What Is Goddess Thealogy & Deasophy?This article is mostly comfortable to read for the non-academic reader. Where there are some bits of jargon you can still understand the general drift - or why not ask for help with unfamilar words in our online community forum?
Charlotte Caron's definition of thealogy is a useful introductory definition,
as "reflection on the divine in feminine and feminist terms."
(1996) "To Make and Make Again" Russell & Clarkson.
Goddess thealogy and deasophy are reflections on both past and contemporary Goddess communities' beliefs, wisdom, embodied practices, questions, and values.
The root term 'thea' in 'thealogy' refers to Goddess, then the root term 'logos' refers to the mind, or intellect, or words, often translated as 'the study of' something. So 'thealogy' is the study of goddess.
Both thealogy and deasophy, or more accurately the many thealogies and deasophies, have been emerging from the feminist and Pagan spirituality movements over the last century. Some Christian feminist theologians have since the 1970s begun to intuitively use the term thealogy, to replace or partner the masculinist term theology. Ovarinal or foundational contributions to thealogy and deasophy are found in works of thealogians and deasophists Matilda Joslyn Gage (19thC), Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1920s), Valerie Saiving (1960s), Starhawk, Carol Christ, Charlotte Caron (1970s), Melissa Raphael (1990s), Max Dashu, Paul Reid-Bowen (recently) and others.
So what exactly constitutes thealogical discourse and deasophical discourse? Perhaps you are wondering what all the fuss is with changing just one letter? or you do not see the need for a whole new discourse associated with the Divine realm. Perhaps it seems that theology should be sufficient in a similar way to how the term "man" has been used for both women and men. Thealogy essentially means the same thing as theology, surely?
Theology as a discourse no longer remains transformative or relevant to many who associate with the Goddess(es) or the Sacred Feminine because 'theology' tends to focus on the Judeo-Christian (male) God. Theology language simply does not speak to the experiences and beliefs of many spiritual and religious feminists. A great many women and men have left the theological traditions because they feel alienated, defined as less valuable then the male norm. Not everyone feels this way and theology remains an active option.
But for many the experience of being secondary, inferior, shut out, silenced or shamed is no longer acceptable. Thealogy speaks to those who desire to honour the feminine sacred as primary.
Thealogy and deasophy should not just be defined as an opposite to another discourse like theology. That can be a useful starting point but it is very basic. Thealogy is far richer than 'god in a skirt.' Thealogy and deasophy are typically associated with the Neopagan Goddess spiritual communities, or historical goddess traditions. Some goddess discourses also emerge fromChristian feminism, Muslim feminism, Jewish feminism, and Spiritual feminists who do not necessarily identify with the term Goddess but uphold the idea of the Sacred Feminine Principle.
The aim of ITD is to name thealogy and deasophy rooted in a priori experience and thought of our own, to name them on their own terms. Whatever these terms are or however thealogy and deasophy take shape lies in the hands of those who practice and sympathetically study the relevant faith traditions.
Thealogy addresses ~
~ enquiry into the meaning and nature of the Goddess(es) or Sacred Feminines;
~ the meaning and nature of life forms and the universe in relation to the Divine/ Divinities;
~ and/or feminist understandings of the Divine that are post-kyriarchal.
Thealogies encompass all religious orientations including polytheism, monotheism, metatheism, ditheism, pantheism and so on.
"To the death-based religion, the main question is, 'What is going to happen to ME after I am dead?' - a posthumous egoism. To the life-based religion, the main question is, 'What is to be done for the child who is born?' "
Charlotte Perkins Gilman, (1923). "His Religion and Hers."
Thealogy draws attention to various questions including but not limited to the following:
What is the nature or essence of Goddess(es)?
How did the universe begin? or did it/ she have no beginning?
How do life-forms exist in relationship with the Goddess(es)?
Who are we? or who are we to become, and where are we going?
What is the purpose of my life and how should I live my life?
What can 'selfish' or 'pure' mean to women or men who have been socialised differently about the idea of self and sexuality?
What does is mean to live in a female or male body, or a body which is not clearly either?
How does it change our ideals if the body, which is birthed by women, is sacred and central, rather than rejected and despised?
How do we nurture the children in a Goddess community?
What is the relationship between intellect or mind, and emotions, intuition, or magical thinking? How do rituals work and do we need them?
What do old myths and stories look like if we look at them with new eyes? How can we remake them with challenge and compassion?
How do we respect the Earth in everyday ways as a manifestation of Goddess/es?
How can we work with our social systems to remedy the damage humanity has done to the Earth due to beliefs in mastery?
Thealogy rests on the traditional 'logos' word root from classical Greek. Because of the philosophical heritage of phalogocentrism that has dominated much of privileged (white male) Western thought, some spiritual feminist scholars and practitioners object to the use of such a term. They point out that 'logos' denotes a discourse that is hyperrationalist, with masculinist connotations, making even the term 'thealogy' problematic for describing the wisdom of Goddess(es) or the Sacred Feminine.
Instead, the alternative Greek root 'sophia' or 'sophy' translates as 'feminine wisdom' which is not only of the mind but also of the body. This expresses the importance of embodied experience with the role and value of subjectivity in constructing knowledge. In the spirit of valuing the contributions that spiritual feminist women are making to the field of Goddess discourse, the term deasophy is included in ITD as an alternative term to thealogy.
Whether it signifies a whole other discourse separate from thealogy, a differing approach, or simply represents an alternative name remains to be seen. Max Dashu (2010), the deasophist who coined the term, refers to deasophy as a female-friendly, multidimensional, non-linear, non-hierarchical and anti-authoritarian discourse which recognizes the pervasiveness of the Sacred as present in every being, in Nature, and in the spiritual philosophies of all peoples.
Deasophy can be preliminarily defined as follows:
Within the context of past and contemporary spiritual/religious traditions, deasophy concerns the embodied inquiry into discerning the wisdom of the immanent Sacred Feminine or Goddess(es), Universe, and life forms in relation to the Divine/Divinities.
With respect to both thealogy (and deasophy), its methodological and epistemological orientation tends to be rooted in feminist thought, though thealogy does not necessarily have to be feminist in orientation. At ITD we are devoted to feminist praxis, so thealogy and deasophy are more properly described as feminist thealogy and feminist deasophy.
Epistemically and ontologically, thealogy and deasophy inquire into the wisdom and meaning of Goddess, life forms, and the universe drawing on a post-patriarchal and post-kyriarchal lens.
Engaging in thealogical reflection and/or deasophical engagement is not only personal, but also an interactive and dialogical endeavor. Methodologically speaking, these are mental and experientially based processes rather than dualistic ones or solely a cognitive function. They value subjectivity as much as or more than objectivity, community as much as or more than individualism, and they are politically charged, not apolitical.
As such, they are constituted in both theory and practice. The nature of thealogical and deasophical discourse is fluid, continuous, and in a constant process of becoming; it is never stagnant, unchanging, or authoritatively binding. As both discourses are influenced by contemporary postmodern insights, both fields are hesitant towards universal truth claims and carry a healthy Neopagan cautionary stance towards the notion of absolutist doctrine superior to the faculties of reason, feeling and experience.
Thus, thealogy and deasophy are focused more on processes that can mutate rather than producing products that are immutable and determinant. They are about processes and products so long as the products do not become oppressive. Beyond this, what constitutes thealogy and deasophy is the task of future scholars and practitioners to discern and articulate.
"... examine for yourselves; accept or reject from the proof offered, but do not allow the Church or the State to govern your thought or dictate your judgment.."
Matilda Joslyn Gage (1893) "Woman, Church and State." From the Preface.
Angela Hope (2010) Founder of ITD.
Expanded by Shan Morgain (2012)
Expanded by Shan Morgain (2012)
Above: "Wisdom Scroll" © 1999 Max Dashu