A Question of Origins: Goddess Cults Greek and Modern

  • Helene P. Foley


Although Greco-Roman material has been of considerable interest to the creators of modern goddess cults, there has been little response to their claims from classicists, who apparently view their efforts as marginal and eccentric.2 Indeed, unlike the study of the evidence for the worship of goddesses in pre-history and in ancient civilizations, goddess cults and their theorists have found a marginal place in the academic world, but operate largely beyond its boundaries. Hence the study of these cults offers an opportunity to consider the relation of an important popular feminist movement in the U.S. to the concerns of feminists in the academy. In this essay I propose to take a look at some contemporary goddess cults and the claims of spiritual feminism from a classicist’s perspective. In an attempt to be selective rather than comprehensive, I have chosen to concentrate above all on the writings of Starhawk and Carol Christ as representatives of a diverse movement.3 I shall not address one major area of contemporary interest in ancient goddesses, the neo-jungian psychotherapeutic movement based on the use of goddess images as archtypes.4 The first half of the essay takes a critical look at the theoretical claims made in favor of this movement (rather than considering actual practice) ; the second half turns to classical material. An examination of archaic and classical Greek literary representations of the relation between myths and cults involving goddesses and women reveals, I shall argue, not only significant misappropriation of ancient sources, but missed opportunities for a fuller understanding of the religious project in which spiritual feminism has engaged.


Female Experience Traditional Religion Attic Version Religious Sphere Female Power 
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    To my knowledge, no comprehensive study of the demographics of this movement has been made. For the purposes of this study, I shall respond, and only selectively, to the considerable and still growing body of published work on the issue. In this essay I neither deal with the spiritual feminist movement as a whole nor offer comprehensive documentation of the issues under discussion. Christ and Starhawk were selected because they played a formative and influential role in the movement. For further annotated bibliography, see Anne Carson, Feminist Spirituality and the Feminine Divine (Trumansberg, NY: The Crossing Press, 1986)Google Scholar
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© Elizabeth A. Castelli 2001

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  • Helene P. Foley

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