Since March is Women's History Month in the United States, I ask you, the reader, to join me in celebrating. Celebrating strong women who, having gone before us, have given us so much to think about and to act upon. Celebrating women who reclaim their immanent divinity and self-worth. Celebrating women who join together in the bonds of ritual and worship. Celebrating the goddess in all her forms, her magic and her endurance.
For all my male readers, please don't think you're being neglected; later this year Llewellyn will be releasing some books for men, by men, so you can celebrate and connect with the sacred masculine. Keep an eye on New Worlds this fall to find out more. But for this issue, women are my focus. (Remembering, of course, that men can also find goddess worship very valuable in developing their anima—the feminine aspect of the male—by working with the same archetypal energies within themselves.)
Just what or who is the Goddess? Is there just one Goddess, or several? And does this mean there is no God? Patricia Monaghan starts The Goddess Path with these questions — and informative, thought-provoking answers. She explains that there was never a monotheistic goddess religion; all monotheist religions in history and today worshipped a non-female divine being (either male or gender-neutral). Thus, since all the original goddess religions were polytheistic, wherever there was goddess worship, there were several, and it was always balanced with god worship. However, many modern practitioners find it easier to imagine the goddess as one being. She reasons, "For those who grew up in a monotheistic framework, it is emotionally difficult to understand how polytheism works. It can seem like there isn't any 'real god,' any definitive divine power. … And so some on the goddess path have embraced a belief in a monotheistic goddess, one who rules all, like the god of their childhood did. Some women exclude the male divine—for reasons we will explore further in the section on Artemis. In doing so, they diverge from the mainstream of goddess worship for millennia. For traditional goddess religion, throughout historical times, not only encouraged belief in male divinity, it required it. As to whether the goddess is singular or plural, the answer is the same: in traditional societies, she was seen as multiple." Yet many women today are able to reconcile this in the belief that all the separate goddesses are ultimately united in one Great Goddess, which would be seen similarly to the way that Christians see Father, Son and Holy Ghost as one.
However you view the goddess(es), if you want to start connecting with and experiencing them in a personal way, read this book. It introduces twenty goddesses, from Athena to Kwan Yin, Brigid to Kali. For each goddess's chapter, first you'll find a poetic invocation of the goddess written centuries ago, and revised by Monaghan to put it in a modern context—so you, the reader, don't feel left out of the loop in case you've forgotten most of your history lessons. Then there is a story about the goddess's myths and lore, and symbols that belong to or resonate with her. Following that you have a list of feasts or festivals for the goddess. Finally you'll learn to invoke the goddess and construct an original ritual that will aid you in learning the lesson or calling on the strength of that goddess. For example, if you are trying to come to terms with enormous losses that have made your life a living hell, do the ritual for Inanna to find yourself stripped of all but your inner power, and use that power to emerge anew. If you're looking for protection and strength to fight back against someone who has violated you, or the people and corporations that have been violating the earth, call on Artemis. After invoking each goddess, some questions and activities are provided to help you explore your own feelings and beliefs more deeply. These can be discussed with a group, your partner or simply your journal. The book is a true gem.
Another book extremely effective in connecting with the goddess energy in your life is Invoke the Goddess by Kala Trobe. This book takes a very concrete approach; as Trobe writes in the intro, "The visualization processes described within are no mere placebo; the godforms involved are intelligent entities and interaction with them may take place in the imagination, but it is not imaginary. As anyone who has practiced such meditations and projected prayers will confirm, they very soon take on a life of their own, and the results inevitably filter down to the material planes."
Each goddess (of fifteen presented Hindu, Egyptian, and Greek goddesses) is first introduced through a poetic myth, and then the focus quickly shifts to her practical applications. The meat of the book lies in the visualizations, each of which is preceded by careful preparation. Maat, for example, will accompany you on your visualization for making balanced decisions, while Persephone will be there for you on your visualization for overcoming regret and depression. Finally, there is a very insightful "mundane archetype" for each goddess; that is, how she appears in Western society today through you or people you know. If you become very eccentric in midlife, suddenly becoming very interested in the occult and psychism (despite feeling as though this side of you has always been there, which is very natural), if you tend to take yourself too seriously, and if you love theater, opera and dance, then you may be a Hecate persona. If you are a bit separate (shy or seemingly aloof), intense, prone to deep depression and terrible mood swings that you sometimes channel into self-expressive creativity, and you love gardening, herbalism, mythology and cats, then you may be the Isis type. Finally Trobe closes each goddess chapter with the Tarot cards associated with each goddess, another great tool for meditation or magick. All in all this is a great book for tackling deep spiritual and psychological work.
Now, if you are of the mind that all goddesses comprise one Great Goddess, and you'd prefer to work only with her, then check out the goddess who is known as "Primordial Deity, Divine Mother, Lady of Magic, Goddess of Nature, Patroness of Women, Lady of Sacred Sexuality, Goddess of the Mysteries and Mistress of Hermetic Widsom." Who else could it be but Isis? In Isis Magic, M. Isidora Forrest writes that when the religion of Isis and her consort Sarapis was exported from Egypt during the first centuries of the Common Era, they became known as universal deities, no longer local deities. The concept of a universalized deity was also important to the development of Christianity during the same period. Forrest writes,"At the height of the Isiac religion—approximately the Second Century CE—Isis was known throughout the Mediterranean world as the Goddess of ten thousand Names, or in Greek, Isis Myrionymos. While other Goddesses certainly underwent syncretism and were invoked by a variety of names, but the phenomenal extent to which Isis was universalized and the great popularity of Her religion with high-born and low-born people of both sexes put Her in a unique position. For many people in the polytheistic Greco-Roman world, Isis became the Goddess."
The book introduces Isis, both in ancient Egypt and as she was later worshiped in her Hellenic and Roman aspects. The first part of the book brings together all the lore surrounding the Isis religion—from such diverse tomes as the Book of the Dead, the Coffin Texts and the Pyramid Texts, and thousands of years' worth of hymns, invocations and inscriptions—in one comprehensive book. The second half is the truly hands-on part of the book, providing modern rituals, devotions, meditations and other practices for the worship of Isis today. Isis is said to be one of the most open, approachable and gentle goddesses to work with, so it is easy to forge a real relationship with her with the help of this book. Forrest writes, "She is not a historical curiosity. She is not a metaphor for our times. She is not feminist wish-fulfillment. She is not simply a psychological archetype. She is Divine Love, Life, Magic, Mystery. She is Goddess and She is."
With that in mind, I'll wish you a productive and spirited Women's History Month and International Women's Day on March 8. I hope you'll be celebrating with your sisters, mothers, daughters, lovers, wives, best friends—and the Goddess herself.