I recently, a bit accidentally, attended a goddess circle event. I had heard of them, but I never really paid any attention before. I do believe that knowing the stories of matriarchal religions is important, but I had never before ventured into exploring this world with other women for some reason.
So you could say that it was a cosmic coincidence that I was at the Feminist Library last Friday, where Lucy North decided to hold the latest of her Lateral Haze events. Lucy writes for The Numinous, so you can find out more about her take on the topic on their website.
But what I personally found really illuminating is the connections that Lucy made between goddesses, fairytales and witches, and the awakened woman today. What I often thought myself, and has been the inspiration for the name of Angels & Witches, is that witches were the first feminists, as women who lived their own truth, despite, or even against, all the conventions of their times. But one could argue that the connections go far beyond the first (known to us) witches. You could link, as Lucy does, the concept of the wild, or awakened, woman with matriarchal goddess cultures and fairytales.
For example, the Norse goddess, Freya, is a an archetype of the sexually liberated woman, before any notions of feminism or women’s liberation were ever explicitly conceptualised. Lucy links Freya to the, still deeply buried, concept of the wild, or, one could say, liberated, woman – one who is not afraid of her own sexuality and lives freely, in agreement with herself and does not deny her own needs. One could say, and in fact people often make that argument against feminism, that women are now liberated and free to do whatever they want, but that is a gross underestimation of the patriarchal hold on women’s sexuality. Any woman who is unashamed and unafraid to apply the pleasure principle to herself as it is standardly applied by the 21st century man, faces much harsher judgement than any men ever do, and the threat of being dubbed a slut or a slag for many years to come. So much for women’s liberation…
Next on our list of fabulous goddesses to discuss was Lilith – Eve’s predecessor. She is the symbol of power and knowledge. In fact, in some versions of the story, she is the snake offering Eve access to knowledge. Yet, her story still remains largely unknown, and twisted and demonised when told. I had heard of Lilith before. But none of the other women in the room that night had.
There were many more stories in Lucy’s impressive arsenal, and I highly recommend anyone interested in the topic to check out her website and make their way to one of her events. The one story that I will probably never forget was the one about the origins of witches’ brooms, which Lucy told us on our walk home. Apparently, according to one version of the story, rarely told, back in the day, some enlightened women were using psychedelics and trees to pleasure themselves… You might call them witches, or whatever you like, but it sounds to me like they were much more sexually liberated then than we are now!
Many of Lucy’s stories were based on the book Women Who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, which I have to admit I haven’t read before, but it is definitely on my reading list now. All the stories in the book are an attempt at taking back for women the fairytales that are generally well known to us as stories told in their patriarchal version, always conforming to the same structure and reinforcing the stereotype of fragile femininity and heroic masculinity: a princess needing to be rescued, a prince doing the rescuing, a marriage which is supposed to symbolise the happy ever after… Pinkola Estes puts the heroine back into the woman. The wild woman is the (s)hero of her own story and does not need a man to rescue her.
I intend to go back to explore goddess/women’s circles again. The stories, whether you decide to believe in them or not, are very powerful and should be known by all women. They are part of women’s history or herstories. Matriarchal religions existed well before feminism and women’s history, well before the Suffragettes, well before the patriarchal ones in many cases. But to me, these stories have very little to do with religion and everything to do with our general belief systems – the values we share culturally. Just imagine the world we would live in if all our girls grew up with those versions of fairytales…