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Restoring the Goddess: Equal Rites for Modern Women

Restoring the Goddess: Equal Rites for Modern Women

by Barbara G. Walker

"In the beginning, in the time that was no time, nothing existed but the Womb. And the Womb was a limitless dark cauldron of all things in potential: a chaotic blood-soup of matter and energy, fluid as water yet mud-solid with salts of the earth; red-hot as fire yet restlessly churning and bubbling with all the winds. And the Womb was the Mother, before She


"In the beginning, in the time that was no time, nothing existed but the Womb. And the Womb was a limitless dark cauldron of all things in potential: a chaotic blood-soup of matter and energy, fluid as water yet mud-solid with salts of the earth; red-hot as fire yet restlessly churning and bubbling with all the winds. And the Womb was the Mother, before She took form and gave form to Existence. She was the Deep. . . ."

With this dramatic, poetic recasting of the Genesis myth, Barbara Walker begins this highly original and fascinating work, which is both an incisive critique of patriarchal religion and a bold proposal to establish a liberating alternative to the Judeo-Christian myth. She envisions a religion and a spirituality compatible with women's essential role in society and free of all the superstition and demeaning imagery characteristic of traditional, male-dominated religion. In place of theology she suggests "thealogy," replacing the academic study of the God concept with a down-to-earth "knowledge of the goddess" - a knowledge that incorporates the scientific understanding of the universe and recognizes the symbolic nature of religious concepts and the psychobiological foundations of religion. Rejecting the transcendent deity of patriarchal religion, thealogy would revere an immanent personification of the real universe, especially of the sacred Earth, the only source of life we know.

Hearkening back to the widespread worship of a mother goddess at the dawn of civilization, Walker argues for a restoration of this primal religious sensibility, which celebrated the Earth's fertility and woman's innate power to bear new life. Women are already rediscovering this ancient form of spirituality, Walker shows, and redefining modern religion to conform to woman's new appreciation of their rights and the long history of male dominance.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Walker's assessment of patriarchy's suppression of both knowledge and celebration of the Goddess compels her, as it has many before her, to begin restoring the lore of the Great Goddess. But Walker, a feminist author who has explored the dimensions of female myth and symbol in her previous fiction and nonfiction, does an odd thing here. Rather than offer yet another mythographer's source book, she wisely transforms her text away from the usual dialogue with the reader into an effervescent polylogue with other women about what such a restoration could mean and how it should be undertaken. As a result, Walker's enormously challenging and revealing book presents a community of voices. This is a volume of women talking: about the Goddess and patriarchy, about physicality, reproduction and the image of the Goddess, about rituals and purposes, about the New Age and about women's problems and fears as the Goddess re-emerges into secular culture. This format encourages continuing discussion in women's groups across the country about what Walker and other feminists term "thealogy," which she distinguishes from patriarchal theology. Thealogy returns worship tradition to the rediscovery of the sacred in the ordinary and transforms the undervalued lives of women into spiritual adventure. This book offers visible evidence of the advantages of redefining modern religion through women's participatory engagement. (Mar.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
Despite its subtitle, this book addresses few specific rites or practices. Instead, readers are taken on a rambling tour of the horrors of patriarchy and Christianity (which Walker sees as inextricably intertwined) and offered criticisms of Islam and New Age fads. Blending mythology, revisionist history, and biblical criticism, Walker (Feminist Fairy Tales) calls for a new metaphor as a guide to human relationships rather than a new religion. Walker's Goddess is not a specific being but instead the communal spirit of women, particularly the nurturing mother. Readers interested in tracing the historical claims will be frustrated by footnotes that generally lead back to Walker's Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets or Charles Bufe's The Heretic's Handbook of Quotations rather than to original sources. Alternating chapters based on interviews of women involved in Goddess religions offer some insight, but simply stringing together quotes is confusing, and the quality of the quotes varies greatly. Not recommended.--Jan Blodgett, Davidson Coll. Lib., NC Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\

Product Details

Prometheus Books
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.64(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.18(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

In the Beginning

The First of All Myths

In the beginning, in the time that was no time, nothing existed but the Womb. And the Womb was a limitless dark cauldron of all things in potential: a chaotic blood-soup of matter and energy, fluid as water yet mud-solid with salts of the earth; red-hot as fire yet restlessly churning and bubbling with all the winds. And the Womb was the Mother, before She took form and gave form to Existence. She was the Deep (biblical tehom, Babylonian Tiamat, Egyptian Temu, Greek Themis).

    In the time that was no time, She divided the elements in the Womb cauldron into the two spheres of infinity. By the use of Her magic Om, Her grunt of cosmic birth giving, She caused the fiery lights and airs to collect in the heaven sphere, and the dark waters, salts, and solids to collect in the sphere of earth. She shaped the heavenly lights into sun, moon, planets, and stars. She shaped the earthly materials into continents, rivers, mountains, and seas. By the light of the sun She made Day, and by the shadow of the earth She made Night.

    At the point of contact between the two spheres of infinity, Her blood of the Womb generated living things. To each living thing the Mother gave a temporary form that would eventually dissolve, back once more into the infinite churning cauldron of potential, where matters and energies are constantly exchanged and recombined. She made the world an image of that uterine cauldron, so that every life form sustains itself byabsorbing, decomposing, and assimilating other forms. And She gave autonomy to each form by pronouncing its name in Her primordial language, expressing the verbal magic of creation.

    She made human beings able to imitate Her in the use of language. She formed them of reddened earth (adamah), moistened in the Womb by Her own holy blood. She gave them consciousness capable of remembering their own passage through dark birthways into the light of seeing and knowing; capable, too, of envisioning their own return to darkness and dissolution. She made woman in Her own image, with the female-mammalian power to create new life out of her interior blood. She made man to be woman's consort and helper, to assist in the long, arduous nurture of the world's most helpless offspring. She taught Her people to sow and reap, preserve food, weave cloth, build shelters, carry fire, make tools and vessels, keep records of the seasons, and a thousand other practical arts and crafts for their survival in the world. She taught Her people not to take more than they needed from the earth, the plants, the animals, the waters, and the woods; for if any creature took too much, others would suffer.

    The world and its creatures dwelt in peace until the Mother began to give birth to jealous gods. Each god claimed to be Her firstborn and Her chosen lover, privy to Her secrets, sharer of Her creativity. Each god insisted that he alone was both Her son and Her bridegroom, as well as Her helper in the world's creation. Some even went so far as to claim sole responsibility for creating the earth or its living things.

    It is written that the Goddess's true firstborn took the form of the divine serpent, to slide into Her terrestrial body, to be anointed by Her wise blood, to know Her inner wisdom, and to learn how to become immortal by periodically shedding his old skin and being reborn in a new, fresh one. The phallic serpent represented sexual "knowing" as man's way to contact the blissful life-giving magic inside woman; and so when men made images of the Mother, they often showed her accompanied by Her snake, or even gave Her a snake form.

    Later gods, jealous of the wise serpent, sought ways to discredit him. They pretended that the serpent's connection with the maternal netherworld was an evil rather than a special privilege. They began to claim credit for dividing the Womb into earth and heaven, for the pronouncing of sacred names, and for the molding of clay figures to be brought to life. Some even claimed to be birth givers themselves, despite their male incapacity for that. One even went so far as to declare that he could make man into a birth giver—at least one man, the first, who could then usurp maternal authority over the woman who was his child.

    The jealous gods appealed to men, promising them longer lives, earthly riches, or godlike immortality if they would become dutiful worshippers. They taught men to perform blood sacrifices, to imitate the mysterious blood-magic of the Mother, to claim a connection with the giving of new life. Alas, the men never learned to let blood without pain or harm, as women did. Nonetheless, they mutilated their own bodies to imitate women's lunar bloodletting. They even killed some of their own number and claimed that the victims were transformed into life givers by their outpouring of blood. The men promised to feed their ancestral gods on sacrificial blood, to preserve their immortality, hoping for similar immortality in return. Their gods found blood sacrifices acceptable, but rejected the offerings of grain and fruit that had been customary in the elder times of peaceful agriculture (see Gen. 4: 3-5).

    The new, jealous gods were not kind to the people they claimed as their children. They tyrannized the people and oppressed them mightily for the most trivial offenses. They threatened the people with plagues, wars, fevers, madness, blindness, slavery, famine, and rains of fire (see Deut. 28) for the least infraction of their rules.

    One of the new gods even dared to send a world flood, to drown nearly every creature on earth—even nonhuman ones—because a few of the people had displeased him. The Mother caught him at it and became very angry. She punished him by setting a rainbow in the sky to bar him from feasting on men's altar offerings. She said he should starve, "since rashly he caused the flood storm, and handed over my children to destruction."

    Nevertheless, the jealous gods continued to attract men by a combination of promises, threats, and violence. The gods restricted men's expressions of love for women, even for mothers. They allowed men to seize their neighbors' lands and possessions, to enrich themselves, to make slaves of other people. They allowed men to declare themselves kings, and to choose surrogate victims to be sacrificed in their stead. Men knew that many of the things they did were wrong, and their gods' threats made them guilty and fearful. They submerged their fear in acts of cruelty performed in groups, so that other men could justify their behavior. They appointed male priests to condone everything and write that it was all the gods' will.

    Male priests wrested power from the tribal mothers and priestesses by organizing men into marauding armies, blessing their violence, and rewriting myths to exclude the Goddess or declare Her an abomination. The jealous gods became even more jealous, and fought among themselves, and each pronounced himself the One God. Their warfare was unremitting, until one devoured nearly all the others, diabolized his few remaining rivals, and proclaimed himself superior even to the Goddess who had produced him and taught him all his ideas.

    And so the world was set upon a trail of tears, oppression, and intellectual error that prevails even to this day.

Meet the Author

Barbara G. Walker (Nokomis, FL) is a highly successful feminist writer of both fiction and nonfiction works. Her previous books include Feminist Fairy Tales, Amazon: A Novel, The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, The Woman's Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects, and The Skeptical Feminist.

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