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Massive thumb up for this weblog put up! It stands in sharp contrast to the paradigms of female dependence on males which have been predominant in our culture. The internationally ac- claimed French novelist Monique Wittig captured some- thing of the novelty and flavor of the affirmation of fe- male power when she wrote in her mythic work Les Cueri Hires: There was a time when you were not a slave, remember that. You walked alone, full of laughter, you bathed bare- bellied.
You say you have lost all recollection of it, remem- ber. Make an effort to remem- ber. Or, failing that, invent. This mood is one of a joyous celebration of female freedom and independence, as well as a fearless The Birth of Aphrodite. The affirmation of female power contained in the sym- bol of Goddess has both psychological and political con- sequences. Psychologically it means the defeat of the in- ternal policeman who reminds women that their power is inferior and dangerous.
This new mood of affirmation of female power leads to new motivations; it supports and undergirds women's trust in their own power and the power of other women in family and society. I have said that the simplest meaning of the symbol "Goddess" is an affirmation of the legitimacy and benef- icence of female power. For one raised in the West, a question immediately arises, "Is the Goddess simply fe- male power writ large, and if so, why bother with the sym- bol 'Goddess' at all?
Or do you really mean to refer to a Goddess 'out there' who is not reducible to a human potential? Three meanings attach to the symbol "Goddess" for these wom- en: If one were to ask the women who participate in the symbol of Goddess which of these meanings is the "correct" one, different responses would be given. Some would assert that the Goddess is definitely not "out there," that the symbol of a divinity "out there" is part of the legacy of patriarchal oppression, which brings with it the authoritarianism, hierarchicalism and dogmatic rigidity associated with Biblical mono- theistic religions.
They might argue that the symbol of Goddess reflects the sacred power within women and nature, suggesting the connectedness between women's cycles of menstruation, birth and menopause and the life and death cycles of the universe. Others seem quite com- fortable with the notion of Goddess as a divine female protector and creator and would find their experience of Goddess limited by the assertion that she is not also out there as well as within themselves and in all natural processes.
When asked what the symbol of Goddess meant, feminist witch Starhawk replied, "It all depends on how I feel. When 1 feel weak, She is someone who can help and protect me. When I feel strong She is the symbol of my own power. At other times I feel her as the natural energy in my body and the world. Theologians would call these the words of a sloppy thinker. But my deepest intuition tells me they contain a wisdom Western theological thought has lost. To one trained in theology these differing views of the "meaning" of the symbol of Goddess sound like an incipi- ent Trinitarian controversy.
Is there, I wonder, a way of developing a theology that does not lead into dogmatic controversy or require us to say definitively that one un- derstanding is true and the others false? Could we possibly share our common relation to the symbol and make that primary and yet allow our varying interpretations? The diverse explications of the symbol "Goddess" suggest that the symbol has a richer significance than any one explica- tion can express. This phenomenological fact suggests the need for an abstract theory of symbol in which the symbol is viewed as the primary fact and the meanings are viewed as secondary.
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It also suggests that a thea-logy 11 of the Goddess would be very different from the theo-logy we know in the West. But to spell out the primacy of symbol in thea-logy in contrast to the primacy of explanation in theo-logy would be to write another paper. Let me simply state that I believe it is incumbent upon woman, who have been deprived of a female religious symbol system for so long and who are therefore in an excellent position to recognize the power and primacy of symbols, to devel- op a theory of symbol and thea-logy congruent with their experience.
A second important implication of the Goddess symbol for women is the affirmation of the female body. Because of women's unique position as menstruants, birth-givers, and because they have traditionally cared for the young and the dying, women's connection to the body, nature and finitude has been an obvious fact. In early religious consciousness birth-giving powers were celebrated and women were positively valued. But as Western religions entered into a state of alienation from the body, nature and this world, women were denigrated because they seemed more carnal, fleshy and earthy than the culture- creating males.
While menstruation taboos may have originat- ed in a perception of the awesome powers of the female body, 14 they have degenerated into a simple perception that something is "wrong" with female bodily functions. Menstruation is viewed as a curse, and women grow up believing that the bloody facts of menstruation are best hidden. Judy Chicago's Menstruation Bathroom broke these taboos. In a sterile white bathroom she exhibited boxes of tampons and Kotex on an open shelf, while the wastepaper basket overflowed with bloody tampons and Kotex.
The denigration of the female body and its powers is further expressed in Western culture's attitudes toward childbirth. Giving birth is treated as a disease requiring hospitalization and the woman is viewed as a passive ob- ject, anesthetized to ensure her acquiescence to the will of the doctor. The symbol of Goddess aids this process of naming and reclaiming the female body and its functions.
In the an- cient world and among modern women, the Goddess sym- bol represents the birth, death and rebirth processes of the natural and human worlds. The female body is viewed as a direct expression or incarnation of waxing and waning, life and death cycles in the universe because of the con- nection between the day cycles of menstruation and 10 the day cycles of the moon.
How amazing it is for modern women to learn that many of the ancient Goddess figures were painted with red ochre between the legs, the menstrual blood out in the open, a symbol of female power. In this ritual the women simulated a birth canal through which they birthed each other into their circle. They raised power by placing their hands on each other's bellies and chanting together. Finally, they marked each other's faces with rich dark menstrual blood saying, "This is the blood that prom- ises renewal. This is the blood that promises sustenance. This is the blood that promises life.
The degree to which this ritual seems indelicate or shocking indicates how far modern culture is from perceiving the sacrality of the female body. The mood created by the symbol of Goddess as life and birth power is one of positive, joyful affirmation of the female body and its powers and processes.
While the symbolic reclamation of the body and na- ture is especially important to women who have been as- sociated with the despised body, it also has profound sig- nificance for men and all beings. The denigration of the body and nature has also contributed to our current ecological crisis because nature has been viewed simply as material for human consumption. Thus, the Goddess as symbol of the revaluation of body and nature can pull together many of the themes addressed separately in the human potential and ecology movements.
In this case the mood is one of affirmation, awe and respect for the body and nature and the motivation is to respect the teaching of the body and the rights of all living beings. A third important implication of the symbol of God- dess for women is the positive valuation of will in a God- dess-centered framework. Here I am not referring to the symbol of Goddess in general, but specifically to the no- tion of will in Goddess-centered ritual magic and spell- casting.
The basic notion behind ritual magic and spell- casting is energy as power. The Goddess is a center or focus of power and energy; She is the personification of the energy which flows between beings in the natural and human worlds. According to Starhawk, "witches conceive of psychic energy as having form and substance that can be perceived and directed by those with a trained aware- ness. The power generated within the circle is built into a cone form, and at its peak is released — to the Goddess, to reenergize the members of the coven, or to do a specific work such as healing.
The emphasis on the will is important for women be- cause women traditionally have been taught to devalue their wills, to believe that they cannot achieve their will through their own power and even to suspect that the as- sertion of will is evil. Faith Wilding's poem "Waiting" sums up women's sense that their lives are defined not by their own will, but by waiting for others to take the in- itiative.
Waiting for my breasts to develop Waiting to wear a bra Waiting to menstruate Waiting for life to begin, Waiting. Waiting to be somebody Waiting to get married Waiting for my wedding day Waiting for my wedding night Waiting for the end of the day Waiting for sleep. Eve caused the fall by asserting her will over and against the command of God, while Mary began the new age with her response to God's initiative, "Let it be done to me according to thy word" Luke 1: Even for men, patriarchal religions value the passive will.
The classical doctrines of sin and grace view sin as the prideful assertion of will and grace as the obedient subordiatnion of human will female or male to the divine initiative or order. Although this view of will might be questioned from a human perspective, Valerie Saiving Goldstein has argued that it has particularly deleterious consequences for women in Western culture. According to Goldstein, secular Western culture encourages males in the assertion The thousand hands of the Goddess Kwannon.
Toshodai-ji Temple, Nara, Japan. But since culture discourages fe- males in the assertion of will, the traditional doctrines of sin and grace encourage women to remain in their form of sin, which is self-negation or insufficient assertion of will. In a Goddess-centered context, in contrast, the will is valued. A woman is encouraged to know her will, to be- lieve that her will is valid and to believe that her will can be achieved in the world— three sources of strength and motivation to take direct action, sources traditionally denied to her in patriarchy.
In a Goddess-centered frame- work a woman's will is not subordinated to the Lord God as King and Ruler, nor to men as His representatives. Thus a woman is not reduced to waiting for and acquiescing to the will of others as she is in patriarchy. But neither does she adopt the egocentric form of will that pursues self- interest without regard for the interests of others.
The Coddess-centered context provides a different un- derstanding of will than that available in the traditional patriarchal religious framework. In the Goddess frame- work, will can be achieved only when it is exercised in harmony with the energies and wills of other beings. Wise women, for example, raise a cone of healing energy at the full moon or solstice when the lunar or solar energies are at their high points with respect to the earth. This dis- cipline encourages them to recognize that not all times are propitious for the achieving of every will. Similarly they know that spring is a time for new beginnings in work and love; summer, a time for producing external man- ifestations of inner potentialities; and fall or winter, times for stripping down to the inner core and for extending roots.
Such awareness of waxing and waning processes in the universe discourages the arbitrary ego-centered asser- tion of will, while at the same time encouraging the as- sertion of individual will in cooperation with natural energies and the energies created by the wills of others. Wise women also have a traditional belief that whatever is sent out will be returned, and this reminds them to assert their wills in cooperative and healing ways rather than in egocentric and destructive ones.
This view of will allows women to begin to recognize, claim and assert their wills without adopting the undesirable characteristics of the patriarchal understanding and use of will. This is not, however, to imply that women invariably exercise their wills for good. Women have as much of a capacity for positive and negative thoughts and actions as men do. All I am saying is that in the Goddess-centered context, the will of women is not devalued per se as it is in the Biblical and theological traditions discussed above.
In the Goddess-centered framework the mood is one of positive affirmation of personal will in the context of the energies of other wills or beings. The motivation is for women to know and to assert their wills in cooperation with other wills and energies. The fourth and final aspect of the symbol of Goddess is the significance of the Goddess for a revaluation of mother-daughter relations and women's heritage.
Accord- ing to Virginia Woolf, a sentence such as "Chloe liked Olivia," which describes a woman's relationship to an- other woman, rarely occurs in stories written by men be- cause men write of women only in their relationship to a man or men. Christianity celebrates the father's relation to the son and the mother's relation to the son but the story of the mother and daughter is missing. In patriarchal literature and psychology, the relation- ship between mothers and daughters is seldom considered or even mentioned. As de Beauvoir has noted, the mother- daughter relationship is, distorted in our male-defined culture because the mother perhaps subconsciously be- lieves her role is to prepare her daughter to enter into that male-controlled culture in which women are viewed as inferior.
The bond of woman to woman is beginning to be cele- brated in the new women's culture. Holly Near has written several songs that celebrate the woman bond and wom- en's heritage. In one of her finest songs she writes of an "old time woman" who is "waiting to die. This story was told, possibly enacted, in con- nection with the religious rites of the Thesmophoria, which were for women only, and the Eleusinian Mysteries of Greece.
In this story Persephone is abducted by the God of the Underworld and forced to live in the Under- world as his wife. Unwilling to accept this state of affairs, Mother Demeter, in her rage, withholds the rain and thus prevents the growth of all food until her daughter is re- turned to her. What is important for women in this an- cient religious story is that the mother fights for her daughter and for her relationship to her daughter.
This is a completely different view of the mother's relationship to her daughter from that which exists in a patriarchal cul- ture. The mood created by the story of Demeter and Per- sephone is one of sacred celebration of the mother- daughter bond and the motivation is for mothers and daughters to affirm the heritage passed on from mother to daughter and to reject the patriarchal pattern in which 12 mother and daughter betray each other for the sake of men.
The symbol of the goddess has much to offer women who are struggling to be rid of the "powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations" of the devalua- tion of female power, denigration of the female body, dis- trust of female will and denial of the mother-daughter bond and women's heritage that have been engendered by patriarchal religions. As women struggle to create a new culture in which women's power, bodies, will and bonds are celebrated, the symbol of the Goddess naturally reemerges and speaks to the deep mind, expressing our new vision of the beauty, strength and power of women.
Starhawk, "Witchcraft and Women's Culture" unpublished manuscript, p. Lessa and Vogt New York: Beacon Press, , p. Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, trans. Monique Wittig, Les Cuerilleres, trans. David LeVay New York: Avon Books, , p. A term coined by Naomi Goldenberg to refer to reflection on the meaning of the symbol "Goddess. New Earth New York: Dover, , p.
Doubleday, , plate 4. Bantam Books, , chap. Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, McGraw-Hill, , p. Barbry MyOwn, "Ursa Maior: Starhawk, "Witchcraft and Women's Culture," p. In Judy Chicago, pp. Goldstein, "The Human Situation: A Feminine View," journal of Religion vol. Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, , p. A Live Album Redwood Records, About the Goddess Kali, for Pamela Oline. Oiled and bleached willow, cherry, black locust, maple and fir.
Plaster casting for bronze mold. This dogma functions to preserve patriarchal institutions and to prevent the establishment of equal rights and opportunities for women in the United States and other countries throughout the world. Far from becoming more tolerant as time passes, fundamentalist sects are ever more rigid in their efforts to maintain the subjugation of women. Ironically, religious faiths, which supposedly provide the moral and ethical basis of culture, are stubbornly and irrationally opposed to the develop- ment of a truly just, humane, equitable society.
My personal religious beliefs underwent a cataclysmic change during adolescence, when overnight I emerged from an intensely religious period into what has remained a questioning, agnostic search for a satisfactory philos- ophy to sustain me through life. During my childhood and adolescence, I deeply experienced the damage done by the prevalent attitudes towards females. Perhaps for this reason, I finally found a possible answer in feminism.
Of all my experiences, the most fulfilling sense of unity and of purpose and belief, within myself and within rela- tionships, has come from reading feminist literature, meeting, working, demonstrating, agonizing, organizing and occasionally celebrating with my sisters. Neverthe- less, I still felt a lack, a sense of something missing. When my reading progressed to a number of books, which have appeared in recent years, describing the matriarchal cul- tures and religions that existed in prehistoric times, I began to understand why.
I tried to imagine what it must have been like to live in a society where people worshipped a female deity and where women held positions of power and responsibility. What would it feel like to pray to God the Mother? To sing paeans of praise to Her glory? As I experimented, in spite of my essential agnosticism, I found myself feeling a great sense of peace in the mere act of praying to a loving, female God.
The experience was light-years away from the nightmares I had suffered as a child of being con- signed to hell by a punitive male god. I also felt deep anguish to know that such religions had existed thousands of years ago, only to have been ruthlessly destroyed by barbaric patriarchal invaders. When I discussed these ideas with feminists from other parts of the world, at the International Women's Year Tribune in Mexico City, at the International Tribunal on Crimes Against Women in Brussels and with women I met during other travels, they were as enthusiastic as.
Mormons, Baptists and various fundamentalist religious groups were there in force, joined with the American Nazi Party, John Birch Society and Ku Klux Klan to try to subvert the conference. When they began singing hymns, I sang along but with one major difference: I changed the hymns to Hers. When they sang, "He's got the whole world in his hands," I happily warbled, "She's got the whole world Isis loves me, this I know Mother Cod has told me so. She is strong and so are we Fighting for equality. In preparation for this conference I began to think through some of the ideas that had been taking form in my mind.
The sum total of my experiences led me to realize that lack of faith in an organized religion had left a hole in my life which no amount of rational, philosophical specula- tions about the meaning of it all can fill. The fact is I enjoy the rituals, symbols, songs, processions, ceremonies — the full panoply of organized religion. I like to wear clothing and jewelry that express my commitment to and faith in my beliefs. I enjoy singing along with people, joining hands, performing rites and acts that physically demonstrate and symbolize my emotional, spiritual and philosophical self — my deepest being.
But I also realize that I am quite incapable of participating in such rituals while being totally opposed to the doctrines they rep- resent. There is no way I can take part in a religion that preaches the subjugation of women. The answer to this dilemma then became so obvious that I am shocked not to have found it sooner. I believe the answer is to reinstate a feminist religion that can fulfill the human need for religious rituals at the same time that it celebrates our feminist faith in the ultimate good of 16 being female and invokes the Mother-God-given right of every woman to enjoy full freedom and equal opportunity in all aspects of life.
Such a religion would provide opportunities for women to meet together to take part in ceremonies and to reaf- firm our faith in our feminist beliefs. This spiritual and emotional renewal would strengthen the bonds among us. Besides providing spiritual sustenance, the feminist religion could be a powerful tool in our fight for equal rights. In spite of the supposed Constitutional separation of church and state, the fact is that our legal codes are based on patriarchal religious dogmas and customs.
The frequency with which opponents of the Equal Rights Amendment and other feminist issues quote the Bible to justify their opposition is evidence enough of the use of religion for political purposes. The doctrine of an or- ganized religion that propounds feminist values as the direct reflection of Divine Intention is the ultimate answer to those who argue that a male god has decreed other- wise. Fighting fire with fire, our rites could help us win our rights. The NOW conference workshop offered the opportu- nity to explain these feelings and experiences to other women and to propose that we establish our own feminist religion.
I also offered a few specific suggestions that seemed positive.
First, that the religion be as undogmatic and non-authoritarian as possible to best serve as a ve- hicle for expressing the thoughts, feelings, needs and desires of all of us. Second, that care must be exercised to avoid forming the usual hierarchy of clergy as separate from congregation and to assure maximum participation of everyone concerned in formulating and carrying out the doctrines and rituals of a feminist religion.
I do, however, believe that a formal women's religious organization would be economically advantageous in that it would enable us to have access to the tax benefits allowed to other religious groups. These benefits could help to cover the cost of clinics, publications, learning centers and many other aspects of the women's move- ment.
In addition to these considerations, there is one fun- damental principle that I feel must be basic to our religion if it is to express feminist beliefs. This is the divine right of every child to be born to a mother who wants it, which in turn would assure every woman the right to control her own body and to bear children only when and if she wholeheartedly wants to do so. I feel that the act of exercising this control, whether by means of birth control, abortion or abstention, should be considered to be in total accord with our belief in "divine intention.
Since the aura of guilt and disgust surrounding female physiology promulgated by a misogynistic patriarchy is so destructive and damag- ing to women's emotional and physical well-being, I would like to see this attitude replaced by feelings of joy and self-affirmation in the inherent good of being female. Generally, I would like our feminist religion to be positive, joyous and free of fear. Rather than teaching the dogma of original sin, we could proclaim the fact of original good.
I would prefer a list of "Thou shalts" rather than "Thou shalt nots" and a philosophy of rewards for doing good rather than punishments for doing wrong. I would like our religion to affirm the intrinsic good of all expressions of love between humans, regardless of sex or of other artificial restrictions imposed by a patriarchal autocracy. Along with the suggestions that have been mentioned, we would welcome a wide diversity of other ideas, ac- cording to people's needs and desires. These might come from Wicca, Zen or any other source that we feel has something valuable to offer us.
In summary, I would like to mention that the enthusi- astic response of those who took part in the NOW work- shop convinced me that many women feel the need for a religion of our own and I suggest that the time is ripe for establishing it now. Its members are now in the process of applying for tax exempt status. In order to protect the principle of separation of church and state, I think that there should be no tax exemptions for religions, but since there are, it is essential that we share the advantage.
If interested, write to: The Mother Church, P. Box , Satellite Beach, Florida Horned Ishtar, "Lady of the Hand. Hathor, The Horned One. We change them, we're all the time changing them! But they body our sense of good! Images of power, of trans- formation, of harmony and of duality. One woman empowering another. The crucial exchange of gifts. I cross the cir- cle to give you something; you cross the circle to give her something. And so on until we have all changed places.
Power held is powerless; power given is power for all. In feminist ritual we main- tain a center of which we are all aware. It is our collective heart which beats there. We hold together, our center endures. Even the most painful sep- aration, the dispersal which is feared but necessary, cannot disconnect us from that ritual circle. Once that circle is created and affirmed, chaos is sub- dued. Although some theoretical attention has been given to the recent spiritual awakening within the women's move- ment, very little writing has been direct- ed toward analysis of the use of ritual by women.
What do these ritual acts mean to contemporary U. And what is their significance in terms of the women's movement? Feminists are primarily at work re- vising the male-biased ideological bases of culture; some are now en- gaged in the creation of rituals to pro- mote and sanction this serious turning away from the old to the new. As in traditional societies, feminist ritual provides an emotional, descriptive, intensified and sanctifying version of emergent ideological systems. Femi- nist ritual offers an imagistic revitali- zation for women, participation in the concrete, bodily expressive creation of new images of the feminine which will help alleviate the stress of a liminality.
The evaluation of culture by Michelle Zimbalist Rosaldo in her theoretical overview for Woman, Culture and Soci- ety serves as useful background mate- rial for answering why women have cre- ated rituals as an expression of the need for revitalization and as an im- petus for political action.
She states that "an asymmetry in the cultural evaluations of male and fe- male, in the importance assigned to women and men, appears to be uni- versal. Everywhere, from those societies we might want to call most egalitarian to those in which sexual stratification is most marked, men are the locus of cultural value. Only men define, possess and confer power or authority, and power is the necessary ingredient for the creation of culture.
Women are therefore con- signed to live on the fringes of culture, locked in domestic zones which are rarely defined as part of the cultural territory. Rosaldo elaborates this point by using Mary Douglas's notion of "the anomalous. Douglas has called this sort of thing "anomalous," The idea of "order" depends, logically, on "disorder" as its opposite, yet society tries to set such things aside.
Where men 'are classified in terms of ranked, institution- al positions, women are simply women and their activities, interests and dif- ferences receive only idiosyncratic note. Female power is almost without excep- tion displayed covertly under the rubric of influence or association with the right man. But Rosaldo makes a unique claim for the possible use women may make of their anomalous or liminal po- sitions. Even though women's status is lowest in those societies where there is the greatest distinction between the public and domestic realms and where women are isolated from each other, "their position is raised when they can challenge those claims of male author- ity, either by taking on men's roles or by establishing social ties, by creating a sense of rank, order, and value in a world in which women prevail.
In other words, by giving special atten- tion to their anomalous status, women have been able "to take on powers uniquely their own. Men have tenaciously held the rights to ritual use since the suppression of the ancient priestesses of the goddess. In fact the participation in ritual by men has been their most profound display of cultural authority and their most direct access to it.
The performance of ritual in most societies, "primitive" and "civilized," is a simultaneous ack- nowledgment of men's warrant to create. Here we see a further distinction be- tween the sacred and the profane based on the asymmetry of male-fe- male relationships. As Mircea Eliade has shown, sacred space is "manifested space," it is cre- ated as sacred by men and in most so- cieties women have little or no access to it. Of course men live in the profane world too in fact we all live there most of the time , but when they choose to do so or when the "gods" command them to do so they may enter another world, a world of the sacred, and through ritual practice they may take part in ordering that world and themselves.
The sacred realm is that of being and becoming, a realm saturated with power and critical- ly "off-limits" to the female half of the human species. That women in the United-States and elsewhere have begun to claim sacred space for themselves, to create rituals which emphasize their loyalty to each other and finally name the powers which men have found "anomalous" i. Asserting the right to ritual means as a source of power, vision and solidarity is the sym- bolic corollary of equal pay, choice of abortion, domestic freedom, the estab- lishment of women's businesses, etc.
Successful and enduring change in the status of women will come only through the parallel transformation of symbols and realities. Feminist ritual practice is currently the most important model for symbolic and, therefore, psychic and spiritual change in women. Here I would like to describe briefly a number of feminist rituals which characterize the kind and variety of ex- pression this form has taken. At the bottom of these wells she leaves personal and found objects wrapped in animal skins.
Next to these bundles Pinto makes a pritnitive fireplace with shards and cooking utensils. She constructs a lad- der and leaves it down the side of the well as an invitation for others to come in. Henes defines web-making as the "most basic female instinct" and has made a personal ritu- al of web-making over the past three years. I often notice that the mirror reflects an image which makes me question myself, feel critical or dissatisfied with my ap- pearance.
I don't ignore it as trivial, because I recognize that the mirror is infested with a very common political poison, virus hollywoodius or television- iensis, subtle pressure to measure up to a pattern designed to enslave. Just to free myself of that pressure isn't a magical operation. But hundreds of other women will use that mirror.
I pour suggestive energy into the mirror, encouraging anyone who might look in it to see herself in her true beauty. I rein- force the suggestion with all the power of my will and call on the Coddess of Beauty Herself, blessed Aphrodite, to banish that which would deny Her, as She exists in all of us. Let a circle form and each one place her article in front of her, and next to it a fruit, seed or cone.
Join hands and chant in unison the names of all present — several times till the energy is high. Then pause and chant the months of the year from the Winter Solstice to the Autumn Equinox. Now let each one in turn hold her article while she tells her friends of her accom- plishment and something she has learned from it.
When all have spoken all shall pick up the fruit, seed or cone in front of them and picture inwardly the process of its change from seed to plant to flower to seed. Again let each woman speak in turn of what her accomplishment has meant to her growth and how she thinks it may be useful to her self and others.
At this time if she feels grateful, let her give thanks. If she wants to dance, let her move. When all have expressed their feeling, with closed eyes ask yourself "What is the next stage in the process of my growth? After the joy of harvest After the work of the day After the time of fulfillment Comes the time of rest. After the seed is planted Nature takes care of the rest" On the streets of downtown Boston a woman wearing a high feather head- dress makes a circle of cornmeal, places three ears of corn in the center of the circle and begins a rhythmic chant naming the goddesses of the Americas before the conquest Tonant- zin, Chicomecoaltl, Blue Corn Girl, IxChel, etc.
After the chant is finished, she calls on women passing by, invites them into the circle and blesses them by saying in litany form an ancient Az- tec poem from the Poesia Nahautl: Now o friends Listen to the words of a dream Each spring brings us new life The golden corn refreshes us And the pink corn makes us a necklace At least this we know: The hearts of our friends are true While the women alternate in speaking the lines of the poem to each other, they hold an ear of corn between them and tear the sheaves down exposing the fresh corn.
This ritual has been per- formed from coast to coast with at least women receiving the blessing since it was first done in Painting the red quarter moon on their foreheads as a symbol of their special condition, they use the time spent in the hut for experi- encing and affirming the culmination of cyclic process. It is a time for medi- tation and separation, but separation without the patriarchal connotations of impurity, defilement and unworthiness. The' menstrual flow is equated with the particular power of the feminine and time spent apart in the hut is for per- sonally determining the course of that power.
The following ritual was recounted in Sundance, a journal devoted to the study and sharing of dreams. In a past issue of Womansptrit there is an article by Halite Mountainwing describ- ing an overnight wilderness event attend- ed by twelve women. The purpose of the venture was to share dreams, "be- come deeper friends and explore the meaning to each of them of being wom- en. To prepare for dreaming together, the twelve women arranged their sleep- ing bags into a "wheel" surrounding a central pole. In addition, each woman had two strands of ribbon attached to her sleeping bag which were then at- tached to the pole, making a "dream net.
As an ap- proximation to a contemporary experi- ment in revelation, a twelve-person "dream wheel" inspires continued ex- ploration. A form of this ritual is still performed today but the following account was recorded in by Basauri and trans- lated by J. A hollow is made in a level place and filled with water. This hollow should be of sufficient size so that a woman may take a bath in it. The woman, who hopes to benefit from the ceremony is placed in it completely naked. Once she is in and the liquid reaches to the height of her breasts, they [other women who par- ticipate in the ceremony] cover the sur- face with flowers.
Several women, friends of the one to be benefited, the number of which may vary, but never falls below five, take hands and dance around the bather, some singing and others saying a prayer in Maya. The dance lasts an hour, and during that time the dancers take flowers which they have already pre- pared, stoop down to moisten them in the water in which the principal bathes, and throw them on the breast of the woman making the ceremony la sol i- citante.
During the dance it is the cus- tom to make nine turns in one direction, stop a moment to moisten the flowers, and then repeat the same number of turns in the opposite direction. When the ceremony is ended, the dancers retire, the woman remains alone in the water, and, on coming out, she takes a quantity of it, which she carries with her to em- ploy in the preparation of her husband's or lover's food.
The overt goal of the ritual is not the only reason for performing it; something significant is taking place in the act of performance too.
An in- dividual woman is uplifted and sac- ralized by her sisters, her comadres, herC-R group, her kind. The above presentation of wom- an's rituals is by no means exhaustive. In fact the range of expressive mate- rial in current feminist ritual sets is so diverse, multivocal and widespread that one of the major tasks of the his- torical branch of the women's move- ment must be to document the growth of ritual events. The Women's revolution is not merely about equality within a patriarchal soci- ety a contradiction in terms. It is about power and redefining power. Within patriarchy, power is generally under- stood as power over people, the environ- ment, things.
In the rising consciousness of women, power is experienced as power of presence to ourselves and to each other, as we affirm our own being against and beyond the alienated iden- tity bestowed upon us within the patri- archy. This is experienced as power of absence by those who would objectify women as 'the other,' as magnifying mirrors. None of the rituals mentioned above would be considered effective if a transfer of power had not resulted. Yet it is of critical importance to note that power is rarely considered an object of possession which the group or individu- al may get hold of during ritual activity.
What is stressed through ritual is the dynamic quality of power, the continu- al exchange of gifts which heightens the affirmative identity of all who par- ticipate. Power emanates from within as it is simultaneously received from without. For women in revolution it is imperative to create an entirely new value system, the heart of which will be a dramatic reassessment of the use of power.
Ritual serves as a primary way of affirming commitment to that re- assessment. The ritual setting provides a place for knowing the easy, direct exchange and sharing of power. Cer- tainly ritual is an idealized microcos- mic experience, but it may be an en- durably important means of invoking a new order of things in the macrocosm. At the very least it has been a useful 22 mode for envisioning what a different world for women might feel like. The word "feeling" deserves special mention in connection with women's rituals.
In fact it is a word we must never neglect in talking about any ritu- al. Evon Vogt once asked a ritual par- ticipant, "Why do you go through the ceremonies? Why do you do what you do? Perhaps most im- portant is the way in which ritual up- holds and celebrates the validity of feeling as a mode of revelation, com- munication and transvaluation.
In some of the rituals described above the flow of feelings, change in feelings or sharing of feelings with others is a high- ly desirable goal in performing the ritual. In discussing the reasons underlying the performance of ritual acts in the feminist community, we must under- score the importance of ritual as a formalized consecration of female bonding. The ritual concretization of the idea reflected in the popular fem- inist slogan "Sisterhood is Powerful" is extremely important in demonstrating the cohesiveness and commitment of the feminist community.
A primary function of ritual is to connect the in- dividual with the group — dramatically, indissoluably. In ritual the desire is to achieve shared meanings, shared reso- lutions, shared emotion, not to pro- mote private images or dreams. The specific rites which comprise many feminist rituals reaffirm relationship, belonging and identity. Ritual acts maintain a symbolic center of which all the participants are aware. This center is a place to which one can return for support and comfort long after the ceremony has ended. A relational or ideological bond cemented formally through ritual procedure is nothing if not enduring.
Being capable of membership in a group and finding ways of expressing that membership and acting it out are necessary for the success of any polit- ical revolution. Let us not forget that less than ten years ago Lionel Tiger told us "women do not bond"' 8 and in so saying implied women are incapable of creating significant political institu- tions. It is already evident that women have effected widespread social change to enumerate the accomplish- ments to date would fill pages since the formal resumption of the feminist movement in Ritual participation will no doubt stimulate further and deeper political change for there is, in- deed, a continuum between ritual and everyday life for feminists.
The female bonds established in ritual lend in- centive to the female bonds that in- spire social change. The use of ritual is significant as a source for the re- newal of commitment to evolving and transforming society as a whole. Many feminists in fact consider the ritual setting and experience to serve as a visionary mode. In feminist rituals which utilize peyote, a good portion of the night-long ceremony is given over to envisioning the future of the self, the group and the world.
In authentic ritual experience something, an ability to break through the present, is avail- able which can lead to discovery and creativity. Ritual is a potent source of invention because the participants feel the extreme intensity, sometimes the ecstasy, of openness to possibility and revelation. This sense of extreme open- ness and creativity is rare for women who have been traditionally circum- scribed by severe limitation, con- strained by custom, with no hope for a changed future. Another important consideration is the way feminist ritual purposefully im- parts information of a special kind, information which has been unavail- able to women and actually suppressed for hundreds of years.
I refer specif- ically to the ritual communication of feminine images, primarily the commu- nication of images of the goddesses. The suppression of the goddess in our culture has meant the loss of images which identify personal and collective power in women. The odas spirit-being has power to protect the owner's health, in return for which she must be giv- en a dance and new clothes every spring. It is much more crucial for feminists, for all women, to uncover and recover their imagistic heritage as represented in the powers and tales of the goddesses and to create new im- ages which represent women's recent emergence as many women in the plastic and performing arts are now doing than it is to prove the absolute historical existence of a widespread matriarchy.
I have no doubt that some matriarchies did exist. The important consideration, however, is not the fact that women ruled over men but that they "ruled" themselves and that they had culturally approved or at least culturally active models for distin- guishing their powers from others. In many ancient civilizations the fem- inine world was not as "anomalous" as it currently is. Women had access to powerful images and used them to order and maintain their particular spheres of life. One of the most important shrines in the pre-Conquest Mayan world was located on Cozumel Island twenty miles off the coast of the Yucatan.
It was dedicated to IxChel, the pre- eminent goddess of the moon, water, childbirth, weaving and love, who was equal in status to the great father god, Itzamma. Her shrine was visited by women from all over the Mayan world, some traveling hundreds of miles from Guatemala and El Salvador. Inside the shrine a giant image of the goddess served as an oracle for these women pilgrims.
The statue was hollowed out in back; a priestess would stand in that pro- found cavity and impersonate the god- dess, become a speaking image of the goddess and in fact imagine herself the goddess. To imagine is to make an image or become an image; impersona- tion of this sort was an achievement of relation with the goddess and a means of absorbing her powers. Images are sources of identification; they tell us who we most profoundly, most arche- typally are.
The Mayan women who vis- ited the shrine at Cozumel were seek- ing affirmation of their own powers primarily the power to give birth, to be fruitful and they received it through the pilgrimage itself the association with peers , idol worship intense iden- tification with an image through the blessing bestowed by the personified goddess, the priestess.
Much the same identification is sought and achieved in feminist rituals. Ritual is a special vehicle of commu- nication for feminists; ritual speaks a visceral language of restoration of sym- bols and provides an opportunity to utilize them personally. Sherry Ortner says that "Efforts directed solely at changing the social institutions cannot have far-reaching effects if cultural language and imagery continue to pur- vey a relatively devalued view of wom- en.
Dark Metal (Dark Tales Series Book 13)
If, as Vogt maintains, "Ritual perpetuates knowledge essential to the survival of the culture," 20 women are just now learning how important it is to their survival to store and transmit fem- inine knowledge through ritual means. Much of the available data on wom- en's rituals reveal the prominence of one individual as instigator or leader of the ritual.
This is not always the case as many rituals are performed without a leader, including rituals which follow a format and are repeated the same way every time, rituals which rely on group spontaneity, group meditation or chanting, etc. Nevertheless, a number of women in the feminist community have emerged as ritualists, the counter- part to the shaman in traditional soci- eties.
Most women involved in intro- ducing ritual performance, however, do not call themselves shamans or think of themselves as such; they are most widely known simply as ritualists or practitioners or witches if they ad- here solely to the witchcraft tradition. The comparison between shamans and feminist ritualists is instructive only in demonstrating that their goals in per- formance are similar and, to a certain extent, their conception of self is anal- ogous. If the ultimate goal of ritual experi-. A procedure must be decided upon in traditional soci- eties, custom determines procedure and followed correctly to lead the par- ticipants from one state of feeling to another.
Both the shaman and feminist ritualist make preparations and later facilitate the group's progress in the actual ritual; both are capable of help- ing transformation to take place if the participants will trust them. I am stress- ing here the fact that both shaman and feminist ritualist express a powerful sense of capability, that they can serve as links, as surrogates, that they can connect different realms of reality and facilitate change by embodying change.
Both roles are played by individuals who have changed and are concerned with enabling the change of others. Eliade says of the shaman: She who is now cured of the tyranny of oppression offers that new sense of well- being to others. A traditional shaman may become a "professional transformer" practicing his art as oc- cupation whereas a feminist ritualist may rise to the occasion of transforma- tion only once in her lifetime although many ritualists practice somewhat reg- ularly.
Still, the necessity of their in- dividual acceptance of their power to change is crucial to the ultimate effect of the ritual. An obvious similarity between the traditional shaman and the feminist ritualist is that both do their work through performing singing, dancing, displaying, holding, hugging and, moreover, the performance is quite often geared to awakening and stim- ulating the participant's body.
For both 24 ritualist and shaman see the body, not the mind, as the locus of transforma- tion. The body is our first and last out- ward reality; it defines and conditions our life experience and gives us per- sonal identity and continuity. Both shaman and ritualist take the body to be the clearest, purest expression of self. And it is that aspect of self which mustfeel change before the intellectual or soul self can change. A chant I used in a ritual performance called Seeing the Voice expresses the bodily concerns of the transformer: My hands Open the curtains of your being Clothe you in a further nudity Uncover the bodies of your body My hands Inventanother body for yourbody " The body is also recognized by both, especially by the ritualist as the means for making conscious interconnections and unions that were unconscious or suppressed.
Ritual, through those who perform it, creates a new body, one body made of many, through which can be understood and realized the extremes of fear and love, the truly political dimensions of humanness. Finally, the relation between the shaman and his participant community and the parallel relation between the feminist ritualist and her participant community bears notation. Richard Schechner maintains that "the deep structure of shamanistic performance is a protagonist-antagonist conflict by means of which the secret wishes of the community are exposed and redis- tributed.
The Shaman is the vessel through which all that is powerful chooses to express itself. And these powers are inherent in community itself, are the community. The work of both the shaman and the ritualist is to make available, clarify and intensify powers that are the essence of community.