This is the first in a three part series of old articles and papers by Glenys Livingstone Ph.D. that were written in the 1980’s and 1990’s, two of which were published. Though a lot has changed since then – in communal hearts and minds, and in the thickening of the women’s spirituality placental network, and to some degree in some religious organisations, a lot has not changed: and at this time in some places, things are slipping back. The old papers and articles seem to be relevant, as well as serving as historical document.
This first short article is a slightly edited version of the 1989 original, which was published in Women-Church: an Australian Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, No.5. It is a few notes regarding the author’s personal departure from Christian mythology and mind, which actually occurred in 1979:
Some churches and some religions may sometimes pay lip service to the Divine being both male and female – but how often do you hear the feminine pronoun used? How would they possibly know what both female and male might mean? On the spectrum of He and She, the weight has been on the “He”, and for an awfully long time. Before a middle point can be arrived at, both extremes have to be understood. “She” does not get any airplay let alone there be any understanding of female experience, female theology.
One has to ask why are they so afraid of it. Perhaps because they are aware on some level that even the smallest concessions to the female begins to break down the very base of their religion.Once you’ve seen that as a feminist – you have to leave. And there are other possibilities – you simply have to be willing to go out into the night, be willing to go “past outposts warning not to forsake a history written in advance”[i] – become an explorer. For me, it was Mary Daly’s book Beyond God the Father that exploded my absolutes, that sent me reeling, with eyes scraped “clear of learned cataracts”[ii] and set me on the path that eventually led out of Christianity.
The Judeo-Christian tradition, like most other accepted world religions, is immersed in and rooted in a dominator model of being:[iii] that is the all pervasive underlying notion that someone must always dominate and the other must always be dominated. That is affirmed over and over again in its systematic exclusion of the female in image and language and leadership. To break free from that model requires a total breakdown of belief – a shattering of image, language and inner mythology. It is a painful alienating experience fraught with an overwhelming sense of betrayal: the awareness is that we are “like amnesiacs in a ward on fire, we must find words or burn”.[iv]
But then, after the shattering, one can begin to re-build and re-name. Some do so from within a separatist model; others from within a partnership model if they feel able to assume that the conventional polarities can co-exist (and perhaps once did in various ancient societies) … wherein difference is not equated with inferiority or superiority.[v] My building blocks were taken from the Old European Goddess religion which is also very much an embodied spirituality. It takes seriously the body, the Earth, and matter, which goes along with a re-valuing of the female who gives birth. And the male is there, but he is not dominant (nor is he dominated). I did a course of study with Starhawk, High Priestess of the Old Religion. The core of what Starhawk gave me was a revaluing of the female and the male divine being – we are all goddesses and gods. And that is not some ethereal thing, but is grounded in our material existence, earthy and sexual.
The power of all the “God” religions is definitely on the decline – though that does not mean any imminent passing. These cultural changes take thousands of years. For Western Christianity the passing will be earlier since it seems that misogyny in this religion peaked around the fourteenth – seventeenth centuries with the burning of women in particular, as witches. And Rome no longer has the power to exterminate those, female or male, that it doesn’t like, as do still some other well-known world “God” religions. These latter patriarchs I’m afraid will be around for a long while yet, in very strong numbers and force. The needed inner disruption there is yet to gain any significant strength. Meanwhile the women within remain almost invisible with a few exceptions.
The era of the dominant male, the Father-God, had an historical beginning and will have an historical end. Times change, deities have risen and fallen – that is historical fact. Yahweh is just another. The female is re-emerging – and so is new maleness. The Goddesses that Yahweh tore apart are being re-membered. And we are as midwives, wet-nurses, and mothers in that process.
GLENYS LIVINGSTONE is a graduate of the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley California (1982). She left Catholicism and also Christianity in 1979 and then journeyed on in search of the Goddess.
Broumas, Olga. Beginning with O. London: Yale University Press Ltd, 1977.
Daly, Mary. Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism. Boston: Beacon Press, 1978.
Daly, Mary. Beyond God the Father. Boston: Beacon Press, 1973
Eisler, Riane. The Chalice and the Blade. NY: Harper and Row, 1987.
WOMANSPIRIT Journal # 23, Spring 1980.
[i] Cynthia Cooke, “Refractions”, Womanspirit 23, Spring 1980, p. 59.
[ii] Cynthia Cooke, “Refractions”, Womanspirit 23, Spring 1980, p. 59.
[iii] See Riane Eisler, The Chalice and the Blade.
[iv] Olga Broumas, Beginning with O, p. 24.
[v] Riane Eisler, The Chalice and the Blade p. xvii.
[vi] Mary Daly’s term, Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism.
Meet Mago Contributor Glenys Livingstone Ph.D.