I became fascinated with the Goddess during my ten years of work in The Episcopal Church, particularly as we journeyed through the season of Lent. I chalked up my love of Lent up to being an introverted church nerd who loved the invitation to move deeper into spiritual reflection. During this time I began to explore the ancient stories and healing rites of death and resurrection and I soon learned that the rituals of renewal are rooted in the ancient Goddess—who in a knee jerk, gut response kind of way—made my stomach curl and sometimes frightened me. Easier then, to simply believe: She isn’t real and rid myself of those uncomfortable feelings.
On the corner of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California sits All Saints Episcopal church which, during my days in seminary, was rumored to worship Sophia—God expressed in the feminine form—the Divine Feminine. I remember the way the seminarians and professors dropped this information in our social sphere—in a whisper, with eyebrows lifted. Not only were my feelings about the Goddess uncomfortable (and these feeling defined the way my reason went for many years) but the Goddess was also taboo in my Christian circles. And since I wanted to be a "good girl" and avoid that murky realm, I didn’t explore it any further at the time.
It wasn’t until the end of seminary, after the fundamentalist/evangelical Christianity had been intellectually deconstructed and I had begun work as a Youth Minister in (also at an Episcopal Church) that Elizabeth Johnson’s book, She Who Is came to me and initiated me into a whole new spiritual reality that connected with my inner reality and the ancient stories. There was a new harmony. The Divine rose from the dead. Those strange feelings towards the Divine Feminine transformed within me and I found myself falling in love with the Goddess and her stories.
The word Lent means “spring” and the word Easter is derived from an Anglo-Saxton Goddess named Eostre whose name means “the bringer of the dawn.” Her fertility was (and still is) celebrated with eggs and bunnies. Ancient rites that celebrate spring’s return are found as far back as 4000 B.C.E. surrounding the myth of the Sumerian Goddess Inanna who descends into the underworld, dies and returns to heaven. Beyond Mesopotamia, Inanna was known as her Babylonian name, Ishtar. In ancient Canaan, Ishtar was known as Astarte, in Greece and Rome she was known as Aphrodite and Venus.
Growing up as an Air Force brat and moving around the country about every three years, faith was central to our military family’s stability. We attended all sorts of Christian Evangelical churches based on which ones my parents felt most called to. I experienced charismatic, non-denominational, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Methodist and more. No matter how different the services and theologies were, one thing remained the same: God was always a man.
As I write this in 2016, it seems almost unimaginable that ancient fears of the Goddess are still present throughout our country and spiritual communities. But the topic is still very much taboo. The Goddess just rubs us wrong. I invite you to explore that. Look deeper into why you may recoil when you hear, see or feel Goddess energy. For She is a part of us that has been neglected in our own spiritual development. Let’s lift up the floor boards and face the bugs before they consume the whole house.
Growing up in conservative evangelical communities I heard all the arguments about why a woman should submit to a man’s headship, why women shouldn’t teach or preach to men, why women’s bodies were dirty and should not stand by the altar. As a woman there were many times I felt like a second class person. When I graduated from seminary with a GPA of 3.87 (just higher than my ex-husband) I quickly learned that when we both walked into a room together, he would be given more authority. When we applied for jobs, he would be paid more. My value as a woman always felt less than a man—even if I was smarter or more capable. There was just something about me that was so messed up that no amount of perfectionist striving could fix. As long as I remained unconscious of this program running in my belief system—this downgrading of the Goddess— I was also able to remain unconscious of the critical voice that ran like spyware within me. When we are that unconscious we co-participate in chopping up our potential up with fear and all the threats that joy and new life bring. We live the unconscious ritual of maiden sacrifice—we confuse sacrificing our illusions with giving up our soul. The truth is, as Brene Brown reminds us: joy is terrifying. You can’t control it. You will feel pain when you open your heart to love. You will be asked to go down roads that you don’t know. But descending to the Goddess leads to transformation and new life. You won't know exactly what the baby looks like until is is born. The Goddess reminds us that surprises are divine.
Today many will ascent that God has no gender, but throughout Christian history and in most churches today it is pretty clear: worshipers continue to imagine and speak about God using primarily masculine pictures and pronouns. Even my atheist friends claim that they don’t believe in Him. In the Christian Trinity God is three times male: God is Father, God is Son and God is Holy Spirit (and the Nicene Creed assures us that even the Spirit is a he).
The Goddess is found throughout the world’s religions and She is also found within the fabric of Judeo Christianity, even though it feels more obscure to us. Still, there is no need to bash our religion to death. All things are being made new. An upgrade is now available! The Hebrew Scriptures show us that the fullness of God’s image is expressed in both male and female. (Genesis 1:27). The Hebrews called God’s feminine presence on earth, the Shekinah. In the book of Proverbs a figure named Lady Wisdom appears who seems to be God’s consort, who helps him create the world. (Proverbs 8:22,30). The Goddess has been here all along. We’ve just chosen to avoid her. (And avoid our depths and our shadow.) She is a part of God, God needs her too. We might reflect upon how the one can be many and the many can be one.
Religious scholar Elain Pagels teaches that early Christian Gnostics saw and named the divine in both masculine and feminine terms. In the Gospel of Thomas (which was excluded from the Biblical cannon) Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as his Mother. And an early depiction of the Trinity appears in the Apocrophon of John naming God as Father, Mother and Son.
The truth is that the Goddess has always been , She is and She will be. Whether we want to expand our language and our images to include and honor the fullness of the divine (and also the fullness of ourselves) in our present day will be up to us. We must consider carefully if we believe that devaluing the Goddess has no effect on our global life. Consider this:
UN World Health Organization revealed that nearly 35% of women across the globe have experienced physical and/or sexual violence. According to the Deputy Executive Director of UN Women, Lakshmi Puri, “The major causes of violence are the extremely unjust and flawed beliefs that men and women, boys and girls are not equal. And from that the whole culture of discrimination develops and violence is a symptom of that discrimination.”
Gender is still a factor in determining salary today. Women are paid 78 cents for every dollar a man is paid. Black women make 64 cents and Latinas make 56 cents for every dollar earned by a white man. Mothers with children make significantly less than women without children. It takes women on average 469 days to earn what a man would earn in 365. Women tend to choose different professions than men, but their professions as teachers and caregivers are valued less and subsequently paid less; there is still less upward mobility for women in terms of holding the top management positions around the world.
Our current global economy creates a climate where being born a girl costs a family more money in projected loss of income and dowry expenses. Every year we lose 2 million baby girls to sex-selective abortion and infanticide. That’s 4 girls a minute. It is estimated that 117 million women are missing due to gendercide. That’s as many deaths as WWI, WWII and AIDS combined. In China 66 million women are missing; that’s 10.3% of their female population. As populations age, male preferred communities are experiencing more frustration as young men lack available women with whom they can share their love and their lives. These skewed populations historically find outlets for their unrest in violence and war.
This Goddess stuff is not obscure and unrelated to our present global problems. Her return and integration is essential to finding balance and healing. Think again what it means to divine like a girl.
The Goddess is in all of us. She was, she is and she will be. This book is an invitation to explore the ancient stories behind the season of Lent, the rituals of waiting for spring to return and the Goddess to renew us. My mother, Julie Hansen Zdenek designed mandalas with Goddesses doing yoga poses. Working with mandalas is an ancient spiritual practice that helps the participant get in touch with divine realms. As a yoga teacher, I reflected on the energy of each pose and chose one to reflect each Goddess' energy.
I invite you to join me on this spiritual journey throughout the season of lent. You are invited to comment and add to the discussion and help me shape this project into its final form. You will also be able to download beautiful mandala coloring pages of the Goddesses doing yoga poses to reflect on for $1.11 each. My mother and I will donate $0.11 per copy (a number that symbolizes balance between the masculine and feminine) to Episcopal Relief and Development: Gender Issues and Women's Development.
Bidden or not bidden, the Goddess is present. May she guide us through the depths, unveil our illusions and raise us to new life again.
Jessica Zdenek, Lent February 11, 2016
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Divine Like A Girl
Descent to the Goddess: A Sacred Coloring Journey
Hecate & Persephone
Athena & Artemis
Mary & Isis
Hestia & Demeter
Aphrodite & Hera
GATE SEVEN + CROWN CHAKRA + INANNA
Ereshkigal, Queen of the Underworld
Who dares to walk the road from which no one returns?
Who stands at my entrance adorned and proud?
Who wraps their fingers around my gates and hopes to catch a glimpse of my Queendom?
You who have denied my existence.
You who have veiled yourself from my pain.
You who unleash chaos upon the earth with hardly a thought of the consequences.
Do you realize your chaos kills my beloved?
You smirk in your power while I weep and wail for all the destruction you create.
Do you even know what you have done?
Inanna, Queen of Heaven
It is I, Inanna, your sister, the Queen of Heaven.
She who slayed my husband,
She who sent my beloved into to battle for her broken heart,
She who has unleashed chaos and pierced me with inconsolable pain,
If you wish to come
Then come and bow low.
Gatekeeper—remove her crown.
Strip her of royalty,
Of a sound mind.
Phobos—come and scare the Queen awake to face what she has done to me!
Take my crown, dear sister
I am already stripped of dignity.
They have all turned away.
My beloved first cut down my sacred tree
And fashioned it into our marriage bed.
For fifty nights we celebrated our sacred union.
And then he asked me to release him
After I bestowed him with my power,
After I lay in the sacred marriage bed with him,
After I gave him everything,
He asked to leave.
My beloved left me with nothing but grief.
I looked for help
But the Gods turned away.
They said I got what I deserved.
They said my hunger is too great.
My passion, insatiable.
In my rage I sent your bull,
Your beloved husband to take my revenge.
The King’s role was to sacrifice.
He was consecrated to honor me.
When he broke the vow,
The law of my heart summoned death
And the red bull of fire answered.
But my beloved’s fight overpowered your bull
And my beloved slayed your beloved.
Take my crown, dear sister.
I will come and bow low.
Chose one or several questions to reflect upon:
How do you tend to respond to your mistakes?
Do you tend to avoid facing the consequences of your actions?
Have you ever blamed someone else for something that you have done?
Have you ever justified violence towards another because of the pain that you were experiencing?
How do you express your deepest feelings, your pain and your grief?
How do you relate to pain? Do you avoid it?
Do you think society encourages us to disassociate from our depths? Why or why not?
Recall a time when your pain was transformed into power.
If you can't think of a time--use your imagination to see what might be possible with any present pain in your life.
What mistakes or wounds are you willing to learn from today?
What gift from your crown (your thoughts? your imaginations?) would you offer Ereshkigal at the 7th gate as you begin to enter her depths?
Inanna's rage and sorrow unleashed a bull to kill her beloved after he betrayed her. The bull was her sister's husband, or if we see Inanna and Ereshkigal functioning as twin sides of a feminine principle (like Anna/Elsa in Frozen) we can see how Inanna's rage ultimately harms herself, yet also leads to her transformation. Think of positive and negative examples of feminine rage. How can we use our anger/our sacred bull for good?
Inanna reminds us that to be whole, we must tend to our inner world and our depths. We descend without attachment to possessions and titles and outcome, knowing that when we are in touch and conscious of our darkness what dies is illusion and separateness, and what rises is a whole new self.
Yoga Practice: Tree Pose
Stand on one leg and ground down into the four corners of your foot. Ask Mother Earth or Gaia to ground you. Lift your toes and visualize roots growing out of the bottom of your foot that reach all the way down to the center of the earth. Wrap your roots around the molten iron crystal. Receive her energy, the ancient wisdom of Earth that can best assist you at this time. Drawing from her memory of all the histories that have happened upon the Earth and all of the ancient codes of all the species, all of the families, the DNA. Visualize Gaia's nourishment coming up your legs and healing your first chakra, that cluster of nerve endings at the base of your spine that when balanced help you feel confident in your place on the planet. Draw her energy up to your core and engage the muscles there. Tuck your tailbone and lengthen in your low back. Begin to draw the earth energy up into your heart center. You may place your thumbs here or extend your arms above your head and reach to heaven coming into a slight back bend with a wide open heart. Draw Earth's energy all the way up to your head and visualize it beaming out of the top of your head, igniting your crown chakra, your connection to heaven and your divine nature. Experience your lower body as strong and grounded, the upper body as soft and open. Experiencing the dual energies of grounded and open can help us feel the fullness of the divine feminine which provides material (mater/mother) shelter and spiritual compassion.
Inanna Queen of Heaven Mandala Coloring Page
And support Gender Issues and Women's Empowerment projects through Episcopal Relief and Development's work to create a more equal world.