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          WP   04/28       The New Theology-Sheology; Mystical Women's Spiritual
                          Movements, Gaining Momentum ... and Adherents
                                      By Judith Weinraub
                                Washington Post Staff Writer

                  Pagans atthe Harvard Divinity School.A goddess-centered ritual
          at  the University of Pennsylvania. A feminist seder in Silver Spring.
          New  moon groups at  a rabbinical seminary.  Women's spirituality ses-
          sions at Appalachian State University, Wesleyan University, Brown.

              What on earth is going on?

                  If theevents of thelast few monthsare any indication,women are
          looking for  a spiritual connection - for a way to push the boundaries
          of their religious experience  beyond the ordinary confines  of tradi-
          tional Judeo-Christian monotheism. Consciousness-raising may have been
          the solace  of the '70s and  career development the icon  of the '80s,
          but the '90s offer a very different option - the spirit.
                  Today's seekers, after all, are  the daughters of the feminist
          revolution.   Not for them  the victimized heroines  and saints of the
          past.   Not for them  the patriarchal structure  of the male-dominated
          religions of the Old and New Testaments.
                  Their  touchstones are the  pagan religions, the pre-Christian
          Earth-centered goddess cults that stress the harmony of the universe -
          movements that offerequality rather  than hierarchy, peace rather than
          war, joy rather than guilt, ritual rather than rote.
                  "It'sreligion without the middleman- including sex and drugs,"
          says  Margot  Adler, a  journalist at  National  Public Radio  and the
          author of "Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers
          and Other Pagans in America Today."
              The women's spirituality movement, which practitioners estimate as
          attracting  as many as 500,000 people across the country, is basically
          benign.   And has nothing to do with  the satanic cults of national TV
          talk shows. Whether mainstream, new age, goddess-oriented (a  point of
          view expressing a  female- and earth-centered style of  worship rather
          than  a specific body  of liturgy) or  wiccan (a mainly  British Isles
          paganism  that  refers to  the Old  English  word for  witch), today's
          celebrants are as various as they are hard to count.
                  "It'sdefinitely growing,but you'll neverget hardfigures," says
          Adler, whose book was originally published in 1979 and, with more than
          100,000  in print, still  sells more than  10,000 a year.  "A group of
          women can  start a  group  and not  tell anybody,  and  you'll have  a
          thriving group doing rituals and who will know?"
                  What canbe traced isthe flourishingbook industry, mostlyout of
          San Francisco, that the  movement has spawned. Two books  published in
          1979 - Adler's  and "The Spiral Dance," a more  personal vision by the
          San  Francisco-based "priestess" known  as Starhawk  - have  been par-
          ticularly influential.
                  What can also be  pinned down are the  threads that are  woven
          through the burgeoning movement: a  dissatisfaction with the way women
          are treated within  traditional religions,  a yearning  for ritual,  a
          desire for a historical connection, despair over the  fragmentation of
          society and a concern about the future of the planet.
              Says Diana Hayes, professor of theology at Georgetown: "Within
          Christianity, theology and spirituality have been male oriented, male
          dominated, because they are  the ones articulating it. But we  all are
          affected  by who we are, where we  came from, our life experience, our
          relationship with god.


                  "So thechallenge has beento get thisrealization out inthe open
          and to have the men who dominate theological circles realize that they
          cannot speak for the rest of the human race. Women do not think or act
          the way men do.   Therefore our spirituality will  not be the same  as

              Listen to voices from the women's spirituality movement:

                  Diann Neu, women's religiousleader, master's degrees in sacred
          theology and in divinity from the Graduate Theological Union, Graduate
          School of  Theology, Berkeley;  co-founder of WATER  (Women's Alliance
          for Theology, Ethics and  Ritual) in Silver Spring: "I was  a Catholic
          woman who thought I'd be one of the first to be ordained. I thought it
          would happen by 1980.  After all, there  were only two possible  paths
          from the  seminary: to teach on a faculty or  to be ordained. I wasn't
          interested  in teaching and of course couldn't  be ordained - though I
          always hoped there was the possibility. I was disappointed. Pained.
          Hurt. Angry. Distressed. So I started creating alternatives. I knew it
          was something I needed to do. It was very exciting to me."
                  Starhawk, priestess of the Old Religion of the Goddess, witch,
          religious leader, writer,  counselor, women's spirituality  superstar:
          "In  the very simplest terms, the goddess represents the sacredness of
          nature,  of human life  and human creativity  as well -  the idea that
          human beings  are meant to  be integrated with nature.  In the goddess
          tradition  the sacred is embodied in the earth, in ecological systems,
          in human beings in different cultures. If we're all sacred, we have to
          deal equally with each other. And when we really see the earth as this
          sacred place,  and we know that  everything is connected, it  makes it
          very hard to think about  killing somebody, to write off whole  groups
          of people."
              Diana Hayes,  Catholic convert (from AME),  professor of theology,
          Georgetown  University: "All  of us  have to  be allowed to  voice our
          spirituality in our own ways. I see  myself not as a feminist but as a
          womanist, a feminist  of color.   Women  of color  - black,  Hispanic,
          Asian - have begun to  realize that the feminist movement has  been an
          exclusive, white, middle,  and upper-middle-class movement.  Womanists
          are challenging the feminist  movement in the same way  that feminists
          have been challenging the church. As a black woman within the
          Catholic church, without that attitude, I'd  have to be deaf, dumb and
              Margot Adler, journalist, an elder with Covenant of the Goddess, a
          priestess,  the  granddaughter of  analyst Alfred  Adler: "I  think it
          would be fair to say that none of this would have happened to me  if I
          hadn't  been hit over  the head in  the seventh grade  by studying the
          gods  Artemis and Athena. This was the  late '50s, and there weren't a
          lot  of powerful images of women.  What was interesting was we studied
          Greece for a  whole year, and this  was my religion.  But  I think way
          down deep I didn't want to worship these goddesses - I wanted
          to BE them."
                    Linda Pinty, a student atHarvard Divinity School, the intern
          minister  at  the First  Parish Church  of Unitarian  Universalists in
          Cambridge,  and one  of  the co-founders  of  CUPPS, the  Covenant  of
          Unitarian  Universalist Pagans: I was brought up a Baptist in Michigan
          but left the church in my late  teens and read my way to the Unitarian
          Universalists. I felt  it was a place I could  have freedom to search.
          The neo-pagan movement  brings a lot of  things together. It offers  a
          much healthier and holistic way of experiencing ecstasy about life,
          the  goodness of  creation and  connecting at  deep levels  with other
          creatures. In  neo-paganism, a need to  heal the earth  is prominent -
          it's important to take care of Mother Earth."


                  Susan Gale, a Philadelphia  wife and mother and self-described
          "radical  feminist witch  not  yet out  of  the broom  closet" in  her
          neighborhood:  "There's a  pain that's  in young  women even  a decade
          after feminism. I was  raised in a tough poor  working-class neighbor-
          hood.  My mother was a German Protestant,  my father an Italian Catho-
          lic. I  was raised  as a  very religious  Presbyterian, but  it didn't
          matter that I was the most brilliant student in my religion class -
          there wasn't  a place for me as a minister. Deacons and ministers were
          men.  And a  lot of it  rubbed me  the wrong  way: the anti-sexuality,
          anti-sensuality, the  guilt and  sin and  punishment rather  than joy.
          From the time I was a little kid, I couldn't accept redemptive suffer-
          ing. Why is the central metaphor of  most religions the bloody violent
          death of a male? Why is it not birth?"

            Invoking the Spirit

                    Starhawk signs her books"Blessed be." It is alsoher greeting
          and her Amen.
                In alarge room set up withflowers, crystals, trinkets and copies
          of her books, she presided recently at a women's ritual at the Univer-
          sity of Pennsylvania's Christian Association.
                  "Where would you likethe altar?" asked a participantbefore the
          candles encased in glass were  set on a brightly colored cloth  in the
          center of the room.
                  Two hundred womenof similarmind-sets - butvarying ages,religi-
          ons, occupations and sexual orientations - were ready to join Starhawk
          at the three-hour, $40  event. Another couple of hundred men and women
          arrived later that evening for Starhawk's lecture.
                  People like GeelaRazael Raphael,a rabbinical studentwho wasone
          of  the event's organizers. "Starhawk is a spiritual leader, a women's
          spirituality leader," says Raphael.  "As a potential rabbi wanting  to
          be a spiritual leader, I want to see as many role models as I can. Her
          form  of  non-hierarchical religion  can be  used in  more traditional
                  In person, the 40ishpriestess looks not unlike theonetime tall
          Jewish girl  from Los  Angeles she used  to be.  But her  soft-voiced,
          authoritative presence and staccato  chanting and drumming command her
          sessions with surprising power.
              Women wear comfortable clothing: jeans, skirts, sweaters, tie-dye
          revisited.  A majority  tend to  be of  a certain  size -  the goddess
          religion  rejoices in the female  body. There are  many embraces. Net-
          working materials are exchanged. Before casting the formal circle that
          so many  women's  rituals  start  out with,  Starhawk  encourages  the
          youngest and strongest in the group to form an inner circle around the
              Starhawk warms up the group with physical and vocal stretches. As
          participants form a larger ring around the inner one, she "casts"  the
          ritual circle,  theoretically making  the  space within  it a  special
          place. Candles representing the four directions and the Earth's center
          are lit. Earth, air, fire and water are invoked.
                  Women stand and sway as  she drums, urging them to find  their
          centers, their connectedness, often against the background of a simple
            "Rising, rising, the earth is rising.
            Turning turning, the tide is turning.
            Changing changing, she changes everything she touches.
            Changing, changing, and everything she touches changes."


                  Like many women's ritualleaders, Starhawk uses such chantsas a
          kind of surrogate liturgy. Presented  at different moments that  morn-
          ing, the lilting  song she teaches  is used as  a blessing, a  uniting
          force, a backdrop to movement and dance.
                Starhawk leads the groupthrough a series ofactivities - somethat
          draw upon the circle as a whole, some small group discussions, guided
          visualizations. "What kind  of a body are you in?"  she asks. "Look at
          your body.  How does it feel?"
                  Some  people writhe. Others beat time to the drums. Some stand
          awkwardly (earlier she  assured them not to worry if  they feel ill at
          ease). Some look dubious.
                  Tofocus the visualization evenmore, Starhawk takesthe group to
          an  imaginary  crossroads in  the sky.  "Close  your eyes,"  she says.
          "Reach out and feel and touch and smell these roads until you find one
          that feels  like a road in the future. Go  down the road. Know you can
          come back to this place of power because it is you. And remember there
          are  many roads to  the future.  The road you  chose is only  one pos-
                  The session endswith a grandfinale "spiral dance"- clockwiseto
          invoke,  then counterclockwise to  release. "Anything  you want  to do
          involves both," she says.
                  A giftedspeaker with an easysense of humor, Starhawkis equally
          at home beating time in the center of a ritual or working the crowd at
          the podium of a lecture hall. She is also at home with what  she calls
          the "W" word ("witch").  "Unless we understand it, we don't know why a
          powerful woman is so threatening and so frightening," she says. "There
          was a 400-year reign of terror particularly directed against women who
          were then  burned alive," she  says, likening  the witch hunts  to the
          African slave trade, the Holocaust.
                  Starhawk became interested in witchcraft in her late teenswhen
          she and a friend did a student seminar on the subject at UCLA. Now she
          is  at the forefront  of a movement  to reclaim the  word for positive
          use. (Male witches also use the  word rather than warlock, which means
                  For mostpeople, of course,the word "witch" conjuresup an image
          of a  crinkled old woman you  wouldn't want your children  to talk to.
          But  the  picture of  the craft  that  emerges within  today's women's
          spirituality movement (and that  is reinforced by Starhawk's Philadel-
          phia  ritual) is  a combination of  group therapy,  positive thinking,
          stretching exercises,  guided visualization, song and dance - and even
          pot luck.
                  Its goddess- and nature-orientedprecepts are similar tothe Old
          Religion  of prehistoric times and  societies that fell  victim to the
          witch hunts and persecutions of medieval and renaissance Europe. It is
          earth-centered, individualistic and peace-loving.
                  Starhawk  spends about a third of her time teaching ritual and
          spreading the
          faith at  college campuses and other forums around the country, and in
          Canada.   She feels  that people  crave it. "Even  people who  live in
          cities  - like  most of  us -  are still  connected to  the  cycles of
          nature," she says. "Doing ritual  that helps you affirm that helps  us
          not to  feel cut off from  the larger life around us,  the actual life
          support systems that sustain our lives."


             Women's Rites

                    Spring,with itsvivid reminders ofthe cycle ofbirth and death
          andrebirth, is a fertile time for the rituals of women's spirituality.
          Look at some recent manifestations in the Washington area:

              Last  month, attracted by a  flier heralding a  celebration of the
          goddess  ("dancing, singing,  drumming, healing,  creativity, inspira-
          tion, discovery, nurturing and goddess games"), 21 women gathered in a
          conference center in Potomac in honor  of the spring equinox. "The day
          was designed for  women who  wanted to  bring out  the goddess  within
          them," says organizer Nancy Smith, a seminar leader who specializes in
          stress management and massage therapy.  
               120 men, women and children  turned up last month for  a feminist
          Seder (for  Holy Thursday as  well as Passover)  put on by  the Silver
          Spring-based WATER. Now a  place where Christian and Jewish  women can
          come  together for  a  feminist interpretation  of religious  rituals,
          WATER was created by Diann Neu and Mary Hunt, two Catholic theologian-
          s,  in 1983. They send  out 10,000 newsletters,  stage workshops, con-
          ferences and lectures, hold ecumenical monthly breakfasts for women in
          ministry, publish books and act as an all-purpose feminist resource.
              On April 14, the new moon heralded  the Jewish celebration of Rosh
          Hodosh.  A group  of women  interested in  finding or  creating ritual
          specifically  for Jewish  women gathered  in a  Silver Spring  home in
          honor of the  occasion. Instead  of going ahead  with their  scheduled
          topic - the  redefinition of  God in non-masculine  terms - the  group
          (representing a 30-year age  span) shared its feelings and  prayed (to
          the  feminine aspect of  god) about the recent  death of a 42-year-old
              Atthe All Souls Church in the District a smaller group of women is
          currently investigating  women's religious history  each Sunday after-
          noon through "Cakes for the Queen of Heaven," a 10-part correspondence
          course available through the Unitarian Universalist Church. Bev Tubby,
          who took the course last year, is one  of the conveners this year. "In
          spite of  everything  that's  been written  about  feminism  and  role
          differences, women really do  bring a wonderfully strong view  to this
          world," she says. "We do have a different perspective - it has to do
          with  the  human context  and human  relationships.  If women  are not
          cognizant of their spiritual history,  they are missing out on a  more
          complete identity that can help form our ideas of who we are  and what
          we want to do in this world and how we're going to do it."
              And June 6,  "Kestryl & Company," the  first of six  biweekly talk
          shows about  contemporary witchcraft  will air on  Arlington Community
          Cable, Channel 33.  Produced by Cheryl  Ann Costa, a computer program-
          mer  and third-degree  Wicca high  priestess, and  moderated by  Erica
          Angell (known as Kestryl), a  housewife and second-degree high  pries-
          tess, the show will  feature high priests, magical tool  makers, tarot
          experts and  pagan bards. "Many people  are looking for a  way to plug
          into The Craft," says Costa. This is an easy way to do it.
                    Havingcast their lotwith an enlargedview ofthe sacred, these
          women, like  many others  all  over the  country, are  looking to  the
          spiritual as a hope for the future.
                  "It's life-giving for me to be a part of it, and tocreate it,"
          says WATER's Neu.
                  "What I keep coming back  to is that there is a  growing power
          within  women.   We  are breaking  all kinds  of silences.  Things are
          happening  because there  are more  and more  groups where  women feel
          safe. My  hope is  that we'll  keep creating these  safe spaces  where
          being together as men and women is possible."


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