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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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