Conceiving and Nurturing a Poiesis of Her: a PaGaian Cosmology

Written for and included in Elders and Visionaries: Foremothers of the Women’s Spirituality Movement, Miriam Robbins Dexter and Vicki Noble (editors), 2015.

Glenys 1974

It was 1974; I was pregnant, young, single and alone—away from family and community so no-one would know: the child would be given away. I had what I felt to be an epiphany as I sat in a church in Melbourne (as I often did then): “what if the Deity were female?” flashed through my mind. This possibility came from nowhere within my conscious experience, yet I knew in that instant that everything about my situation would be different if this were so. But I was not able to find a way to follow through with any change to the chosen path then, though I did try: there was no support for such an idea and its implications in my world at that time. When I became pregnant again—this time within a married context—I came to read Suzanne Arms’ newly published Immaculate Deception,[i] and some seeds were sown: here was some resonance with a deep unspoken truth I had perceived, about the ultimate significance of carrying and birthing new life, though I did not yet make a conscious connection. I first heard the word “Goddess” a few years later in a circle held by Rosemary Radford Reuther at the Center for Women and Religion, associated with the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, where I had begun to study theology, in my passion to understand ultimate origins. Largely, it was the experience of motherhood that began to radicalize me and connect me to a larger community of women. I was also totally unprepared for it, and had believed myself to be inanimate—inert—as matter itself was said to be: it was an awakening. In the context of my studies, Adrienne Rich’s Of Woman Born[ii] helped me to make sense of my experience, and to see what I was participating in.

In another epiphany at about the same time, four Goddesses appeared in a dream, laughing at a man who had told me that, as a woman, it was not my place to be studying theology. I had felt vulnerable to his aggressive directive, but with this dream, the mirth of these Goddesses empowered me and clarified my vision: I realized that I was in good company in my quest. Then came the reading of Mary Daly’s Beyond God the Father[iii] that same year: that is where the journey out really began—the holy exodus from my zealous Christian framework. I understood at last the betrayal of myself within that framework, and within my everyday speech and actions. Mary Daly stripped everything right back in my inner landscape. It was Starhawk’s book The Spiral Dance[iv]that planted greenery again for me, and revealed other possible poetry with which I could be and grow, and I participated in her first class in 1980 in San Francisco. I invited Starhawk  to be a speaker  at the Graduate Theological Union that year; I still have my handwritten notes from my introduction of her that evening. My search now was for the story of the Primordial Mother and it was encouraged by the Jesuit supervisor of my Master’s degree in Theology and Philosophy—himself passionate about “the Divine Mother,” though within his context; and I had also been influenced earlier by process philosophy and theology, which enabled a larger picture of consciousness. Yet I knew that She whom I desired lay beyond the outposts, in the open fields, and I was jumping the fence. She was much more than a bubble in the fish tank; as any God religion might position Her, She was the open air itself, to which the bubble or air belongs and towards which it tends to rise. I was joining the nation of women with wings. I grounded my search/research in Marija Gimbutas’ Gods and Goddesses of Old Europe[v] as it was then titled: reading it at first in a library in rural Australia in 1979. It was not allowed out on loan as it was considered rare, and it had been brought in from a city library.

I had returned to Australia with my husband when he finished his theological studies and found employment there;  I was pregnant again and passionate about that, too. In the Australian context at this time, I became involved with a collective founding a women’s health center, and I began to write for a journal named Magdalene, published by women who were emerging out of a Christian paradigm. I also contributed to other feminist journals. I devoured Robin Morgan’s poetry and books, and more of Mary Daly. When I later returned to Berkeley, I connected with Charlene Spretnak, whose book, Lost Goddesses of Early Greece[vi] and perspective eventually became a significant basis of the first workshops and classes I taught: Re-Storying Goddess. These workshops were also initially inspired by a women’s spirituality course taught by Marie Tulip at the Women’s Academy in Sydney, using the book Weaving the Visions,[vii] edited by Judith Plaskow and Carol P. Christ. My Re-Storying Goddess workshops and classes focused on the three aspects of Goddess, because I had been introduced to the Triple Goddess by a paper given to me and written by Batya Podos; and also, the workshops and classes focused on “re-storying our Gaian selves”: the celebration of Her in seasonal ritual. It was here that I began to notice the power of celebrating the seasonal wheel, as a method of embodying Her: how the wheel had an energy of its own. In these early circles of women we made a start on re-storying these three qualities for ourselves: we in-formed each other in ceremonial storytelling, using my teachings and images of Her that most of us had not seen before. At the request of the women, I went on to develop an intense sequel series, En-Trancing Goddess. I was also an active participant in the Women-Church group in Sydney, contributing to the publication of a protest creed in The Sydney Morning Herald during a papal visit to Australia. We also co-created rituals, and I wrote for the collective’s international journal. At that time, I wrote and produced a twelve part series for local radio: Re-membering the Great Mother.

All these women were my mothers—it is always reciprocal—and there were more mothers. Especially in early days, there was a strong component of what I call “lesbian-mind,” or “Mother-mind:” learning to think from within my female bodymind. Indeed, it was largely the lesbian community and music that nurtured me, though I did not identify as lesbian. It was, and is, a return to Mother-mind, an integrity, that beckons and seeks me; and it took so long to re-create. One  usually has to be broken first, and I was, but I found transformative power in the brokenness. Even now the journey is ever new, and it continues into knowledge of Her, contributing to a return to Mother-mind on a planetary scale.

In the fertile time period of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s I began piecing Her together, getting a sense of Her story. In 1980, I presented a paper, Women and Religion: What’s Happeningat a Women and Labor Conference in Melbourne. This was a pivotal point for me. I was blown out of the water (or into it) with the media response: page three of The Age in Melbourne read “Pressure from pews to find a female God;” page 17 of the Sydney Morning Herald read “The search for a Goddess;” and there was a full page interview in my region’s local paper, which upset the Catholic Archdiocese that employed my husband. I had a dream in which I was an ancient woman on the plains; I had a spear, and my grey hair was being cut. The Mother’s call became cataclysmic. I returned to Berkeley without husband and children, to complete my Master’s Degree in Theology and Philosophy. All the stars fell from the sky; there were no guides for this.

I later wrote in my book PaGaian Cosmology[viii] (2005:44):

I am an inventor, a mythmaker, who has received/taken remnants of her indigenous religious heritage, and newly available parts, and spun and woven new threads, fabrics and stories. When I became bold enough to assume such a task – out of a sensed necessity, I had long been encouraged by the words of Monique Wittig where she describes the attempt to remember an earlier mode of being, for which it is said “there are no words” and therefore perhaps “it does not exist.” Wittig says, “Make an effort to remember. Or, failing that, invent.”[ix]

Altar:mandala

PaGaian Cosmology altar/mandala: a “Womb of Gaia” map, which represents PaGaian Cosmology.

Since these early times, so much has been accomplished by so many; Her verdancy has spread from meager green shoots to a jungle. Her womb has thickened; there is a rich placenta, a fertile network around the globe. There is still much to do, but there is a new crop of young women (and some men) with so much more as starting base. Currently, I am fully engaged with the passing on of the gynocentric cosmology that I have both authored and been authored by, nursing it through to the future. I am currently teaching apprentices who will be able to continue the ceremonies that I understand are essential to bringing Her forth: places/spaces for Con-versation with Her. I also teach this as a year-long course in on-line format for both Hemispheres. There is much writing that I am doing: new work as well as re-publishing old work that has found new ears. In recent years I contributed chapters to She is Everywhere, Volume 3 (edited by Mary Saracino and Mary Beth Moser)[x] and Goddesses in World Culture (edited by Patricia Monaghan).[xi] I am a featured contributor to and part of the collective of editors for the Return to Mago blog which was initiated by Dr. Helen Hwang. I am transferring a lot of my meditations and Poetic videos to formats for wider distribution. There are frequent invitations for me to be guest teacher, or priestess, to speak: it is news of Her that is being sought. I am understanding anew my own rich experience and giving it over, becoming the gift for those who come after me. Several years ago, I became a founding member of the Goddess Association in Australia, which holds an annual conference, with which I always engage significantly. In recent years—at the turning of the century and into the new millennium—I have facilitated constant practice, celebration and the embodiment of Her in the whole annual cycle of Seasonal ceremony at my place in the Blue Mountains of Australia, with an open community. My partner and I built ceremonial space for celebration of the Primordial Mother within these years, naming it MoonCourt.

MoonCourt

MoonCourt – Goddess Ceremonial Space, Blue Mountains, Australia, 2008.

MoonCourt is a semi-circular, open, womb-like space made of cob and recycled materials. It has three markers on the Eastern wall for the rising Sun of the Solstices and Equinoxes; the Winter Solstice window is yoni-shaped with a triple spiral in the center, the Equinox marker is a downward pointing triangle with artwork in it, and the Summer Solstice window is round. The floor is embedded with a brass spiral with forty markers along it, representing some moments of note in the Universe story as Western sciences have come to know it, and that we may be thankful for; there is a Cosmic Walk script that I wrote to go with it.[xii] I describe the constant practice of the whole cycle of Her annual Creativity as “religious” because it is an act/acts of belonging, of expressing devotion. It has been, and is, a method of re-creating Her, bringing Her forth, in self, other and All. It is not merely “feminist discourse;” it is rather what I have termed “PaGaian concourse,” a speaking with my Place, con-versing with Her, which becomes a Poiesis, the making of a world, within self, other and All. The times beckon humans into new territory, places where none have been before, and certainly a place

… wherein we humans no longer primarily or simply engage in more talk and analysis, but we dare to attend sincerely and primarily to the complexity of actual relationship with, and comprehension of, our embodied engagement with our Earth-Universe-Gaian context.[xiii]

I do not consider PaGaian Cosmology to be just a “theory,” though it may be so in a scientific sense; that is, its practice has been verified sufficiently to be more than a hypothesis, able to be trusted as ground for further exploration. I consider PaGaian Cosmology a “doing,” that is, it must be an action of ceremonial practice, of entering into ceremonial conversation with Her Creativity as it expresses itself in one’s Place. The practice of the whole annual cycle is a template of wholeness; it forms a womb/mandala—a sacred site—that can grow a person, a community, into deeper truths. It is a placement of self and at the same time a recognition of self as a Place. Primarily, it is a practice of relationship with Place, as situated in particular bodymind, region of Earth and Cosmos. PaGaian Cosmology may be identified as an indigenous methodology that has been spun out of my own Western tradition, of Earth-based indigenous Goddess-focused practice and Western scientific research, wherein each being is recognized as a Place, wherein the primary referent is Place: land, cosmos, where we are. It grew out of my female experience in an androcentric context of alienation from myself as a place, my search for Her. I did learn of myself, my bodymind, as “Land”– primarily from lesbian music, poets and writers of the late ‘70s—that my bodymind was a place, a country, and then from French feminist philosophers, particularly Helene Cixous and Luce Irigaray. Then later this came to be situated within Earth and Cosmos by the Western scientific story of the Universe as told by Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry.[xiv]

APAGAINCOSMO-FRONT COV w:outtex

PaGaian Cosmology – a gynocentric re-emergence. Image by Julie Cunningham.

At the turning into the new millennium, I was able to document this engagement in academic form, writing it into a doctoral thesis, making it useful for those who came after me, seeking to bring change to the defining of knowledge, breaking new ground for those wanting new/ancient methodologies and priorities. I have been able to publish this work, contextualize it for a more popular audience, and make it freely available on-line. It is still maturing, as it finds new hearts and minds, as well as new expression. My work of PaGaian Cosmology has a core sensibility, but its expression may be very diverse, and it has been so where it is practiced.

At its core, PaGaian Cosmology is a situating of self within the Creative Cosmological Dynamics, imaged and known of old as a triplicity that runs through the Cosmos, expressed cross-culturally in a myriad of ways, but within my own Western tradition often as triple spiral, triple goddess, three matrons, identified often as three qualities essential to the unfolding of the Cosmos and/or essential to never-ending renewal, and ongoing creativity. These three qualities have various guises and valences; they are not simple and univocal. They are fuzzy and poetic, yet identifiable just as the phases of moon are. I identify them in summary this way: She who creates the space to be (old creative one), she who is the urge to be (young differentiated one), and She who is this dynamic place of being (mother, flux of being); or (and in reverse order) She who is, She who will be, and she who returns us to the “great subject.” My passion continues to be to enable sacred space, to do the work of growing Her in ceremony, where there is space for deep self, in deep community, expressing a deep truth.

Recently, I taught an on-line course with Dr. Helen Hwang: Gaia and Mago, Rekindling Old Gynocentric Unity, in preparation for the 2014 Mago Pilgrimage to Korea that we co-facilitated: the unveiling of Mago, the Great Goddess, the Primordial Mother, of East Asia. This pilgrimage to sacred sites, visiting with female shamanic practitioners, conferencing with feminist scholars and encouraging seekers and artists of female spirit contributes significantly to the rising global unveiling of Her, strengthening Her new shoots and networks.

© Glenys Livingstone 2014   

NOTES and References:

[i]Suzanne Arms, Immaculate Deception: a New Look at Women and Childbirth in America (New York: Bantam Books, 1975).

[ii]Adrienne Rich, Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution(New York: Norton and Company, Inc., 1976).

[iii]Mary Daly,  Beyond God the Father(Boston: Beacon Press, 1973.)

[iv]Starhawk, The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess(New York: Harper and Row, 1979).

[v]Marija Gimbutas, Gods and Goddesses of Old Europe(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974: published as Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe, 1982).

[vi]Charlene Spretnak, Lost Goddesses of Early Greece(Berkeley: Moon Books, 1978).

[vii]Judith Plaskow and Carol P. Christ, eds.,Weaving the Visions: New Patterns in Feminist Spirituality(San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1989).

[viii]Glenys Livingstone, PaGaian Cosmology: Re-inventing Earth-based Goddess Religion(Lincoln, Nebraska: iUniverse, 2005), 44.

[ix]Monique Wittig, Les Guerilleres(New York: Avon Books, 1993), 89.

[x]Glenys Livingstone, “Spelling and Re-Creating Her,” in She is Everywhere. Volume 3, ed. Mary Saracino and Mary Beth Moser (Bloomington, Illinois: iUniverse Inc., 2012), 384-402.

[xi]Glenys Livingstone, “GAIA:Dynamic, Diverse, Source and Place of Being” in Goddesses in World Culture, ed. Patricia Monaghan(Santa Barbara, California: Praeger (ABS Clio), 2011), Volume 2, Chapter 10: 143-154.

[xii]My version of the Cosmic Walk is based on one created over time – initially by Miriam MacGillis, then contributed to by Ruth Rosenhek, and Liz Connor.

[xiii]Glenys Livingstone,PaGaian Cosmology,.45.

[xiv]Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story,(New York: HarperCollins, 1992).

 

 

4 comments

  1. Jemima Moody · · Reply

    Oh thank you for this rich story

    Opening more always to the goddess and this was balm for a broken heart, felt like movement toward home

    Thank you

    Jemima ♥️

    1. thank you Jemima. I am so glad the telling of the story was helpful – may you be well. ❤ Glenys

  2. Reblogged this on Thesseli.

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