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On Goddess Spirituality, Part One

Like many people moving out of Christianity and into "alternative" spirituality, it was devotion to female Deities which first attracted me. As a child, I was drawn to Artemis and Athena (and Apollo). Through my teen years and into college, it was books about the Goddess and Goddesses which steadily filled my shelves, eventually overflowing. I was fascinated, enthralled by this idea of a female Deity, so different from the male Deity I had grown up honoring.

In graduate school, that overflowing pile turned into a landslide as Goddess Spirituality became the focus of my master's thesis. While I concentrated on the Fellowship of Isis (even making a pilgrimage to Clonegal Castle), I read broadly on the subject -- and it quickly became apparent that there is no one Goddess Spirituality. Goddess Spiritualities would be more accurate, as those who honor the Female Divine fall all along the spiritual spectrum, often touching different points simultaneously. Some devotees are monotheistic in their thealogy, believing in a single, all-encompassing female Deity. Others are more pantheistic or panentheistic, honoring nature and the female entity which created and manifests in it. Still others are henotheistic, acknowledging the existence of other Deities but choosing to honor only one (or a small handful). And there are devotees who identify as polytheistic, acknowledging and honoring multiple female Deities exclusively, or giving them priority over male Deities. Finally, there are strains of Goddess Spirituality running through progressive branches of Judaism and Christianity and (less visibly) Islam. 

For those interested in practicing or becoming more familiar with Goddess Spirituality, there are lots and lots of books available. They range from heavy academic texts on ancient beliefs and rituals to translations of Gnostic Christian texts to modern Isian texts to archaeological reports to collections of poetry to modern fantasy and science fiction. Considering just how vast a topic this is, I'll focus here on my favorite nonfiction* texts, those I found most informative or which had the most impact on me.

Probably the first book I read as my quest began was Merlin Stone's When God Was a Woman. It had a profound influence on my beliefs and outlook and drove me to keep reading, keep exploring, keep thinking. While Stone's conclusions are not widely accepted in academia, there is no denying her impact on modern Paganism.

The Myth of the Goddess: Evolution of an Image by Anne Baring and Jules Cashford was another early read, and one I have opened so often that it is falling apart. Lengthy chapters with numerous line illustrations cover the whole Western history of the Goddess from Palaeolithic times through the beginnings of urbanization and the Classical era down through the Middle Ages and into the present. This is an excellent resource for anyone interested in Goddess thealogy, Goddess as archetype, or Goddess as art.

Marija Gimbutas' The Language of the Goddess: Unearthing the Hidden Symbols of Western Civilization was another early purchase, followed several years later by Elinor Gadon's The Once and Future Goddess: A Sweeping Visual Chronicle of the Sacred Female and Her Reemergence in the Cultural Mythology of Our Time and Buffie Johnson's The Lady of the Beasts: The Goddess and Her Sacred Animals. The three together provide an artistically-rich and inspiring series; it makes me want to dig out my clay and paints and brushes and get to work filling my house with Goddess art.

The Book of Goddesses: A Celebration of the Divine Feminine by Kris Waldherr is another beautifully illustrated work. Mythology, psychology and ritual fill the pages, celebrating Goddesses from around the world such as Oya, Yemana, Gaia, Kuan Yin and many others. This is one of those books you want to buy a duplicate of, just so you can rip one apart and use the pages as devotional artwork.

I picked up quite a few more books in graduate school, such as David Kinsley's The Goddesses' Mirror: Visions of the Divine From East and West, Hilda Ellis Davidson's Roles of the Northern Goddess, and The Divine Feminine: Recovering the Feminine Face of God Around the World by Andrew Harvey. A well-respected academic, Kinsley wrote his book with a general audience in mind: so, lots of information, but presented in an entertaining and engaging manner. I must have read the chapters on Aphrodite and Isis a dozen times. Davidson is also a well-regarded academic, though her popular audience texts tend to be rather dry; still, if you are looking for solid scholarship as the foundation for your devotion to a single or multiple northern European Goddesses, Davidson is a great resource. Harvey's text, meanwhile, collects poems and excerpts from longer works celebrating Female Deity/ies from the Abrahamic faiths, Buddhism, Native American traditions, the Classical world, Egypt, and elsewhere. I particularly love the pairing of artwork with specific passages.

Speaking of Isis, RE Witt's Isis in the Ancient World was an indispensable resource while I was writing my thesis. One of the first books which extensively explores the development of the cult of Isis, Witt's text is still eminently readable and relevant. Definitely a must for anyone with an interest in Her.** (JG Griffiths' The Isis Book, which closely examines the Goddess' appearance in The Golden Ass, makes an excellent companion volume -- assuming you can find a copy.)

Finally, the graduate school pilgrimage I made to Clonegal Castle inspired me to look into making other spiritual trips. There are very few books which focus on sites sacred to female Deities or the Goddess. Goddess Sites: Europe by Anneli Rufus and Kristan Lawson is a great little guidebook, and also out of print. The original print run of Peg Streep's Sanctuaries of the Goddess: The Sacred Landscapes and Objects included dozens of color and black-and-white photographs; sadly, it too is out of print. Fortunately, used copies of both are readily available. Unfortunately, I know of no other Goddess-oriented travel guides or sacred site sources. 

As I noted above, Goddess Spirtuality is a very broad subject; there are hundreds of books devoted to the subject, written by secular academics and devotees alike. There is no way I could list every title here; my personal library contains only a fraction of the books available. I know I missed some great books. Let me know what they are, and help me spread the word.

 

* We'll save fiction for another post.

** Anubis, too, as Witt devotes an entire chapter to the Jackal God.

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Rebecca Buchanan is the editor of the Pagan literary ezine Eternal Haunted Summer. She is also the editor-in-chief of Bibliotheca Alexandrina. She thinks it is incredibly unfair that she must work for a living rather than being able to read all day. In her next life, she would like to be a library cat.

Comments

  • Sharon Fargo
    Sharon Fargo Tuesday, 26 March 2013

    I believe Karen Tate has a book about goddess tours. At the least, she gives guided tours. She hosts the radio program Voices of the Sacred Feminine.

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