When I enrolled in WGST333: Goddess Mythology, Women’s Spirituality, and Ecofeminsim at Athabasca University, I had no idea what I was signing up for. The most experience I had with goddess mythology was the watered-down versions of myths that I read as a child. I had taken a few women’s studies courses prior to this, but I had never even heard the word ecofeminism, and, despite being raised Catholic, I wouldn’t consider myself a very spiritual person. Truth be told, I signed up for the course thinking I would get an easy A to boost my GPA—what I got was a journey that changed my perception of what it means to be a woman and a child of Mother Earth.
The first significant understanding that I have gained is that of the Paleolithic and Neolithic time periods and the humanity that was shown by the people of these eras. With my limited knowledge of these time periods, I envisioned violent barbarians. Instead, I read about people who showed no evidence of war, created beautiful sacred cathedrals in the womb of the Earth, honoured animals, and sweetly buried their children in egg shaped coffins awaiting their rebirth. This has shown me that there was (and can still be) a better way for humans to exist.
The second understanding I gained is the extent that the patriarchy has warped mythology over the centuries to justify themselves and aide in the subordination of women. I have always heard the proverb “history is written by the victors”, and yet I never thought to apply this to mythology or religion (it seems I also underestimated how deeply history and mythology are intertwined). In this case, the victor was the patriarchy. The beautiful story of Mother Goddess—one that celebrates and values love, equality, unity, and life—was rewritten over and over again with violence, alienation, and hierarchies.
Finally, I have gained an understanding of the relationship between women and the environment, and how this is connected to the patriarchy: “the domination of women and nature because of their perceived inferiority is the basis for the hierarchy of male and female—and also the domination of other groups that are seen as close to nature and thus inherently inferior” (Leah and Wells, 2018, Unit 7). Ecofeminism is the marriage of feminism and deep ecology. Deep ecology “asks us to move from human-centeredness to an awareness of our inter-relatedness with all of life” (Leah and Wells, 2018, Unit 7) – questioning the premise of industrial society as opposed to solely treating the environmental symptoms of capitalism (Leah and Wells, 2018, Unit 7). While ecofeminism shares many of the principles of deep ecology, it adds the perspective that the issue is not necessarily derived from human-centeredness, but with man-centeredness, and “concerns itself with the twin domination of women and nature” within our patriarchal system. Ecofeminism also examines climate change, environmental degradation, and the oppression of women through an intersectional lens, acknowledging that women in the margins of society will be most affected by (and are often blamed for) these issues (Leah and Wells, 2018, Unit 7).
As a solution, ecofeminists seek to transform our current Western culture to one of life-sustaining mutuality (Leah and Wells, 2018, Unit 7). Elements of this culture would include reconstructing patterns of male-female, racial, and class relations; reshaping our basic sense of self in relation to the organic life cycle of growth, disintegration, and new life, and reshaping concepts of God, from a transcendent male consciousness to the immanent source of life (Leah and Wells, 2018, Unit 7). The reawakening of goddess and earth-based spirituality may be the way to do so—“by realizing our own divinity, we may also appreciate more fully the sacredness inherent in our bodies, and our relationships with each other and Earth” (Leah and Wells, 2018, Unit 7).
After being deeply moved by one of my assignments on the Ancient Egyptian Goddess, Isis, I became genuinely interested in learning about Earth-based spiritualities and what they have to offer me as a woman and as a mother. I learned about “the impact that different views of spirituality have on women’s ability to live confident, creative, and respect-filled lives” (Leah and Wells, 2018, Unit 1) and this is something I want for myself and my daughter. The empowerment that comes from Earth-based spiritualities perception of pregnancy and childbirth as sacred is unmatched, especially in a society that judges mothers and their bodies so harshly.
After my final research project on Paganism, I was directed to a local Unitarian church that welcomes Paganism and earth-based spiritualities by the wonderful course tutor (and author of the course), Dr. Ronnie Joy Leah. I highly recommend this course—you might be surprised how much you get out of it. I can’t wait to explore this new-found chapter of my life!