No, I’m Happy About Gay Marriage. Really, I am.

Supporters of gay marriage rally after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Friday that the U.S. Constitution provides same-sex couples the right to marry at the Supreme Court in Washington June 26, 2015.     REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Supporters of gay marriage rally after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Friday that the U.S. Constitution provides same-sex couples the right to marry at the Supreme Court in Washington June 26, 2015. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

We’ve all seen the charts that advocates for marriage equality have drawn showing all the legal rights married people have that single people don’t. Why shouldn’t gay couples, like straight couples, have access to those privileges that singles, gay and straight, can’t have?

And if heterosexual women are subjected to social, economic, and legal pressures to marry, why should lesbians have a get-out-of-jail-free card? Shouldn’t they be subject to those same pressures for (on average) fewer economic benefits?

And inheritance laws are a huge factor here. If capitalistic greed is fueled in large part by a desire to create a dynasty, shouldn’t gay men be given an incentive to strive for their progeny?

And if married gay couples, like infertile heterosexual couples, have begun exploiting Third World women through surrogate pregnancy, isn’t that a small price to pay for equal access to a heterosexual institution designed to cement property rights and enslave women?

I mean, how could I be against such equality? I’m all for “gay marriage.”

Now ask me what I think about marriage.

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She Rises: Why Goddess Feminism, Activism and Spirituality (Review)

sherises

The eagerly awaited anthology She Rises: Why Goddess Feminism, Activism and Spirituality?, edited by Helen Hye-Sook Hwang and Kaalii Cargill, was released this past Solstice (Summer or Winter, depending on your perspective) and I don’t exactly know what to say about it, except WOW. It certainly does not disappoint.

This is a hefty anthology of almost 500 pages. It has scholarly essays, stories of personal experience, poetry, and short inspirational paragraphs. The artwork–oh my Goddess the artwork. Get this one even if you don’t like to read books, just for the artwork. It’s deep and beautiful and transformative.

There are many contributors with names you may be familiar with, such as Carol Christ, Starhawk, Barbara Daughter, Vicki Noble, Max Dashu. Other excellent contributors will be new to you, but you may find yourself looking for more of their work. I feel honored to be included in such illustrious company. The articles are short, so they can be read over a long time period….though you might find it hard to put the book down. I was touched by how often the names Mary Daly, Merlin Stone, Marija Gimbutas, and Monica Sjoo appeared in this volume, and it seemed to me that these early pioneers were also contributing through other women.

This project grew out of a Facebook discussion. Someone–I think it was Helen Hwang–asked people to share why Goddess spirituality was important to them, and some amazing dialogue started, some of which was eventually posted on Return to Mago blog. Out of these and other contributions a whole anthology was put together by a team of volunteers.

From the book:

Coming from a culture where the divine has been described as a Caucasian male and anything opposite of that being evil, the need to see the divine in me offered a sense of empowerment and reclamation of who I am as an African Woman. To then research further and realize that the first divinity known on the planet looked like me, a black woman, brought this idea home full circle…..
–Iyanifa Ayele Kumari

The womb is infinitely more than a reproductive organ; it is a replica of the Cosmic Womb or Mago. From that profound pool of infinite silent knowledge, women can access the solutions so urgently needed to recover the equilibrium the world with its God spirituality has lost….
–Marie de Kock

…feminism without the Goddess does not reach far enough to change the root of our oppression, which is the control of women globally by our various faith traditions.
Trista Hedren

For me, Goddess is completely different from God. Goddess means acceptance of the sacred WITHIN the physical instead of transcending the physical; acceptance of death and life as equally sacred; and the holiness of changing cycles…
Annie Finch

She Rises can be purchased in ebook, black-and-white print, or color print through Amazon.com or Amazon UK. If you choose to get a print copy, Mago Books gets more money if you order from them.

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The Mathematical Priestess, part V

Hecate

Hecate

The Renaissance brought a rebellion against the knowledge-strangling restrictions imposed by Christian dogma and scholasticism. This was the time when Western Europe rediscovered Greek philosophy and free thinkers such as Galileo became emboldened to seek empirical knowledge. It was rediscovery of higher math, more than anything, which made the Renaissance possible. Interestingly, it was in art that the value of mathematical rediscoveries first became apparent, as painters reveled in a newfound ability to convey perspective.

In science Renaissance thinkers did not reject God (as far as we know; atheism was not a safe or respectable position to espouse), but they did reject the notion that individual received knowledge – whether from Church leaders or Aristotle – was immune to scrutiny. As the Age of Enlightenment progressed, rejection of the inviolability of scripture, then rejection of God and religion, became the norm. At the same time, many Christian prejudices remained unexamined. Astrology, psychic activity, magic, and many of the healing arts continued to be shunned by the new high priests. Empiricism was reaffirmed, but only in designated areas and only when dominated by men.

A physicist friend of mine once told me, as I tried to explain the aura to him, that the problem with adherents of metaphysics is that they try to use science in their explanations when they should avoid scientific language altogether, because science and metaphysics are two different things. He laid out his ideas in that imperious I’m-right-and-you’re-wrong voice (acquired already, at such a young age) that so terrifies women from pursuing the hard sciences. I tried to follow his advice for years, but I now believe that by putting a firewall between science and the occult what we have is bad science and bad magic, including flaws in the predictive sciences.

The study of numeric symbology, indispensable to the study of predictive signs, occasionally wanders into territory claimed by the high priests of math and science. Because we have been banished from mathematical frontiers for so long, we will doubtless make mistakes at times, which will be pounced upon with reprobation by those eager to see us fail. But the godless Christians of the modern era cannot defend their boundaries indefinitely against the heathen hordes. Math is Pagan. Numbers originate in the womb. Priestesses hold the keys to understanding the laws of the universe.

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The Mathematical Priestess, part IV

This is actually going to be a five, not a four, part series.

Photo: Abdelrhman1990

Photo: Abdelrhman1990

The most fertile and revolutionary place for math and science in the West was the city of Alexandria in the first centuries of the Common Era. This is where the demanding theoretical philosophy of the Greeks met the more practically minded math of the Egyptians. Scholars took the leap into theorems based on what would become the discipline of algebra, trusting in what had validity in solving problems in the real world. People enjoy the Fran Lebowitz joke that children are right to sleep through algebra because “In the real world, I assure you, there is no such thing as algebra,” but constructs are necessary for us to understand much of the real world.

Alexandria meant the breakdown of limitations imposed by Greek philosophy. The erasure of lines between pure and practical mathematics, pure and practical science, allowed both areas to flourish. Knowledge is furthered most by collaboration between cultures. Scholars who came together at Alexandria did, however, share a motivation to become closer to the gods through their understanding of math and science. With the tolerance characteristic of polytheistic religions, they were not bothered by the fact that they worshiped different gods, or they saw themselves as worshiping the same gods despite differences in ritual and mythology. By the end of the fourth century, scholars were probably on the cusp of discovering how the earth travels around the sun, an idea that had been proposed many centuries earlier yet had been rejected, despite its attractive simplicity, due to gaps in knowledge.

And then the Christians came. The destruction of the Library of Alexandria, the murder of the scholar Hypatia, and other atrocities against learning were a systematic attempt, ultimately unsuccessful, to destroy “heathen knowledge.” Science and mathematical philosophy were seen as pagan disciplines. The “heathen temples” which the Christians were so bent on eradicating were centers of education much like the monasteries of the Middle Ages, except the pagan temples were not constrained to make knowledge fit a highly developed dogma as the monasteries were.

Learned refugees from Alexandria escaped to the coast of Anatolia. Mathematical scholarship resumed in the Arab world, continued along the Indus River, and was tolerated to some degree by the Eastern Orthodox Church, but religious and political barriers discouraged widespread cultural exchange.

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The Mathematical Priestess, part III

Urania, goddess of astronomy.

Urania, goddess of astronomy.

Greek mathematics was concerned with understanding underlying rules for numerical relationships and concentrated on geometric proofs. Math became a component of philosophy, a pursuit of the leisure class, and a way of discerning the laws of the gods. Mesopotamian practical applied math could not be disposed of because cities now required it to function, but the philosophical elite would not stoop to learn it.

The Greeks liked geometric proofs because they are tangible, irrefutably a part of the real world. There was a fear that if mathematics diverged from the concrete world it would become fantasy, and that the pursuit of this fantasy math would be a rejection of truth by the learned man.

The fear of deviating from truth meant that there were four important concepts, integral to the way we see the world today, that people were unable to accept in classical times.
1) Algebraic proofs (if you can’t draw it, is it real?)
2) Zero as a number, not just a placeholder (how do you define something that by definition does not exist?)
3) Irrational numbers (why would the gods create puzzles that have no solution?)
4) Negative numbers (again, they don’t exist)

Although mathematically speaking the Greeks had their limits, these obstacles were not germane to Greek philosophy. The point where mathematics moves into abstraction is a point of crisis for any society. There was a Hindu mathematician in the seventh century, Brahmagupta, who proposed using negative numbers for accounting purposes without finding many takers. How can you do accounting without negative numbers? It boggles the mind. Yet it was once hard for people to take numbers, the most irrefutable link to objective truth, into the world of make-believe.

Numerical symbolism was an abstraction the ancients had no problem with, or maybe it was a problem that was resolved in prehistory. Using a word to represent a number is itself a construct, as is all written language, mathematical or otherwise. Numerical symbolism as a predictive device, which was widely used, is complex, difficult and not entirely reliable. It was therefore not difficulty, complexity, or uncertainty that early mathematicians bulked at: it was the idea of consciously embracing something intrinsically unreal (negative numbers) or intrinsically imprecise (irrational numbers).

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The Mathematical Priestess, part II

Uruk Temple. Drawing Lamassu Design.

Uruk Temple. Drawing Lamassu Design.

In Mesopotamia the first accounting systems arose out of the need to record and disperse temple commodities. Many of these early accounting scribes were women. As societies became more complex, arithmetical systems developed to accommodate trade, architecture, irrigation, and land division. Math and record-keeping were also necessary for the development of Mesopotamian astrology, which was the genesis for the Greek astrological system we use today. We’re not talking about grade school arithmetic at this point either: Mesopotamians had a base 60 counting system (it eased division), utilized square and cube root tables, calculated compound interest, and (by the later period) could calculate the time of an eclipse to within a few minutes. Both Mesopotamians and Egyptians understood triangular relationships long before Pythagoras, although the Greeks did provide the theorems.

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The Mathematical Priestess, part I

Hypatia, by Julia Margaret Cameron.

Hypatia, by Julia Margaret Cameron.

Note: This is the first of a four part series

I must admit that I approach this subject with trepidation. I’m concerned that some of my readers may be those for whom the keys to the numerical kingdoms have been denied, those who have bumped against that iron door and convinced themselves that beyond lies a sterile uninteresting yet unfathomable realm, filled with errors and yielding nothing of significance. I feel like I should sing a song and do a dance, maybe bring out a colorful Muppet cast for a chorus routine brought to you by the number nine, all to convince you that numbers have something relevant to say, something even you can understand.

Women have long been shut out of mathematical worlds. I can identify nine of these worlds, which should be intersecting but which are in some cases hermetically sealed. These nine worlds are those of arithmetical computation (including accounting and finance), applied mathematics (engineering, statistics, economics, physics), number theory, statistics, music, puzzles or riddles, philosophy, geometry, and symbolism. I do not say that there are only nine worlds; I like the number nine because it is the number for human gestation.

What makes nine the number for human gestation? That comes from a basic division of time based on the moon cycle, which at one time ruled the menstrual cycle. The first mathematicians were women, inventing numerical systems for calculating their menstrual cycles and the course of their pregnancies. Mathematics is, literally, in the blood.

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Review: Breaking the Mother Goose Code

goosecode
A study published earlier this year out of the State University of New York – Buffalo, finding that men are more narcissistic than women, was met with jokes and derision for being yet another academic examination of the obvious, but author Emily Grijalva responded eloquently that it is precisely those things that “everybody knows” that need to be examined. Not simply because they might not be true, although (obviously) there is a chance that they are false: establishing a fundamental fact (the what) allows us to move on to questions of why or how.

I thought of Grijalva’s words when I saw the promotion for Breaking the Mother Goose Code, about Mother Goose as a surviving form of the Mother Goddess. I believe I may have heard this idea from Z Budapest in the mid-1980s, but I don’t believe she made any claim to have researched this herself. I began showing my own students a picture of Aphrodite on her goose and calling her an early form of Mother Goose, and I don’t think it occurred to me or to anyone to examine the assumption.

In Breaking the Mother Goose Code Jeri Studebaker chronicles her effort to pin down the source of the nursery character, and on the journey with Mother Goose finds a long history of suppression of the Mother Goddess. Without delving exhaustively into the patriarchal takeover of Europe and the Christian takeover of religion, Studebaker provides the background for understanding why Mother Goose is such a powerful figure and how Christianity changed her. Studebaker gives a history of the fairytale and a synopsis of the prevalent theories for how European fairytales developed. There is a more detailed examination of the German goddess Holda than most women will be familiar with, along with some discussion about the goddesses Baba Yaga, Mari, Brigid and Aphrodite. There is some examination of theater history related to the Harlequin that appears in one of the rhymes. In addition to a history of their publication, Studebaker goes through the nursery rhymes line by line and attempts to decipher them. This involves a great deal of conjecture, but apparently this author is intrepid.

Studebaker’s intuition is on track in the avenues she explores, even when she admits that her evidence is tenuous. In some cases she seems to be unaware of information that would bolster her arguments further. I do disagree with her argument about classic fairytales created as an underground Pagan resistance movement. If anything, I think these fairytales were created as allegories against rival Christian institutions. I was going to expound on this, but it’s a rather esoteric point.

There is some great supplemental material in the appendices: a glossary, a list of fairytale codewords, a synopsis of the stories in Tales of Mother Goose, two timelines, and the full text of a Holda fairytale. The author did not neglect to provide references, a bibliography, and an index, which in this case were essential.

Source: MCAD Library/Wikimedia Commons

Source: MCAD Library/Wikimedia Commons

One regrettable omission: there are no pictures. Studebaker admits that an examination of artwork was essential to her research, and she refers to this artwork frequently. Priestesses in the Goddess Movement have become accustomed to relying on pictures to enhance their understanding, and I think the Internet has fueled the demand for illustrations even more. She says that the decision to omit pictures was made to accommodate e-book requirements, but many e-books do have illustrations. In fact, e-books should be making it easier and cheaper to produce books with pictures, as well as expanding other creative borders. I am aware that the variety of e-book readers on the market makes it challenging to format manuscripts, but even in the early days of the printing press, books had illustrations. There are a lot of e-book readers out there that are marketed to consumers with features that do about everything except wash your clothes, but at the same time they are limiting the ability of authors to produce creative content. It’s not right, and authors, publishers, and consumers should not be standing for it.

All in all I really liked this book (except for the pictures – did I mention that?). I hope the author will return to the subject of nursery rhymes, including Mother Goose. While the book is a respectable 300 pages there is still a lot of gold to mine here.

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Straight Girls I’m Talking to You: LGBT Friendly Doesn’t Mean Pro-Lesbian

It is important for Pagan and Goddess groups to become more aware of and responsive to the ways Lesbians are alienated and marginalized within the spiritual community. Lesbian erasure is rampant in literature, organizations, and events that purport to be “LGBT friendly.” In fact, sometimes acknowledging or making an outreach to the “LGBT” ends up directly alienating lesbians, making enemies where there were none before.

Erasure is different from inclusion. When there is lack of inclusion of a minority group, they are simply not there. Lack of inclusion may be a problem or it may not be, since every group does not purport to serve everyone. Erasure means that a significant number of people are participating in a group at a high level, but everyone pretends they’re not there. Erasure of women is a problem in virtually any group that is not women only. Erasure of lesbians can be a problem even in women only groups.

It’s important for straight women to know that having a gay male friend you would do anything for does not mean lesbians will assume that you are on their side. Many straight women have gay male friends while maintaining distance from women they describe as “unfeminine,” “angry,” “too radical,” or some other adjective which is really an oblique way of saying “lesbian.” Maintaining that “of course I can’t be homophobic against lesbians, I have these great gay male friends” is naïve at best and offensive at worst.

Source: Gender Identity Watch

Source: Gender Identity Watch

By the same token, expressing support for “LGBT” organizations (or sometimes even using the initials LGBT) will not win you automatic friends in the Lesbian community. Gay organizations often do not understand or prioritize the concerns of lesbians, advocating for lesbians only when an issue occurs which also affects gay men (and sometimes not even then). This has been a problem since the beginning of the gay rights movement. Exacerbating the problem today is the tendency of well established advocacy organizations to begin working in tandem. These organizations are started by sincere individuals with a high level of commitment, but once established they tend to attract individuals seeking ego gratification from association with an organization of high repute. These individuals will see other executives in other high profile organizations as their core constituency, making policy decisions that reflect loyalty to this constituency. Lesbians quite often do not perceive LGBT organizations as working in their interest, and in the last 5 to 10 years this has gotten much worse, with many lesbians now saying that the LGBT lobbies directly against their interests.

What does this mean for spiritual groups that are not expressly LGBT? It means don’t point to a policy statement or endorsement from an LGBT group and expect it to hold favor with lesbians – or worse, invalidate what a lesbian has to say by pointing to an LGBT advocacy group. If anything, invoking the LGBT makes you look tone deaf and out of touch. The initials LGBT, much used by advocacy groups and in the media, do not mean that the people these initials represent have a great deal in common. There are even some under each of these letters who say this alliance needs to break up. So writing a few lines about transgender women in a book about Goddess spirituality will not be seen as acknowledging the significant participation of lesbians in this area. Giving an award to a gay man will not be seen as bestowing recognition on lesbians.

It would behoove straight women to listen more to lesbians and seek lesbian opinions on “LGBT” issues. Don’t assume that the left media on the internet is doing this. Listen to lesbians talk about their spirituality and their relationship with the Goddess and what they seek in spiritual community. Above all, acknowledge lesbians are in the Pagan/Goddess/feminist communities in significant numbers. And that we want them here.

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The Goddess and the City

leick

The mythology of Mesopotamia revolves around the accouterments of civilization to a surprising degree. Maybe it’s because cities were founded so early in that region, sometime before 4,000 B.C.E. One myth even concerns itself primarily on how Inanna brought various technologies to her city of Uruk. Another myth describes how wild creatures were banished from a tree so it could be fashioned for Inanna’s throne. The most famous Mesopotamian myth, The Epic of Gilgamesh, concerns itself with the tensions between urban and rural life.

I just finished a book called Mesopotamia: The Invention of the City by Gwendolyn Leick that underscored for me the central place of the city in Mesopotamian religious life. Before the invention of cities, the gods lived in heaven, and they created dry land in the sea below with the idea of building a dwelling place for themselves. That dwelling was the temple, and the surrounding city, like humans themselves, was created to serve the needs of the gods in their home. Leike points out “Thus the Mesopotamian Eden is not a garden but a city, formed from a piece of dry land surrounded by waters.” The significance of this reason for creating earth is that “Contrary to the biblical Eden, from which man was banished for ever after the Fall, Eridu remained a real place, imbued with sacredness but always accessible.”

There have not been a lot of books about Mesopotamia in English published in the last twenty years that are directed toward a lay audience, and still fewer written by women. My interest in Mesopotamia is in religion from a feminist standpoint, and I have no interest in urban planning and still less in the dizzying history of war and conquest in this region. I trusted that my subject would be treated at least tangentially, and I was pleasantly surprised. This was a reminder yet again that you cannot understand the religion of a culture without understanding many aspects that our secularized society has designated nonreligious.

This is a book for people who have already read a bit about Mesopotamia. The material is dense, although clearly written, and there is a lot of politics that will not interest most people. The biases of the milieu Leick comes from are apparent, especially in the first few chapters where the dearth of evidence necessitates some speculation. Unlike many academic writers she does address issues of class, ethnicity, and women’s status, and she identifies places where religious texts are driven by political concerns. I recommend that novices start with Mesopotamian myth and poetry, such as that found in Gilgamesh: A New English Translation by Stephen Mitchell or Inanna: Queen of Heaven and Earth by Diane Wolkstein and Samuel Noah Kramer, which also has some introductory commentary. But if you’re ready to move on to some historical context, this is a book I would check out.

There is still time to sign up for my online course Emerging Interpretations of Inanna’s Descent.

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