Chinese folk religion

Yellow Emperor,scan from 《社会历史博物馆》 ISBN 7-5347...

Yellow Emperor,scan from 《社会历史博物馆》 ISBN 7-5347-1397-8 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chinese folk religion (traditional Chinese: 中國民間宗教 or 中國民間信仰; simplified Chinese: 中国民间宗教 or 中国民间信仰; pinyin: Zhōngguó mínjiān zōngjiào or Zhōngguó mínjiān xìnyăng) or Shenism (pinyin: Shénjiào, 神教), which is a term of considerable debate, are labels used to describe the collection of ethnic religious traditions which have been a main belief system in China and among Han Chinese ethnic groups for most of the civilization’s history until today. Shenism comprises Chinese mythology and includes the worship of shens (神, shén; “deities”, “spirits”, “awarenesses”, “consciousnesses”, “archetypes”) which can be nature deities, Taizu or clan deities, city deities, national deities, cultural heroes and demigods, dragons and ancestors. “Shenism” is a term was first published by A. J. A Elliot in 1955.

It is sometimes categorized with Taoism, since over the centuries institutional Taoism has been attempting to assimilate or administrate local religions. More accurately, Taoism can be defined as a branch of Shenism, since it sprang out of folk religion and Chinese philosophy. Chinese folk religion is sometimes seen as a constituent part of Chinese traditional religion, but more often, the two are regarded as synonymous. With around 454 million adherents, or about 6.6% of the world population, Chinese folk religion is one of the major religious traditions in the world. In China more than 30% of the population adheres to Shenism or Taoism.

Despite being heavily suppressed during the last two centuries of the history of China, from the Taiping Movement to the Cultural Revolution, it is experiencing a major revival nowadays in both Mainland China and Taiwan.Various forms have received support by the Government of the People’s Republic of China, such as Mazuism in Southern China (officially about 160 million Chinese are Mazuists), Huangdi worship, Black Dragon worship in Shaanxi, and Caishen worship.

Chinese folk religion retains traces of some of ancestral primal religious belief systems such as animism and shamanism, which include the veneration of (and communication with) the Sun, the Moon, the Earth, the Heaven, and various stars, as well as communication with animals. It has been practiced by the Chinese people for thousands of years, and since the start of the Common Era alongside Buddhism, Taoism and various other religions.

Rituals, devotional worship, myths sacred reinactment, festivals and various other practices associated with different folk gods and goddesses form an important part of Chinese culture today. The veneration of secondary gods does not conflict with an individual’s chosen religion, but is accepted as a complementary adjunct, particularly to Taoism. Some mythical figures in folk culture have been integrated into Chinese Buddhism, as in the case of Miao Shan. She is generally thought to have influenced the beliefs about the Buddhist bodhisattva Guanyin. This bodhisattva originally was based upon the Indian counterpart Avalokiteśvara. Androgynous in India, this bodhisattva over centuries became a female figure in China and Japan. Guanyin is one of the most popular bodishisattvas to which people pray.

There are many free folk religion texts such as Journeys to the Underworld distributed in temples, or sold in gods material shops or vegetarian shops. Temples for Shenist worship are different from Taoist temples and Buddhist monasteries, being administered by local managers, associations and worship communities.

The Chinese Deities (Gods and goddesses)

There are hundreds of Chinese Deities (local gods and goddesses) as well as demigods. After apotheosis, historical figures noted for their bravery or virtue are also venerated and honored as ancestral “saints”, xians, or heightened to the status of shens, deities. The following list represents some commonly worshipped deities.

Pangu (盘古), the creator god in certain myths. He is usually depicted as a primitive, hairy giant with horns on his head and clad in furs. Pangu set about the task of creating the world: he separated Yin from Yang with a swing of his giant axe, creating the Earth (murky Yin) and the Sky (clear Yang).

Fuxi (伏羲), also known as Paoxi, a divine patriarch reputed to have taught to humanity writing, fishing, and hunting. Cangjie is also said to have invented writing.

Nüwa (女娲), also Nüwa, an ancient mother goddess, attributed for the creation of mankind. In later traditions she is described as the twin sister or/and wife of Fuxi.

Shennong (神农), also identified as Yandi (炎帝), a divine patriarch said to have taught the ancient Chinese the practices of agriculture. He is often represented as a human with bull horns.

Huangdi (黃帝), or “Yellow Emperor”, the divine patriarch of the Huaxia culture lineage. He is regarded as the founder of China.

Guan Yu (关羽), also known with the templar names of Guandi and Guan Gong (literally ‘Emperor Guan’ and ‘Lord Guan’ respectively), the red-faced, bearded hero of Romance of the Three Kingdoms and symbol of loyalty. He is the patron god of policemen, war, fortune, and law, as he shows forgiveness, and often also serves as Wu Sheng, the Martial Saint.

Baosheng Dadi (保生大帝), a divine physician born in the Song Dynasty, whose powers extend to raising the dead. Worship is especially prevalent in Fujian and Taiwan.

Caishen (财神 “God of Wealth”), who oversees the gaining and distribution of wealth through fortune. He is often the deified manifestation of certain historical personalities such as Zhao Gongming or Bi Gan. His shape is sometimes that of a black and fierce tiger.

Shoushen (寿神 “Star Lord of Longevity”), who stands for a healthy and long life. He is portrayed as an old balding man with a walking stick in his right hand and a peach in his left.

Fushen (福神 “Star Lord of Happiness”), he looks like a traditional Chinese feudal lord with red clothing. He symbolizes happiness and joy.

Lushen (禄神 “Star Lord of Prosperity”), a god of success in work and life. In ancient times he was the patron god of success in imperial bureaucracy.

The Baxian (八仙), the “Eight Immortals”, are important literary and artistic figures who were deified after death and became objects of worship. In Taoism they’re worshipped as xians.

Huye (虎爺), a guardian spirit, often found at the bottom of Taoist temple shrines. Worshipers revere the tiger spirit to curse spiritual enemies. Rituals include stomping an effigy of a spiritual enemy in front of the tiger spirit, as well as sacrificing meat offerings, paper gold, and others.

The Jiuhuang Dadi (九皇大帝) refer to manifestation of nine stars of the Great Dipper of the North. Theirmanifestation festival is held over the first nine days of the ninth lunar month to celebrate the return from heaven to earth of the Nine Emperor spirits.

Mazu (妈祖 “Ancient Mother”), the patroness, also considered as the goddess of sailors. Shrines can be found in coastal areas of Eastern and South-Eastern China. Today, belief in Mazu is especially popular in the South and South-East, including Fujian (福建), Guangdong (廣東), Hainan (海南), Taiwan (台灣), Hong Kong (香港), and Vietnam (越南). She is also a significant deity where emigrants from the provinces have settled, including in Singapore and Malaysia.

The City God Temple of Beijing.

Qiye (七爺) and Baye (八爺), two generals and best friends, often seen as giant puppets in street parades. 8 is black, because he drowned rather than miss his appointment to meet with 7, even though a flood was coming. 7 has his tongue sticking out, because he hanged himself in mourning for 8.

Shangdi (上帝) is originally the supreme god, synonymous with the concept of Tian. This title/name was later applied to the supreme deity of various religions, including Yu Huang Dadi and the Christian God.

Cheng Huang (城隍), commonly known as “City God” in English, a class of protective deities: each city has a Cheng Huang who looks after the fortunes of the city and judges the dead. Usually these are famous or noble persons from the city who were deified after death. The Cheng Huang Miao (城隍廟) or “City God Temple” was often the focal point of a town in ancient times.

Tudi Gong (土地公 “God of the Earth”), a genius loci who protects a local place (especially hills), and whose statue may be found in roadside shrines. He is also the god of wealth, by virtue of his connection with the earth, and therefore, minerals and buried treasure.

Wenchangdi (文昌帝), god of students, scholars, and examination. He is worshiped by students who wish to pass their examinations. Inept examiners in ancient times sometimes sought “divine guidance” from him to decide rank between students.

Xi Wangmu (西王母), the “Queen Mother of the West”, also known as Yaochi Jinmu (瑤池金母 “Golden Mother of the Jade Pond”), a mother goddess who reigns over a paradisaical mountain and has the power to make others immortal. In some myths, she is the mother of the Jade Emperor (玉帝).

Yuexia Laoren (月下老人 “Old Man Under the Moon”). The matchmaker who pairs lovers together, worshiped by those seeking their partner.

Zaoshen (灶神), the “God of the Kitchen”, also Zao Jun (灶君), mentioned in the title of Amy Tan’s novel, The Kitchen God’s Wife. He reports to heaven on the behavior of the family of the house once a year, at Chinese New Year, and is given sticky rice to render his speech less comprehensible on that occasion.

Songzi Niangniang (送子娘娘) or Zhusheng Niangniang (註生娘娘), a fertility goddess. She is worshipped by people who want children, or who want their child to be a boy.

Places of worship
Shenist temples can be distinguished into miao (庙), called “joss houses”, “deity houses” or simply “temples” in English, and ci (祠), called “ancestral halls” or simply “temples” in English. Both the terms actually mean “temple” in Chinese, and they’ve been used interchangeably many times. However miao is the general Chinese term for “temple” understood as “place of worship”, and can be used for places of worship of any religion. In Chinese folk religion it is mostly associated to temples which enshrine nature gods and patron gods. Instead ci is the specific term for temples enshrining ancestry gods, human beings apotheosized as gods.

“Joss” is a corrupted version of the Portuguese word for “god”, deus. “Joss house” was in common use in English in western North America during frontier times, when joss houses were a common feature of Chinatowns. The name “joss house” describes the environment of worship. Joss sticks, a kind of incense, are burned inside and outside of the house.

Shenist temples are distinct from Taoist temples (观 guan or 道观 daoguan) and Buddhist monasteries (寺 si) in that they are established and administered by local managers, associations and worship communities; only few or none priests stay in folk temples. Shenist temples are usually small, very colourful (by contrast with Taoist temples which by tradition should be black and white in color, and Buddhist temples which are characterised by a prevalence of yellow and red tonalities), and decorated with traditional figures on their roofs (dragons and deities), although some evolve into significant structures. Other terms associated to templar structures of Shenism and other religions in China are 宫 gong (“palace”), often used for large temples (even if mostly Taoist) built by imperial officials, and 院 yuan, a general term for “sanctuary”, “shrine”.

Societal impact
Scholars have studied how Chinese folk religion-inspired society, elastic and polytheistic in spirit, provided the groundwork for the development of dynamic grassroots Chinese-style pre-modern capitalism in Song Dynasty China and modern capitalism in contemporary Taiwan. Chinese folk religion with its ritual economy is also a key in the contemporary economic development in rural Mainland China.

With around 400 million adherents Chinese folk religion is one of the major religions in the world, comprising about 6% of world population. In China more than 30% of the population adheres to Shenism or Taoism. In Taiwan, Shenism is highly institutionalised under the label and the institutions of “Taoism”, which is adhered by 33% of the population.

In Singapore about 8.5% of the total population is Taoist, and 10% of the Chinese Singaporeans identify as Taoists. In Malaysia, 10.6% of Chinese Malaysians are Shenists-Taoists, corresponding to 3% of the whole country population. In Indonesia, Taosu Agung Kusumo, leader of the Majelis Agama Tao Indonesia, claims there are 5 million Taoist followers in the country as of 2009.

Folk Religion

Chinese dragon, symbol of Chinese culture and ...

Chinese dragon, symbol of Chinese culture and Chinese folk religion. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Folk religion consists of ethnic or regional religious customs under the umbrella of an organized religion, but outside of official doctrine and practices. Don Yoder has defined “folk religion” as “the totality of all those views and practices of religion that exist among the people apart from and alongside the strictly theological and liturgical forms of the official religion.”

The term “folk religion” is generally held to encompass two related but separate subjects. The first is the religious dimension of folk culture, or the folk-cultural dimensions of religion. The second refers to the study of syncretisms between two cultures with different stages of formal expression, such as the melange of African folk beliefs and Roman Catholicism that led to the development of Vodun and Santería, and similar mixtures of formal religions with folk cultures.

Chinese folk religion, Folk Christianity, Folk Hinduism, and Folk Islam are examples of folk religion associated with major religions. There is sometimes tension between the practice of folk religion and the formally taught doctrines and teachings of a faith. In other cases, practices that originated in folk religion are adopted as part of the official religion. The term is also used, especially by the clergy of the faiths involved, to describe the desire of people who otherwise infrequently attend religious worship, do not belong to a church or similar religious society, and who have not made a formal profession of faith in a particular creed, to have religious weddings or funerals, or (among Christians) to have their children baptised.

Aspects of many, but not all, folk religions include:

Popular theophanies, and similar phenomena like Marian apparitions, originating outside the formal liturgy and hierarchy of the faiths in question.

Magical Thinking
Protective qualities ascribed to religious objects like a particular copy of the Bible, Voodoo pouches, a crucifix, stones, crystals, eagle feathers, or any other “power” object.   belief in traditional systems of magic (hoodoo, voodoo, pow-wow, Benedicaria, Palo Monte, Anito, Santería and Catimbó)  rituals to ward off the Evil Eye, curses, demons, witchcraft, etc.

Folk Christianity
Further information: Christian mythology, Folk Catholicism, and Christianity and Neopaganism Botánicas such as this one in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts sell religious goods such as statues of saints and candles decorated with prayers alongside folk medicine and amulets.

Folk Christianity is defined differently by various scholars. Definitions include “the Christianity practiced by a conquered people;” Christianity as most people live it – a term used to “overcome the division of beliefs into Orthodox and unorthodox;” Christianity as impacted by superstition as practiced by certain geographical Christian groups; Christianity defined “in cultural terms without reference to the theologies and histories.”

Folk Islam
Further information: Islamic mythology, Druze, Alevi, and Alawi

Folk Islam is an umbrella term used to collectively describe forms of Islam that incorporate native folk beliefs and practices. Folk Islam has been described as the Islam of the “urban poor, country people, and tribes”, (Ridgeon, 2003) in contrast to orthodox or “High” Islam (Gellner, 1992; Malesevic et al., 2007). Sufism and Sufi concepts are often integrated into Folk Islam.
Various practices and beliefs have been identified with the concept of “folk Islam”. They include the following:

belief in traditional magic systems and ecstatic rituals
the use of “shrines and amulets” (Chelkowski et al., 1988)
veneration of saints
incorporation of animistic beliefs

Folk Hinduism

The case of Folk Hinduism lies slightly different from “Folk Islam” or “Folk Christianity”, as the term Hinduism itself was coined in the 19th century as an umbrella term for all folk religion practiced in India. But today, “Folk Hinduism” (also Indian Folk Religion or Popular Hinduism) may still be distinguished from “high” forms of Hindu philosophy, or mystical or ascetic forms. Folk Hinduism is emphatically polytheistic.


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Feminism is a collection of movements aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights for women. In addition, feminism seeks to establish equal opportunities for women in education and employment. A feminist is a “person whose beliefs and behavior are based on feminism.

Feminist theory, which emerged from these feminist movements, aims to understand the nature of gender inequality by examining women’s social roles and lived experience; it has developed theories in a variety of disciplines in order to respond to issues such as the social construction of sex and gender. Some of the earlier forms of feminism have been criticized for taking into account only white, middle-class, educated perspectives. This led to the creation of ethnically-specific or multiculturalist forms of feminism.

Feminist activists campaign for women’s rights – such as in contract law, property, and voting – while also promoting bodily integrity, autonomy and reproductive rights for women. Feminist campaigns have changed societies, particularly in the West, by achieving women’s suffrage, gender neutrality in English, equal pay for women, reproductive rights for women (including access to contraceptives and abortion), and the right to enter into contracts and own property. Feminists have worked to protect women and girls from domestic violence, sexual harassment, and sexual assault. They have also advocated for workplace rights, including maternity leave, and against forms of discrimination against women. Feminism is mainly focused on women’s issues, but because feminism seeks gender equality, some feminists argue that men’s liberation is a necessary part of feminism, and that men are also harmed by sexism and gender roles.

Depending on historical moment, culture and country, feminists around the world have had different causes and goals. Most western feminist historians assert that all movements that work to obtain women’s rights should be considered feminist movements, even when they did not (or do not) apply the term to themselves. Other historians assert that the term should be limited to the modern feminist movement and its descendants. Those historians use the label “protofeminist” to describe earlier movements.

The history of the modern western feminist movements is divided into three “waves”. Each wave dealt with different aspects of the same feminist issues. The first wave comprised women’s suffrage movements of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, promoting women’s right to vote. The second wave was associated with the ideas and actions of the women’s liberation movement beginning in the 1960s. The second wave campaigned for legal and social equality for women. The third wave is a continuation of, and a reaction to, the perceived failures of second-wave feminism, beginning in the 1990s.

Nineteenth and early twentieth centuriesFirst-wave feminism was a period of activity during the nineteenth century and early twentieth century. In the U.K. and U.S., it focused on the promotion of equal contract, marriage, parenting, and property rights for women. By the end of the nineteenth century, activism focused primarily on gaining political power, particularly the right of women’s suffrage, though some feminists were active in campaigning for women’s sexual, reproductive, and economic rights as well.

 Louise Weiss along with other Parisian suffragettes in 1935. The newspaper headline reads “The Frenchwoman Must Vote.”Women’s suffrage was achieved in Britain’s Australasian colonies at the close of the 19th century, with the self-governing colonies of New Zealand and South Australia granting women the right to vote in 1893 and 1895 respectively. It was followed by Australia permitting women to stand for parliamentary office and granting women the right to vote.

In Britain the Suffragettes and the Suffragists campaigned for the women’s vote, and in 1918 the Representation of the People Act was passed granting the vote to women over the age of 30 who owned houses. In 1928 this was extended to all women over twenty-one. In the U.S., notable leaders of this movement included Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony, who each campaigned for the abolition of slavery prior to championing women’s right to vote. These women were influenced by the Quaker theology of spiritual equality, which asserts that men and women are equal under God. In the United States, first-wave feminism is considered to have ended with the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution (1919), granting women the right to vote in all states. The term first wave was coined retroactively to categorize these western movements after the term second-wave feminism began to be used to describe a newer feminist movement that focused as much on fighting social and cultural inequalities as political inequalities.

During the late Qing period and reform movements such as the Hundred Days’ Reform, Chinese feminists called for women’s liberation from traditional roles and Neo-Confucian gender segregation. Later, the Chinese Communist Party created projects aimed at integrating women into the workforce, and claimed that the revolution had successfully achieved women’s liberation.

Zsuzsanna Budapest

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]Jump to: navigation, search Zsuzsanna Emese Mokcsay (born 30 January 1940 in Budapest, Hungary) is an American author, activist, journalist, playwright and song-writer of Hungarian origin who writes about feminist spirituality and Dianic Wicca under the pen name and religious name Zsuzsanna Budapest or Z. Budapest. She is the High Priestess and the founding mother of the Susan B. Anthony Coven #1, the first feminist, women-only, witches’ coven. She is the founder and director of the Women’s Spirituality Forum, a nonprofit organization featuring lectures, retreats and other events, and was the lead of a cable TV show called 13th Heaven. She has an online autobiography entitled Fly by Night, and writes for the religion section of the San Francisco Examiner on subjects related to Pagan religions. Her play The Rise of the Fates premiered in Los Angeles in the mid-seventies. She is the composer of several songs including We All Come From the Goddess. She lives in Oakland, California.

Z. Budapest was born in Budapest, Hungary. Her mother, Masika Szilagyi, was a medium, a practicing witch, and a professional sculptress whose work reflected themes of Goddess and nature spirituality. In 1956, when the Hungarian Revolution broke out, Budapest left Hungary as a political refugee. She finished high school in Innsbruck, graduated from a bilingual gymnasium, and won a scholarship to the University of Vienna where she studied languages. In The Holy Book of Women’s Mysteries, Z claims that her maternal grandmother was born by parthenogenesis (or virgin birth).

Budapest emigrated to the United States in 1959, where she studied at the University of Chicago, with groundbreaking originator of the art of improvisation, Viola Spolin, and the improvisational theater group The Second City. She married and had two sons, Laszlo and Gabor, but was later divorced. She realized she identified as a lesbian and chose, in her words, to avoid the “duality” between man and woman.

The Feminist Book of Lights and Shadows, (1975) Feminist Wicca, Luna Publications

The Holy Book of Women’s Mysteries: Feminist Witchcraft, Goddess Rituals, Spellcasting and Other Womanly Arts (1989) Wingbow Press ISBN 0914728679, ISBN 978-0914728672

The Grandmother of Time: A Woman’s Book of Celebrations, Spells, and Sacred Objects for Every Month of the Year, (1989) HarperOne ISBN 0062501097, ISBN 978-0062501097

Grandmother Moon: Lunar Magic in Our Lives—Spells, Rituals, Goddesses, Legends, and Emotions Under the Moon (1991) HarperSanFrancisco ISBN 0062501143, ISBN 978-0062501141

The Goddess in the Office: A Personal Energy Guide for the Spiritual Warrior at Work (1993) HarperOne ISBN 0062500872, ISBN 978-0062500878

The Goddess in the Bedroom: A Passionate Woman’s Guide to Celebrating Sexuality Every Night of the Week (1995) HarperSanFrancisco ISBN 0062511866, ISBN 978-0062511867

Summoning the Fates: A Woman’s Guide to Destiny (1999) Three Rivers Press ISBN 0609802771, ISBN 978-0609802779

Celestial Wisdom for Every Year of Your Life: Discover the Hidden Meaning of Your Age (with Diana Paxson) (2003) Weiser Books ISBN 157863282X, ISBN 978-1578632824

Rasta Dogs (2003) Xlibris Corporation ISBN 1401093086, ISBN 978-1401093082

Dianic Wicca

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Dianic Witchcraft and Dianic Feminist Witchcraft, is a tradition, or denomination, of the Neopagan religion of Wicca. It was founded by Zsuzsanna Budapest in the United States in the 1970s, and is notable for its focus on the worship of the Goddess, and on feminism. It combines elements of British Traditional Wicca, Italian folk-magic recorded in Charles Leland‘s Aradia, feminist values, and ritual, folk magic, and healing practices Budapest learned from her mother.

It is most often practiced in female-only covens. Dianic Wiccans of the Z Budapest lineage worship the Goddess. The Goddess is the source of all living things and contains all within Her. The Goddess is complete unto herself and through her all is birthed. Dianics worship in female-only circles and or covens. Originally lesbians formed the majority of the movement, however modern Dianic groups may be all-lesbian, all-heterosexual or mixed. Dianic Wiccans as “positive path” practitioners do neither manipulative spellwork nor hexing because it goes against the Wiccan Rede; other Dianic witches (notably Zsuzsanna Budapest) do not consider hexing or binding of those who attack women to be wrong.

Like other Wiccans, Dianics may form covens, attend festivals, celebrate the eight major Wiccan holidays, Samhain, Beltane, Imbolc (or Imbolg), Lammas, the solstices and equinoxes (see Wheel of the Year) and the Esbats, which are rituals usually held at the full moon or dark moon. They use many of the same altar tools, rituals and vocabulary as other Wiccans. Dianics may also gather in more informal Circles.  The most noticeable difference between the two are that Dianic covens of Z Budapest lineage are composed of female born women. Some other Wiccan covens are composed of women and men, and worship the God and Goddess, while Dianics generally worship the Goddess as Whole Unto Herself.

The revival of Dianic Wicca was practiced on Winter Solstice 1971, in which Zsuzsanna Budapest led a ceremony in Hollywood, California. A hereditary witch, Budapest is frequently considered the mother of modern the Dianic Wiccan tradition. Dianic Wicca itself is named after the Roman goddess of the same name.Much of the history of Dianic Wicca is closely intertwined with “traditional” Wicca, though Dianic Wicca’s feminist views stem largely from second wave feminism. Dianic Wicca is a female born religion based upon Women’s shared Blood Mysteries. When asked why men are excluded from the goddess rituals, Budapest has stated in a 2007 interview: “It’s the natural law, as women fare so fares the world, their children, and that’s everybody. If you lift up the women you have lifted up humanity. Men have to learn to develop their own mysteries. Where is the order of Attis? Pan? Zagreus? Not only research it, but then popularize it as well as I have done. Where are the Dionysian rites? I think men are lazy in this aspect by not working this up for themselves. It’s their own task, not ours. ”



In Wicca “the Goddess” is a deity of prime importance, along with her consort the Horned God. In the earliest Wiccan publications she is described as a tribal goddess of the witch community, neither omnipotent nor universal, and it was recognized that there was a greater “Prime Mover“, although the witches did not concern themselves much with this being.

Within many forms of Wicca the Goddess has come to be considered as a universal deity, more in line with her description in the Charge of the Goddess, a key Wiccan text. In this guise she is the “Queen of Heaven”, similar to Isis; she also encompasses and conceives all life, much like Gaia. Much like Isis and certain late Classical conceptions of Selene,she is held to be the summation of all other goddesses, who represent her different names and aspects across the different cultures. The Goddess is often portrayed with strong lunar symbolism, drawing on various cultures and deities such as Diana, Hecate and Isis, and is often depicted as the Maiden, Mother and Crone triad popularized by Robert Graves (see Triple Goddess below). Many depictions of her also draw strongly on Celtic goddesses. Some Wiccans believe there are many goddesses, and in some forms of Wicca, notably Dianic Wicca, the Goddess alone is worshipped, and the God plays very little part in their worship and ritual.


The lunar Triple Goddess symbol.

Robert Graves popularized the triad of “Maiden” (or “Virgin”), “Mother” and “Crone”, and while this idea did not rest on sound scholarship, his poetic inspiration has gained a tenacious hold. Considerable variation in the precise conceptions of these figures exists, as typically occurs in Neopaganism and indeed in pagan religions in general. Some choose to interpret them as three stages in a woman’s life, separated by menarche and menopause. Others find this too biologically based and rigid, and prefer a freer interpretation, with the Maiden as birth (independent, self-centred, seeking), the Mother as giving birth (interrelated, compassionate nurturing, creating), and the Crone as death and renewal (holistic, remote, unknowable) — and all three erotic and wise.

Some, but not all, participants in the Goddess movement self-identify as witches, Wiccans or Wiccens. (Likewise, some, but not all, Wiccans and witches consider themselves to be part of “the Goddess movement.”) Other participants in the Goddess movement call themselves Goddessians (Laura 2002). Still others use “pagan” as a generic label for their spiritual worldview, or no identifying label at all.

Some witches, especially Dianics, believe in a witch-cult hypothesis.[citation needed] This theory attempts to trace the historical origins of their beliefs to Neolithic pre-Christian cultures, believing that Wiccanism is a distillation of a religion found at the beginning of most, if not all, cultures. They consider wise women and midwives to be the first witches. Dianic witchcraft first became visible in the 1970s, with Z. Budapest’s writings.

Her feminist version of witchcraft followed a few decades after the founding (or discovery) of Wicca by Gerald Gardner in the 1940s. In its original and traditional forms, Wicca is a duotheistic pagan religion that honors a God and a Goddess equally. Gerald Gardner (1884–1964) who, with Doreen Valiente (1922–1999) founded Gardnerian Wicca in Britain, claimed to be initiated in the 1940s into a surviving coven of traditional witches, who worshipped both a male Horned God and a female Goddess.

For their time, Gardner and Valiente advocated a fairly feminist ideal of priestess authority in service to the Wiccan God and Goddess. Covens in ‘traditional’ Wicca (i.e., those run along the lines described by Gardner and Valiente) were and still are led pretty much equally by both a priest and a priestess; but the priestess is often considered “prima inter pares” (first among equals); according to the book A Witches’ Bible, by Stewart and Janet Farrar. (Other early authors on Wicca and witchcraft, such as Paul Huson in his book Mastering Witchcraft, and Charles Cardell of the Coven of Atho, and Robert Cochrane of the Clan of Tubal Cain, generally saw the male priest or magister as being of more importance.)

While virtually all Wiccans honor the Goddess as one of their two main deities, they may or may not consider themselves to be feminists. For this reason, they may or may not identify with the label “Goddess worshipper” when it is construed as connoting a feminist ideological position, or when it is regarded as an ideology that aims at elevating the Goddess to a position of more importance than the God. Thus, the worship of a goddess or even a Great Goddess should not necessarily be construed as a feminist position per se. (For example, the worship of feminine deities by both men and women in India was historically very widespread, as it was in ancient Greece; even though both of those cultures can be considered more patriarchal than most.)

Doreen Valiente became known in Britain as the ‘Mother of the Craft’ and contributed extensively to Wicca’s written tradition.[10][11] She is the author of The Witches’ Creed, which lays out the basics of Wiccan religious belief and philosophy; including the polarity of the God and the Goddess as the two great “powers of Nature” and the two “mystical pillars” of the religion. One way to characterize the central male-female divine dyad in Wicca is to say that it’s a duotheistic religion with a theology based on the divine gender polarity of male and female. Valiente also wrote both the Invocation to the Horned God and the Charge of the Goddess, the latter of which now exists in a number of variations, and is one of the most famous texts of the Neopagan movement.

The existence of witchcraft as the remnants of an old pagan religion as late as the early Modern Age was first suggested to a wide readership by Margaret Murray‘s books, The Witch Cult in Western Europe, The God of the Witches (1933) and The Divine King in England. Margaret Murray’s books were focused mainly on the worship of a male Horned God, but she saw witches themselves as being either male or female. Murray’s theories were widely discredited by experts at the time, and have been thoroughly debunked now, despite still having mass appeal. Gardner’s publications on Wicca followed her theories and argued that witchcraft had survived longer than even she had guessed. Gardner’s claimed history of Wicca is similarly discredited. See History of Wicca.

In formulating an outline of Wiccan theology and liturgy, Gardner drew not only upon the writings of Margaret Murray and her ideas about the worship of an ancient Horned God, but also upon the writings of Charles Godfrey Leland, author of Aradia, the Gospel of the Witches – who speculated that witchcraft involved the worship of a moon goddess. In combining ideas from these two authors, Gardner arrived at Wicca as a duotheistic religion that honored both the male and female deities, and that saw them as divine lovers, in a polar male-female dyad.

Wicca and Neopaganism, and to some extent the Goddess movement, were influenced by 19th-century occultism, such as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (Greer 1995), and romantic nature movements in which both male and female were valued and honored as sacred, in contrast to and perhaps in reaction to mainstream Christian spirituality. Such views are described, for example, in the work of Robert Graves, especially The White Goddess (the origin of the neopagan ‘Triple Goddess’ concept) and Mammon and the Black Goddess.

Wicca was also heavily influenced by the ideas of alchemic symbolism, which emphasized the essential complementary polarity of male and female, and that characterized that basic duality or gender polarity as a partnership of the solar (male) and the lunar (female). In Wicca the moon is the symbol of the Goddess and the sun is the symbol of the God; and the central liturgical mystery and ritual act is “The Great Rite” or Hieros Gamos, which is a symbolic union of the God and the Goddess, as the primal male and female powers of the cosmos. In alchemy this was known as “the alchemical wedding” of the sun and the moon. In a parallel vein, traditional Wicca also draws heavily upon the Western Hermetic Tradition and its roots in the kabbalistic Tree of Life; where the twin pillars of masculine and feminine divine forces are joined by a Middle Pillar that encompasses and transcends both male and female. These “twin pillars” as they are shown in tarot decks are analogous to Valiente’s depiction of the God and the Goddess as the two “mystical pillars.” In this emphasis on the feminine as the equal and complementary polar opposite of the masculine, Wicca echoes not only kabalistic sources but also the polarity of yin and yang—feminine and masculine—in Taoism.

The main forums for the movement during the 70s and 80s were independently produced magazines and journals such as Green Egg in America and Wood and Water in the UK, among many others. These periodicals attempted to represent the diversity of thought and belief. Mention should also be made of the work of UK feminist groups such as the London-based Matriarchy Study Group which produced the Goddess issue of the feminist periodical Shrew (this was an occasional publication, produced by a different collective each issue) as well as the pamphlets Menstrual Taboos and The Politics of Matriarchy; these featured the early writings of Asphodel (Pauline) Long and the artist Monica Sjoo among others. Internal newsletters of the Matriarchy Study Group and the later Matriarchy Research and Reclaim Network contained much discussion of goddesses and their significance to modern and ancient women, and some of their members produced the periodical Arachne, which brought similar material to the public.

Symbol of Wicca, version 1, golden version.

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One of the founders of modern American Goddess religions is Zsuzsanna Budapest, (Zee or “Z”), who started a women-only Dianic Craft or Dianic Tradition version of witchcraft; this was in the mid-1970s, a few decades after Gerald Gardner. She was a prolific author, and who twinned Tarot and witchcraft from her Hungarian background, with feminism. Z challenged laws in California against Tarot reading and won.
The Dianic view is that separatism, in a world where gender roles were once strictly defined, is sometimes considered dangerous because it challenges what they see as patriarchal assumptions of Western culture (Budapest 1980). Zee is considered by her sect to be the honoured Mother of the American Dianic Craft and a primary proponent of modern separtist Goddess theology.

Later, in America came Starhawk, activist and author of numerous books, is an influential author/priestess in the American Goddess movement. Her 1979 book, The Spiral Dance, played a large role in popularizing the Goddess movement as well as modern Witchcraft among committed feminists, and is considered a classic of modern Paganism.

Many non-Dianics, as well as Starhawk (herself considered to be one of Z Budapest’s students), who also reject monotheistic patriarchal culture, do not agree with Z’s justification for separatism. Starhawk’s paganism was more broadly based and also drew on the Feri tradition of Witchcraft which, itself, incorporated Hawaiian, European, and Middle Eastern elements. She was initiated into the Feri tradition in California by Victor and Cora Anderson. Starhawk is one of the founders of the Reclaiming Tradition of Witchcraft, which includes both women and men, and which honors both the God and the Goddess.

With love Solmaz Hafezi

The Goddess movement

A simple black-and-white version of the Spiral...

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The Goddess movement is an overall trend in religious or spiritual beliefs or practices which emerged out of second-wave feminism, predominantly in North America, Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand in the 1970s. Spurred by centuries of male dominated organized religion (or a supreme deity referred to by masculine pronouns i.e. “he”), some women embraced the idea of a female deity that was more in keeping with feminist beliefs and the inherent value of women. A unifying theme of the movement was that the gender of deity characterizes the political gender-bias of the religion, so a Goddess Worshipping religion is held to be matriarchal and a “God” worshipping religion is held to be patriarchal.

Goddess beliefs can take many forms; some people in the Goddess movement recognize multiple goddesses. Some also include gods. While others honor what they refer to as “the Goddess”, which is not necessarily seen as monotheistic, but is often understood to be an inclusive, encompassing term incorporating many goddesses in many different cultures. The term “the Goddess” may also be understood to include a multiplicity of ways to view deity personified as female, or as a metaphor, or as a process. (Christ 1997, 2003)

Capitalization of terms such as “Goddess” and “Goddesses” usually vary with author or with the style guides of publications or publishers. Within the Goddess community, members generally consider it proper to capitalize the word “Goddess”, but not necessary when generic references are made, as in the word “goddesses”.

Goddesses refers to a local or specific deities linked clearly to a particular culture and often to particular aspects, attributes and powers (for example: the Mesopotamian goddess Ishtar; Athena; or Hindu goddesses like Sarasvati, the goddess of learning, poetry, music, inspiration and wisdom; and Lakshmi goddess of wealth and sovereignty).

One can regard a goddess (in this sense) as an aspect of the Great Goddess as well as a specific goddess with a particular role within a pantheon. The Hindu goddess, Durga, is a case in point. The name Durga can refer to a specific aspect of the Goddess but in the Shakti forms of Hinduism generally refers to the Great Goddess as AdyaShakti: the primoridal Shakti who incorporates all aspects. Anthropologists in their studies of goddesses have noted that adherents of goddesses often view their own goddess as a personal guardian or teacher.

The Goddess or the Great Goddess is a female deity that is regarded as primary. Such a religious system existed historically in many cultures, though not under the same names and not necessarily with the same traits. If there is a male god, his powers may be seen as deriving from her. (Gottner-Abendroth 1987). These terms are not usually understood to refer a single deity that is identical across cultures but rather a concept common in many ancient cultures, which those in the Goddess movement want to restore. (Christ 1997). When Goddess is spoken of as a personal guardian, as in ‘my Goddess’ it means ‘my worldview in Goddess spirituality.’

Goddess Spirituality is sometimes used as a synonym for Goddess Movement and sometimes as the spiritual practice that is part of the Goddess movement. Goddessing is a recent contribution to Goddess vocabulary, possibly derived from the British journal of the same name, following from Mary Daly’s linguistically suspect suggestion that deity is too dynamic, too much in process and changing continually, to be a noun, and should better be spoken as a verb (Daly 1973). Goddessing may also mean Goddess culture, Goddess way of life, Goddess practice, or ‘my goddessing’ as in my individual interpretation and experience of Goddess.

Priestess refers to women who dedicate themselves to one or more goddesses. It may or may not include leadership of a group, and it may or may not include legal ordination. The analogous term for men is “priest.” However, not everyone who dedicates themselves to the Goddess or goddesses calls themselves a priestess (or priest).Thealogy is a term whose first use in the context of feminist analysis of religion and discussion of Goddess is usually credited to Naomi Goldenberg, who used the term in her book Changing of the Gods, published in 1979. It substitutes the Greek feminine prefix “thea-” for the supposedly generic use of the Greek masculine prefix “theo-“. Frequently used to mean analysis of Goddess thought and mysticism, it can also be used more liberally to mean any kind of divine, not just deity divine, as in meditation, ethics, ritual pragmatics.

In the 19th century, some first-wave feminists such as Matilda Joslyn Gage and Elizabeth Cady Stanton published their ideas describing a female Deity, whilst anthropologists such as Johann Jakob Bachofen examined the ideas of prehistoric matriarchal Goddess cultures. However these ideas were largely ignored in the North America and much of Europe until second-wave feminism. In addition to Bachofen, second-wave feminists who became interested in the history of religion also refer to the work of Helen Diner (1965) and M. Esther Harding (1935) Elizabeth Gould Davis (1971) and Merlin Stone (1976).

Since the 1970s Goddess Spirituality has emerged as a recognizable international cultural movement. From 1974 to 1984, WomanSpirit, a journal edited in Oregon by Jean and Ruth Mountaingrove, published articles, poetry, and rituals by women, exploring ideas and feelings about female deity. needed] The journal The Beltane Papers, which started publication at about the same time, has been publishing continuously for more than 30 years, making it the longest still-published Goddess publication in the U.S. In 1983, Jade River and Lynnie Levy founded the Re-formed Congregation of the Goddess, International(RCG-I) in Madison, Wisconsin, RCG-I continues today with groups called “Circles” in many U. S. localities, as well as an educational program, priestess training, and ordination. The Goddess movement has found voice in various films and self-published media, such as the Women and Spirituality trilogy made by Donna Read for the National Film Board of Canada.