One of the greatest challenges in the 21st Century is redefining our spirituality to adapt to two challenges humanity faces. On the one hand, our activities have exceeded the carrying capacity of the planet (leading to potential ecological collapse). On the other hand, as we have evolved a greater sense of ourselves as individuals with universal worth and rights, we no longer accept the abuse and needless suffering of others. As a result, for many people, hierarchy-based religions that in past centuries put high-status males at the center of things are no longer acceptable. Yet scientific rationalism has for many failed to work as a belief system that helps us organize our lives with a sense of meaning and value.
One of the most appealing spiritual experiments to address these tensions is the growing Goddess Movement, which has resurrected the feminine face of the divine from ancient times. I've been fascinated with this movement for two decades, and as the author of Savage Breast: One Man's Search for the Goddess, I participated in it, giving book talks and lectures on what it might mean to be a post-patriarchal male.
On the cusp of 2015, Goddess worship is moving into a new generation of leaders who are striving to evolve beyond individual teachers, isolated communities and occasional communal rituals and bring the Goddess into the mainstream. Call it Goddess 2.0. One of the leaders of the 21st Century Goddess movement is Karen Tate. She's the host of an Internet radio show "Voices of the Sacred Feminine," the author of three books and the editor of just-released anthology of leading voices in the movement also called Voices of the Sacred Feminine. I spoke with Rev. Tate about her new book, and what the future of the Goddess movement may bring:
Question: The contributors to Voices of the Sacred Feminine are mostly women and men who have been guests on your radio show by the same name. What was the original purpose of the show, and what has been the unifying factor through the years?
Tate: In my mind, the reason for doing the show was two-pronged and I discuss that in the opening of Voices of the Sacred Feminine: Conversations to ReShape Our World. There is a desire and necessity to have a platform or voice that reached the world to define who pagans, feminists and Goddess advocates are and who we are not. The second prong was to teach how ideals of the Sacred Feminine can help us change the world and are in fact a liberation thealogy. It was tiresome being defined by either our detractors or the ill-informed, so the show works against that disinformation and teaches what you won't find in any mainstream curriculum - but should!
Question: The modern Goddess Movement has been underway for about 50 years - we could start with Merlin Stone's book When God was a Woman. How well do you think the movement has done at accomplishing the goal of bringing the worship of the Goddess back as spiritual path?
Tate: It's been two steps forward, one step back. I was not around in the heyday of some of our wonderful foremothers such as Merlin Stone, but they made great strides. It was a creative time and they faced a lot of opposition with strength and tenacity and we're still doing that now, years later. It feels as if things aren't moving quickly enough, but when you consider the vast timeline of herstory, we have much progress in a few decades. I think the Abrahamic religions have turned so many people off that more and more people are turning their backs on religion and spirituality before they ever find the Sacred Feminine and what it can mean for the planet and our quality of life. The Millennials, I understand, feel religion is toxic and I can understand the desire to rid themselves of that divisiveness, yoke of oppression and pressure to conform - so it's important before they write off spirituality altogether, we share the message of what Goddess has to offer. I really believe Goddess ideals are a reflection of our quality of life and oppose the "authoritarian Father" type religions that discriminate against women and preach gays are an abomination. Finally, extremist Christians have tenaciously infiltrated all levels of government and their intolerance is dangerous to women's rights, gay rights and our separation of Church and State. I think we have to fight everyday to hang on to the threads of progress, especially if we are not a Tier One religion.
Question: Goddess worship is strongly aligned with other movements - environment conservation, social justice, creating a "caring economy." How do the leaders of the movement - the contributors to your book - balance their core beliefs and convictions with these practical objectives?
Tate: In theory we are aligned, or should be aligned with the social justice and environmental movements, but alas, as the late Margo Adler lamented, where are the Pagans? Why aren't they on the front lines fighting fracking and all manner of environmental exploitation if they profess to be an earth-based spirituality? I say, where are the women? Too many are complicit in their own oppression, supporting the status quo and rejecting feminism. I wonder if they really know what it means to be a feminist, because we certainly aren't man-haters or victims, as some have said. Feminists want society to treat women fairly and as equala. We want a society that's not like this dominator, survival of the fittest paradigm we live in now. The leaders in my anthology however, are the cognitive minority, the wayshowers, the visionaries who are trying to bring the thinking along before it's too late. They are trying to awaken the masses, shake things up, dissolve the oppressive aspects of patriarchy, implore people to shake off their apathy and 'sheeple' mentality. They do so in as many ways as they are individual personalities. You'll have to read their contributions and pick up on their individual styles.
Question: What's the difference between Goddess worship and Wiccan?
Tate: Well, that's a really hard question to answer with any specificity. There are so many varieties and overlaps. I can just imagine the eyebrows that will perk up with this answer but I'll give it a go. My experience has been both have more in common than they're different. Neither tend to conform, dancing to the beat of the same drum - they hear their own drum beat and dance to that instead. Maybe that's why there's a lot of struggle to get along sometimes. I can tell you that in general, we have different elders. While pagans tend to look to Ray Buckland, Gerald Gardner, Scott Cunningham, to name just a few of the pagan teachers, Goddess Advocates often align more with feminists and feminist thealogy, turning to Riane Eisler, Merlin Stone, Mary Daly and a multitude of others. There is overlap however, such as Starhawk, Patrick McCollum and Selena Fox (all in the anthology) who appeal to folks in both camps. Goddess Advocates and Wiccans generally have Goddess in common and might align with Progressive Christians, but not absolutely always and I think Goddess Advocates are more likely to be social justice activists because once a woman discovers Goddess, she learns about the evils of sexism and wants to rid women of that yoke and begins to see injustices of all oppressed people and hopes to make the world a better place. Fighting sexism leads to fighting for human rights of all kinds. Goddess Advocates will delve into magic and ritual, but Wiccans really delve into magic and ritual. And now that I've said all that, toss it in the trash can. Every Wiccan or Pagan or Goddess Advocate you ask will give you a different opinion.
Question: What to you is the biggest challenge ahead for the movement?
Tate: I think the Movement suffers from lack of money to build more effective infrastructure. Add to that apathy, women complicit in their own oppression and men who still think women are on the planet to serve and obey men. Just look at the White Christian men who still think they can tell women what to do with their bodies and the Republican war on women. It's really amazing. We're in the one step back part of the revolution. However, that said, more people everyday find out about Goddess and we are gaining so many allies, including feminist men who really get this and are on the front lines in the struggle. They understand Goddess spirituality offers men freedom to be their authentic self. We're going to win this. I have no doubt. The arc of history curves toward liberalism they say and social justice and liberalism go hand in hand. Naomi Klein said recently we are going to have to choose between capitalism and climate change. Well, climate change is Mother Nature, or Goddess. The Great She is challenging us to do what's right for the most of us, for the sake of humanity and the planet. Climate change could be the deciding factor that uplifts humanity, creates more stable economies and more jobs and makes us live Her ideals of sharing, caring, peace, justice and equality. We have an incredible opportunity here to use climate change to take power away from the 1 percent and really take care of the needs of the 99 percent. It's really do or die.
Karen Tate is an independent scholar, speaker, radio show host, published author and social justice activist. She is also founding Board of Directors member of the Institute for Thealogy and Deasophy and a contributing writer to Sacred History Magazine, Mystic Pop, Circle News, the Beltane Papers and other domestic and international print and online magazines. Her website and new anthology can be found at:
Voices of the sacred Feminine