From Scotland to the Aegean Sea:
Diving Deep in Conversation with Carol P. Christ, Part 2
by E.C. Erdmann
this continues a conversation that began in Part 1
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