Part 2 of a paper presented by the author at the National Socialist Conference Sydney, 1990.
Feminism is not the only force pushing change to old stories, symbols, myths and images, but it is a significant one. And it has yet enormous resources, a labyrinth of archetypes and energy suppressed for thousands of years, gestating and complexifying, that have the power to scrape clear our eyes of the “learned cataracts”. Interest in the Goddess archetype/metaphor and in Her religious traditions have grown visibly and audibly in the last 15 years, here in Australia. For some She is merely a cliche at this point, but that is an inevitable part of the process, a hurdle that can eventually be broken through in the bigger picture. The vision of the Earth as Gaia, a living being, as Goddess, is one that is gaining in strength. It has at its core, an ancient and wholistic understanding of Being, that can call humanity into different relationship with itself and with the universe. But real change is not inevitable. Even people who think they have changed (because they changed a pronoun, or pasted in a goddess), have not necessarily. Ongoing feminist critique and reflection is necessary to ensure the healing of fragmented archetypes that have confined us all. We must continue to speak, to review, to suspect, to research. We cannot make assumptions, we are a long way from having arrived at some kind of real inclusiveness and partnership. The old well-worn pathways are not that easily given over.
It seems that there are a couple of clear directions pulling at the future of religion, as the feminist momentum continues to impact on it. And indeed it must be a worry for the religious powers that be. Those directions I describe as shamanic and pagan, which I will define in my own particular way, as follows.
By shamanic, I mean that individuals are “storying” themselves, knowing themselves and thinking from within their own skin. Shamanism relies on direct lived experience for an understanding of the sacred, as opposed to relying on an external authority, external imposed symbol, story or image. Each person must claim their own inner power, imagine or visualize themselves and use this in the service of life. Myth/story which arises from within draws its power from a realm of pattern “which is common to people of all cultures and all times”. The archetypes that arise, have done so since ancient times and have recurred across many cultures, in a diversity of form. This shamanic direction tends to come out of a feminist spirituality because here, women have learned to no longer take things on faith or presciption. It is a tendency of feminism to cure one from swallowing pre-scribed religion – all holy texts and myths must be reflected on suspiciously given their millenia of androcratic bias – and one is entered into the process of self-scription, of authoring, scribing oneself. Religion then becomes based on what we can feel, what we can know. We each then find “for ourselves our individual role in the matrix”, a way in which each being is part of the texture of the universal fabric. We are linked by a recognition in each other of a power that arises from within, not by some external word.
When we realise that we all contain within us that which we seek – a basic premise of the old Goddess religion, and mystical and shamanic traditions – there is no power base for religious leaders or gurus who claim an inside track or rights to knowledge of the sacred. What we have then as a basic resource is each other, each other’s stories – the Divine immanent in human community. The structural model is one of small networked groups, a model that has always been part of feminist praxis.
By a “pagan” direction that tugs at the future of all religions, I mean one that is connected to the Earth and its cycles, material reality, physical existence, body cycles. As women take seriously their lived experience, a notion of deity separate from the cycles and rhythms of physical being recedes, and the necessity of knowing and celebrating the Larger Rhythms of which one is a part arises. By paganism, I do not mean some kind of regression that would leave behind our hard won scientific knowledge. On the contrary, since in paganism the Divine is manifest in the physical world, and since science strives to deepen our knowledge of the physical world, these two share a future (as they perhaps did share a past). Science has already deeply affected pagan mysticism and will yet more in the future, for example: the spiral, ancient symbol of death and rebirth takes on a new level of meaning when we recognise it as the shape of DNA. Another example: the ancient notion of the Mother Goddess always spinning and weaving the threads of life is revitalised with the recent “superstring” theory of physics, wherein the smallest building materials are understood as waves or strings, and the universe is understood to be pervaded with billions of unseen strings whose different frequencies give rise to all of matter and energy in creation.
Re-linking with the “natural” world, our material reality, does at the same time mean the remembering of a primal harmony (which some peoples of the Earth have not yet ever forgotten). It means opening ourselves to a memory our bodies retain, of the primal elements of which we are formed. There is the hope that this kind of spirituality will unite us in our diversity, because all humans share this memory. There are no chosen people, all are children of Gaia, the living Earth.
An issue that I have not addressed which is commonly thought of, in the West, as the ultimate feminist future of religion is women’s ordination. While it is necessary to be supportive of this cause, it is also necessary to be aware of how this debate short circuits the deeper questions – delays the next steps. As long as feminist women and men can be kept bound up at the gates, assenting to entertaining the rules, the game can remain the same. Ultimately the change we seek is much broader and deeper – and we must get on, the hour is late, the need for real change is here. The urgent and sacred yearnings of the Earth and its people cannot be satisfied with mere cosmetic changes. What is required and what we are on the brink of, is a whole-system transition; not just the re-shuffling of already present pieces, but “the addition of entirely new pieces, into the whole”.
The future will be shaped by the vision we humans have of its possibilities and potential. We need to enrich those visions with “the breadth of many cultures and the depth of many histories”. We need “to take into account the whole of human history (including our pre-history) and the whole of humanity (both its female and male halves)”. The future needs the contribution of much more of our capacities, from all areas of human endeavour. Feminist insight, scholarship and quest has been and will continue to be, an integral part of provoking necessary changes.
© Glenys Livingstone 1996
1. Cook, Cynthia. Refractions. Womanspirit 23, Spring 1980, p. 59.
2. Houston, Jean. The Search for the Beloved. LA: Jeremy P. Tarcher, 1987, p.100.
3. Drury, Neville. The Elements of Shamanism. Dorset: Element Books, 1989. p.101.
4. Starhawk. The Spiral Dance. SF: Harper and Rowe, 1979. p. 191.
5. Houston. p. 12.
7. Eisler, Riane. The Chalice and the Blade. SF: Harper and Rowe, 1987, p. xiv-xv.
Read Part One here.
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