coming at you, what you don’t get away with, the wind that whips the spark across the fire line. Chance, you could say, or what’s scarier still: the intersection of chance with choices and actions made before. The brush that is tinder dry from decades of drought; the warming of the earth’s climate that sends the storms away north, the hole in the ozone layer. Not punishment, not even justice, but consequence.”
The Dark Goddess, to me, seemed appropriate for the sense of underlying loss and grief in the book—the loss of so much of what we have now, the terrible choices and sacrifices some of the characters are called to make.
Because I felt committed to a multicultural vision of the future, and my characters were African-American and Latino as well as European in heritage, I also drew parallels with some of the Goddess figures from those cultures. One of my dear friends, Luisah Teish, is a Lucumi priestess, trained in the African diaspora traditions that derive from the West African pantheons of the Yoruba people of Nigeria. Yemaya is the Yoruba orisha of the ocean, nurturing, embracing, sensual, maternal, sometimes peaceful, sometimes stormy.
I live in the Latino neighborhood of San Francisco, and I have visited Mexico many times and love the art, the culture and the mythology. My partner and I spent our honeymoon in Tikal, and he became enamored of Mayan mythology and is writing a book about sacred ballgames and the Popol Vuh. Every November 2, on Dia de los Muertos, Day of the Dead, I am honored to walk in the procession through the Mission District with poet Francisco Alarcon and help him honor the four directions. So I also wove in some of the Aztec and Toltec Goddesses, particularly Coatlicue, “Serpent skirt”, Mother Earth who gives life but also devours life. There’s a powerful statue of her in the archaeological museum in Mexico City, with two heads of serpents facing each other to create her face. She powerfully symbolizes the intertwining of life, death and regeneration. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coatlicue
Learning More About the Goddess:
This week the documentary I made with Donna Read is streaming live at Alive Mind and Spirit. You can join their website and watch it here:
They also distribute the three documentaries Donna and I made for the National Film Board of Canada: Goddess Remembered, Burning Times and Full Circle.
You can find my books at:
Reclaiming, which is the Wiccan spiritual tradition and network I cofounded, has communities in many places around the U.S., Canada, Europe, Australia and the world.
Reclaiming groups offer public rituals, classes, gatherings, and intensives. The latter can be found at:
Merlin Stone wrote When God Was A Woman back in the mid-70’s and introduced many of us to the concept of the Goddess. Now, Z Budapest, longtime teacher and priestess and her consort Bobbie Grennier are making a tribute to Merlin Stone’s memory. They’ve interviewed me and many others, and their work is an important in preserving our herstory. Their Kickstarter page is:
And finally, on YouTube you can watch two short films I made of our big Spiral Dance ritual that takes place each year just before Halloween:
I’m so looking forward to seeing the rituals that we’ll create for The Fifth Sacred Thing movie! How exciting it will be to bring them to life!
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