I still remember the first time I heard the word “goddess” spoken in reverence. I was sitting cross-legged in the center of my friend’s efficiency, organizing her anatomy notes so she could study for an upcoming quiz. As I scanned her shelf, I noticed titles by Silver Ravenwolf and Ann Rice bookended by black, glitter-laden candles. A candy skull was perched on her bedside table, and a garland of plastic flowers hung from a hook behind it. A collection of fairy statuettes seemed to occupy the empty space between make-up bags, nail polish bottles, and brilliantly collaged journals. These artifacts were, to me, a reflection of my friend–a vampire enthusiast with a deep connection to her inner-child. A more attuned sensibility may have gleaned their connection to pagan spirituality, but I was all but ignorant of these associations.
“How do you think you’ll do on the quiz?” I asked her.
“I’m not sure,” she replied. She raised a pointed finger to the ceiling. “But I pray to the Goddess that I’ll pass.”
A slight, involuntary twitch short-circuited my brain–she just said goddess. I was so caught off-guard by her syllabic addendum that I had to force myself to speak past it, to behave as if it hadn’t had an effect. My friend returned to her studying, seemingly unaware of what the “goddess” had invoked in me. We spent the remainder of the evening conversing as usual, but the “goddess” remained with me, begging to be addressed.
As I walked back to my apartment, I turned the word over and over in my mind, becoming increasingly disturbed by just how unnatural it sounded to me. How could I, an independent, educated woman, possibly balk at the prospect of female deity? Why did it seem less respectable, somehow, for a woman to invoke the name of the Goddess rather than the God? It concerned me deeply that my innate reaction to “goddess” so greatly conflicted with my self-perception. If I was so ruffled by a simple word, how deeply had I been affected by the nature of my socialization? If I couldn’t recognize myself in the divine, what did that say about the divine? And more importantly, what did that say about me?
I grew up in a patriarchal household. My father took every opportunity he could to exact control over us, and often did so through manipulation and intimidation. When I turned sixteen, he forbid me from getting my driver’s license, and I retreated to my room and sulked. When I turned eighteen, he insisted that he buy my first car even though I was adamant that I pay for it myself. He expressed his motive as benevolence–he wanted to gift me something that his parents never had. It soon became evident, however, that as long as the title was in his name, he could control my comings and goings however he saw fit. He said that he didn’t trust boys to treat me properly; what he really meant was that he didn’t trust me to hold my own. I put up pathetic displays of protestation, unable to follow through with my threats. And how was I to behave otherwise: my mother had always submitted to his demands, and whenever I stood up for her, she funneled her shame into anger and directed it towards me. I began to view her passivity as an inexcusable weakness, and vowed that I would never allow myself to be so treated. Rather than reject my father’s reign once and for all, I focused on the weakness of my mother. I vowed that I’d never let a partner treat me that way. So I became harder. More logical. More “masculine”.
It went on this way for a decade. I rejected female friendships because I didn’t like female politics. I adopted a pantheon of literary gods: Rimbaud, Lawrence, Pessoa, Derrida, Camus. I injected myself into the critical theory circle, well-known as the “boy’s club” of the humanities. I cursed profusely, impressed by the way men gawked when I said “fuck” (I still curse profusely. Turns out I really enjoy saying “fuck”). I was successful in my aim: no man ever treated me the way my father treated my mother, because once conflict appeared in a relationship, I left. Eventually, I formed a relationship with someone I truly cared about. I married him and had a child with him, and it was only then that I was forced to confront disagreements. Unsurprisingly, I had no idea how to navigate them.
I still remember the first time I met the goddess. I was supplicant at my altar, drunk on frankincense and the dull glow of candlelight, utterly lost in the shadow of my childhood self. Eyes closed, arms outstretched, I humbled myself in the presence of all I did not know and the ignorance of who I truly was. Gradually, I drifted away from this world and into spirit and became a furious white blur speeding through the cosmos, poised to collide with the earth below. As I approached all rage and fury, a dark goddess stood motionless in a dark wood. She gently raised her hand and my angry incarnation lost all velocity. We faced one another. She was both fearsome and gentle, powerful and humble, logical and intuitive. This archetype knew nothing of gender roles or attributes. She wasn’t bound by the wounds of the past, nor was she crippled by the uncertainty of the future. She was neither my mother nor my father, and although she appeared in the feminine aspect, she was neither male nor female. She was the dream of my integrated self– a woman self, but more importantly, a free self. A self that felt no need to assert gender-specific qualities. A self that needed validation from no man, woman, or God. A self that sees the difference between personhood and the pain of socialization. A self that can move beyond.
Much Love to All Who Walk the Path,
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