Sacred Female, Sacred You

Whitewashed, faded walls. Oddly set stones. Paintings on cave walls. Figurines of busty women with hamentasch loincloths. However many religious layers exist beneath the particular spot of ground you’re standing on, it seems the original overlay, the first human footprint as any archaeologist can identify, suggests a religious structure that deified women. Or, at least, there was a religion honoring the duality between men and women as equally powerful, equally sacred.

Many years ago, I saw a one-woman film, grainy in my memory. A series of monologues, I vividly remember the act where she portrayed the grief of women at the time of Abraham; rushing to hide their precious figurines, saying goodbye to their sacred objects. In that flash of a moment, everything I learned in Shabbaton got re-written—those evil idols were goddess statues, that sinful polytheism expressed sacred regard for Gaia.

I am currently reading The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley. This hefty book, a feminist rendering of the King Arthur legend, is housed in the youth section of the Marshall Public Library in Pocatello, Idaho. A few hundred pages in by now, I am relieved I can keep up—due in part to my obsession with the film King Arthur, starring Clive Owen as Arturius, and Keira Knightley as the most bad-ass Guinevere ever. The historical eras in The Mists of Avalon and King Arthur play out on common soil, not so many years apart. Hadrian’s Wall. Saxon invaders. The mix of early, early Christianity with the native religious belief systems.

What Christianity did to the role of women and the goddess-concept on the Isle of Britain and elsewhere, Judaism did to the role of women and the goddess-concept a few thousand years earlier around the land of milk and honey. And my guess, while I haven’t done the specific research, is that other modern-day religions did the same thing in the regions where they spread and eventually gained dominance. This suppression of female power was calculated, deceptive, and often bloody, and this one-down position of women eventually became the norm. Bye bye, goddess-lady. Hello, domestic violence shelters.

Diving into a book like The Mists of Avalon or learning about the status of women during the time of Xerxes’s empire, I am reminded of the natural power that resides within myself. It is not in any woman’s spiritual or emotional DNA to be “lesser-than,” but the rubble of over 5700 years of carefully written history separates us from that knowledge.

The only power women need to recover from the legends of our spirit mothers is not power over the mist revealing a secret island (it’s a relevant metaphor, however), but the power over what we individually believe about our selves. Do we like our selves? Do we see our selves as sacred and holy? Do we think our selves are generally pretty awesome and worthy of respect and deference? Before I began the process of reclaiming that vital and necessary power, I’m pretty sure I handed it over sometime in the 6th grade. To boys. To girls. To my parents, to my employers.

It’s not particularly extreme or bold to explore some basics of pre Judeo-Christian religious history. Very little of this history is factually disputed; it’s simply not advertised. And it’s not radical to be confident, assertive, and self-assured–it’s simply the way we all used to be. Best of all, I have come to discover that it’s possible to take company with the sacred female as I define Her, and enjoy the rich customs of Judaism at the same time.

–Nancy Goodman