Judith Laura has been thinking and writing about Goddess religions for many years. Her publications include: Beyond All Desiring, Exploring Re-Visioned Kabbalah, Three Part Intervention, She Lives! The Return of Our Great Mother, and Goddess Spirituality for the Twenty-First Century. She recently wrote Goddess Matters: The Mystical, Practical, and Controversial. Goddess Matters is a fascinating look at where Goddess religions are and where they may be going. (And you’ve got to love the double entendre of the title.) Judith is also a serious student of Tarot. I recently had the opportunity to ask her some questions about her latest work.*
Hecate: In the section of Goddess Matters entitled Practical Thealogy and Applied Metaphysics, you take on the topic of Physical Disabilities and Goddess Events and point out some ways for event organizers and publicists to be thoughtful. Can you talk a little bit more about this topic? And are there ways that social media can help us be more thoughtful?
Judith Laura: My realization that this was an issue came first through my own experience of having what turned out to be chronic serious foot problems. Before I that, like many other temporarily-abled people, I gave little if any thought to the challenges people with various disabilities might face in trying to attend Goddess events — or really any other type of event. In terms of other events, there are now laws that make it somewhat easier to have access to buildings, etc., but these laws don’t solve all the problems and rarely apply to places where Goddess events are held — often outdoors or in private homes. The examples I give in the book of obstacles encountered by people trying to attend Goddess or Pagan events come from both online “mailing lists” aka discussion groups, and what people have told me in person. I’d like to see it to become routine for people having these events to give more specific information about these obstacles in the information they communicate about the events without putting the burden of finding out upon the people with disabilities. For example, I think the common request for people who need “accommodation” to contact the sponsor of the event should be replaced, or added to, with such basic information as how close can you park to the event? how much walking is involved once you reach the event? are there stairs to climb? is the ground uneven? hilly? flat? These are just a few bits of information, applying to only a few types of physical challenges. But it would be a start. People have also suggested to me that sponsors of events should state whether there will be a sign language interpreter or other help for the hearing-impaired. Others tell me they think a sign language interpreter should be provided at every event. So there are lots of stories and ideas out there, but I’m not sure how many are expressed directly to people holding the events. I’ve not seen a lot of this online. Certainly discussion groups, Facebook, Twitter and other social media give more of an opportunity than we had BC (Before Computers), including the possibility of asking for better accommodation behind the mask of a pseudonym. But I’m not sure how much cyberspace is being used for that purpose.
Hecate: I love that you address the topic of Goddess Beliefs and Sexual Risks. For all that we like to call ourselves sex-positive, we don’t talk much about these issues. You have some interesting things to say about masturbation as a way to become closer to the Goddess. Can you explain what you mean by that?
Judith Laura: In this chapter, my advocacy of masturbation not only as a route to pleasure but also to the sacred follows a discussion dispelling some misconceptions about the transmission of STDs, including HIV, and of the relative dangers and safety of various sex practices. Due mostly to cultural conditioning, many of us have narrow ideas about masturbation, (aka self-pleasuring), a relatively safe sex practice. When people ask if you’ve had sex lately, they usually don’t mean self-pleasuring. Why is that? To me, what counts as sex is arousal and orgasm. By this definition, self-pleasuring surely is sex, since for many women it is more likely to lead to orgasm than partnered sex, especially many forms of het sex. Yet our culture often ridicules self-pleasuring, making us — and by us, I mean especially women — feel ashamed of engaging in this type of sex. Why? Are we still buying into the idea that we are receptive vessels, not active participants? Are we still expecting our partners to “give us” an orgasm, rather than we ourselves participating in ways that make orgasm more inevitable? Women friends of mine have told me that they don’t feel right touching themselves in ways that arouse them. “Why,” I ask, “isn’t it your body?” I feel that our Goddess beliefs pave the way for our considering self-pleasuring to be of equal value to other forms of sex. A number of Goddess creation myths tell of the Goddess creating through an act of self-pleasuring. Also, we have the Maiden aspect of the Goddess as an example. We sometimes call this aspect, “Virgin,” but we don’t mean that she denies herself sex. Quite the contrary, what we mean is that the Maiden/Virgin is independent and that independence includes her sexual activities, which may be sex on her own terms with another with whom she is not in a binding relationship, or it may mean masturbation. Self-pleasuring increases our independence — and possibly also our good heath — by making it less likely that we will fall into bed with someone we neither love nor desire. Self-pleasuring can also improve our sex lives in partnered sex by revealing to us what turns us on. In addition to all this, in my experience, and in the experience of women who have told me about their experiences, self-pleasuring can also be a more direct path to Goddess. Orgasm is often accompanied by (or includes) a change in consciousness in which, as we become more focused on pleasure, we become less aware of our surroundings. This leads, at the moment(s) of most intense pleasure in orgasm, to a feeling of oneness with or merging with what some call “the universe” others call “the sacred,” and others call Goddess. That this feeling is brought about by physical activity and body response verifies its place in a spirituality that affirms embodiment of the sacred. Or sacred embodiment. If you are having sex with someone you love during this experience, you are likely to feel that the sensation of onesness, or merging, includes your partner and this strengthens your love bond. If you are having sex with someone with whom you are not in love, the experience may give you the momentary illusion of love for this person. If you are having sex by yourself, the experience is more obviously connected with the universal Source, with Goddess. For young women first finding themselves sexually, orgasm via self-pleasuring can help discover what to seek or ask for in partnered sex. For older women and others who may not easily find partners or who don’t want partners, it means being able to independently experience sexual pleasure and merging with Goddess.
Hecate: Goddess Matters has an interesting discussion of Carol Christ‘s work on process theology. As a serious student of Tarot, you have an interesting take on Christ’s rejection of divination. Please explain how you view the interplay between free will and divination.
Judith Laura: I don’t know that Carol Christ is rejecting divination; what I think she is doing in her book, She Who Changes, is explaining why process theologians reject divination. I greatly admire Carol Christ’s work in this book and in her other writings. The importance of her contribution to Goddess feminism cannot be overstated. I discuss her book, She Who Changes, which combines Goddess thealogy with process theology, in the last chapter of Goddess Matters, “The Cutting Edge,” which also includes a discussion of the work of 3 other authors (including me), who combine Goddess with other thought, mostly with various sciences. In She Who Changes, Christ points out that process theology, which is more science-friendly than most theologies and, imo, compatible with the Goddess understandings of many people in most ways, does not allow for the possibility of, for example, predicting the future. Christ explains that in process theologians’ view, predictions of future events are based on the assumption that the future is “already determined, already known, or has already happened.” Since in process theology people must have free will, if process theology were to be adopted whole cloth by Goddessians it seems that we would have to give up our use of divination.
But I feel that the assumption that divination involves denial of free will is a misconception which, btw, is not limited to process theologians. In the “Cutting Edge” chapter I write that the assumption that the future is already determined “is not the assumption made by most divining Goddess folks I know. In reading Tarot, I assume quite differently and tell people for whom I read that the future is not set in stone, that they retain free will, and that we are looking at possibilities or probabilities, not certainties. We shuffle the cards to achieve randomness, a quality of the universe according to quantum physics.” I have had a statement to this effect on my website page about tarot reading since at least 2003.
Prediction in Tarot is to me similar to predicting the weather. Do you think that process theologians would consider a meteorologist’s prediction that it was going to rain the next day infringing on their free will? Or do you think they would take along an umbrella? The meteorologists’ forecasts are not always 100 percent accurate, nor do they claim this. The same is true of Tarot. What both we and the meteorologists (and others who make predictions, such as stock market prognosticators) are predicting is probabilities, not certainties. The meteorologist’s probabilities are based on factors such as which way the wind is blowing, what has occurred in the past when atmospheric conditions have been similar, and how fast fronts are moving. Just so, the Tarot reader bases her predictions on what she learns through the cards about factors that are metaphorically, or sometimes even literally, similar to those used by weather forecasters (such as which way “the wind” is blowing). There is also a factor of interaction; for meteorologists the interaction is among various factors that affect the weather, some of which may not be known at the time the forecast is made because they haven’t emerged yet. For the tarot reader the interaction is among the readee’s actions and actions of other people (and sometimes institutions, companies, countries, etc.) affecting the question the readee asks , some of which may not be known at the time, mainly because those involved haven’t yet made choices (because they have free will) that they have before them.
As I point out in Goddess Matters, near the end of She Who Changes, Christ seems to come to a similar conclusion. She writes that “no method of divination can tell us with certainty what will happen. On the other hand, the future will be a synthesis of things that already exist. Methods of divination can be understood as other than rational ways of getting a perspective on what already exists and as ways of imagining what we and others can create out of what already exists.” I think that many aspects of process theology as Christ presents them could be a good addition to Goddess thought, and I wonder if we can adopt the parts that seem to fit and leave behind those parts with which we are not comfortable.
Hecate: What’s your take on on-line rituals? Will we see Goddess worship moving on-line even while, as you discuss, more and more actual Goddess temples are built?
Judith Laura: I’ve attended only two online rituals in chatrooms and that was many years ago — I think one was before the turn of the century. I don’t know if online rituals will become more common. I think they have at least two obstacles to overcome. One is people being in different time zones. Some are sleeping, some are at work, while others are at home and awake. The other is that we are a path to which embodiment is important, whereas the medium renders us disembodied. This could be overcome somewhat in the future if use of audio and video in online communications with more than one person becomes common. So, I guess the answer is, we’ll see…
Hecate: What are you writing now?
Judith Laura: I’m trying to gather together my poems, many of which have been published in print and online journals, into some coherent (or acceptably poetically incoherent) form which will hopefully become a book.
*Full disclosure: I consider Judith a friend and go to her for important Tarot readings. She gifted me with an inscribed copy of Goddess Matters, which I treasure.
Picture found here.