I was in my thirties, training as a psychotherapist and in therapy when I was first introduced to the idea of Goddess. I was struggling to resolve my sense of identity as a woman, which had long been uncertain. My therapist, of Catholic background, suggested Mary as a start, but at that point it felt too scary for a Jewish girl! I found myself initially drawn to Kwan Yin even though I knew nothing about her.
I then went on a week’s holiday to Crete, without any hint of what lay there for me- interesting choice you might say. It was the first time I had been away on my own. I was staggered by the feeling of warm, baked- bread breath that enfolded me as I stepped from the plane and of the constant voice that welcomed and guided me that week. Most of the time I struggled with loneliness and obsessive thoughts that everyone else had someone but me. However, with amazing timing I arrived at Greek Easter and my trip turned into a life-changing pilgrimage of death and rebirth, of revisiting and remembering places of a past life as a priestess there, at Knossos Throne Room and the Dictian Cave where I left my defunct wedding ring as an offering. I found myself offering gestures and spontaneous prayers to Goddess, with loving messages from her as she reached out to me. I even found a statue of Kwan Yin in Herakleon among the Minoan depictions.
Since then I have connected, disconnected and reconnected with her. Through Goddess I finally found my sense of physicality, dignity, pleasure and power as a woman, as a bodily manifestation of divinity that I could relate to. I found the story of Inanna and Ereshkigal immensely meaningful in my own process, both physically and psychologically. The descent into the underworld, the facing of denied shadow and the stripping away to become whole, all leant context and meaning to my struggles with emptiness and despair. I discovered that feminism had begun to find its way into my Jewish background and that felt very healing. I trained as a priestess in Glastonbury, renewing vows I believe I made as a priestess of Isis in Egypt, and joined with women openly celebrating the Divine Feminine. I communed much more with Nature and drew on its inspiration for my creativity and wellbeing. I honoured both its cycles and my own. More recently I celebrated my Croning with dear friends in ceremony. Triple Goddess brings so much meaning and support in marking the rite of passage through our different phases of life and into our autumn years.
Having emerged from patriarchal religion I have instinctively steered away from anything too organised, hierarchical or singular in its beliefs, perhaps sensing a risk of resurrecting and recreating old structures and costumes. I suppose I am wary of losing my voice among the beliefs and dynamics of groups and that has happened. Goddess, for me, is about nurturing my intuitive and instinctive voice and that can get easily blurred. I prefer grassroots coming together with other women as equals and creating sacred space together rather than in any formal, prescribed way.
I revisited Crete and have also visited Wales and Malta on women’s Goddess tours. I experienced profoundly loving and supportive times with other women in spontaneous ceremony. This seems to be the source of my deepest experience of connection and inspiration. Our ancient sites hold energies that give us a blast of what it was like in a Goddess based civilisation. I express my connection through poems and also multimedia paintings of ancient sacred sites. I try to evoke the experience of Goddess energy manifesting and something of my own experience rather than concrete images that risk being twee. I suppose this more accurately reflects the liminal threshold of visionary experience. I am more of a poet than painter but, with one or two exceptions, I tend to find my efforts can carry a hint of mawkishness that does not always do justice to what I want to convey. I guess it’s to do with that artistic law of ‘show, don’t tell’.
Currently I am reflecting on what Goddess is and what she really means to me. I realise I am strongly attached to my ancient past connections, but have little idea of what Goddess means in a 21st century world. If Goddess is to have any real meaning, apart from marking the seasons, how can I create her ways in my life? Perhaps this is more for younger generations, as I fear I am too set in my Baby Boomer ways to make major shifts instead of moving furniture around. I am at an age where I recognise the need to hand over the torch to the younger generation.
There are pointers such as: respect for nature, the cycles, the elements, listening to the land; casting circle as sacred space rather than erecting edifices, living sustainably and lightly; using the concept of circle to relate to one another in equality rather than hierarchy, honouring diversity in opinion, culture, belief; honouring the ancestors and ancient Goddess cultures; upholding respect for women and the wisdom of the body.
Breaking the notion of women as victim also seems important. I am of a generation that spawned protest and individuality which has enabled questioning and challenging of old authority but it has also bred a degree of self-centredness and outsider mentality that is hard for me to change. Goddess suggests to me a way of circle and co-operation and that has to entail awareness and processing of the more destructive patterns of blame and victim behaviour that can manifest in those with a history of powerlessness. We can get caught in the history of our pain and persecution as women, instead of moving forward and acknowledging and managing our power which we often deny.
Goddess also suggests a need to live in harmony with the Earth, to stand up for her not only with pretty flowers or conversations with the converted, but in action. There is the challenge of how to respond to society with real inclusion of the male rather than creating another exclusive club. When I read someone’s view that whilst men can take part, only women can truly embody Goddess, I immediately think of patriarchal priestly culture and really do not want to perpetuate that. And yes, I am aware that a period of rebalancing is necessary to bring back the feminine to her rightful place.
I am also asking myself more fundamentally what or who is Goddess? Is Goddess a collection of ancient beings who speak from the side lines to those who will listen, who wish to be acknowledged and vivified as part of our suppressed history? Is Goddess the energetic field of life, the glue that binds the atoms together? Is Goddess the voice of my deepest identity as woman and essential in emerging from a solely masculine perception of the divine? Is Goddess the essential compliment of the coin that is both male and female in our realm of duality? Is Goddess all of matter, earthbound and cosmic? Is Goddess simply Gaia – our beautiful planet home? In this year of 2012 some believe (especially here in Glastonbury) that this is the time of our ascension into fifth dimensional reality – if so how does this fit with Goddess understanding?
I think it is important that we ask these questions of ourselves and explore them with each other, rather than simply riding on a feel good wave of colour and song. We need to deal with the shadows that arise in community in mature ways other than defensive ones. Goddess community needs good thinkers and builders as well as artists. There needs to be rigorous debate without fearing it might spoil our cosy agreements. I suspect that the answers will include all the above and more, in true multifaceted Goddess style.
At the moment all I know is that I have heard her voice and felt the welling of her deep love inside me and for whatever reasons, I am and have been connected to her for a very long time and that it will remain so. Perhaps one way is to remind myself by asking, ‘How does this situation relate to Goddess, what would be a Goddess response to this?’
Words and photograph © Rachael Clyne