This is the second 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 at that time. The first in the series was “Notes on Leaving Christianity”, and this second essay is a very personal story of the journey out – some of what was involved for the author. The story is told and set within the context of a ceremonial meal, named as “Passout”, and imagined as a traditional annual restorative event, invoking Goddess whom all present were seeking.
This essay was originally published in Women-Church: An Australian Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, Issue 15, Spring 1994.
It was “Passout” 1994, the night when women friends gather to celebrate their exodus (when others around them are celebrating Holy Thursday/Passover).The women light candles, anoint each other with oil, and play women’s music that has helped birth them. Sometimes they get up and dance as the Spirit takes them. They share a meal of flatbread, bitter greens, vegetables and roast pork; finishing with a dessert that uses milk and honey. They drink lots of wine throughout the evening, as they tell their exodus stories.
This was one of the women’s stories:
a simple country girl,
who got lost on the big freeways of the world
and thought she was someone else…
hopped in a big american car and went on a tour.
when the joyride ended, she came back to the poverty
of her inner landscape… she was dropped off
in the slums of her pain and fear
that she had sought to escape.
I’m not saying that anyone else should ever do what I did, or that what I did was in any way good. It was just that it was in me to do, and it was my path. It was a drastic measure, I know. I was never a practical person really, not like my mother. It was not in me to spend my days locked in a house with the children. It was not in me to settle down before I had explored a little, to perform the mother rituals as my mother and her mother had done though they longed in their hearts for love and knowledge. They had lusted like Eve, ancient goddess sister, for self-knowledge but unlike her they had accepted the curse of Yahweh, the more modern god with his curse of blind obedience. Not that the mother rituals themselves are empty- no, not at all, it’s just that I was. I was not the person that I am now. Now I would not need to be so drastic I don’t think. But then the lure of the world beyond, was great… the lure of knowledge, ideas and my-self. I lusted to hold my life to the light, to feel its shape, its corners, it’s surfaces, its colour, to begin to cut it like a gem. I needed to touch it, sense it, hold it, and I thought even then, to possibly remember something that my mothers had forgotten. I imagined my grandmother a farmer standing in her fields looking off in the distance, shading her eyes, caught in her existence of constant work but wondering, somehow sensing something else, hoping that one of her descendants, one of her daughter descendants would do it for her. So off I went. Yes I had voices in my head, as they say. I was commissioned by the yearnings of my mothers.
And it was because of the way we raised children. It was not in me to do it that way. I felt so isolated and dependant, plunged into the child’s world, instead of taking the child to mine. I actually didn’t have/know a world, and I felt cut off and cheated of one forever. So I left. I left my sweet children. May the mothers forgive me. I left them with their father. The fathers, I felt, needed to know the children. And he had a world to give them, more than one to choose from it seemed. He replaced me with a commune, a support network, and got on with his career.
Little child, pretty one
how are you
are you happy
you know that I love you
– and I miss you
I know it is a crime
to not be with you
to see to my-self
But if I do not
then you lose too.
Do you need me to hold you
– I know that I would like to
Your daddy holds you now
and his touch is good.
Do you even miss me
Maybe you don’t
that would make me happy
at the same time
I mean, most women would just never do that. Sure, they know the lust I speak of, but they find another way. Perhaps they couldn’t imagine that anyone else could care for their children as well as they; they believed in themselves more, knew themselves better. Perhaps they interpreted this lust within them more narrowly, and felt it could be satisfied with little forays here and there … no need to split the world open. That’s what I did, I split the bloody world open. And it bled, and the stars fell from the sky. There were no guides for this.
Perhaps what the other women did was not so bad, but it didn’t change anything really. Everyone kept moving the right pieces on the game board, so it looked right, but it really wasn’t. It wasn’t in me to do it that way. I didn’t want it to just look right, I really wanted to change the game. And my lust I knew was not just in my groin, though that was not to be belittled, it was all over me.
So I went to find a world to fill me. I did try to fill my void here in Australia, wrote to various universities to see if they could support my quest for research into the ancient Goddess religion. Not really, they all said, you would have to lead the way. Why walk when I could run? I knew it was already boiling in other parts of the world. So I went to Berkeley, California. I had been there before, I knew it had more than enough … of everything.
It really tore my heart out, leaving like that. But I could do things like that to myself those days. Often I have looked back at that deed and wondered at what forces drove me … was it angel or demon. Mostly I have considered it angel despite all the pain, because I thought the gain was so immense. Now I’m not so sure. At this point in my life the gain has been reconsidered, relativized … as I said perhaps it could have been done some other way. Now, as I struggle day to day to feel my-self, re-connect with my heart, my visceral impulses, I wonder at this past deed and how I allowed such immense pain in myself – chose it. Was this quest so important? Was this M.A. (Master of Arts) like no other? Wouldn’t the whole family have come with me? Ahh! the latter question rolls away a big stone on a cavern in my psyche. Wouldn’t the whole family have come with me? Who was I to ask that, that everyone dance to my tune, come all the way to California for Mummy to study? For what? … would it make her more employable? How could she pay for such a venture? Yet surely my absence asked far more of my family. That was a perception that my self- hatred prevented me from seeing. It’s ironic, that my leaving was seen as such a selfish act.
That was her story for the evening, but she added by way of comment …
“Passing out, as we celebrate tonight, is not always a jolly affair; it is fraught with grief too. It is complex, no sister can decide for another what she can leave and what she cannot. It’s like abortion; one may be pro-choice, but the pain of the violence needs to be acknowledged. And leaving is violence … and it’s easier to do when one is young, before life becomes too complex.
There are things that need to be left, we need to vote with our feet. And so we have, and so we are!”
She then held up her glass and proposed a toast:
” To the Crone, the Wise One, who enables us to cut the cords. May her Wisdom also guide our cutting.
To the Virgin, the New Beginning … may She grow virulently in the rich compost. may She protect our tender new skins.
To the Mother who is Sustainer, Creator … may our Creativity be extravagant and exuberant. Anything is possible. May we understand that we can/do right now create the future.”
And the women wiped their tears and drank to it.
© Glenys Livingstone 1994