(Essay 2) Gestating Thealogies Through Birth by Nané Jordan

Alone in myself with my baby in the water tub, the water guided me into a deepening trance of ‘open and give over mamma,’ holding and relaxing me in its fluid substance. I was a babe held in the womb of some Great Goddess, even as I held a babe in the amniotic waters of my own womb. And open I did. Instinctively my hands were working with each sensation, palms up and open, hands out of the water and raised, like a salutation to the Goddess herself, ‘yes I feel your presence Mother as I am Mother now.’ These actions were what came to me in the tub as I did what is known as ‘active labour.’ I would more describe it as a multidimensional dance of the universe, a meditation beyond meditations. I found myself hissssss-ing as each sensation built low down and then up along the sides of my womb. There was no mistaking this ssssssnake-like ssssssound that guided my body into birth, my palms stretching into an ancient salutation of forces greater than myself yet no bigger than myself.

Nané Jordan, Birthdance, Earthdance, 2002, p.

‘Thinking’ about birth: Some critical signposts along the thea-logical way

“Birth was at one time important in a symbolic way to theological visions, mostly with a view to depreciating women’s part, and rendering it passive and even virginal, while paternity took on divine trappings.”

(Mary O’Brien, 1981, p. 20)

Thealogian Carol Christ identifies how the Western philosophical and theological focus on mortality/immortality ultimately rejects and ignores birth giving (2003, p. 207). Gestation and birth is the metaphorical ‘blind spot’ of textual inquiries that focus on a singular figure of a male/paternal God. Thealogian Naomi Goldenberg calls this the “patriarchal lie… the denial of the womb that gives birth” (in Christ, 1997, p. 67). This lie, denial or ignorance of birth within the Western historical trajectory is rooted, “replayed, reenacted… and taught” (Christ, 1997, p. 67) in complex historical, socio-cultural and spiritual terrains of the human dialectic of male/female embodiment. Birth-giving capacities of women have been regulated and simultaneously denigrated in patriarchal family systems and accompanying religious traditions. Asserting the necessary physical materiality of life as having sacred dimensions, eco-feminist writers recognize the denigration of female, birth-giving bodies by pointing towards a dualistic and hierarchical equation of women with body-nature-Earth, and men with mind-culture-Spirit (Diamond & Orenstein 1990; Mellor, 1997).

Women's Building, SF, Nursing Mama
Women’s Building, SF, Nursing Mama

Drawing from philosopher Luce Irigaray’s Elemental Passions to reclaim a fluid logic beyond such binaries, Hanneke Canters and Grace Jantzen (2005) call for a “feminist revival of birth for a life of flourishing” (Anderson, 2007, p. 2). Birth, as an activity and experience, is inseparable from human culture and consciousness (O’Brien, 1981). In the words of womanist midwife and scholar, Arisika Razak, “birth is the primary numinous event. It is our major metaphor for life and coming to being” (1990, p. 168).

Gestating thealogy

Women's Building, SF
Women’s Building, SF

In modern day-to-day North American lives, actual birth-giving body/minds are largely regulated by medical and technological interventions. There is a dearth of religious and spiritual discourses to reflect the creative and intense female experience of actual birth-giving. Yet many women experience birth-giving as a specific embodied spiritual event (Lin, 2008; Maloney, 2006). The mystery is in the experience. Goddess feminism and thealogy draw from women’s lived experiences to flesh out the contours of textual, ritual, and liturgical creations (Noble, 1991; Spretnak, 1982). Through various understandings of thealogy, Goddess manifests as a force, a singular or multiple being, a divine “She”. She is a multi-aspect-ing, many-named, pantheistic, divine singular, immanently experience-able life-energy, deeply connected to living and everyday processes, organically interconnected to all beings and the Earth upon which we live. She fundamentally has a female/feminine core of gestation, blood and birth power, just as the agency of her energetic birth-power points fundamentally to who and what “She” may be. As thealogian Paul Reid-Bowen asks, “what kind of metaphysic… may be derived from a subject position that is, at least potentially, understood to possess the ability to give birth?” (2007, p. 51)

This essay is meant by way of an introduction—a fuller contribution seeks to gestate thealogy by:

1)      attending to women’s self-described birth experiences and stories—on their full spectrum from trauma to ecstasy;

2)      linking women’s voices to reformist social movements of birth activism that are holistic and women-centered, in for example: women-based midwifery practices;

3)      building upon literatures of women’s spirituality and Goddess studies wherein birth-giving and female blood mysteries are situated as multi-faceted feminist-womanist-mujerista-mestiza-indigenous (and more) sites of original and reclaimed knowledge and wisdom;

4)      recovering the meaning of birth from ancient, generational matrices and the wisdom of female/feminine imaginary;

5)      studying and re-claiming women’s healing traditions across cultures and societies, including realizing the meaning of female blood-power and the interconnection of menstruation rites/rights with birth rites/rights;

6)      reclaiming the names of birth through goddessing energetics and names that carry this life-giving and creative knowledge across time and culture – Shakti, Ix Chel, Artemis, Pachamama, Mago, Mari, Bemata….

A co-creative, fluid, relational, embodied philosophical territory for thealogy grows from such roots, lineages and lived experiences of bodied, female sacrality. To gestate thealogy is to re-value, restore, and re-story birth as a potent human act, symbol—a cosmogenic metaform—and a spiritually creative power of life that it so obviously is.

If birth were a temple

If birth were a temple,

my body is religion

and this small form

twisting out of me

is

prayer.

My cries

reach birth’s vaulted

ceilings,

arching like my back over holy

waters

crystal clear salt of amniotic  –

my womb  –   a blessing bowl

releases

her treasure.

(Nané Jordan, excerpted from Talking to Goddess, Ed. D’vorah Grenn, 2009, pp. 217) needs to be re-printed with permission from Editor

Selected Bibliography

Anderson, p. S. (2007). Review of: Forever fluid: A reading of Luce Irigaray’s elemental passions. Literature and Theology Advance Access published online on May, 24, 2007. Retrieved August 8, 2007 from htp://litthe.oxfordjounrals.org/cgi/content

Arms, S. (1996). Immaculate deception II: Myth, magic & birth. Berkeley, CA: Celestial Arts.

Birnbaum, L. (Ed.). (2005). She is everywhere: An anthology of writing on womanist/feminist spirituality. Lincoln, NE: iUniverse.

Budapest, Z. (1986). The holy book of women’s mysteries. Z.E. Budapest.

Cahill, H. A. (2001). Male appropriation and medicalization of childbirth: An historical analysis. Journal of Advanced Nursing. 33 (3), 334-343.

Canters, H. & Jantzen, G. (2005). Forever fluid: A reading of Luce Irigaray’s elemental passions.  Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Chesterfield, P. (1998). Sisters on a journey: Portraits of American midwives. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press.

Christ, C. (2003). She who changes: Re-imagining the divine in the world. New York: Palgrave MacMillan.

Christ, C. (1997). The re-birth of the goddess. Finding meaning in feminist spirituality. New York: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company.

Crawford, J. (2005). Spiritually-engaged knowledge: The attentive heart. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing.

Daly, M. (1979) Gynecology: The metaethics of radical feminism. Boston: Beacon press.

Davis-Floyd, R. (1992). Birth as an American rite of passage. Berkelel, CA: University of California Press.

Diamond, I. & Orenstein, G. F. (Ed.s). (1990). Reweaving the world: the emergence of ecofeminism. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books.

Eaton, H. & Lorentzen, L. A. (2003). Ecofeminsim & globalization: Exploring culture, context and religion. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Gaskin, I.M. (20110. Birth matters: A midwife’s manifesta. New York: Seven Stories Press.

Gaskin, I. M. (1990). Spiritual midwifery, 3rd edition. Summertown, TN: The Book Publishing Company.

Gimbutas, M. (1989). The language of the goddess. New York: HarperSanFransisco, Harper Collins.

Gimbutas, M. (2001). The living goddesses. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Goldenberg, N. (1979). The changing of the gods: Feminism and the end of traditional religions. Boston: Beacon Press.

Grahn, J. (1993). Blood, bread, and roses: How menstruation created the world. Boston: Beacon Press.

Grenn, D. F. (Ed.). (2009). Talking to goddess: Powerful voices from many traditions. The Lilith Institute: Napa, CA.

Irigaray, L. (1993, 1984). An ethics of sexual difference. Carolyn Burke & Gillian C. Gill (trans.). Ithaca, NY: Cornell University.

Jordan, N. (2002). Birthdance, earthdance: The power and passion of women giving birth, a pilgrim’s path to birth. Unpublished Master of Arts thesis. New College of California.

Lin, W. (2008). Birth art and the art of birthing: Creation and procreation on the ‘Äina of Tütü Pele. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of California, Los Angeles, CA.

Maloney, S. (2006). The spirituality of childbirth. Birth Issues, 15(2).

Mellor, M. (1997). Feminism & ecology. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Merchant, C. (1980). The death of nature: Women, ecology and the scientific revolution. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco.

Mies, M. & Shiva, V. (1993). Ecofeminism. London: Zed Books.

Noble, V. (1991). Shakti woman: Feeling our fire, healing our world. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco.

O’Brien, M. (1981). Politics of reproduction. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Rabuzzi, K. (1994). Transformations through childbirth. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.

Raphael, M. (2009). Introducing theology: Discourse on the goddess: Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press.

Razak, A. (1990). Toward a womanist analysis of birth. In I. Diamond & G. F. Orenstein. (Eds.). Reweaving the world: The emergence of ecofeminism (pp.165 – 172). San Francisco: Sierra Club Books.

Reid-Bowan, P. (2007). Goddess as nature: Towards a philosophical thealogy. Hampshire, England: Ashgate.

Ruddick, S. (1989). Maternal thinking: Towards a politics of peace. Boston: Beacon Press.

Shroff. F. (Ed.). (1997). The new midwifery: Reflections on renaissance and regulation. Toronto: Women’s Press.

Spretnak, C. (1999). The resurrgence of the real: Body, nature, place in a hypermodern world. New York: Routledge.

Spretnak, C. (Ed.). (1982). The politics of women’s spirituality: Essays on the rise of spiritual power within the feminist movement. New York: Anchor Press / Doubleday.

Tedlock, B. (2005). The woman in the shaman’s body: Reclaiming the feminine in religion and medicine. New York: Bantam Books.

van Teijlingen, E., Lowis, G, McCaffery, P. & Porter, M. (Eds.). (2004). Midwifery and the medicalization of childbirth: Comparative perspectives. New York: Nova Science Publishers.

An earlier version of this paper was first presented as: Jordan, N. (2011, March). Gestating theAlogy through birth. Paper presentation in Goddess Studies section, at The American Academy of Religion / Western Region Annual Meeting, Whittier, CA.

Read part 1.

Read Meet Mago Contributor, Nané Jordan.

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