From Scotland to the Aegean Sea:
Diving Deep in Conversation with Carol P. Christ, Part 3
by E.C. Erdmann
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 interview, originally published in Goddess Thealogy (Vol. 1 No. 1 December 2011, pp.108-127), marked the beginning of an amazing friendship.