Do you remember when God was a woman?

My friend, Cassandra Rae of SimplyFearless gave me a book for Christmas. She didn’t find it at a bookstore, rather at a street fair/flea-market kind of thing. It has the name of the original owner on the first page and an unused notecard with the picture of a rhinoceros tucked inside. It’s hardly new; published in 1976. It cracks a bit when you open it and the pages are dry and slightly yellowed. It’s lovely. Mostly, because it’s from Cassandra; because when she saw it she knew to buy it for me. But also, isn’t it obvious? It’s lovely because it’s about when God was a woman! Do you remember?

Here’s the opening quote in the introduction by Simone de Beauvoir in 1949 (who, if you don’t know of, you should):

Man enjoys the great advantage of having a god endorse the code he writes; and since man exercises a sovereign authority over women it is especially fortunate that this authority has been vested in him by the Supreme Being. For the Jews, Mohammedans and Christians among others, man is master by divine right; the fear of God will therefore repress any impulse towards revolt in the downtrodden female.

There are centuries of truth rolled into that statement. Millions upon millions of personal stories embedded in those words. Hundreds of millions of women who have been silenced – and remain that way – because this encapsulates the system of belief by which we have been enculturated…and harmed – not just women, but men and society/the world at large.

What if God was a woman? Would such realities still be true? Such injustices exist? Of course not! Is God a man? Of course not! But somehow, the assigning of gendered language/metaphor to God in the past couple-thousand years has radically changed the experience of women throughout the world – past, present, and future. We need to remember.

When God Was A Woman is a look at the most ancient of religions, the religion of the Goddess, and the role this ancient worship played in Judeo-Christian attitudes toward women. I’ll let the author, Merlin Stone speak for herself:

Though we live amid high-rise steel buildings, formica countertops and electronic television screens, there is something in all of us, women and men alike, that makes us feel deeply connected with the past…For people raised and programmed on the patriarchal religions of today, religions that affect even the most secular aspects of our society, perhaps there remains a lingering, almost innate memory of sacred shrines and temples tended by priestesses who served in the religion of the original supreme deity. In the beginning, people prayed to the Creatress of Life, the Mistress of Heaven. At the very dawn of religion, God was a woman. Do you remember?

Do you remember? I do not. But I want to. Oh, how I want to.

How I want to bring new metaphors and language to life. How I want to re-interpret my own story of faith through the lens of a female God. How I want my daughters to understand their own God-given beauty, strength, and divinity without a male template being the predominant or exclusive definer. How I want to live in a world without patriarchy, misogyny, and endless misunderstanding. I do not remember. But I want to.

Admittedly, this topic gets me extremely fired up. And I don’t necessarily want to be understood/experienced as an angry woman. But sometimes anger is justified, righteous, necessary. The loss of our memory of God (my own loss of such) as a woman does make me angry. I want her back. I do not remember. But I want to. Do you?

We listen carefully to the stories. We hear the women whisper. They whisper in the fragments of the forgotten.

(Patricia Lynn Reilly)

I hope you’ll listen. I hope you’ll remember. I’m trying.


If you’re up for some provocative conversation about this, here are some questions you might think of asking…of yourself, of your friends, of your mother, your father, your pastor, your church, our world. No easy answers; maybe no answers at all, but definitely the makings of good conversation! I’d love to hear!!!

What is your gut-response to the idea of God as a woman? How do you respond to your own response? How would others respond to you if they knew?

What would be different in your life if you could remember; if it was even remotely possible to apply a lens of God as woman to your experiences, your relationships, your work environment, your culture?

What are your experiences of patriarchy, misogyny, or misunderstanding in this regard? Do they make you angry? What do you do with that anger? Where/how is it expressed?

If you could imagine God as a woman, what might She most want you to hear from Her?

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    { 18 comments… read them below or add one }

    Victoria SkyDancer January 8, 2010 at

    Merry Meet, Sister!
    I have read Ms. Stone’s book, and many others along those lines. I am remembering God as a Woman, and helping others to remember as well. Feel free to follow me back on Twitter, since I’m going to follow you! :-)

    Blessed Be,
    VSD
    .-= Victoria SkyDancer´s last blog ..Consistency =-.

    Reply

    Ronna Detrick January 8, 2010 at

    ‘So glad to hear that you both remember and continue to do so! Keep at it. It matters!!!

    Reply

    Claire January 8, 2010 at

    Oh my Goddess!
    You are getting right to the quick of it aren’t you?
    This (When God Was A Woman) is a seminal work on the subject. For me, about half way through I experienced some disturbing dreams of sad underground catacombs and hidden goddesses weeping. It was a “remembering”, I’m sure of it. I wish I felt strong or awake or bright enough to write it all. Maybe one day I can push it out like I did my second baby – with one giant grunt. :-)
    I think the anger is not just justified in this case, but possibly necessary. I won’t go into all my reasons for that here, but hopefully in a future post of my own.
    “Women Who Run With the Wolves” is an almost cliche it’s so read book about the anger on this subject and the way it can play out. It did help me to own my feelings about what it meant to reject the male figurehead/godhead and make my own definitions.
    .-= Claire´s last blog ..CED week one =-.

    Reply

    Ronna Detrick January 8, 2010 at

    Thanks, Claire. Your imagery is powerful – and certainly worth “birthing.” And anger…Hmmm. We fear it, definitely, but I still think it has it’s place, tells us something powerful about what our heart wants to say, and invites us to spaces we couldn’t otherwise go. ‘Appreciate, as always, your honesty, candidness, and vulnerability. ‘Love that you keep coming back – and commenting. Thank you!!!

    Reply

    Coral January 8, 2010 at

    Interesting post. I could write much here, but would rather not post online about my views on the subject of God/Universe/Higher Power, etc. It is certainly a topic I would like to discuss face-to-face. Having grown up in parochial schools (Lutheran & Baptist), and struggling with my own vision of who/what God is over the years makes this topic interesting to me. I will try to find the book, as well. Thanks, Ronna!

    Reply

    Ronna Detrick January 9, 2010 at

    Thanks, Coral. It’s a BIG topic…with lots of ramifications and lots of impact on our personal stories, structures, systems, everything!!!

    Reply

    Sharon Eden January 9, 2010 at

    And the traces of her remain. For example in Judaism the Shekhinah is associated with joy, prophecy, creativity, royaltiy, place where you can connect with divine presence, and is seen as the female aspect of god. It is she for whom synagogue doors are opened on a Friday night to bring in the Sabbath. A day of no work. A day intended for reflection and nourishment of spirit and soul.

    And powerful resonances of the divine feminine are amongst us today through the energy of Sophia who brings Wisdom and symbolised in ancient female goddesses from all cultures. And as wisdom she manifests in many ways…

    … e.g. Kali. And like Kali when she is respected and valued there’s a time of creation. And when she’s not, destruction! The creative cycle without which there would be no change, no evolution. And perhaps the push behind the call of our anger.

    The Shekhinah and Sophia are very present with and expressed by me. And I suspect you too!
    .-= Sharon Eden´s last blog ..Do Less And Be More =-.

    Reply

    Ronna Detrick January 9, 2010 at

    I’m trackin’ with you Sharon! Absolutely!!! Thanks for these excellent examples. And I had to smile when I read your comments because your last name alone would give you passion/desire to get these stories re-told!! I’ve written more than once on the whole Garden of Eden and Eve deal!!! Thank you.

    Reply

    cv January 9, 2010 at

    Ronna,
    this is a great post about a critical step in any feminist’s journey — Even if/when you believe that whatever-god-is ultimately has no gender, the act of thinking of god as a woman reveals so much to us. Immediately, god becomes more loving, more nurturing, more forgiving, less pedantic, more of a something that will wrap arms around me and hold me up. Yeah, I know I’m applying gendered stereotypes, but that’s part of the exercise.
    Thank you for reminding me of this today.
    cv
    .-= cv´s last blog ..When Will “Social Business” Become Social Change Business? =-.

    Reply

    Ronna Detrick January 9, 2010 at

    You’re more than welcome, cv! And yes…the “small” changes in language/stereotypes can make both subtle and significant shifts for us…and hopefully for others. Thank you!

    Reply

    cv January 9, 2010 at

    Oh, and Claire, as part of my everyday feminism, I never use the word ‘seminal’. I always use ‘germinal’ — like, it’s not a Walkman, its a Walkperson. Sometimes people notice the switch, and it can be an aha… sometimes its just me resisting the patriarchy in my own little way… hehehe.
    cv
    .-= cv´s last blog ..When Will “Social Business” Become Social Change Business? =-.

    Reply

    Ronna Detrick January 9, 2010 at

    Keep resisting patriarchy!!! None of those efforts are small!

    Reply

    Nicki January 9, 2010 at

    Ah, Ronna! You have inspired me to write and write I will about this. I am antiquing with friends this afternoon but will respond later.
    .-= Nicki´s last blog ..Winter Is Here =-.

    Reply

    Ronna Detrick January 9, 2010 at

    ‘Can hardly wait to read your words/thoughts/heart, Nicki! Be sure and link/trackback to me so that I know when you’ve posted on your own blog! And thanks!!! Oh, and yes, the process of extending grace is one that doesn’t come naturally to us…at first. But oh, so deserving!

    Reply

    Jane London January 14, 2010 at

    The post is thought-provoking and the responses fascinating, but I kind of feel as if none of you are looking outside your sphere of enlightenment, to what’s happening, culturally with real women. Having come of age, during that hotbed of ‘women’s rights’, the 70s, I’ve been amazed at the way women have evolved, or devolved, over the past few decades. Seriously, the whole ‘women are goddesses and so much better than men’ attitude that has become not only fashionable, but conventional wisdom, rings to hollow to me, when one merely listens to the average woman and observes the horrible choices they/we continue to make.
    Our attempt to become ‘empowered’, seems to have created a couple of generations of women who automatically blame men and the patriarchal constraints on their unhappines and bad choices. In addition, young women in particular, having had the benefit of 30-40 years of female empowerment, seem much more obssessed with looks, status and celebrities, than the educational and professional opportunties that are available.
    So, while I love the message, I fear it’s not being heard. But, hey, that’s what blogs are for, right?
    .-= Jane London´s last blog ..Dear Young, Stupid Me: =-.

    Reply

    Ronna Detrick January 14, 2010 at

    Jane: Thank you so much for your candid and thoughtful comments. And please know all opinions are more than welcome! I hear and even resonate with your concerns and experiences and believe, as I think you do, that as women we have to take responsibility for not only the current state of affairs, but who we are, how we are, what we do, what we believe, how we act, EVERYTHING – in ways that are always resonant with our greatest potential, our deepest desires, our highest hopes – breaking through all constraints! Clearly, those constraints are hardly limited to (or even mainly about) patriarchy. Often our biggest hurdles are ourselves. Again, thank you for speaking out. Beautiful!

    Reply

    Lee-Anne Ragan January 16, 2010 at

    Makes me shake my head and wonder, when recently, I read that scientists even tend to choose male mice to experiment on, so as to not have menstrual cycles interfere with testing.

    Today when maleness is the fall back, the blueprint, the go to and the norm in marquee lights it makes you wonder what the world would be like if we all didn’t need to remember when God was a woman, but rather she was the norm. Hmmmm.

    Reply

    Ronna Detrick January 17, 2010 at

    Love this, Lee-Anne. “When she was the norm…” More than “Hmmm.” For me it’s “Ahhhh.” Thank you.

    Reply

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