This article considers feminist interpretations of the witch in contemporary art in relation to the witch craze: examples are by Georgia Horgan, Ann-Sofi Sidén, Mathilde ter Heijne, Monica Sjöö, Tania Antoshina, Helen Chadwick, Jesse Jones, and Carolee Schneemann. The argument explores the ways that the figure of the witch is analyzed in three different feminist critiques of patriarchy, and subsequently pursues how these ideas have been taken up in contemporary art by these women artists. The differences between three authors: Matilda Joslyn Gage (1893); Mary Daly (1984); and Silvia Federici (2004) are highlighted and contrasted to other historians’ analyses from the last thirty years of the fate of women accused as witches during the European Witch Hunt between the fifteenth to eighteenth centuries. This was a paper given at Misogyny: Witches and Wicked Bodies, Institute of Contemporary Arts, (ICA) London in March 2015.
Ah, Mary Magdelene, who was she? A minor disciple of the wandering preacher? Or the disciple who understood him best? A wealthy follower who financed his wanderings? His wife and mother of their kids? Some combination of the above? Or as Robert Graves imagined in the 1940s, the priestess of some surviving Canaanite Paganism who sexually conveyed to him a sovereignity over the land — the thesis of his novel King Jesus, which predated The White Goddess by two years.
The Lost Gospel’s authors, “Simcha Jacobovici, author, and TV personality perhaps best known for his series The Naked Archaeologist, along with Prof. Barrie Wilson of York University,” make a textual argument over a “6th century Syriac text that records the apocryphal tale entitled Joseph and Aseneth.”
So this is a text written some centuries after Jesus lived but maybecopied from a much earlier original about two biblical characters who might be read as allegories for Jesus and Mary Magdalene.
She pokes some holes in their argument and faults them for taking the rhetorical stance sometimes called “They laughed at Galileo” — If the established experts are against me, then I must be right!
But I might still read The Lost Gospel anyway, just for cultural reasons. Whereas we Pagans are comfortable with the idea of female religious leaders, the Middle Eastern monotheisms mostly still are not. Cwikla quotes an MCC pastor:
The possibility of Jesus having a wife sparked positive responses from some female clerics. For example, in a blog post on the Huffington Post website, Moderator of the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches Rev. Dr. Nancy Wilson expressed tempered optimism about the fragment’s potential to change the patriarchal position of many Christian denominations: “Will a little snippet of ancient writing change the Christian world? It is possible, and I am hopeful.”
By looking to the past for evidence of women as leaders in early Christianity, we are attempting to look for a way to change the longstanding tradition of women having less power in most Christian traditions that is still evident in modern society. By wedding Jesus, we may be trying to make him more “human-like,” or, as Alex Beam suggests: “The purpose, animated by the all-powerful secularism of our time, is to bring him [Jesus] down to our level.”
There is a potential irony there for the liberal Christians: If you add female clergy but lose the divinity of Jesus, what is left? Where is the “juice” of your religion?
The new double issue of The Pomegranate is something different. It contains two long papers, but the rest is devoted to a special section on scholarly autobiography conceived and edited by Doug Ezzy (U. of Tasmania).
Doug visited Hardscrabble Creek in November 2014 and while holed up in the guest cabin, speed-reading my library, thought how interesting it might be to get some of the long-time Pagan-studies scholars to tell their stories. How did they get started? What obstacles did they face? Who helped them? And so on.
We drew up a list of people to ask for contributions—all from the English-speaking world for this volume, so I see a second special section ahead in the future. Most were happy to write something.
Israeli scholar of Paganism has published a paper on “Connecting British Wicca with Radical Feminism and Goddess Spirituality during the 1970s and 1980s: The Case Study of Monica Sjöö” in the Journal of Contemporary Religion.
It is currently available as a free download. Here is the abstract:
This article attempts to chart some of the ways in which ideas of radical feminism, Goddess Spirituality, and feminist Witchcraft—which originated in the United States during the late 1960s and the 1970s before taking root in Britain—were introduced to British Wiccans during the latter half of the 1970s and throughout the 1980s. Several UK-based radical feminists who combined their newfound political awareness with Goddess Spirituality acted as important conduits for the transference of these ideas. This will be shown through the use of a case study of the artist and Goddess Feminist Monica Sjöö (1938–2005).
Um, no, says an archaeologist from the University of Sheffield:
“Their world was uncovered just over a century ago, and was deemed to be a largely peaceful society,” explained [Barry] Molloy. “In time, many took this to be a paradigm of a society that was devoid of war, where warriors and violence were shunned and played no significant role.
“That utopian view has not survived into modern scholarship, but it remains in the background unchallenged and still crops up in modern texts and popular culture with surprising frequency.
“Having worked on excavation and other projects in Crete for many years, it triggered my curiosity about how such a complex society, controlling resources and trading with mighty powers like Egypt, could evolve in an egalitarian or cooperative context. Can we really be that positive about human nature? As I looked for evidence for violence, warriors or war, it quickly became obvious that it could be found in a surprisingly wide range of places.”
One of Fred Adams’ visionary paintings on the DVD case for “Dancing with Gaia.”
First, although this is not directly about “the Goddess movement,” I want to point out the blogging that Aidan Kelly has been doing, particularly about the history of contemporary Paganism in America, at his Patheos blog, Including Paganism.
Another resource is Dancing with Gaia, a video subtitled “Earth Energy, Sacred Sexuality, the Return of the Goddess as Gaia . . . a Continuum,” produced and directed by Jo Carson (82 min.)
A number of the well-known names from the Goddess movement are in, such as the Swedish artist and anarchist Monica Sjöö (1938–2005) to name just one. So it is a valuable work.
What I found particularly interesting, however, was the large amount of 1970s- era footage of the Southern California Pagan group Feraferia, founded by the Goddess- visionary artist Fred Adams and his wife, Svetlana.
Somehow the Adamses are left out of most surveys of Goddess religion. Perhaps they were too visionary, too “cosmic” . . . and too religious? They just did not fit the narrative—except in Carson’s case.
But what you can see is home-movie footage of Pagan ritual in the California mountains that must be some of the earliest available, as well as other footage of sites in Europe, the Mediterranean, and elsewhere.
Why would men, particularly under the guise of religious belief, want to keep women down? Because they understand that women’s sexuality is something that they cannot live without, it is something that renders them powerless. Women can have babies, women can breastfeed, women are the lifegivers.
Sounds like much of the Pagan discourse beginning in the 1970s, if not earlier! Read more about her hoped-for “blue bra revolution.”
For decades Copts have suffered attacks by Islamists who view them as “kafir”—Arabic for nonbelievers. But there is now a sense among Middle East experts that they have become more vulnerable since the revolution.
This year, mobs have looted and attacked Coptic churches, homes and shops throughout Egypt. Churches have been burned down, and one Copt had his ear cut off by a Muslim cleric invoking Islamic law.
Strong gains by Islamist parties in the recent elections have further raised fears among the Christian minority that they won’t have a place in the new Egypt.
An acquaintance of mine is married to an Egyptian Christian woman. Her parents recently came for what he said is a month-long visit — I see them around town with their daughter now and then. I am starting to wonder if they actually plan to go home or to seek asylum. Maybe they are weighing their options.