Recently, I had a period of sleepless nights where my head was spinning and my heart was racing. Finally, I began to recite Surah Al-Fatihah from the Quran in my head. I learned that if I did this a few times, I could change my thought patterns and finally fall back into sleep. I wondered if I could go further back into my Christian heritage and try this with passages of the Bible. I was curious if reciting Bible verses in English instead of the Quran in Arabic (which is not my native tongue or even a language I know well) would be equally effective. It was. My mind stopped spinning and I fell asleep.
But then I became irritated with myself. Why after decades of feminism and five years working extensively with the Divine Feminine was I still coming back to these patriarchal scriptures? Why didn’t I come back to “Our Mother, Who Art Within Us” or “The Charge of the Goddess”?
My only answer is that our socialization as girls was deep and thorough. Many of us spent hours a day for a decade or more pouring over these scriptures. Nawal El Saadawi stated that “you cannot exploit people without controlling their brains.”
There are people who have memorized the entire Quran. I never went nearly that far, but growing up as a Christian I could recite hundreds of verses, many of which I can still remember without having picked up a Bible in more than twenty years.
We must be equally diligent about absorbing new texts that empower us as women. As Carol Christ wrote:
“Even people who no longer ‘believe in God’ or participate in the institutional structure of pa-triarchal religion still may not be free of the power of the symbolism of God the Father. A symbol’s effect does not depend on rational assent, for a symbol also functions on levels of the psyche other than the rational. Symbol systems cannot simply be rejected; they must be replaced. Where there is no replacement, the mind will revert to familiar structures at times of crisis, bafflement, or defeat.”
That said, I am not anti-religion. Both Christianity and Islam shaped who I am today. While neither religion suits me personally anymore, I deeply believe women have the power to transform themselves where they are right now, whether they are still practicing a patriarchal religion or not.
Mary Daly wrote that “Patriarchy is itself the prevailing religion of the entire planet.” It is my belief that patriarchy is the problem and not necessarily religion. I see religion as primarily cultural. We usually identify with the prevailing faith of where we are born. Religion can be good or bad.
Unfortunately, it is often used as a tool of patriarchy to reinforce (male) dominance and (female) submission.
I believe that memorization, affirmations, new stories and any other means of changing brain patterns are critically important for women if we are to reboot ourselves from our subordinate status. As Glenys Livingstone wrote, “It is not female biology that has betrayed the female…it is the stories and myths we have come to believe about ourselves.”
We are always, it seems, working on “our stuff”. Going through this toolbox many times myself was both powerful and (sometimes) overwhelming. It brought up things I thought I had laid to rest. I took my own advice and read several of the books suggested at the end. At one point, I broke into sobs and cried for several hours while my husband held me. I released some deep-seated pain and I came fuller into clarity and joy. I began to memorize many of the passages here and repeat them to myself day and night. I talked at length to my adopted sisters about our common experiences as women and girls. This helped me to set free some of the residual shame that was still hiding in my heart.
Take good care of yourself as you work through these pages. Many of us have stuffed our feelings, trauma and abuse down for decades. Some days, you may want to throw this book out the window, but I do believe the words of wisdom from the foremothers shared here hold the keys for transformation and freedom.
This toolbox and my work on The Girl God series have become intensely important to me.
As Rosemary Radford Ruether reminded us decades ago:
“We do not have thousands of years to unlearn the wrong patterns that were established over thousands of years. The exponential speed-up of these cumulative patterns of destruction means we have to both learn new patterns and put them into practice on a global scale within the next generation.”
The time to change ourselves—and the world—is now.
To be continued