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Searching for Goddesses Around the Globe, From Ireland to India


On a trip to Egypt last year, I saw the winged figure of the goddess Isis carved into sarcophagi and painted on walls inside tombs. I knew almost nothing about her and the other goddesses--Nut, Hathor, Sekhmet--who were worshiped along with gods in Egypt 3,000 years ago.

But Isis and a host of female deities from ancient cultures all over the world are well known to archeologists and historians. Moreover, a growing number of people are studying goddesses and, to become better acquainted with them, traveling to places where they were worshiped. As a result, a handful of small tour companies and goddess movement leaders have begun offering trips to sacred sites all over the world.

Mara Keller, director of the women's spirituality program at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco, says that the goddess movement started in the 1970s as a spiritual adjunct to the feminist revolution. Every summer, the institute holds half a dozen two-week programs in the Mediterranean, open to women and men, exploring the female-centered religious practices of ancient cultures. In June and July next year, a group will convene in Malta, where some of the earliest goddess temples have been uncovered; another program will take place at Eleusis, near Athens, the site of ceremonies that honored the Greek goddesses Demeter and Persephone; and yet another will be focused on Turkey, including the ruins of a vast Artemis Temple, once considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

Keller says the programs attract a range of people, from goddess skeptics to devotees, and involve not just sightseeing but "multiple ways of knowing, such as song, dance, rituals, dreaming, artwork and community building."

Activities like these commonly play a part in other goddess trips, which may make them outside the experience and interests of religious traditionalists. But for goddess seekers, ceremonies with chanting and meditation can be a way to forge spiritual connections to places where female divinities were embraced and revered, Keller says.

"Goddess beliefs are simple, creedless and open," says Jana Ruble, co-director of the Virginia-based Ariadne Institute, which offers three pilgrimages a year, for women only. The destinations of these trips are the Greek island of Lesbos, birthplace of the poet Sappho who lived in the sixth century BC, and Crete, where archeologists like Marija Gimbutas, who did seminal studies of prehistoric goddess cultures, believe a strikingly harmonious, mother goddess-worshiping society evolved before 1450 BC.

Ruble says that at such places, Western women are given hope that the female face of God will someday be re-revealed to counterbalance the materialism and violence of the modern world. The institute's trips are educational (earning travelers one to three units of college credit), but there is a strong spiritual component as well.

"When you travel under a female god's hand, you tend to look at things differently," says Kimberli Munkres of Redlands. She has taken two goddess trips, including one to Greece six years ago with Starhawk, a goddess movement leader and the author of "The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess" (Harper, $17). Starhawk, who takes women-only groups abroad every other year and has a two-week program in Ireland planned for the summer of 2002, wants her trips, above all, to be fun. But she says the journeys also give women "a chance to explore their lives on a deeper level, learn goddess history and be with kindred spirits."

Other goddess tours for men and women are offered by Colorado-based Soluna Tours, with trips planned to Egypt, France, Peru and India, and by Hathor Rising in Jackson, Wyo., which is sponsoring a pilgrimage to Egypt from Feb. 23 to March 8.

Options for women-only tours include a trip to Kerala, India, from Jan. 27 to Feb. 11, offered by the San Francisco-based New College of California, and four upcoming tours organized by Alaura O'Dell, founder and director of Sacred Journeys for Women in Occidental, Calif. Among these is a visit to ancient holy sites in western England, such as Stonehenge and Avebury, from July 23 to Aug. 5, which includes admission to a popular goddess conference in Glastonbury every year. O'Dell says the trip to England last year ended with a visit to a deserted stone circle in Cornwall on a night when the moon was full. (Together with the sea, forest, serpent and cow, the moon is a symbol of the goddess in myth and art.)

I'd have liked to have been along for that because if there is magic left in the world, it sounds as if it would have happened there. The best trips, I've found, are always somehow spiritual.

Ariadne Institute, 1306 Crestview Drive, Blacksburg, VA 24060; telephone and fax (540) 951-3070, Internet

California Institute of Integral Studies, 1453 Mission St., San Francisco, CA 94103; tel. (415) 575-6100, fax (415) 575-1264, Internet

Hathor Rising, P.O. Box 747, Queens Lane, Jackson, WY 83001; tel. (307) 739-0748, fax (307) 733-1508.

New College of California, 741 Valencia St., San Francisco, CA 94110; tel. (415) 437-3422 or (800) 335-6262, Ext. 422, fax (650) 322-7960, Internet

Sacred Journeys for Women, P.O. Box 893, Occidental, CA 95465; tel. (888) 779-6696 or (707) 524-4030, Internet

Soluna Tours, 2595 Rossmere St., Colorado Springs, CO 80919; tel. (877) 283-4823, fax and phone (360) 357-8572, Internet

Starhawk, c/o Harmony Network, P.O. Box 582, Sebastopol, CA 95473; tel. (707) 823-9377.

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