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UGA RELI 4550 - Goddess Spirituality and Wicca

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8Goddess Spirituality and WiccaBy Wendy GriffinMy first encounter with GoddessSpirituality was in the late 1980s, when a large red-headed student in myWomen and Power class stood up and announced she was a feminist Witchand Dianic priestess, and invited the entire class to a ritual celebrating thespring equinox. Being somewhat leery, but definitely curious, I asked a col-league to go with me.We ended up studying and doing research with mystudent’s coven for over a year.I had read about witchcraft as an occult practice years before, but whatI had read was unrelated to either spirituality or feminism.The experiencewith the coven was different.These women were clearly feminists and be-lieved that, just as the personal was political, so was the spiritual.Women’ssexuality and gender politics were central to their analysis. They sawthemselves as liberating women’s souls and helping to heal women andthe planet from the wounds of patriarchy.There was no sudden conversion on my part, no Road to Damascusexperience, just a slow recognition that I was familiar and comfortablewith some of the ideas the Witches were sharing with us. It took sometime for me to realize the spiritual nature of their practice. I was not aspiritual seeker; I had been an atheist since my early teens. But I had been243raised by a spiritual mother who never called what she did “religion.” Ather summer camp for girls in northern Wisconsin, we would have Sundaytwilight meditations by the lake, silent torch-lit processions of womenthrough silver birch groves, and pageants of re-created myths around thecampfire. I grew up surrounded by strong, competent, beautiful, empow-ered women who were at peace with their environment. EncounteringGoddess Spirituality was like coming home.1Today I practice my spirituality within a Dianic coven and, at thesame time, I celebrate the Wheel of the Year with my life-partner, who,until he met me, was a “solitary”Witch.Although he believes Deity exists,for me the Goddess is a human construct, a metaphor that represents theWeb of Life that connects us all. One of the major tenets of Goddess Spir-ituality is that one does not need to believe in the Goddess to experienceHer. I do not believe, but I have experienced Her.THE ROOTSFor a young religion, the history of Goddess Spirituality is fairly complex.In part, this is because the practice today is made up of various distinctstrands that might even be considered a family of religions.To explore allof these and do them justice would take a book unto itself.2I have chosento focus on a very few threads that have made the most significant contri-butions to Goddess Spirituality as we begin the new millennium.The ma-jor element that these strands have in common is an honoring of a femalerepresentation of Divinity, a Goddess who is simultaneously both one andmany3and who is immanent in Nature. There is no one name for thesespiritual practitioners of this Goddess or even one everyone agrees uponfor the practice. Some call themselves pagans,4some Wiccans,Witches, orGaians, and some have no word at all for themselves. Sometimes thestrands are called Women’s Spirituality, Feminist Spirituality, Paganism, orWitchcraft. All four of these labels attempt to address specific communi-ties within Goddess Spirituality and none are without problems.The ma-jority of religions today are profoundly gendered, some enforcingtraditional gender roles, others transforming gender identity. Profoundlyspiritual women, many of whom are feminists, have addressed these issues244 her voice, her faithof gender within the context of their own traditional religions that do notrevere female divinity. Thus to call Goddess Spirituality Women’s Spiritual-ity may say very little indeed. And although women do outnumber men,there are men who call upon the Goddess and attend rituals in her name.The label of Feminist Spirituality is every bit as misleading. Althoughthere are strong elements of feminism in the practice and writings, thereare women who believe in the Goddess and are not feminists. They areuninterested in identifying as such, especially younger practitioners.This iseven more prominent among the male practitioners, as might be ex-pected. Feminism has influenced some of the strands much more signifi-cantly in the United States than in other countries, and even there somewho reap the benefits of feminism believe there is no longer a need for it.For the moment, Goddess Spirituality will have to suffice whenspeaking of the larger tapestry of the Goddess traditions in the West.Thetapestry is of a religion, a varied collection of beliefs, a family of spirituali-ties, a spiritual journey, and a social movement. In order to see this, weneed to examine the individual strands and ideas that go into the weav-ing.5I begin with Witchcraft, for though it is not the whole of the prac-tice, it is a major part and gives shape and color to the greater whole.THE CRAFT OF THE WISEThe milieu that gave birth to much of contemporary Witchcraft and pa-ganism can be traced back to the late sixteenth century in Scotland andthe founding of Freemasonry.6Like the medieval craft guilds, Freemasonryhad a mythical history and a body of secret knowledge that was taught toinitiates. What distinguished it was that it admitted members who werenot working in a specific trade, its historical claims were greater, and it wasmore concerned with the ethical and moral considerations behind Ma-sonic tradition than the trade itself. As Freemasonry spread to Englandand beyond, it became known as “the Craft” and began to incorporate de-grees of initiation. The initiations themselves grew more ritualistic, thefive-pointed star called a pentagram was adopted as a major symbol andthe four cardinal points of the compass were given esoteric significanceand employed in ritual.The eighteenth century saw tremendous growth in245goddess spirituality and wiccaFreemasonry, not only in numbers, but in elaborate rituals and rich sym-bolic lore as well.The nineteenth century presented intellectuals with a choice betweenan orthodox Christianity and the new science, where humans were sud-denly but a small part of a vast, mechanized universe.The occult offered amiddle path that promised to combine scientific experimentation withthe romantic appeal of “ancient wisdom.”7The British revival of ritualmagic began with the founding of the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia tostudy the occult sciences. Members of this


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