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Thealogy

Thealogy

Thealogy is a neologism translating to "study of the Goddess" (based on Greek θεά, thea, "goddess" + -λόγία, -logia, "study, discourse"), coined by Isaac Bonewits in 1974. The term echoes theology "discourse on the gods".

In 1993, Charlotte Caron defined thealogy as "reflection on the divine in feminine and feminist terms".

Attestation

In "The Druid Chronicles (Evolved)," privately published in 1976, Isaac Bonewits used "thealogian" to refer to a Wiccan author (Aidan Kelly, aka "C. Taliesin Edwards," who may have given him the term or vice versa) and "theilogy" (defined as "the study of more than one God"). Bonewits also used "theilogy" (and possibly "thealogy," since he thinks he coined them at the same time) in the pages of the widely-distributed "Gnostica" magazine he edited in 1974 and 1975.

"The Druid Chronicles (Evolved)" were a three-year project starting in 1974 and finished (published) in 1976. The article referred to within "The Druid Chronicles (Evolved)" is dated to the summer of 1976. Moreover, this is almost certainly not the first usage; the context of "thealogian" is in citing a work by C. Taliesin Edwards, "Essays towards a Metathealogy of the Goddess." [stress added] There is, however, a possibility that Bonewits altered the name of the work to fit with his terminology. He is attempting to track this down. Kelley himself has said to Bonewits that he can't remember which of the two of them said "thealogy" to the other first.

In 1976, Valerie Saiving, ending her "Androcentrism in Religious Studies" made a much quoted invocation that yearns towards something as yet undefined-

it is just possible that the unheard testimony of that half of the human species which has for so long been rendered inarticulate may have something to tell us about the holy which we have not known - something which can finally make us whole.
(Saiving 1976:197)

In "The Changing of the Gods" 1979:96, Naomi Goldenberg self-consciously introduces the term as a half whimsical possibility, an inspirational comment, not a prelude to exegesis. She does not go on to define what thealogy might be, other than the implicit femininity of the coinage. This lack was perhaps because at that time the very assertion of a serious feminist analysis of religion was virtually unheard of, and the introduction of the concept was an excitingly powerful, but vague, possibility.

This is not to say that both Goldenberg and Saiving do not both offer extremely solid chunks of thealogy, but they do not give an overview of something to which they were midwives.

Also in 1979, in the first revised edition of "Real Magic," Bonewits defined "thealogy" in his Glossary this way: "Intellectual speculations concerning the nature of the Goddess and Her relations to the world in general and humans in particular; rational explanations of religious doctrines, practices and beliefs, which may or may not bear any connection to any religion as actually conceived and practiced by the majority of its members." While the last clause was his editorializing, the majority of the definition was adapted by removing sexist assumptions from a dictionary then in his library. Also in the same glossary, he defined "theology" and "theoilogy" (spelled correctly this time) with nearly identical words, changing the pronouns appropriately. He has since dropped the use of "theoilogy" in favor of "polytheology," also first published by him in the 1976 "Druid Chronicles."

In 2003 he pointed out that "thealogy" is an obvious coinage that may have been invented many times, and that feminist scholars are unlikely to have been familiar with his writings.

Carol Christ used the term more substantially in "Laughter of Aphrodite" 1987.

In 1989 Ursula King notes its growing usage as a fundamental departure from traditional male-oriented theology, characterized by its privileging of symbols over rational explanation. She chronicles sympathetically that-

most writing on the Goddess, when not historical, is either inspirational or devotional, and a systematically ordered body of thought, even with reference to symbols, is only slowly coming into existence.
(1989:126-127)

Charlotte Caron

In 1993 Charlotte Caron's definition of thealogy as "reflection on the divine in feminine and feminist terms" appeared in "To Make and Make Again" (quoted from Russell & Clarkson 1996). By this time the concept had gained considerable (though conventionally marginal) status, broadly analogous to Ruether's view of radical feminist theology as opposed to reformist feminist theology.

In 1997 Melissa Raphael wrote "Thealogy & Embodiment" which put the usage firmly on the map, and which she sustained in her subsequent "Thealogy: Discourse on the Goddess" (1999?). Together with Carol Christ's "Rebirth of the Goddess" 1997 Raphael's work provides a start for the "systematically ordered body of thought" King found lacking in 1989.

Five interpretations of thealogy

There are perhaps five distinct interpretations of thealogy, and they are evident in the briefing above.

  • Bonewits implies that thealogy is the Goddess-focused variant of a thealogy/thealogy/polytheology cluster that could be seen as subsets of the broader field of the philosophy of religion.
  • Christ, King and Raphael focus thealogy specifically on Goddess spirituality.
  • Caron defines a broader field of a female worldview of the sacred.
  • Goldenberg's neologism as a political stance that marks the androcentrism of historical theology permeates the other two and raises its own issues.
  • The Goddess Movement: modern Priestesses of the Goddess define it as a reference to an all-encompassing Monotheasm, or study of the one divine, living entity.

Thealogy as Goddess-focused religious philosophy

Bonewits' approach deliberately does not speak to several important questions, including whether the methods of traditional male-centered theology, with their purely intellectual approach, are actually appropriate to thealogy (he doubts it). Nor does it imply that only women can be thealogians, perhaps because the first thealogian he knew (Kelly) happened to be male.

Bonewits does not state in his definition whether "the Goddess" is to be seen as a monotheistic single being, either completely transcendent, completely manifested in the Earth's biosphere (aka Gaea), or both; or as a duotheistic half of a male/female pair of high deities, as if the Taoist yin-yang symbol were to have its embracing halves deified, or as a dualist concept in which the female and male halves are seen as separate and in conflict. In either of the two latter approaches each of those divine halves may be seen as either unitary beings and/or a synthesis of "faces" or "aspects" of multiple deities of each gender (as in most Wiccan traditions), occasionally with the God half being seen as himself an aspect of the Goddess. Bonewits' official thealogical opinion on the nature of the Goddess is "all of the above and more."

Thealogy as Goddess spirituality

The Christ, King, and Raphael variant seems the commonest to the point where thealogy is typically assumed to be purely Goddess based, a linguistic derivation from the Greek "thea" (goddess). Goddess systematics inevitably face the question of "god in a skirt" or not, a subtly sexist tag that nonetheless carries a genuine issue. This can be viewed as sexist because "in a skirt" defines a subject norm as altered, trivialized, and definitely derivative, much as some have considered the female to have been historically defined in relation to the male. Thealogy specifically aims to counter what its proponents perceive as the massive dualistic sexism in the field of religion, by asserting a female worldview that is not merely reformist or derivative, so its proponents would see this quip as especially destructive. Bonewits would point out that "Goddess spirituality" covers a great deal more territory than "Goddess theology" would, not being limited to using strictly the traditional tools of western rationalist analysis.

Broad interpretation of thealogy (Caron)

Caron's definition "Reflection on the divine in feminine and feminist terms" holds a caution for feminist theologians and thealogians alike that the female sacred extends beyond the feminist agenda. Often theology or feminist thealogy writes as if the Goddess is a feminist discovery. The "womenspirit" Goddess is a highly selected deity who for thealogians such as Christ has nothing to do with goddess practices such as violent sacrifice, or validating a male conqueror. However, this can be seen to be as inauthentic as the habit of some Christians of disowning the Inquisition as "not done by real Christians" (see the "no true Scotsman" informal fallacy).

Nor is it a matter only of past history: many members of a huge international organisation like the Fellowship of Isis would not identify as feminist, nor would a great many Pagans. Outside the goddessing of western NRMs thealogy can recognize and give due respect to the world millions in village and tribal religions who look to goddesses in ways that may or may not be feminist, and Caron's definition allows thealogy to be this widely inclusive.

This broader view accords well with the kind of fluid systematics profiled by Cynthia Eller when she reports her respondent Margaret Keane as saying:

I don't make those kind of distinctions that you hear about, they don't make any sense to me. You can say it's the Great Goddess, and that's the one Goddess, but she's also all of the many goddesses, and that's true. And she's everywhere. She's immanent in everything, in the sparkle of the sun on the sea, and even in an animistic concept. I think certain objects can embody that force and power. So I worship the Great Goddess, and I'm polytheistic and pantheistic and monotheistic too. And I also have a feeling for nature spirits...
(1993 :132-133)

This broader view has most recently been labeled by Michael York as "polymorphic thealogy." He also raises the issue of whether thealogy venerates one Goddess or many, which some thealogicians consider a non-question since it arises from a monotheist worldview that they do not hold.

However Caron's definition falls short of explicitly allowing for male positions in thealogy.

A challenge to androcentrism

The fourth interpretation of thealogy as an assertion of female sacred worldviews is clearly political. The notes above touch on how this usage aims to counter what thealogists claim is the deeply established dualistic relegation of female as derivative, making the male the norm: as Mary Daly put it "If God is male, then the male is God."

Thealogy has been criticized as essentialist by queer theorists and others.

To a thealogian it is important to explore the female worldview (not only but notably of the sacred) and not be compelled to take off female spectacles when looking at themes beyond female psychobiology. A speaker may choose to adopt a kind of gender neutral stance insofar as she can, or she may try to empathize with a male worldview, and a male speaker vice versa.

Thealogy as Monotheasm or Goddess Cosmology

The modern Goddess community, led by Priestesses such as Shekhinah Mountainwater and Zsuzsanna Budapest, is evolving into a vibrant Monotheastic movement, particularly active on the internet as well as throughout the U.S., especially in certain enclaves in California, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania and along the East Coast. Monotheasm is characterized by pragmatism, social responsibility, radical feminism, sensuality, omni-sexuality, peace advocacy and the recognition of the divine in physical reality. It is a non-linear, non-Newtonian view of the world that takes the Gaia hypothesis into the realm of quantum physics and religion.

The Monotheastic worldview begins with a living, conscious and female universe that gave birth to everything that exists by becoming aware of itself. Through a process of cosmic parthenogenesis, matter is believed to have differentiated into a series of microcosms of the larger whole. Earth, or Gaia, is seen as a part of a larger body of planets and stars. Within the body of Earth, parthenogenesis created life through the process modern science refers to as Evolution, where ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny. See Recapitulation theory. It does not subscribe to the concept of dualism expressed in the yin/yang imagery, but sees the female as the primary gender and the male as a later derivation of the female. The female always comes first, and in larger proportions, i.e. "Nature prefers Her own gender." The human race, for example, is 54% female, and only 40+% male, with a spectrum of variations of physical and psychological gender identity occurring in between the alpha and omega states, and every embryo will become female without a complex combination of processes that occur in utero.

Goddess worshippers find no conflict in concepts that seem contradictory at first glance when they are viewed from a quantum perspective. All possibilities co-exist. See Cat State There is therefore one gender and many genders; One Goddess and many goddesses, as expressed in the phrase "All gods are Goddesses, and all Goddesses are one Goddess." Goddess is not just "everywhere" as the Abrahamic deity is described, but She is everything as well. Everything we are, have been, will be or could be is Goddess.

Criticism

Many scholars, including some feminist theologians, find the term 'thealogy' exasperating, a linguistic twiddling. But the position of women operating within the male worldview of theology, as in most of feminist theology, is more marginal than in the general run of professional occupations these days.

Advocates of "thealogy" believe that patriarchy, especially as embodied in the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) represent a "regression into a state of sub-human violence" that can only be healed by a "return to matrifocal religion and culture".

Linguistically conservative Aristasian Deanists strongly deprecate "politically correct" neologisms such as "herstory", but nevertheless frequently refer to their own work as thealogy.

See also

References

  • Isaac Bonewits "The Second Epistle of Isaac" in "the Druid Chronicles (Evolved)" Berkeley Drunemeton Press, 1976.
  • Isaac Bonewits "Real Magic" Creative Arts Book Co., 1979
  • Charlotte Caron "To Make and Make Again: Feminist Ritual Thealogy" NY Crossroad 1993
  • Carol Christ "Rebirth of the Goddess:Finding meaning in feminist spirituality" Routledge 1997
  • Cynthia Eller "Living in the Lap of the Goddess: The Feminist Spirituality Movement in America" Crossroad 1993
  • Naomi Goldenberg "The Changing of the Gods" 1979
  • Ursula King "Women and Spirituality" Macmillan 1989
  • Melissa Raphael "Thealogy & Embodiment" 1997 Sheffield Academic Press
  • Melissa Raphael "Introducing Thealogy: Discourse on the Goddess" 1999 Sheffield Academic Press
  • Letty M. Russell & J Shannon Clarkson "Dictionary of Feminist Theologies" Mowbray 1996.
  • Valerie Saiving "Androcentrism in Religious Studies" in Journal of Religion 56:1976:177-97
  • Shekhinah Mountainwater, "Ariadne's Thread: A Workbook of Goddess Magic" Crossing Press September 1991
  • Z. Budapest, "The Holy Book of Women's Mysteries: Feminist Witchcraft, Goddess Rituals, Spellcasting and Other Womanly Arts " Wingbow Press; 1st Wingbow ed edition September 1989
  • Paul Reid-Bowen(2007) Goddess as Nature: Towards a Philosophical Thealogy. Aldershot. Ashgate publishing

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