Matilda, Goddesses and The Shack
I recently read a book called The Shack. I had heard this was a good book but had no idea what it was about. In fact, I even found two copies of the book on my shelves, as I obviously picked it up at garage or book sales over the years. My opinion, having read it, is that it wasn’t really worth the 50 cents or so that I paid for it.Obviously, my opinion differs from a lot of other people out there. The headlines on the book state that over two million copies of the book are in print. But I am used to having a different opinion than some mainstream folks. It was obvious to me after reading just a few chapters in. It was clear that this book was written primarily for Christians that were of rather limited perspectives on religion. I must compliment the author, William P. Young, on his high-quality writing and vocabulary. And I give him a lot of credit for prying the lid off many of the simplistic concepts that “true believers” have adopted without thinking very much on their own or more deeply investigating other religions and earlier periods of history. And maybe it was a wiser approach to nudging people’s preconceptions about religion, as his book has made a lot of money and Matilda Joslyn Gage’s book, Woman, Church and State, A Historical Account of the Status of Woman Through the Christian Ages: with Reminiscences of the Matriarcate was banned in her own hometown. Yet Matilda’s book was very thoroughly researched and footnoted. Matilda objected most of her life to the teachings of religious institutions that denigrated women. She admonished, “If religion has a lesson to teach mankind, it is that of personal responsibility; it is that of worth and duty of the individual; it is that each human is alone accountable for his or her course in life; it is the lesson of the absolute equality of each human being with every other human being.”
Matilda was in the last decade of her life when she wrote this magnum opus. (We do tend to censor ourselves less and less as we get older!) This radical book, documenting the denigration of women in the early church, caused many to disassociate with her. Susan B. Anthony was one of them. She felt Matilda had gone too far and would alienate Christian groups whose support the Suffrage Movement hoped to gain. So, she “kicked her to the curb.” Matilda’s retribution was this book, which documented, chapter by chapter, the outrageous and cruel ways females were sidelined, subordinated, dis-empowered, devalued and murdered (through four hundred years of witch-burning) for the crime of being a woman.
Matilda posited that “Before it became…possible to ignore the feminine in creation, God had been robbed of their feminine principle recognized everywhere in Pagandom.” The Shack is completely oblivious to the existence of the long periods of prehistory and history when “God was a woman.”
Matilda knew several languages, which helped her research documents from ancient times in their original Latin or Greek. She also paid attention to archeological discoveries that were happening in other parts of the world in the 1900’s. So, she knew well the existence and ancient wisdom of the goddess religions that used to reign for centuries before the assault and domination by patriarchal warriors and religions. Through her diligent research she uncovered the paths of goddesses down through the ages. She was also very aware of the matriarchal elements of the Haudenosaunee (Onondaga, Oneida, Cayuga, Seneca, Mohawk) who lived in close proximity to her in upstate New York. Their matriarchate system had never lost their reverence for the feminine. They are still honored as the life-givers and the veneration of female aspects has not been forgotten. Her investigation made known many secrets of the past. This knowledge is unknown by many. It seemed to me that Young was completely oblivious to it as he penned his novel. Yet, I owe him a compliment for portraying God as a woman in The Shack. I am not sure he was aware that “The Holy Spirit” is also not only referred to as “The Holy Ghost,” but traditionally spoken of as “The Feminine Face of God,” “The Shekinah,” the female aspect of God. Or, to give him the benefit of the doubt, he is very much aware of it but felt the necessity to ease his Christian constituency into a gradual attunement to a broader definition of Godhood. Therefore, for those readers of his book that have never contemplated God as anything but masculine, he has chipped away quite successfully at the stereotype of a white-bearded ancient male.
Gage makes it all very clear in this statement from her on the separation of Church and State: “And who is the god they desire to recognize? Not the united masculine and feminine principle, which at the beginning said, ‘Let us make man in our image after our likeness.’ So, in ‘the image of God created he him, male and female created he them, and called their name Adam.’ The National Reform Association wishes to introduce an unknown God into the Constitution, a mere masculine figment of masculine brains,–a divided God, such as men long have worshiped and preached. For ourselves, we believe in the feminine principle in humanity and the feminine principle in the God-head: and that the truest recognition of God, is to do justice to every creature. The great creative, vivifying principle of the God-head, that subtle, most venerated portion of the Trinity, through whose life-giving power Christ was generated—the Holy Spirit—is feminine, and the great, unforgiven sin of the ages, is the non-recognition of this feminine principle in the God-head. (“God in the Constitution,” October,1881).
Have you ever read the “Our Father,” (“The Lord’s Prayer”), in its original Aramaic version? God is referred to as the gender-neutral word “Creator.” Many Native Americans and other indigenous peoples still refer to “The Creator” when they pray to God.
The movie version of The Shack has recently come out. I haven’t seen it yet. Perhaps I will give an additional “review” on this subject after I have seen it.
Many of you have probably read the book and or seen the movie. Let me know what you think. Share your opinions!