The story of Eve receiving the fruit of knowledge from the Serpent in Genesis is familiar, but most people don’t know that Western European artists depicted the Serpent as a Goddess from about 1200 to the 1600s. The earliest example I’ve found is a sculpture from Notre Dame de Paris during the 1200s. The Snake Goddess is coiled around the Tree of Wisdom:
Many illuminated manuscripts show the Snake Goddess coiled around the tree in the same way, like the kundalini serpent winding around the human spine, but wearing a ladies coif:
Suppressed Histories Archive : The Suppressed Histories Archives uncovers the realities of women’s lives, internationally and across time, asking questions about patriarchy and slavery, conquest and aboriginality. About mother-right, female spheres of power, indigenous philosophies of spirit– and the historical chemistry of their repression. Even more important, their role in resisting oppression. A global perspective on women’s history offers fresh and diverse conceptions of women’s power, as well as of men and gender borders. It overturns stereotypes of race and class, and the structures of domination that enforce them. It digs under the usual story of lords and rulers, looking for hidden strands, and reweaves knowledge from the divided fields of history, archaeology, linguistics and folk tradition. So we cast a wide arc, looking for patterns and gaps and contradictions which, where vested power interests are at stake, are trigger points for controversy. Some of the flashpoints are women’s power; neolithic female figurines; gender-egalitarian mother-right cultures; patriarchy; witch-hunts; “heresies” such as goddess veneration or shamans; and the rise and fall of empires, including the doctrines of supremacy and inferiority that prop up all systems of domination.
One of the many common misconceptions and myths that we atheist parents hear from the believers around us, usually said with a horrified or frightened tone, is the question What if you’re wrong? What if my belief system of guilt during life and heavenly reward afterlife is true?
What if you’re wrong about that science stuff? What if you’re wrong about how you interpret the fossil record with the concept of evolution? What if there is a glorious afterlife to reward a life time of worshiping our silent, absent, and often-cruel god? What if there is a hideously agonizing afterlife to punish for free thought and using logic and reason during life? What if we were right to heap shame upon anyone who was not a white, straight, male, monogamous follower of our god? What if we are supposed to carry the shame of being born a human being on this planet?
What if the sheep herders in the Middle East truly do know more about the best way to live life than any thinking person in the current era who uses compassion and love as a starting point? What if our earnest belief in a water-walking carpenter from Bethlehem is absolutely essential for an eternal reward? What if the hominids of the past million+ years of time were alive a mere six thousand years ago? What if dinosaurs are truly misunderstood dragons? What if violent murders or silencing of innocent victims of rape by elders is truly the preferred way to handle the inappropriate sexual acts of those trusted, respected, or feared elders? …
After three professional careers, two advanced degrees,one ex-husband, four carefully chosen lovers, participation in eleven national and international astrological anarchological workshops, a random audit by the IRS which gifted Iris the freedom from burdensome possession of furniture and property, and three lengthy stays at a dude ranch, a cloistered convent, and remote yoga ashram, Iris Bean was now, finally, calling herself a writer.
Iris always knew in her bones that she was a writer, an artist, a true misfit; but it wasn’t an easy identity to embrace coming from Iowa; from a tenacious family of railroaders, stenographers, cooks, bankers, seamstresses, boozers, and stock car drivers. Encouraged to be a mail carrier or a dental hygienist or a cook or nothing at all, Iris took refuge from the family legacy when she turned 18 and went to live at a convent with Benedictine nuns in Mission, Kansas. Read more Chroicles of Iris Bean-The Convent
I “Some professionals just ask are you coping, are you OK? And think that is all they need to ask but this is a very closed question and too easy for a woman just to say yes when she could be crying out for someone to notice her or help her.”
New research from the NCT has found that around half of new mothers’ mental health issues don’t get picked up by a healthcare professional. Consequently, the organisation has launched a new campaign – Hidden Half – to raise awareness and push for better postnatal care that will identify and treat more cases of postnatal depression (PND) and associated conditions. A key focus of the campaign is making sure the existing checkup that takes place six weeks after giving birth looks at the mental health of mothers – something that doesn’t always currently happen.
I want to talk about my own experiences in the wider context of postnatal mental health issues developing later on, after those first few weeks following the birth. I want to do this because I know from personal experience that it’s easy to dismiss symptoms when they’re not what you think PND looks like, when you’re busy and when very few people take the time to ask. I’ve never written about this in detail before, but having done a lot of processing of my experiences over the past few years having come to the point of understanding much more about how to practice good self-care, I’m hoping it will be useful, in some way, to at least someone.
Every time I have read about spirituality, and usually when I am reading anything vaguely self-help-y, and sometimes when I am trawling through the Internet, there is a message that keeps coming back. That we are one. All of life, all of the Universe is, or is part of, the same organism, essence, energy.
I’m not too interested in debating or justifying this though I’ll happily discuss it, and often do, when someone is willing to engage with the idea. But without any religion, I have always believed that somehow we are all connected. I don’t know why, and I can’t really explain it. I don’t need to.
My best friend believes that we are imbued with the Holy Spirit, the same spirit of her God; my other best friend is an atheist, but does believes that we each have a soul, or spirit of some kind, and that we are connected to each other through mutual dependence and a moral responsibility to each other, simply by being alive and in proximity.
I’m not sure I can describe my experience of ‘oneness’, other than to say that at times I feel a connection, an emotional mirroring, and a rush and pull so visceral that it’s frightening, as though the soul I haven’t yet decided whether or not I have is being clamped and dragged from my body. I often shut that feeling down, especially since this happens most often when I am faced with the pain of others. Pain I’d rather not feel with no power to act on it, that’s not mine to fully grasp anyway, that’s distorted and egged on by my imagination and my adrenal glands. Read more THE ONENESS IS THE GREATEST – #SANCTUMBRISTOL, by @elizabethethird
I’ve been working out if or how to write about #metoo. The hashtag was started over ten years ago by Tarana Burke to enable women in underprivileged communities who did not have access to rape crisis centers or counseling, to be able to share their stories of having been subjected to sexual assault. In the wake of the New Yorker publishing details of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual harassment and assault of women across Hollywood (over a number of decades), actress Alyssa Milano encouraged women to tweet their stories of sexual harassment. A million people have tweeted using the hashtag in the last few days, with many people also using it on Facebook.
The most wonderful Vicky Walker has written over at Premier “Harvey Weinstein isn’t just Hollywood. Men like him exist in our churches too”. Vicky’s piece, which included her own personal experiences of having been subjected to harassment by Christian men, has been commented on by a number of men. Peter tells us that, “I am concerned that this article is actually approaching the whole issue from the wrong perspective.” (What wisdom Paul has…) Whilst Paul tells us that, “Plenty of conjecture and personal anecdote but nowhere near enough sources to properly level the claim with credibility.” (I’m hoping Paul is going to commission a nationwide survey on harassment in churches to help us get the data he thinks is acceptable.)
Mez McConnell is the Director of 20 Schemes, a church planting organisation seeking to “see Scotland’s housing schemes transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ through the planting of gospel-preaching churches”. His passion for and commitment to seeing lives transformed by Jesus is extremely inspiring. 20 Schemes is working with some of the most marginalised people in society. This is also a mission I am committed to. I come from a working class background, have been a teenage mother and single parent. I have lived in deprived areas almost my whole life and have worked with many women who have been deeply wounded by men and by poverty. My husband and I are now raising a little boy from a severely deprived background having spent a year trying to support his mum to be able to become a parent again. As such I hope that this blog is read in light of my great respect for 20 Schemes mission and passion.
Mez published a blog on the 20 Schemes website earlier today entitled “Why My First Church Hire Was A Woman, And Yours Should Be Too”. At first glance, this blog seems to be incredibly pro-women, challenging male-led churches to value the contribution women make to the life of the church. Not only that, he is insisting women should be paid for doing this, shifting away from the idea that women’s labour should be offered free.
Cross-posted from: Helen Blogs
Originally published: 27.11.16
Its been a while since I last wrote something …
In fact over a year, and part of me has wondered over the last few months whether or not I have lost the ability to write. Or whether I’ve just lost confidence.
You can let me know after you’ve read this maybe?
I’ve been working on some thoughts for quite some time now and have never actually managed to feel like I had sorted them enough to publish for people to read – thats if I still have any readers! Anyone still out there?
And then I realised over the last few days especially, that perhaps I am never going to have them ‘sorted’.
I’ve also struggled with pressuring myself about the fact that I felt this stuff should be/needed to be ‘deep’, and theological and and and … but maybe they don’t need to be, and maybe they are just simple ideas and maybe some simple truths that don’t need over complicating right now, if ever?
1. this is my story
2. this is not the story of all Muslims
3. this is not the story of all hijabis
4. there can be more than one story
Once upon a time (about 14 years ago), in a land far away (South East England), I wore the hijab. It’s surreal looking back. I’ve spent a long time actively detaching myself from that part of my identity, so I feel almost fraudulent claiming it as my own. Even now, after 14 years of fixing myself up and reclaiming all the bits of me, I struggle to talk face to face with people about the hijab. My experience was bad, and the word and the memories still stick in my throat. This post is about how more than 5 years of forced veiling affected me. Read more When the hijab is forced, at Reimagining my Reality
Cross-posted from: Mrs GLW
Originally published: 12.12.16
In the last week, I got my first introduction to Jon Jorgenson after stumbling across his video “Who You Are: A Message to all Women” after it found its way into my Twitter feed. The video is well on its way to having 6 million views. Jorgenson is a Christian spoken word poet and although this video’s title is aimed at women, the video is set in a lecture hall and seems to be seeking an audience of younger women and girls.
A white man telling girls who they are didn’t seem like a particularly liberatory model. So I decided to have a watch. With emotive music and short dramatic sentences, the video is designed to create a specific emotional response. He tells girls they’re smart and precious and funny and insists we have a responsibility to set free the “world changing woman” within ourselves. Incidentally the video is entirely produced by men. So he doesn’t think women are actually smart enough to be involved in creating his videos with him.
After moaning about the video on Twitter, I was informed that he has also created one for men. So I had a watch of “Who You Are: A Message to all Men”, it has close to 2 million views. The thing that is MOST fascinating is comparing the words of the videos (and though I don’t have time to delve into them, also the tone and body language within them and soundtrack lyrics behind them). The subtly (or not so subtly) different language devices within stories that are broadly the same. The overarching narrative of both videos are:
We all know that the movement called the “New Atheism” was promoted most importantly by the “Four Horsemen.” These men-Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchens-all became very outspoken after the tragedy of 9/11. Each of them published seminal books in the first decade of the 21st century. A survey of the 100 best-selling books on atheism on Amazon shows each of them still in the top ten today. The number of women on that list of 100 on May 8, 2017 was two. YouTube debates between Christian apologists and atheists are dominated by men, usually on both sides of the issue, including the men mentioned above. Women atheists who take to debates about religion are few and far between. Why?
Martin Saunders wrote for Christian Today recently about the experience of attending a conference of the UK’s most influential church leaders and their teams, only to realise that “Ninety per cent of the people in the room were male; if you were to take pastors’ wives out of the equation, that number would look even worse.” He noted that in the UK at least, ‘there’s no doubt women are being invested in’, citing well-known leadership conferences as examples of this – and who could fail to notice the image used to illustrate the piece – Justin Welby surrounded by female clergy? …
We Mixed Our Drinks : I write about feminism, politics, the media and Christianity, with the odd post about something else completely unrelated thrown in. My politics are left-wing, I happily call myself a feminist and am also an evangelical Christian (n.b. evangelicalism is not the same as fundamentalism, fact fans). Building a bridge between feminism and Christianity is important to me; people from both camps often view the other with suspicion although I firmly believe that the two are compatible. I am passionate about gender equality in the church. Twitter @boudledidge
A more spiritual person might have believed I picked up the book because of some kind of higher purpose, but at the time, I thought I was merely attracted by the color: a pale lilac that spelt the word ‘Wicca’ in a simple font on the book’s spine.
A year ago, I stood in that bookstore debating whether I should buy the book or not. I didn’t know then that my choice in buying that book — and more importantly, reading it — would lead me to where I am today.
Wicca wasn’t something that usually appealed to me. At the time, I was a hardcore atheist. While I tolerated religious beliefs, I found myself quite incapable of placing faith in a higher power.
I wasn’t always an atheist. I was raised in a family that was partly Christian and partly Muslim. My childhood seldom involved church, but was filled with family members invoking biblical verses and prayer in times of need. Uncomfortable with this contradiction, and influenced by my school friends, I began attending church and Bible study groups regularly at the age of 14. Read more APPROACHING WITCHCRAFT AS A RECOVERING ATHEIST
The recent image out of France that show policemen surrounding a woman who is removing her veil have struck many people because of how overtly Islamophobic they are. France – a country that constructs itself as being open and secular – recently imposed a fine on women who wear a ‘burqini’ at the beach. This announcement was controversial, and seeing images of this fine in action is bringing even more attention to the new rule. …
This week, the Project 3:28 report on the numbers of men and women speaking at Christian conferences and events in 2015 was released – the third annual report produced since a small group of people got together – first in conversations on Twitter, and then over dinner – to talk about the way platforms are dominated by male speakers. All of us were interested in the issue of gender justice in the church; all of us were concerned that Christian organisations were not doing enough to represent a diverse range of speakers, gifting and expertise.
Three years on, I’m really encouraged by the conversations that Project 3:28 has started. I’m particularly encouraged by the organisations that have contacted the working group to let us know that they’re being proactive about finding more women to speak at their events. It’s clear to see that effort is being made, because these are the organisations appearing in the top half of all those ranked. One of our longterm aims for Project 3:28 is to be able to set up a database of women speakers, listing areas of expertise and experience, so we’ll no longer hear that ‘we didn’t know any women to ask’ or ‘we couldn’t find anyone’ – but in the meantime, seeing that certain organisations are committed to a more equal balance of speakers is a really positive step.
Yes, the events ranking lowest for gender balance of speakers are the ones that are openly more conservative
It’s clear, that despite small increases in the number of women speakers, that they’re probably going to continue to rank lowest because of their beliefs about the circumstances in which women are permitted to teach – even as some streams become more proactive about recognising the gifting of women and more open to them preaching and teaching.
But the events ranking not far above them are officially egalitarian – so what gives?
Some organisations have some catching up to do. This was something that particularly stood out for me when analysing the data from the Hillsong, HTB Leadership and Focus conferences. Having a basis of faith that says women can lead and teach doesn’t always translate to women actually doing these things. Sometimes that’s down to historical patterns of appointing leadership, how people are noticed and given prominence. Sometimes it’s because of old boy’s networks that rely heavily on in-crowds of people who socialise together, speak at events together, and are all on the same committees together. Sometimes it’s because of events looking for the biggest names on the Christian festival circuit to sell their programme to prospective attendees – names that are more likely to be male, because that’s how conference culture works.What’s clear is that those organisations whose theology is essentially egalitarian, but are low ranking, could do much better.
What about other elements of diversity?
Project 3:28 looks at the balance of men and women speakers. Someone asked us this week whether or not we know anyone specifically doing work on racial diversity at these events. We don’t – but we think it’s a really important thing to think about. We’ve explained that because of the way we compile the data, it would be more difficult to look at racial diversity because it’s much less easy to make a judgement about someone’s race from looking at their name on a programme. Just as the majority of conferences are male-dominated, they are also dominated by white speakers – that’s clear. They’re dominated by middle class speakers and able bodied speakers. So there is much work to be done in achieving diversity that reflects the church as a whole.
We haven’t covered every single event and conference here
That’s true. When we looked at the data for 2013, we started with a group of events based on what we could find at the time. We have stuck with this list to enable better comparison year on year. But we know there are numerous events that we have left out. Some people have already made suggestions of others we could look at next year. If you can see any we’ve obviously missed out, let us know!
What about the balance of men and women on the main stage versus seminars and smaller talks?
We chose not to include this data, again because so far we’ve stuck with what we can compare year on year. However, my counts differentiated between main stage speakers and other speakers and I can confirm what some people have asked: male speakers dominate ‘main stage’ sessions at festivals. At many events, women are also more likely to show up as speakers at sessions focused on subjects that have more traditionally been considered a woman’s domain – marriage, children’s work, family life, mental and emotional wellbeing. It’s not problematic in itself to see women speaking about these topics, but just as many women are gifted teachers on other subjects that are more likely to be seen as the preserve of male speakers.
The knotty problem of wives
Something we have looked at informally, and something people have asked us about, is the number of women present at festivals only as a ‘husband and wife act’. This varies quite a bit between the events, but we felt it was difficult to represent these numbers with integrity. Some women have a ministry with their husbands, some independent of their husbands. Some speak in their capacity as a ‘leader’s wife’. It’s difficult to make judgements about the data here without seeming critical about the women involved – and that’s not what we would want to do, at all, because we know they are gifted teachers and leaders in their own right. Our general feeling is that many events could be more committed to finding single women speakers, women who lead churches on their own and women whose husbands are not in ministry.
Things are improving…but there’s still some way to go
Women have the knowledge and the gifts. Organisations need to be more intentional about seeking them out and inviting them to speak.
We Mixed Our Drinks: I write about feminism, politics, the media and Christianity, with the odd post about something else completely unrelated thrown in. My politics are left-wing, I happily call myself a feminist and am also an evangelical Christian (n.b. evangelicalism is not the same as fundamentalism, fact fans). Building a bridge between feminism and Christianity is important to me; people from both camps often view the other with suspicion although I firmly believe that the two are compatible. I am passionate about gender equality in the church. Twitter @boudledidge
The ‘nagging wife’ is a centuries-old stereotype that refuses to die. She’s the subject of eye-rolling banter between men, the warning from the pulpit and the marriage guidance book, the defence of countless men who have committedmurder. In recent weeks, she has resurfaced as a truly 21st century reminder to women that there’s something else they’re probably not doing well enough at – in the form of a piece entitled ‘I wasn’t treating my husband fairly, and it wasn’t fair‘.
The post, which appears to have gone viral in the grand tradition of ‘pseudo-meaningful revelations about my relationship that easily translate into clickbait’ (247,000 shares on Facebook), details a wife’s realisation that her controlling and obsessive attitude to household matters was belittling her husband and buying into another hard-to-stamp-out stereotype – that of the ‘useless’ husband who can’t be trusted to do a thing around the house.
Thousands upon thousands of women have apparently recognised themselves in this tale and I don’t think she’s entirely wrong. I’ve heard her tale in conversations in the office or on nights out with friends. ‘Wife always knows best’ – ‘happy wife, happy life’ – I’ve heard people say it and I’ve most definitely seen them post it on Facebook (there is a theme here. Facebook has a lot to answer for). And I don’t buy into it because, really, what does it say when the only words that come out of your mouth regarding your partner, your husband, the father of your children – are about how ‘useless’ he is and how you won’t ‘let’ him do things?
Korean tradition holds that the first shaman was female, Bari Gongju (also transliterated as Pali Kongju). Her name means “Princess Thrown-Away.” Her father cast her off at birth for being a girl, the seventh in a series of daughters. He tore her from her mother’s arms, locked her in a jeweled box, and cast her into the ocean. Turtles or dragons rescued her and brought her to a peasant couple, who raised her. She eventually became a mudang.
Her story turns on her filial behavior, years later, when her parents became sick. The Mountain God appeared before her and told her that her parents were sick. Only water from the Western Sky Heaven could cure them. Bari Gongju went to the palace and, disclosing her identity, said that she would undertake the dangerous journey to find the water.
It was a long journey through the spirit world to the Western Sky. Disguised as a boy, Pali Kongju passed between the North Pole Star and the South Pole Star. She met the Old Farming Woman of Heaven, who made her plow and sow a field by herself. Then she had to get past the Laundress of Heaven, who forced her to wash all her laundry from black to white, causing a monsoon. Finally, she reached cliffs that led to the Western Sky. Once again, golden turtles came to her rescue, forming a bridge to get her there safely. She found the well with the water of life, protected by the Guardian, a rather disagreeable old man. Still dressed as a boy, she asked him for some of the water, but when he learned she had no money to pay for it, he refused. [Tara, online; i retain her spelling in this excerpt.]
But Bari Gongju convinced the Guardian to let her become his servant. After three years of work, she was no closer to getting the water. Then the Guardian discovered that she was female, and asked her to marry him. She did so, and bore him seven sons. Only then did he give her the elixir of water. She returned to find that her parents had just died, with funeral ceremonies underway. She sprinkled them with the water and brought them back to life. They gratefully offered her a place in the palace, but she refused.
She returned to the spirit world, where she became a goddess who helps souls of the dead journey to the otherworld. “Except for Cheju [Jeju] Island, Pali Kongju is regarded as the ancestor of modern shamans in Korea, even though she has been known by many different names.” [Lee, 169, note 9] She is a prototype celebrated in rituals in which the mudang enact the story of her passing through a portal of the Underworld. They wear sleeves striped with a rainbow of colors.
A Lakota Medicine woman
The wana’gi wapiyé Lucille Kills Enemy treated Mel Lone Hill for recurring pneumonia in the early 1950s, when she was in her 80s. She came to Mel’s house to doctor him when he was near death. “She had to go find me on the other side. She was probably the only one I knew of who was that powerful.” [St Pierre and Long Soldier, 199] Here the account of the shamanic journey is missing – which is not to say it did not exist, only that it does not appear in print – but stories of soul retrieval from “the other side” recur over and over in the annals of shamanic healing, all over the world.
Stories about the co-founder of Tibetan Buddhism, Yeshe Tsogyel, retain aspects of shamanic culture even though firmly placed within a Buddhist context. She is described as a khandro, or dakini, rather
than as a “shaman.” It is through meditation that she acquires siddhis, or powers: “Where shale and snow met, I found the mystic heat’s inner warmth…” [Dowman, 94]
These powers include the classic shamanic art of spirit flight: “The fledgling dakini-bird nesting in a crag / Could not conceive how easy was flight /Until her skill in the six vehicles was perfected; / But her potential released, wings beating with hidden strength/ Breaking the back of even the razor-edged wind,/ She arrived at whatever distination she chose.” [Dowman, 160]
Thangkas often show Yeshe Tsogyal wielding a phurba, a ritual knife that Himalayan shamans use in healing. It also has an esoteric significance as “remover of obstacles.” Without enumerating all the parallels between Buddhist adepts and Indigenous shamans, I’ll simply note that her siddhis extended even to the power to revive the dead: “In Nepal, I resurrected the corpse of a dead man… My body became a sky-dancing rainbow body…” [Dowman, 94]
Inanna and Ishtar
Returning to the theme of shamanic goddesses, both Inanna and Ishtar are winged, and emanate the me (powers, rites, skills, and offices) from their shoulders. Among these me are religious offices, the scepter, staff – the caduceus occurring first in the Mesopotamian iconography of Ishtar—magicianship, descent to and ascent from underworld, various arts, and five different kinds of drums.
The drum figures in a story of Inanna planting a magical huluppu tree in her garden. In its three levels came to live the serpent, the wild-woman Lilitu, and Anzu the thunderbird. Inanna caused the magical tree to be felled and a drum and drumstick made from its wood – but gave them to Gilgamesh. So the shamanic power is displaced from Inanna to the male hero, ultimately with negative results.
But it is Inanna/Ishtar who descends to the underworld, passing through its seven gates. She did not perform this pre-eminently shamanic act to bring back a dead soul, however, but as a journey of spiritual discovery and transformation.
Other ancient parallels
Other shamanic women are described as having the power to raise the dead to appear before the living, though not to revive them. The “Witch of Ein Dor” called up the shade of Samuel at the command of Saul. This king had himself persecuted such women, as the biblical account explains; but he set aside the death penalty when he himself needed their services. Her actual title in Hebrew reveals her shamanic dimensions: Baalat Ob, “Mistress of the Talisman,” or to put it another way, “medicine object.”
The Cumaean Sibyl had the power to conduct Aeneas to the Underworld. Mount Cuma overlooks the bay of Naples and a group of volcanic fumeroles called the Flaming Fields. The nearby crater lake Avernus was known as the entrance to Tartarus, land of the dead. Ancient writers referred to an oracle of the dead in this place in the time of Odysseus. [Strabo, V, 4, 5] The rock of mount Cuma was riddled with wide underground galleries and chambers and caves “from which a hundred wide tunnels, a hundred mouths lead, from which as many voices rush: the sibyl’s replies.” [Aeneid VI, online]
According to Livy, the first sibyl came to Cumae after the burning of Troy, but Virgil shows a sibyl already living there when Aeneas fled Troy. Arriving in Italy, he came to consult the Cumaean sibyl, addressing her as “O most holy prophetess, you who see the future…” [Aeneid VI] The old seeress Deiphobe sat in silence, gazing at the floor, and slowly entered trance. She agreed to help the Trojan hero descend to the underworld to search out his father. But first, she told him, he must seek the golden bough (mistletoe, “sacred to Proserpina”) as an offering to the guardians of the gates of Hades.
Then the sibyl guided Aeneas on a journey to the realm of the dead. She began with an offering of four steers and a heifer before “a wide-mouthed cavern, deep and vast and rugged.” Entering the cave, they descended deep into the earth. When challenged by Charon, she opened her robe to show the golden bough, and he allowed them passage. Aeneas communed with his father’s shade, and then the sibyl brought him back to the world of the living. [Aeneid, VI, 50-1000]
Teresa de Cabora
A modern Mexican woman underwent an otherworld journey that was precipitated by a traumatic attack. A ranch hand beat and raped Teresa Urrea when she was only 15 years old. She remained in a coma for months; doctors then pronounced her dead, and she was very nearly buried. But she revived, sitting up next to the coffin that had been brought in. During the months when she appeared unconscious, she had experienced visions and became transformed into a healer with deep prophetic insight. She began curing people suffering from cancer, blindness, stroke, and paralysis.
Teresita became known as la Santa de Cabora, and thousands of Indian people came in a steady stream to the Cabora ranch to see her and be healed by her touch and gaze. This daughter of an Indian teen and a wealthly rancher in Sinaloa was a skilled healer even before her extended near-death experience, having trained under the midwife/curandera la Huila and a Yaqui medicine man.
But Teresa was a political visionary too. She became an inspiration to Indian rebels as a prophetess of Indian rights and a forerunner of the Mexican Revolution who co-authored el Plan de Tomóchic, one of the most radical declarations of human rights ever written. It called for new laws “declaring both men and women, whites and blacks, natives and foreigners, rich and poor, have the the same rights, duties and privileges and that they be absolutely equal before the law.” We have yet to attain those goals today.
For more about medicine women’s journeys in the spirit, take a look at the video Woman Shaman: the Ancients (released in April, 2013).
Covell, Alan Carter, Folk Art and Magic: Shamanism in Korea. Seoul: Hollym (1986)
Tara the Antisocial Social Worker, “How a Woman Becomes a Goddess: Pali Kongju” The Daily Kos, Aug 19, 2009. Online: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2009/08/19/769300/-How-a-Woman-Becomes-a-Goddess-Pali-Kongju Accessed Dec. 29, 2012
Lee, Jung Young Lee. Korean Shamanistic Rituals. Walter de Gruyter, 1981
Dowman, Keith. Sky Dancer: The Secret Life and Songs of the Lady Yeshe Tsogyel, Ithaca NY: Snow Lion, 1996
Mark St Pierre and Tilda Long Soldier, Walking in the Sacred Manner: Healers, Dreamers, and Pipe Carriers-Medicine Women of the Plains Indians. New York: Touchstone/ Simon & Schuster, 1995
Cross-posted from: Madam J-Mo
Originally published: 25.11.15
Persephone Book No 115 is the real-life diary of Parisian Jewish journalist Jacqueline Mesnil-Amar written during the final weeks of World War Two while her husband André was imprisoned by the Nazis.
Betraying her experiences as a writer, Maman, What Are We Called Now? is a beautifully constructed series of heartbreakingly sad snapshots into the terrifying, traumatic and chaotic existence for those left behind by the war, desperate for news of their stolen loved ones. Read more ‘Maman, What Are We Called Now?’ by Jacqueline Mesnil-Amar
A few weeks ago I was drawn to the launch of a new project by the group Maslaha on the topic of Islam and Feminism. Maslaha, which means ‘for the common good’ in Arabic, is a social enterprise that strives to bridge the gulf of misunderstanding that exists between non-Muslims and Muslims so that, instead of current negative stereotypes, Islam ‘becomes synonymous with social justice, compassion, and creativity’. To coincide with International Women’s Day and World History Month this March, they launched a new website www.islamandfeminism.org to explore the relationship between these two, supposedly conflicting, identities, creating a wonderful archive of Muslim women’s contributions to female emancipation in the Middle East and around the world. The website makes for fascinating reading, telling the stories of diverse women’s activists from Egyptian founder of the Muslim Women’s Association Zaynab al-Ghazali born in 1917, to British artist Hannah Habibi Hopkin exhibiting in London almost a hundred years later.
Whilst I think this work by Maslaha is incredibly positive, stimulating and engaging, I can’t, however, say the same for the public response. Ordinarily I am all for a big debate, as a healthy and enjoyable expression of democratic ideals. Of course I’m a feminist, so I love a big argument, right? So I was confused by my unwillingness to get involved in the debate that ensued following the launch of this online resource – perhaps I am getting old, losing my youthful, strident flare that characterised many a drunk night and almost ruined many a friendship of my uni days. Or perhaps it’s because the debate that ensued, about whether or not you can even be a feminist if you are Muslim, fits into an increasingly large category of feminist debates that are becoming, quite simply, tedious. These are the ‘Can you be a feminist IF…’ dialogues, and every week a new one will be unfolding across my Twitter feed…IF you are a man, IF you shave your pubes, IF you love Beyonce, and now, not for the first time, IF you are a Muslim.
These debates are irritating because they construe feminism almost as if it has a restricted-access door policy, which not only plays into stereotypes of feminism as being the chosen identity of hairy, belligerent, angry (white) lesbians, but also puts people, young women in particular, off from engaging with the movement. The amount of times someone has said to me, ‘well I guess I’m too girly to be a feminist’ or ‘feminism doesn’t really speak to me, I’m more for equality for everyone’, like that’s not what feminism is, and too often these portraits of feminism as a closed off cult suspicious of intruders haven’t been painted from the outside but come from within the feminist movement itself. These debates about the supposed rules of the group, on who’s out and who’s in, do so much of the work of misogyny because people who are still in the process of working out their identities are immediately made to think that their views won’t be accepted, and they come to reject what is seen as dogmatic. As Hannah, the contributor to islamandfeminism.org, states ‘feminism should not be an exclusive club.’ So lets get this straight – it IS not an exclusive club, it does not have a door policy. It is a form of identity, and like all identities it is fluid, contested, and ultimately your own. People are so quick to suggest that there is a criteria for being a feminist but actually, bar being a misogynist or acting in cahoots with patriarchy, I would like to go out on a limb here and suggest that there isn’t actually any criteria at all. I identify as a feminist because I care passionately about opposing the patriarchy that I see all around me and because I have chosen to identify as one – it is ultimately my choice, a label that I give myself and a badge I am proud to wear, and not one that needs any validation or verification from anyone else. Likewise we should stop acting as if we are in any position to give verification to anyone else. I might, for example, view prostitution as structural violence against women and I might disagree with someone who argues that it is a source of empowerment for women exploiting patriarchy for their own financial gain, but I would never have the audacity to say she or he is not a feminist if that’s how they identify. And I would certainly never have the audacity to ask if a Muslim woman can even be a feminist.
Far too often though people make this point or ask this question entirely without irony or shame. It comes back to back to that image of Muslim women that we are spoon fed by the press as timid, meek, voiceless, always oppressed and forever victimised. It’s become so entrenched that even when a Muslim woman stands up boldly, perhaps in hijab, perhaps not, and declares herself the agent of her own life and maker of her own choices, the fallback response is ‘oh but she just isn’t even aware of her oppression, poor thing doesn’t even know that her decisions were actually made by someone else’. It staggers me, the arrogance of it. And the thing is, the people who hold these kind of views are, and I’m willing to bet on this, people who have probably never even engaged in a real conversation with a Muslim woman. Because there is no way you could watch an impassioned lecture lead by a fiery 20 something-year-old university student wearing a hijab on the empowerment she gets from her faith, and look her in her steely eyes afterwards and say ‘oh love, if only you could see how fooled you are’.
The other shameful thing about this debate is that it makes out that Islamic feminism is a new phenomenon. Even The Guardian, a paper I normally enjoy for being less ridiculous than others, released an article that might as well have had the headline ‘BREAKING: Muslim women finally entertain the idea that they might have rights!’ In the opening paragraph of this article, the author states that ‘now there is a small but growing number of Muslim women looking to take their places in Britain’s rapidly expanding women’s movement’, going on to assert that Islamic Feminism first appeared in the 1990s, suggesting that the first Islamic Feminist magazine was published as late as 1992. This is simply poor (mis)information. To cite just one example from one country, Huda Shaarawi, an Egyptian feminist, was organising one of the largest, female, protests against British colonial rule in Egypt in 1919, just after women got the vote in the UK. She founded the Egyptian Feminist Union in 1923 and shortly after went on to publish the feminist magazine, El-Masreyya. Commentators often conclude that Huda Shaawari drew her feminist strength from a rejection of her religion, with the oft-cited anecdote that she famously threw her veil into the sea upon returning from a trip to Europe. But what this hasty conclusion overlooks is that whilst she certainly did chuck her face covering into the waves, her hijab remained firmly on. She was a committed Muslim and a committed feminist campaigning for the exact same things as her English counterparts – political representation, economic empowerment, education, family planning – way back in the early days of the 20th century.
What’s more, she was in pretty good company; Egypt’s and Lebanon’s histories in particular are full of stories of powerful women like her, their stories just don’t get told as often.
The point that cynics seem to be missing here is that Muslim feminists aren’t a rare breed of feminists who are feminists in spite of their faith, they are many and they are feminists because of it. There is a long and little known history of women’s rights within Islam and when the religion was introduced in the seventh century, it was actually a giant leap forward for women, outlawing female infanticide, until then a common practice, and significantly limiting, although allowing, polygamy. When women in Europe didn’t have property rights, Muslim women owned property under rights protected by law. The first Muslim feminist in fact is often said to be Aisha, Muhammad’s youngest, and most adored, wife. She was an active citizen, standing up for vulnerable women to demand that Islam and the law protect them, and she held public office in a way that angered many men and still inspires many young Muslim women to this day – she even led an armed rebellion, leading an army of male soldiers into battle on her camel in the desert, against her adversary Ali. Ali crushed her rebellion which is perhaps why her story and her feminist teachings within Islam are little known to those outside the faith, which is a shame because it’s a lot more radical than some of the stories read to a lot of little girls.
Even the hijab, probably and I think quite annoyingly (it’s is just a piece of clothing after all), the most contested symbol in the debate on Islamic feminism, can be justified and reclaimed as a feminist symbol. I remember Myriam Francois-Cerrah, a guest lecturer at my university, saying that in her scarf she feels that when she speaks she is listened to with more respect – she is not seen for her body or her sexuality, but heard for her ideas and her intelligence. With women sexualised so much in Western society, she asked, are women really more liberated when they are subject to jeers in the street and harassment in the workplace? Do the bill boards and magazine ads that adorn Western culture really create a better body image for young girls? This contradiction is the subject of a Parisian grafitti artist going by the name Princess Niqab, who goes around Metro stations spray painting head scarves and burqas onto scantily clad underwear models, angry at the outrageous sexism that has become so naturalised to the point of being almost invisible. As someone who notices, notices for example the infuriatingly ridiculous poster of women in their underwear advertising noodles in the window of Itsu (seriously?!) on my way to work, I find these questions interesting and I don’t doubt their answers provide clues to the large demographic of white middle-aged, single, successful women converting to Islam, which comes as a surprise to many.
Of course it is true that whilst Muslim feminists may cite their faith as the source of their gender liberation, Muslim misogynists will cite it as the justification for their gender oppression. And there are many passages in the Quran that do nothing for equality and much for patriarchy. But this isn’t about a petty contest of point scoring or of endlessly weighing up advantages and disadvantages in the vain hope of coming to some ultimate truth. This is important because there is no ultimate truth – it is an interpretation that is always in the process of being defined and in a world where narrative means so much, those who win are those who have a monopoly on the narratives we listen and give our attention to. This came to me when watching a TED talk by Julia Bacha, a brazilian film maker who documents non-violent protest in Palestine. In this she says that non-violent protest does exist but we don’t read about it in our papers – and the power of attention is such that this silence carries profound consequences for the likelihood of social movements to grow. She compares activism to a form of theatre, pointing out that if violent actors are the only ones with an audience, it is very hard for non violent actors to win the support of their community.
The same case can be made for women’s rights in Muslim societies. Women’s rights in Muslim societies and in the Middle East are in transition, they are in the process of being evaluated. Religious doctrine isn’t always doctrine, it is malleable and changes with the ages. Islamic law accepts slavery, for example, and Muhammad set the tone by keeping slaves himself, but the Islamic world has come to condemn it universally. Is it so implausible that all Muslim societies will one day emancipate women too? For that to happen we need to pay attention to Muslim feminism – it will not be able to grow and leave its legacy on the Muslim world unless it is given support, and the very first act of support we can give is to believe that there can be a place for feminism in Islam, and, likewise, a place for Islam in feminism.
So on that note, sure, let’s debate Islamic feminism but let us celebrate it too.
The Joy in my Feet: Inspired by Maya Angelou’s poem, my blog The Joy in My Feet is about celebrating the work of women activists and artists around the world campaigning to end gender oppression. I am an intern with Equality Now working on a campaign to end FGM in the UK, so most of the posts you’ll find are covering current issues of sexual or gender based violence against women, interspersed with poetry and art.
This is a brief summary of a visual presentation, first shown in 1986, which was given in September 2005 at the Shamanic Studies Conference in San Rafael, California.
A Chukchee proverb declares, “Woman is by nature a shaman.” (1) Yet the female dimension of this realm of spiritual experience has often been slighted. Mircea Eliade believed that women shamans represented a degeneration of an originally masculine profession, yet was hard put to explain why so many male shamans customarily dressed in women’s clothing and assumed other female-gendered behaviors. Nor does the masculine-default theory account for widespread traditions, from Buryat Mongolia to the Bwiti religion in Gabon, that the first shaman was a woman.
In fact, women have been at the forefront of this field worldwide, and in some cultures, they predominate. This was true in ancient China and Japan, as it still is in modern Korea and Okinawa, as well as among many South African peoples and northern Californians such as the Karok and Yurok. There are countless other examples, including the machi of the Mapuche in southern Chile and the babaylan and catalonan of the Philippines. Read more WOMAN SHAMAN by Max Dashu