Monthly Archives: June 2015
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.
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…
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.
This is actually going to be a five, not a four, part series.
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.
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).