Daughters of the Goddess: Studies of Healing, Identity, and Empowerment – Review

Danny L. Jorgensen

Daughters of the Goddess: Studies of Healing, Identity, and Empowerment, by WENDY GRIFFIN (ed.). Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press, 2000, 236pp., $62.00 (cloth), $24.95 (paper).

The “goddess” concept raises a variety of intriguing scholarly issues and difficulties. It commonly is used with reference to different and sometimes overlapping phenomena, such as assorted prehistoric and ancient (pagan) religions, as well as various efforts to revive and revitalize them, several forms of feminist spirituality, and portions of Neopagan religions including contemporary witchcraft. Most of these phenomena are diverse and they frequently are known by numerous labels. Some of them are little more than popular images, diffuse collectives or subcultures, while others are new religions and/or spirituality movements, and still others reflect currents within more traditional biblical religions. This might include non-Western religions, but it usually does not except very indirectly. Some of these phenomena, even when sharing a name (witchcraft), differ considerably from one geographic location (Great Britain) to the next (United States). Many of these phenomena recently have attracted attention from a wide array of scholarly disciplines, subdisciplines, and fields of study, particularly in the arts, humanities, social sciences, and theology. Even so, scholarly descriptions, analyses, and interpretations in this general area still need plenty of basic work.

This collection of thirteen essays and an introduction focuses on the efforts of American, and to a lesser extent British, women to construct spiritual or religious alternatives to Western, patriarchal religions. Men are not excluded but they are not of any special interest. These essays primarily are concerned with particular aspects of the diffuse women’s spirituality movement and/or Neopagan religions, especially witchcraft. In some way or another, all of the essays deal with female self-constructions, identities, empowerment, and healing. Ten of the essays (section one) address these matters from perspectives in the humanities or social sciences. The last three essays (section two) describe religious practices from nonacademic viewpoints; and two of them, like several in the first section, are by believers.

This edited collection therefore does not address a single, well-defined scholarly problem or set of problems in a systematic or highly unified fashion. The matters of self, identity, empowerment, and healing provide connecting threads but little unity of purpose or problem. Some readers may find this eclecticism disconcerting and, perhaps, a weakness with the volume. However, it appropriately reflects the variability of the topic and phenomena under consideration as well as the multiplicity of scholarly views on these matters. A wealth of worthwhile information is contained in these essays. Most all of them are intellectually sound, at least on their own terms; and many of them raise significant and provocative scholarly issues.

To single out a particular essay or essays as more or less valuable than others is exceptionally difficult. I, for instance, found Melissa Raphael’s Theological Reflections on the Patriarchal Cult of Diana intriguing but a bit strange and not especially useful for my largely sociological interests in American Neopaganism. The believers’ contributions were appreciated as interesting descriptions of their experiences but not as analytically or theoretically important. Cynthia Eller’s essay entitled The Roots of Feminist Spirituality confirms and extends my writings on the social and historical antecedents of American witchcraft. The theorizing and ethnographic data in Wendy Griffin’s (Goddess Narrative as Incantations) and Tanice Foltz’s (Goddess Spirituality and Women’s Recovery from Alcoholism) contributions will be very useful in my teaching and research. Yet, other readers with diverse interests and backgrounds probably will appreciate some of the other essays as much or more for equally good or even bette r reasons.

Most any literate person with some knowledge of what is being discussed will find at least parts of this collection to be useful and stimulating. Full comprehension of many of these essays does presuppose some college level education in the scholarly issues being examined. I have used several of these contributions successfully in an undergraduate course on American Neopaganism and Witchcraft. This volume will be especially valuable for advanced undergraduate and graduate level courses dealing with women’s issues, feminism, and goddess spirituality. Specialists will find some of these essays to be invaluable for particular research problems, either because they report information not available elsewhere and/or because they present novel issues or perspectives. Altogether, then, this volume makes important contributions to the emergent literature on goddess spirituality and religion.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Association for the Sociology of Religion

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group

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