The following article is taken from E.C. Erdmann's Interview with Goddess Thealogian Carol P. Christ at
her home in Molyvos, Greece on September 7, 2009.
The initials ECE (E.C. Erdmann) and CPC (Carol P. Christ) are used to indicate the speakers.
I'm sitting across from one of my heroines, Carol P. Christ, at her kitchen table in the castled Greek island town of Molyvos as she relaxes amidst her familiars — two small dogs and a cat, recently injured in an unsuccessful dive from a garden window. They surround her with attention and inquisitive barks with definite human intonations. I take a moment to revel in the serndipitous circumstance of my arrival here, having met Carol for the first time at the "Communicating Change" conference at the University of Glasgow in June of 2009. I recall being back in the States just before the conference chair contacted me, asking in disbelief, "Where is your abstract? Do you know Carol P. Christ is the keynote speaker?" I cut my trip short and grabbed the next plane back to Scotland. When it came to the initial meeting with Carol I suppressed the inclination to heroine worship with burning questions I had accumulated. With insufficient time to answer them there, I rather boldly inquired whether I could interview her back in Greece. Surprisingly, to me at least, she responded, "Sure" and followed up the next day by asking whether I could come to the island of Lesvos and watch her residence and pets while she dodged the heat extremes of August. This was an attractive alternative to my "camping under the stars" plan, and the rest is herstory.
From the moment I arrived, the island's charms cast their spell over me; I did not anticipate the intense immersion the experience would turn out to be. The air blends into the temperature of one's body so perfectly it becomes hard to tell where one's own skin ends and the Greek island itself begins.
You feel as a part of it all, almost akin to sensation in the first stages of love, wherein you cannot imagine the stage of separation from your beloved. I feel alternately and simultaneously like an infant, a fool, and wise woman, savoring them all. There is also the natural mystique of the island of Lesvos — Sappho's school and the intoxicating eroticism of her poetry that lingers on, the hidden Temple of Aphrodite, the view of ancient Troy from the beach — that opens a portal for expansion. Very little imagination is needed to "see" Gods winking in the sun or a Goddess walking out of the sea and into our world. Greece captivates and invites the imagination as a treasured guest, and so does Carol with her ideas of the way the world is, the way it could be, and how to close the gap without losing the way. It is an art and a way of life I'm eager to explore with one who knows something of both.
I take a moment to reflect on her academic career, starting with her groundbreaking, "Why Women Need the Goddess" (1979) to her latest foray into Process Philosophy with Goddess Thealogy entitled, She Who Changes: Re-Imagining the Divine In the World (2003), with numerous publications and books in the interim. She is one of the few academic authors whose every book I have read — and enjoyed. She also has critics, though most take her to task on a symbolic level for work in the 70's, rather than tracing the full development of her thoughts to the present.
What I'm dying to know and the first question to cross my lips: Why is feminism such a troubled word these days, particularly with young women?
ECE: Carol, feminism, as we all know, has become somewhat of a "dirty" word and sometimes, often times, causes a stronger revulsion in women than men even. I want to know why you think this is so prevalent right now — especially in the current generation — and do you have any suggestions that you think might alter this view — if reflected upon?
CPC: One definition of feminism is that it is the radical idea that women are fully human. An implication of this definition is that qualities or capacities or possibilities that have been associated in the past only with men or only with women should be open to both sexes. Of course that excludes giving birth or at least so far it does — but there is no reason why men shouldn't be present at birth, why men shouldn't be fully involved in childcare and nurturing of children. And there is no reason why women can't have any career that they want. So on that level there should be no objection to feminism.
One of the earliest feminist demands was that work hours be restructured so that both men and women could have what would be a full time job, maybe 30-35 hours per week, and have plenty of time to spend with their children. And that certainly hasn't happened — in fact the reverse has happened. In contrast to the 1970s, today most jobs require you to work more than forty hours a week. In a blue-collar job you need your overtime to get enough money, and if you're a lawyer or a doctor or a professor you're supposed to be working all the time. And in business you're supposed to be working really long hours — having your dinner at the desk and coming home late. So actually what has happened in the past thirty to forty years is that society has re-structured itself against feminism, against the idea that women and men should both be able to be involved in the workforce and both be able to be involved in the family and home and children.
But if you complain, you are the one causing waves and you could lose your job. And even if maternity and paternity leaves are available, most men don't take it and women may lose points on their job when they take it. So, I think one reason women are afraid of the word "feminist" is because actually it still isn't okay to want women and men to be equal if that means demanding hanges in the conditions of work and life. Many women prefer to think that they are already equal and that they don't need any further changes.
Women today are making abou 75% of what men make, more than thirty years after feminists began to demand equal pay for equal work. There is a glass ceiling and there are still very few women in the highest levels of the US government. Because it is so difficult to combine work and family, some women choose part-time work or jobs that are less demanding, but don't pay as well. But in the same jobs — both are professors, both are in management, both are lawyers, both have union jobs — women are still making less than men. The system isn't really equal but women don't like to think about that.
I remember when I was teaching in late 1970s a young woman student said "Oh I don't need feminism, my boyfriend, hetreats me good." The older women in the class responded, "Well we thought that too." (laughter) But, they explained, things don't work out that way once you get into the work world and have a family. It's still overwhelmingly women who have the double day of work with the children and the home and housework. Men are doing more housework and childcare than they used to, but they still are not taking as much responsibility as women.
ECE: So do you think it is almost a backlash effect resulting after the awareness set in of what would have to occur to bring into fruition all the points raised in the 60's and 70's?
CPC: I think younger women also saw that though there were a few women who managed to combine a really full career with marriage and family, there were a lot of women who were single and divorced, without children or raising children on their own. They didn't want to be like them, so they thought: if I don't speak out as a feminist, maybe I can have it all. These women are not all wrong — feminists are not in control of the world. People who aren't feminists or who don't want to think about feminism all the time are in control of the world. So,some women conclude that it is better to put yourself forward as a woman who only wants to have a job just like a man but not to say anything about "anything else" (laughter) and maybe you'll be able to get ahead. And certainly in academic fields that's the case — there shouldn't be too much talking about women's issues — especially if they challenge major assumptions in the field. It is safer to not rock the boat too much. Perhaps you can get away with talking about Freud and women or Christianity and women or you can use male thinkers like Foucault to deconstruct gender. But if you say that we need new theories based on other thought patterns than the male thought patterns, then you risk being marginalized or unemployed. I think at base women's opposition to feminism is a) economic and b) the fear of not having a man — if you don't compromise. A LOT. (laughter)
ECE: Do you think too that part of the issue is the restriction on the role expected of men? That since men aren't really encouraged to be caregivers, at the same level as women, that they aren't able to take part as much or made to feel less than if they do?
CPC: I think there is a growing number of men who would like to spend time with their families and who are aware of ideas that have been put forward by feminism but who also have jobs that don't allow time. If they have to work fifty, sixty or more hours a week either in a blue collar job or a white collar job in order to make it to the top or even just to keep their jobs, then they're tired and don't really have the time. Obviously the men who hold the power to change the conditions of work are not changing them. And unfortunately there aren't a lot of people who are willing to defy or question authority in any time or place.
Another thing I would say is that the second wave of the feminist movement came about in the late 60's and that was a time of great optimism. People really felt that the world is basically a good place and that once everyone became aware of injustice,the world would change. Think about Woodstock; people thought: we can all go there in a spirit of peace and love and nobody is going to rape anybody and nobody is going to murder anybody. We can all just have a good time, and we can all change the world into a sexually liberated, loving, less violent place. People really did believe, I believed, that within my generation we could end racism and poverty, and we could end war, and we could end sexism. We were na´ve, we were idealistic.
When people saw that change didn't happen or didn't happen fast enough, they lost hope. The younger generation knows the threat of nuclear war and environmental catastrophe and AIDS. Sometimes they just don't want to think about changing the world, because they don't believe they can. If you don't believe you can create change, then you may feel, well, I guess I just better fit in, make my way the best I can. Maybe you have ideas that are feminist but you don't express them and you try not to think about changing the world for yourself or others.
ECE: I notice that sometimes teenagers and young twenty-somethings seem more conservative than their parents! Perhaps it is because their parents retain a bit of that optimism that I associate with youthfulness. You mentioned to me earlier that around the same time there were also groups of women in all types of work and walks of life that would read feminist theories that were in between academic and popular.
CPC: In the 70's and 80's the feminist movement spread by books. When Adrienne Rich published Of Woman Born, ALL of my friends went out and bought it and read it. And all of the women who came to my lectures — many of whom had some college education, some of whom were working, some of whom were housewives, some of them were still hippies or whatever — they were ALL reading it. We felt these books would give us clues to change our lives and change the world. And there were — at least we thought so at the time — really new ideas in those books. You talked to your friends about them and passed the books around and everybody was reading them and then you talked about them again. We also had consciousness raising groups where we were also exploring the effects of sexism on our feelings about ourselves, whether it was our bodies, our vaginas, our sexuality or childbirth, our careers or what we wanted to accomplish in our lives. We were exploring all of that together. Today there doesn't seem to be many books that make that kind of impact nor does there seem to be a shared energy to change the world together.
ECE: The idea of women reading books that could change the world leads into my third question. Can you list a few of your top books — all women — absolutely — ought to read as soon as possible (if they haven't already). Ones that you find really inspiring and that would maybe catch people on fire again?
CPC: One of the books that I always continue to find inspirational, and that I would say is my favorite book from the women's movement is Woman and Nature by Susan Griffin. It was one of the first ecofeminist books. In the first part of the book Griffin talks about the ways in which Western thinking has constructed women and nature as irrational as opposed to man and culture which are said to be the rational. She quotes Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Kant, and nearly every other thinker who has been influential in Western thinking. And of course these ideas filter down, so that people who have been acculturated into male thought patterns, including women, tend to view women as irrational and animals and nature as irrational. Even Mother Nature is irrational: she's going to strike you down at any second because she has a violent aspect — when she gets enraged like a storm, she is destructive and out of control. This is the same way that women are often thought of — that's why they need to be under the control of their husbands because they have this irrational nature and if they aren't controlled they might kill a child — they might do anything. These are some of the reasons why man needs to dam a river and control a woman — dam her up too, otherwise she's going to... (laughter).
ECE: Damn him! (laughter)
CPC: So that is the first part of the book, of course, it is not man's fault, it is the way he has been taught. In the second part of the book Griffin writes poetically as woman begins to find her voice: she descends into darkness and chaos and when she emerges, she begins to speak very hesitantly with her own voice. She is. She is. She says: he has called me irrational, but I say I feel very deeply. The women speak of their feelings for nature and they hear the voice of nature speaking.
What I learned from this book is that we need a philosophy in which what has been called irrational is incorporated into what's been called rational, in which what has been called nature is loved and admired and respected and heard. And what has been called female is also loved and admired and respected — and listened to. One of the lines from the book that I've memorized is: "This earth is my sister; I love her daily grace, her silent daring and how loved I am how we admire the strength in each other, all that we have lost, all that we have suffered, all that we know."
Carol's voice is strong yet soothing, and when Griffin's poetry flows from her mouth it comes out in perfect cadence. What that statement holds for Carol, for Griffin, myself and for many others, pulls me in to drift into that delicious depth of knowing and remembering down to the toes. It strikes me having witnessed Carol in action in Molyvos, launching her daily battles to save the endangered birds of Lesvos (against all odds) how much Carol feels what she thinks. A quality that is rare in academia, almost bred out of many of us from day one. It refreshes my resolve to never make that split complete within myself. How inspiring it is to see someone write her books into her life! Carol finishes her thoughts on Griffin as I tuck my revelations away for later...
CPC: Griffin is calling us to admire the strength in ourselves and the strength of nature. Out of that knowledge we can create a world in which women and nature are admired for their strength and their ability to endure and for their sensitivity and creativity.
The deeper meaning of Susan Griffin's book is that both women and men are nature and that men can also learn this — but it will be harder for them because they will have to give up the power they have gained by dominating woman and nature.
ECE: What is your view of what feminine means? Do you think it is a quality arisen from women necessarily having to be in this position — of say being the nurturers and not being the dominant sex (in written public history at least)? Do you think that might have brought out women's personality to be more "feminine" by virtue of the position itself and that if some of these roles were equalized there would be a converging of what we consider masculine and feminine qualities? Or do you think it's deeply biological?
CPC: I think that probably there are some biological tendencies that can be considered male or female. Women's bodies are set up to give birth, and once you give birth it is usually "natural" to take care of the thing you gave birth to — unless you've been seriously maltreated yourself or are starving, that's what you'll do, whether you are human or animal. But let's not forget that many male animals also care for their young. Men have more testosterone than women and testosterone has been associated with more aggressive behaviors — and you can associate testosterone with war and domination if you wanted to. But basically I would say whatever tendencies biology gives us can be shaped and changed by culture. There are and have been cultures that do not encourage men to dominate women and nature or to go to war. These should be our models.
I have no interest in calling qualities like reason "masculine" and emotion "feminine." I'm a very rational person and a person with very deep feelings. It has never made sense to me to call my ability to think is masculine. And I really wouldn't want to tell a man that if he feels deeply, that that is his "feminine" side, my granny who grew fruit and canned it for winter use did all of that out of instinct? No, it required intelligence.
Cultures play the most important role in shaping whatever tendencies our biology gives us. If in our culture a boy is told: boys don't cry, boys don't play with dolls, boys don't play with kittens unless they are going to throw a rock at them, and if we give them violent video games to play with, well then, we should not be surprised that boys grow up with diminished capacities to feel the feelings of others. And if we tell girls that they are supposed to play with Barbie dolls and to play only these video games where you make yourself into a virtual Barbie or find a prince, well, we shouldn't be surprised if girls are afraid to use the creative powers of their minds.
The deeper meaning of feminism is that we are all both rational and capable of deep feeling. As human beings living in this time in the history of the world, we all need to recognize that we are part of nature: we do not have unlimited abilities and capacities — we actually are finite, we actually will die, and we actually can't know everything. We also need to radically change the ways in which we assume that conflicts need be resolved by violence whether on a personal level or on the level of nations. Ideally both men and women will become very nurturing, but not without a rational component and a component of freedom and agency.
We don't want everybody to become what we thought nurturing meant — someone who is not free and who gives everything to others and nothing to themselves. We want everybody to love others and themselves. We need an ethic that is based not on doing your duty or doing what's right whether you want to or not. We need an ethic that teaches children to love themselves, to love others, and tolove nature. If you love something, you want to help it, but you also love yourself, so you don't give everything. You give to yourself as well as to others. That to me would be the ideal. You could call it androgynous life, you could call it post-feminist or feminist, you ould call it a lo of things. I would like to see a more loving more respectful world in which we recognize our limitations and in which both men and women are self-loving and loving of others and in which the domination of others would not be rewarded.
ECE: Hmm yes. (PAUSE) I'm struck by the resounding silence of this generation of young women — and feel concerned by how very few women have picked up the torches from the original fire and run with it. If you could give a wake up call — obviously more briefly than you could in a book — what would you ask or encourage this generation of young women to do and to see, that is being overlooked?
CPC: I would ask them to recognize what they already know on some level: that this a very dysfunctional world and that we're standing on the brink of environmental catastrophe — a catastrophe that has already begun. I would also ask them to recognize that our nation and other nations are ruled by the "military-industrial complex" President Eisenhower warned of. So much of our gross national product is going towards war and violence and weapons and more weapons that we're not able to deal with human problems or the environmental catastrophe. The environmental catastrophe and the war machine are exacerbating human problems that we're all very well aware of, such as the widespread migration of peoples from one country to another because they cannot live safely in their own country. Someone has dammed up a river and they have no water for their crops; or there is a war going on and their land is devastated by bombs and it's not safe to live there. In Europe people are coming from Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and from Somalia and Darfur and other places in Africa. In North America, we have people coming from South America — from places where there has either been environmental destruction or military destruction and violence.
I think people — women and men — need to wake up to the fact that you can't just go along, making little changes here and there. We have to make some really radical changes in the way we live and the way we think and in the way that we structure our world. And we have to connect all of that to what I was saying earlier, to recognizing that both women and men are rational and capable of deep feeling and that both women and men are finite and embedded in nature.
But — I have to be honest — I'm really glad that I'm not twenty years old now because when I think really seriously about the future of the world I am not optimistic. So if I were twenty years old now I don't know if I would want to think about these things because they are very difficult to think about. When I was in my thirties, I spent a lot of time deeply depressed about nuclear war and about the possibility of losing the world that I love so much. I think you have to face the possibility of loss and that's what people don't want to do. And then come to the realization that: I don't know if the world is going to survive or how it is going to survive — if the human species is going to survive or tigers are going to survive or blue tits are going to survive — but I do know that I want to dedicate my life to trying to save what can be saved. And even if I can't save the world, at least I'll know that I died trying — not just for myself but you and for other people and for all living things.
Here we both pause and let what is being said and felt to sink in. I look at the beautiful woman in front of me and it strikes me: Carol P. Christ is in love with the world; it sounds simple but the ramifications are anything but. Imagining the effort and vision expanding your heart to that scale is both inspiring and intimidating. Carol, as a founding mother of the Goddess Movement, has set so many ablaze with this passion. For me it is in exchanges like this that I feel the true meaning of Goddess ripple through me. The way of the Goddess is about accepting life and loving it without reserve, to see suffering in the right eye and beauty in the left, and never blink. All those come together in the wisdom of the Goddess.
ECE: Your own words come to mind here when you wrote about how reflecting on these things as it is quite depressing, needs to be balanced by not losing touch with encountering beauty in life — and reflecting on all the wonderful things that are right in the world. Otherwise one is at risk at getting overwhelmed and losing their passion.
CPC: Yes, I think you need a sense of your own finitude so that you can do something while recognizing that no one of us can do everything. I think what often causes great despair is the feeling that nothing I do will make any difference because the forces that have been set in motion to keep the world going on the disastrous course are so powerful that I cannot affect them. So I might as well close my eyes, and just go about my daily life. But that's not a good solution. On the other hand, taking the opposite view that I have to work all the time to stop these things — that also doesn't produce a healthy individual. And that person who is depressed, anxious, working so hard to change everything, and is angry and frustrated is not in a good position to change anything. So I think we need to realize that we're living in a difficult time, but we are still meant to live. We are still meant to enjoy our lives as much as we can. We also need to be aware of the larger problems our world is facing. We need to help other people and we need to try to change the way people think about and relate to each other and to nature.
ECE: So do you think that the feminist movement is kind of the key to this?
CPC: For me it is. I think there are many keys — but feminism is a key. The thing that keeps me a feminist is the connection between the problems we face and the ways in which masculinity and femininity have been defined over the centuries. Masculinity has been defined in terms of power as control and domination; femininity has been defined in terms of nurturing, love and compassion, but also in terms of weakness and powerlessness. These flawed understandings of maleness and femaleness and of power and domination are at the heart of many problems we face as a culture. If we could redefine them so that masculinity wasn't defined in terms of power and control and femininity in terms of compassion and love and weakness, I think we could change the world. Compassion and love need to be valued differently and power must be redefined.
Feminists see these connections. We see the problems in the ways men have been defining themselves and defining power. It may sound too simple to say that we need to think more about power with than power over — but this really is the key. Feminism not only has a critique of power as domination and a critique of masculinity and femininity as they have been understood in our culture, but it also has a trajectory towards ecofeminism, ecology, and the end of war. Thirty years ago many of us said that we wanted men to get involved in this dialogue and to start really questioning how masculinity and how male power have been defined. Unfortunately not too many men have taken up that challenge. Again I think it's because of the structural nature of power. Men will lose their power within patriarchy the minute they begin to question it.
ECE: So as you discussed in your essay, that's been reprinted many times, "Why Women Need the Goddess: Phenomenological, Psychological, and Political Reflections" — do you see the Goddess as allowing for — on a fundamental level — that to take shape?
CPC: I think the re-emergence of the Goddess through a feminist lens and context has great power to transform the way that we think about the world. I underscore "through a feminist lens and context" because traditionally the God symbol has signified power and control and rationality, while the Goddess symbol has been understood to signify the body, nature, and the irrational. Jung calls the Great Mother the power of the unconscious. Now he valued the unconscious, but he also felt that it must be controlled by the conscious mind. He believed that God the Father had to take over for that to happen. Now we are at a place where the unconscious feminine must be reintegrated, according to his theory.
I do not think the prehistoric Goddess signified the unconscious. I teach and lead Goddess pilgrimages www.goddessariadne.org) every spring and fall. Minoan Crete was a highly artistic, technologically sophisticated, peaceful, pre-patriarchal culture. The Minoans understood that hygiene was health; they bathed regularly and had a functioning drainage and sewerage systems. Until very recently, the "civilized" Christians of Northern Europe did not bathe regularly and lived in their own filth.
ECE: Right, the plague —
CPC: It required a rational thought process to understand the relationship between hygiene and health and then to construct technological systems of drainage and sewerage in their towns. They also had sophisticated medical knowledge; modern doctors have analyzed Minoan "tweezers" and "razors" and have reclassified them as surgical implements. This was not an "unconscious" culture, just "one step up from the ape." This was a very sophisticated, intelligent, rational culture that also apparently didn't oppress women or nature or value domination or war. By the way, the cultures of higher primates are not "unconscious" either, according to Franz de Waal. And Charles Hartshorne stated that forms of intelligence permeate all of reality. I am sure the Minoans believed that too.
ECE: What is the power of the Goddess for you?
CPC: The power of the Goddess is the power of birth, death, and regeneration. This power is found in female bodies, both human and animal, and in the cycles of spring, summer, and winter. The power celebrated in Goddess religion has been disparaged as mere "fertility," but actually what is more important than birth, death, and regeneration? There is a pattern of birth, death, and regeneration in all creative processes — both those of the body and those of the mind. The symbol of the Goddess signified the power of females to give birth to new generations and the power of the earth to "give birth" to all plant and animal life, but it also symbolized the creativity of the women who discovered the technologies of planting and harvesting, food processing, spinning and weaving, potting and firing. In other words, Goddess symbolized the unity of body and mind, the intelligence found in all of nature.
The re-emergence of the Goddess in a feminist context where women are reclaiming both our bodies and our minds from patriarchal misconceptions has great power to transform the world. In Rebirth of the Goddess, I defined the power of Goddess as intelligent, embodied love. This understanding of Goddess challenges the old patriarchal God who has been identified with disembodied rationality; it also challenges the tired old patriarchal understanding of Goddess as the unconscious and the irrational body and nature. This feminist Goddess is a symbol of integration in which men, women, and children, and animals and plants can all be respected.
One of the great powers of the image of Goddess as Mother is that mothers love all of their children. Unfortunately, the Father image has not been similarly inclusive. The Father image has been very tied up with the notion of legitimacy and a man's insistence on knowing that his children are "his" so that he pass is wealth on to sons that he can be sure are t;his." The only way to be sure was to control and restrict women so that they didn't have sex with anyone other than their husbands. As part of this system, women who had sex freely were defined as "whores" and their children "illegitimate." This is not a system in which all children can be loved equally.
In the matrilineal societies that preceded patriarchy, all children were legitimate because all children had mothers, and all children were loved equally as children of mothers. This idea of mother love was extended to all of life when the Goddess was symbolized as the Mother of All the Living (which by the way is one of the translations the Bible gives for the name of the first woman). The point is that images of Goddess as Mother are very different from images as God as Father. In Kritsa in Crete there is an image of the last judgment in which a beautiful bejeweled Mother Earth is forced to give up all of her children to the Father God for judgment. As I always say to my group, Mother Earth accepted all of her children back into her body, but Father God will condemn some of his children to hell.
In the same chapel in Crete there is a lovely and unusual image of the Virgin Mary sitting on her father's lap. Usually someone in my group comments that it is so sweet to see a baby on its father's lap. Yet when we look at this image we are also reminded of fathers and uncles and grandfathers who violate little girls under the rule of patriarchy. In other words, it is not a simple matter to redefine the Father as one who nurtures all children equally. You can't just say, now we are going to image the nurturing Father. You can't really transform the Father image until no man considers it his right to violate little children. As long as sexual abuse is rampant — which it is — unfortunately — and much more rampant than most people like to think about — you can't image a nurturing Father without also conjuring up memories of abuse.
ECE: Right, so in a way the Goddess would be helping men and their relationship to the divine as well —
CPC: Yes —
ECE: — eventually — like a double-helix healing process —
CPC: Yes, the image of Goddess as nurturing Mother can help both women and men reconfigure the way they understand power as power with and not power over, power with her boys and her girls, power with all of life, power with, the greatest power of all.
ECE: And when...did you have an "aha" moment when you realized this about the power of the Goddess to transform?
CPC: I think you know there are a series of aha moments! (laughter)
ECE: (laughter) Right.
CPC: When I was in graduate school, I was treated by the faculty and other students as someone who was not going to continue pursuing an academic or an intellectual path because I would have children and I would give myself over to that, leaving my intellect behind. And I was also being treated as pretty; one of the other students called me the "department bunny" and he thought this was a compliment — after all what more could a girl want than to be a Playboy Bunny?
ECE: Right! (laughter)
CPC: That was a common type of comment about me at the time. And I began to make the connection between the way I was being viewed and St. Thomas Aquinas's agreement with Aristotle that the female was a defective male and that what was defective in females was intellect. Men were a combination of body and intellect, of body and soul, but women were body with a defective intellect or soul therefore had to be controlled by men. In the twentieth century Karl Barth said something similar; that man would always be "A" which stood for "initiative, precedence and authority" while woman would always be "B" or obedient to the authority of man. What Barth said was less obvious because he also spoke a lot about love between husband and wife. So there was an "aha" when I made that connection between what theologians were saying and what my teachers and the other students were saying about me.
I took this insight a step further when I understood that the man-woman relationship was similar to the God-human relationship in Barth's theology. As the man in relation to the woman has initiative, precedence and authority, so God in relation to all human beings has initiative, precedence and authority. And in both cases power is being defined as power over, as control and domination. So I began to ask if theologians' understandings of the divine-human relationship had been perverted, distorted, misunderstood, and misapprehended because they were reading it through the models they had constructed about the relationship of male and female. That was an "aha" moment.
Another was when I was working on my dissertation on Elie Wiesel's Stories. I was wrestling for years with the question of how God could have allowed — how the God we thought was all powerful could have allowed — the Holocaust to occur, and not only to occur, but to happen to his own chosen, special people. And if he had the power to intervene and stop it why didn't he do it? That was Elie Wiesel's question and what I found very intriguing was that Wiesel believed that human beings have the right to question the divine power and even to express anger towards God for not intervening to stop suffering. I was thinking about all of this at the same time that I was becoming more and more feminist.
One night I lay down on my bed and I looked up at the ceiling and I said: God, how could you have let this happen to women? Why didn't you send us a prophet? Why didn't you intervene to stop rape, incest, and beating? I made a long list and asked again and again: If you're such a good God why didn't you send us a prophet? Why didn't you send us a Jesus figure? Why didn't you raise your mighty arm and do something about this? And I was very worked up — it was very late at night — and I was drinking a lot of Tab (a type of diet coke). After I spent my energy I was just lying there my eyes open, and I heard a voice that was coming from within me but it didn't feel like my voice, and it said: In God is a woman like yourself, She too has suffered throughout history, and She too has had her history stolen from her, She shares your suffering.
That was probably the biggest turning point because I felt deeply what I had only thought intellectually before: that there is a divine female power — or a divine power that could be imaged as female. I began searching for that.
Another "aha" moment would have come a couple years later, when I was on sabbatical in California and my friend Naomi Goldenberg had come out to visit and to share the writing process. She was finishing her dissertation, and I was working towards what would become my book Diving Deep and Surfacing. Naomi noticed that there were a lot of free courses from the free university which were being offered in the San Francisco bay area. She said: Why don't we take one of these because we are both so very unhappy in our love affairs and maybe a course would take our minds off our problems. Naomi had attended a conference where Mary Daly and Z Budapest spoke in Boston. She'd heard Z Budapest speak about the re-emergence of the Goddess and so she chose a course called "Witchcraft" taught by Starhawk who was then an unknown young woman. (By the way, I would also recommend her book The Spiral Dance and Mary Daly's Beyond God the Father and Z Budapest's The Holy Book of Women's Mysteries. All of those books influenced me.)
The first night of her course Starhawk told us about what she called the Old Religion that celebrated the powers of birth, death, regeneration and our connection to nature through the symbol of Goddess. I remember driving home across the Bay Bridge with Naomi and Mara Keller. We were all excited about what Starhawk said, but they were both expressing reservations. I remember thinking "it all makes sense to me." Until that night, I did not know there were spiritual options for me outside of traditional patriarchal religions. I do not consider myself Wiccan, but I learned about the Goddess and how to create rituals from Starhawk.
ECE: Could you leave us with a very simple ritual for women (and men) who want to start getting more in touch with the Goddess?
CPC: In Womanspirit Rising, another book I'd recommend, there's a ritual Z Budapest taught to me. I'm not sure where she learned it; she claims its roots are very old. It's called "Self-Blessing Ritual" and it's something that a woman can do by herself — in her own bathroom. After you emerge from your bath and dry yourself off, you can light candles around your bathroom and then you look at yourself in the mirror. You dip your fingers in water that you have placed in a bowl, you touch your eyelids, and you say: "Bless my eyes that I may see your path in the world." You continue dipping your fingers and touching your body: "Bless my nose that I may smell your sweetness. Bless my ears to hear your harmonious sounds. Bless my lips to speak of you. Bless my breasts formed in strength and beauty. Bless my sex without which we would not be. Bless my feet that I may walk in your ways." You can change the words, but don't leave anything out.
It's very powerful for a woman to do this because we're still taught that our bodies are not okay: we're too fat, we're too tall, we're too short, we're too small-breasted, we're too big-breasted, too big-boned, too small-boned — it doesn't matter but something is wrong with us. We're also told that we should fix it with surgery or with starvation, anorexia, dieting, and bulimia. So to really affirm our bodies as they are is a way of bringing the image of the Goddess into us, our bodies. To see your body as sacred — as in the image of Her sacred body — is a very powerful first step into a different world.
The day I left Carol's house and the island physically I managed to miss the bus (having ouzo with an artist friend), but not the last boat. And thus witnessed a sunset so dazzling I swore I was kissed on the forehead by Aphrodite herself! Spiritually, I never left the island.
This article was originally published in Goddess Thealogy (Vol. 1 No. 1 December 2011, pp.108-127.)
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