Goddess Worship … ?
I just can’t.
It’s partly that I’m an atheist, and I don’t “worship” symbols. But also, if the Goddess is a way of personifying the whole of nature– everything that is— than I can’t really say that it’s worthy of worship. Nature is beautiful, but also cruel to the myriad sentient beings it generates.
Besides, when I worshiped a God, I felt the need to submit; I assumed He (I thought in traditional terms) knew best about everything. I don’t think that about nature– at least I don’t think it always knows what’s best for the individual beings that come and go. I don’t feel I have to obey some sort of mandate from nature– biology is not destiny.
What I do believe is that, being wholly bound up in the interconnected whole that is nature, I will function best, and exercise the most constructive “power,” by understanding the connections and working with them. I do set boundaries on “nature” sometimes, be weeding my lawn, taking anti-inflammatories, and getting my dogs vaccinated. To that extent, I assert myself within the whole system, rather than simply complying with some imagined “will.” This, to me, is not an attitude of worship, though it is compatible with reverence.
I honor the Goddess; I love the Goddess, in the way we love others with whom we nevertheless negotiate and set boundaries. I know the Goddess is a personification, and I can’t count on “Nature” to keep any sort of contract I make with it. It follows its own rules, though, and I can count on that, so the better I understand it, the less time I waste trying to shape it in ways it simply won’t go.
I try to write my prayers to avoid the cognitive dissonance that arises in me reading goddess-worshiping prayers. I’ve found that I’m drawn to two goddess figures in particular– Kali, the creator and destroyer of Hindu myth, and Quan Yin, the Buddhist Boddhisatva of compassion. These are the figures that keep cropping up in my shamanic journeys (more on that in another post), the figures I bought statues of for my room because they resonated somehow. So here’s my first attempt at prayer to them:
Kali Ma, you are the energy that drives the worlds, the Maker and the Destroyer. All that is good is born in you, as well as all harm; but when Shiva, who loves you above all goddesses, lay beneath your feet and looked into your eyes, you learned discernment. Now you are the destroyer of illusion.
Quan Yin, you arise, graceful, from the flames of Kali’s fire, the storms of Kali’s seas. You are all that is gentle, all that is compassionate. Resting in the great arms of Kali, you hold us little ones to your breast, and teach us to make places of safety, beauty and love, until Kali calls us back to her dark heart.
Honor, reverence and love to Quan Yin! Honor, reverence and love to Kali Ma!
–Understand, the prayer precedes any explication I make of it now; but as a former Catholic I can say lex orandi, lex credendi— roughly, what we pray reveals and guides what we believe. So what do I make of this prayer?
Kali retains the ambivalence of nature, both nurturing and harsh– yet it’s in her womb that life forms begin to cooperate, that mammals begin to develop empathy, that human beings begin to strive toward ideals. And so Quan Yin depends on, and is enfolded by Kali. Quan Yin, you might say, has the luxury of being gentle while Kali is gentle with her, and in the end, all living things will die. But the reality that Quan Yin is an artifact of a certain level of biological evolution, and that she is temporary in the grand scheme of things (the universe will one day “go out”), doesn’t make her not-real, or not important.
This prayer certainly reverses what I believed as a Catholic– that a force of absolute goodness made the world, and that world declined from what it should have been. That myth has the deep appeal of an abused child’s belief that her abuser is good, and she is at fault. But I’m turning toward this new myth as closer to the way the world actually looks to me, and therefore more liberating.