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Patricia Monaghan

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The Goddess Path  

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The Goddess Path: 
TWPT Talks to Patricia Monaghan

2000TWPT


TWPT: This interview will follow a slightly different format than what you may be used to here in the Author's Corner but I think that you will agree after reading through Patricia's answers that it is for the best and it allows her to present a narrative that encompasses the following questions with the freedom to answer them in depth without interrupting her chain of thought. These are the questions that I asked Patricia and what follows are her answers to those questions.

When was it that the Goddess made it apparent that your spiritual path would be towards Her?

How did this new spiritual path begin to manifest itself in your life?

How long was it before you started to find like minded individuals that you could share this new found path with?

At this point did you begin to suspect that the movement might be larger than you first suspected?

Tell me about the variety of people who found this path back then and why it was that the Goddess held such appeal to them.

Give us a capsule view of where Goddess worship originated and how it came down to us.

Why do you feel that there is a resurgence at this point in history of Goddess worship?

What role did you play in the early days of what is termed "the contemporary Goddess movement"?

PM: I found the goddess through reading, and I didn't actually make physical contact with others working in the area until I'd been doing goddess research for almost twenty years. My family has lived in Alaska since the 50's, and I spent most of my life there, living outside Fairbanks for the most part.

Some people are brought into the goddess movement, or into Wicca, by meeting others who are further along the path than them. But when I was a young woman in Alaska, no one I knew was interested in such strange subjects. I suspect that there were those around me who had mystical encounters with the land, but it was not what people talked about. We talked about the good salmon streams, and how the berries were coming along, and of course when I was in high school we talked about who was seen talking to whom, and whether we were going to beat Palmer in the basketball game. (To give a flavor of Anchorage in those days, the big event was to creep out to the Matanuska Valley and paint A's for Anchorage on the side of the cows before the big games.)

I still have a copy of the paper I did for freshman English at Ryan Junior High School, about the goddesses of Greece. I was drawn from childhood to stories of the goddess, although at the time I simply thought of it as 'mythology' rather than a living, or potentially living, religion. I also spent a lot of time outdoors, exploring the wild areas of the Kenai Peninsula especially. In this I think I share a common experience with many people, who find the goddess originally through reading, and/or through nature, and then later connect with others who honor her.

I am lucky, however, to have connected in the early 70's with a community of women who led me to a larger understanding of my interest in mythology than I had previously had. I went "outside," as Alaskans say, to graduate school in Minnesota, and stayed on to work at Minnesota Public Radio. While living there I met feminists who were exploring the connections between spirituality and women's empowerment. I remember especially a class taught by the great psychologist Nor Hall called "Women's Rites." There was the Women's Herbal Collective, the Unconscious Collective (hey, this was the 70's, okay?) and other groups that focused on finding threads of ancient wisdom that sustained women's souls today.

But this period was short, and I returned to Alaska. There I continued my researches and compiled the first edition of The Book of Goddesses and Heroines, which was published in 1981. I have the first edition right here--it seems so tiny now, about half the size of the current edition. I have been blessed to have been able to work on this book consistently for so many years. And I have more material yet for the next edition!

That first edition came from my own need to have a compilation of goddess material for my teaching and writing. I knew virtually no one else interested in the subject, except a small group of women with whom I met for the solar holidays. We didn't know anyone else who did women's rituals, so we made them up as we went along. That group, Shelix, is still together after almost thirty years.

Except for those six or seven women, though, I had no one around me who understood what I was doing. I worked in the University of Alaska library, and when I came in, one librarian would always say, "how are the goblins?"

"Goddess," I would correct. "Oh, well," she'd say, shrugging. And the next day she'd ask about the goblins. It was all the same to her.

Thus my research continued, focusing especially on sun goddesses, who had grabbed my attention while I was researching Goddesses and Heroines. I spent the next fifteen years researching O Mother Sun, during which time I began to travel regularly to Ireland. I hold dual Irish-American citizenship and have been a student of Irish poetry most of my life. But more important than the politics or the poetry was the living sense of magic I found in Ireland, where only last year a road expansion was diverted because the original plan would have run over a famous fairy tree near Carrick-upon- Fergus. I am truly blessed to have made friends many years ago with now-elderly people for whom the mythology of Ireland is still a living force. (The book I'm currently writing is about the goddess in Ireland, and I'm assisting with American fund-raising for the relighting of the Beltane fires next year.

When I moved to Chicago in 1987, I had no idea there was a burgeoning goddess movement. But within months I was invited to my first gathering--the Discovering Dianic Wicca gathering sponsored by the Re-Formed Congregation of the Goddess in Madison, Wisconsin. What I remember most about that event was the singing. How, I wondered, did all these women know the same songs?

Things like "Isis, Astarte, Diana, Hecate." I was amazed. There seemed to be a movement out here! And so there was, and is.

Since then I've come into contact with many aspects of the contemporary goddess movement, from Jungian groups who study the goddess as a psychological archetype only, to Wiccan groups that derive from occult traditions, to individuals who find the goddess calling to them personally, in dreams and visions. Sometimes these groups and individuals are unaware of how diverse and widespread this movement is. From Irish nuns who relit the fires of Brigid to academics who risk their careers to research this unpopular area to wild grrls, it's an astonishing and worldwide movement to restore balance by bringing the feminine energies back into power.

In all this, I remain something of an outsider, in that I'm most happy surrounded by old artifacts and documents and books, our out on a windy hill somewhere in a ruined temple, finding out more about the goddess and writing about it. I love my ritualist friends who can orchestrate grand theater devoted to the goddess, but my own love is poetry, the expression of Her presence in words. For several years, I had the wonderful opportunity to immerse myself in the great works of classical and tribal song and poetry, to retranslate and adapt work for The Goddess Companion. Horace, Ovid, the Homeric hymns, the ritual chants of American peoples, Lithuanian songs--there is such richness to the world's goddess cultures that we have yet to explore.

TWPT: When was it that you decided to write as a way to present your research to others who might be looking for the Goddess?

Was it difficult to find a publisher for the material that you were writing?

What kind of feed back did you get from your first writing efforts about the Goddess and did you expect this kind of reaction?

How has contact with others of like mind changed your own perceptions of the Goddess if at all?

Do you feel that society has grown to the point that the image of the feminine divine is more acceptable today than what it was 20 or 30 years ago?

What kinds of people are being drawn to the Goddess and what are some of the reasons that you are hearing as to why they are coming now.

What lies ahead for the Goddess movement around the world? What would you personally like to see within the movement that is not happening right now?

Tell me how all of this research on the Goddess fits in with your work at DePaul University.

PM: I like to say I'm one of those people for whom a career choice didn't exist: there's really only one thing I do well, and that's writing. I wanted to be a writer from the time I was a child, even though I never knew a writer and came from a family where no one had ever been privileged to receive an education. I was the first in my entire extended family to earn a college degree, and the first to earn a master's, and a Ph.D. Many of my siblings and cousins have followed me, but I pioneered. I'm not entirely sure where I got the grit to work my way through college and to hold onto my dream of being a writer, but somehow I did. I remember my advisor in college telling me that he was disappointed in me, that I seemed like such a level-headed "girl," and that didn't I know there were no great women writers? At the time, in the 60's, women were not included on syllabi in literature classes, so the only thing I could do was to squeak out Emily Dickinson's name. My professor dismissed her by saying, "Oh, yeah, if you want to never marry and wear a white dress all your life." So to put it mildly, I was never much encouraged in my aspirations.

So I became a printer. Yes. My first job was in a print shop, setting type for a newspaper. I had a degree in English and I was correcting the grammar of the non-degreed male reporters. So I went back to school and got a master's in English--again working my way through school, this time as a proofreader in an advertising agency. But that degree opened doors at last, and I was able to start finding work as a journalist. I believe those ten years of journalism were very good for me in that I learned how to write on demand. I learned that writing creates its own mood and that the best way to court the muse is to start work. She tends to come 'round where there's the sound of typing, I find.

But once again, when I started working on writing about the goddess, I received little encouragement. Working on my master of fine arts degree (I have this tendency to go back to school; maybe it's just as well I've run out of higher degrees to earn, I may someday pay off my student loans!), I was writing poems in the voices of goddesses. This was the mid-70's, and the poems eventually became Seasons of the Witch. The head of the department told me to stop, because writing about myth went out in the 19th century. I went underground as a poet at that point but kept writing goddess poetry in secret.

I often ponder how I managed to keep the flame alive when I was living on the edge of the arctic circle and receiving little or no encouragement for my work. I think part of it is my innate stubbornness; once I start something, I finish it; I'm almost all fixed signs, Aquarius, Scorpio, Leo. And I had the great natural world to support me. Support certainly wasn't coming from publishers or editors or professors!

With the first edition of Goddesses and Heroines, I was very lucky to be referred by the husband of a friend to an editor in New York who did reference books. That editor wasn't interested but, because I had been recommended by one of her authors, she left the manuscript on the desk of Bill Whitehead. This was perhaps the greatest bit of luck I've encountered as a writer, because Bill was a genius of an editor, one who published Ram Dass, Gregory Bateson, Philip Slater. A wonderful man who died prematurely, a gifted spirit. He not only bought Goddesses and Heroines, he encouraged me all through the arduous process of finishing it.

But when it was first published in 1981, there was very little response. The goddess movement was tiny at the time, and I was living in Alaska, where I couldn't really travel for promotion. Then Bill died, and the publisher dumped most of his authors. So, after finding my way into print, I found myself out of print. It was a period of great despair. The state of Alaska sort of went bankrupt at the time, because oil prices had skidded; my job left me when my community college was shut down. It was pretty miserable!

So I moved to the States--whoops, that's an Alaskanism! I mean the Lower States. There was not much of a goddess movement in Alaska, but down here I found conferences, festivals, and groups exploring the goddess. Llewellyn offered to bring G&H back into print. This was in the late 80's, and things could not have been more different than they'd been ten years earlier. Since then I've seen a steady increase in interest in the goddess, so that it's almost mainstream now.

Publishers are still a bit wary. The "goddess trend" has been declared over and done several times since I started writing. But each time I hear that publishers are rejecting goddess book because the bubble has burst, another swell of interest appears. When I travel and lecture, I hear people--women and men--reporting that they've been led to the goddess through dreams and meditations, as well as through books and other media. Typically I find that people find the goddess first, then seek out or find themselves encountering others on her path. Rarely have I met someone who starts by joining a group, and then says, "oh, hey, so we're going to worship a goddess here! Alright!" It's more like there's an intuitive connection, through nature or the soul, which leads to searching through books and music, which in turn leads to people looking for others who honor her.

Some of the reemergence of the goddess is tied to the great sense of ecological endangerment, both here and in other lands. I see men coming to events more often now, too, as they realize the need to balance. Girls are such great energies, and I see more young women finding the goddess in themselves, and then reaching out to others to celebrate her. It's an exciting time.

I'm not certain where I see the movement going, because I still remain more a scholar and poet than a leader of groups. But I can tell you where I've been led. After 25 years of traveling to Ireland, I've found myself writing about the goddess there. And this in turn has led me to a new kind of writing, which is much more exploratory and personal. Using myth to illuminate my own life, not having a stark boundary between self and land and myth. It's a hard kind of writing, and this book is taking me quite a few years. (Readers can see a sample chapter on my website: www.altogether.com/patricia/). This in turn has led me to realize how divided we are, separating the outer world from our inner world in our discourse, when in fact they are not separated in our experience. As I say, it's an extremely demanding kind of writing, because it isn't just autobiography, but spiritual geography.

I have been encouraging younger writers with whom I work to bring their own experiences into their writing. It's not legitimate academically to footnote your own vision quest, yet we do receive information through dreams and visions and mystical experiences. And we need a kind of writing that permits that to be explored.

None of this has anything to do with my day job! I teach science and literature at DePaul, where I am on the interdisciplinary faculty. To some extent it's easier not to have to fight academic battles for the right to do my work; I have known people who fear for their job security if they dare write what they know. However, this choice means that I have to research, write and publish in two fields. While free from anyone bringing their own agenda to bear on my goddess work, I have not had a vacation in over ten years. The price of freedom!

TWPT: Give me an idea as to how you bring the Goddess into your daily life.

Do you consider yourself a spokesperson or teacher of this new movement towards the Goddess?

Tell me about some of the authors that you have looked to for inspiration and for information.

Do you find that the literature being turned out by the Pagan community in regards to the Goddess is helpful in your research?

What is your take on the spiritual climate of the U.S. in this new millennium? Are we becoming more or less sensitive to the realms that lie beyond this dimension?

Tell me about your recent book The Goddess Companion.

What should we be looking for from Patricia Monaghan in the near future on our bookshelves?

PM: I believe the most important way that I connect with the Goddess is through nature. Having been brought up near wilderness, I find urban living a challenge, but happily have found woodlands for wandering fairly nearby, and then there's my garden. A project of the past several years has been to develop a "Goddess Garden" to the side of my house, which is filled with plants named for goddesses (Astarte tulips, Hebe, Juno heather, Venus chrysanthemum, etc) and statues and plaques of goddesses (about 20 of them tucked into the greenery). It's my retreat from the pressures of daily life.

As a fairly solitary person, I don't do much work with others. I see poetry and scholarship as a form of worship. The Muses, after all, were goddesses!

Am I a spokesperson? I guess, by default, though I didn't set out to be. I'm a bit uncomfortable, truth be told, with being seen as an expert, because there is always so much more to learn. I see myself as a perpetual student of the goddess. A couple of decades of devoted "studenting" means I've learned a lot, and I do enjoy sharing what I've learned through slide lectures and other events.

There are so many authors whose work is important to me and to the emerging goddess movement. Some, alas, are not well promoted by their publishers (I heard just this week from a dear friend, a lovely goddess author, that she had been told by her publisher that "goddess" was "almost as awful a word as 'feminist'" and that they wouldn't use it on a product!). In no particular order, here are some authors whose work I refer to frequently: Marija Gimbutas of course, Miriam Robbins Dexter, Carol Christ, China Galland, Ginette Paris, Serinity Young. And so many others! Especially people who are doing specialized studies, like Mary Kelly of eastern European goddess embroideries and Joanna Hubbs of Russian goddesses. Also, I get a lot from reading the ancients--Horace, Ovid, Euripedes, and let's not forget Apeluius!--for some grand poetry of the goddess. And Ramprasad. And....

Many of these ancient authors found their way into The Goddess Companion, my most recent book. I've been collecting goddess prayers for years and years, and finally had a chance to bring them together into a single volume. Each page has a prayer or poem from an ancient or tribal source, plus a few comments on it and, when appropriate, on any traditional feast of that day.

It was a great pleasure to work on that book, which also has extensive indexes so that, for instance, if you want a prayer for abundance, you can turn right to one, or if you're looking for an invocation to Hera, there you have it. So I hope that the book is useful for ritual work as well as a daily meditation book.

Coming up: I've got several books underway. The most demanding is a book on the goddess in Ireland, which takes the traditional form of a dinchenchas--a sunwise circuit of Ireland, telling the sacred stories as I go. The Cailleach on the Burren, Maeve in Sligo, Macha in Ulster, Brigid in Kildare, etc. I've been working on this for a number of years and it's nearing completion. It's called The Red-Haired Girl on the Bog (after a great folkloric character of Connemara) and will be published in 2002 by New World Library. (You can read an excerpt on my website: www.altogether.com/patricia/).

Llewellyn will be bringing out an expanded version of my book of poems, Seasons of the Witch, with CD, also in 2002, so I'm finishing that. And I'm editing an anthology on Irish spirituality for Wolfhound Press in Dublin, which will also be a video series for Irish (and perhaps American) television.

And in the spring, look for my book for young women: Wild Girls, The Path of the Young Goddess. (You can see an early excerpt on the website www.altogether.com/wildgirls/). I have a deep belief that mythology and awareness of nature are healing for young women as for older ones, and this book is the fulfillment of a long-held dream, as I wrote the first version twenty years ago! I'm very happy to see that coming out.

TWPT: We want to thank you very much for taking the time to talk to us and our readers, sharing those things which are important to you and giving everyone a personal glimpse as to who you are and the reasons as to why you follow the path that you do. We wish you much success in your future work as you bring to light the many facets of the Goddess from ages past and into the future.