Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Great Cosmic Mother

1987, 1991 HarperCollins edition
Monica Sjöö and Barbara Mor
The Great Cosmic Mother: Rediscovering the Religion of the Earth
Bought new for $17.95
Worn paperback

This was always my favorite "Goddess book."  The authors are intelligent and funny, tough and kind.  This is one of the books where some of the best stuff is in the Notes (like Adamson's Marx Bros book).  One of the points of the book is that sexuality, spirituality, and politics need to support each other.  So they criticize not only "radical feminists" who don't believe in ancient Goddess cultures, and Marxists who think all spirituality is oppressive, but also apolitical Wiccans.  (Sjöö would go on to write New Age & Armageddon, which we'll look at in 1992.)  This book went through several revisions, from when it began in the mid-1970s as a pamphlet.  This edition has new introductions-- including Mor's experience as a bag lady when she went off welfare but had not yet been paid by the publisher-- and some lovely color versions of Sjöö's paintings.  I think it's more of a book of the 1980s than the '90s or the '70s, remarks about the Reagan administration and all, although the couple references to polyester were already dated by '87.

The book does have flaws, if fewer than those of Walker's Encyclopedia or Davis's First Sex, and some of the other books that it builds on.  Sometimes they'll admit "we just don't know," but that doesn't stop them from speculating and jumping to conclusions.  Is it true, for instance, that myth is based on truth?  What about myths that serve propaganda purposes?  (As in the demonology Rogin examines.)  And while I can understand why they feel that the destruction of a sacred tree deserves the punishment of your intestines wrapped around the tree, at least as preferable to unpunished enviromental ravages, it's a bit like when they (and Walker) argue that occasional human sacrifice is preferable to large-scale war.  Yes, but not good enough.

It is interesting that they see some of the excesses of paganism-- like castration of priests-- as the products of the transitional time, when both sides (matriarchy and patriarchy) were going to extremes.  And I do appreciate that they're much more sympathetic to men than Davis and Walker were.  They see men as also having a stake in Goddess-cultures, past, present, and future.  This was one of the first books I read that gave me hope that men (other than my then-husband) could rebel against the sometimes virulent machismo of this culture.

Reading the book this time, my favorite chapter was "The Machine," as they talk about different aspects of modern culture.  Not that the early chapters weren't good, but I'm less interested in what hypothetically happened millennia ago than it what this all means today.  You'd think that that aspect would be more dated, but (polyester aside) things haven't changed all that much in the last quarter-century or so.  (The fact that they reference Transformers is of course amusing.)  For one thing, we're more addicted to technology than we were then.  And, yes, I'm as guilty as anyone.  One of the things about this book I've always appreciated is they don't let anyone off the hook, but they also understand how hard it is.  Even though I'm less into politics and spirituality (though not sex) than I was in my 20s (and much of that has to do with middle-age, post-9/11 burnout), I think they're much more on the right track, or spiral, than most of their peers.

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