Sweden was fortunate to have had Birgitta Onsell, a teacher, author, and women-historian. In the 1980s she wrote books about old goddesses and gods of Earth-bound spirituality in ancient Scandinavian. In the 1990, she was determined to make the Protestant Swedish Church attach a warning on the front-page of the 2000 new translation of the Bible, for its frequent hostile attitudes towards women, for its expressed values concerning women that contradicted human rights. Like Martin Luther, who sought profound change, she nailed her manifesto to the doors of the Stockholm Cathedral. Her wishes were not met.
Encouraged by Märta-Lena Bergstedt, Onsell started the organization Tealogerna in 1996, which focused on historical knowledge about women and religion by searching for ancient female roots in order to address gender issues and issues of equal status between women and men today. In 1998, Onsell established an exhibition on Goddess history called “After a Thousand Years of Silence…” The exhibition became a draw in Stockholm and, after touring Sweden, it became a permanent exhibit in Näsåker in 2007, and it was celebrated at the first Swedish Goddess Festival organized by Märta-Lena Bergstedt and Lo Högberg.
Over the next several years, women engaged in goddess spiritual practice, in reclaiming intellectual knowledge of goddess herstory, and in goddess feminism, activism, and politics would meet at the Goddess Festivals that were organized by Märta-Lena and me.
For many it was natural to benefit from meeting people carrying out goddess work from a diversity of starting points; for others, it was difficult. Still, it was essential for us to open and hold space for sharing goddess from many angles of approach. A core belief was that the theme and program should engage heart, mind, and body, and thus inspire meetings across our own “familiar” borders—allowing everybody to be together, participate, and feel safe.
Thus, when dressing the altar at the center of the circle, all the elements were presented or represented by colors, fruits, or artifacts.
And when opening the circles, instead of calling in certain goddesses, Norse or Celtic, we honored air, water, fire, and earth, and we invited everybody to make themselves conscious of the elements surrounding us, within us, and sustaining the lives of all creatures.
One example of how mind, heart, and body were addressed in the program, the Sejd of the Völvas was highlighted by scholarly lectures, in storytelling of the Völuspá (The Ancient Prophecy of the Norse Seeress) by the evening fire, and through a practical Sejd-session led by the experienced shaman, Annette Høst, from Denmark, and carried out by three volunteer experienced shamans, travelling on galdr-song performed by the assembly of women.
In the following years, Märta-Lena Bergstedt and I arranged the Swedish Goddess Conferences on themes that allowed for a broad interpretation and great diversity, in programs like:
- “Norse Goddesses and Mother Earth Characters – We create our future on what we believe about our Past” (inspired by a Marija Gimbutas quotation)
- “The Völva, the Oracle, the Samí Noajdie and Shaman – historical realities from diverse cultures.”
- ”The Goddess Dancing and the Humans Moving throughout Time” (Gudinnans dans och människans rörelse genom tiden)
- ”The Red Tread – snaking through Time” (Den röda tråden – som ringlar genom tiden)
- “The Dancing Flowers and the Time of Ripening” (Blommornas lek och mognadens tid).
In addition to Goddess Festivals, we organized Full Moon Celebrations, Sun-turning Celebrations (Seasonal Celebrations—and crossing the border becoming a Crone myself, at 56, wanting to honor this fantastic period in the lifecycle by focusing on Inner Wisdom, I privately organized a wonderful three-day Crone Initiation and Celebration for friends and family at the beautiful Mother-Mountain in Omberg.
Over time, in organizing festivals and celebrations certain things have emerged as vital, and they have become indispensable keystones—or cornerstones. Some of these are “everybody shared their diamonds” on their own terms; a feeling and an experience of “inclusiveness”; the keeping of a “horizontal structure”, including sharing practical work; “being outside in nature” as much as possible; and, as mentioned above, modeling the program to address heart, body, and mind.
For me, the very epithet, goddess, has everything to do with these keystones.
KEYSTONE: THE SHARING OF DIAMONDS
My man once asked me to pinpoint what I meant by “goddess”. As he is a musician, I chose an explanation referring to music, using as an example the gathering of people interested in Swedish Folk Music held every Sunday at Skeppsholmen in Stockholm. He understood immediately, and it also deepened my own understanding. I will allow this explanation in three parts to serve as an illustration here, too:
There are at least three ways that people usually come together in society.
- You play football. One team loses, one team wins. One group goes home sad, the other goes home happy. (Patriarchal)
- You go to the theatre or a festival. One group overworks. One group pays to consume, holding an explicit wish to be satisfied. One group goes home exhausted. One group goes home calculating what they received for their money and their time spend. (Patriarchal)
- You go to the Skeppsholmen in Stockholm on Sundays, where hundreds of people and folk musicians come together from all over. Some are professionals, some beginners; some are dancers, some singers; some are there just for the atmosphere. Old friends meet; strangers join and start playing together. Some will teach how to play music, some will teach dances or folk songs—all for free. Volunteers will make delicious low-cost vegetarian soup for everybody. For two to three hours you may participate anywhere, in any room, wearing any wardrobe, where something is going on. At 8 p.m. dew-fresh groups or old established groups will have put their names on the blackboard and then they will play for 30 minutes each in the Hall, where now young and old, retired sailors, Rasta-haired youngsters, office-ladies, immigrants, and families—really a broad representation of Sweden—will dance folk dances until midnight.
Everybody gives and receives—on their own terms.
And everybody goes home, enriched and happy‼
That is Goddess to me‼ That is my dream of goddess world.
So, the latest two Goddess Festivals in Stockholm specifically followed the above perception of goddess.
We arranged the festivals with the outspoken intention to invite and hold a space for networking on a horizontal level.
Everyone who participated was also performing, according to their own wishes, sharing the jewels of their hearts, their fire.
No one was solely paying and consuming. Everybody was giving, performing, stepping forward; and in doing this, everybody was embraced, encouraged, and supported. Gradually, everybody became Somebody. No one stayed anonymous and un-seen.
Everybody gave; everybody received.
(To be continued)