Goddess: On the proliferation of goddess imagery in popular culture

Goddess: On the proliferation of goddess imagery in popular culture

Change happens slowly, but when it finally hits, the years of
individual strides and steps culminate in a burst of change. Trouble
is, change doesn’t always take effect in the ways we’d hoped.

When the “goddess movement” was birthed out of feminism in the early
seventies by groups of women passionate about both political and
personal growth, it started with small circles of women determined to
use magic as a tool for change. Leading figures during this decade
included such notables as Zsuzanna Budapest, Shekinah Mountainwater,
and Starhawk. The Wiccan religion, which was first birthed by Gerald
Gardner in the mid-twentieth century, had grown into a viable
alternative religion in both Europe and America. As one of the first
modern Western religions to worship a goddess as well as a god, it was
a logical starting point from which feminists could build their new
faith. Wicca formed the skeletal structure of the new women’s religion,
including seasonal rites and the use of magic, but was altered in ways
that made it truly different. Some continued to include male god
imagery, but a significant variant not only focused solely on the
goddess but made it a women’s mystery religion where only women
attended the rites, only women were taught magic, and seasonal rites
became inseparable from the cycles of a women’s body as she moved from
pre-menstrual maidenhood through her post-menopausal crone years. This
sect came to be known by several monikers, such as Dianic Wicca, Dianic
Witchcraft, and simply “goddess religion.”

One of the primary sacred narratives of Dianic Witchcraft was built
upon the idea that in civilizations past women held higher status than
contemporary society and was only lessened when matriarchy gave way to
patriarchy. Built upon archeological finds of female statuary
interpreted to be goddesses, the idea was birthed first by scholars but
only became the foundation of new religious movements when the idea had
gained a foothold in feminist circles. Many of the scholars (such as
Marija Gimbutas & J.J. Bachofen) who presented these ideas do not
find currency any longer with most academics. This development has
parallels with the larger Wiccan movement, whose own sacred narrative
includes the idea that it has a direct linear connection with
pre-Christian European witch-cults (as proposed by Margaret Murray), an
idea which contemporary academics have long considered unfounded.
However, whether or not the idea of matriarchy is in fact a viable and
factual history is beside the point. The role these ideas play among
contemporary Dianics and Wiccans is as sacred history, a potent
symbolic web upon which ideas for a new worldview and societal change
can blossom and grow. Key factors of this different society for both
groups include empowerment for women and a more symbiotic relationship
with nature.

Witches of either sect understand that there is magic that
happens when symbols become manifest as reality in the form of tangible
objects. First it is only within the realm of the groups that birthed
them – jewelry and adornments with representations of goddesses and
magical symbols, bumper stickers, books on nature religions, etc. –
until the symbols, if not always the idea behind them, seep into a
wider cultural milieu. Items such as those mentioned above move from
esoteric mail order catalogs and small metaphysical shops into the
women’s studies or occult sections of larger bookstores (in the case of
books) or museum gift shops (in the case of deity statuary or jewelry).
Spell candles now find their way into gift shops of every sort. Still,
even these things are perceived by the larger public as fringe items –
possibly even with satanic implications (in the case of pentacles, for
example). A lack of interest may even result in their falling below
their radar at all. Then, arriving with a force that makes it seem
almost sudden, despite the slow trickle over several decades, goddess
symbolism is everywhere. “Good Witches” have become stock characters in
TV dramas from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” to Aaron Spelling’s
“Charmed.”

In high end beauty catalogs and stores we find Charmed World’s
spell-casting kits that come with items such as “Wash that man out of
your hair” shampoo and conditioner, Eau de Fortune money-drawing
fragrance designed to release your inner tycoon!” and “Temptress”
bubble bath in hot pink containers. The contact page of their website
bears this caveat:

CharmedWorld is not affiliated with any
organized religion. Rather, it is our belief that there is magic within
all of us. We hope that our whimsical products empower people to be
proactive in their lives and, at the same time, have some fun. We would
also like to stress that our products cannot be used to bring harm to
any one, nor to make any one act against their will. Have fun! And,
most of all, have a “charmed” life!

The text above and at various places on their website
suggest Wiccan influence without being explicitly stated. These pink
potions are still in the broomcloset with regard to their inspiration.
Wiccan influence can be seen in the “harm none” ethic voiced above as
well and in the text of one of the spells: “I beseech thee, dear
Goddess, let it be true. So be it!”

Despite their assertion that products cannot be used to “make
anyone act against their will” their descriptions for their spell kits
belie their stated ethics. The Tie the Knot magical spell, for example,
bears this description:

Would your man rather have a root canal
than discuss your “future”? Do weddings make him comatose? Does he
cringe everytime you pass a jewelry store? Help him lose those
ball-and-chain blues, cast this spell to get to the “I do’s.”

Less explicitly witchy and even more mainstream is Jacqua Girls
“Goddess Gathering Kit.” According to their website, Jacqua Girls
products has “distribution to more than 2,000 prestige gift shops,
specialty and department stores in the United States, England, Canada,
Germany, Scandinavia, France, New Zealand, Japan and Hong Kong.”
Package details state:

Get all your goddess girlfriends
together for a night of rituals, and beauty to bring out the best in
your life. Includes for 4 people:

  • Juturna Aromatherapy Spray
  • Isis Jasmine Incense
  • Kali Herbal Foot soak
  • Gaia Clay Mud Mask
  • Aphrodite Jojoba Lotion
  • Wish Boxes
  • Hestia candle
  • Bindis
  • Henna Tattoos
  • Invitations

 

 

Women have been gathering for thousands of years
to share in story-telling, ritual, beauty, and bonding. In this
fast-paced world we seldom take the time to gather in this ancient way.
This kit was created to encourage you to gather with your friends for a
meaningful and memorable time and discover your true goddess potential.
So may it be!

Here again a Wiccan influence can be detected in the phrase “So may it
be” and the names of popular goddesses, but otherwise the kit makes no
mention of spirituality. Instead, the intent is to “discover your true
goddess potential.” As goddess imagery seeps further and further into
popular culture, the word goddess begins to shed its religious
implications and seems to connote beauty with a liberal dash of female
bonding thrown in. Here, we make wishes, not magick. Dark and powerful
Kali is relegated to soothing tired feet.


The Go Goddess
game also doesn’t make any mention of magic or religion (though they do
refer obliquely to spirituality and include “chakra-colored candles”),
but does borrow a phrase from Dianic Witchcraft, paraphrased
prominently on their website: “What does a goddess look like? Look in
the mirror. You are a goddess.” Below this, the creators state that the
Go Goddess game is:


. . .an enriching catalyst to realize our dreams, recreate our lives
and fulfill our unique potential.By bringing women together to share
life’s experiences, Go Goddess! is a great way to connect with friends,
make new ones, and realize the goddess that’s blossoming within each of
us.

There are no right or wrong answers, and no
judgments. Go Goddess! is a concept for living, a spiritual oasis that
bathes you in positive, supportive energies, and inspires you to be the
best you can be – to be the best mate, mother, sister, daughter, lover
and friend. That’s what we all want, isn’t it?

Unlike the Jacqua Girls kit, the Go Goddess game
leans more heavily toward female bonding and empowerment than beauty.
This is pop psychology with a Goddess twist rather than either religion
or cosmetics, but it seems clear that our beloved goddess is destined
to attain pop culture saturation as a synonym for beauty – hairless
beauty.


The most audacious use of goddess imagery is without a doubt the Gillette Venus Razor
for women. The television commercial for this product pans over dozens
of svelte women in white bathing suits kicking their smooth hairless
legs to the pop tune lyric “I’m your Venus.” The close-up of the razor
itself reveals a handle shaped to look like a woman’s body with her
arms raised above her, much like the Nile river goddess. The slogan for
this product, “Reveal the Goddess in You” (which is, by the way,
trademarked) suggests that the word goddess, here, refers to a woman
finally free of all that unwanted body hair.

As much as we want to believe in symbols as archetypes that
shape our consciousness as a species, symbols evolve and meanings
change. The fact of the matter is that once the meaning has changed, it
loses some of its power even for those who embrace it. The use of the
swastika by the Nazis has never regained its luster. An extreme
example, to be sure, but the goals of feminist witches have never been
modest. They seek to change the world for the better, but unfortunately
much of the world does not want to change with them.

 

Document Copyright 2001 Spiritualitea.com & Sandra Mizumoto Posey, Ph.D., author of Cafe Nation: Coffee Folklore, Magick, & Divination
(Santa Monica Press, 2000). This article may be reproduced as long as
no changes, additions or deletions are made to the text. All the
information in this paragraph must be included on the document whenever
it is distributed or reproduced.

 

 

 

Leave a Reply