Revealing the Female Bias and the Shadow Side of the Goddess Movement

This is for those who are interested in a more in-depth analysis of the female bias and the shadow side of the Goddess Movement.

There is no doubt that there has been a male bias in the construction of Knowledge, however, the female bias might be more difficult to detect because women's voices have been so denied in the construction of knowledge.  However, as I offer my critiques on the female bias, I need to make something clear. 

I have ultimate respect and admiration for the courageous women in all disciplines who have carved out a path of emancipation for women of today. For this reason, I am hesitant to be too critical of the women's spirituality movement when it is still in its infancy.  When I reflect on the thousands of women who challenged patriarchal ideologies in much more severe conditions of oppression, I am instantly humbled. I envision warrior women with enormous swords, cutting away the thick forest of ideological oppression. Therefore, the critiques I have to offer the women's spirituality movement come not from ego and competitiveness, but rather from good intention and a commitment to make the movement stronger. 

 In my educational years as a Masters student of Sociology and Social Work and years of professional training as a counselor, the dynamics of the victim/victimizer relationship has always fascinated me because it is so evident in human relationships.  Yet, what I find so ironic is that each position sees the other as the source of its problems.  For example, women haven’t always been able to see the ways in which they've contributed to the dynamic system of human suffering because in pointing the finger at "the patriarchy" as the evil victimizer, they have assumed the position of the innocent victims. I am not denying the fact that men have used warfare and physical violence to dominate women.

On the contrary, I am merely making the point that there is a complex dynamic occurring here that reflects the dysfunctional role of the victim.  Women seem to know what "men's issues" are, but have we really owned our roles in the human drama? As humans who suffer from fragile egos women are just as likely to abuse their position of power if the tables are turned. Having had the experience of working under several power-tripping women, I'm convinced that women are equally capable of abusing their power and have the capacity to emotionally castrate a man with the glance of an eye. 

 I am cognizant of the diversity of feminist perspectives or "feminisms" within the women's movement as well as the varied perspectives within the neo-pagan and Wiccan groups and, therefore, I make no broad generalizations about any particular group.  Exposing the female bias is indeed a complex topic, with multiple layers and perspectives that deserve a thorough analysis. Unfortunately, I am not able to delve into the complexity of these issues in this article. As a sociologist who is aware of the dialectics model of social change, history reveals the tendency to go from one extreme to another, which in some respects can be considered a defense mechanism or reactionary survival instinct.  The pendulum needs to swing to the other side in order to find a place of balance. While feminism has been a powerful tool of emancipation for women, there is a tendency in radical feminist and some pagan groups to go to the other extreme; thus, falling prey to a "female bias."

 In the process of awakening to the Goddess, it has become evident to me that some people have gone from one extreme to the other--from father worship to strictly mother worship, without a true appreciation of consecrated polarity, or the sacred union (particularly for those who have been severely damaged by patriarchal religions). 

The tendency for the mainstream to go from one extreme to the other is all too evident in human history. The sexual revolution of the 1960s, immediately following the McCarthyism of the forties and fifties, is a perfect example of a pendulum swing from sexual repression to sexual liberation; however, we see now that neither extreme served us. This is also true of God and Goddess ideation. When speaking about the Divine, one simply can't talk about God without talking about the Goddess.  For this reason, it is of particular importance that feminists not go the other extreme and succumb to a female bias, especially when they are openly disgusted and judgmental of a "male bias."  The primordial "One" demands that at some point we transcend gender--the totality of the one is the void, it is pure potentiality, neutral and genderless.

Perhaps my biggest concern with feminist critiques of gender inequality is the tendency to make generalizations, which in many respects is an inevitable human phenomena that stems from a lack of deeper understanding on a particular subject or a lack of awareness of one's own bias. Making broad-brushed and overly simplistic statements shows not only a lack of motivation to fully explore the complexity and diversity of perspectives about a particular argument, but an unwillingness to apply a sense of reason and logic when exploring topics.  Most of my concerns about feminists are tendencies that I also succumbed to in my own process of awakening; therefore I am not placing judgement on these tendencies.  I merely wish to help women to be more aware of their own contingencies of ignorance.  I was fortunate to have people in my life, particularly scientific men, who challenged my ideas and brought me back to a more balanced place.  While I can't admit that I am a fully integrated individual, free from my own bias, I have worked hard to bridge the masculine and feminine energies within myself so that I might be more effective in seeking balance in society. 

 When women take a position of blame and point the finger at men, men are more likely to become defensive and reactionary, when in fact women need the opposite to occur.  Women need men to be more open and willing to receive the reflection they have to show them, as opposed to pushing it away. Women won't be able to penetrate the denial and resistance of men if they are coming from a place of blaming rage. The rage that emerges when a woman comes to realize the extent to which she has been wounded by the patriarchy is indeed a valid emotion, and must be embraced. But rather than venting this rage on men in general, it is important to work through it in personal counseling or with other women.  Venting rage on men will only make them defensive and unwilling to examine the ways in which they have contributed to the problem. Feminists have, consequently, been stereotyped as "raging man haters" because of the few who didn't have the tools to deal with their rage in a healthy manner. 

 Women also need to be more specific as to what kinds of men and male behaviors perpetuate and maintain gender inequality.  As far as I'm concerned, it is the really insecure men in positions of power, who tend to be more traditional and conservative in their views about gender roles, that are the biggest contributors to the problem.   However, there are also those who openly admit they don't condone gender inequality, yet unconsciously contribute to the system of oppression on a day-to-day basis without even realizing it. There are also men who have worked hard to break through their conditioning and are open supporters of the women's movement.

  After long hours of discussion with both men and women on the topic of feminism and women's spirituality, I witnessed the horror, pain and guilt felt by some men who professed they had nothing to do with "the patriarchal" establishment or social inequality.  Upon hearing their voices of resignation and guilt for something they don't feel a part of, I came to realize that there are plenty of men who are open to healing and who recognize the value of integrating their feminine side within themselves and in the world at large.  Men who openly embrace feminist interests will serve as valuable and positive role models for the large majority of men who either refuse to or simply don't understand the benefits of embracing the feminine principle.

 Revealing the Shadow Side of Goddess Religions:

 There is, without exception, a shadow side to all social constructions; therefore, it would be ignorant of us to disregard the ways in which ancient matrifocal societies fell prey to their own contingencies of ignorance. After a critical evaluation of an assortment of perspectives within the women's spirituality movement, I have noticed the tendency of some feminists and theologians to paint ancient matrifocal societies in a simplistic and utopian light, as if they were perfect, egalitarian societies. However, as much as we would like to view them in this light, inevitably, there is a shadow side to Goddess religions that might not be so easily detectable.  While it is possible that these cultures may have been less violent and warlike, and maybe even more egalitarian, I don't believe it's right to assume this as "total truth" when in fact it is impossible for us, as outsiders from a different epoch, to truly discern the reality of a historical period.

Feminist thealogian Rosemary Radford Ruether makes some interesting claims in her book Gaia and God: An Ecofeminist Theology of Earth Healing. I am impressed by Ruether because she is careful to not oversimplify or make broad generalizations about ancient matrifocal societies and the reasons for the shift into patriarchy. I appreciate her cautious and balanced approach when analyzing the Goddess hypothesis. She is critical of feminists who tend to come off as separatists, such that the sacred masculine is negated. She writes, and I agree that "A separatist vision of demonization of men offers no real hope for resolving the male-female conflict in society."46  

 She is critical of feminist thealogians who tend to paint a perfect picture of matricentric society because they fail to recognize the problems of an insecure male adult identity. Matrifocal societies that "fail to develop an adequately affirmative role for men, one that gives men prestige parallel to that of women but prevents their assuming aggressive dominance over women, inevitably risk developing the resentful male, who defines his masculinity in hostile negation of women."47 Radford doesn't agree with some of the original mothers of the women's spirituality movment,that we can simply return to a Neolithic matricentric system.  However, she does agree that reclaiming the memory of these earlier cultures can be immensely valuable to the wholeness we seek as a society today.  But she strongly advises that we take into consideration the weaknesses of the matricentric core of human society that made it vulnerable to patriarchy.   

 It is difficult to know the down side of a particularly ideological social structure until one has actually lived in it.  Nonetheless, it is our human right to make humble, educated guesses as to what some of these might have been. While I can't say I have thoroughly investigated all theories as to how the shift from matrifocal to patriarchal societies came about, I know there is no simple explanation.  When I try to recall a particular phase in my earlier development of consciousness, it is impossible to be totally objective. I find that I inevitably project some of my more "mature" or "developed" states of mind onto my earlier phases of psychic development.   When examining ancient cultures or earlier phases in human consciousness, it is equally difficult for modern humans to revert back to ancient modes of knowing without projecting our modern day perceptions and beliefs. 

 When I intuitively reflect on the shift, the one thing that continues to come to mind is the pendulum swing, which seems to effectively reflect the rhythms of social change throughout history.  On some deep level, I sense that there were necessary developments in consciousness that came out of matrifocal and patriarchal social systems. However, I think that in each phase we developed totally different modes of knowing, and that each phase eventually reached an extreme point that became dangerous--the shadow that lurks in all social constructions.  In this sense, each phase was necessary in order for human evolution to occur; therefore, one phase isn't "better" than the other.  In the West we have taken rationality and yang energy to an extreme state of imbalance, which is why it is important to now reclaim ancient intuitive knowledge that has been lost to us so that we can come back to a place of balance and equilibrium. However, it is unrealistic to think that we can simply go back in human history and manifest an earlier phase of human conscious. This would be analogous to a mature adult trying to revert back to childhood--it is simply impossible. It seems that what we really need to do is awaken the inner child, the simplicity and the innocence of an earlier phase of human consciousness, but also retain the adult understandings that we have in the modern world.

 In modern society we have experienced the damage caused by the separation of spirit and matter; we have been taught that they are two totally different realities that don't mix, despite how things function in nature.  Our inability to integrate the invisible world of spirit and the visible world of matter has resulted in not only severe fragmentation and damage within the human psyche, but also a contradictory and divided understanding of the world and our relationship to it. An assortment of scholars claim that in ancient Goddess oriented societies, spirit and matter were considered to be one and the same.  There was no separation between this world and the other world, or the sacred and the profane.  Supposedly, the separation into two autonomous and distinct polarities arose much later in human consciousness, and is considered by some scholars to be a tragedy brought on by the patriarchy. 

When I apply the concept of consecrated polarity to the dualism of spirit and matter, I can't help but wonder if the two polarities were so intertwined in early human consciousness that they needed to establish a sense of autonomy before they could once again unite.  Developmental psychologists have observed that a human in its infancy has no separation between its internal and external world, and that in order for self-development to occur, the polarities between self and world need to be established.  Because the micro world of the individual and the macro world of society are reflections of each other (the individual is in society and society is within the individual), I propose that the evolution of human consciousness as a whole evolves in a similar way to that of an individual’s psychic development.  

 If in the infancy of human consciousness spirit and matter were one and the same, it would make sense that in order for us to evolve, the separation between spirit and matter, or "this world" and the "other world," had to occur.  From a Jungian perspective, the feminine principle of relatedness, without an understanding of the masculine principle of autonomy, would promote a sea of sameness that would deny the unique beauty of diversity. Remember that in order for consecrated polarity to function correctly, both polarities need to be autonomous; however, they also need to be interconnected in order for creative evolution to occur.  Like the spark plugs in an engine, the positive and negative charges need a gap in order for the synapses or creative spark of evolution to occur.

 

 Copyright, Victoria Christian, 2019

Exerpt from Feminine Mysticism in Art

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