Q: Interpret Carol Christ on the background of Feuerbach projection theory.
Is the Goddess Real?
In this passage from Why Women Need the Goddess, Carol Christ is in conversation with several positions and ideas around the meaning and value of a feminine deity. My essay is an investigation into Carol’s1 own position. I am curious to understand if the Goddess she speaks of is simply a symbol? Furthermore, I am interested to understand if there a connection between Feuerbach’s Projection Theory and the ideology Carol portrays in her book.
For Carol, it is easy to recognise that symbolism is of prime importance. Furthermore, ‘meaning’ in Theology, should be viewed secondary to symbolism. She believes that symbols have a much deeper significance than any explanations that mere meaning can have. This suggests to us that Carol finds it important for every woman, to have their own individual interpretation. This interpretation of the Goddess, for her, has the potential of being, an avenue for self-discovery, a source of strength and a pathway for spirituality. It is around such boundaries Carol feels women should embrace the ‘Goddess’.
So what is the Goddess? The Goddess for Carol is an entity that exists within us, and also exists outside of us. As an external being, the Goddess allows us to project our most important values and desires. It is a personification of the idealism we seek for in life. Here there are no limits, no boundaries, the Goddess is not subjected to the same laws of society and culture that subjugate the individual, especially women. As an external, it is easy to recognise the Goddess as the infinite, this helps us define these elements of ‘truth’2 and also legitimise our beliefs. So, while the Goddess is an entity outside of the individual the existence of the Goddess within, is recognition of these qualities being inherent in every woman. Hence every woman is also the infinite and alone can be a source of truth.
It is important to recognise, that Carol’s intention in defining the Goddess as a symbol, does not place any limitations on the meaning behind such a deity, but portrays the feminine entity as ‘infinite’. This is because individual interpretation allows each person’s imagination to define, and explore the Goddess. With the boundless power one gets from the Goddess, Carol feels woman are empowered providing a healthy atmosphere for different interpretations. For some, prayer and ritual are a gateway to understanding this ideal. They allow the individual to draw what is necessary from this source. One’s conscious focus on the external causes the subconscious to focus on the self. A practise that is also found in Deity Yoga of Vajrayana Buddhism. By focussing on the image of a deity we begin to assimilate the attributes of the deity within us. These attributes, could be inherent, they could be desires, but Deity Yog is an exercise to incorporate not one set of qualities of one particular deity, but all qualities, of ‘all deities’ 3 here this practise is purely a catalysts for each individual to come closer to self and universal realization.4 In comparison, Feuerbach and Carol, define attributes of the deity to be already existent in the individual, existent through the individual’s desires. This in comparison to Deity Yog, is a limitation, as the Goddess here is limited to imagination of the individual who is trying to invoke her.
A perfect example of this can be seen when Carol speaks of the Goddess and her sacred power within nature, in particular, the life and death cycle. Here she suggests many can simply interpret the women’s cycle of menstruation, birth and death as a representation of this universal cycle. By doing so, she fortifies belief, in the power of the Goddess. Hence, she suggests that this power exists inside each woman. This is an intimidating power, as it describes women as a vessel for both creation and destruction. But does this power suggest the Goddess is absolute?
Reading this text makes us wonder, if Carol is simply adopting Feurbach’s projection theory when she speaks of the Goddess? We know from the text that Carol, has deep resentment towards traditional patriarchal traditions and mentality in the west. We are introduced to this at the very beginning when she states, “ The Great Goddess alive and well is rising to announce to the patriarchs that their 5,000 years are up. Hallelujah! Here we come.”5 Here Carol portrays the rise of the Goddess in direct correlation to women’s empowerment within society. Furthermore we recognise this theme when she speaks for the need of the Goddess, as a means to legitimize feminine beauty and power. The power and value of women, seem to be of utmost importance to her. The Goddess is a projection of this value, and belief in such, is a mechanism that nurtures women to have faith and confidence in them selves. Giving them motivation to speak, or do the things they feel is right. By believing in the Goddess, Carol is trying to empower women with their own strengths. However with the simple framework that Carol has portrayed, will this consciousness of the Goddess be any more then the consciousness of each women’s own infinity?
I wonder if Carol, was aware of strong Goddess’s found in various different mythologies. I feel Carol might have found Hinduism to be an encouraging source, of both traditional and historic symbolism of women and their power. For example the Goddess Kali, (Kali in Sanskrit meaning time) is thought of as time absolute. Furthermore many argue the goddess is the master of creation, preservation and destruction. 6 She is a powerful entity, but she is also only one aspect of the Devi, the other aspects include, Shakti, which means strength, Parvati who symbolises gentleness and Lakshmi, who is both prosperity and beauty as well as many others. It is believed that no one aspect, can exist without the other and so each Goddess is just a reflection of the others in a different element. I feel this symbolism is much stronger then the limited definition portrayed by Carol. Also what Carol might find interesting, is that in many sects of Hinduism, at the time of marriage the bride accepts the task of working towards realising one of these forms of the Devi. Is this not a great example of a powerful Goddess and a symbolism that benefits both women and men? I think it is. I find it difficult to understand, Carol as a student, professor of Theology had little knowledge of Hinduism or other Easter Religions, if she was aware, depriving her audience of this knowledge seems in purpose of not introducing a Goddess divine, but a Goddess symbol. Carol’s main objective being to fight against the oppression felt by women, and for women to recognise their strength perhaps as equals to men, perhaps as more, within society.
I guess the most important question that is left unanswered might be, does Carol herself believe in the deity or is the goddess just a tool, she uses to develop and recognise her own strengths. Her suggestion that western women due to a lack of a feminine divine figure are able to merit from symbolism and help recognise the link between the Goddess and themselves does suggest one thing, but perhaps by reading more of her work, we can better identify if Carol deters from pure empowerment of women to spirituality through a feminine divine.
Rob Preece, The Psychology of Buddhist Tantra, Snow Lion, NY: 2006
Carol Christ, Why Women need the Goddess, in : J.PlasKowic, Christ (eds), Woman Spirit Rising (San Francisco: Howpiz Row, 1979)
1 Please note I chose to use the Author’s first name to avoid any confusion or suggestion of these ideas having belong to Jesus Christ.
2 Truth for the Individual
3 All deities here represent, all the aspects of the universe, it is important to remember, in Tantric forms of Buddhism there is neglect of positions of right or wrong, as a wrong can be a right through a different lens.
4 Rob Preece, The Psychology of Buddhist Tantra, Snow Lion, NY: 2006
5 Carol Christ, Why Women need the Goddess, in : J.PlasKowic, Christ (eds), Woman Spirit Rising (San Francisco: Howpiz Row, 1979) pg. 278
6 Kali, Durga, Shakti, Lakshmi(technically consort of Vishnu), Parvati, are aspects or avatars of Devi(the divine Goddess) consort of Shiva(the destroyer), Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma form the Holy Trinity of Hinduism, they are the Creator, Preserver and Destroyer, in Hindu philosophy, they are regard as one and the same, one cannot exist without the other.