The Witch that Flies Furthest in Cyberspace
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On the proliferation of goddess imagery in popular culture
Change happens slowly, but when it finally hits, the years of individual strides and steps culminate in a burst of change. Trouble is, change doesn't always take effect in the ways we'd hoped.
When the "goddess movement" was birthed out of feminism in the early seventies by groups of women passionate about both political and personal growth, it started with small circles of women determined to use magic as a tool for change. Leading figures during this decade included such notables as Zsuzanna Budapest, Shekinah Mountainwater, and Starhawk. The Wiccan religion, which was first birthed by Gerald Gardner in the mid-twentieth century, had grown into a viable alternative religion in both Europe and America. As one of the first modern Western religions to worship a goddess as well as a god, it was a logical starting point from which feminists could build their new faith. Wicca formed the skeletal structure of the new women's religion, including seasonal rites and the use of magic, but was altered in ways that made it truly different. Some continued to include male god imagery, but a significant variant not only focused solely on the goddess but made it a women's mystery religion where only women attended the rites, only women were taught magic, and seasonal rites became inseparable from the cycles of a women's body as she moved from pre-menstrual maidenhood through her post-menopausal crone years. This sect came to be known by several monikers, such as Dianic Wicca, Dianic Witchcraft, and simply "goddess religion."
One of the primary sacred narratives of Dianic Witchcraft was built upon the idea that in civilizations past women held higher status than contemporary society and was only lessened when matriarchy gave way to patriarchy. Built upon archeological finds of female statuary interpreted to be goddesses, the idea was birthed first by scholars but only became the foundation of new religious movements when the idea had gained a foothold in feminist circles. Many of the scholars (such as Marija Gimbutas & J.J. Bachofen) who presented these ideas do not find currency any longer with most academics. This development has parallels with the larger Wiccan movement, whose own sacred narrative includes the idea that it has a direct linear connection with pre-Christian European witch-cults (as proposed by Margaret Murray), an idea which contemporary academics have long considered unfounded. However, whether or not the idea of matriarchy is in fact a viable and factual history is beside the point. The role these ideas play among contemporary Dianics and Wiccans is as sacred history, a potent symbolic web upon which ideas for a new worldview and societal change can blossom and grow. Key factors of this different society for both groups include empowerment for women and a more symbiotic relationship with nature.
Witches of either sect understand that there is magic that happens when symbols become manifest as reality in the form of tangible objects. First it is only within the realm of the groups that birthed them - jewelry and adornments with representations of goddesses and magical symbols, bumper stickers, books on nature religions, etc. - until the symbols, if not always the idea behind them, seep into a wider cultural milieu. Items such as those mentioned above move from esoteric mail order catalogs and small metaphysical shops into the women's studies or occult sections of larger bookstores (in the case of books) or museum gift shops (in the case of deity statuary or jewelry). Spell candles now find their way into gift shops of every sort. Still, even these things are perceived by the larger public as fringe items - possibly even with satanic implications (in the case of pentacles, for example). A lack of interest may even result in their falling below their radar at all. Then, arriving with a force that makes it seem almost sudden, despite the slow trickle over several decades, goddess symbolism is everywhere. "Good Witches" have become stock characters in TV dramas from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" to Aaron Spelling's "Charmed."