The divine feminine: The return of new-age movements and the politics of women’s spirituality
If all of this appears confusing, it’s because, like New Age spirituality, the divine feminine draws from deities, myths, religious concepts, beliefs, and ritual practices from various cultural and historical contexts. Goddesses from ancient Greek, Celtic, Hindu, Maori, Native American, and many other traditions are all invoked when speaking about the divine feminine, which is nothing but a new name for Goddess feminism, a western movement from the 1970s.
The return of Goddess feminism coincides with the New Age Movement's comeback. You’ve probably seen or worn crystals on a necklace and heard about white sage cleansing or manifestation. All of these centuries-old cultural practices are put together in a Tiktok without much background explanation. Scrolling a bit more, you would encounter tutorials on “how to activate divine feminine energy”, or on “how to connect with your feminine side”, intriguing offers in a way reminiscent of conservative rhetorics. To try to make sense of this resurgence, let’s deep dive into the politics of women’s spirituality.
The Goddess movement emerged in the middle of the second wave of feminism in the United States and Europe, in the late 1960s. Its emergence was not unexpected, as women’s struggle for equal rights had always been tied to the rise and spread of new forms of spirituality, namely witchcraft. In reaction to the male domination of monotheistic religions, women made up their own collage of beliefs and practices, providing a new sense of identity. The movement was international and entrenched in feminism. Goddess feminism never disappeared, but its popularity declined before its recent rebound. If the movement was always multiple and diverse, without any authority laying its core principles, the resurgence of spiritual feminism today is even more split. However, it is interesting to look at the criticisms that were first made on the Goddess movement to understand the possible dangers of current feminist spirituality.
The Goddess movement, just like the New Age Movement and the more recent divine feminine movement, is a patchwork of different systems of belief and practices from many different cultures. Yet those cultures are rarely acknowledged, and a lot of times incorrectly. Those spiritual movements are taking mythology and rituals out of their cultural contexts without concern for the population that originated them. It is blatant cultural appropriation, and thus reinforces domination systems that feminist movements are supposed to fight against.
Moreover, the image of the goddess, or the divine feminine energy, is closely connected with fertility. The sacred feminine is associated with “receiving” and “healing” energies, as opposed to “producing” and “asserting”. A sacred rhetoric ribbon around a package of millennial old patriarchal ideas. On top of reinforcing binary systems of belief, the divine feminine energy is associated with motherhood, promoting an essentialist vision of women focused on their reproductive system. From an emancipating spiritual belief to a conservative, essentialist and transphobic rhetoric is only a step.
In such a way, the danger in feminist spiritualities lies in its multiplicity. The New Age movement in which it takes its roots is a culturally-appropriating mishmash that can be shaped in dangerous ways. Furthermore, contemporary expressions of spirituality seem primarily about consumption, as seen with the sale of overpriced yet unethically sourced crystals. There is a dangerous commodification of spirituality that leads to hazardous discourses for the sole purpose of selling (a product, a spirituality course…), without ever acknowledging the origins of those practices either. Besides, feminist spiritualities long for a mythic past while the present needs action. They reinforce the status quo instead of fighting against it. Their recent resurgence is thus worrying, at a time when trans people's rights keep getting challenged. It is not about rejecting spirituality as a whole, but rather questioning the founding principles of some belief systems to practice spirituality according to your values.