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Author Topic: Goddess Spirituality: Exclusion  (Read 790 times)

Local Magpie

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Exclusion
« on: August 17, 2019, 12:44:58 am »
Hello everyone! To make a long story short, my beliefs have always resonated with Goddess spirituality but I've avoided really exploring due to the air of exclusion and gender essentialism around it. I really resonate with the creation myth of a Great Goddess 'birthing' the universe and everything ultimately returning to her, the interconnected and interdependent nature of everything. But that's how I view deity and cosmic forces, which I believe are ultimately unknowable in their 'truest form' in you will. It helps me to view deity as Goddesses.

But

I see menstruation as a normal process that shouldn't be shamed and I can see why some women might see their menstrual cycles as part of a great cycle of life-death-rebirth or a symbol of their creative power. In theory I can relate, but on a personal note, I'm not at a place where I can deal with the intense stress that menstruation brings for me.

Local Magpie

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Re: Exclusion
« Reply #1 on: August 17, 2019, 01:09:54 am »
Hello everyone!
\
I posted this long before it was meant to go up, my full post is:
"Hello everyone! To make a long story short, my beliefs have always resonated with Goddess spirituality but I've avoided really exploring due to the air of exclusion and gender essentialism around it. I really resonate with the creation myth of a Great Goddess 'birthing' the universe and everything ultimately returning to her, the interconnected and interdependent nature of everything. But that's how I view deity and cosmic forces, which I believe are ultimately unknowable in their 'truest form' in you will. It helps me to view deity as Goddesses, the reasons for which are probably a huge thing to unpack in and of itself.

But I also don't want my religion to feel exclusive. Many women don't connect with the idea of a sacred/creative womb, such as transgender women or women who chose/or cannot have children. And I don't want to feel like I'm leaving those all the people out, because their experiences as women are valuable, regardless of whether or not their experiences are like mine. I also feel bad that many men may feel excluded because I think anyone who wants to worship the Goddess should, regardless of anything else.

Nor do I want my religion to be rooted in gender essentialism or only valuing women for their ability to have children. I do think that a lot of our perception of what is feminine or masculine is based in how we were socialized, but knowing that doesn't mean I can throw my entire concept of gender out the window. Both our sex and our gender influence how we are treated, and more importantly, how we perceive ourselves. We shouldn't be boiled down to 'just' our sex or gender because we are all more complex than that, but I don't think that part of our identity should be overlooked.

For example, I see menstruation as a normal process that shouldn't be shamed and I can see why some women might see their menstrual cycles as part of a great cycle of life-death-rebirth or a symbol of their creative power. In theory I can relate, but on a personal note, I'm not at a place where I can deal with the intense stress that menstruation brings for me.

I'm not sure if this makes any sense but basically, I'm worried that I'm being to exclusive by focusing on Goddess spirituality."

Jenett

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Re: Exclusion
« Reply #2 on: August 17, 2019, 05:39:53 pm »
\
I posted this long before it was meant to go up, my full post is:
"Hello everyone! To make a long story short, my beliefs have always resonated with Goddess spirituality but I've avoided really exploring due to the air of exclusion and gender essentialism around it. I really resonate with the creation myth of a Great Goddess 'birthing' the universe and everything ultimately returning to her, the interconnected and interdependent nature of everything. But that's how I view deity and cosmic forces, which I believe are ultimately unknowable in their 'truest form' in you will. It helps me to view deity as Goddesses, the reasons for which are probably a huge thing to unpack in and of itself.

But I also don't want my religion to feel exclusive. Many women don't connect with the idea of a sacred/creative womb, such as transgender women or women who chose/or cannot have children. And I don't want to feel like I'm leaving those all the people out, because their experiences as women are valuable, regardless of whether or not their experiences are like mine. I also feel bad that many men may feel excluded because I think anyone who wants to worship the Goddess should, regardless of anything else.

Nor do I want my religion to be rooted in gender essentialism or only valuing women for their ability to have children. I do think that a lot of our perception of what is feminine or masculine is based in how we were socialized, but knowing that doesn't mean I can throw my entire concept of gender out the window. Both our sex and our gender influence how we are treated, and more importantly, how we perceive ourselves. We shouldn't be boiled down to 'just' our sex or gender because we are all more complex than that, but I don't think that part of our identity should be overlooked.

For example, I see menstruation as a normal process that shouldn't be shamed and I can see why some women might see their menstrual cycles as part of a great cycle of life-death-rebirth or a symbol of their creative power. In theory I can relate, but on a personal note, I'm not at a place where I can deal with the intense stress that menstruation brings for me.

I'm not sure if this makes any sense but basically, I'm worried that I'm being to exclusive by focusing on Goddess spirituality."

So, I think the question of 'exclusive' depends a lot on what kind of practice we're talking about.

We, as individual humans, are going to be drawn to specific things, and not at all interested in other things.

I was at a gathering of five established Pagan folk last night, who between us have experience in (pause to count here... 9 or more) witchcraft or magical traditions. We were talking about the fact that no single group (even one aiming at a diverse range of experiences and depictions) is ever going to be all things to all people. Some people aren't interested in Paganism at all! Or witchcraft or magic or whatever other broad subdivision we talk about. Some aren't going to be interested in deities (or deities of a particular category). Some aren't going to want a mystery-focused tradition, some will. Some won't go across the river to go to a ritual, or to another specific location, others will.

(And as I have been known to point out, only so many people fit in my living room, and only so many people can *get* to my living room, and so on - so any time we start talking about real-world physical interaction, there's all sorts of other limiting factors.)

So, on an individual level, figuring out what calls to us, what connects us with something beyond ourselves, what comforts us in the hard time, and celebrates the good times, that's up to you.

(There are certainly ways that a reductive or gender essentialist or anything else essentialist viewpoint can be damaging to you as an individual, and of course how it might or might not bleed into the rest of your life, actions with and towards others, etc. is a thing. But in general, if you're just doing stuff by yourself, do what sings to you, and build from there.)

Where it gets more complicated is when you start talking or doing or sharing things with other people.

And you're right that a fair number of the goddess-focused groups out there are doing other things that can be destructive or damaging or dangerous to other people (whether that's people who choose not to be biological parents, or people who can't be, or people who are transgender or non-binary or a number of other things.)  At some point, you may hit a "Do I want to draw from or support the work of people who feel/think/talk/teach a certain way?" which may limit some of your resource options.

However, "a fair number" is not actually "All." There are some groups out there that are aiming at something more goddess centred that are largely inclusive, or at least are working on being. The trick is that it can be really hard to find them and hard to vet them. (And what's available to you is going to depend hugely on where you are and what's near you, and how far out of your way you're willing to go to interact with them.)

Some people make that work by finding online community where that's a focus (sometimes with occasional face to face gatherings for retreats/learning/festivals/etc.)

The other option is a little more complex, but it's also part of the reality of groups - no group is going to just do all the things you like, and none of the things you don't (even if you build it yourself, probably!) But it's often possible, to, say, be part of a group where the group works with goddesses (and very occasionally a god for a specific reason), where some of the people make a big focus on menstruation but other people in the group don't (whether that's preference, or because they're people who don't menstruate...) but that's a sort of side thing not everyone does, and where there's some shared context for what you're doing together and why and how that works.

It's also possible, sometimes, to build that in other contexts - for example, finding people who are reconstructionist, or working in a particular magical or witchcraft or Pagan tradition, who have space for the kind of focus you want to have in your personal work, so long as you're okay with (most of) what they do as a group. How that works is going to depend a lot on the details, but I've seen it work in the right combinations of people and interests. (And then people go off and do the stuff that is not of interest to the group on their own, in smaller subgroups, with other groups of people, etc.)

Figuring out that combo is often what leads to creating a new group and building it up with people who have enough overlap with you - in that case, so long as you're up front about what your focus is (let people self-select out early), and are thoughtful about how you talk about your focus, you can do a lot.

On the latter, there's a big difference between "This ritual focuses on connecting with X deity and making offerings related to the birth of our children. If that isn't for you, our next ritual will be Y, doing this other thing." and "Only women who have carried and birthded children should make offerings to X deity." (And, if you do end up starting a group, connecting with and pointing people to other resources in the area or online that do related things you don't do is a kindness and a help, and helps avoid some of the worst problems of exclusion.)

If you're trying to figure out how to avoid the pitfalls of a practice focused the particular ways you're inclined, there might be some useful suggestions (I have a couple floating around my head), but I figure this is a good place to stop and see if that's some of what you were thinking about/trying to sort out, and what you might want to explore further.
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Local Magpie

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Re: Exclusion
« Reply #3 on: August 17, 2019, 11:16:10 pm »
If you're trying to figure out how to avoid the pitfalls of a practice focused the particular ways you're inclined, there might be some useful suggestions (I have a couple floating around my head), but I figure this is a good place to stop and see if that's some of what you were thinking about/trying to sort out, and what you might want to explore further.
Thank you so much for your reply, it's a lot to unpack and very helpful! I would love some suggestions.

Jenett

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Re: Exclusion
« Reply #4 on: August 19, 2019, 03:22:46 pm »
If you're trying to figure out how to avoid the pitfalls of a practice focused the particular ways you're inclined, there might be some useful suggestions (I have a couple floating around my head), but I figure this is a good place to stop and see if that's some of what you were thinking about/trying to sort out, and what you might want to explore further.

So, the first thing that I thought of when thinking about creating a practice is that, of course, a cosmology, an idea of how the world came to be is only a piece (and in many cases, a pretty tiny piece) of a functional religious practice.

Things get born, but there's a whole lot else in the universe, basically, and in most cases, the bulk of a meaningful sustainable practice probably needs to deal with what it's like to live day to day (most people), or in some cases a very focused life that has had a lot of other things cut out of it (such as cloistered monastic orders or remote religious communities.)

Chances are pretty good anyone posting here is aiming at the first, not the second, just on a purely statistical basis.

So, how do you figure out what to do with that? Say you have that idea of a creative force (and one with biological and sociological implications about motherhood, in specific.) What do you do about that?

First, a being being born is a distinct series of moments with a beginning and end - but there's a lot more to life. So if you're building practices, there are a couple of options.

One might be to look at deities particularly associated with motherhood (in its many and varied forms) and see what their other associations, stories, and connections are. (Because no one is just a mother, even a goddess.)

One might be to look at the act of creation in a broader context - not just biological (or whatever we call it when it's gods who don't have physical bodies....) parenthood, but art, science, inspiration, creation of the hearthfire that forms a community around it.

(I feel like I had another idea here, and I forget what it was now, but you get the idea.)

Then once you have that, once you've developed those core ideas out, then you can start to build practices around it. That might involve some research (if you're focusing on specific deities, how were they worshipped historically? What did people avoid? What's changed because the world has changed?)

And these are also the steps where you can look at making a practice less exclusionary - it's perfectly possible to make a practice focused on a specific deity that isn't just about motherhood or experiences of a particular kind of body, or to include it among options for creativity, nuturing, and potential.

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SunflowerP

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Re: Exclusion
« Reply #5 on: August 21, 2019, 08:06:23 am »
To make a long story short, my beliefs have always resonated with Goddess spirituality but I've avoided really exploring due to the air of exclusion and gender essentialism around it.
<snip>
I'm not sure if this makes any sense but basically, I'm worried that I'm being to exclusive by focusing on Goddess spirituality.

Jenett has covered the broader picture and the practical specifics admirably (as usual), but I wanted to touch directly on the concern you express here. (Content note: moderately strong language... because being blunt seems like a good idea here, and also because unfuck TERFs.)

So, there are some people who practice Goddess spirituality who are raging assholes. Not just that, but they're loud assholes, so it can seem like they're the majority and mainstream of Goddess-centred practice.

I'm not certain whether they're deliberately silencing other Goddess-worshippers who don't agree with the assholery, so as to create the impression that their asshole version is The Way It's Done, or if they're just loud because assholes tend to be loud - but I note that, in context of feminism rather than Goddess spirituality, people who have similar assholish exclusionary perspectives often explicitly claim that non-exclusionary perspectives aren't feminist. They're not necessarily the same people; while practitioners of Goddess spirituality usually identify as feminist, they're only a tiny minority of feminists.

And the exclusionist assholes are, in reality, only a small proportion of those practicing Goddess-centred spirituality. There's nothing inherently exclusionist in Goddess spirituality, any more than feminism is inherently exclusionist (or for that matter, any more than heathenry is inherently racially exclusionist); it's a matter of individuals choosing to be, or to not be, assholes.

A good illustration, springboarding off your post:

Many women don't connect with the idea of a sacred/creative womb, such as transgender women or women who chose/or cannot have children.

And of course, plenty of trans women, childless/child-free women, and men do connect with it (and nonbinary/genderqueer people), even if the exclusionary assholes don't like it.

Exclusionism doesn't lie in recognizing that not everyone will connect with the concept, or in recognizing that non-connection might be more common among people who don't have uteri for whatever reason (or might not); exclusionism lies in taking that a step further, and assuming that people who don't have uteri cannot have that connection. (And it's raging assholery to insist that such a person cannot have that connection, and thus must be lying or delusional if they say they do.)

You'll want/need to keep on examining your philosophies to ensure you haven't let exclusionism creep in unnoticed, true, but the very fact that you're concerned about this tells me you're probably not especially susceptible to it.

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Failivrin

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Re: Exclusion
« Reply #6 on: August 24, 2019, 03:05:12 am »

I'm not sure if this makes any sense but basically, I'm worried that I'm being to exclusive by focusing on Goddess spirituality."
I'm male, and about a year ago I went on a quest to find a Goddess temple in America. An established physical temple, not just a gathering. I was put-off by some of the info I read online. The few Goddess temples were mostly "no boys allowed." I tried to learn more about their history and perspectives, and I came to understand that for many of them, it was about safety. Even in Pagan circles people can be shy about Goddess temples (case in point). Among the general public, Goddess worshipers are laughing stocks and targets of intense misogyny. Sometimes people in that position respond negatively, and then the whole spiritual atmosphere disintegrates. So I can understand if some Goddess worshipers have closed-door policies, but I think it's more often due to social/practical reasons rather than actually hating outsiders or trans/queers.
About rituals, there is something to be said for menstruation. I don't know whether elevating it to sacred status is necessary, but I can understand why that would be healing for women who've been verbally or socially abused for bleeding. In Thailand, where I live, women aren't allowed to enter mosques, or to pray when menstruating if Muslim, and not allowed to touch monks or approach great stupas if Buddhist. Assigning a sacred status to menstruation may be a way to reverse the stigma, but it's not for everybody.
A few thousand years ago, Goddess religion was the standard everywhere, and it's sad how much our Goddesses have been defamed and relegated to inferior roles, if not outright erased from cultural memory (like Asherah, my Goddess). I finally did visit a lovely Goddess Temple in Nevada, the Temple of Sekhmet, which balances inclusive gatherings on full moon days and women-only gatherings on New Moons. I liked the place, but alas! the desert is too far.
If you can't find a Goddess temple or gathering that works for your spiritual path, start a new one! We need lots more :)

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