Birth of the Women’s Spirituality Movement
I have talked about the Birth of the Women’s Spirituality Movement in my speeches. I have described our very first Sabbath, on the Winter Solstice, December 21, 1971, in Hollywood, California; it is from this point I date the inception of women’s spirituality. That story is in my books, The Grandmother of Time and Grandmother Moon.
What I have never touched on was how I got there. What made me pick up this Goddess flag? What has kept me waving it all these years? What did I get out of it personally? It is much harder to talk about myself than it is to talk about philosophy, theology, politics, feminism, anything and everything but my personal journey. Why have I been so shy? Am I ashamed? Why?
Even now, when I try to look back and sort out my personal memories, I feel a twinge of "Aw, shucks, I don’t matter, all that matters is the Cause." But I know I am lying. This woman, I, did matter. This person, the inhabitant of this body who is my faithful spouse, deserves a loving examination. I have to shed my dread of my own humanity and tell as much of the truth as I can recall.
How does a phenomenon begin? It takes the historical winds of change, first of all. The sub-age of Aquarius that started at 1962 gave us the winds, ideas, sentiments, and the Beatles, who put it to music. Music became a political act. Yes, those fateful historical winds, controlled by no one, have to start blowing, deciding which songs become number one on the charts. Invisible collective forces are at work when the winds change, and we inhaled them like the sweet smoke of the sacred herbs, feeling them expand our mind and horizons, feeling the wind catch a living generation and lift it. It was a wind, and it was like a wave. Surfing history is a heady experience, especially when it carries an entire generation of young people into a new world.
Where were we? We had just gotten out of the Sixties. America was changing. God was dead and women were marching. Women were marching for peace and freedom to control their bodies, and I was marching for peace and freedom of the soul. I absorbed the feminist past; I read Susan B. Anthony, but above all I modeled myself after Elisabeth Cady Stanton, the spiritual rebel of the Nineteenth century. Her remarkable, fertile life, a miracle by itself, fascinated me. This woman bore seven children and raised them at home, made butter, and picked fruit. Then she sat down and wrote all the speeches for Susan B., her best friend. A spinster herself, Auntie Susan cooked and helped care for the many kids, just to make sure she got a good speech about the fight for the women’s right to vote to take on the road. I read about these women who had worked so hard for a right that women took for granted now, and gradually I began to realize that I, too, had a destiny.
It also takes a fateful year for an individual woman to create change. To go on this journey a woman needs a desire that is unstoppable, a deep desire that feeds on the deepest well of the human psyche in the caves of the Fates. From then on she must give up everything that does not lead to her goal. She must have a total change of circumstances, leaving behind family and home. She must embody this high goal, breathe it in, live it, manifest it. And by doing this, she gives birth to herself. For me, that meant leaving my marriage, the East Coast, and New York City.
I was thirty years old. Crippling ignorance had made my progress through my first Saturn Return a painful struggle. I didn’t know it was normal for one’s life to be upset in the later twenties, for all certainties to dissolve. I knew nothing of the power of the fate lines. I was changing but didn’t know how. I had to leave New York, the crowded, mostly treeless, noisy wonder. New York, where going from point A to point B was a huge daily effort, hurling one’s body through dark metal tubes underneath the rumbling earth. In this stench of a place, where males relieve themselves in the darkness of the off-ramps and corridors, one could smell the all-invasive stink of patriarchy. The fact that this was “normal,” allowed, and tolerated was deeply offensive to me. If women had urinated all over the subways in New York, there would have been a public outcry for civility. But it was okay for men. There was no civility in New York. To see an occasional man exposing himself as the train pulls out, looking straight into your face, was almost preferable to the stale stench (especially in the summertime).
I had found nobody to love me in New York. I was so ready to have love affairs, to be fulfilled in bed. The culture encouraged sex. Sex was glorified in songs and plays. I was at the height of my beauty, yet I could not find a partner to love. True, I was married, but it was a European kind of marriage, one of convenience, in which we were free to do what we pleased romantically and sexually. In Europe this would have been ideal. There, affairs were what held marriages together.
I had studied theater at the American Academy of Dramatic arts and was reading everything by Young, Kerenyi, Adler. Gradually I began to understand the meaning of the bits of folk magic I had encountered in Hungary as a child. My mother had been a psychic, and I realized that I was heir to a tradition of female power. I was slowly uncovering the female principle in my own person. Being a woman never was much of a question mark for me, I was feminine and smart. But now I belonged to the larger female group whose fate affected my fate. Whatever happened to this group of women was surely happening to me. How odd it seemed. Being a woman was now a complex thing; in fact, it was downright revolutionary. Who would have thought that this simple thing, my female identity, could become such a big deal! I was delighted with it, enjoyed the attention, and felt I was gaining confidence.
It takes the communal will of a small group, which is in accord with the woman embodying the will, to create a “sacred goal” or “mission.” Women are made for missions; nobody can advocate better than a woman. When a woman starts something, a hundred women start something, a thousand women start something, and it grows, and the phenomenon reveals itself. A mission is food for life—the food of the soul. It is when the soul is recognized by the living woman and welcomed. Missions are history. Missions are necessary. If you don’t have the energy to advocate for yourself, nobody else will either. This is why women must advocate themselves: the males will never do it (check the track record). Most think we have already gone too far with this “women’s lib” thing. I say we haven’t gone far enough.
What was the mission? When all those factors came together—the new Women’s Lib movement and my reading in the Women’s Rights Movement and in Jungian psychology and mythology—I realized that what the Movement was missing was a spiritual dimension. We needed to reclaim the Goddess for women and generate a new peaceful culture that included the sacred arts. We needed to raise nature worshippers, goddess devotees, and fill these activists with energy. To resource the women as well as making women a resource. To bring back the Lady, the Great Goddess I had worshipped as Gladwoman and Boldogasszony as a child.
I couldn’t do it in New York. Leaving everything behind, I set out for the West Coast and ended up in Southern California. When I first set foot in the first Women’s Center (only six months old), on Crenshaw Blvd. in LA, a fateful historical event took place. Feminism met Witchcraft. There should have been a drum roll as I entered, a hereditary witch from central Europe where the fairies once danced. The folk art and folksongs on which I was raised reverberated in memory when I listened to Mexican music around the Mission District of downtown LA. This fusion of old and new—of European witch tradition and twentieth century feminism—was a very bold blending. It gave teeth to feminism and relevance to witchcraft. There had never been a feminist witch before.
The concept was so strange, and yet so natural. Everybody saw the witch as an archetype, a hag with a pointed hat flying on a broomstick. The feminist archetype was no more flattering, the image of a “Women’s Libber” was of an unattractive woman with a big mouth, a lot of smartass words, in comfortable shoes. Females out of control. Sisterhood, a bunch of lesbians. Where boners go to die. Feminism and Witchcraft didn’t like each other at first. The feminists said they didn’t need any religion—it is always bad. Witches said they didn’t need politics, thank you very much. I was standing between them, internalizing both without any trouble, and I knew they had to blend with each other if the women’s revolution was going to last.
Politics/activism as a way of life is important, but it burns people out. This is where most movements go awry. Eventually there’s too much work and no play, and people go home. What does a woman do after the leafleting and the riots and the hard work? Have a drink? A joint? Is that going to fill the void? Hardly.
I had already seen more history close-up than most. World War II broke out before I could walk. The supportive environment of my childhood was destroyed. I learned to walk and talk in a bunker underneath the earth, the place where we usually kept our coal for the winter. We were carpet bombed several times a day. In the mornings it was the Germans, in the afternoons the Russians. Around 4:00 am, the American heavy bombers flew over our city like death with wings. I lay there praying they wouldn’t drop any on my house so that someday we could go outside. Yes, I knew about history and what these decisions mean, humans against humans, fire and poverty, women dragged off to be raped, dirty water, diarrhea, people like my grandmother dying of starvation. I was very much aware of history.
I grew up during the Communist occupation of Hungary. When the Hungarian Revolution broke out in 1956, I was sixteen. I shared in the ecstatic excitement of standing up against an oppressor, and the horror of seeing my classmates killed when the Communists struck back. I walked out of Hungary and escaped across the border, determined to be free.
Although most of the people I met in Los Angeles in those days had not had such an exciting childhood, we were an interesting generation. The Beatles’ John Lennon was born in my birth year, as was Ringo Starr; it was a fateful year for many of us. We were the Seed Generation. Our thoughts and sentiments survive in the songs of the Baby Boomers. It was this seeding generation that created the emotional content for the coming huge music/cultural/sexual explosion.
Like many things, our movement wasn’t planned. It just grew. Does a seed know it is going to be a tree when it pushes through the soil? We were like that. The women who came into the Feminist Wicca candle shop were hungry for knowledge, for power, for ritual. We used to talk about what it would be like to celebrate Women’s Mysteries the way our ancient mothers did long ago. People said you couldn’t do that today, but why not?
I decided the time had come. On December 21st in 1971 I said I was going to do a ritual to celebrate the return of the light. Women who wanted to join me should come to my flat in Hollywood at sundown. I didn’t know who would show up, but the Goddess knew. As it began to get dark there were six women in the room, six good friends braiding witches’ girdles of red yarn, the color of life and blood. My mother had taught me to make a circle, to hold hands and let the energy grow. We called on the ancestors to join us. One of the women started chanting.
Together, we prayed and we sang, calling on the Goddess to take the seed of women’s mysteries from the past and grow it into an indigenous women’s religion. We prayed for social justice and to bless the earth. We wanted something that would be both traditional and revolutionary. We were taking the old male god’s power over women away. When we had blessed everyone and everything we could think of that needed it, we went outside. So far we had not had any rain that winter, but now we could see that clouds were overhead. They were beautiful, swirling with spirit shapes. We held up our hands to the sky, and a gentle, healing rain began to fall.
After that we knew we had something good. That first ritual left us high for days. The word got around that witches give great parties, but we all knew that what we were doing was something more. A small group of us started getting together for rituals and each time we met, there were more. When we outgrew the apartment, we started holding rituals outdoors. We used to meet on the beach. We would dig down into the sand and set our candles there out of the wind. Women brought flowers, crystals, pictures of dead ancestors.
The Goddess taught us how to worship and we taught each other. I learned how to open up to what was needed, and the need taught me how to be a priestess. None of us wanted a hierarchy—that was the old male style we were trying to get rid of. It would be no good if I tried to tell everyone what to do. But I found that I could get everyone to participate by watching the communal energy and taking what different women were doing and leading the group to support it. “The Goddess is alive!” I shouted, “Magic is afoot!” Religion shouldn’t be solemn; it should be ecstatic. It should be a power that burns in your belly and sings in your soul. We shouted, we howled, we sang. We felt the power of the female face of God and She was awesome. We had a great time, and our numbers grew and grew.
That was the beginning. Many books later I published Summoning the Fates, in which I understood much more how the hand of the Fates arrange one’s life according to the fated mission. Fates and life are interchangeable concepts. We can make plans; the Fates come in anyway and finish it.
Since I have entered the third destiny in my life the Fates have become a comforting entity. The more you learn about them more you appreciate yourself, and more the happiness and peace of mind is yours.