Voices from the Underground

(Book Reviews by Kimberly Berg)




by Shirley Ann Ranck

Cakes to the Queen of Heaven is delectable food for any woman who is looking for alternatives to patriarchal concepts of womanhood. Shirley Ann Ranck writes from a woman’s perspective on such subjects as women’s bodies, women’s spirituality, women’s sexuality, women’s power and how women unknowingly give up their power. She also discusses topics such as the mother/daughter relationship as well as women’s relationship to money and the power of money.

When it comes to women’s bodies Ranck notes that most women find their body falling short of the ideal body our male culture celebrates. The result is a general dissatisfaction by women who see themselves as too short or too tall, too thin or to plump with brown hair instead of blond.

From all these observations Ranck notes “we get a clear message. As women we are not okay as we are. There is something that is inherently unacceptable about our female bodies.”

Ranck compares modern and ancient women to help us understand the huge difference between how we see ourselves today and yesterday, thousands of years ago. In this regard our modern day personal concerns seem insignificant when compared to the high-standing women once held in Paleolithic/Neolithic times. In those days, long before patriarchy changed the world, women saw their bodies as sacred. They believed their bodies contained the divine mystery and holy presence that creates new life as well as the means of nurturing and sustaining it.

When Ranck discusses female sexuality she includes both the biological and sacred aspects. When mentioning the clitoris she playfully turns around the common misogynist perception of the clitoris as an underdeveloped penis to the penis as an overdeveloped clitoris. Whichever view you take the clitoris is unique because its only function is to create erotic pleasure. It’s one organ of the body that never stops giving its gift of pleasure for a life time.

Ranck unmasks a little known secret of female sexuality. Both the clitoris and penis are derived from the same precursor. In fact “all mammalian embryos, male and female, are anatomically female during early stages of fetal life”. Quoting Stephen J. Gould,

“The male route is a modification induced by secretions of androgens from the developing testes.” However, the natural uninterrupted course of development is always toward a female fetus. Of course this leaves open the question what caused the testes to develop?

During Neolithic times when the male contribution to reproduction had become known, the sexual act and the pleasure it gives was seen as a gift from the Goddess. It was said, “All acts of love and pleasure are My rituals.” And “I am that which is attained at the end of desire.” Treating sex as sacred, as a form of worship of the Goddess, was important when we understand that “Down through the centuries a ritual of sacred mating was performed throughout the ancient world.” Even after patriarchy was established, in Greece such mating was still very well known and was called the hieros gamos by secret mystery societies. Of course, later, under patriarchy these practices were all reversed. The Divine, who is now a strict male God, insisted sex was sinful not sacred. Nevertheless, Ranck embraces the old ways. She calls on the reader to “imagine a world where pleasure is considered sacred and pleasing to Divinity.”

Ms Ranck offers insights on how women can reclaim their feminine identity in patriarchal religions such as in Protestantism and Judaism (unfortunately, Catholicism is not mentioned although she does devote a chapter to Mary). She finds in Gnostic religion a rare kindred spirit where women were respected and participated in leadership roles.

Ms. Ranck believes ritual still serves a necessary function today. The role of ritual has always been important in observing religious holy days and acting out traditional stories. This is especially true when trying to move away from traditional patriarchal religions to practices that are more in keeping with feminine concerns and values. It’s also possible to invent personal rituals. This makes it possible to experiment, to find what feelings resonate with your inner being.

Ranck describes how a ritual is initiated by creating a sacred space. This is achieved by casting a circle. In a group this can mean everyone is standing in a circle, holding hands. The energy in the circle can take many different forms and can be further enhanced by dancing, drumming, or chanting. Such sacred energy can “empower us to act in ways that enhance our lives and give voice to our deepest convictions.”

Perhaps the most controversial topic that Ms. Ranck boldly exposes is the topic of witchcraft or wicca. She agrees with Mary Daley that women still suffer from the atrocities of the past when an estimated 7 million women were tortured and burned for their religious beliefs. Daley lays out the inescapable consequence of this carnage, “ Without knowledge or consent women are trained to continue the ritual murder of female Divinity, burning the Witch within and each other”(italics added). Ranck reminds us that when we speak of witchcraft or wicca we are really talking about the Paleolithic/Neolithic goddess religion, which is tens of thousands of years old.

To account for such long standing animosity Ranck writes, “There is only one word in the English language that connotes both women and power. That word is Witch. Consider for a minute that it was not magic or spells that motivated the killing of Witches, but the fear that they might have power—women’s power—different and mysterious and uncontrolled by men, the church or any other hierarchy.”

Shirley Ann Ranck continues by describing what modern Wiccan really is and always has been. The most important difference between Wiccan and Christianity, Judaism, and Moslem faiths is that in wiccan the Goddess is considered immanent, within her creation. In patriarchal religions a male God is considered standing apart from his creation. The difference affects how we understand and respond to nature and all the living things on earth.

Since the Goddess was believed to be present in everything she created, it was thought from earliest times that everything was sacred. This meant in the natural world there was no difference between what was secular and what was sacred: everything created by the Goddess was sacred. We can understand from this description that our ancient ancestors were from the very beginning a deeply religious and spiritual people who revered the world they lived in as holy.

It may take a renewed consciousness to see the natural world today the way Paleolithic/Neolithic people once did. We might consider modern Wicca a new religion but as already mention it is an ancient religion that was practiced for at least twenty thousand years; Ending only after the Salem witch hunts in the “modern” era. In this respect Ranck makes it clear that the evolution of humankind has not always progressed from the inferior to the superior as commonly thought.

As Raine Eisler puts it, we are experiencing a five thousand year detour. In Cakes to the Queen of Heaven ShirleyAnn Ranck tries to clear a path that can help us return to the main road. If we don’t find our way back to a time when (1) women were free and in full control of their lives, including spirituality, and (2) the earth was regarded as sacred, there may not always be a way back.

Return to Top


by Harper Lee (reviewed by Toula Drimonis
Published by Ms.Blog Feb. 23, 2016)

I first read Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird around the age of 10 or 11. As a voracious reader, the book was destined to cross my path long before any high school teacher assigned it to me. To this day, one of my most prized possessions remains a 1960 first-edition print that I occasionally bring out and leaf through with reverence.

When Lee died last week at the age of 89, I did what felt most natural. I picked up my treasured first-edition copy and gingerly paged through it, silently mouthing sections of it to myself. And as I read it for the umpteenth time, it dawned on me that Scout Finch—the strong-headed, spunky, routinely barefoot, utterly “unladylike” heroine in overalls at the center of the book—was the badass feminist role model a young tomboy like me once needed to tell her it was OK to just be herself.

By opting for 6-year-old Scout as the book’s narrator and main protagonist, the deliberate choice is made to place the focus on a young girl’s perspective and thoughts. She’s not the sidekick, she has the leading role—just the kind of message I needed growing up.

It’s also probably not an accident that, although Scout’s real name is a very prim and feminine Jean Louise, everyone refers to her by a rather—and quite fittingly—unisex name (nor is it an accident that Lee uses Finch as her characters’ family name. It was her mother’s maiden name and perhaps a way for her to reassert a matriarchal lineage most women are denied when they take their father’s and husband’s last names).

Nothing about Scout’s conduct is what was expected of girls at the time the novel was written. She manages to escape the boundaries of societal expectations by avoiding dresses and prancing around barefoot, throwing punches like a typical boy, climbing trees and swinging from tires, being as outspoken and opinionated as most men, and routinely rebelling against her aunt’s expectations and “the starched walls of a pink cotton penitentiary”.

“Aunt Alexandra was fanatical on the subject of my attire. I could not possibly hope to be a lady if I wore breeches; when I said I could do nothing in a dress, she said I wasn’t supposed to be doing things that required pants,” Scout complains, as she tries to navigate the tricky waters of self-actualization and societal pressure.

“Furthermore, [she said] I should be a ray of sunshine in my father’s lonely life. I suggested that one could be a ray of sunshine in pants just as well.” There is a delightful sense of tongue-in-cheek humor in Scout’s responses, but also the stubbornness of a person intent on remaining who they are.

Thankfully, her father, Atticus Finch, responds by telling her that “there are already enough sunbeams in the family and to go on about my business, he didn’t mind me much the way I was.”

In similar fashion, when her Uncle Jack, upset that she’s asking too many questions, asks her if she wants to grow up to be a lady, Scout nonchalantly replies, “Not particularly.”

Later on, when Scout’s brother, Jem, asks why Miss Maudie can’t serve on a jury, their dad informs them of the law prohibiting women from doing so.

“For one thing, Miss Maudie can’t serve on a jury because she’s a woman –

“You mean woman in Alabama can’t – ?” Scout angrily interrupts him.

“I guess it’s to protect our frail ladies from sordid cases like Tom’s,” replies Atticus. You can taste the sarcasm in that sentence.

Much of what still defines womanhood today continues to be centered on how women dress, behave, think, talk and interact. Almost 60 years later, Mockingbird’s messages are still ringing loud and clear—occasionally subtler, but equally limiting: Deviate from the norm and you will get reprimanded or cast aside.

But Scout Finch wasn’t having any of it. She was inquisitive, precocious, determined, cool and collected in a Halloween Ham costume, and she wasn’t afraid to be who she was and stick up for what’s right. She showed me I didn’t have to be pretty and perfect and pliant for people to like me.

Lee may have passed on, but Scout will continue to inspire countless generations of young women to be who they want to be and to be brave while doing it.

Return to Top

ANGRY WHITE MEN: American Masculinity at the End of an Era

by Michael Kimmel

Although there are many things that contribute to white men’s anger, Kimmel believes that white men’s patriarchal tradition of entitlements and privileges are key factors. The privileges that white men once took for granted are no longer considered viable in a democratic, constitutional society based on equality. It’s no longer tenable under patriarchy to claim that women are inferior to men or that men are superior.. This is one verity that men can not shoot down with rhetoric or a gun.

As a result many white men feel the ground shifting under their feet. They see their fate being driven by social forces beyond their control. They interpret the cause to many diverse and contradictory changes taking place in our society. Women, spurred by the feminist movement, are considered by conservative white men to be the most visible driver of such changes, such as the competition for “their” jobs. Not only women but minority groups, immigrants and blacks are also prime targets of blame.

For these reasons Kimmel places much of white men’s anger on the erosion of their privileges and entitlements that they have enjoyed under patriarchy for thousands of years. This is what Kimmel means when he calls our time “the end of an era.”

Kimmel identifies men’s anger for the loss of jobs not on women but rather global capitalism, corporate greed, over paid CEO’s, off-shore accounts, as the real reasons for changes in the work place. Ironically, it’s capitalism that white men support with patriotic fervor,.

Kimmel believes white man’s anger to be a class problem, not gender. Surveys of white angry males show that they come from the lower and middle class, conservative, rural areas of the country. Their anger is coming from the middle class who have lost their homes to Wall Street, their farms to corporate agribusinesses and their small businesses to box stores.

Kimmel devotes a chapter to white men’s relationship to women. He sees the problem of domestic violence not so much as uncontrolled anger as an attempt by white men to defend their sense of entitlement. Under patriarchy men are raised to believe they are superior to women and, therefore, entitled to do anything necessary to remain in control. If a man can’t achieve control over a woman, it means his masculinity is in question, he is not a “real” man. The white supremacists community and talk radio pundits complain loudly that entitlements no longer work because men have become sissies, wimps, and femininized. To avoid such humiliation men feel they must show they have power and the will to use force if necessary to preserve their manhood.

In researching this book Kimmel talked to many men who said they didn’t feel the power that was attributed to them. To explain this contradiction he realized that what they felt was the missing power they believed they were entitled to. In other words when a man resorts to violence, it’s his way to restore the power he feels should be his. Never mind the hurt or damage his action creates. After a violent episode he feels now things are right again, the way they’re suppose to be. He may feel guilty later but Kimmel observed that all the men he talked to excused their guilty actions by saying they “lost control.” On questioning them further he showed how they were really quite conscious at the time. His questions revealed the conscious decisions they made on how they were going to hit, punch or violate the person (woman) they were attacking. So the explanation of lost control is just another way of covering up feelings of guilt.

One cannot help but wonder how a social system like patriarchy can survive in a world that is slowly moving toward an equalitarian society. Men who cling to the old ways of patriarchy are beginning to look more and more like they’re living in an illusory world like Cervantes’s beleaguered Medieval knight. It’s becoming increasingly clear that patriarchy was never meant to fit neatly into a free and democratic society.

Michael Kimmel, Angry White Men: American Masculinity at the End of an Era,New York: Nation Books, 2013

Return to Top

Return to Top


by Allan Johnson

Allan Johnson admits that using words like privilege, power, racism and patriarchy can be dangerous because people take the use of such terms as a personal affront. Nevertheless, he uses these words liberally throughout the book because he believes they refer to important social forces that are much larger than individual personal behavior. As damaging as these forces can be he explains they are the product of social constructs created by men of privileged status in society.

An example of society as a social construct can be seen in the origin of white racism. Johnson reports that “capitalism played a major role in the development of white privilege and still plays a major role in its perpetuation” He explains, “Capitalists have often used racism as a strategy to control white workers and thereby keep wages low and productivity high. This was done in two ways. First, beginning early in the nineteenth century, there was a systematic campaign to encourage white workers to adopt whiteness as a key part of their social identity—something they hadn’t done before—and to accept the supposed superiority of whiteness as compensation for their low class position.” A second strategy made use of the racism card to control white workers by keeping them aware that they could be replaced by cheap black labor. In this way we can see how social changes were deliberately constructed to serve capitalist goals of high profits and low wages. Such changes can only be made by men with privileged status like wealthy entrepreneurs.

Johnson identifies two types of privilege: The first is “unearned entitlements.” Unearned privileges are enjoyed by the upper class. It gives such people many advantages over the lower class; yet, rarely will the upper class admit or even be aware that they have such privileges. Johnson gives a long list of advantages that white race, white males, heterosexuals, and people without disabilities enjoy but rarely think about or acknowledge. Unearned privileges include such things as job opportunities, quality education, quality health care, granting of mortgage and bank loans, and the right to own a home in a safe neighborhood. It can also include more subtle things like not having to endure offensive remarks, racial profiling, waiting in long lines, having one’s credibility/honesty constantly questioned, or asked continuously for proofs of identity .

Johnson also talks about oppression. “One form of privilege creates another form of oppression. . . . For every social category that is privileged, one or more other categories are oppressed in relation to it.” Johnson maintains that you can’t have one without the other. “Just as privilege tends to open doors of opportunity, oppression tends to slam them shut.” It’s important to remember we are talking about social forces not individual personalities.

Johnson identifies different social categories such as whites, heterosexuals, lesbians, gay, and nondisabled. If someone belongs to the white male social category and is admitted to Harvard and someone else belongs to a black male social category who can’t afford college, one man’s privilege allows him to live a higher life style than another man’s lack of privilege. In other words, a man can experience oppression if, for no other reason, he was born into a class of lower social status, such as the black race. In Johnson’s words oppression is a concept that “points to social forces that tend to ‘press’ on people and hold them down, to hem them in and block their pursuit of a good life.”

As we mentioned above the origin of white male privilege has its roots in capitalism. The principle of capitalism is to use money to make more money, in other words, a profit. It quickly becomes clear that the less a capitalist pays his workers the greater will be his profits. The problem with this is that the workers are also expected by buy the products being produced. The lower the wages of the workers the less purchasing power they have. The reduced purchasing power results in less sales and less profits and less economic prosperity for everyone. As a result capitalism creates huge economic swings and huge disparities of wealth.

The unequal distribution of wealth creates different social classes based on income. The most wealthy people become the privileged class who create the rules governing the classes below them. Since most institutions such as hospitals, police, schools, universities, and governments depend on the capitalist system to cover their operating expenses, all these institutions fall under the influence of the privileged class. For example, it is the privileged class that has created the idea that money is the same as free speech and therefore a legitimate way of influencing policy. (In a different more enlighten time this was considered corrupt influence peddling). Everyone knows that dollar bills don’t have a human voice yet turning dollars into a metaphor for speech, seemed sufficient proof that it does talk. This often happens when what the metaphor represents takes on a false but substantial existence of its own. Since the highest privileged class has more money than anyone else, they get to have the loudest surrogate “voice”. In other words, money has become the disguised puppet voice of a ventriloquist.

Capitalism also “shapes and makes use of gender inequality”. The cultural devaluing of women makes it possible to pay them less and use them as a source of cheap labor. Because of their presumed inferiority most of their work in the home is not considered work at all and is free and goes unpaid. This greatly strengthens the capitalist system. Johnson emphasizes that capitalism couldn’t succeed without women’s unpaid labor and lack of health and retirement benefits. Capitalism demands complete devotion of its highest paid workers. Such a committal of time would not be possible if there wasn’t an unpaid woman at home preparing meals, doing laundry and raising children for the next generation of the capitalist’s work force.

Although privilege is a problem created in part by the capitalistic system, nevertheless, Johnson reminds us that “people are the ones who make it happen through what they do and don’t do in relation to others.” He attributes privilege to discrimination; to how people, who are driven by prejudice, think and feel about people who are different. The consequences are pervasive throughout all the different layers of society. A black person has to live with racism every minute of every day. A woman has to live with gender discrimination every day of her life whither she is an executive or a housewife.

At the same time the privileged person often lives unaware or unconcerned about the consequences of prejudice while at the same time living in a golden cage of innocence. Johnson, however, points out that there are consequences for the privileged as well. For example, how does a “real man” who must always be in control form satisfying relations with women who he regards as inferior, weak and untrustworthy.

Johnson states that “the cultural association of heterosexuality with male power actually promotes male violence against women in heterosexual relationships.” Such a situation creates as many emotional problems for men as for women. Johnson lists many scenarios that describe how racial and gender prejudices negatively affect both the lives of the privileged and those who are oppressed by privilege.

When discussing a solution to the problems privilege creates, two ideas are foremost in importance. The first is that people have to take ownership for the problems created by discrimination. As long as the privileged deny their responsibility and do nothing to end the harmful effects of oppression there will be no change.

A second solution involves ending the habit of following the “path of least resistance".Life is filled with many choices. When a choice involves a moral question, the decision we make can either create change or a continuation of the status quo. Choosing the status quo means following the “path of least resistance”. In order to avoid alienating friends and family or jeopardizing a job, the path of least resistance often seems the best choice.

Johnson emphasizes the importance of understanding “how systems are organized in ways that encourage people to follow paths of least resistance. The existence of those paths and whether we choose to follow them are keys to what creates and perpetuates all the forms that privilege and oppression can take.”

The path of least resistance can be as simple as remaining silent when a sexist joke is told. Johnson warns, “no system of privilege can continue to exist without most people choosing to remain silent about it.”

How Systems of Privilege Work

Johnson states that all systems of privilege have three key elements: “They are dominated by privileged groups, identified with privilege groups and centered on privileged groups” He continues, “All three characteristics support the idea that members of privileged groups are superior to those below them and, therefore, deserve their privilege”. Our culture is permeated with images and messages from film and television to advertising and literature that shape our perceptions of manhood. We are swimming in an ocean called privilege or patriarchy or capitalism. The ocean is the system, it is all around us. Johnson argues that it is the ocean that causes men to act aggressively and competitively, not a personality flaw or inherent trait. He compares it to a game of monopoly. We play to win which means buying everything we can, not because we are selfish but rather because that’s the game (system); in other words, following the path of least resistance

Return to Top


by Sue Monk Kidd

Of all the reviews that I’ve written for this website this is probably the most important one that I will write or you will read. This is the autobiographical journey of a woman who began by what Ms. Kidd calls herself a “daughter of patriarchy”. She grew up in Georgia and was an active member of the Southern Baptist church. She was trained to become a model Southern belle, the Gracious Lady: quiet, smiling, obedient, devout, and deferring to the men in her life.

Her first brush with patriarchy came when she realized at an early age that being the first born girl in a family of three brothers wasn’t the same as being the first born son. For example her grandmother made it clear that she would be inheriting the china closet, not the oak writing desk she coveted. Being a girl weighed heavily on her mind because she sensed that she was of less importance than her brothers even though she was first born. She realized as a girl born into patriarchy, it was her destiny to be of secondary importance to boys and there was nothing she could do to change it. This was the beginning of what she calls the “feminine wound” that expressed itself in many different ways throughout the book and throughout her life.

Dance of the Dissident Daughter is divided into four parts: Awakening, Initiation, Grounding and Empowerment.


Kidd’s awakening began from a dream she had when she was nearly forty. She dreamed herself giving birth to a baby girl. When she held it up and looked into its eyes, she was shocked to see that she had given birth to herself, that she was both the mother and the baby.

Although she didn’t realize it at the time, the dream would be the beginning of a “profound new journey.” It meant rethinking her life as a “man-made woman”. It meant reclaiming her feminine soul. She explains when a woman “has lived just long enough to see through some of the cherished notions of femininity that culture holds out to her, when she finally lets herself feel the limits and injustices of the female life and admits how her own faith tradition has contributed to that, when she at last stumbles in the dark hole made by the absence of a Divine Feminine presence, then the extraordinary thing . . . will happen. This woman will become pregnant with herself, with the symbolic female-child who will, if given the chance, grow up to reinvent the woman’s life”. Not only her life but also reinvent her religion and spirituality if she discovers and follows the way of the Sacred Feminine.

Kidd continues with a very personal account of the excruciating journey she traveled. It meant giving up the heavy baggage of patriarchy, such as the patriarchal ideals of femininity: the Good Christian Woman, the Good Wife, the Good Mother, the Good Daughter—what Kidd calls the Gracious Ladies.

When she witnessed a full moon celebration of a group of dancing women on an ocean beach, Kidd realized for the first time how different she was from women who had learned to embrace their femininity with complete freedom and joy. This experience convinced her that she needed to give birth to a new life, one that would bring her into a loving relationship with her authentic, feminine self.

Such a path she soon learned would force her to consider making some heart wrenching sacrifices. It meant withdrawing from the Baptist church, giving up her successful writing career of spiritual inspirational magazine articles, endangering her marriage and continue being a loving mother to her family. It also meant that she had no idea how she would find her way into the unknown, into a more authentic life.

She learned to use her inner core of feminine truths as a touch stone for foraging her path into the unknown. Such a wisdom did not come as a revelation but “. . .little by little. I began to contact a feminine source within that didn’t come from patriarchy or need to be validated by it. The source was a deep, ancient-feeding place inside me, a place I hadn’t known existed.” She realized that what she sought “was not outside myself. It was within me, already there, waiting.” This was the beginning of her “awakening”. It invalidated the need to go to a priest, minister, Bible, father figure or pope. Throughout her journey she always tried to access her hidden, inner feminine wisdom whenever she was confronted with a dilemma that kept her from moving forward. Such feminine wisdom is often referred to as Sophia—she is found in the Bible and is sometimes thought of as the feminine side of God or his divine companion in the apocryphal literature. Kidd often invented rituals and metaphors to ground such discovered truths and make them feel more immediate and substantial.


“Initiation” Kidd explains, “is a rite of passage, a crossing over, a movement between new worlds.” The worlds are the patriarchal world we are born into and the world of the Divine Feminine. The Sacred Feminine experience “can be beautiful and deeply moving, even cataclysmic in its effect on our lives. But it also means a time of ordeal, descent, darkness and pain. Women who undergo initiation into feminist spiritual experience, Kidd warns, must give up “attachments to the patriarchal world . . . [which] begin to dissolve and die away, and we are immersed in the feelings that go along with dying.”

Kidd calls Initiation a “sacred disintegration.” Despite the ordeal, we know in our hearts “we’re following a soul-path of immense richness.” She knew that she had “waked and was entering a place where the old meanings, concepts, and values no longer fit. . . When a women starts to disentangle herself from patriarchy, ultimately she is abandoned to her own self. She comes to an unknown place where she must let the old way of being woman die and the new way come forth.”

As you can imagine a transformation like this can be hard on a marriage. Kidd’s husband was no different. She speculates how her husband must feel when “About five thousand years of repressed feminine wisdom and strength are simmering in the cells of her body and something way down inside him knows this, knows that if it ever gets loose, life as he knows it is over.” Although she still loved her husband , she is determined not to smother the flame in her soul for his sake, in order to be a good wife and daughter of patriarchy. The truth is, spiritual development in men is different than in women. For women “it is not about surrendering self as much as coming to self.” That is an important distinction that usually goes unnoticed in patriarchal religions that are often bent on undermining women’s sense of self. Kidd quotes Jean Shinoda Bolen remarking on how a couple’s individual spiritual walks should be navigated. “The need to share what we experience, to be listened to, to have what’s going on inside us matter to the person we are married to, to engage in a two-way dialogue, is the cry of one soul yearning to meet another.


When a woman has crossed over leaving attachments to patriarchy and the father world behind, she is ready to enter into a new world. For Kidd it meant discovering a religion that treated women as equals in the presence of the Divine. She was attracted to the Divine Feminine who was once worshipped worldwide 5000 years ago before the rise of patriarchy.

During a visit to England she and her husband unexpectedly discovered Avebury, which is even larger than the more well known Stonehenge. For Kidd the presence of the ancient Goddess seemed to infuse the entire circle of huge stones. She thought about how the Goddess had been worshiped here. Not only here but for many thousands of years she was worshiped in “virtually every culture of the world in the form of a female deity—the Great Mother Goddess.” Kidd realized that the demise of the Goddess had happened “not only historically, but also deep within the psyches and consciousness of human beings”—and especially in her own heart. She mourned the loss and also the expectation of the Great Mother’s return, “Now here in the stone circle I felt it even more, like a sad, sad sweetness, like a sorrow and a hope melded into one.”

At this point when a woman begins to feel comfortably grounded in the knowledge of her feminine spirituality, she can also begin to appreciate the strength of the male god within. For Kidd this was marked by the appearance of the god Dionysus. In Dionysus “we meet a positive masculine force, one that supports women and the feminine from within, one that helps a woman manifest her new vision and voice in the world.” Kidd explains, “The arrival of Dionysus is a momentous time in a woman’s life. It is when she knows that she is beginning to find completion and wholeness in herself.”

Kidd believes that reclaiming the ancient feminine consciousness of the goddess is one thing, balancing it with “masculine symbol, image and power together allow us to go forward and create an utterly new consciousness, one large enough and strong enough to carry us into the future.” Kidd approached this task by looking for glimpses of the Sacred Feminine within Christian tradition.

For example, one of the most intriguing clues is the phrase El Shaddai which is a name for God that appears 48 times in the Bible. It’s usually translated “the Almighty.” On close examination shad is a Hebrew name for breast and the ending ai is a feminine ending. A probable meaning, then, forEl Shaddai is “the breasted one” or God the breasted one.

Another example of feminine Divine is the appearance of Sophia or Wisdom in the Bible. Sophia is portrayed in the Bible as coexistent with God before creation. In one text Sophia became Christ (1 Corinthians 1:23-24,30 and 2:6-8). Looking ahead Kidd asks the question: “What will Divine feminine symbols create among us when integrated into the symbology we now have? What new ways of thinking, living, and acting will emerge?”


A new feminine consciousness grows, as we have seen, out of spiritual awakening, initiation and groundings. Kidd sees such a consciousness as:

First of all, a consciousness of we or relationship, “that we all are one in the universe.” She believes this can be achieved by seeing divine love as Mother love. The world has never tried this but, she believes, “if it did we would see a huge transformation of “fresh and unexpected intimacy.”

Second, a resacralization of earth and body. With such consciousness we come to realize that earth, matter and body are not just creations of the Divine but also manifestations of the Divine. In other words “the Divine coinheres all that is . . . “the Divine penetrates the whole universe . . . but also [is] larger than the universe.” She explains, “We see that nature is a dance and Divine Reality is the dancer.”

“The symbol of Goddess teaches us to embrace the holiness of every natural, ordinary, sensual, dying moment. Patriarchy may try to negate body and flee earth with its constant heartbeat of death but Goddess forces us back to embrace them . . .”

Kidd claims that “If such a consciousness truly is set loose in the world, nothing will be the same. It will free us to be in a sacred body, on a sacred planet, in sacred communion with all of it. It will infect the universe with holiness. We will discover the Divine deep within the earth and the cells of our bodies, and we will love her there with all our hearts and all our souls and all our minds.” This is how people actually interacted with the world in Paleolithic and Neolithic times. As Raine Eisler put it, patriarchy is just a detour from the original path we followed.

Third, a consciousness of liberation confers dignity and respect on every individual. “The Divine Feminine symbol creates a feminist spiritual consciousness which includes a passionate struggle for women’s dignity, value and power . . . no matter what has been done to women, no matter how long we’ve been on our knees inside, no matter, we will rise. We . . . will . . . rise’ ” (Maya Angelou, “And Still I Rise”).

“A Divine Feminine symbol acts to deconstruct patriarchy, which is one of the reasons there’s so much resistance, even hysteria, surrounding the idea of Goddess. The idea of Goddess is so powerfully ‘other,’ so vividly female, it comes like a crowbar shattering the lock patriarchy holds on divine imagery.”

Return to Top


by Elizabeth Dodson Gray


We must begin by defining terms. What is a conceptual trap? A conceptual trap is a way of thinking “that is like a room which—once inside—you can’t imagine a world outside.” It can also be thought of as a black hole—“once inside there seems to be no way of getting out or seeing out”

A second term that needs to be defined is patriarchy. Elizabeth Gray sees patriarchy as “a culture that is slanted so that men are valued a lot and women are valued less. . . it is a male dominated social system” For example if a woman cooks in the home, it’s nothing special, she is never paid for her work. If a man cooks, he is called a chef and receives a salary.

Gray sees that the defining character of a social and religious system is determined by who controls the myth system. She believes patriarchy existed from the beginning of time because men have always been in control of the myths and its corresponding social system whether it favored women or men, This would mean that men created both the goddess myths and then turned around and killed or replace those myths with male-favored God myths. From the anthropological evidence this seems highly unlikely to this reviewer.

Fortunately, Gray devotes most of her discussion to the present day patriarchal situation: Namely, how we’ve fallen into a patriarchal trap that doesn’t seem to have a way of escape. The trap is set by creating what is accepted as an indisputable mindset such as “humans are normatively male.” This means that women are not fully developed humans. This was Thomas of Aquinas’ view which was adopted by the Church and accepted for centuries without question, even to the present day.

Another conceptual trap is what Gray, quoting Peter Berger, describes as “the sacred canopy”. It’s the way we think about “cosmic or religious reality.” “Religion . . . legitimates our social arrangements [i.e.,patriarchy] by protecting them as our sacred and cosmic frame of reference.” One cannot question sacred text without incurring the condemnation of a male God. The sacred canopy “uses religious dominance of a Male-in- the-Sky tacitly to legitimate the dominance of the male in the order of things on earth.”

If men are considered the gold standard of the human race, then all their experiences define authentic reality and everything else is dismissed or completely invisible. Gray observes, “we can see this aspect of patriarchy in every academic discipline. We have a male theology, a male philosophy, a male science, a male psychology.”

Gray also discusses moral development from the point of view of male moral reasoning. She cites studies that show that men and women have different ways of judging what is moral. Men use reason to devise complex laws defining standards of what is moral and what is less moral. So if a murder is committed, we have 1st degree murder, 2nd degree murder and 3rd degree murder. Women, on the other hand, tend to make moral decisions based on deeply felt relationships. Their decisions consider how their family members, children, relatives, friends and lovers will be affected by their choice. This example explains how the accepted male patriarchal view of what constitutes moral reality (as well as reality in general) cannot be justifiably limited solely to a male interpretation.

Gray shows how men’s experiences are usually centered around actions, rationality, control, mastery, linear thinking and quantification. Such a narrow perspective has resulted in a raped earth, toxic pollution, nuclear destruction, violence, constant wars and potentially extreme climate change.

Women’s experiences are far different. As a kind of subspecies they are seen as weak, emotional, vulnerable, helpless, etc. Nevertheless, they are the ones who are nurturing and caring in a world of children, the sick, the aged and the homeless. “Women as tenders of the emotional fabric of life in the home have learned with practice ways of dealing with realties that are soft and elusive, real though intangible.” Gray asks, “Can we let women bring those skills into the male world? Or must men do it all themselves? Are men able to do it all themselves?”

Another trap that Gray identifies is the patriarchal mindset of ranking everything in a hierarchal order. In the big picture God is at the top of the pyramid followed by man, women, animals, plants, and nature. Each level dominates the level below it and is obedient to the level above. God is the creator and rules over everything he created.

This order gradually changed when Darwin introduced the possibility that man evolved from apes and was not created by God. Nevertheless, the hierarchal order still persisted with man now on top and women and nature below him and with God absent.

Gray says women see it differently than men. For them everything in the hierarchal pyramid is interconnected creating a web of life that is not ranked. Instead, all levels have a similar value and importance. In such a system no one need feel isolated or trapped.

As we have seen from these examples men’s consciousness differs from women’s consciousness. Gray comments that “If we desire genuinely to balance the human perception of reality, we must all—males and females—nurture the birth of authentic women’s consciousness.”

To bring about such a change in consciousness Gray sees us going through a transitional period in the years ahead. It will involve deep changes in the ways patriarchy has structured our lives and our mental ways of thinking. She sees this as a time when women will make important contributions to the full realization of an authentic reality which patriarchy distorted or has masked and made invisible.

Although the transitional period will be stressful, women are uniquely qualified to show us a loving, sympathetic path forward. She can turn the world of male dominance around by using her special empathetic powers that are “elusive, emotional, responsive and intuitive.”

In this age dawning of woman’s awakened consciousness a more peaceful, less violent, more earth-friendly world will rise from the ashes of patriarchy.

Return to Top


by Layne Redmond

When the Drummers were Women covers not only the prehistoric origins of the frame drum but also the prehistoric origins of a woman-centered culture which embodied the drum in its shamanic and religious ceremonies. Because of the magical powers that women seemed to have by their ability to give birth to new life, women became the first custodians of the sacred. The frame drum was used to convey the power of the deity, which in those days was always a female goddess or Great Mother

We know from the artwork they left behind that the frame drum was an important musical instrument since early Neolithic times. Redmond follows the development of these religious practices through the Roman period using a large assortment of graphic illustrations and pictures of artwork and sculpture. They show how the frame drum was used in many different settings both religious and group and personal entertainment. One illustration shows two women seated in a camel’s saddle with their frame drum. There are over 130 illustrations and photos with one or two on each page. Even after drums were banned from women at the beginning of the Christian era, women and angels were still painted holding frame drums during the Renaissances.

Although just about every page shows a women or goddess playing the frame drum, the text documents in excruciating detail the fall of women from their place of sacred respect and honor in ancient times. Instead we are left with women denied any form of female, spiritual expression . Women’s spirituality was equated with paganism and paganism was anathema to all Christians worshiping a jealous, male God. Since God is viewed as asexual, any form of sex including women’s body, which was so important in the old religion, was emphatically denied. Women were left as an empty shell of their former self. Redmond paints this picture as only a woman, who has shaken off the chains of imprisonment and learned to fly on the wings of the drums rhythmic power, can.

Redmond,Layne WHEN THE DRUMMERS WERE WOMEN(New York:Three Rivers Press,1997)

Return to Top

THE GENDER KNOT: Unraveling Our Patriarchal Legacy

by Allan Johnson


Allan Johnson is not shy about mentioning the increasingly forbidden word “patriarchy”. His discussion of patriarchy is a refreshing breeze. We swim in an ocean of patriarchy but most people are no more aware of it than a fish is aware of the water its swimming in. Although feminist writers have given the topic much scrutiny, they usually find other ways of talking about patriarchy without mentioning the word; not so with Johnson. He calls it as he sees it and sees a lot more than most people.

He treats patriarchy mostly from a sociological perspective. He sees patriarchy as a social legacy we have inherited. It cannot be reduced to just a personal or individual problem.

Johnson defines patriarchy as a society which promotes male privilege. By privilege he means “any unearned advantage that is available to one group of people and denied to others”. In patriarchy this happens when the society is, “male dominated, male identified and male centered”.

Patriarchy is male dominated when positions of authority are reserved for men. That includes the military, education, religion, heads of government, economic institutions, legal and judiciary positions as well as heads of household. When men hold such positions, they are seen as having superior qualities and women are seen as inferior by comparison.

Patriarchy is male identified when what is considered good, desirable, or normal are associated with how we think about masculinity. One example of this is the use of the word “he” or “man” to refer to both men and women. The way we describe the “ideal man” tells us the core identifying values of patriarchy. These include qualities such as toughness, strength, competitiveness, logical thinking, emotional control. . . You can fill in the blanks.

Patriarchy is male centered when the focus of attention in the culture is fixed on men. One way Johnson gauged this was to make a list of all the winning Oscar films for the last forty years from 1965-2003. Out of nearly forty films only four tell a story of a women’s experience and two of those are musicals: Chicago and Sound of Music. The other two were Out of Africa and Terms of Endearment. Other examples of self centeredness can be found in the way men seek to dominate conversations or the way men like to see themselves mirrored in terms that are larger-than-life. Most likely you can add a few examples of your own.

Patriarchy is also obsessed with control. Given a system that elevates half of humanity by suppressing the other half makes strict control an essential feature of patriarchy. Since the other half are women, it means that controlling women is the only way for men to maintain their privileged position in society. Under patriarchy men are expected to be in control at all times. This means assuming a thick veneer of invulnerability. It means being in command of every situation, especially those involving women. This, then, becomes a core element of manhood.

The inevitable result of patriarchy is the oppression of women. Traditionally this has taken the form of exclusion, such as leadership roles in religion, schools, government, etc. Traditionally, exclusion meant access to basic education e.g., learning to read or write. Even when advanced education is allowed, entering a profession such as a lawyer, doctor, professor or scientist often entails prohibitive demands.

Despite progress in these areas in recent times Johnson maintains that real progressive change is often illusionary. Token progress gives the feeling that women’s fight has been resolved. This is the same conundrum witnessed after the racial question was seemly resolved. After the civil liberties gained in the 60’s, many white people felt that race was no longer a social issue. Likewise many people like to believe that feminism has achieved its goals and no longer is needed. At least that is what the patriarchal community would like to have us believe.


In addition to an in-depth critique of patriarchy Johnson also provides a balanced critique of feminism. Broadly speaking he identifies feminism as “challenging us to live in new ways, to question assumptions about gender and human nature, and to confront the everyday, realities of male privilege and the oppression of women.” Basically, feminism is a study of gender inequality, sexism and privilege as it exists under patriarchy. There are two different approaches that feminists have used to confront these issues created by patriarchy. The first is called Liberal Feminism.

Liberal Feminism

Liberal Feminism believes that such problems as sexism and violence can be treated as individual behavioral issues that can be corrected by education and counseling on a case-by-case basis. They would leave the status quo largely intact. Issues of male privilege and gender inequality are seen as natural. Unfortunately liberal feminist don’t have a very good understanding of history. They prefer to pass off such problems as “traditional” ways that society has been structured. They shy away from changes that would create huge, unnecessary disruptions. Instead, liberal feminists have concentrated on making women “men’s equals,” especially in the work place. The feminism that we hear from the media is this brand of liberal feminism, which is more easily digested.

Radical Feminism

Radical Feminism takes a much more pro-active approach to male privilege and gender inequalities. They don’t believe that education will change patriarchal oppression and injustice. They believe, and Johnson strongly agrees, that patriarchy has deep institutional roots that can’t be resolved by simple cosmetic approaches. Liberal feminist target corporations with glass ceilings that keep women from moving up managerial hierarchies. Radical feminists question capitalism itself and its unequal distribution of wealth and power. The feminist who are regularly maligned by the media are promoting this brand of feminism.

Johnson believes that if patriarchy is to be changed “we can’t just focus on individuals. We also have to find ways to focus on the system, and for that we have to go to its roots, which is what radical feminism is all about. Liberalism is a crucial first step in the journey away from oppressive systems. But that’s all it is, because it can take us only so far as the system will allow, and in [patriarchal] systems of privilege that is not far enough.”

Johnson, Allan, The Gender Knot,(Philadelphia: Temple University Press,2005, revised and updated edition)

Return to Top


by Carol Christ

Carol Christ approaches the Goddess for her symbolic value. She states that the “simplest and most basic meaning of the symbol of Goddess is the acknowledgement of the legitimacy of female power as a beneficent and independent power. . .It stands in sharp contrast to the paradigms of female dependence on males that have been predominant in Western religion and culture.” She quotes Monique Wittig from her work Les Gierilleres:

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; remember, you say there are no words to describe it, you say it does not exist. But remember. Make an effort to remember. Or failing that, invent.

Although the Goddess is not mentioned here, the author is referring to an ancient time when the Goddess culture thrived— to a time “of joyous celebration of female freedom and independence that is created in women who define their identities through the symbol of Goddess”

Christ then asks the inevitable question, “Is the Goddess simply female power writ large…Or does the symbol refer to a Goddess ‘out there’ who is not reducible to a human potential?”

Ms Christ answers the question in three ways:

1. The Godddess is divine female, a personification who can be invoked in prayer and ritual.

2. The Goddess is symbol of the life, death, and rebirth energy in nature and culture, in personal and communal life.

3. The Goddess is symbol of the affirmation of the legitimacy and beauty of female power.

There is no one correct answer. When Starhawk was asked the question, she responded that it all depends how she feels at any one time. Such an answer may not pass theological muster but for women it’s important that their perception of the Goddess be “congruent with their experience.”

A second important consideration of the Goddess symbol is the affirmation of the female body. Western patriarchal culture has denigrated the female body mercilessly: if it is not the epitome of temptation and carnal lust as alleged in the Eve myth, it’s dirty and unclean as a result of blood associated with menstruation and childbirth. It’s also associated with nature, earth and dirt, the lowest forms of creation in the patriarchal hierarchy. The female body is also subject to the whims of male standards of beauty: sometimes slim, sometimes voluptuous; sometimes maidenly but, please, never old.

The Goddess symbol is characterized by a “joyful affirmation of the female body and its cycles and acceptance of aging and death as well as life” Such an attitude would provide an incentive to “overcome menstrual taboos, return the birth process to women and change cultural attitudes of aging and death.” Ms Christ also believes that respect for the female body would also overcome the spirit–flesh, mind–body dualism of Western culture. She believes that respect for the female body would create a respect for nature and the ecology movement because women’s body and the earth have traditionally been closely associated with each other.

The Goddess symbol also serves as a way of supporting and strengthening women’s will power. In our patriarchal culture men are commended when they can create out of sheer will power, whereas women are more highly regarded when they acquiesce to men’s initiative or unwritten rules of behavior.

In Goddess centered rituals women draw upon the power of natural and divine forces to realize their power to will changes. In this way “Goddess is a center or focus of power and energy; she is the personification of the energy that flows between beings in the natural and human worlds.” Ms Christ is careful to point out that women’s will can be just as ego centered as men’s. It’s important “for women to know and assert their wills in cooperation with other wills and energies.”

Finally, the Goddess symbol is important in the way it creates a shared experience. It can bring “mothers and daughters, women and women, colleagues and coworkers, sisters, friends and lovers” together to form a common bond. It’s important to understand that sisterhood is a very powerful force in the women’s movement today as well as in times past.

Ms Christ closes by reminding us that “as women struggle to create a new culture in which women’s power, bodies, will, and bonds are celebrated, it seems natural that the Goddess would reemerge as symbol of the new found beauty, strength, and power of women.”

Christ, Carol "Why Women Need the Goddess," in Carol Christ and Judith Plaskow, editors, WOMANSPIRIT RISING: A Feminist Reader in Religion(San Francisco:in Harper&Row, Publishers,1979)

Return to Top


by Riane Eisler

THE CHALICE AND THE BLADE covers the cultural evolution of human society from the Neolithic period to the present day. Raine Eisler sees the earliest forms of Neolithic, social organization as peaceful, equalitarian, and agrarian. Although women played a dominate role in public and religious affairs, she does not believe it was matriarchal. She rejects the idea that it has to be either patriarchal or matriarchal. Archeological evidence suggests that Neolithic society was basically structured on what Eisler calls a “partnership” model that employed female values of altruisms, caring, sharing, compassion, empathy and peaceful cooperation between the sexes. Eisler calls such a society a partnership as opposed to what followed later when men forcefully installed a patriarchal society based on power, greed and individualism. Such a male-created system was ruled by a hierarchal governing structure enforced by fear, threats and bloodshed.

For those who question what can we learn from ancient history the evidence shows that the original Neolithic partnership societies were far superior to what we have now under patriarchy. Instead of wars, brutality, corruption, and senseless aggression, Neolithic partnership societies lived in peace and developed a vibrant technological, artistic and spiritual culture. Eisler emphasizes “that one of the best-kept historical secrets is that practically all the material and social technologies fundamental to civilization were developed before the imposition of a dominator [patriarchal] society.” (Emphasis mine)

Eisler graphically describes the huge rupture that took place beginning around 4300 BC when the peaceful, Goddess-centered, agrarian enclaves in the Balkans (southeastern Europe) and Anatolia (Turkey) were violently decimated by warring tribes from Asia. They brought with them a fierce warring God and a patriarchal governing structure that turned on its head everything that the Goddess, partnership cultures had developed over many thousands of years. The greatest lost was the gradual replacement of Goddess worship, which had served as a pillar of stability and honor for women, for an aggressive male God.

With the lost of Goddess worship came the lost of woman’s standing in society and the rise of male power. Eisler traces the repercussions of this seismic shift, especially how women’s new inferior status was embedded in secular laws and sacred texts and institutionalized in courts and religious sects.

Eisler does more than examine our cultural evolution over the ages, she also proposes a way we can “intervene in our own cultural evolution.” The present patriarchal system only represents half of humanity. To be successful both men and women must be represented equally. That is why the Neolithic partnership culture succeeded and flourished whereas the present patriarchal culture is deeply flawed and, in the words of Eisler, beginning to breakdown.

Although patriarchy has been embedded in our society for thousands of years, it doesn’t mean that it can’t be changed. Eisler points out that cultural evolution like chaos theory doesn’t follow an uninterrupted linear path. In the past there have been periods when women were respected and given the freedom to become educated and express their creativity and leadership skills. The medieval troubadours of Provence, France and the Renaissance period are examples of times when such a shift in women’s status occurred.

Today we are seeing similar changes taking place thanks to the feminist movement of the 1920’s and 60’s. Eisler’s contribution to this movement is best expressed in the organization she founded called the Center for Partnership Studies. She believes that it’s important to create the ground work for a partnership society using the Neolithic Goddess culture as a viable model. It’s based on the premise that the only way of creating a thriving, workable culture is when both halves of society are working harmoniously together as equals. The fact that such a culture once existed for thousands of years proves that this concept is not merely utopian.

Eisler, Riane, THE CHALICE AND THE BLADE,(San Francisco:Harper&Row, Publishers,1988)

Return to Top


by William Irwin Thompson

William Irwin Thompson is a cultural historian who writes about a period of history that is not very well know by the general public. In THE TIME FALLING BODIES TAKE TO LIGHT he writes about a time before the development of a written language. One may wonder what can be known before written records where first inscribed on clay tablets beginning 3l00 BC by the Sumerians. Thanks to modern archeology and anthropology there are many clues from digs in Europe and the Middle East that can tell us nearly as much as a written record. Thompson takes the reader back to the first appearance of human beings in the Middle East and Europe, namely, the Late Paleolithic period 40,000 BC.

Thompson gives us a detailed description of the way men and women lived together peacefully in harmony with nature during the Late Paleolithic, hunter/gatherer period. He describes the important role that women played in developing a culture that satisfied their needs and the needs of raising their children. Most of all he emphasizes the importance of the Mother Goddess. One only has to take into account the proliferation of vulva and female engravings and female sculptures in the round to get an understanding of how important women were regarded in the earliest chapters of human history.

Since men have dominate the fields of archeology and anthropology, this fact has been either dismissed or glossed over by scholars in academia. One fine exception to this rule is the unbiased point-of-view of Mr. Thompson who does not hesitate to criticize his colleagues for their biased comments and interpretations of archeological artifacts.

One example of this practice is the use of the term “temple prostitutes” to define the priestesses who served the Goddess. Unfortunately, Thompson also uses this term so he is not entirely without fault. It should be understood that in ancient times sex was never regarded as sinful. To be joined sexually with the priestess who served the Goddess was considered a sacred ritual that was thought necessary to ensure fertility in women, plants and animals. It was also a way of coming into harmony with the divine, of uniting heaven and earth. The term “prostitute” gives the act a profane connotation, which discredits its original sacred character.

Indeed, Thompson observes that this practice of bashing the ancient Goddess culture was a widespread practice during the development of a patriarchal culture beginning 4000 BC. Respect for the Mother Goddess had meant honoring the fruits of Her creation: human life, the physical body, earth and nature. Everything the Great Mother had created was highly revered by female cultures. Later, in the formation of a male patriarchal culture the Great Mother Goddess was deliberately and forcefully debased in favor of an aggressive father, god figure. The physical body was condemned in favor of a non-physical spirit, an earthen dwelling was replaced by a dwelling in the sky, murder and military conquest replaced the sacredness of life and the sacred forms of Nature were no longer honored. Instead of men and women serving the Great Mother, Nature was made to serve man. Thompson examines the fierce struggle that defined this transition by describing in detail how the Innana/Dumuzi mythology and the Gilamesh epic relate to the social and religious revolution of that time.

Vestiges of that era may still linger today. Why do judges, priests, ministers and pontiffs wear robes in front of their court and congregations? Why do students wear robes at their graduation? I believe the practice of cross-dressing can be traced back to a time when men trying to assume the trappings of past feminine authority, sought to replicate the same image of authority held by the priestesses they had replaced. Evidently, this was not considered an unworthy tactic when used to usurp the ancient authority of woman.

Women were not without a powerful response to their reduced status in the newly formed patriarchal system. Gone was the hugely corpulent Paleolithic Mother Goddess and in was the newly minted slender Goddess that we see in Cretean, Greek and Roman statuary, along with diaphanous lace and prominent breast. Thompson describes the eroticization of the feminine as a response to the masculine militarization of culture, "It is no accident that Inanna, the goddess of love, is also the goddess of the battlefield, for the rise and fall of the phallic principle is most dramatically countered in bed and battlefield by the enduring [erotic] power of woman"

I drew upon much of the above information when creating "Legacy of the Goddess" for this website. For this reason I will not repeat here what can be found on the Legacy page.

Although Thompson discusses many divergent topics such as science and myth, the origins of language, and the sex habits of animals compared to humans, I will limit the rest of this review to what Thompson has said regarding the significance of the Paleolithic/Neolithic Goddess to our modern technological age.

Thompson sees the Great Mother Goddess as something more than an idea that was popular many thousands of years ago. The Great Mother was universally worshiped and revered for tens of thousands of years and still lives in our psyche as an archetype. Thompson explains, “The archetype, like an overture, sounds a melodic line that echoes on down from conception to death, from the dawn of history with the conservative, Neolithic, Great-Mother cultures to the dynamic civilizations of the male gods . . . .The Great Mother is not merely a type of figure from the Neolithic cultures of the Near East; she is an archetype.”

Thompson believes we ignore the archetype of the Great Mother at our peril. “The shadow which our technological civilization casts is that of Lilith ‘the Maid of Desolation’ who dances in the ruins of cities. Now that we have made a single polluted city of the entire world, she is preparing to dance in the ruins of our planetary megalopolis. When man will not deal with Isis, through the path of initiation, he must deal with Lilith . . . .When we have moved beyond the desolation of all our male vanities, from the stock market to the stock pile of rockets, we will be more open and receptive. Open and bleeding like that archaic wound, the vulva, we will be prepared to receive the conception of a new civilization. Perhaps if we are blessed by the old gods in the next civilization that will follow after this one has played itself out, we will come to appreciate 'the ancient and forgotten wisdom' [of women]".

Thompson,William Irwin, THE TIME FALLING BODIES TAKE TO LIGHT,,(New York:St Martin's Press,1981)

Return to Top

WOMEN OF WISDOM:Empowering the Dreams and Spirit of Women

by Kris Steinnes

WOMEN OF WISDOM is not just the title of a book it’s a movement spearheaded by a collective of women with a mission. Founded by Kris Steinnes in 1993,Women of Wisdom (WOW) began as a 7-day conference addressing women’s spirituality. The conference was a success and has been repeated each year to the present time.

Today it brings together each year hundreds of women who gather in workshops, share stories, dance, chant, sing and invent elaborate ritual performances evoking and honoring the ancient goddess. The evenings are devoted to a variety of keynote speakers who encourage the audience to become empowered by their intuitive wisdom of the spirit and to live their dreams.

WOMEN OF WISDOM is a collection of talks given by past keynote speakers at these WOW conferences. They include, but is far from limited to, such speakers as Riane Eisler, author of DIET FOR A SMALL PLANET; Marion Woodman, Jungian analyst, teacher and author; Jean Shinoda Bolen, Jungian analyst, psychiatrist, author and international lecturer and workshop leader; and Jean Houston, scholar, philosopher, and teacher.

Contributors also include a long list of WOW artists, poets, and song writers whose creative works are interwoven throughout the chapters. Two WOW poems by Libby Roderick and Shawna Carol can be found on this website at "Poems for the Goddess".

WOMEN OF WISDOM speaks for those women who believe they are at the forefront of a movement that will reshape the patriarchal world we live in. It’s a historical view and a world view. Historically, it draws its energy from an ancient time when women were creating a world based on (1) feminine values of social conduct and governance and (2) an all-encompassing spirituality.

It is a world view because they believe that it’s a change that is taking place in human consciousness on an archetypal level. Many of the speakers are Jungian psychologists who see the archetype of the goddess/divine feminine as re-emerging from its roots in the Paleolithic/Neolithic era.

Basically, the WOW speakers selected for this book seem to be trying to prepare women to step up and take their place in the new world that is evolving. It is a world where women leaders will be at the cutting edge of change and it will be guided by a balance of feminine and masculine values, not patriarchal.

For some people this may seem like an unrealistic dream. The truth is, it is a dream but one these speakers believe women can be empowered to realize: Not by force of a singular, masculine, ego-centric hero, but by a collective, feminine, intuitive power that draws upon a deep spiritual commitment in all areas of life.

Kris Steinnes, WOMEN OR WISDOM,(Seattle:Wise Woman Publishing,2008)

Return to Top


by Clarissa Pinkola

Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes is a master at telling a story. She's gathered a wide collection of folktales from her extensive contact with indigenous people from around the globe. Using her Jungian training, her main focus has been to understand the archetype of the Wild Woman in these stories. Estes believes that women's wild nature can be "restored by 'psychic-archeological' digs into the ruins of the female underworld." She conducts these digs by closely studying the underlying meaning contained in the folklore, mythic stories, and fairytales that are still a part of indigenous cultures through out the world.

Estes does not characterize "wild" as being out of control but rather in its original sense, one's innate integrity. Without this wild quality she sees women as only half alive, "women are without ears to hear her soultalk or register the chiming of their own inner rhythms. Without her, women's inner eyes are closed by some shadowy hand, and large parts of their days are spent in a semiparalyzing ennui or else wishful thinking . . . without her they are silent when they are in fact on fire."

In her introduction Clarissa Estes compares the destruction of wildlife in the natural world to the suppression of Wild Women: both are an endangered species. It's not by accident, writes Ms Estes, that the pristine wilderness of our planet disappears as the understanding of our own inner wild natures fades. She sees old-growth forest and old women as sharing an equal reputation--neither is very highly valued in our society.

Dr. Estes' interest in exploring the Wild Woman archetype has resulted in examining such stories as "La Loba" or "The Wolf Woman", Bluebeard", "Red Shoes", "Butterfly Woman", "Sealskin", and the "Handless Maiden" to name a only few in this collection.

"La Loba" is an excellent story in which we can get a sense of how well she is able to bring a story to life and make it resonate with our own life experience.

La Loba is an old woman who lives in the desert. She collects the bones of dead animals and brings them to her cave. Her favorite animal bones are the bones of wolves. When she has collected a full set of bones for a wolf, she "stands over the criatura [creature], raises her arms over it, and sings out. That is when the rib bones and leg bones of the wolf begin to flesh out and the creature becomes furred." She sings more and more until its shaggy tail curls up, until it begins to breathe and the desert shakes and its eyes open up and it leaps up and runs down the canyon. Somewhere in its running "the wolf is suddenly transformed into a laughing woman who runs free toward the horizon."

Estes explains that La Loba "thrives in the deepest soul-psyche of women, the ancient and vital Wild Woman." Her home is that place "where the spirit of women and the spirit of wolf meet—the place where mind and her instincts mingle . . . where the I and the Thou kiss, the place where women run with the wolves." It's a place between worlds of "rationality and mythos . . . A woman arrives in this world-between worlds through yearning and by seeking something she can see just out of the corner of her eye." Access is gained through intentional solitude and by practicing any of the creative arts: dancing, writing, painting, prayer-making, singing, drumming, active imagination, etc.

The wolf bones, she continues, are a metaphor for the "indestructible aspect of the wild Self, the instinctual nature, the criatura dedicated to freedom and the unspoiled, that which will never accept the rigors and requirements of a dead or overly civilizing culture."

Clarissa Estes offers further insights by explaining that "the metaphors in this story typify the entire process for bringing a woman to her full instinctual wildish senses. Within us is the old one who collects bones. Within us there are the soul-bones of Wild Woman. Within us is the potential to be fleshed out again as the creature we once were. Within us are the bones to change ourselves and our world. Within us is the breath and our truths and our longings—together they are the song, the creation hymn we have been yearning to sing."

Not only is Estes a story teller, her writing style often ascends into pure poetry. When answering the rhetorical question “What is Wild Woman?” her answer is, “she is the Life/Death/Life force, she is the incubator. She is intuition, she is far-seer, she is deep listener, she is loyal heart. . . She whispers from night dreams, she leaves behind on the terrain of a woman’s soul a coarse hair and muddy footprints. . . She is ideas, feelings, urges, and memory. She has been lost and half forgotten for a long, long time. She is the source, the light, the night, the dark, and daybreak. She is the smell of good mud and the back leg of the fox. The birds which tell us secrets belong to her. She is the voice that says, ‘This way, this way.’

“She is the one who thunders after injustice. She is the one who turns like a great wheel. . . she walks the deserts, woods, oceans, cities, in the barrios and in castles. She lives among queens, among campesinas, in the boardroom, in the factory, in the prison, in the mountain of solitude. She lives in the ghetto, at the university, and in the streets. She leaves footprints wherever there is one woman who is fertile soil. . .

“ [She lives] at the bottom of the well, in the headwaters, in the ether before time. She lives in the tear and in the ocean. She lives in the cambria of trees. . .

“She is in the present and keeps a chair at our table, stands behind us in line, and drives ahead of us on the road. She is future and walks backward in time to find us now. . .

“She lives where the dead come to be kissed and the living send their prayers . . . She lives on poetry and percussion and singing. She lives on quarter notes and grace notes, and in a cantata, in a sestina, and in the blues. She is the moment just before inspiration burst upon us. . .

“Our experiences of her within and without are the proofs. Our thousands and millions of encounters with her . . . through our night dreams and our day thoughts, through our yearnings and inspirations, these are the verifications. The fact that we are bereft in her absence, that we long and yearn when we are separated from her; these are manifestations that she has passed this way.”

Return to Top


by Jean Shinoda Bolen

Jean Shinoda Bolen is a feminist, Jungian analyst and psychiatrist. As a feminist she is conscious of the outward stereotypical forces that affect women’s lives. As a Jungian analyst she is aware of the inner archetypal forces that shape a women’s life. She writes, “The Jungian perspective has made me aware that women are influenced by powerful inner forces or archetypes, which can be personified by Greek goddesses. And the feminist perspective has given me an understanding of how outer forces or stereotypes—roles to which society expects women to conform—reinforce some goddess patterns and repress others. . . As a result I see every woman. . . acted on from within by goddess archetypes and from without by cultural stereotypes.”

Bolen believes that goddesses “are powerful, invisible forces that shape behavior and influence emotions.” When a woman “knows which ‘goddesses’ are dominant forces within her, she acquires self-knowledge about the strength of certain instincts . . .” that affect her relationship with men as well as with members of her family. Not only do the goddesses within affect our relationships but they also endow us with gifts that it is our responsibility to “learn about and accept gratefully”.

The goddesses that Bolen describes in this book are the six Olympian Greek goddesses—Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Artemis, Athena, and Aphrodite plus Persephone, “whose mythology is inseparable from Demeter’s.” Bolen divides these seven goddesses into three categories: the virgin goddesses (Artemis, Hestia and Athena), the vulnerable goddesses (Hera, Demeter, and Persephone) and Aphrodite, the alchemical or transformative goddess. Bolen explains that the Greek goddesses “are images of women that have lived in the human imagination for over three thousand years. The goddesses are patterns or representations of what women are like—with more power and diversity of behavior than women have historically been allowed to exercise. They are beautiful and strong. They are motivated by what matters to them, and—as I maintain in this book—they represent inherent patterns or archetypes that can shape the course of a woman’s life.”

The virgin goddess “represents the independent, self-sufficient quality in women”. Bolen uses the original meaning of the word, which had no sexual connotation. From what we understand from Greek mythology, Bolen explains, “Unlike the other Olympians, these three were not susceptible to falling in love. Emotional attachments did not divert them from what they considered important. They were not victimized and did not suffer. As archetypes, they express the need in women for autonomy, and the capacity women have to focus their consciousness on what is personally meaningful.”

The three vulnerable goddesses--Hera, Demeter, and Persephone—“represent the traditional roles wife, mother, and daughter. They are the relationship-oriented goddess archetypes, whose identities and well-being depend on having a significant relationship”.

Aphrodite is in a category of her own. Bolen describes her as being “the most beautiful and irresistible of the goddesses. She had many affairs and many offspring from her numerous liaisons. She generated love and beauty, erotic attraction, sensuality, sexuality, and new life. She entered relationships of her own choosing and was never victimized. Thus she maintained her autonomy, like a virgin goddess, and was in relationships, like a vulnerable goddess . . . The Aphrodite archetype motivates women to see, intensity in relationships rather than permanence, to value creative process, and be open to change.” ,

Return to Top


by Gerder Lerner

Gerder Lerner, a feminist historian, begins THE CREATION OF PATRIARCHY by reminding readers that “Women’s History is indispensable and essential to the emancipation of women”. Unless you understand what happened to women in the past, you cannot fully understand your present situation, or realistically plan ahead to a new future. Lerner admits that this is not a view shared by women in general. She attributes this attitude to “the conflict-ridden and highly problematic relationship of women to history.”

Lerner widens the general concept of history to include both the oral tradition of history passed on from generation to generation and recorded history that began with the invention of language in 3100 BC in the Middle East. The oral tradition was the main method of history-keeping during the time when women were at the forefront of technological and cultural innovations during the Paleolithic and Neolithic eras. The slow transformation from a matrifocal to a patrifocal society began about the same time that language was first used to record events and information. Since women were excluded from acquiring knowledge of the newly invented written word, a privilege restricted to the priesthood, women gradually lost control over their life and their destiny. Lerner meticulously traces this process of exclusion and lost control that occurred over a two thousand year period, starting at the very beginning of recorded history and the rise of patriarchy.

Even more important is the question of “the long delay (3500 years) in women’s coming to consciousness of their own subordinate position in society. What could explain it? What could explain women’s historical ‘complicity’ in upholding the patriarchal system that subordinated them and in transmitting that system . . . generation after generation, to their children of both sexes?”

Lerner makes it clear the established patriarchy “was not one ‘event’ but a process developing over a period of nearly 2500 years from app. 3100 to 600 BC. It occurred, even within the Ancient Near East at a different pace and at different times in several distinct societies.”

Patriarchy began when men seeking greater power in a matrifocal Neolithic society learned how to dominate women within their own group. This later prepared the way for men to apply such techniques for the enslavement of women of conquered tribes and, finally, the institution of slavery.

Although details of the transistion from a matrifocal, matrilinear society, in which women were empowered and highly respect for their ability to give birth to new life, to a patrilinear society in which men were in complete control, are not very well understood. Lerner speculates that Neolithic hunter-gathering societies were basically egalitarian in which men and women both “developed appropriate skills and knowledge essential for group survival”. Although much is said about man’s tool-making abilities during this period, women developed many skills related to mothering and child-raising including knowledge of plants and their medicinal and food-giving properties, basket weaving for storage, weaving and treatment of hides for clothing and warmth, etc. In a matrifocal society girls did not leave their mothers when they reached childbearing age. Mothers, daughters and children all lived together. Men lived separately in a lodge or spent much of their time on hunting expeditions. When boys reached puberty, they would join the men where they would learn hunting skills. In such an arrangement women formed a cohesive living arrangement that made them less vulnerable to attack. Lerner is reluctant to call this a matriarchal society because she is not convinced that women were in control or had power over men. Archeological artifacts of thousands of female statuettees in clay, marble, bone, copper and gold emphasizing a woman’s breast, navel and vulva indicate that women were highly venerated not only for their life-giving powers but also their power to ensure success in the hunt and bountiful crops. Such statuettes appear for thousands of years and are found from Israel to Russia, 30,000 alone in southeastern Europe.

Although Lerner is hesitant to attach a specific meaning to such a proliferation of female figurines, she admits that there is strong historical evidence to their religious significance, based on myths, rituals, and creation stories beginning from the 4th millennium forward. She states that the “ Mother-Goddess is virtually universal as the dominant figure in the most ancient stories.” She continues, “the cults of the Great Goddess were based on the belief that it is she, in one or another of her manifestations, who creates life. But she was also associated with death. She was praised and celebrated for her virginity and her maternal qualities. The goddess Ishtar, for example, was described as free with her sexual favors, the protector of prostitutes, the patron of ale-houses and simultaneously the virginal bride of gods (as in the Dumuzi myths). Female sexuality was sacred to her service and honored in her rituals. Ancient people saw no contradictions in these contrasting attributes . . . . Thus, in the earliest known phases of religious worship the female force was recognized as awesome, powerful, transcendent.

“The supremacy of the Goddess is also expressed in the earliest myths of origin, which celebrate the life-giving creativity of the female.” Whether it is the Egyptian goddess Nun, the Sumerian goddess Nammu or the Babylonian goddess Tiamat, all “these creation stories express concepts deriving from earlier modes of worship of female fertility . . . snake-goddess, sea-goddess, virgin-goddess, and goddess molding humans out of clay—it is the female who holds the key to the mystery.”

A change in the supremacy of the Goddess begins with domestication of animals and a better understanding of the male contribution in the process of procreation. With such an understanding of the male role “the Mother-Goddess [is] associated with a male partner, either son or a brother, who assists her in the fertility rites of mating with her . . . It is still the Great Goddess who creates life and governs death, but there is now a pronounced recognition of the male role in procreation.” From this recognition the Sacred Marriage (hieros gamos) and similar annual rites were celebrated widely in many different societies in the fourth and third millennia BC. It was believed that “not until the Goddess had mated with the young god and his death and rebirth had taken place, could the annual cycle of the seasons begin. The sexuality of the Goddess is sacred and confers the blessings of fertility to earth and to the people who through their ritual observances please her.”

Another change takes place in the 2nd and 3rd millennium BC when “a new concept of creation enters religious thinking: Nothing exists unless it has a name. The name means existence.” Lerner explains, “Naming has profound significance in the Old Mesopotamian belief system. The name reveals the essence of the bearer; it also carries magic power . . . What is important to observe here is that the concept of creation has changed, at a certain period in history from being merely the acting out of the mystic force of female fertility to being a conscious act of creation ” by merely expressing “the name”. (italics mine)

It’s important to note that this change in consciousness appeared at the same time when writing first appeared, and with it history. “Record-keeping and the elaboration of symbol systems demonstrate the power of abstraction. The name recorded enters history and becomes immortal. This must have appeared as magical to contemporaries.”

The movement toward developing abstract concepts, while marking an advancement in human thinking, made it possible to replace a pantheon of gods and goddesses to one God, an unseen, invisible, unknowable embodiment of the creative Spirit. It was no longer necessary for the god to be female since a male god could create just as well as a female goddess by merely voicing a name “let there be light.”

The reevaluation and dethroning of the goddesses and replacement by the male thunder god was followed by a similar lost in status of women in general.

When societies became organized around agricultural activities they became patrilineal in response to the greater role men played in plowing, tilling, and herding. In a patrilineal society women leave their mother’s family to live with their husband’s family. This had the effect of weakening the support system that she had enjoyed living with her mother’s family. This meant she could be more easily controlled by her husband and the husband’s family. As result she lost much of her former independence and autonomy. Because harvesting the crops required the hands of as many children as she could conceive, she was chiefly valued for her childbearing capacity.

When agricultural communities became urban centers and, finally, what is called “archaic” states, many of the former changes introduced by a patrilineal society were institutionalized by strong kings. “Women under patriarchal rule . . . do not decide for themselves, their bodies and sexual services are at the disposal of their kin group, their husbands and their fathers” They do not have claim over their children. “The father had the power of life and death over his children. He had the power to commit infanticide by exposure or abandonment. He could give his daughters in marriage in exchange for a bride price even during their childhood or he could consecrate them to a life of virginity in the temple service. . . A man could pledge his wife, his concubines and their children as pawns for debt; if he failed to pay back the debt, these pledges could be turned into debt slaves.”

Lerner describes in separate chapters the social restrains and privileges of female slaves, concubines, stand-in wife, and prostitutes. She also devotes a chapter called “The Patriarchs” which draws comparisons between Biblical law and Mesopotamian laws and the social position of women in Mesopotamian and Hebrew societies.

In a chapter called “The Covenant” Lerner draws attention to the fact that God’s covenant spoke only to men in the Bible, women were completely invisible. She quotes David Bakan’s highly original interpretation of Genesis. He makes the interesting observation that the metaphor of the “seed” to depict man’s semen, gives all the genetic endowment to the male. The woman functions now only as the passive receptacle for the seed.

In the last chapter Lerner sums up the history of patriarchy as being an historical event that took nearly 2500 years to complete. Its earliest form appeared in the rise of the archaic state in the form of the patriarchal family. She emphasizes that “patriarchy can function only with the cooperation of women (italics mine). This cooperation is secured by a variety of means: gender indoctrination; educational deprivation; the denial to women of knowledge of their history; the dividing of women, one from the other, by defining ‘respectability’ and ‘deviance’ according to women’s sexual activities; by restraints and outright coercion; by discrimination in access to economic resources and political power; and by awarding class privileges to conforming women.

“For four thousand years women have shaped their lives and acted under the umbrella of patriarchy; specifically a form of patriarchy best described as paternalistic dominance (italics mine) . . . The basis of paternalism is an unwritten contract for exchange . . . In this arrangement dominance is mitigated by mutual obligations and reciprocal rights. The dominated exchange submission for protection, unpaid labor for maintenance.”

Although it may seem counterintuitive, subordination does not always feel like subordination. Lerner observes, “Women always shared the class privileges of men of their class as long as they were under ‘the protection’ of a man . . . In a class society it is difficult for people who themselves have some power, however limited and circumscribed, to see themselves also as deprived and subordinated.” Not only has shared class privileges masked the effects of patriarchy for some women, Lerner sees the harm created by subordination on a much boarder scale. “Women have for millennia participated in the process of their own subordination because they have been psychologically shaped so as to internalize the idea of their own inferiority. The unawareness of their own history of struggle and achievement has been one of the major mean of keeping women subordinate.”

Learner identifies two factors that made it difficult for women to overcome their inferior status: educational deprivation and male monopoly on definition. She asserts that male dominance over definition has been deliberate and pervasive . . . “We have seen how men appropriated and then transformed the major symbols of female power: the power of the Mother-Goddess and the fertility-goddesses. We have seen how men constructed theologies based on the counterfactual metaphor of male procreativity . . . We have seen, finally, how the very metaphors for gender have expressed the male as norm and the female as deviant; the male as whole and powerful, the female as unfinished, mutilated, and lacking in autonomy. On the basis of such symbolic constructs, embedded in Greek philosophy, the Judeo-Christian theologies, and the legal tradition on which Western civilization is built, men have explained the world in their own terms and defined the important questions so as to make themselves the center of discourse. By making the term ‘man’ subsume ‘woman’ and arrogate to itself the representation of all of humanity, men have built a conceptual error of vast proportion into all of their thought.”

To overcome the harmful effects of patriarchal dominance Lerner calls for a shift in consciousness, “The shift in consciousness we must make occurs in two steps: we must, at least for a time, be woman-centered. We must, as far as possible, leave patriarchal thought behind.

“TO BE WOMAN-CENTERED MEANS: asking if women were central to this argument, how would it be defined? It means ignoring all evidence of women’s marginality, because, even where women appear to be marginal, this is the result of patriarchal intervention; frequently also it is merely an appearance. The basic assumption should be that it is inconceivable for anything ever to have taken place in the world in which women were not involved, except if they were prevented from participation through coercion and repression . . .

“TO STEP OUTSIDE OF PATRIARCHAL THOUGHT MEANS: being skeptical toward every known system of thought; being critical of all assumptions, ordering values and definitions. “Testing one’s statement by trusting our own, the female experience. Since such experience has usually been trivialized or ignored, it means overcoming the deep-seated resistance within ourselves toward accepting ourselves and our knowledge as valid. It means getting rid of the great men in our heads and substituting for them ourselves, our sisters, our anonymous foremothers. Being critical towards our own thought, which is after all, thought trained in the patriarchal tradition. Finally, it means developing intellectual courage, the courage to stand alone, the courage to reach farther than our grasp, the courage to risk failure . . . “The system of patriarchy is a historic construct; it has a beginning; it will have an end. Its time seems to have nearly run its course—it no longer serves the needs of men or women and in its inextricable linkage to militarism, hierarchy, and racism it threatens the very existence of life on earth.”

Lerner concludes by stating, “As long as both men and women regard the subordination of half the human race to the other as ‘natural,’ it is impossible to envision a society in which differences do not connote either dominance or subordination . . . A feminist world-view will enable women and men to free their minds from patriarchal thought and practice and at last to build a world free of dominance and hierarchy, a world that is truly human.”

Return to Top


by Gerda Lerner

Gerda Lerner was first brought to my attention by Maureen Flynn in her review of this website in Gallery and Studio Art Magazine.

It would not have been necessary for Lerner to write this book had it not been for eight thousand years of patriarchal hegemony that has “transformed sexual, social, economic relations and dominated all systems of ideas”. Most importantly, patriarchal ideas about gender which assume what is male is the norm and all-powerful and what is female is deviant, inferior and weak.

Lerner argues that this patriarchal perception of women has over the centuries formed the female psyche in such a way “ as to make women collude in creating and generationally recreating the system which oppressed them.”

Lerner points out that both Aristotle’s Politics and framers of the American Constitution recognized certain political rights of slaves but denied any such rights for women. . . . While women were to be counted among the whole number of free persons in each state for the sake of representation, they had no right to vote” (US Constitution Article I, 3). “The Constitutional issue of the civil and political status of women never entered the debate, just as it had not entered the debate in Aristotles’s philosophy two thousand years earlier” Lerner observes that “It was under patriarchal hegemony in thought, values, institutions and resources that women had to struggle to form their own feminist consciousness.” She defines feminist consciousness “as the awareness of women that they belong to a subordinate group; that they have suffered wrongs as a group; that their condition of subordination is not natural, but is societally determined; that they must join with other women to remedy these wrongs; and finally, that they must and can provide an alternate vision of societal organization in which women as well as men will enjoy autonomy and self-determination.” By defining feminist consciousness in this way Lerner broadens the term so that she can “included the earliest stages of women’s resistance to patriarchal ideas and show that this kind of feminist oppositional thought developed over a far longer period [then generally thought]”

The birth of a feminine consciousness unique to women and not defined by male patriarchal ideas was a very slow historical process. Lerner explores the roots of such a consciousness that go back to the 7th century AD. She writes that such a consciousness first began with an attempt by women writers to create a Women’s History. This first took the form of historical biographies of notable woman whose achievements were thought to be important enough by the female authors to be recorded and passed on for future generations to emulate. The most famous of these historical biographers was Christine de Pisan who in 1405 published The Book of the City of Ladies. However, even this popular work, like so many others like it, eventually sank into oblivion.

Rather than proceeding along a smooth transition from generation to generation in which one generation could build on the accomplishments of another, women’s history followed a pattern that was quite the opposite. Instead, it developed a repetitive, circular pattern with generation after generation of isolated insights of individual women forgotten and then repeated later by others.

This is lack of continuity is emphasized by Lerner throughout her book. It was basically because female writers received little or no support from male writers. In addition, most women were illiterate and could not form a solid reading audience who could support female authors. “Thus women’s progress into historical consciousness was doubly delayed—by educational disadvantaging and by a lack of knowledge of the work of their predecessors.”

Lerner discusses this fitful progress towards a feminine consciousness in chapters devoted to such topics as Mysticism, Motherhood, Education, Bible criticism, and Creativity.

Because women were considered intellectually inferior to men, every woman who believed that she had the ability to write had to invent a rationale that she could use to justify her authority to write. Since the first female writers usually came from convents where they had the opportunity to become literate, they used their mystical revelations to justify their credibility. The 12th century nun, Hildegard of Bingen, who often had many graphic visions, did not have to pretend that she had any special knowledge or ability to reason, she just knew. Because of her power to convince even popes of her sincerity, she “managed to create an entirely new role for herself and other women without, ostensibly, violating the patriarchal confines within which she functioned.”

Likewise motherhood served as another source of authority for later generations. “As mothers, their duty to instruct the young provided them with the authority to express their ideas on a broad range of subjects. Armed with such authority, they could give advice, instruction in morals and even offer theological interpretations. In modern period, women would reason their way to claims of equality based on motherhood and later even to group consciousness.”

Not only were women able to assume the mantel of authority outside patriarchal confines but they also were skilled at “transforming the concepts and assumptions of male thought and subtly subvert male thought so as to incorporate woman’s cultural knowledge and viewpoint” An excellent example of this wit is expressed in the 17th century writer Rachel Speght when she rebuked a male antagonist by claiming “She [Eve] was not produced from Adam’s foote, to be his too low inferior, nor from his head to be his superior, but from his side, near his heart to be his equall….”

In this clever way she did not question the Eve and Adam story; instead, she turned it around to serve the interest of women who have been maligned by male interpretations of it. This was a common practice of early feminist writers commenting on male interpretations of biblical stories disparaging to women.

Learner devotes an entire chapter to Feminist Bible Criticism because there were certain core texts taken from the Bible that were repeatedly used through the centuries to keep women shackled to patriarchal tenets. (Such as I Corinthians 11:7-9, where St Paul uses the Genesis creation story to define the man/woman relationship: “ For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man”). Because the Bible was considered divinely inspire, most people thought that no arguments could be brought against such scriptural texts and therefore had to be accepted without question. “These biblical core texts sat like huge boulders across the paths women had to travel in order to define themselves as equals of men.”

Nevertheless, this did not stop women from engaging in Biblical criticism. After the advent of the printing press, the Bible became readily available for scrutiny. Lerner remarks, “It is amazing to see how woman after woman engaged in such criticism without reference to theological authorities and without apology. . . . Long before organized groups of women challenged male authority, the feminist bible critics did just that.” Lerner describes in detail a long list of women, beginning with Hildegard of Bingen and Christine de Pizan to the19th century critic Sara Grimke, all who challenged the biblical texts used to subjugate women to a morally, socially, and intellectually inferior status compared to men.

Lerner concludes by summarizing the consequences of a history that ignores women’s history. It means that “the female questions, the woman’s point of view, the paradigm which would include the female experience has until very recently, never entered the common discourse.”

She continues by stating unequivocally “the period of patriarchal hegemony over culture has come to an end. Even though in most places in the world and even in Western democracies male dominance in major cultural institutions persists, the intellectual emancipation of women has shattered the solid monopoly men have held so long over theory and definition. Women do not as yet have power over institutions, over the state, over the law. But the theoretical insights modern feminist scholarship has already achieved have the power to shatter the patriarchal paradigm.

“More than thirteen hundred years of individual struggles, disappointments and persistence have brought women to the historic moment when we can reclaim the freedom of our minds as we reclaim our past. The millennia of women’s pre-history are at an end. We stand at the beginning of a new epoch in the history of humankind’s thought, as we recognize that sex is irrelevant to thought, that gender is a social construct and that woman, like man, makes and defines history.”

Return to Top


by Irshad Manji

Irshad Manji is a Muslim woman who immigrated to Canada from Uganda, Africa with her parents at the age of four. That was in 1972, when Idi Amin had declared Uganda was for Blacks only.

While growing up in Richmond, a suburb of Vancouver, she experienced both the Muslim and non-Muslim world. In order to take advantage of free babysitting, her father first brought her to the Rose of Sharon Baptist Church where she won the Most Promising Christain of the Year Award at age eight.

Her father was not too pleased with such an honor and immediately had her placed in a ijthad Islamic religious school. From nine to fourteen she spent every Saturday at the madressa learning how to be an obedient Muslim girl. This meant reciting the Koran in Arabic and not asking questions, like “why can’t girls lead prayer?”

On the other hand, she learned that the multicultural shopping mall and her high school “could accommodate just about anybody who expressed initiative”. In tenth grade she ran for student body president and was elected.

At fourteen Irshad asked one to many questions at the madressa and was given the ultimatum “either you believe or get out. And if you get out, get out for good”. She left shouting in defiance, “Jesus Christ”.

One may wonder why “after my expulsion from the madressa I didn’t damn the whole religion and celebrating my ‘emancipated’ North American self?” The truth is, observed Irshad, “most Muslims are Muslims because we’re born that way. It’s ‘who we are’ ”

Instead of rejecting Islam outright, she calls herself a Muslim “refusenik”. She has rejected what Islam is today and is in search of an Islam that was at one time more tolerant and accommodating.

What follows is a bold, detailed, carefully thought out examination of Islam from the perspective of an intellectually honest and inquiring Muslim woman.

In her search for a more benevolent Islam Inshad received an email introducing her to an Islamic custom called ijthad (pronounced IJ-tee-had). Ijthad is an Islamic custom that allowed for independent thinking within the Muslim community. It was in this spirit that a cultural renaissance occurred during Islam’s Golden Age between the 8-13 Century. During this time the Koran could be debated (including the role of men and women), libraries and religious schools were built, advances in astronomy and mathematics were made and the ancient classical texts were translated into Arabic.

It was not until the Islamic empire began to decline that ijthad fell out of favor. At this time a consensus was reached amongst religious scholars to freeze all debate within Islam. This was thought necessary to guard against the threat of shisms that were beginning to develop in the Islamic world. Irshad comments that “we in the 21st century live with the consequence of this thousand year old strategy to keep the empire from imploding”. As a result such codes as Sharia law, formulated by “classical jurist” during the time of empire, are now regarded as holy and not open to question.

Irshad attributes many of the codes of behavior institutionalized in Sharia Law to what she calls, “desert tribalism”. However, to a Western mind Muslim issues of gender governing female behavior and dress, created ostensibly to preserve women’s honor and chasity, seem to be nothing more than an extreme form of patriarchy. Interestingly, Irshad rarely uses the term patriarchy to define the problem, probably because she’s spreading her net beyond gender to include Islamic racial and religious intolerance, as well. This includes what she calls “Jew bashing”, which is endemic in the Muslim world as she sees it.

Irshad’s hope for the future of Islam rest in the revival of the discarded tradition of 12th Century ijthad. She believes that Islamic women should be in the forefront of such a movement. She emphasizes that this can only happen when women feel empowered and that empowerment begins when women are economically free to take control of their lives. Since Muslims have traditionally been skilled in the art of trade and commerce, Isrshad suggest that women become business people. Using the proven micro-loan formula pioneered by Muhammad Yunnis in the 1980s, women would be encouraged to start their own businesses. Aside from empowerment, Irshad believes this is a far better way to preserve a woman’s honor and dignity than depending on a man to do it for her.

To make ijthad workable, Irshad insists that women must also become educated. This includes study of the Koran. Since the Koran, like the Bible, can be used to justify many different points-of-view, women will always be held hostage to a particular reading if they can’t counter with an alternate text. Irshad assures us there are plenty of alternate texts to choose from.

The third important ingredient to implementing ijthad is the media. Irshad envisions a coalition of Muslim and non-Muslim endowed women in the Islamic world owning and managing local TV stations, using the Oprah Winfrey model. Or, alternatively, begin by using “the tried and true” radio broadcast. Radio would be a better way to begin because it would “protect identities in the early years”. Irshad knows the power of the media, she has her own TV program.

Considering the plight of Salman Rushdie, Irshad Manji is a very courageous woman. She travels the world delivering her message to anyone who will listen. She is thankful for the freedoms she enjoys in the West that gives her the opportunity to speak with an open mind and travel wherever people will listen. She also reaches a large audience at her website: www.muslim-refusenik.com

On her website you can find translations of her book in three different languages which can be downloaded. They include Arabic, Urdu and Persian. Altogether, TROUBLE WITH ISLAM TODAY has been translated into 16 different languages.

Return to Top


by Starhawk

THE SPIRAL DANCE by Starhawk has been in publication for over 25 years and has probably been read by many of the viewers of ISISRISING. Nevertheless, I feel that it should be reviewed here for the benefit of those who have yet to make acquaintance with this very important milestone in feminine/feminist literature. But also because this is a Goddess site and THE SPIRAL DANCE is a superb affirmation of the Goddess tradition.

Although Starhawk emphasizes the important of the Goddess for both women and men, she does not exclude the importance of the God. Throughout the book she balances female and male aspects of the Goddesss/God as well as in our own personalities and behavior. She says that she no longer believes that men and women can be stereotyped according to gender: women can be as aggressive as men and men can be as gentle as women.

In the chapter “Witchcraft as Goddess Religion” Starhawk writes: “The importance of the Goddess symbol for women cannot be overstressed. The image of the Goddess inspires women to see ourselves as divine, our bodies as sacred, the changing phases of our lives as holy, our aggression as healthy, our anger as purifying, and our power to nurture and create, but also to limit and destroy when necessary, as the very force that sustains all life. Through the Goddess, we can discover our strength, enlighten our minds, own our bodies, and celebrate our emotions. We can move beyond narrow, constricting roles and become whole.”

Starhawk continues by calling attention the importance of the Goddess for men. “The oppression of men in Father God-ruled patriarchy is perhaps less obvious but no less tragic than that of women. Men are encouraged to identify with a model no human being can successfully emulate: to be minirulers of narrow universes [the family, business, church] . . . Men lose touch with their feelings and their bodies, becoming the ‘successful male zombies’ described by Herb Goldberg in THE HAZARDS OF BEING MALE.” As opposed to the all-male God, “The symbol of the Goddess allows men to experience and integrate the feminine aspect of self. The Goddess does not exclude the male; She contains him, as a pregnant woman contains a male child. Her own male aspect embodies both the solar light of the intellect and wild, untamed animal energy.”

The Goddess religion also gives us a different view of the natural world. “The image of God outside of nature has given us a rationale for our own destruction of the natural order and justified our plunder of the earth’s resources. We have attempted to ‘conquer’ nature as we have tried to conquer sin . . . The model of the Goddess who is immanent in nature, fosters respect for the sacredness of all living things.”

Starhawk describes in Chapter 5 the many different aspects of the Goddess and how they relate to our present worldview. She strongly believes that the ancient Goddess is as relevant to us today as she was thousands of years ago. “The symbolism of the Goddess has taken on an electrifying power for modern women. The rediscovery of the ancient matrifocal civilizations has given us a deep sense of pride in woman’s ability to create and sustain culture. It has exposed the falsehoods of patriarchal history, and given us models of female strength and authority. Once again in today’s world, we recognize the Goddess—ancient and primeval; the first of deities; patroness of the Stone Age hunt and of the first sowers of seeds; under whose guidance the herd were tamed, the healing herbs first discovered; in whose image the first works of art were created; for whom the standing stones were raised; who was the inspiration of song and poetry.”

When asked if she believes in the Goddess, her reply was “Do you believe in rocks?” She explains, “The phrase “believe in” itself implies that we cannot know the Goddess, that She is somehow intangible, incomprehensible . . . In the Craft, [Wicca] we to do not believe in the Goddess—we connect with Her; through the moon, the stars, the ocean, the earth, through trees, animals, through other human beings, through ourselves. She is here. She is within us all.” In other words one does not have to believe in something that you can see, touch and feel with your hands and eyes. That is the difference between an immanent Goddess and a transcendent God.

Starhawk continues with a study of “The Charge of the Goddess” (which can be read in Poems for the Goddess) to help the reader more fully comprehend the Goddess as understood by Wicca and the pagan community. For example, the opening line, When- ever you have need of anything, she explains, “refers to both spiritual and material needs. In Witchcraft, there is no separation. The Goddess is manifest in the food we eat, the people we love, the work we do, the homes in which we live. It is not considered ignoble to ask for needed goods and comforts.” Again, as a sign that you are free you shall be naked in your rites is understood to mean “the naked body represents truth, the truth that goes deeper than social custom.” The line, For My law is love unto all things, she comments, “[love] includes passionate sexual love, the warm affection of friends, the fierce protective love of mother for child, the deep comradeship of the coven. There is nothing amorphous or superficial about love in Goddess religion; it is always specific, directed toward real individuals, not vague concepts of humanity.”

In addition to providing a comprehensive defense of the Goddess, Starhawk also includes in THE SPIRAL DANCE detailed information that shows the reader how the Goddess religion is practiced in wicca. She describes many of the rituals, invocations, initiation, spells, magic, the different forms of subtle energy and how to work with them. In this regard the most fascinating chapters describe how to induce a trance state and how to raise the cone of power. Each chapter is replete with exercises that the reader can practice to experience the altered states she describes.

Let me conclude by quoting the closing paragraph from the chapter “Witchcraft as Goddess Religion”

Mother Goddess is reawakening, and we can begin to recover our primal birthright, the sheer, intoxicating joy of being alive. We can open new eyes and see that there is nothing to be saved from no struggle of life against the universe, no God outside the world to be feared and obeyed; only the Goddess, the Mother, the turning spiral that whirls us in and out of existence, whose winking eye is the pulse of being—birth, death, rebirth--- whose laughter bubbles and courses through all things and who is found only through love; love of trees, of stones, of sky and clouds, of scented blossoms and thundering waves; of all that runs and flies and swims and crawls on her face; through love of ourselves; life-dissolving world-creating orgasmic love of each other; each of us unique and natural as a snowflake, each of us our own star, her Child, her lover, her beloved, her Self.”

Return to Top


by Ashley Montagu

Ashley Montagu believes that women have been the main civilizing force in the world since the dawn of the human race. He attributes this drive to create a humane world to a woman's maternal, mother-child relationship. He writes, "The maternalizing influences of being a mother have, from the very beginning of the human species, made the female the more humane of the sexes. The love of a mother for her child is the basic patent and model for all human relationships."

The mother-child relationship has set women in a unique position in the evolutionary development of the human race. "Because women have had to be unselfish, forbearing, self-sacrificing, and maternal, they possess a deeper understanding than men of what it means to be human. . . .By comparison with the deep involvement of women in living, men appear to be only superficially engaged."

From earliest times when women had been learning lessons in cooperative, altruistic behavior, men gradually developed a more hostile, aggressive way of relating to the world. Of the two methods for human interaction, it's quite clear that "as far as the human species is concerned, its evolutionary destiny, its very survival, is linked to the capacity for love and cooperation." It is in their capacity to love that women can demonstrate their superior talent to save a world from falling over the edge. Montague believes that woman's superior qualities come with a higher responsibility. She states in unequivocal terms, "It is the function of women to teach men how to be human."

For this to happen women must realize their inherent power as the mother of their children. In other words, "the hand that rocks the cradle, rules the world." In creating a world fit for human beings to live in, " The greatest single step forward in this direction will be made when women consciously assume the task of teaching their children to be, like themselves, loving and cooperative." It is a theme that is repeated over and over in this book.

Montagu does not accept the feminist view that women need to compete with men or that the task of motherhood places her in an inferior position. He believes that "Women and men should cooperate. That is what they were intended to do by nature and that is what it is their nature to do." For such cooperation to be realized it is necessary to dispel the illusion of men's superiority and women's inferiority. It's also necessary to understand that "cooperation and competition are not mutually reconcilable drives. Either you are a cooperator or a competitor; if you are both, then you are in a state of disoperativeness, of confusion, unreconciled and in conflict with yourself. And this is the state in which most members of Western civilization find themselves; this is the state that is essentially identified with the masculine spirit, the masculine role in society"

The world will not become a more civilized place until men recognize the value of kindness and cooperation. According to Montagu such kindness must extend beyond a man's children, "they [men] must be kind to their wives also, to all women." Nor will cooperation between men and women be fully realized until women are given the right of complete equality as a human being. That means not just by the rule of law but also in "all human relationships on the interpersonal plane."

Montagu makes it clear that by claiming the superiority of women he is not trying to degrade men. He maintains that her only intention is to state the facts in order to correct the myths. "The facts prove that woman is biologically the superior organism, superior in the sense of enjoying, by virtue of her biological traits, a higher survival value than the male. . . . With respect to psychological and social qualities, the facts again, it seems to me, prove that women are superior to men. The proof here too, is by the measure of our test of biological superiority, for women by their greater loving kindness and humanity, tend to confer survival benefits upon all who come within their orbit more frequently than do men."

The biological superiority of women is based on the fact that all women possess two X chromosomes. One advantage this gives women is that it protects them from the deleterious effects of a recessive gene in one of the two X chromosomes. With only one X chromosome, men do not have such protection from the effects of a recessive gene.

THE NATURAL SUPERIORITY OF WOMEN concludes with a paean to motherhood: "Women are the mothers of humanity. . . .What mothers are to their children, so will man be to man . . . Women are the carriers of the true spirit of humanity—the love of the mother for her child . . . . Maternal love is the purest and at the same time the most efficient form of love because it is the most compassionate, because it is the most sympathetic, because it is the most understanding and the least censorious."

"Why," asks Montagu, "cannot we love our fellow human beings as mothers love their children?. . . . It is the way of love in which human beings may live most successfully and happily and in optimum health, and it is the evolutionary destiny of human beings so to love each other. I believe that it is the unique function and destiny of women to teach men to live as if to live and love were one." Montagu sees the "long range of human history. . . groping . . . toward a way of life in which human beings will love one another as mothers love their children . . . Hence, the crucial importance of women in this evolutionary process and the great necessity of becoming consciously aware of what has, for the most part, been attempting unconsciously to realize itself: the love of man for man. . . .Woman must stand firm and be true to her own inner nature."

Return to Top


by Elizabeth Gould Davis

THE FIRST SEX draws upon two separate ideas. The first is the Atlantean concept that an advanced civilization once exerted a global influence that predates historical time. The second idea is that civilization owes it's earliest beginnings to the genius of prehistoric women. Elizabeth Gould-Davis believes the two ideas merged in ancient times when woman preserved the "germ of the lost civilization" and brought it into its "second flowering."

If the gods and goddesses of today are but the heroes and heroines of yesterday, then Davis reasons, "the goddesses of historical times were but the reflected memory of the ruling hierarchy of a former civilization."

These assumptions may or may not be valid. What's more clear from recent archeological evidence is that at the time "When recorded history begins, we behold the finale of the long pageant of prehistory....The curtain of written history rises on what seems to be the tragic last act of a protracted drama."

Davis visualizes this scene in the context of classical Greek theatre, "On the stage, firmly entrenched on her ancient throne, appears woman, the heroine of the play. About her, her industrious subjects perform their age-old roles. Peace, Justice, Progress, Equality play their parts with a practiced perfection.

"Off in the wings, however, we hear a faint rumbling--the rumbling of the discontented, the jealous complaints of the new men who are no longer satisfied with their secondary role in society. Led perhaps by the queen's consort, the rebellious males burst onstage,overturn the queen's throne, and take her captive. Her consort moves to center stage. He lifts his bloody sword over the heads of the courtiers. The queen's subjects Democracy, Peace, Justice and the rest--flee the scene in disarray. And man, for the first time in history, stands triumphant, dominating the stage as the curtain falls."

From this pivotal time in history when man first usurped the governing authority of woman, the status of women slowly and inexorably deteriorated. "The patriarchal revolution moved slowly westward from the Near East, reaching Western Europe only in the fifth century of our era." In Europe and the British Isle the Celts maintained "the tradition of female supremacy until the fall of Rome, when waves of Germanic barbarians ...met the surge of Oriental Christianity as it spread upward from the Mediterranean." Together these two fiercely patriarchal movements crushed the Celts and the last remnants of a matriarchal civilization.

The end result of these historical events is "two thousand years of propaganda concerning the inferiority of woman. . . .So long has the myth of feminine inferiority prevailed that women themselves find it hard to believe that their own sex was once and for a very long time the superior and dominant sex. In order to restore women to their ancient dignity and pride, they must be taught their own history. . . ."

So begins Davis' critique. She firmly believes that just because it happened thousands of years ago, doesn't mean it has no relevance to our modern dilemma. The threads of history bind everyone to their past. Understanding how these threads were woven into the tapestry of history can make it possible to understand the present inferior status of women and to unravel the ideologies that led to gross miscarriages of justice. Miscarriages that occurred on both sides of the matriarchical/patriarchal spectrum. History has shown that to create a matriarchal society that treats men as inferior is just as unsatisfying as creating a patriarchal society treating women as inferior.

"It seems evident," writes Davis, "that the time has come to put woman back into the history books, . . . and to readmit her to the human race." Davis begins this process of putting woman back into history books by presenting a scholarly study of prehistory, using all the information now available to the modern historian. She devotes chapters to the examination of mythological, archeological, and anthropological evidence that reveal woman's former role in creating viable, civil societies in prehistoric times. The matriarchal societies that founded Catal Huyuk, the cities of Ur, Minoan culture of Crete, and the Etruscan civilization of Italy are all examined giving due credit to the role women played in these enterprises.

Davis also reexamines later historical evidence that details how woman were subjected to a determined patriarchal effort by the Christianized Roman emperors, the papacy, and lastly the Puritians to debase and dehumanize all women. At one point the papacy tried to rule that women had no souls. This measure would have been instituted had it not been for the dissenting vote of the Celtic bishops.

Davis continues by giving a stinging critique of woman's inferior place during the Medieval, Reformation, Enlightment, and Nineteenth century. In regard to the 20th century she calls her chapter "The Prejudice Lingers On". She opens with the indictment that "The traditional belief in the inferiority of women is a doctrine that has been so thoroughly imposed in the past few centuries by the combined weight of law, religion, government, and education that its refutation by history, archeology, anthropology, and psychology will have little effect without extreme measures on the part of established authority."

In the light of centuries of indoctrination Davis admits that "It is small wonder that the average American woman, unaquainted with past history and incapable of plumbing the depths of man's ancient psychopathic complusion to punish her, accepts this image of herself..."

Despite such a gloomy outlook, Davis ends THE FIRST SEX believing the formidable, intrinsic qualities within woman will in the end overcome all obstacles. In the last chapter entitled, "Women in the Aquarian Age" Davis sees woman as "the natural ally of nature and her instinct is to tend, to nurture, to encourage healthy growth, and to preserve the ecological balance. She is the natural leader of society and of civilization, and the usurpation of her primeval authority by man has resulted in the uncoordinated chaos that is leading the human race inexorably back to barbarism."

Davis foresees "woman. . . looking back over the heads of the patriarchs, and she sees herself as nature intended her to be--the primary force in human advancement. . . she counters violence with peace, enmity with conciliation, hate with love. And thus she guides wild and lawless man towards a milder, gentler culture. . . In the new science of the twenty-first century, not physical force but spiritual force will lead the way. Mental and spiritual gifts will be more in demand than gifts of a physical nature. Extrasensory perception will take precedence over sensory perception. . . .She who was revered and worshiped by early man because of her power to see the unseen will once again be the pivot--not as sex but as divine woman--about whom the next civilization will, as of old, revolve."

Return to Top

THE GREAT COSMIC MOTHER: Rediscovering the Religion of the Earth

by Monica Sjoo and Barbara Mor

The Great Cosmic Mother is a truly heroic literary work, 500 pages long, tracing the history of women's early culture and religion from Paleolithic and Neolithic times to the present. It is a book written under conditions of extreme privation by Barbara Mora, a women who was willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of setting the record straight regarding woman's historical place in the world. Living in a small adobe hut in Taos, working 8 hours daily at a typewriter resting on a wooden spool table, biking 25 miles to Taos once a week in all kinds of weather to get food, supplies and mail, she slept at night in a sleeping bag she shared with you her two daughters in a room that she couldn't afford to heat above 40 degrees.

She accepted her hardships stoically, "Nothing is easy. Work we thought done, most be redone. Generations of richly cynical young people need our cronish views and mythic tools. . .MY experience is revelatory, I could change god's sex; I couldn't pay my rent. I could rewrite HisStory; I can't afford to eat. I survive; but with a grimmer face."

Barbara Mor's main thesis is that it is women not men who contributed to the evolutionary process which led the the rise of civilizations and human culture. We have been led to believe that it was men who hunted and provide the main food supply for the community, it was men who first invented tools and that the increased sophistication of the these tools attests to his evolving intelligence. In this scenario Mor observes, woman is not comprehended as an evolutionary or evolutionizing creature. This despite woman's substantial food gathering activities,this despite woman's digging sticks that were the most primal tools ever found in ancient sites, this despite the known fact that women were the first potters, the first weavers,the first textile-dyers and hide tanners, the first to gather and study medicinal plants (i.e.,the first doctors).

These advances in human development did not happen in a vacuum. Mor explains, "To approach our human past-- and the female God-- we need a wagon with at least two wheels."One wheel is based on historical-archaeological evidence. The second is based on biological-anthropological evidence. The first wheel, the historical track, has been studied in depth by many writers. The other side of the wagon has "almost no wheel or track: not because there is no important place to go in that direction, but because the physical-cultural anthropologists are off somewhere else, busily mapping the evolution of Tarzan. There is no body of anthropological work based on the evolution of female biology.

These evolutionary changes of the female body include:

(1) Elimination of the estrus cycle, and development of the menstrual cycle [which] meant that women were not periodically in heat, but capable of sexual activity at any time...Among all other animals, the estrus cycle determines that copulation always results in pregnancy, and has no other than a reproductive purpose.
(2) Development of the clitoris and evolution of the vagina.
(3) The change from rear to frontal sex.
(4) Development of breasts.

Mor refers to a book by Penelope Shuttle and Peter Redgrove called, THE WISE WOUND: Menstruation and Everywoman, to emphasize the importance of such an evolutionary changes. "THE WISE WOMAN shows how the human female's menstrual cycle was the critical evolutionary advance that initiated human society and culture....This shifting of sexual-hormonal action led to increased alertness of the brain and its electrical activity; i.e., women have sexual energy at our disposal separable from reproductive energy. For woman biology is not destiny in the narrow reproductive sense, even if patriarchy has tried, through the dogmatic suppression of our autonomous sexuality, to reverse this evolution. (Patriarchal religion is, in this sense, a primate religion, trying to pull the human female back from her evolutionary advance over other primates; for in this one aspect alone does human sexuality differ from primate sexuality....) The sole function of the clitoris is sexual pleasure, and it is the only organ in the human body devoted to pleasure alone....This means that woman's sexual capacity is enormously enhanced and multiple. And it is present in us from birth to death, clitoral sensation being determined neither by puberty nor menopause. When freed, woman's autonomous sexual capacity is a great source of psychic, productive, creative, and magical powers. It was at the origins of human culture, and it is necessary to any further human evolutionary advance."

"Women have got to understand the importance of the switch from primate estrus to human menstrual cycle, because this was the mechanism of female evolution. It is also the target of patriarchy. Female sexuality and female evolution are --have been, for 2 or 3 millennia at least-- in a lethal deadlock with patriarchal ideology, religious, economic, and political. This is because patriarchy, as a system, wants to enforce and maintain male primate power-dominance-control over our species.

Return to Top


by Esther Harding

Mary Esther Harding approaches women's mysteries from a Jungian perspective. For her "the myths and rituals of ancient religions represent the naive projection of psychological realities. They are undistorted by rationalization, for in matters which deal with the spirit realm, that is, the psychological realm, primitive people and the people of antiquity did not think; they perceived by an inner or intuitive sense..." She believes that these myths and rituals contain psychological material which is uncensored by a rational mind and therefore of value to us today. Since many of the earliest rituals were created by women in prehistorical times, they represent for us a window into how women perceived themselves before a system of patriarchical beliefs and cultural practices were developed.

Many of the rituals which Harding examines concern the effect the moon had on late Paleolithic and Neolithic men and women. Her chapter headings tell the story: "The Moon as Giver or Fertility", "The Moon Cycle of Women", "The Inner Meaning of the Moon Cycle", "The Man in the Moon", "The Moon Mother", "Priests and Priestesses of the Moon".

The moon played a central role in the life of early people. Harding makes it clear that "In primitive communities the moon is frequently called The Lord of the Women. For the moon is regarded, not only as the source of woman's ability to bear children, but also as the protector and guardian of women...For it is generally thought that only women can make things grow, because they alone are under the direct guardianship of the moon whose power to make things grow and increase is delegated in some measure to them." Because women swell up like the moon when it becomes full and experience their menstrual cycles in rhythm with the cycles of the moon, this correspondence between woman and moon was taken as "absolute proof...they are of like nature" This close relationship between women and moon, women and a celestrial body was further reinforced by the belief that it was the moon or a ray from moonlight that made a women pregnant. Since there is a nine month interval between conception and birth, the role of intercourse was not understood until much later.

From such an association between the moon and woman it is only a short step to personifying the moon in the form of a Moon Goddess. Harding discusses the myths of the Moon Goddess with the intention of showing how they represent "the inner subjective reality of feminine psychology " She explores two such myths in detail: Ishtar as well as Isis and Osiris.

Harding ends by stressing how important the wisdom of the ancient religions is for an understanding of ourselves in the modern world. "In the image of the Mother Goddess--ancient and powerful--women of olden times found the reflection of their own deepest feminine nature. Through the faithful performance of the ritual prescribed in her service those faraway women gained a relation to this very Eros. Today, the goddess is no longer worshipped. Her shrines are lost in the dust of ages while her statues line the walls of museums. But the law or power of which she was but the personification is unabated in its strength and lifegiving potency. It is we who have changed. We have given our allegiance too exclusively to masculine forces. Today, however, the ancient feminine principle [Eros] is reasserting its power. Forced on by the suffering and unhappiness incurred through disregard of the Eros values, men and women are turning once again towards the Moon Mother, not, however, through a religious cult, not even with a conscious knowledge of what they are doing, but through a change in psychological attitude. For that principle, which in ancient and more naive days was projected into the form of a goddess, is no longer seen in the guise of a religious tenet but is now sensed as a psychological force arising from the unconscious, having, as had the Magna Dea of old, power to mold the destinies of mankind."

Woman's Mysteries Ancient and Modern M. Esther Harding, (New York, J.P. Putnam's Sons, 1971)

Return to Top


by Patrica Reis

Patrica Reis is a sculpturer and has degrees in depth psychology and literature. In THROUGH THE GODDESS she attempts to show how the ancient Goddess images relate to present-day women's experience. Coming from a Jungian background she believes that the "only concept that will allow me to explain the relationships between ancient images and everyday reality is the archetype." She describes the book as a "rich tapestry called feminist archetypal psychology."

Reis is also interested in the body. She calls the body "the site where biology and culture meet. We cannot understand the body abstracted from our social and cultural arrangements. But we can begin to understand how our thinking about the body is structured and influenced by our social and cultural arrangements."

Equally important is how our thinking about the body has changed since prehistoric times. Reis reminds us that "From earliest times, there existed in the human imagination a creatrix, a great Goddess who brought forth all living things....The tremendous potency of Goddess imagery is demonstrated by the continuity of these symbols through time. The prehistoric female figures, with their sacred signs and symbols, have persisted in the religious and mythic imagination of our ancestors since Paleolithic times. They continued to be made for more than 20,000 years... This is evidenced by more than thirty thousand female images, signs, and symbols that have been found throughout Old Europe. The ancient images of the great Goddess give evidence that our early ancestors understand the inherent sacredness of the female body. As in the imagery from the Paleolithic era, each image depicted some part of her story, telling us of a highly refined and sophisticated culture and a rich mythical imagery, complete with cult and ritual.

"It is helpful for us to know that in our human history there was a primordial Goddess creatrix. How she developed through time, and what her stories and images were, is important to us as modern women, because her history and development are intimately linked with our own heritage. Her story becomes ours, and in the process of experiencing our own creativity, we consciously or unconsciously reenact her mysteries."

Reis approaches the body from another perspective in her chapter "Recovering Aphrodite". "As I work with women and listen to their bodies speak, I have come to believe that there is a seamless connection between the body, the psyche, the soul, and the Self. They are all one reality, speaking different languages....The body has a wisdom, intelligence, and memory. All the feelings of joy, love, well-being, and pleasure; all of the terror, pain, and abuse that we have endured; all of our capacities for ectasy; and all of our unfinished and unresolved grief and sorrow are encoded on a cellular level in our bodies.... This is the truth of the body, which does not lie." In the chapter "Facing Medusa" Reis underscores this truth by repeating the words of the French writer, Helene Cixous, when she exhorts us to return to the body, the body that must be heard, the body from which the "immense resources of the unconscious spring forth."

Reis ends "Facing Medusa" by pointing to the use of ritual as a pathway to renewal. "Ritual is the vehicle for remembering and renewal. On a collective level, there seems to be an urgent necessity to return in some way--to remember, recollect, and reunite through the ritual of the creative process--with those banished aspects of the female psyche. By reaching back through the layers of personal and collective history and prehistory, women can begin to revitalize those images that have been lost to memory. This is done for the purpose of creative renewal and the process of self-becoming."

For Reis "self-becoming" means becoming oneself or becoming a virgin. This interpretation of virginity may not be immediately apparent but Reis explains "virginity means belonging to no man--being complete unto oneself." She quotes the Jungian analyst Esther Harding, "The woman who is virgin, one-in-herself, does what she does--not because of any desire to please, not to be liked, or to be approved,--not because of any desire to gain power over another, to catch his interest of love, but because what she does is true-- As virgin she is not influenced by the considerations that make the nonvirgin woman, whether married or not, trim her sails and adapt herself to expediency--she is what she is because that is what she is."

Reis adds the remarkable assertion that this virginity is renewable. "This is incredibly important for a woman to know. Many women who have been used and abused sexually, or misused their sexuality, need to know that, like Aphrodite, we may, through various rituals and ceremonies, renew our sense of intactness and integrity--our virginity.

Such rituals can take the form of bathing (like Aprodite), or making women's visits to the hairdresser. Reis laments "how much more meaningful it would be if women were able to understand this need more consciously, incorporating times of 'virginity' into their daily lives. Indeed, anytime we are not engaged sexually is ours alone to be virginal, complete unto ourselves. Then, each time we consent to open ourselves to another sexually can be 'the first time.'"

Patricia Reis, THROUGH THE GODDESS: A Women's Way of Healing (New York: Continuum,1991)

Return to Top


by Merlin Stone

Here is an invitation to discover a past that has been buried by millennia of Judeo-Christian myth and corresponding social order. Merlin Stone tells us, in fascinating detail, the story of the Goddess who, known by names such as Astarte, Isis, and Ishtar, reigned supreme in the Near and Middle East. There she was revered as the wise creator and the one source of universal order, not simply as a fertility symbol as some histories would have us believe. And under the Goddess, societal roles differed markedly from those in patriarchal Judeo-Christian cultures: women bought and sold property, traded in the marketplace, and inherited title and land from their mothers. How did the shift from matriarchy to patriarchy come about? By documenting the wholesale rewriting of myth and religious dogmas. Merlin Stone describes an ancient conspiracy in which the Goddess was reimagined as a wanton, depraved figure, a characterization confirmed and perpetuated by one of modern culture's best-known legends-- that of Adam and the fallen Eve. Merlin Stone says in her introduction, "I am not suggesting a return or revival of the ancient female religion. As Sheila Collins writes, 'As women our hope for fulfilment lies in the present and future and not in some mythical golden past...' I do hold the hope, however, that a contemporary consciousness of the once widespread veneration of the female deity as the wise Creatress of the Universe and all life and civilization may be used to cut through the many oppressive and falsely founded patriarchal images, stereotypes, customs and laws that were developed as direct reactions to Goddess worship by the leaders of the later male-worshiping religions." Ms. Stone insists that this is not intended to be an historical document but rather "an invitation to all women to join in the search to find out who we really are, by beginning to know our own past heritage as more than a broken and buried fragment of a male culture." Insightful and thought-provoking, this is essential reading for anyone interested in the origin of current gender roles and in rediscovering women's power.

Return to Top


by Gloria Steinem

Just as we had begun to separate rape from sex, we realized that we must find some way of separating pornographic depictions of sex as an antiwoman weapon from those images of freely chosen, mutual sexuality.

Fortunately, there is truth in the origin of words. Pornography comes from the Greek root porn<é> (harlot,prostitute, or female captive) and graphos (writing about or description of). Thus, it means a description of either the purchase of sex, which implies an imbalance of power in itself, or sexual slavery....In short, pornography is not about sex. It's about an imbalance of male-female power that allows and even requires sex to be used as a form of aggression.

Erotica may be the word that can differentiate sex from violence and rescue sexual pleasure. It comes from the Greek root eros (sexual desire or passionate love, named for Eros, the son of Aphrodite), and so contains the idea of love, positive choice, and the yearning for a particular person. Unlike pornography's reference to harlot or prostitute, erotica leaves entirely open the question of gender. (In fact, we may owe its sense of shared power to the Greek idea that a man's love for another man was more worthy than love for a woman, but at least that bias isn't present in the word.) Though both erotica and pornography refer to verbal or pictorial representations of sexual behavior, they are as different as a room with doors open and one with doors locked. The first might be a home, but the second could only be a prison.

The problem is that there is so little erotica. Women have rarely been free enough to pursue pleasure in our own lives, much less to create it in the worlds of film, magazines, art, books, television, and popular culture.

And the problem is there is so much pornography. This underground stream of antiwoman propaganda that exists in all male-dominant societies has now become a flood in our streets and theaters and even our homes. Perhaps that's better in the long run. Women can no longer pretend pornography does not exists. We must either face our own humiliation and torture every day on magazine covers and television screens or fight back...Why is pornography the only media violence that is supposed to be a "safety valve" to satisfy men's "natural" aggressiveness somewhere short of acting it out?

The first reason is the confusion of all nonproacreative sex with pornography. Any description of sexual behavior, or even nudity, may be called pornographic or obscene (a word whose Latin derivative means dirty or containing filth) by those who insist that the only moral purpose of sex is procreative, or even that any portrayal of sexuality or nudity is against the will of God.

In fact, human beings seem to be the only animals that experience the same sex drive and pleasure at times when we can and cannot conceive. Other animals experience periods of heat or estrus. Humans do not.

Just as we developed uniquely human capacities for language, planning, memory, and invention along our evolutionary path, we also developed sexuality as a form of expression, a way of communicating that is separable from our reproductive need. For human beings, sexuality can be and often is a way of bonding, of giving and receiving pleasure, bridging differentness, discovering sameness, and communicating emotion.

No wonder the very different concepts of "erotica" and "pornography" can be so confused. Both assume that sex can be separated from conception; that human sexuality has additional uses and goals. This is the major reason why, even in our current culture, both may still be condemned as equally obscene and immoral. Such gross condemnation of all sexuality that isn't harnessed to childbirth (and to patriarchal marriage so that children are properly "owned" by men) has been increased by the current backlash against women's independence...

Defending against such repression and reaction leads to the temptation to merely reverse the terms and declare that all nonprocreative sex is good. In fact, however, this human activity can be as constructive or destructive, moral or immoral, as any other. Sex as communication can send messages as different as mutual pleasure and dominance, life and death, "erotica" and "pornography."

From the origins of the words, as well as the careful way that feminists working against pornography are trying to use them, it's clear there is a substantive difference, not an artistic or economic one. Pornography is about dominance. Erotica is about mutuality.

In fact, the obstacles to taking on pornography seem suspiciously like the virgin-whore divisions that have been women's only choices in the past. The right wing says all that is not virginal or motherly is pornographic, and thus they campaign against sexuality and nudity in general. The left wing says all sex is good as long as it's male'defined, and thus pornography must be protected. Women who feel endangered by being the victim, and men who feel demeaned by being the victimizer, have a long struggle ahead. In fact, pornography will continue as long as boys are raised to believe they must control or conquer women as a measure of manhood, as long as society rewards men who believe that success or even functioning--in sex as in other areas of life--depends on women's subservience.

But we now have words to describe our outrage and separate sex from violence. We now have the courage to demonstrate publicly against pornography, to keep its magazines and films out of our houses, to boycott its purveyors, to treat even friends and family members who support it as seriously as we would treat someone who supported and enjoyed Nazi literature or the teachings of the Klan.

But until we finally untangle sexuality and aggression, there will be more pornography and less erotica. There will be little murders in our beds--and very little love.

(Gloria Steinem, Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions,pp.220-230)

Return to Top


by Marion Woodman

I would say the goddess energy is trying to save us. If we go on with our power tactics, we're going to destroy the earth. That's why we haven't got a long time to evolve. We're either going to make a leap in consciousness or we aren't going to be here. Sophia, Shakti, by whatever name we call her, is that wisdom deep down in all matter, pushing her way into consciousness, one way or another. We have to be aware of earthquakes and hurricanes. What are their rumbling trying to tell us?

I don't know if there's any change coming in patriarchy. It's war here, war there and power everywhere. And yet the Berlin Wall is down. It's down! What happened in China, in Tianamen Square, tragic as it was, was a push for freedom from patriarchy... Power is no longer going to work, except destructively.

That's also clear between men and women. We've been brought up on power; our parents and grandparents were brought up on power. We use power when we don't know we're using it, even people who want to do good. It can happen in psychotherapy--therapists who want to do good and have an image of what their clients should be. They think it's love that is motivating them as they tell their clients what to do. But that's power, not love. We do not know another person's destiny.

Love mirrors the other person, tries to see the soul of the other. Mind you, it's very hard to see because the soul long ago learned that if it shows itself it will get knocked down. When the child's soul tries to say something, the parents say, "That's not what you should say, that's not what you think." Or the teacher says, or the boss says, or the husband says, or the kids say, "That's not who you are." Gradually the soul goes underground. You see this in dreams where the dreamer is told to go and find what is buried in that black box in the back shed or some other hidden place. And sure enough this marvelous little creature is right there. I remember one dream where the woman puts her hand in that box and when she pulls her hand out she has a pet bird she loved as a child. It's just a little bird but it's still alive. She holds it on her hand and she's smitten with guilt because it's starving. But her tears falling on the bird transform it into a radiant little boy who says, "I only wanted to sing my song." That sort of dream can change your life--if you can remember you once had a song to sing. (CONSCIOUS FEMININITY: Interviews with Marion Woodman, Inner City Books, 1993)

Return to Top