Women’s History

March is Women’s History Month, and March 8 is the 100 year anniversary of International Women’s Day, a global celebration of the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future. In some places like China, Russia, Vietnam and Bulgaria, International Women’s Day is a national holiday.

International Women’s Day honors the work of the Suffragettes, celebrates women’s successes, and reminds us of many inequities still to be redressed. Suffragettes campaigned for women’s right to vote. The word ‘Suffragette’ is derived from the word “suffrage” meaning the right to vote. Women achieved the right to vote in America in 1920. Women’s suffrage is stated as a right under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, adopted by the United Nations in 1979.

In 1912 in Lawrence, Massachusetts, a historic event occurred which has come to be known as the Bread & Roses strike. In 1845 Lawrence, Massachusetts was a flourishing but deeply troubled textile city. By 1900 the mechanization and deskilling of labor in the textile industry enabled factory owners to eliminate skilled workers and employ large numbers of unskilled immigrant workers, the majority of whom were women. Work in a textile mill took was grueling and the labor was repetitive and dangerous. Half of the workers in the four Lawrence mills of the American Woolen Company, the leading employer in the industry and the town, were girls between fourteen and eighteen.

The workers in Lawrence lived in crowded and dangerous apartment buildings, often with many families sharing each apartment. Many families survived on bread, molasses, and beans. The mortality rate for children was fifty percent by age six, and thirty-six out of every 100 men and women who worked in the mill died before age twenty-five. The mills and the community were divided along ethnic lines: most of the skilled jobs were held by native-born workers of English, Irish, and German descent, while French-Canadian, Italian, Slavic, Hungarian, Portuguese and Syrian immigrants made up most of the unskilled workforce.

Several thousand skilled workers belonged, in theory at least, to the AFL-affiliated United Textile Workers, but only a few hundred paid dues. The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) had been organizing for five years among workers in Lawrence, but had only a few hundred regular members. Then, in March of 1912, 20,000 workers went on strike. “Bread and Roses” was poem written by James Oppenheim in 1912. He was present at the strike and a banner that said, “Give us bread but give us roses.” Struck by the remarkable imagery, he wrote the now-famous poem that is a reminders how precious and precarious freedom can be.

What you might ask does this introduction have to do with the Divine Feminine and a book about goddesses? A resurgence of the sacred feminine is sweeping the planet, and I wanted to know who the Goddess really is. What characterizes the feminine side of the divine? How is that different from what masculine divine energy? It seemed to me that these realities profoundly affect the way women view and value themselves and likewise how men perceive everything feminine, and that was the impetus that drove me to research goddesses from around the world and to write Goddesses For Every Day.

I can’t answer the many puzzling historical or cultural questions of why the feminine was suppressed and even demonized for roughly 4,000 years. It’s a confusing and distrubing mystery, but it is the simple truth. I believe we must become aware of what has been lost, sleeping or hidden for essentially 4,000 years. I think all of us, men and women alike, need to heal our disenfranchised feminine side. My search and research into the rich veins of memory and myth have convinced me we need to awaken from an amnesia that has lasted for millennia. The well-known words of George Santayana can serve as an important warning. He said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

It is my opinion that the world has become out of balance and that we have come to a precarious place. It’s my wish to be an agent of change, a provocateur of sorts, hopefully helping in some way to restore a sense of equilibrium. I’ve seen lots of change in three generations of what is possible as a cultural reality for my daughters and granddaughters, and that gives me a measure of hope. The revolutions in the Middle East, and the voices for organizing rights across the country, are finally being raised in protest.

My search to understand this phenomenon led me back in time nearly 34,000 years. Thousands of years ago a Great Goddess manifested as a trinity long before the masculine version of the bible. One of the earliest representations of this goddess was the bear, and scholars have evidence that she was honored in that form as long as 70,000 years ago. The Goddess was revered around the world as Maiden, Mother, and Crone, or Elder. She is still honored in many places by indigenous people. She was complex, and not always gentle, but understanding her nature, and moving in rhythm with her, was related to hunting cycles and growing seasons. Her worship involved a reciprocity with the Earth and the creatures she gives life.

I believe humanity has a deep need to revere the feminine side of the divine. This unmet need is surfacing in our time in such examples as the phenomenal popularity of The Da Vinci Code, which highlighted principles of the feminine. Apparitions of Mary, mother of Jesus, are on the rise around the world. One of the most documented in recent times was in Zeitoun, Egypt, where hundreds of thousands of people of diverse beliefs stood side by side, over a period of twenty-three years, watching as Mary appeared over a small church in a suburb of Cairo. Millions make annual pilgrimages to Fatima, Lourdes, and the site of Our Lady of Guadeloupe in Mexico. Worldwide response to the death of beloved Princess Diana of Wales also spoke to our need to revere a feminine archetype.

We can reconnect and reclaim feminine energy by learning to move more consciously in resonance with cycles: monthly, yearly, and the stages of our lives from maiden, mother and elder crone or grandmother. Embracing the deep symbolic meaning of the cycles of our blood is empowering. Indian cultures have moon lodges where women can be apart when they bleed as this is seen as the height of their monthly power. Paying attention to the phases of the Moon is a simple and powerful way to honor the constant, but ever changing, Moon. We can create a symbolic moon lodge in our own lives.

Seeking the wisdom and counsel of a grandmother can bring that stage of life back to its once-honored place. The strength of a grandmother is a potent force indeed, someone who has stood at the gates of birth and faces the portal of death. We should be willing to sit at the bedside of someone who has chosen to die consciously through hospice. These gateways were once the domain of the crone before being stolen by the patriarchy.

We can learn more about the diverse myths of global goddesses, taking in the rich legacy of feminine power that was suppressed for so long. Many of these goddesses are alive and well in Hawaii, Africa, India and neo-paganism. Ancient Egyptians said every woman was a nutrit, a “little goddess,” after the nature of the great goddess Nut. I believe it’s time for all of us to behave as if it’s true.