At first I thought I'd stumbled across A Total Woman from Mars. I was attending a workshop titled "Shamanic Womancraft" at a center for New Age practices in a northern California town. Women arrived in long print dresses with shawls and sat on mats in a circle on the floor. Many carried babies, and nursed them casually. The silver-haired Shaman woman in mystical clothing entered and set up a centerpiece for the circle, placing dolls, candles, and artifacts at precise angles. Among the little statues was a Madonna and an African goddess of fertility. As the woman laid out herbs with a thick aroma, her husband walked around the room waving incense, much like a priest, then exited.
Jeannine Parvati Baker then began the ritual, swaying to a chant that could have been American Indian. She called out, "Our goddesses who art in heaven and upon this earth, we celebrate the divine feminine within and without." She was in trance-like motion; "This is a perfect time to be on this planet, chosen to be the daughters at this changing time, to bring full and lasting peace to this glorious planet." She called out to Greek goddesses Artemis and Demeter. At one point she asked each woman to place some object that shows her sexuality on the altar-like centerpiece. Women carried in lipsticks, more little goddess statues, "encoding crystals." Baker continued her trancelike call, "We are sisters in a shining sun, remembering the ancient ones," she said. She used hand movements called mudras to "pull the senses back into the source," then proclaimed, "I am god . . . Shamanism . . . understand all. . . ."
At times Parvati Baker made the sound "Ho—!" and the women in the circle responded "—Mmm," creating the word "Home." She passed out medicine cards; she taught us rituals we can do in our own living rooms. As the third hour began, she asked the women to share the contents of their "sexuality bundles" which they'd packed for the workshop. First Baker reached into her own little bag, and pulled out a piece of cloth diaper, "the best things to use as menstrual pads, aren't they? Ho—" "Mmmm." Her cloth was "spotted with a pattern that shows the six bleeding hearts of my six children," she said with pride. I started to squirm. Baker then pulled out the umbilical cords of all her six children, and the room began to swirl. The next woman reached in her bundle and pulled out a picture with a baby's hand in a flame saying that it represented "how many of us were burned at the stake in past lifetimes," but I couldn't stay to hear the rest. I was losing my dinner in the ladies' room outside.
As weird as she is, Jeannine Parvati Baker is one of the more sane voices rising up under the aegis of "Ecofeminism," a nascent movement, part ecology, part self-made religion. At least Baker and her followers are monogamous, and say "Sex is not recreation— it's co-creation." In her latest book Conscious Conception, she called abortion "the ultimate child abuse"—a stand that caused her shame and rejection among her fellow "wiccas." Baker shares the religion but not the political passion of other ecofeminists, who say only a matriarchy can save the earth.
Mainline ecofeminists insist the ecology movement should be run by more women because, with our monthly biological cycles, we are somehow more in tune with the earth and the cosmos than men. They talk of a time, 5,000 years ago, when the earth was led by a matriarchy, and we had a thousand years with no war. Women, you see, are inherently peaceful. Ecofeminists say mankind's first act of rampant patriarchy was planting agriculture in rows, thus beginning the end of our ecological balance. For example, Rosemary Radford Ruether explains in her essay, "Toward an Ecological-Feminist Theology of Nature," that when humans started planting agriculture in lines, the plants became more vulnerable to disease. "Humans then compensate with chemical sprays . . . send a ripple effect of poison," she writes. And there you have it, the reason for the fall of mankind.
One radical ecofeminist, Judith Plant, has edited a collection of essays titled, "Healing the Wounds: The Promise of Ecofeminism," and the ideas expressed by the book's 30 contributors are so strange it is hard to believe this movement is really taking place; but it is—with workshops and training sessions around the country, with several dozen books on the topic, and a claim of followers numbering in the thousands. These essays are scary. "The seventies saw witchcraft begin a major growth spurt as feminists began searching for alternatives to the patriarchal mainstream religions," writes Starhawk (yes, that's her name, Starhawk). We need to develop, "a Pagan sense of integrity," she adds. In her piece "Sacred Land, Sacred Sex," Dolores LaChapelle, who teaches Tai Chi in Durango, Colorado, reveres ancient tribes because they moved into marginal areas, high mountains, deep jungles, and lived by rituals which acknowledged the sacredness of the land. Charlene Spretnak, in an excerpt from her book The Politics of Women's Spirituality speaks of the disappointing emptiness in Judeo-Christian tradition. As she searched for answers in ancient religions, she writes, "I began to meet other women who were making similar discoveries and who were quick to see the political implications. I knew we would never be lost again."
Ecofeminists are angry. Whether they realize it or not, they are following in the footsteps of the sixties and seventies feminists. In the anti-Vietnam war movement, many women got frustrated by their subjugated role in protest organizing and leadership. They did not want to run the offices and make coffee—in the feminist movement they could be leaders. When anti-war activities died down in the seventies, many "drop-outs" dropped even farther out. They took to communes in extreme rural areas, especially northern California and the Northwest. Still, even in the communes, there were the women, in the kitchen, literally barefoot and pregnant. As Americans learned more about the condition of the environment, these women found a common ground. Judith Plant writes: "Connecting feminism with environmentalism is an eye-opener for many . . . showing that both women and the earth have been regarded as the object of self-interested patriarchs...."
Ecofeminists are even angrier at men than Germaine Greer or Gloria Steinem when they wrote in the sixties and seventies. Sharon Doubiago, who's been keeping a feminist-poet's eye on the subculture for the past decade, identifies "the irrefutable connection between misogyny and hatred of nature," then finally just lays it on the line, in her essay "Mama Coyote Talks to the Boys." She writes: "Ecofeminism. And your field, ecomasculinism. And to think, ecology is supposed to be about connections. Nowhere in the present is the male failure more apparent than in the exclusion of feminism from the ecology movement."
Indeed as I read more of these women's words, I never find a place for men to fit into their hierarchy. Instead the problems of today's planet are "western/patriarchal." We need "harmonious, matrifocal cultures." "Only the acceptance of a postpatriarchal, holistic attitude toward life on Earth will bring about truly comprehensive change," writes Charlene Spretnak. Only men who are willing to go along with this matriarchal pipe-dream are acceptable. There are no male contributors to Plant's essay collection.
Ecofeminism is more than a political movement; it is the creation of a new religion, and a mandate to believe or perish. To define their new theology, these women reach handily into Buddhism, Hinduism, Native American and Greek mythology—it's a kind of ABC approach to spirituality: Anything But Christian. They are especially preoccupied with Gaia, the earth goddess in Greek myths, and they identify with the Minoan Crete civilization which took place from about 3000 to 1200 BC. Ecofeminists know that they are God themselves. They pray, "All is One, all forms of existence are comprised on one continuous dance of matter/energy arising and falling away. . . . The union with the One has been called cosmic consciousness, God consciousness, knowing the One Mind" (more Spretnak). It's an easygoing religion as Starhawk explains in "Feminist, Earth-based Spirituality and Ecofeminism," her contribution to Plant's book. "We have no dogma, no authorized texts or beliefs and no authoritative body to authorize anything; nor do we want one." Would you want to live in a nation founded on these principles?
"We are called Witches," states Starhawk. "Witches, (a word that means) to bend or shape. Witches were shamans—benders and shapers of reality. Today's witches are faced with the task of reshaping western culture." Starhawk's books are published by a major publisher. She works with a "collective" in San Francisco, conducting "public rituals in the Old Religion of the Goddess, called Witchcraft," says her biography.
One is reminded of the story in Genesis, when Eve is tempted by the serpent to eat forbidden fruit because it would make her like God. Now thousands of Eves are believing the same lie. They've been politico-spiritualizing for a good two decades, yet only recently have they been showing up in mainstream media, most remarkably in the New York Times in a Mother's Day 1991 editorial. It described a goddess ritual with praise for the way it represented "motherhood itself." Intoned the Times: "Some critics consider it so much New Age nonsense or a return to paganism. But if it appears flaky on the surface, it still warrants sympathy and respect."
These women, and sometimes men, are radical pagans with a political agenda. Margot Adler, a reporter for National Public Radio, speaking to the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly in 1987, said that 100,000 people in America now call themselves Neo-Pagans. They are "searching among the archaic images of nature, among the ruins . . . in order to find, revive, and re-create the old polytheistic nature religions. The fascination with long dead pagan traditions is part of a search for cultural roots." She claimed there are more than 100 newsletters published by neo-pagans, there are over 1,000 different groups, and over 50 local and national yearly gatherings.
Spirituality, yes, but . . .
"I have watched many of my yogini sisters procure abortions" writes Parvati Baker. "They justified their actions with the confused philosophy of reincarnation and 'free will.' In other words they said that the soul knew 'on some level' what it was getting by choosing incarnation into a woman who did not want to be a mother just yet. Some yoginis have even had the false pride to state that their unwanted fetus was a 'very advanced soul' who only needed to be incarnated for a very short time to complete its karma here on this plane of existence." Baker says yoginis and pagans claim abortion is an "extension of the natural 'weaning mother,'" and calls that argument absurd. She finds it odd that yoginis will eat no meat out of compassion for animals, but will not apply that same compassion to unwanted babies.
"Yoga clearly considers abortion killing," Baker continues. "My pagan sisters, I challenge the true wicca to display their 'control' and 'power' in not conceiving unwanted babies in the first place!" She devoted an entire chapter to "Pro-Life Feminism" in Conscious Conception.
I phoned her at her home in Utah. "This book hasn't been embraced as much as my other books," she said, "mainly because of the chapter on abortion." Then she opened up more. "Another time I was writing in a magazine for people who believe in paganism [Demeter's Emerald, published somewhere in northern California], and I talked about the contradiction of nature worshipers having high abortion rates." She was shocked and alarmed at the response of her pagan sisters. The article angered so many radical ecofeminists that they wrote letters cancelling their subscriptions.
Ecofeminists' claim to the Kingdom of Ecology is the female biological system, the cycle of the woman and its harmony with the universe; but somehow abortion is still okay. "When birth becomes our underlying metaphor, the world shifts," writes Starhawk. "We all participate, continually merging and emerging in rhythmic cycles." Spretnak, the voice of "feminist spirituality," proclaims that "women experience pregnancy, natural childbirth, and motherhood [so] they are 'body parables' of the profound oneness of all matter/energy."
Then in the same essay Spretnak defends abortion: "Ethics of mutual respect would not allow coercion or domination, such as forcing someone to give birth or to kill." Dolores LaChapelle, writing about her "ecosystem cultures" of the past, points out the remarkable similarities among tribes as far apart as the Arctic and the Southwestern desert. She seems to applaud them for their child-spacing and child-rearing practices, which she says included infanticide and abortion. "The quiet, 'good' children proved a continual source of amazement." (Watching their siblings being killed, no wonder they were good children.)
Parvati Baker says that to keep the peace at pagan conferences today, she has had to tone down her message on abortion. The other ecofeminists, having intimidated her in a way only a force of angry females can, scared her into saying, "'Abortion is painful.' That's it. Then I tell them I leave judgment on abortion to a Higher Power. They just can't understand how I can be both an astrologer and pro-life." Baker sounded a bit disenchanted with her fellow wiccas. She seems to be focusing now on her Hygieia College which she says is a mystery school in ancient tradition, a school without walls. Hygieia College students and teachers around the country work at "healing fertility," a practice which includes counselling women who feel that the guilt and damage from past abortions are keeping them from getting pregnant today.
A quick read through my yellowing Encyclopedia Britannica told me something about the Minoan Crete era, the thousand years of matriarchy, the only time in history in which there were no wars because women were the rulers, as an ecofeminist will tell you. Early Minoan I is dated as beginning around the year 3000 BC and Late Minoan ended around 1200 BC. The earliest Neolithic artifacts showed Crete was inhabited by immigrants mostly from Egypt.
There are signs the population of Crete in that era did live a female-dominated, goddess worshiping life. Archaeologists have found statuettes of goddesses; one is in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, portraying a goddess holding gold snakes. Evidently no pictures of men or animals appeared on ceramics until the latest Minoan times. Other statuettes reveal the dress for the period. Men wore loincloths with tight belts. Women wore long voluminous skirts and left their breasts uncovered. As they entered the Late Minoan period men began wearing a short dress, or kilt. There is a shrine to a dove goddess. The large cave of Ida on Crete, the legendary birthplace of Zeus, did not become a sanctuary on the island until the Late Minoan period. (According to Greek mythology, Rhea, the mother of Zeus, fled to Crete because her husband Cronos was eating her babies. She gave birth to Zeus there, in a remote cave, then left the child with the Cretes so he could be nurtured into godhood, away from his carnivorous father.)
But I found no evidence that this was a period of female-generated peace. Digs in cemeteries from the Middle Minoan period bring up long iron swords. It is hard to find artifacts in any earlier graves, as they appear to have been pillaged by later tribes. The population left very little material behind (maybe they recycled) but engravings depict woodland places of worship. A ring signet shows a woman praying at a tall post to which a young god descends in answer to her prayer. But it is true that most of the religious artifacts show a reverence for goddesses and priestesses. Still, the king on a small vase from the Minoan Crete era wears bracelets, armlets, a triple necklace and a dagger in his belt (sort of a heavy metal look. . .). The archaeology of Crete does not present the geometric genius found in other parts of the world from that time. There are many remnants of mass graves, evidently left uncovered, which may mean they were nomadic—if a virus passed through a tribe, they'd bury their dead and move on to a new place. Or were they burying their dead from battle?
It struck me as humorous that so much of the Minoan Crete architecture relied on wood. Wide flights of steps lead from one level to another in structures, mainly palaces, on the island's mountainous terrain, each flight carried by wooden columns. Interior columns of walls were made of wood. Construction was basically brick and rubble reinforced with wood posts and beams. Ecofeminists in the western American continent tie their politics to the preservation of all trees, at all costs. Their quasi-religion and passive philosophy brings many wiccas and pagans to anti-timber-industry rallies and blockades. Judith Plant lives and works with a "publishing collective" in British Columbia. She describes the peacefulness of their knoll overlooking a narrow valley, then gets angry as it is disrupted again by the roar of an 18-wheeler. They've moved into a timber industry corridor, a roadway between the forest and the sawmill, "a path beaten hard from the weight of dead trees," Plant laments.
"It is no accident that the Minister of Forests is a man," Plant writes with typical ecofeminist open-mindedness. "The logging company is owned and run by men, the logging truck driver is a man." Men are all "voraciously trying to control all that is natural, regarding nature as a resource to be exploited for the gain of a very few." Like most radical ecologists, the members of this movement give no credit to the changes in timber harvest practices that have taken place in the last ten years, as the timber industry has incorporated environmental concerns into its management practices. They hoot, hiss, and holler at rallies if a timber-industry representative tries to speak. Ecofeminists would rather look to ancient cultures and rituals for the answer to problems currently facing the earth. Plant reveres the Kung Bush People, who spent about 20 hours a week gathering and hunting food, so the rest of the day could be spent in leisure, "recreating their culture." Ecofeminists want to take man back to a tribal existence, where everyone hunts and forages for food that is not planted in disruptive rows but grows wild, as a gift from goddess Earth. Somehow this would bring an end to all wars as well as solve our environmental crisis.
I looked up the Greek Goddess Gaia (aka "Ge"); she was a female entity, sort of floating in space. She wanted a baby so badly that she got pregnant without needing to involve a male entity. She gave birth to her son Uranus and proceeded with him to have more children. They dispensed with the mutants and cyclopses in various ways, then parented the Titans and others. Meanwhile Gaia, the ultimate working mother, created the earth and all life on it. One of their children, the Titan Cronos, eventually helped Gaia get rid of Uranus. She seduced her son/husband into her room and Cronos castrated him viciously with a jagged stick. From his body parts on the ocean sprang Aphrodite—a kinder, gentler woman.
Gaia doesn't sound like a peaceful, loving goddess to me, but then I don't claim to be an expert in Greek mythology. I'm also no Biblical scholar, but I do know that ecofeminists, Earth First!, and other New Age weirdness is predicted in the Bible. For example, the apostle Paul writes in a letter to Timothy that, "In later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods." (I Timothy 4:1-6) Sounds a lot like the New Age vegetarian ABC theological mystics who live near me. The first Book of Romans 1:22-23, says of an ancient culture, "Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles."
The following excerpt sounds like an ecofeminist poem, but it is not: "Before Heaven and Earth/There was something nebulous . . . /Tranquil . . . effortless/Permeating universally/Never tiring/ Revolving Soundless/Fusion without mate/It may be regarded as the Mother of all organic forms. . . ." Those lines come from Timothy Leary's book of "Psychedelic Prayers" published in 1966.
It is no mystery how a movement as bizarre as ecofeminism could thrive and grow in the Pacific Northwest, especially northern California, the region where the drop-outs went to drop farther out. The New Age Cafe in the town where I live only recently went out of business because no one could stand the taste of their politically-correct food.
Timothy Leary's interpretation of the Tao and other psychedelic concepts permeate ecofeminist writings. "Breathe/Watch the flame/ Listen to the voice of the story, the first story whispered in the secret heart of your encoded memories/Hear the story woman..." reads a poem by Starhawk. She later writes, "Goddess is embodied in the living world in the human animal, plant, and mineral communities and their interrelationships." "The Goddess honors the cosmic dance, the eternally vibrating flux of matter/energy," writes Charlene Stretnak. Like so many ecofeminist poems and essays, these words could have been said by Timothy Leary on one of his lecture tours, which leads me to wonder if perhaps radical ecologists and political pagans are people who have just taken too much acid.
It could be that early ecofeminist writers such as Dorothy Dinnerstein, a semi-retired psychologist at Rutgers and author of several early books on "fusing ecology and feminism," do not realize what they have created. Both Dinnerstein and New York writer Ynestra King take what seems to be an academic approach to defining Ecofeminism. Dinnerstein writes that the only way to save the earth from ecological catastrophe is "a miraculous spurt of human growth and change." She adds, "Feminism is a living movement, a movement honest with itself, only insofar as it embodies active radical try-to-put-the-fire-out hope." Fellow founding-mother King describes "the beginnings of a theory of ecological feminism." I believe she coined the word Ecofeminism. She writes, "We can consciously choose not to sever the woman-nature connection by joining male culture. [We can] create a different kind of culture and politics that integrates intuitive, spiritual, and rational forms, embracing both science and magic." Reading this, I don't believe these East Coast ecofeminists have any idea what happens to their theories once they are turned loose in the Wild West.
If ecofeminism were all innocent frolicking in the trees, it would not be so frightening. Ecofeminism in its original conception may have had only the highest of motives, a true concern for the future of the earth. But why reject everything American or Judeo-Christian? Why blame everything that's wrong with the earth on men? The deification of everything female is to me dangerous. "This conversion will demand a new form of human intelligence," writes Ruether. "Patterns of left-brain (i.e., masculine or linear) are, in many ways, ecologically dysfunctional. This rationality screens out much of reality as 'irrelevant,'" Ruether continues, and she is serious.
Man-hating, like Gaia's treatment of Uranus, permeates these writings. "This 'man's world' is on the very edge of collapse, because there is no respect for the 'other' in patriarchal society," writes Judith Plant. "The war of the sexes is done so brilliantly by ecofeminists," writes Sharon Doubiago. Any reference to God as He or Him is followed by a (sic). All the world's problems can be traced to the patriarchy, which rules in a dominating authoritative way, not harmoniously, as would a matriarchy.
Ecofeminists believe that women, left to run the world without any nettlesome patriarchal interference, would end nuclear power, nuclear weapons, any further development of the wilderness, military adventurism, industrial control over nature as it destroys the environment, racism, violence, and the wealth and greed that come inherently with business. There we'll all be, merrily picking berries and nursing our babies, back in paradise. A news story from Emeryville, California, last May reported that someone smashed a goddess statue to a pile of rubble. The sculptress had been on a television news show a few days earlier discussing her statue, titled "Reemergence of the Great Serpent Mother." The statue was 15 feet high, a crowned woman with fierce eyes, bare gallon-sized copper breasts and two snakes clutched over her head. It had been turning commuter heads in the Emeryville mudflats, where many artists display their work in the open air. The sculptress told the reporter that next semester she would work in steel, and that she realized her televised remarks "might have set off a woman-hater or someone opposed to goddess-worship."
I predict we'll be seeing more reactions such as the demolition of that Emeryville statue, as more people learn that ecofeminists are not fairy princesses with peace and harmony as their innocent goals. The ecofeminist movement can be dangerous and warrants close scrutiny. For one thing, I don't want to live in a world run by dominating women, where the men wear skirts.
Perhaps Moses was the most eloquent critic of the ecofeminist movement: he told the Jews in the desert (Deuteronomy 18:10-12): "Let no one be found among you who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or a spiritist or who consults the dead. The Lord your God will drive out those nations