Review: She Is Everywhere!

May 25, 2012

She Is Everywhere! Volume 3: An Anthology of Writings in Womanist/Feminist Spirituality
Edited by Mary Saracino and Mary Beth Moser.

I had a chance to examine the pdf version of this volume and would recommend it to Goddess worshipers as well worth your time. The volume is quite large, over 400 pages, and contains a mixture of scholarly articles, political essays, personal experiences, poetry, fiction and art. Female divinities pagan and Christian from around the world are represented.

Several of the articles break new ground. Of particular note is “Of Diana, Witches, and Fairies” from Randy P. Conner’s forthcoming The Pagan Heart of the West. Conner examines evidence of a continuing pan-European worship of Diana (or a goddess identified with Diana) throughout the middle ages and into early modern times. This is important, as academic scholars in English speaking countries have for some decades considered Diana’s worship to have been completely eradicated by early Christianity.

Another groundbreaking selection is Helen Hye-Sook Hwang’s “Making the Gynocentric Case: Mago, the Great Goddess of East Asia and Her Tradition Magoism.” Hwang’s presentation of Mago will likely challenge perceptions of Asian goddess worship which are built around the popular deities Kwan Yin and Amaterasu.

Laura Amazzone makes a good case for kava plant ceremonies originating as menstural rituals in “The Fijian Kava Ceremony: An Ancient Menstrual Ritual?”

The affinity of the Romani for Saint Sara is explored by Malgorzata Oleszkiewicz-Peralba in “Saint Sara-La-Kali: The Romani Black Madonna.” This article will intrigue those interested in the Black Madonna, pagan elements of Christianity, Romani spirituality, the Cathars and the goddess Kali.

Max Dashu’s “The Meanings of ‘Goddess'” discusses the ways that goddess worship has been invalidated or erased in patriarchies to the present day, and her broad knowledge base and accessible writing style make this a good article to save for future reference. She also discusses the reverence for maternal divinity in spiritual practices not usually considered goddess-based.

I was less impressed with Lucia Chiavola Birnbaum’s “Story, gifts, standpoint, and methodologies of feminist cultural history,” in which she recounts her journey to write dark mother: african origins and godmothers. Perhaps if I had read this book, I would have found her narrative more compelling. Leslene della-Madre in “The Luminous Dark Mother” discusses Birnbaum’s work in more depth, but both of these articles left me unconvinced about the African goddess-source theory. The idea that homo sapiens sapiens originated in southeast Africa and first spread out from that region about 70,000 years ago is now widely accepted, and the possibility of tracing a common religious thread to this time period is tantalizing, especially given the similarities of earth-based religions the world over. Yet no evidence or even convincing conjecture for a proto-typical African goddess is present in either of these articles. Della-Madre’s discussion of the goddess Isis adds nothing to the theory, since Isis is a once obscure goddess who rose to prominence during a period of heavy Greek influence. Basing an African religious genesis model on Egypt might be plausible, given that the long historical record shows Egyptian religion to have been highly conservative, yet early Egyptian religion was based on animal worship and ancestor reverence, with anthropomorphic deities emerging over time. This is echoed elsewhere in Africa and in Asia and Europe by the heavy animal emphasis in paleolithic cave and rock art, including the earliest rock art from the Har Karkom site in Israel on which Birnbaum bases part of her theory. The archeological and anthropological research that I’m aware of places the emergence of widespread goddess icons long after the first diaspora. Africa may have significantly influenced the evolution of goddess worship, but with Africa itself being influenced by Asia and Europe by this time, it must be considered a co-creator of goddess religion rather than a source.

I did not care for Claudia von Werlhof’s “The Interconnectedness of All Being: A New Spirituality for a New Civilization.” Von Werlhof brought up anti-globalization early in her essay, yet despite the exigency of the issue her subsequent analysis was rambling, lacked cohesiveness and did not offer concrete solutions. The transcendentalists delineated a theory of interconnectedness that was much more coherent, and they were also more effective at relating this theory to the politics of the day. Nonetheless I take the presence of this article as an encouraging glimmer of hope that academics are moving away from the travesty that is postmodern philosophy and political theory.

I most enjoyed the experiential narratives of women connecting with their feminine divinity. Nicole Margiasso-Tran talks about the worship of Brigit in Ireland today in “Healing Wells and Sacred Fire: A Pilgrimage to Brigit’s Land.” Mischa Geracoulis talks about her body hair in “Secret Hair: A Postmodern Self-portrait in Words.” Joanna Clapps-Herman describes her grandmother’s confrontation with abuse of religious authority in “Lotions, Potions and Solutions.”

One other jewel in this volume is a translation by Harita Meenee of the “Orphic Hymn to Nature.” This is a wonderful invocation to the Goddess that can be easily incorporated in ritual.