In Search of The Feminine Divine

by Kathy Briar

We stand in a circle, 10 women, on a stuffy summer night at Friend's Meeting
House. Lovingly coached by Raihana, we float our arms, circle our hips, glide
our feet. Some of us are tentative at first, slowly loosening, unfolding. We
begin to connect with our bodies, our femininity, to feel the rhythms of the
universe in our souls. We are belly dancing.

Dance, ritual and celebration help us to rediscover the
history (herstory?) and mythology of women, largely ignored through centuries
of patriarchy. Belly dancing, for example, is a wonderful avenue of
connection and joy for women, a celebration of femininity. Belly dancing
originally began in the Middle East, as women dancing with other women to
prepare them for and help them with childbirth. Outside, in the sand, the
woman giving birth would be in a pit in the center of a circle of women belly
dancing, mimicking the writhing and undulating birthing movements, joyfully
bringing new life into the world.

All beings have masculine and feminine aspects. The blending of both is what
makes us divine. Much of our search upon this earth is to balance and
harmonize these two beautiful, compatible parts of ourselves. It is only
recently, if one looks at universal time, that the male and female energies
have been "perceived" as being different, contrary, opposed. In fact, they
are one. Our purpose here is to understand how this separation occurred,
only so we can heal the gap and return to the oneness of creation that in
truth has always been here.

"The thing that I think we were never told as girls growing up, and neither
were boys, is that the Great Goddess was humankind's original concept of a
God," said Vikki Hanchin. Hanchin is a local psychotherapist and facilitator
of women's spirituality study groups. "We were never told that there was a
time in history, prior to patriarchy, a time of even longer duration that was
organized around the feminine, that was matrifocal. The idea of the Goddess
as a nurturing life-giving force was much more central, and women were seen
as a revered embodiment of the Goddess. "

Marija Gimbutas, author of "The Language of the Goddess," has
archaeologically documented this matrifocal culture and the Great Goddess.
The word "matrifocal" is preferred to "matriarchy" to affirm that these
Goddess societies were not, in fact, the opposite of patriarchy. The
matrifocal societies were very egalitarian; women and men were honored,
revered and respected. They were non-violent , non-warring and they were
very,very creative. "The evidence indicates that their energy was put into
creativity rather than dominance and expansion," said Hanchin. Mother Earth,
Gaia, the life force which connects us all as one, was honored as the living
organism that she is. Daily life was attuned to the Earth cycles, the moon
cycles, plant and animal life. Nature was revered and respected, not
dominated and destroyed.

So what happened to the Goddess societies? It is much like the history of
the Native Americans. Since the cultures were mostly non-violent, they were
taken over by the warring, dominance-based patriarchal cultures. And, much
like the Native Americans, women suffered many atrocities during the
centuries of this takeover. Between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries
alone an estimated 1 to 9 million people, mostly women, were killed as "pagan
witches," according to Monica Sjoo & Barbara Mor in "The Great Cosmic
Mother." The original meaning of "witch" is wise woman, and the original
meaning of "pagan" is country dweller. The male-dominated Christian church,
in fear of losing its power, destroyed millions of women, many of them
healers, herbalists, keepers of ancient customs and lores. Then men opened
medical schools, and did not allow women.

" As a society we tend to undervalue those traits thought of as feminine,"
said Hanchin, " Because of the patriarchal cultures, and the dominance model
which really introduced separation and duality, we've come to separate these
traits into what is male is superior and what is female is secondary, or
inferior.These traits that we've divided into masculine and feminine, I
think they're just human traits. They're part of the yin and the yang, the
inward and the outward. We need both. You can't breathe in without breathing
out, or you'll die."

Our society has been a patriarchy for the last 5-6,000 years. Our corporate
jobs, our politics, our mainstream religions are mainly based on masculine
values: domination, hierarchy, control. We've moved from our nurturing
Mother Earth Goddess to the less accessible Father Sky God. Yes, we have
science and technology, but what of our souls? We have alienated ourselves,
men and women, from the Earth, from each other, in the name of competition,
dominance and expansion.

We have come to a place of real imbalance on the planet . And yet, according
to Hanchin, the cycles that we go through historically show us what we need
to go through individually. Our culture started out with a matrifocal,
egalitarian society. There was a true sense of unity and harmony. Then with
patriarchy there was dominance and therefore duality and separateness, and we
have learned much from this model. Our sciences, in particular, have
benefited greatly in that we have been able to break down life into its
smallest particles, and to categorize and dissect to the most minute details.
We have learned much about this world in which we live. It's now time for us
as a planet to return to unity and harmony, but to do it with full
consciousness, with all that we have learned, to fully integrate both the
masculine and the feminine. We will honor the positive aspects of patriarchy,
such as the benefits of our modern life, and weave this knowledge into our
new concept of a society that reveres all life.

Our individual psychological development parallels this model. "We start out
really connected with our personal mothers, and there's this unconscious
oneness with the feminine," said Hanchin, "Then we start differentiating and
separating, and eventually there needs to be a return, a reunion, a
reintegration of our separateness and our togetherness."

The Native American spiritualities and the prophecies of indigenous cultures
fit into this ideal of the masculine and feminine balancing, according to
Hanchin. She has studied with the Seneca Indians for some years and they
believe that we are ending the fourth world, a world of separateness,
power-over and control, and we are entering the fifth world, the world of
harmony, oneness and power-with. The indigenous cultures have kept their
connection with the feminine, with Mother Earth, and so are more aware of
this rebalancing.

This reawakening of the feminine, this rebalancing, happens for women and for
men, sometimes spontaneously and sometimes in other ways. For Hanchin, it was
spontaneous. In the late 1970's, she had been struggling with the concept of
power and having recurring dreams of dancing spirals. While at a Jungian
workshop, Hanchin spotted a book on a table, "The Spiral Dance" by Starhawk.
She jolted, picked up the book, and saw its subtitle, " The Return of The
Ancient Religion of The Great Goddess." For Hanchin, it was the opening to
Goddess studies and to the reclamation of women's power in the positive

Dr. Margaret Zavora, local chiropractor and member of a Pittsburgh women's
Goddess group, said, "I'd like for everyone to realize, including men, that
the women's spirituality movement is not threatening to men at all. It's an
opportunity for men and women to dance together, to cooperate and to be
friends." In answer to how she got involved in Goddess studies, Zavora says
she has always been involved, although for many years she practiced
alone."It's typical of the experience," said Zavora, "That the person tends
to be introspective, thoughtful, reads a lot. Sometimes they think they're
the only one interested in the Goddess studies. So that's another big
message. It's time to come down off the mountain and stop being a hermit. The
time for joining is now!"

Barbara Campsie, original member of The Womyn's Spirituality Circle,
experienced her awakening the opposite way. "I became involved with the
group, totally expanded my consciousness, and then went on to do women's
spirituality work on my own - ritual work, astrology, reading, and more,"
said Campsie. There's no right or wrong way to begin.

Arianna, facilitator of a local women's spirituality group and the annual
Pittsburgh Goddess celebration, says, "This movement is giving people an
opportunity to operate in a different way than they've been conditioned. It
involves respect, for each other and for all life on the planet." Why the
Goddess? "There's a worthiness that I've found through the Goddess," says
Arianna, "That I haven't found in a lot of other paths. You're already
worthy. Your spirit is whole. It's OK to be worthy, powerful, spiritual and
sexual, a fully integrated woman."

Offering a male point of view, Allen Goodman, founder of HLQ, said he has
learned a lot from watching how women "do life." Growing up, he felt that he,
as the male, had to be the one asking women out on a date, paying for the
date, calling, asking for the kiss, and so on. Goodman said, "Women got more
perks." From women he learned how to wait, to be passive, to use the
so-called "feminine" traits to get what he wanted from life. "On a soul
level, though," said Goodman, "We're not men or women, we're souls, and let's
get beyond the matriarchy/patriarchy discussion. I"d like to see us deal with
people at the soul level, beyond gender. We're programmed into men being
masculine and women being feminine, and it's so limiting."

The Goddess spirituality movement is not limiting. It's not hierarchal,
structured, and certainly not exclusive. "Many people practice Goddess
spirituality," says Arianna, " and also Christianity or Judaism, or other
religions. I go to my Roman Catholic church on holidays." Zavora adds, "The
spiritual responsibility is on the individual. It's exciting."

Diana Pelletier, inspirerer of the Womyn's Spirituality Circle, said,
"Celebrate the personal, the intimate, the intuitive. Allow the intuitive to
guide you to your own path. Our group's common focus is that we celebrate the
spirit in nature, and yet we each follow our own path. Everyone is so
different, and that's the joy." Pelletier, who has been involved with women's
spirituality groups for about 11 years, says the shared power, the
power-with, is such an important focus. Everyone participates.

What can we do in the here and now to rediscover the feminine divine?
To honor the Great Goddess? We can reclaim the idea that a woman's bleeding
time is the time of her greatest power, according to Hanchin. "Tell me if you
know of one adult woman who was taught this as a child," said Hanchin. Many
of the matrifocal societies, including many Native American societies, teach
that during the bleeding time - called the "moon time" by Native Americans -
women are most attuned to their intuition, to the "messages from the Great
Mother." In some of these cultures women would go into the moon lodge (when
women live closely together they cycle together) and withdraw from their
daily activities to meet, share women's wisdom with the young girls, transmit
ancient lessons, and receive dreams which would often become the prophecies
that would guide their people. Today, Hanchin theorizes, perhaps PMS is our
bodies rebellion against our refusal to take time out to honor this great
gift we receive as women. We could begin by coming together with other women
at our moon times, or even just by taking time out of our daily routine to
sit quietly by ourselves and contemplate our inner voice and inner vision.

We can also reclaim the idea that the white-haired women, the crones, are the
women of the most power in the culture. "They were seen as holding in their
blood," said Hanchin, "Not allowing it to flow out anymore, so they were
always connected to the voice of the Mother from within. They guided their
societies. How would women feel if we could reclaim that power and have our
culture validate us?That women over 50 have the greatest power?"

Another thing we can do, as both women and men, is to tune into the phases of
the moon, and therefore Mother Earth. The new moon is a time to go inward and
seek vision; the full moon is a time of manifesting and offering back out to
the world.Ceremony, ritual, and coming together with others are ways to
reclaim and honor the feminine divinity in all of us.

Pittsburgh's annual Goddess Celebration, organized by Arianna and the Silver
Sisters, honors the divine feminine spirit in a community gathering of
lectures, dancing, drumming, feasting and ceremony. In its sixth year, the
Goddess celebration is open to men and women and is multi-denominational.
Participants can be involved as much or as little as they like. You can
dress as a Goddess, belly dance, take workshops, or simply socialize and
enjoy nature.

Women's spirituality groups are often informal and unstructured. The Womyn's
Spirituality Circle does meet weekly and is open to new members, but many
other small groups exist in and around Pittsburgh. In addition, women's
spirituality courses, such as those given by Vikki Hanchin, are offered in
this area.

Another wonderful way to learn about Goddess spirituality is, of course, to
read about it. Many, many books exist and the list printed at the end of
this article is but a few that the contributors to this article recommend as
a place to begin. As always, listen to your own intuition and guidance.

And celebrate the divinity in yourselves and in others. We are all one.

Thank you, Arianna, for suggesting and supporting this article, and much
thanks also to Vikki Hanchin, Margaret Zavora,Diana Pelletier, Raihana,
Allen Goodman, and Barbara Campsie.



It is possible for you to join us in dance classes
and women's spirituality circles.
For information on how to contact any of the
Pittsburgh-area people or groups, e-mail:

Some suggested books (follow your intuition also, there are many, many

"Women Who Run With the Wolves" - Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Ph.D.

"The Great Cosmic Mother" - Monica Sjoo & Barbara Mor

"The Feminine Face of God" - Anderson & Hopkins

"Chalice & The Blade" - Riane Eisler

"Spiral Dance" and others by Starhawk

"The Language of the Goddess" - Marija Gimbutas

"13 Original Clan Mothers" - Jamie Sams

[ PHOTO CREDIT: "Waterfall" ©1995 Point of Light ]