Change happens slowly, but when it finally hits, the years of individual strides and steps culminate in a burst of change. Trouble is, change doesn’t always take effect in the ways we’d hoped.
When the “goddess movement” was birthed out of feminism in the early seventies by groups of women passionate about both political and personal growth, it started with small circles of women determined to use magic as a tool for change. Leading figures during this decade included such notables as Zsuzsanna Budapest, Shekhinah Mountainwater, and Starhawk.
The Wiccan religion, which was first birthed by Gerald Gardner in the mid-twentieth century, had grown into a viable alternative religion in both Europe and America. As one of the first modern Western religions to worship a goddess as well as a god, it was a logical starting point from which feminists could build their new faith. Wicca formed the skeletal structure of the new women’s religion, including seasonal rites and the use of magic, but was altered in ways that made it truly different. Some continued to include male god imagery, but a significant variant not only focused solely on the goddess but made it a women’s mystery religion where only women attended the rites, only women were taught magic, and seasonal rites became inseparable from the cycles of a women’s body as she moved from pre-menstrual maidenhood through her post-menopausal crone years. This sect came to be known by several monikers, such as Dianic Wicca, Dianic Witchcraft, and simply “goddess religion.”
One of the primary sacred narratives of Dianic Witchcraft was built upon the idea that in civilizations past women held higher status than contemporary society and was only lessened when matriarchy gave way to patriarchy. Built upon archeological finds of female statuary interpreted to be goddesses, the idea was birthed first by scholars but only became the foundation of new religious movements when the idea had gained a foothold in feminist circles. Many of the scholars (such as Marija Gimbutas & J.J. Bachofen) who presented these ideas do not find currency any longer with most academics. This development has parallels with the larger Wiccan movement, whose own sacred narrative includes the idea that it has a direct linear connection with pre-Christian European witch-cults (as proposed by Margaret Murray), an idea which contemporary academics have long considered unfounded. However, whether or not the idea of matriarchy is in fact a viable and factual history is beside the point. The role these ideas play among contemporary Dianics and Wiccans is as sacred history, a potent symbolic web upon which ideas for a new worldview and societal change can blossom and grow. Key factors of this different society for both groups include empowerment for women and a more symbiotic relationship with nature.
Witches of either sect understand that there is magic that happens when symbols become manifest as reality in the form of tangible objects. First it is only within the realm of the groups that birthed them – jewelry and adornments with representations of goddesses and magical symbols, bumper stickers, books on nature religions, etc. – until the symbols, if not always the idea behind them, seep into a wider cultural milieu. Items such as those mentioned above move from esoteric mail order catalogs and small metaphysical shops into the women’s studies or occult sections of larger bookstores (in the case of books) or museum gift shops (in the case of deity statuary or jewelry). Spell candles now find their way into gift shops of every sort. Still, even these things are perceived by the larger public as fringe items – possibly even with satanic implications (in the case of pentacles, for example). A lack of interest may even result in their falling below their radar at all. Then, arriving with a force that makes it seem almost sudden, despite the slow trickle over several decades, goddess symbolism is everywhere. “Good Witches” have become stock characters in TV dramas from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” to Aaron Spelling’s “Charmed.”
In high end beauty catalogs and stores we find Charmed World’s spell-casting kits that come with items such as “Wash that man out of your hair” shampoo and conditioner, Eau de Fortune money-drawing fragrance designed to release your inner tycoon!” and “Temptress” bubble bath in hot pink containers. The contact page of their website bears this caveat:
- CharmedWorld is not affiliated with any organized religion. Rather, it is our belief that there is magic within all of us. We hope that our whimsical products empower people to be proactive in their lives and, at the same time, have some fun. We would also like to stress that our products cannot be used to bring harm to any one, nor to make any one act against their will. Have fun! And, most of all, have a “charmed” life!
The text above and at various places on their website suggest Wiccan influence without being explicitly stated. These pink potions are still in the broomcloset with regard to their inspiration. Wiccan influence can be seen in the “harm none” ethic voiced above as well and in the text of one of the spells: “I beseech thee, dear Goddess, let it be true. So be it!”Despite their assertion that products cannot be used to “make anyone act against their will” their descriptions for their spell kits belie their stated ethics. The Tie the Knot magical spell, for example, bears this description:
- Would your man rather have a root canal than discuss your “future”? Do weddings make him comatose? Does he cringe everytime you pass a jewelry store? Help him lose those ball-and-chain blues, cast this spell to get to the “I do’s.”
Less explicitly witchy and even more mainstream is Jacqua Girls “Goddess Gathering Kit.” According to their website, Jacqua Girls products has “distribution to more than 2,000 prestige gift shops, specialty and department stores in the United States, England, Canada, Germany, Scandinavia, France, New Zealand, Japan and Hong Kong.” Package details state:
- Juturna Aromatherapy Spray
- Isis Jasmine Incense
- Kali Herbal Foot soak
- Gaia Clay Mud Mask
- Aphrodite Jojoba Lotion
- Wish Boxes
- Hestia candle
- Henna Tattoos
Get all your goddess girlfriends together for a night of rituals, and beauty to bring out the best in your life. Includes for 4 people: Women have been gathering for thousands of years to share in story-telling, ritual, beauty, and bonding. In this fast-paced world we seldom take the time to gather in this ancient way. This kit was created to encourage you to gather with your friends for a meaningful and memorable time and discover your true goddess potential. So may it be!
Here again a Wiccan influence can be detected in the phrase “So may it be” and the names of popular goddesses, but otherwise the kit makes no mention of spirituality. Instead, the intent is to “discover your true goddess potential.” As goddess imagery seeps further and further into popular culture, the word goddess begins to shed its religious implications and seems to connote beauty with a liberal dash of female bonding thrown in. Here, we make wishes, not magick. Dark and powerful Kali is relegated to soothing tired feet.
The Go Goddess game also doesn’t make any mention of magic or religion (though they do refer obliquely to spirituality and include “chakra-colored candles”), but does borrow a phrase from Dianic Witchcraft, paraphrased prominently on their website: “What does a goddess look like? Look in the mirror. You are a goddess.” Below this, the creators state that the Go Goddess game is:
- . . .an enriching catalyst to realize our dreams, recreate our lives and fulfill our unique potential.By bringing women together to share life’s experiences, Go Goddess! is a great way to connect with friends, make new ones, and realize the goddess that’s blossoming within each of us. There are no right or wrong answers, and no judgments. Go Goddess! is a concept for living, a spiritual oasis that bathes you in positive, supportive energies, and inspires you to be the best you can be – to be the best mate, mother, sister, daughter, lover and friend. That’s what we all want, isn’t it?
Unlike the Jacqua Girls kit, the Go Goddess game leans more heavily toward female bonding and empowerment than beauty. This is pop psychology with a Goddess twist rather than either religion or cosmetics, but it seems clear that our beloved goddess is destined to attain pop culture saturation as a synonym for beauty – hairless beauty.
The most audacious use of goddess imagery is without a doubt the Gillette Venus Razor for women. The television commercial for this product pans over dozens of svelte women in white bathing suits kicking their smooth hairless legs to the pop tune lyric “I’m your Venus.” The close-up of the razor itself reveals a handle shaped to look like a woman’s body with her arms raised above her, much like the Nile river goddess. The slogan for this product, “Reveal the Goddess in You” (which is, by the way, trademarked) suggests that the word goddess, here, refers to a woman finally free of all that unwanted body hair.
As much as we want to believe in symbols as archetypes that shape our consciousness as a species, symbols evolve and meanings change. The fact of the matter is that once the meaning has changed, it loses some of its power even for those who embrace it. The use of the swastika by the Nazis has never regained its luster. An extreme example, to be sure, but the goals of feminist witches have never been modest. They seek to change the world for the better, but unfortunately much of the world does not want to change with them.
Document Copyright © 2001 Spiritualitea.com & Sandra Mizumoto Posey, Ph.D., author of Cafe Nation: Coffee Folklore, Magick, & Divination (Santa Monica Press, 2000). This article may be reproduced as long as no changes, additions or deletions are made to the text. All the information in this paragraph must be included on the document whenever it is distributed or reproduced.
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