Carol P. Christ obtained her Ph.D. from Yale University and is feminist theologian, historian, and scholar of religion. She blogs on feminism and religion, and is considered the “foremother” of the Goddess or Great Goddess religious movement. Although holding numerous academic positions in the US, Christ now lives in Molivos, Greece, and leads the Goddess Pilgrimage for women to Crete.
Christ has written several influential books on women’s spirituality and feminist theology, and has had an impact on the study of religion in North America. She is well-known for having read and studied religious literature for the presence of female deities or to re-imagine existing religious traditions along feminist lines. Through this, Christ was able to satisfy her religious and spiritual desires,
“[M]y initiation into the symbols and rituals of the Goddesses began a number of years ago when my experience and perception within patriarchal religious and academic structures led me to desire female God-language which could validate me” (1).
Like many other feminist scholars of religion, Christ feels that Christianity has imposed restrictions, religious and otherwise, on women throughout history. She thus notes how her work has been motivated by her own negative experiences with Christian religious institutions,
“In the early 1970s this longing became so powerful that I could no longer participate in the Christian of Father and Son that had sustained me through much of my life. Whenever I set foot in church, I would find myself developing headaches, neck aches, and stomach aches, as the enormity of the power of exclusion from Christian worship sunk deeply into my bones” (2).
She believes that attempts to reform Christianity (an effort undertaken by numerous feminist theologians) would be futile given the religion’s inherent patriarchy, although many other women academics would disagree as there is a strong feminist movement within Christianity today. Sexism, Christ alleges, no matter what anyone would do, will always be part of its essence. She therefore rejected the Christian religion and devoted herself to “the Goddess.” Christ strongly believes that women who wish to satisfy their spiritual longings need to abandon Christianity for something else. In fact, women need their own kind of religion because many religions possess dominant male conceptions, imagery, and symbolism which exclude women.
The Great Goddess and Goddess Spirituality Movement
Christ’s influential essay Why Women Need the Goddess (1978) has assisted in Goddess Spirituality becoming a recognizable international religious and cultural movement. Christ argues, along with some other proponents of the movement, that there was an ancient religion of a supreme goddess which was later replaced by male deities and divinities. She reasons to this conclusion after engaging in her own exploration for evidence of goddesses and female deities in Southern Europe and in Greece in particular. She also investigated for pre-patriarchal concepts and became convinced that goddesses ruled instead of gods.
This is a controversial and disputed view shared by the archaeologist Marija Gimbutas (1921-1994) who too claims that “female deities, or accurately the Goddess Creatrix in her many aspects, was largely replaced by the predominantly male divinities of the Indo-Europeans” (3). Gimbutas claims that at some point in ancient history women had important and primary roles in religion, and that images of goddesses flourished as a result. She also refers to an old Neolithic female religion as evidenced by a plethora of artifacts figurines, tools, masks, and jewelry (4). Christ is inspired by Gimbutas’ work and theories given the centrality of female power has within them. She believes that the Goddess fulfills the basic function of empowering women.
Christ Visits Aphrodite’s Temple While on an Academic Trip to Greece
Christ gave her full commitment to the Great Goddess through direct worship and identification with the Great Goddess it(her)self. One one point on her trip she refers to experiencing an “enormous surging of energy” and speaks of how she danced in circles with other women hand in hand among the ruins of Eleusis (5). According to Christ, she did not chose the Goddess but that “the Greek Goddesses have chosen me.”
Christ believes that the goddess Aphrodite (the Greek goddess of love, beauty, pleasure, and procreation) was the manifestation of the Great Goddess and recounts an experience of it (her) while on an academic trip to Greece. Christ, along with a female companion, visited the isle of Lesbos where she would fully devote herself to the Great Goddess by going to Aphrodite’s temple to perform rituals, “I would go to Aphrodite’s temple in white symbolizing my desire to be initiated into her mysteries. The golden shawl would honor her goldness and my own.” And while visiting the temple she says that,
“we found womblike spirals and vaginal roses carved in stone… I sat between the trees opening my body to the midday sun. I anointed myself with milk and honey and poured milk and honey into my shells. The sun warmed and transformed my body. Alone with the Goddess in her sacred space, I felt myself opening, becoming whole. I became Aphrodite… all of a sudden I heard what I can only describe as the laughter of Aphrodite” (6).
Christ and her companion celebrated their sexuality in the temple of Aphrodite with what might be considered a ritualistic embrace of their womanhood. Christ’s trip to Greece was not merely academic but a union between herself and her subject. In fact, Christ’s Great Goddess religion could well be considered among the new religious movements and perhaps so because of its effort to create a new religious consciousness.
1. Carol P. Christ. 1987. Laughter of Aphrodite: reflections on a journey to the goddess. p. 184
2. Carol P. Christ. 1987. Reflections on the Initiation of an American Woman Scholar into the Symbols and Rituals of the Ancient Goddess. Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion. p. 58
3. Gimbutus, M. 1982. The Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe 6500-3500 B.C.: Myths, Legends, and Cult Images.
4. Gimbutus, M. 2001. The Living Goddesses. p. 572.
5. Christ 1987. Reflections on the Initiation of an American Woman Scholar into the Symbols and Rituals of the Ancient Goddess. Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 3(1): p. 59
6. Christ 1987. Laughter of Aphrodite: reflections on a journey to the goddess. p. 191