As discussed in chapter 1, Carol Christ’s essay “Why Women Need the Goddess” provided the initial theoretical impetus for this study: my naïve hypothesis was that like practitioners of Goddess Spirituality, CGS women need the kind of psychological affi rmation that the female divine can offer. For Christ, religious symbols are powerful psychologically, because “they create their inner conditions (deep-seated attitudes and feelings) that lead people to feel comfortable with or to accept social and political arrangements that correspond to the symbol system.” 1 Thus, religions that worship a male deity or deities exclusively “keep women in a state of psychological dependence on men and male authority, while at the same time legitimating the political and social authority of fathers and sons in the institutions of society.” 2 A religion centered on the Goddess symbol, Christ argues, is empowering for women since, among other things, the Goddess affi rms female power, the female body, the female will and women’s bonds and heritage 3 —the female self in society. While recent feminist studies in religion have challenged the suffi ciency of the model of oppression and empowerment for the explication of non-Western women’s religious experience, 4 and problematized the categories of “woman,” “sex” and “gender,” 5 this model remains infl uential among practitioners of Goddess Spirituality, and its effi cacy is supported by Cynthia Eller’s interviews with practitioners: “What the goddess does for women is to give them power in their femaleness, not apart from it, to make womanhood itself a powerful quantity. It is a divine redemption of femaleness.” 6 Shelley Rabinovich’s survey-based study of Witches and Neopagans across Canada (1992) showed similar results: “Neo-Paganism appears to be the melding of a new cosmology and axiology coupled with a vesting of power in the Self instead of in external religious institutions.” 7
In general terms, the validity of Christ’s argument regarding the psychological benefi ts of Goddess Spirituality has been borne out by the work of psychotherapists, counselors and workshop leaders, especially those who practice in the fi eld of Jungian/transpersonal psychology. A pioneer in this area is Jean Shinoda Bolen, a Jungian analyst/psychiatrist whose books Goddesses in Everywoman and Goddesses in Older Women use female
deities from Greek mythology as archetypes for women’s self-knowledge and psycho-spiritual wholeness. 8 Theologian and retreat leader Patricia Lynn Reilly’s A God Who Looks Like Me interweaves women’s life experiences and retellings of biblical and extra-biblical stories to help women discover the Mother God and the Divine Girl-Child within. 9 Jungian psychotherapist Kathie Carlson uses the Great Mother archetype as a means of transforming unsatisfactory human mother-daughter/daughter-mother relationships. 10 Another Jungian, Joan Norton, uses the mythos of Mary Magdalene to awaken “the sacred feminine within” women in therapeutic Magdalene Circles. 11 Sharon G. Mijares, a self-relations psychotherapist, uses “tales of the Goddess” specifi cally in the context of the healing of women’s experiences of sexual abuse. 12 Immensely popular books by Jungian psychologist Clarissa Pinkola Estés mine folklore and mythology for empowering female archetypes 13 —“women who run with wolves.” In her self-published autobiography, Sandra Pope, a “Healing Touch Practitioner,” explicitly cites maternal neglect and sexual abuse as catalysts for her healing visions of Mary Magdalene as Goddess. 14 As many scholars have observed, healing is a central theme of women’s spiritualities: “women hold both explicitly and implicitly that the most creative and compelling religious ideas-about the sacred, humankind, the world-are inevitably healing: that is, that however else they function, these ideas foster the possibilities of hope, persistence, and ultimate well-being for individuals and communities.” 15 Anna Fedele describes the Mary Magdalene pilgrims in her study as “wounded Magdalenes” who experience their spirituality as a means of healing memories of “incest, sexual abuse, male condemnation of female sexuality, fear of one’s own sexuality, miscarriage, and surgery on reproductive organs.” 16
My hypothesis was that CGS provides similar psycho-spiritual validation for some women. My preliminary fi ndings (2010), based on a limited number of interviews and published autobiographies of CGS practitioners, showed that, like the subjects of Rabinovitch’s study, several reported a history of sexual (or institutional) abuse; Rabinovtich reported that only 2.5 percent of the Neopagan women and 22 percent of the men she interviewed did not report some sort of severe childhood abuse. 17 Thus, among the goals of this study was to test the hypothesis that CGS is, among other things, a coping strategy of women with a history of abuse (sexual, physical, psychological or institutional) that offers them a sense of self-worth, belonging and empowerment they do not experience as offered by traditional, patriarchal forms of Christianity. 18
To avoid unduly biasing the interviewees, the fi nal questionnaire did not contain a question that specifi cally mentioned abuse, but the subjects of rape, abuse and violence occasionally surfaced, as the following pages will show. In order to explore this question further, the question of whether Christian women are attracted to Goddess Spirituality/the female divine as a strategy of empowerment in response to a history of abuse at some point in
their lives was discussed at some length in the Focus Group; their comments on this issue are integrated into the discussion below.