MYSTICAL FEMINISM/GODDESS WORSHIP (REPLY)
Aug 30 1990
MYSTICAL FEMINISM/GODDESS WORSHIP
Camille Lockyer writes:
CL>"...the wiccan religion, which was the very first religion,(organized
CL> that is)"
This frequent attempt to connect Feminism and Pre-Christian "religions"
is interesting. These days, "wicca" is meaningful principally to those
who like to dabble with that amorphous collection of practices that
people describe as "occult".... and to the lunatic-fringe, right-wing
religious nuts who are always looking for a "Satanic cult" to scare the
"faithful" so they can talk their flocks into sending more money.
As for "organized", it's never been nearly as "organized" as the Boy
Scouts or Little League. Today, it's more like AA meetings except that
the people use names like Dragonsbreath or FairysWing instead of Jim or
Mary. There are "witches conventions", of course, and the bulletin board
at the local Occult Bookstore or Yerberia will usually have a flier on
who to contact.
A few folks have tried to put together a "Church of Wicca"... but it
doesn't do all that well. In any event, the idea of "churches" and
"paganism" are antithetical; kind of like an "anarchist political
party". Even at that, it's more organized than it was 2000 years ago.
CL>"Most if not all religions have borrowed from it"
If, by "it" you mean al of the various rites and rituals which people
tend to lump together under "Paganism" or like names, then "sure" vrious
celebrations around the calendar are common in every religion. Solstice
and equinox events, for instance, occur everywhere. It's not so much a
"borrowing" as a similar response to a common event.
The days keep getting shorter from mid-June until December 21... which
is kinda scary; maybe the sun (giver of life) is going to go away. But
wait! On December 22, is the day a couple of minutes LONGER?! Let's
check tomorrow. Sure enough! On the 23rd, it's longer AGAIN! Hurrah!
Call everybody and let's have a party! The sun's coming back! The sun
is reborn! Yea! How about my place on the 25th?! Bring your own
However, the idea that, at some point in the distant past, there was an
official "Wiccan Religion" which enjoyed some sort of "orthodoxy" of
practice across boundaries and time; which somehow got passed down to
1990 A.D. through 200 or 300 successive generations of little old ladies
who live in huts in the woods... simply has no available proof (despite
the plethora of recent books by people who wish it was true).
You have to remember that the word "paganism" was a CHRISTIAN invention
(although its root "paganos", having connotations of rural-dwellers, was
Latin). The "-ism" suggests a monolithic religion when in fact there
was no such thing; just a lot of mostly local and very different rites.
To Christians, "pagans" were enemies... and we always like to make our
enemies sound as big and bad as we can; either because we want an excuse
for losing or because we want lots of credit for winning. Both would-be
pagans AND Fundamentalist Christians have an equal need to believe in a
huge, orderly, united "wiccan religion"; both now and in the past.
In fact, the various practices lumped together under the rubric
"paganism" would not technically qualify as a "religion" at all... since
there was little in the way of a "theology" excepting the collected
verses of Homer and Hesiod (and that only applied to one set of
"beliefs" for one group of people). (Of course, these days, just about
anyone who wants can make up rites and rituals and write a book and call
it whatever they want. It's hard to tell the difference between fact and
fiction; ask Carlos Castaneda).
If I decide not to walk under a ladder, cross a black cat's path or if I
draw a pentagram and chant an incantation (or do any of the jillion
things discussed on MagickNet or in the books at your favorite Occult
bookstore)... then I am engaging in a RITE; a PRACTICE; an ACTION
intended to accomplish a RESULT (protection, wealth, etc.). Same with
Tarot, Astrology, runes, etc. except THEN I'm trying to be predictive.
I'm DOING something.
"Paganism" was 99% about DOING something to achieve a desired result or
to determine a course of further action. It was only CASUALLY about
BELIEF... and communal forms of worship on any regular basis were a
rarity. This was NOT usually Congregational. Rites were mostly
individual or household; occasionally communal and, from time to time,
at "sacred places"; frequently caves, mountaintops or "sacred groves".
There was no equivalent of Sunday Morning Worship.
Like the Amerindian "medicine bag", there were lots of "amulets";
basically anything that one had been carrying in the past when something
good (or not-bad) happened/ didn't happen. Kind of like the basketball
coaches that keep wearing the same coat all season. Donald Trump has
himself convinced that red "power ties" are lucky. My gardener has a
plastic Jesus on his dashboard and my neighbor puts St. Christopher
medals in her children's lunchboxes. As Bob Hope said, "I do benefits
for all religions. I'd hate to go to Hell on a technicality".
THERE IS A BIG DIFFERENCE BETWEEN RITE AND RELIGION; between Practice and
Belief. A practice does not NECESSARILY entail a belief. It can merely be a
"provisional" precaution taken "in the event" that it "might" prove efficacious.
Fundamentalist Christians are always demanding that "wiccans" or
"pagans" or such... should state their "BELIEFS". The only REAL answer
is that they don't have any BELIEFS; just practices. The "belief" is
that the practice WORKS. Most Pre-Christian "pagans" weren't at all
bashful about trying something else if it didn't.
Folks who dabble in these matters like to quote the old grimmoire that
all beliefs are acceptable that are not harmful (usually "antiqued" in
an imagined Medieval patois as: "..an it harm none, etc." This, in fact,
is one of the reasons that such groups are ill-equipped to match the
ferocity of Fundamentalism. Their "all-inclusive", "umbrella" approach
is too wispy to withstand the more focused attack of their adversaries.
It's just harder to be both universal AND mean.
CL>"Society used to be matriarchal"
Which "society"? Are you suggesting that there was once a world-wide
religion in which women took off their blue-denim workshirts and danced
around maypoles bare-breasted and made offerings to the Great Mother
while gentle and docile men looked on meekly and waited for orders??
I'm pretty familiar with both History and Archaeology... and I've never
heard of a TRUE matriarchy. I know of some societies that are
MATRILINEAL. I know of some that were MATRILOCAL. I know of lots that
had some FEMALE GODDESSES. I know of some where there were at least some
WOMEN PRIESTHOODS along with male priesthoods. We all know of some where
there has been a WOMAN AT THE HEAD OF GOVERNMENT from Cleopatra to
Victoria to Margaret Thatcher... but a MATRIARCHY?
There are some in literature (including the Amazons; a story originally
invented by a Greek MAN)... but in REALITY? Sorry... no record; not even
among some of our recently beloved Native Americans; not among the
Yoruba in Nigeria where the women are commercial whizbangs; not among
the Iroquois despite their matrilocality; no where; no when.
There ARE PatriARCHies where women are or have been treated like slime.
There are NOT any MatriARCHies where men are or have been treated
I doubt that this is because women are nicer. There is plenty of
objective evidence that they can be just as mean as men. I suspect it's
simply because, as long as men monopolized the weapons and skills of
armed combat, women lacked the means to boss, degrade and exploit... in
a mirror image of Patriarchy. Maybe modern weaponry will change that;
There've been societies where women were nominally in charge of domestic
arrangements and "marital" matters, where they had rights to control
their own destinies pretty close to the same rights existing for males,
where they got to talk at the council fires and where their advice was
heeded, where they pretty much controlled the homefront, etc. but,
despite the flush of cuddly books that have now expanded to fill many
shelves, the record for "matriarchy" is simply not there in either
history or archaeology (except the kind of "history" made up by
"natives" about the so-called "past" of their own people).
Just about every movement has attempted to go back into the primeval fog
and assert that, once upon a time, THEY were in charge. Marx claimed
that everybody used to be a Marxist, Fundamentalists seem to believe
that if you go back to the Garden of Eden, you'll discover that God was
an English-speaking Pentecostal; blacks have claimed that everybody
worth knowing in 5,000 B.C. was Black; women began claiming a few
decades ago that, back when the earth was young, that they used to run
Our records are increasingly good back to about 3,000 B.C. and
fair-to-middlin' back to about 7,000 B.C. There is no evidence for a
matriarchal society in all of that time. I'm not saying it might not
turn up someday... but it hasn't yet. There've been places and times
when women were more equal than others... but not a single one where
they were more equal than men in any area that men deemed important.
If you've got a "society" in mind that "used to be matriarchal", let us
know which one. It sure wasn't Pre-Christian Rome... nor Classical
Greece... nor Mycenean Crete... nor Egypt in any of the dynasties... nor
any of the Mesopotamian cultures of which I'm aware... nor any of the
Indo-European tribes pushing down out of the North... nor any of the
parallel developments in China or India.
And, despite the fun that Ruth Benedict and Margaret Mead had in the
South Seas, there is no evidence that any island culture was matriarchal
either. And if you're thinking about the Celtic (and, later, the various
Germanic) tribes that moved westward into the British Isles, please
think again. They were about as "matriarchal" as a motorcycle gang.
Druid priests were men... and the "mists of Avalon" were not run by
women; stories about Baodicea (Boudicca) notwithstanding.
Remember, "arch" is the top of the hierARCHy. PatriARCH means poppa's on
top; matriARCH means momma's up high. If you claim "matriarchy", you're
claiming a society where women were in charge; not just of the grass hut
but of the decisions that were universally recognized to be most
Frankly, based strictly on the historical record, about the closest
we've ever gotten to a matriarchy was the late Twentieth Century among
the middle-class and upper-middle-class in the United States... and you
have to admit, it was pretty uneven. The last time before this that
women were generally well-off relative to men was in the narrow strata
of upper-class aristocratic Roman matrons in the Second and Third
Centuries A.D. both just before AND after the institutionalization of
Christianity as the "state" religion of the Roman Empire.
Women might be better off giving up this idea that, once upon a time,
they were in charge and that men swiped it. Women do not require this
kind of "historical justification". If everything needs to be blamed on
men, it'd be just as good to conclude that men have ALWAYS been in
charge (and, therefore, ALWAYS at fault). Postulating an era when women
were on top doesn't really accomplish much.
Until recently, most women I knew believed that they were superior in
many ways to men; not least, on account of their role as mothers.
Radical Feminism has worked so hard to "devalue" that role (and to hiss
the epithet "breeder(!)" at women who valued it)... that women seem
desperate to find another.
Equality (or superiority) of career is one way... but that doesn't seem
to have been totally satisfying. Inventing a "status quo ante" in the
dim past seems like one of the ways that women are dealing with this.
However, without convincing (not self-serving) scholarship, it's not a
very useful ploy.
CL>"women were not considered second class citizens until the advent of
Golly, I'm going to end up having to defend Christianity; a role I do
not relish at all; especially since I'm usually on the other side.
Women were at least as bad off BEFORE Christianity as after it. In fact,
in many ways, Christianity "softened" some of the harshness with which
women were treated in the various parts of the Mediterranean
Civilization existing at the time of the advent of Christianity;
particularly as respects forced marriage. For that reason, WOMEN were
more likely to embrace Christianity than men in the early days.
Personally, I think it's great that women (and men) are attempting to
develop new wys (and adapt old ways) of getting in touch with their
spiritual selves. Frankly, I see a critical need for a Religion that is
NOT anti-feminine or anti-environment. (CONTINUED IN NEXT MESSAGE)1;0ca
Most religions did NOT begin as formal attempts to start a NEW religion.
Almost invariably, whether it was Jesus attempting to reform Judaism or
Luther attempting to reform Catholicism or Wesley attempting to reform
Anglicanism.... the "founders" never saw themselves as creating
something NEW. They ALWAYS claimed to be RETURNING to the PURITY of the
OLD (or the Original Religion).
You said some true things... and your basic thrust (which I interpret to
be an assertion that women are NOT equal and that religion has been used
to "keep them down")... is CERTAINLY true.
It is also true that women DID have varying degrees of power (religious,
political and social) in ancient times... just as they have varying
degrees of religious and political and social power TODAY. The extent of
that power has differed from place to place and time to time. However,
it is simply NOT accurate to postulate any PARTICULAR time when women
exercised a power over society (including men) equivalent to the type of
power that men have exercised over women.
In studying the place of women and religion in History (or Herstory),
it's not necessary to go beyond the available facts. The whole idea of a
"separate" Women's History and Men's History as anything other than a
methodology for textual organization is specious in any event.
We are a bisexually-reproducing species ("bisexual" in the sense of
procreation; not in the sense that Woody Allen used when he asserted
that being "bisexual" doubles your chance of a date on Saturday night).
EVERYONE, woman or man, who has acted in History, has been the PRODUCT
of bisexual reproduction. History is neither feminine nor masculine; it
is the history of a species in its environment. There is much to be
proud of; much to be ashamed of; much to wish to repeat; much to wish
As Homo sapiens moves through time, different strands have been thicker
or thinner as we weave the tapestry of our story; Mesopotamians,
Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Goths, Anglo-Saxons, Japanese, Slavs, Arabs,
Blacks, Hispanics; all of them BOTH Men and Women. If we tell the story
as the record of wars and boundary disputes, it looks as though we're
talking about MEN. If we record the tale as one of daily life; of homes
and births and learning and growing, it seems to be a WOMAN'S story. In
other areas, MEN seem ascendant at one time; WOMEN at another.
There is no HERstory; nor is there a HIStory. There is only OURstory. As
long as we reproduce by combining "X"'s and "Y"'s whether by the
traditional method or in test tubes or by killing each other and carving
off our respective germ plasm or by shooting rockets full of sperm and
ova at each other, that's the way it will always be. Women's sons and
men's daughters; flesh of our flesh; til dust we become again.
Everett Wells to Camille Lockyer (quoted)
* Origin: The SoundingBoard BBS of Houston (713)821-4148 [HST] (1:106/12)