Women's Spirituality: Power and Grace

Women's Spirituality: Power and Grace


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781571746252
Publisher: Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc.
Publication date: 08/01/2011
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 571,666
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Mary Faulkner is a writer, therapist, and teacher. The former executive editor of Recovering Magazine, she is also the author of Easy Does It Relationships and Easy Does It Dating and the co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Catholicism. She lives in Tennessee.

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Women's Spirituality

Power and Grace


Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc.

Copyright © 2011 Mary Faulkner
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-57174-625-2


Time before Time

Women's spirituality is a work in process. It begins with the realization that women's religious and spiritual heritage is missing more than a few pages. It takes a new look at power—where it comes from and how it's used. It takes a look at new archeological discoveries, ancient cave art, mythology, and scripture, reaching back in time to fill in the blanks in our shared history. As we discover more about the beliefs and practices of our earliest relatives, we begin to get a broader and more balanced understanding of the human story and our place in it.

She's Back!

Sometime in the early 1970s, a woman rolled over, propped herself up on one elbow, and snapped open a window shade of consciousness in women all across the country. Shaking off thousands of years of sleep, she yawned and exclaimed, "I'm back!" Since that time, droves of women have been exploring ancient ruins, mythology, literature, and their collective memory to find out more about "her."

Believing in Goddess as a deity is not required in women's spirituality, but understanding her symbolic and historic significance provides helpful insight into the meaning of women's spiritual quest. The interest she holds for women and the values she represents are at the heart of this spirituality—and offer balance to the history in which we've been steeped.

Who is Goddess? Why is she so important to so many women? Is she real or wishful thinking? Does it matter? To answer these questions, and perhaps to raise a few more, we'll take a look at the most interesting spiritual phenomenon of our time—the return of Great Mother.

Our Humble Beginnings

For a long time, what we knew about pre-history was just an educated guess. Today, it's moved beyond guesswork and made that big leap into accepted scholarship. Thanks to new archeological discoveries, carbon dating, and women's increased professional involvement in interpreting data, information about our early ancestors continues to surface. Now we know that, as long as 700,000 years ago, the ancestors of our ancestors carved images of the Goddess out of stone and painted her image on cave walls. Evidence showing that, from the dawn of prehistory, this Mother figure was the focus of ritual and ceremony is overwhelming. For all but the last 6000 years of our considerably longer story here on earth, "God" was a woman.

Unlike the images of a club-swinging caveman dragging his woman by the hair, our early relatives seem to have existed in peaceful communities in which power was shared between the genders. These early relatives made art, invented technologies, and worshipped a Mother figure. When viewed from this perspective, the world's "great" religions—Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—are the new kids on the block. What this means to us today is that there exists a long history of the female as sacred, and that living peacefully is as much or more a part of our heritage as competition and war.

Rocking the Cradle of Civilization

The hand that rocked the very first cradle of civilization was black.

Our common beginnings go back to southwestern Ethiopia near the Omo River. Just as our physical life began there, so did our spiritual life and our earliest relationships with the sacred. And our first image of the sacred was of the Great Mother.

Migration of modern humans out of Africa began approximately 50,000 years ago. Traveling on foot and by sea, our early ancestors began to move out from their homeland, expanding into Asia, Europe, Australia, and North and South America. They carried images of their Great Mother with them. Figurines of the large-breasted, big-bellied, round-hipped women known as "Venuses" have been found along African migration paths throughout Spain, Italy, the Pyrenees, the Dordogne area of France, central and Eastern Europe, and Austria.

Our Spiritual History

We can infer the religious practices and beliefs of our prehistoric relatives from archeological findings. The sub-Saharan region of Africa, rich in rock art, is an archeologist's picnic. The sheer numbers of paintings that are found there create a comprehensive picture of prehistoric society. "Figures dancing, singing, playing musical instruments, engaging in initiation rituals, with body decoration and masks, characterize the art of the entire heterogeneous African continent, according to archeologist Umberto Sansoni" (Lucia Chiavola Birnbaum, Dark Mother: African Origins and Godmothers [Authors Choice Press, 2001]).

Images indicate that our ancestors observed the patterns of the seasons, drawing their spiritual images from nature. Vegetation bore fruit in summer, died in winter, and greened again in spring—birth, death, and rebirth were woven into the human psyche and celebrated in religious rites. Since females gave birth, it was assumed that the earth must also be female, as all life flowed from her. "She" was their source of food, water, shelter, and beauty. The earliest feasts and celebrations honored this earth Mother.

Interpretation of burial practices further fills in our family archives. Graves were lined with pine boughs, apparently to offer comfort and warmth to the deceased for the journey— implying the belief that life extended beyond the grave. The body was painted with red ochre, most likely symbolizing the mother's blood that sustained them in the womb. Bodies were arranged in a fetal position and covered with flowers, returning the body to the Great Mother where it could be kept safe inside her body until the time of its rebirth. When a child died, images of the mother's breast were carved on rock and placed over the grave so that the child's spirit would have plenty to eat and not be frightened.

Figures of the Mother consistently show her as fleshy, with large round hips, a big belly, and big breasts. The statues were placed in niches alongside the hearth in the cave—a central place in the home—indicating her importance in the lives of the people. She is often shown pregnant, reflecting life's abundance—not to indicate a fertility cult, but in recognition of our origins in a female body. She was seen as the primary creative force of the cosmos; all life sprang from her womb.

African Origins and NaNa Buluku

Oshun priestess Luisah Teish, writer, performer, and ritualist, describes African cosmology in her book Jambalaya: The Natural Woman's Book of Personal Charms and Practical Rituals (HarperCollins, 1985). Here, she tells us how NaNa Buluku, a deity with both male and female aspects, created the world. NaNa Buluku gave birth to twins, a woman called Mawa and a man known as Lisa. Together, they embody the principle of duality, showing how nature is composed of opposites—two aspects that together become the whole. Teish teaches classes in African religion, and tells about the time before colonization when Africans believed in a living universe she calls "continuous creation," a universe that is still in the process of becoming.

The Yoruban people use descriptions like "Author of Day and Night" and "Discerner of Hearts" to describe their deity and its presence to them and to life itself. It was said that the Black Goddess carried a snake in her belly, signifying that her nature contained both female and male—in other words, she was self-fertilizing. Teish believes that it's important to explore female images of God to get our balance back from thousands of years of patriarchy.

"From the minute the priest announced that I was the daughter of Oshun," Teish remembers, "I began to think of myself in a different, more positive way. Oshun is the goddess of love, art, and sensuality. She is a temperamental coquette with much magic up her sleeve. She was the me I hid from the world" (Teish, Jambalaya). Teish believes the modern world is out of order and that the oppression of women has been built on an erroneous assumption that the "Most High God is male." She talks about Oshun, Goddess of Love, reflected in the voluptuous curves of the river, in its sweet, life-giving water, and in the beautiful jewel-like stones found there. The people intuitively know she is female. If they observe a certain woman moving as if she carried the flow of the river in her hips, they may call her "Daughter of Oshun."

Oshun is brass and parrot feathers in a velvet skin. Oshun is white cowrie shells on black buttocks. Her eyes sparkle in the forest, like sun on the river. She is the wisdom of the forest. She is the wisdom of the river. Where doctors fail, she cures with fresh water. Where medicine fails, she cures with fresh water. She feeds the barren woman with honey, and her dry body swells up like a juicy coconut. Oh, how sweet, how sweet is the touch of a child's hand. (Yoruban chant to Oshun, from Patricia Monaghan's The Goddess Companion: Daily Meditations on the Feminine Spirit [Llewellyn, 1999]).

One Moon, Many Reflections

The Great Mother was represented in many images. The late Marija Gimbutas, author and professor of Archeology at UCLA, identified numerous carvings throughout Europe, recognizing them as different representations of one universal Great Mother—Bee Goddess, Snake Goddess, Mountain Goddess, Mistress of the Animals and more—all in celebration of different aspects of one deity.

Historical data exist showing that these early ancestors grew crops, wove fabric, kept animals, and figured out how the sun, moon, and stars worked. They gathered huge stones and made calendars marking the exact location of summer and winter solstices— the longest and shortest days of the year. They spent their summers hunting and gathering food and their winters in spiritual celebrations and painting on the cave walls.

Interpretation of these artifacts, as well as other archeological findings, led experts to believe our early relatives honored their ancestors. Their pictures indicate that they held all forms of life in sacred partnership. No instruments of war have been found; no wars are depicted in any art; the locations they lived in did not offer protection against invaders.

The images they created are far from crude or simplistic. When assessed against contemporary art using the same standards, they are found to be of significant sophistication and remarkable beauty. Their use of color, composition, and perspective are artful by all standards. Their understanding of the anatomical structure of animals is considered exceptional.

For many years, these drawings were considered only to show the mundane, day-to-day activities of the people. However, when indigenous teachers interpret the paintings, they discover their spiritual significance. What was previously seen simply as a figure standing with arms extended is now identified as a shaman opening portals to the spirit world or in communication with animal spirits. Moreover, these teachers recognize elements of ritual that are still used today.

Beating the Drums of War

Gimbutas conducted major excavations of Neolithic sites in south-eastern Europe from the 1960s through the 1980s, unearthing artifacts of daily life as well as objects of ritual and worship, which she documented throughout her career. Introducing an innovative methodology to her discipline, she combined traditional archeological "digging" with her extensive knowledge of linguistics, art, ethnology, and the history of religions. This resulted in a more comprehensive picture of the lives of these early communities than previous exploration had revealed. She essentially reinterpreted pre-history, concluding that, before 4000 BCE, the people of Old Europe (her term) lived harmoniously, worshipping a Mother Goddess figure represented in art as the creator and sustainer of life.

In her book, The Civilization of the Goddess (HarperSanFrancisco, 1991), Gimbutas describes essential differences between the old European system she identifies as matriarchal—Goddess- and woman-centered—and patriarchal—god- and malecentered—warrior cultures. She concluded that matriarchal society was peaceful and based in economic equality. Andro-centric (male) warrior cultures invaded Europe about 6000 years ago, she tells us, and imposed their hierarchal rule, creating the malecentered patriarchal system that replaced the earlier societies. This more warlike culture marked the end of Goddess time and the beginning of God time.

The Rise and Fall of the Goddess

Excavation of two civilizations that survived into fairly recent times shows us a good picture of what early matriarchal societies actually looked like and how they functioned. Catal Huyuk, located on the Anatolian plains of what is now Turkey, is one. The other is the Greek island of Crete, considered to be the high point of Goddess civilization, lasting well into patriarchal time to approximately 1700 BCE.

Catal Huyuk—Life on the Anatolian Plains

Catal Huyuk was a Neolithic city established somewhere around 8500 BCE and occupied for over 800 years. Archaeologists have uncovered the remains of twelve different cities on the site. Religious art and symbols unearthed there support earlier evidence of a peaceful society. It was a spot chosen for its beauty, not for its ability to be defended against attack. In fact, no evidence was discovered that would lead to the conclusion that the people of these cultures were involved in warring.

Burial sites at Catal Huyuk show that the female graves were in a central location; gifts buried with them, as well as the size and position of housing, show a slight preference toward the women. Children were often buried with mothers, but never with fathers, which indicates that lineage was passed through the female line.

The art at Catal Huyuk establishes an important link between the archaic Mother Goddess cultures of the prehistoric world and those of classical times. The Madonna and child, venerated in the religious art of Christian churches and homes all over the modern world, go back in time in an unbroken line to this Mother Goddess imagery. The Great Mother that is so firmly rooted in the psyche of the people of Neolithic times is the Madonna of our psyches as well.

Crete—The Goddess' Last Stand

The Greek island of Crete was the site of the most highly developed civilization of the ancient world. It was also the last to fall. Crete was home to approximately 100,000 inhabitants in its heyday. Its culture, known today as Minoan, originated about 6000 BCE, when Anatolian immigrants arrived from Turkey bringing their sacred goddesses with them. Crete's cultural development, particularly the city of Knossos, encompassed the shift from an independent cave-dwelling society to city life and to the building of modern houses. Dwellings began as one or two rooms and, over time, expanded into complex structures complete with art and indoor plumbing.

The remains of this remarkable society tell a story of great prosperity. Crete was a cultural center known for its art, music, and agriculture. The inhabitants built viaducts, fountains, and irrigation systems to transport water, as well as sanitation systems providing domestic conveniences that put them ahead of all the cultures around them, including those on the mainland of Greece.

For the Minoans, as for their earlier ancestors, religious celebrations expressed a joy of life. Music, art, dance, processions, banquets, and games were all essentially religious ceremonies that were depicted in art. Male and female enjoyed equal status, as indicated by their similar style of clothing and their mutual participation in recreation.

Crete prospered and its later development included large, elaborate multi-leveled palace structures—again with indoor plumbing. Roads and bridges connected the island communities, and Crete became a trading center for exchanging goods with Asia Minor, Egypt, Africa, and the mainland of Greece. Art, pottery and vase-making, fresco painting, sculptured stones, and jewelry were perfected to a high level. Above all was the Goddess, shown with a snake in each of her hands and her arms raised high above her head. She was celebrated in art and dance—loved and respected.

Speculation continues regarding the end of the Minoan culture. According to some archaeologists, the Minoan civilization was weakened as the result of a tsunami (or possibly even a series of these massive waves) pounding the coastline in the late 17th century BCE. However, the goddess culture managed to keep going for another 150 years. The final destruction of the Palace of Knossos came in the mid-15th century BCE, as the Mycenaeans invaded from the Greek mainland, marking the end of the Minoan period.

Western culture is said to have begun on Crete. Religious rituals like the Eleusinian Mysteries, as well as Greek mythology—including tales of Aphrodite, Athena, Demeter, Persephone, Artemis, and Hecate—were incorporated into the Greek pantheon from Crete. Their stories were woven into Greek culture and later into Roman mythology, ultimately becoming part of Western culture. However, each translation of the Goddess took us deeper into patriarchal time, and her story and images began to reflect her diminished place in the culture.


Excerpted from Women's Spirituality by MARY FAULKNER. Copyright © 2011 Mary Faulkner. Excerpted by permission of Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Part I: The Multi-level, Multi-faceted, Colossal Rethink,

Chapter 1 Time before Time,

Chapter 2 What Is Women's Spirituality?,

Chapter 3 Power as Grace,

Chapter 4 Bones, Muscle, and Brains,

Part II: Celebrating Great Mother,

Chapter 5 Seeking Wholeness—Goddess as Archetype,

Chapter 6 Rebels, Circles, and Refrigerator Wisdom,

Chapter 7 Circle Wisdom—More Than πr2,

Chapter 8 Ceremonies and Rituals,

Chapter 9 Nature's Themes—Seasons and Reasons,

Chapter 10 Awakening Woman Power,

Part III: Breaking Barriers and Crossing Lines,

Chapter 11 On the Shoulders of Giants,

Chapter 12 Our Jewish Roots,

Chapter 13 Jewish Women Today,

Chapter 14 Christianity—The Back-story,

Chapter 15 Crossing the Line,

Part IV: People of the Earth,

Chapter 16 Organic Spirituality and Native American Women,

Chapter 17 Pagans, Celts, and Celtic Christians,

Chapter 18 When Your Other Car Is a Broom,

Chapter 19 Mother's Medicine Chest,

Chapter 20 Body and Soul,

Chapter 21 Embodying Prayer,

Chapter 22 Creativity and Spirituality,

Part V: Transforming Culture,

Chapter 23 Healing Body and Soul,

Chapter 24 Building Bridges and Creating Culture,

Chapter 25 Women, Power, and Spirituality,

In Conclusion,


Additional Resources,


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