An excerpt of Chapter 1 from Goddess Matters: the Mystical, Practical, and Controversial , copyright 2011 by Judith Laura.
If you told me in the mid-1970s, when I first started exploring the ancient reverence for female deities, that less than a quarter of a century later there would be hundreds of thousands of people in the United States whose spiritual lives were Goddess-centered, I wouldn’t have believed you.
At that time, as I made my way though Mothers and Amazons by Helen Diner and Women’s Mysteries by Esther Harding, I felt very alone. Then an article in Ms Magazine put me in touch with the journal, WomanSpirit. In the 1980s, I discovered the journals Woman of Power and The Beltane Papers. How thrilling to find that there were probably at least a few hundred women out there, exploring this new way to think about religion.
In the next few years, books updating the information from Diner and Harding began to be published with the results of new research on ancient Goddess cultures. In the Unitarian Universalist (UU) church where I was once a lone voice changing male god language to female (or at least non-gendered) as I sung hymns, eventually thousands more joined me nationwide when the UUs published a new hymnal eliminating male-only god language. Then a few of the more progressive Christian and Jewish congregations began “degenderizing” hymns and prayers. In 1986 the UUs introduced an adult education course, “Cakes for the Queen of Heaven,” which, over several years, brought thousands of women to Goddess. A number of years later I attended a showing of Donna Read’s Women and Spirituality film trilogy, beginning with “Goddess Remembered,” at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. We had arrived! Before the screening most of us in my small group from a D.C. suburb assumed there were maybe 50 other Goddess people in the area. But looking around the packed auditorium, we realized that there were in fact hundreds, if not thousands, of us nearby. A few years later along came the Internet, which, Goddess-like, changed everything. How exciting it was to meet people worldwide on “mailing lists” with lively discussions of our common concerns and uncommon questions about the divine embodied as female.
But as much progress as we have made, there still remains much to be done. Today resistance by the “old boys” (including female old boys) persists. As the case for ancient Goddess cultures becomes substantiated by archeological finds, and as an increasing number of people worldwide become interested in Goddess religions, resistance in some quarters appears to become stronger. Some fundamentalist evangelical Christian groups have started to demonize “The Queen of Heaven,” as well as other Goddess figures, and by extension, women. More surprising is the opposition in academia, where Goddess and other spiritual feminist scholars are expected to meet standards not required of their colleagues conducting research from patriarchal points of view. Ground‑breaking work in religion by women is still often ignored, with credit going years later to men when they restate the women’s discoveries and innovative views. One example: Work by women establishing the importance of Mary Magdalene in early Christianity and perhaps as a Goddess priestess was given little attention by the mainstream for years, but when a man published a novel about a male artist that incorporated these same theories, it received coverage on prime‑time TV and in mass circulation magazines. The fact that the novel, The Da Vinci Code, (Doubleday 2003) was high on several best seller lists cannot fully explain this coverage. Only a few years before, The Red Tent by Anita Diamant (Picador 1999), a woman‑centered novel set in biblical times, was high on best seller lists for an extended amount of time but was given no such coverage by network TV or mass circulation news magazines.
Goddess spirituality is at a crossroads. Do we continue to be a scattered spiritual path? Or do we become a full-fledged religion? It seems to me that to choose the former is to choose continued marginalization—both by mainstream religions and by Paganism—and to run the risk of eventually fading into the persisting patriarchal culture.
For in some ways the fire of early feminism that sparked the development of Goddess spirituality is sputtering. Paganism and Wicca continue to grow, but women’s issues, so central to Goddess spirituality’s beginnings often get lost. It’s not unusual for women to learn a little bit about Goddess and then join pre‑existing Pagan or Wiccan groups, some of whose patriarchal assumptions are left uncontested. We need to realize that although a group has Pagan or Wiccan roots it may not be egalitarian; just because a group is polytheistic, just because it includes goddesses along with its gods, does not automatically mean it honors women. This, together with the erroneous confusion of New Age thought with Goddess teachings has resulted in the weakening of Goddess focus. In some cases, energy that twenty to thirty years ago was directed towards establishing equality in both representation of deity and participation of women in spiritual groups has dissipated. Yet a number of Christian and Jewish sects—including liberal denominations as well as a few evangelical Christian and Orthodox Jewish women’s groups—continue to examine ways to include women both in scriptural interpretation and religious practice. However, they may be severely restricted by church dogma and tradition, and in mainstream churches and synagogues nearly always stop short of using the term, Goddess.
What We Need for Future Growth
What is needed to sustain and hopefully spur the growth of Goddess spirituality in the next 20 years? First, a steadfast concern for inclusiveness in language and practice, including representing the divine as female. Second, establishment of Goddess spirituality as a legitimate religion either as part of, or apart from, mainstream Paganism.
To achieve the first, we can ask:
—Do women participate equally in discussions in our mixed gender groups (including covens), or do they defer to, or are they often interrupted by men?
—Are leadership roles, other than high priest/ess, filled as often by women as by men in mixed gender groups?
—Are deities referred to as “the gods” when we actually mean both goddesses and gods?
—Are the group’s teaching materials free of sexist assumptions (for example, in the characteristics of gods and goddesses)?
—Do the books and techniques used for metaphysics (such as tarot, astrology, Kabbalah, meditation, magick) depend on outdated patriarchal frameworks?
As for the second, establishing the legitimacy of our spiritual path—this may be trickier, but it is no less important. Many of us don’t like the term “religion,” mostly because of bad experiences with organized religion. But the root word “religio” means re-linking or re-connecting (with each other and with the divine)—not repressing! I think one of the most important things we can do to gain respect for our rituals, study and scholarship, is to establish the legitimacy of religion honoring the divine as female. Many of us groan when we think about getting organized. But we need places more accessible, central and permanent to meet, celebrate, and study. We need to keep our tradition of outdoor worship, but we also need our own temples (or “houses”) where we can both hold circles and educate ourselves and our families. As we will see in later chapters, some of this work has already begun.
Sustaining the achievements of the first generation of modern Goddess women, re‑linking with the heritage of female‑embodied divinity, connecting with each other in a way that establishes us as a recognizable and recognized religion—these are the challenges for the next 20 years. Meeting them will, with Goddess blessing, take us even beyond.
 The American Religious Identification Survey (via phone) in 2001, found 134,000 people who identified themselves as Wiccan and 140,000 as Pagan, most of whom can be assumed to include Goddess(es) in their spiritual work. There is probably some overlap in these two groups. But there are also people who don’t identify themselves as members of these groups, and there are people who primarily identify as other religions (for example, Unitarian Universalists) who are involved in Goddess reverence. A 2008 survey had similar findings. Source: religioustolerance.org/chr_prac2a.htm, accessed 6/6/11
 Cara Shultz, “Christian Group Directs ‘Spiritual Warfare’ Against Pagan Goddess,” pncminnesota.wordpress.com/2011/07/25/christian-group-directs-spiritual-warfare-against-pagan-goddess; Jason Pitzl-Waters, “Keeping Track of The Third Wave,” www.patheos.com/blogs/wildhunt/2009/06/keeping-track-of-the-third-wave.html; both accessed 7/30/11. C Peter Wagner, Confronting the Queen of Heaven, Wagner Publications, 2001.
 The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown was given an hour of prime time coverage on ABC News on Nov. 3, 2003 (“Jesus, Mary & Da Vinci,”) transcript on http://abcnews.go.com, accessed 12/20/03; article based on program can be found on abcnews.go.com/international/story?id=84590&page=1, accessed 6/6/11. The novel was also the impetus for the cover story in Newsweek Dec. 8, 2003 :“Women of the Bible: Mary Magdalene: Decoding The Da Vinci Code.” Books by women covering similar material about Mary Magdalene include: Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels, Random House 1979; Margaret Starbird, The Woman With the Alabaster Jar, Bear & Company 1993; Jane Schaberg, The Resurrection of Mary Magdalene, Continuum 2002; and if it’s fiction you want, The Moon Under Her Feet, a footnoted novel by Clysta Kinstler, HarperCollins 1989.
 For a thorough discussion about the shortcomings of many New Age beliefs and their incompatibility with Goddess spirituality, see Monica Sjöö, Return of the Dark/Light Mother or New Age Armageddon? Plain View 1999; and Jacqui Woodward-Smith, “The Goddess vs. the New Age,” Goddess Pages, Winter 2006, see archives at goddess-pages.co.uk or go directly to article, accessed 6/6/11