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The Reemirgance of the Goddess

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The Reemergence of the Goddess

The year is 1989.  It's Indian Summer in the Mission. As dusk approaches, I pick up my step and walk briskly down Valencia Street. My destination is my favorite women's bookstore where an Autumn Equinox Celebration is about to take place. A smartly dressed woman in a navy blue suit with matching pumps and purse enters the bookstore door just ahead of me. Two other women follow closely behind me. Both are wearing leather jackets and have motorcycle helmets in their hands. At the door we are warmly welcomed by a woman clad in a long green and black tie-dyed skirt. She wears numerous crystals and silver amulets hanging on gold and silver chains around her neck. Once inside the incense-filled storefront, we are all ushered to the back room of the shop where ten or twelve other women in varied garbs and identities are gathering in a circle. In the center of the circle is an altar dominated by a statue of a large breasted woman giving birth. There are six candles, three brown and three green, on each side of the birthing woman. A bowel of salt, a goblet full of water, shafts of wheat, a bowel of acorns and three ears of corn also encircle the icon. The woman in the long skirt introduces herself as a high priestess in the Dianic tradition and lights the candles as we all take our places around the altar. She opens the ceremony with an invocation to the Goddess. "Blessed be the names of the Goddess of Earth...." she begins.

All over San Francisco new Pagans gather and invoke the names of the Goddess.  Alcoholics Anonymous and other twelve step meetings begin the session with the traditional Serenity Prayer but at each meeting there are always at least a few voices (men and women alike) that begin the prayer by saying "Goddess, (instead of God) grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."

At my birthday dinner party, a new friend compels us all to hold hands at the table and begins to say grace. "Goddess of the ten thousand names..." she begins. My lover rolls her eyes with amusement, but we all respectfully join hands and give thanks for the food on the table and bless the lives that we live. Bookstores across the nation are selling books with titles like When God Was a Woman, Reclaiming the Goddess Within, Women's Mysteries Ancient and Modern, Womanspirit, The Spiral Dance and The Holy Book of Woman's Mysteries. There is a reemergence of the ancient worship of the Goddess not only here in San Francisco where "anything goes" but all over the world. Women's spirituality support groups and covens of feminist based witchcraft are springing up in communities across the nation.  many call themselves Wiccians.  Even though religions based on matriarchy and Goddess worship were almost stamped out with the advent of Christianity, Judaism and Islam, women today are reclaiming the Goddess as a way of regaining their own identities and personal power.

Modern archaeologists and anthropologists have discovered that the "cradle of civilization" does not lie only in the fertile crescent of Mesopotamia as once thought. Paleolethic artifacts dated to be as old as 30,000 years old have been unearthed in hundreds of other major archaeological digs, proving that highly organized agricultural civilizations existed in a number of "cradles". These sites have been discovered in China, The Middle East, Europe and parts of Africa. An astounding number of female figurines and other objects and depictions of Goddess-worship have been found in each of these "cradles". These early cultures from both the Paleolithic and Neolithic periods all had one thing in common: Worship of the Goddess was central to all aspects of life. Under these cultures, civilizations were first developed. The guidance and skills of women made survival possible. These feminine skills included food gathering, agriculture, weaving, pottery, animal domestication, healing and midwifery. The creation of the universe was seen as birth from the vagina of the Goddess. This concept of the birth of creation was the beginning of all religions. These agricultural civilizations who viewed the creator as the great Mother thrived for thousands of years. This was known in China as the era of "Great Purity". It was a time of prosperity, peace, and development described in the mythology of many cultures as "The Golden Age".

As near as archeology can now determine, a major change began in about 12,000 BC, when northern hunting tribes moved south, conquering the Goddess matriarchy tribes and destroying them. They brought a new order (which we still know today) where the male gods dominate through will and force. The new order brought by the norsemen was a religion of war, slavery and misogyny. There were other invaders as well. The Semites (early ancestors of the Hebrew people who came from the deserts of the south) invaded Canaan (present day Palestine). These early Semites were a warring people ruled by a caste of priests who brought with them the angry god, Jehovah. Gradually, as we can read in the present day Bible, they too imposed their ideology of domination and fear on the peoples of the lands they conquered.

Although these tribes may not have had common origins with the conquerors from the north that invaded the early European Goddess-worshiping cultures, they both had a mode of social organization that was based on domination. Material wealth was not acquired by developing technologies of production as in the earlier periods, but through ever more advanced technologies of destruction. It is interesting to note that no artifacts of war have been found in any of the Neolithic digs. There are no images of warriors or scenes of battles. Nor are there any signs of conquerors dragging captives in chains or other evidences of slavery. There is also and absence of lavish "chieftain" burials so prevalent in the most primitive male-dominant invader societies and the later Egyptians. These only appeared after religions of the earth shifted from worship of the Mother Goddess to worship of the gods of thunder, lightening and war.

The patriarchal takeover was perhaps the first of world wars. Since that time, women, once the leaders and nurturers of all civilization, have become breeders, housekeepers, and cheap labor without autonomy or voice. The leaders of all political and religious movements since have been men. The nonviolent revolution begun by the gentle and compassionate Jesus was quickly converted to another rule of force and terror. Christianity and it's "Holy Crusades", witch hunts, book burnings (beginning with the destruction of the libraries of Alexandria) and people burnings have not spread "brotherly love" but have continued to spread repression, devastation and death to the present day. But the spirit of the Goddess has quietly survived through the ages and is reemerging today.

The feminist movement of the late 1960s and early 70s began to return to women their identities. Recognizing the need for the embodiment of feminist ethics for all, women today have reclaimed and returned the Goddess and have developed a women's spirituality movement which is rapidly becoming an international phenomenon. Wicca, the religion of the Goddess movement, has its roots in rebellion. At it's best, it is the most flexible of religions. In fact, women involved in the "craft" prefer to call it a tradition and not a religion at all. Wicca is not worship of the devil nor is it replacing a male god with a female one. It is a consciousness of the sacredness and interconnectedness of all life. It emphasizes equality of the sexes as well as the unity of the body and soul. Goddess worship and the Wicca religions are based on two simple precepts. The first is "Harm None" and the second is "What you send out comes back to you." These are all feminist principles.

Z Budapest, World renowned feminist witch and author, writes:

"Church women are in revolt, demanding to be ordained, and individual women are discovering the magic their womanhood gives them if they only listen to the Goddess' instructions. I believe that the womens movement is badly in need of just such an energizing. To reclaim our souls is the next step in achieving the goals of the movement, after taking back our longer are Goddess worshipers mocked as silly in the Feminist movement; no longer are we seen as threatening clouds on the political horizon, but as the very essence of womens politics. the New Right is organizing against womens rights and a new oppressive era looms over us. Never before was an articulate womens religion more needed to sustain us."

The Goddess is many things to many women. To some she is just an idea. She is the embodiment of the eternal feminine. To others she is The Great Mother, the highest deity of the religion of wicca, modern day witchcraft. She has a name in every culture in her different aspects. Traditionally she has a threefold nature: the Maiden, the Mother, the Crone. Each aspect is symbolized by a phase of the moon. The Maiden is symbolized by the image of the waxing crescent; the Mother is symbolized by the full moon; and the crone is the waning crescent. As the Great Mother, the Goddess is known as Isis in Egypt, as Nammu in ancient Sumaria, Spider Grandmother in Hopi and Navajo tribes, Green Tara and Saraswati in India, Yemaya in Yoruba, Chalchiuhtique in South America, and the Virgin Mary in the Christian tradition. In Greece, she has the three faces of Diana, Selene and Hecate.

Perhaps the most important contribution of the Goddess movement is the concept of The Goddess-within. This concept is quite different than the tradition of all other religions that teach us to seek (a male) God outside ourselves. In the patriarchal tradition, God is somewhere up in the sky. We must wait until after death to be reunited with our source and there are no rewards for our lives while here on the earth. In Goddess based religion and indeed women's spirituality in its broadest sense, the idea is very different. The rewards of living are attained in the process of living, and the individual, with her recognition of the "Goddess-within" has the power within herself to create and change her life. After death her spirit continues and she returns to the earth again to grow and to create. In her process of self realization through the cycles of life, death, and birth she is Goddess.

The two precepts "Harm none" and "What you send out comes back to you threefold" along with the concept of the Goddess-within are the greatest contributions of the women's spirituality movement to todays war weary cultures. I am greatly encouraged in these times of darkness that the Goddess is indeed reemerging. She appears bringing a breath of spring, like Demeter from the underworld. She is a voice crying in the wilderness in her many aspects.

She is Rosa Parks sitting in the back of a bus. She is Helen Caldicott(1) raging against the insanity of nuclear weapons and the destruction of our ecosystem. She is Tracy Chapman lamenting the violence and injustice in our city streets. She is Mother Teresa reaching out her healing hands to the poor of the earth. She is Madonna celebrating her sensuality and lust for life. She is the Peruvian mother of the disappeared who stands in the plaza day after day. She is all the women in black on the West Bank pleading for peace. She is Judy Barry(2), defender of the old growth redwoods and the spotted owl. She is Starhawk, Z Budapest and Shakti Gwain(3), educating and initiating us back into the Mother's gentle rites.  She is Anita Hill in all her dignity standing before the white male Senate finally telling her story. She is Sharon Kowalski's(4) lesbian lover demanding that she be allowed to come home to her. She is calling to us all, through us all, to remember to care before it's too late.

A world that followed the golden rules of the Goddess would have no use for nuclear weapons, the military industrial complex, or apartheid. We would send food and medicines to other countries instead of exporting terrorism and burning the rainforests. We wouldn't tolerate hunger, homelessness, child abuse, racism or homophobia. The feminine qualities of healing, cooperation and creativity so sorely needed in the world today, are being reawakened as a response to that need. Most importantly, women are beginning to reclaim their identities. Whether it be in the form of the womens spirituality movement, Wicca religion, or simply the raising of a feminist and non-violent consciousness, the Goddess is returning to the earth. Blessed Be!

1) Helen Caldicott is the founder of Physicians for Social Responsibility and a renowned author and lecturer.

(2) Judy Barry is a labor organizer and Earth First! activist who was injured when a car bomb was placed in her car on the way to a demonstration to save the redwoods. (

3) Starhawk, Z Budaphest, and Shakti Gwain are all lecturers, authors and leaders in the Goddess Movement.

(4) Sharon Kawolski is a lesbian who was seriously injured in a car accident. She became a quadrapeligic and needed constant care. Her parents would not allow her to return home to her lover and tried to commit her to an institution. A three year court battle ensued which ended up being a victory for lesbian and gay civil rights.