Third Wave Witch: Feminist Spirituality, Spiritual Feminism

Third Wave Witchcraft explores the intersection of feminism, Witchcraft, Goddess Spirituality, and feminist activism. A place to explore how to make our spirituality more feminist, our feminism more spiritual, and our world more just.

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Not My Goddess, Not My Feminism, Not My Priestesses

I've started and deleted this blog entry half a dozen times, both in my head and on the screen, over the last several days. It's hard to know what to say when your heroines fall, when your leaders betray you, when your inspirations prove to be hypocrites of the worst sort. And even if it's not the first time -- and it's not the first time -- it doesn't get any easier. What do you say when the place that you came to for healing and liberation is exposed as a site of pain and oppression for others, especially for others you care about? How do you stand up and say, "Not in my name"? 

Then again, how do you not?

All this has been on my mind and heart since finding out that Ruth Barrett -- American Dianic priestess and a woman whose writing has touched me deeply in my journey to the Goddess -- in conjunction with others (including known TERF -- transexclusive radical feminist -- Cathy Brennan) has launched an Indiegogo campaign for a transphobic book about the problem of "female erasure." (I cannot bring myself to link to the campaign, but going to Indiegogo and searching Barrett's name brings it up.) While transphobia in some "feminist" Goddess circles is not a new thing -- and I use scare quotes around feminist here because I consider any group that espouses transphobia to be inherently nonfeminist -- this is a new low. This group of writers, in the name of lifting up women and our voices, has chosen to publish a volume targeting transgender people (particularly trans women), one of the most vulnerable populations in America and around the world. While the book isn't composed entirely of Goddess centered content, the fact that any tiny piece of this is being done in the name of the Goddess, and of Goddess Spirituality, is sickening. (For a good discussion of exactly what's going on, see this essay by Peter Dybing over at Patheos.) 

Many of those who have spoken up publicly against the book, and against Brennan and Barrett's transphobia, have found themselves harassed online, reported to Facebook for using "fake names" and had their accounts locked, or -- worst of all -- doxxed, with their personal information released publicly.

Make no mistake. This is not a matter of disagreement over personal spiritual practice. This is not a a difference of opinion. This is not a question of different views of how the world works and is. This is violence. It is hate speech. 

And while the hate speech is not directed at me -- I am a cisgender woman, and thus pass the "real woman" test in the eyes of Barrett, Brennan, and their ilk -- it is immensely painful to see this happening in my community. I came to Goddess Spirituality, aka "Women's Spirituality," in my early 20s after a lifetime of spiritual seeking. The Goddess gatherings and rituals I went to were the first places where I was told that I was whole and sacred, just as I was. That I did not have to overcome my body and my gender in order to be one with Divinity, that I was Divinity, reflected in all Her glorious perfection and imperfection. Goddess Spirituality really exposed me to feminism, taking what was a very nascent understanding of the need to confront inequality and turning it into a full-time passion. I would never have gone on to do my doctorate or my Women's Studies certificate without first being exposed to the ideas of feminism through my sisters in the Goddess. I would never have become the activist I am now. (Barrett and other TERFs in the Goddess community would probably be horrified to know that it was through their writings that I developed the interest in gender matters that leads me to reject their transexclusionary stance now.)

The Goddess Movement, as it's sometimes called, made me the woman I am today. It allowed me space to heal from childhood abuse. It sparked deep interests in subjects which continue to shape my life, professionally and personally, today. It allowed to slough off the residue of patriarchal religion and see myself as sacred, to see other people as sacred. It put me on the Priestess Path that I walk, sometimes reluctantly, to this day. And yet now I wonder if it can really be my home anymore. Reading this beautiful and heartbreaking piece by Morag Spinner this morning, I wondered if it's time for me to leave home, to strike out and help build something new, where all women are welcomed, affirmed, celebrated.

It sometimes seems as though those of us who would reject trans exclusion within Goddess Spirituality are few, but over the last few days I have some to see that we are many more than any of us thought. There are so many of us out here that want to build something better, something beautiful and diverse and healing. I still believe there is much of beauty to be taken from the Goddess Movement of the last 40 or so years. But we cannot build on the shifting sand of discrimination, on the quicksand of exclusion. 

I don't know where we go from here. I only know that we cannot stay where we are. I only know that when any one woman -- cis, trans, or otherwise -- is told that she is not sacred, that she is not Goddess, then our magick gets a little dimmer, our Goddess gets a little smaller. When we enact upon other women the types of spiritual and real-world violence that so many of us came to Goddess Spirituality to escape, we become agents of the very system we rejected. When leaders of a so-called feminist movement praise the passage of bills like North Carolina's HB2, as Cathy Brennan did, and endorse discrimination against trans people which literally results in death -- calls to Trans LifeLine doubled in the days after the bills passage -- we are no longer on a liberatory path.

I came to Goddess Spirituality for the liberation. I stayed for the transcendence. 

I can find neither if they are denied to my trans sisters. 

That's not my Goddess.

That's not my Feminism.

And the women that espouse these odious views, who spew forth this vitriol, can not be my Priestesses.



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Susan Harper is an eclectic solitary Feminist Witch from Irving, Texas. She is a professor of Anthropology, Sociology, and Women's Studies, with a focus on gender, religion, and sexuality. She is also an activist, community educator, and writer. When she's not making magick or fomenting social change, Susan is the head soapmaker, herbalist, and aromatherapist for Dreaming Priestess Creations. She shares her life with her partner, Stephanie, five cats, and two guinea pigs.


  • Shelly Nixon
    Shelly Nixon Thursday, 09 June 2016

    Thank you and bless you. I am passionate ally and have spoked out in the past -- and gotten some flack. I reposted your thoughts and have been re-inspired to speak out more. Transwomen ARE women. Period. And the most vulnerable among use, especially transwomen of color. If we exclude ANY woman based on some narrowly defined definition of what a woman is, then how exactly are we transcending a binary, oppresive paradigm that we who seek the Goddess espouse so passionately to be doing?

  • Susan Harper
    Susan Harper Friday, 10 June 2016

    Thank you and blessings to you, Shelly. This situation is so heartbreaking. I am encouraged by the number of people I see speaking out against it. I am dedicated to helping to build the next generation of Feminist Craft, one that is affirming of all women and which transcends the limiting paradigm you talk about. Please let me know how I can support you and others you know in doing this work!

  • We’Moon
    We’Moon Friday, 10 June 2016

    You speak my mind, sister. This parallel oppression must stop. The arms of the Goddess are plenty large enough to embrace us all.

  • Susan Harper
    Susan Harper Saturday, 11 June 2016

    Yes! How small does one's Goddess have to be to endorse exclusion and acts based in hate? Thank you for all We'moon does for the Goddess and all her women.

  • Lizabeth Kay Kleintop
    Lizabeth Kay Kleintop Sunday, 12 June 2016

    Thank you, Susan, for you. I am a transgender woman who found the Goddess after years of searching for meaning in purpose. She found me, actually. Long ago, before my transition She found me and, well, I didn't understand. I didn't understand me either at that time. I was in tears when I read your article both for the sentiments you wrote against and those of your great, welcome support. I am in tears again. Thank you so very much for your words, for your support.

  • Susan Harper
    Susan Harper Sunday, 12 June 2016

    Welcome to the circle, Sister. Thank you for being your brave, beautiful Goddess self.

  • Dani
    Dani Sunday, 12 June 2016

    Dear Susan, thank you for this post, which does my heart (and more hearts than mine) so much good. I left Temple of Diana in 2010, in my final year of the Spiral Door priestess training program, over a cluster of issues at the heart of which was this exclusionary stance. The break was anguishing but necessary. If I could say just one thing to Dianics and those who share their views, it would be this: if you truly revere & celebrate the Goddess, that is the Divine in the form of Woman, then transwomen should have a place of *honor* in your sisterhood. If your goal, as so often stated, is to create "a safe space for women," who needs that safety more than transwomen? There is no joy, no heartache, no struggle, no need for community that I own in myself as a cis-woman which I do not see reflected a thousandfold in my trans-sisters. Excluding transwomen from the circle of women reinforces those societal attitudes which put transwomen at greatest risk for violence and is utterly inconsistent with spiritual integrity & wholeness. Thank you again for raising your voice.

  • Susan Harper
    Susan Harper Sunday, 12 June 2016

    Thank you so much, Dani. I know that sometimes it feels like those of us in the Goddess community who support inclusion are but few, but I am increasingly convinced that we are in fact many -- though many of us stay silent for fear of the type of retribution many people are facing now for speaking out. I know in my heart and my soul and my bones that we can create the next generation of Feminist Craft, one that is inclusive and celebratory of all women. I look forward to working with you as we do!

  • Emmialle Heron
    Emmialle Heron Monday, 13 June 2016

    One of the things I love about being a Pagan was the ability to find and follow my own path. I am saddened that some groups choose to be exclusionary, I hate the thought that some may feel the pain of rejection. As much as I, personally, dislike the decision some have made, I am gladdened that other groups are inclusionary. I hope those that are blocked from some groups will find others that welcome them with open arms. I hope everyone finds a place to let their beauty shine.

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