Guided by intuition, scholarly study, stories, and images of female divinity, women are reclaiming what they see as their birthright. "Whether they are practicing their spirituality alone, in groups, or in their synagogues or churches of origin, " says Elinor Gadon, academic director of the doctoral program in women's spirituality at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco , "women of the movement are focusing on exploring the sacredness of the female body, sexuality, and women's experience."

Awakening to the Goddess

Many women and men are beginning to celebrate the feminine aspects of life that have long been ignored. In doing so they discover the possible seeds of a cultural transformation.

Like many people, I first heard about goddesses in elementary school when we studied the Greek myths. Such two-dimensional, petty, vain creatures they seemed! I never imagined their stories could offer anything more than light amusement, like sitcoms or soap operas. Then four years ago, I attended a seminar on women and self-esteem. A Boston-area therapist, Greta Bro, told us that for a woman to feel truly good about herself, she must come to understand how deeply she has been wounded simply by having grown up in a culture that considers God male. Living under the image of "God the Father," Bro explained, a woman never has her identity affirmed as a reflection of the divine; in some subtle way, that leaves her feeling inadequate and inferior to men. To reclaim a sense of entitlement and wholeness, Bro said, a woman must realize that divinity has a female aspect as well that for thousands of years, in fact, ancient cultures worshiped goddesses. And a woman must begin to experiment with opening to the Sacred Feminine in her own life, seeing the divine in herself and herself in the divine

These ideas sparked a tremor inside me, as though a deep, hidden memory were stirring. A month later, I followed Bro's suggestion to look for a replica of a goddess with whom I identified, to display in my home. Synchronistically, work took me to Berkeley , California , one of the places Bro had suggested looking for Goddess figurines. I went to the book store she'd spoken of, feeling giddy and expectant, as though I'd secretly been given permission to do something illicit. With only a vague recollection of the Greek pantheon, I asked the sales staff for books on goddesses. A helpful woman sat me in a chair and plopped several books in my lap.

One was The Language of the Goddess by an archeologist named Marija Gimbutas. Gimbutas was talking about goddesses alright, but no goddesses I'd ever seen. These were mysterious divinities from prehistoric times with strange-shaped bodies and no names.

As I flipped through the pages, I spotted an anatomical drawing of a woman's uterus and fallopian tubes; nearby was an image of a horned bull's head. In Old European art, the text said, the symbol of the bull was "diametrically opposed" to the image of male power later associated with it in Indo-European mythology, where the bull represented the Thunder God. The bull, whose head was shaped like the female reproductive organs, was "a symbol of regeneration," Gimbutas had written.

As I read that, I had the strange sensation of reality turning upside down. My pulse quickened as I picked up Barbara Walker's The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets , where I learned that the first Holy Trinity was Maiden, Mother, and Crone (not Father, Son, and Holy Ghost); that menstrual blood was once considered sacred; and that in many cultures Friday the 13th was the Goddess's holy day. I felt I had begun to penetrate a mystery, the hidden world of women's history.

That mystical awakening marked the beginning of my spiritual journey, one that has since led me deep inside myself and to faraway mountaintop temples and sacred caves, searching for the Goddess. At first I felt isolated and unsupported in my quest, but I soon found I was not alone.

Without fanfare, around the world, often in the most unexpected places, women are giving birth to their own kind of spirituality grassroots, improvisational, as varied as the individual participants. But with some half a million people allied with it in one way or another, the female spirituality movement is a force to be reckoned with. Some observers even call it an emerging new religion. ©Kit Larsen HughesSite Meter