Women’s spirituality spiral: Further reading and experience led me to pursue a Master of Arts degree in Women’s Spirituality in San Francisco, California. At the time, these unorthodox women- and Goddess- centred studies felt beyond me. I had young children and a low income. But, I was internally very pulled to go. Such intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually compelling studies answered a deep yearning within me. In San Francisco, goddess feminism, activism, and spirituality flowered and bloomed. This grew from a commitment to social gender justice and activism in the American women’s movement, transforming society through women’s spiritual leadership. Thus, I studied with “bona fide” foremothers of women’s and goddess spirituality. In this powerful women-centred curriculum, we read feminist scholarship as much as created rituals and art, all while conducting our own research. The scholars and activists included Vicki Noble, Chief Luisah Teish, Z. Budapest, Judy Grahn, Dianne Jenett, Elinor Gadon, and others. I needed and valued their wise mentorship, as they became my elders. And I met friends and colleagues who nourish me to this day.
Studying in San Francisco became a touchstone for me. I began to write about birth politics and midwifery, finding my voice and continuing my art. I pursued my devotional leanings towards Goddess figures such as Mary, Tara, and Devi. I learned from all the threads of my sister scholars in their research, such as: Goddess Durga, Indigenous knowledge and cosmology, artivism, menstrual reclamation and ritual celebration, Yoruban traditions, and so much more—this was and is the juiciest scholarship and way of life I know!
I now trust more in my sense of reaching out to feel held by strong female divine energies, symbols, and visions. I honour my female body in its knowing-ness and as a source of blessing. I especially honour my primary matrix as Mother Earth. Born in Canada, I always loved to be in wilderness and in nature. As a young adult, I was a tree-planter in the summers, working for my university studies. I cultivated my animist tendencies, feeling the sentience and sacredness of other beings through connection to the Earth through outdoor work, hiking, and wilderness camping. This is “biophilia,” being in-love with Earthy-life, in regenerative relationship with trees, plants, animals, rocks, and waterways of the land.
I later pursued a PhD in Education at The University of British Columbia in Vancouver. I wrote my dissertation on the Women’s Spirituality, Goddess-centred Master’s degree that I had earned in San Francisco. Through faculty and alumni stories and practices of such, I documented that program as an innovative and transformative field of education that empowers women’s lives and contributes to social justice (https://circle.ubc.ca/handle/2429/39810). The effect is especially one of authorization, or self-authorization, as women become the centre of their own lives, learning to navigate from an inner compass, claiming their voice and direction amongst challenges and injustice, while creating with others what we want to see and how we want to be in the world.
Goddess as verb spiral: “Goddess” is more of a verb then a noun for me. The companionship of women, being in women’s space, sitting in rituals, classes or workshops, sharing in life, has given me the perspective and energy I have needed for life as lived in-love-with-life. Such companionship, in sisterhood and in mentoring and being mentored by other women, is vital to my experience of feeling whole and grounded on Earth and in life. Women’s circles are probably part of my DNA, meaning there is an ancestral and evolutionary aspect to gathering and taking care together. Vicki Noble frames this in terms of the love hormone “oxytocin,” the “tend and befriend” impulse that organizes such groups of women.
Recently, I have felt called towards more focused devotional and contemplative work, through an almost “nun”-like order of spiritual women. I envision a kind of Hildegard von Bingen order of contemplative, creative women, living in the forest or on the mountain, but in a post-patriarchal, Goddess-centred way. Hildegard was a 12th century, German mystic and Abbess. I appreciate Hildegard for her prophetic voice and her visionary experience as much as for her brilliant music and herbalism. We can do more of this in Goddess feminism: bring forth the creative visions we need to do and be in these times. It can take a whole community to hold and develop the larger visions, and to put them into action.
Art-making spiral: Art-making can be a sacred and spiritual practice, drawing from creative wells of wisdom. Through art-making, the body, psyche, and intuitive sensing all become sources for knowing and being in the world. As we creatively work with our hands, hearts, minds, and the wonderful materials of the Earth, we can make useful, beautiful objects, and express conceptual ideas. We also experience the inherently transformative process of art-making itself. We can gain insight into ourselves, others, and the world in which we live. Art-making is a fantastic, awe-some, use-full modality for expressing, healing, and liberating human life.
My own art practice is based in photography, textile art, and performance creation. I document my family life through biographic photography. As an aesthetic-activist, I have drawn from my midwifery and women-centred birth work and research to create a textile installation series called “The Placenta Project” (http://galleries.lakeheadu.ca/featured-artist-researchers.html). I also especially live Goddess feminism through art-making with my women’s art collective, Gestare. The word “gestare” comes from the root word for “gestation,” and it means, “to carry in the womb” (http://www.gestareartcollective.com/). We are currently a group of five women who function a little bit like the “spiritual order of women” I just described. With Gestare, my art practice expands to include others through co-creative, process-based art methods. We meet in circle formats and share life stories. We live at long distances from each other, working online and in-person when we can. We decide upon a yearly cycle of artwork, rooted in Earth-consciousness and female-centred spirituality. We synchronize ourselves around a cosmic time frame like the full moon, or the equinoxes and solstices. Our artwork has included labyrinth walking, sounding, movement practices, ancestor work, trees, and social dreaming. We are currently experimenting with holding “MA poses,” as an embodied meditation and visualization practice. We draw these poses from the research of ancestral mothers and Goddess figures conducted by art historian Annine van der Meer (http://www.annine-pansophia.nl/).
Throughout all of our practices in Gestare, we often experience an expansion and deepening of collective consciousness through our relational inquiries. We also further our individual senses of purpose and liberation as creative, female, human beings. Working with Gestare has been akin to the practice of midwifery in my life in the ways that we attend to and witness each other through both difficulty and joy. We draw upon the healing and transformative aspects of art-making as a collective. We often write about our artwork processes through birth-based metaphors, as we creatively, collectively birth ourselves to being.
This essay series was written in response to the question, “How Goddess Feminism, Activism, and Spirituality?” I love and appreciate this question, and the chance to articulate and share some of my story. I hope it may be of benefit to others. I envision “How Goddess” in my life as a weaving of spiral movements. Spirals are dynamic, ancient Goddess symbols of the life force and awakening growth. They express fluid transformations and the regeneration of all. In a spiral way, I yearn for integration of all aspects of my life In Part 2, I explore Goddess feminism, activism, and spirituality through living spirals of women’s spirituality studies, Goddess as verb, and art making with Gestare.
To be continued. Read Part 1.