The Way of the ‘Spiritual Feminist’

© Sandra Bluhm, 'In the Forest',
© Sandra Bluhm, 'In the Forest',

At the heart of Spiritual Feminism lies a new kind of political activism that’s guided and sustained by spirituality. Some are calling it the long-awaited “Fourth Wave” of feminism — a fusion of spirituality and social justice reminiscent of the American civil rights movement and Gandhi’s call for nonviolent change – and it’s gaining momentum, gathering women around the world and across faiths to restore humanity and the planet.

In a recent tête-à-tête with my dear friend Nikoletta, she posed the question, “who are you?” My instinctual response was, “I’m a Spiritual Feminist!” I say ‘instinctual’ because I wasn’t yet fully aware what my off-the-cuff response meant.

In any case, it was one of those deep, rich conversations that both enrich the soul and provoke contemplation after the fact. My investigation into what being a self-proclaimed Spiritual Feminist meant came in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks on 13 November and the subsequent outpourings of outrage, disbelief, nationalism and grief from around the world – and then the French President’s declaration of war against IS militants in Syria.

Why I mourn for France but won’t be changing my Facebook profile
With my Facebook feed awash with friends changing their profile picture to superimpose the translucent tricolore of the French flag, something didn’t feel right. That was until I stumbled across a letter to the Editor of the Sydney Morning Herald by Australian human rights lawyer and self-confessed Francophile, Clair Duffy, explaining why “I mourn for France but I won’t be changing my Facebook profile”.

“Even though I’m sick to the pit of my stomach about the atrocities committed in Paris a couple of nights ago,” Clair said:

I believe the answer to the problems facing our world lies beyond notions of nationalism, and so-called national identity. Beyond notions of allies and enemies. Beyond symbols representing bloodshed on the battlefield, imperial conquest, and lines drawn on maps.

Her words echo those of playwright and founder of V-Day, (a movement to stop global violence against women and girls), Eve Ensler, who recently said, “our power is seen in terms of ‘country over country, tribe against tribe’. The new paradigm, however, has to be about power ‘in the service of’ collaboration not conquest”.

Clair went on to say, “It’s also because, if every day I was to change my Facebook profile picture into the translucent flag of the countries where people had died atrocious deaths that day—atrocious, unnecessary deaths by bullets, bombs and chemical weapons, as well as economic and environmental crimes we are yet to name—it would represent all the colours of the rainbow. From Syria to Lebanon, from Iraq and Afghanistan to Sri Lanka and North Korea; from Burundi to Burma and Mexico. For the children shot dead in American classrooms, and the women killed by their partners in Australia. And for the asylum seekers drowning in droves as they try to reach safer shores.”

Clair asked for a symbol that represents the scope of global suffering: “Give me a symbol and I will wear it. Write me the song, and I will sing it,” she said.

The call of the ‘Priestess’ to restore a shattered humanity
That song, I think was written earlier this year by American spiritual teacher, author and lecturer, Marianne Williamson, when she presented at the 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Utah.

Her impassioned speech called on all of us to take up the opportunity to, “do the work of religion within ourselves. And one of the great religious principles is to purify your own heart and atone for your own mistakes.”

Marianne pointed out that religion hasn’t been historically kind to women and that, she said is, “why many of the female voices rising today in religious fervor, forming a new vortex of priestess-hood are finding ourselves at sometimes working within religious institutions and other times not welcomed in our true femaleness and practicing our priesthood elsewhere.”

Calling on the priestess that lives in all of us, she proclaimed:

Every woman here who is a healer is a priestess.
Every woman here who is a teacher or educator is a priestess.
Every woman here who feels in her heart that she was sent by divine mission – the same small voice for God that not only leads the great religious figures to perform their divine mission, but which Mahatma Gandhi said was the ‘leader of the Indian independence movement’. No matter whether its political, religious, educational, business or science or whatever, we are here and it is the true religious calling – to answer to that small deep voice within and lay it down wherever we are.

In words that echoed that of Canadian author, poet and women’s movement figure, Marion Woodman, who’s life work has been dedicated to restoring the Feminine because in her words, “the Feminine works to restore a shattered humanity”, Marianne went on to say:

Every woman needs to understand that living a meaningful life is not a popularity contest. If what you’re saying is always getting applause, you’re probably not yet doing the right stuff.

Because if we are to truly stand for the reclamation of the heart of humanity, we must remember that we live today on a planet that is not organized according to the principles that reclaim the heart of humanity. World civilization today is predicated on principles that BREAK the heart of humanity. World civilization today is fostered on principles that foster separation and not unity, that foster greed over humanitarianism, and that foster devolution and destruction and decay of the earth and the living things upon it more than the rebirth of the possibilities divinely inspired in all of us by which we might become a human race at peace with each other, with God and our planet.

She posed the question of: What if every American woman lay down on the highways across American and said, “No, you will not invade Iraq. No, you will not do that to the women of Iraq. No, you will not do that to their children. No, you will not bomb their homes.”

Imagine, if we expanded that to every woman across the world …

This is our job. Let us create our societies in whatever area we are – if you are an educator, a healer, a religious leader, whatever you do, let us prepare the ground, fertilise the soil, prepare the listening so that as women do find their voices, and men find their voices … Let us remember whether it is within a religious institution or any other, when a woman truly speaks from the depth of her heart she might be deeply appreciated by the men in the room, she might not be deeply appreciated by other women in the room, but if even one man says ‘I support her and stand for her’ and if one woman says I support her and stand with her’ that’s called a miracle, a revolution, a true divine goddess – because the divine goddess is not just beautiful, she’s fierce and when you mess with her babies and you mess with her earth, she’s had enough of that – and we’re here on her behalf.

Gather the Women
Marianne Williamson’s speech embodies the principles that sit at the heart of Spiritual Feminism. They are words that ring true against the current backdrop of terrorism, warmongering, poverty, environmental disaster and the global refugee crisis, where a new spiritual activist movement is gaining momentum. It’s gathering the attention of women, like Williamson and thousands more around the world, who identify with the call made by Californian psychotherapist, Kathlyn Schaaf to “gather the women” in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the USA in 2001.

Kathlyn’s web site and communications hub became what she and her peers from Gather the Women call, “a global sisterhood that connects women through circles. We create a safe place to share our true selves. Meeting in circle, we find our voices, claim our power and celebrate our self-worth, leading to personal and planetary transformation.”

As American journalist, author and speaker, Pythia Peay, highlighted in an article written for Utne magazine in 2005:

Their work is one example of a new kind feminism, slowly growing for a decade and now bursting out everywhere. At its heart lies a new kind of political activism that’s guided and sustained by spirituality. Some are calling it the long-awaited “Fourth Wave” of feminism — a fusion of spirituality and social justice reminiscent of the American civil rights movement and Gandhi’s call for nonviolent change.

The Fourth Wave of Feminism
So now, more than a decade on we are in the thick of a phenomenon – also referred to as “spiritual ecofeminism” or “myth feminism” – that is uniting women around the world in a new kind of political activism that combines justice with spirituality.

This new wave of feminism we are riding has been shaped by those who’ve trodden the path before us – and the gains of one generation have often been both shaped and in conflict with the ambitions of the next. In the early 1900’s, the first wave of feminists fought for women’s suffrage and the right to vote. The next wave came in the 1970’s with the Women’s Liberation movement – led by icons like Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan – who pushed for pushed for economic and legal gains. Their ideals would eventually clash with the spirited individualism of “Generation X” feminists who still advocate for women’s rights while embracing a “girlie culture” that celebrates sex, men, gay culture, and clothes.

But as never before, women are uniting in a new Feminist activism that Pythia Peay referred to as:

A new feminine paradigm of power that’s based on tolerance, mutuality, and reverence for nature that have long been identified with women – values they now see as crucial to curing the global pathologies of poverty and war.

With spirituality at its heart, the fourth wave of feminism:

  1. Espouses a new activism based not in anger, but in joy;
  2. Vocalises the need to integrate an emerging set of feminine-based values into the mainstream culture;
  3. Acknowledges that for many women, material success does not satisfy their hunger for meaning and connection – emphasizing the spiritual dimension as being as, or more, important than material rights to women’s happiness;
  4. Tends to be focused outward, beyond the individual to wider issues, often global in scope;
  5. Is based on a reverence for nature and the goddess;
  6. Celebrates pragmatism, inclusion and humour;
  7. Relies on social media technology to communicate and organise activism efforts by build a strong, popular, reactive movement online;
  8. Encourages a quiet reflection with a strong inward dimension to release the energy that can turn visionary feminist theory into action; and
  9. Seeks to empower women spiritually – often by returning to pre-Abrahamic religions, like Native American and Wiccan spirituality. Unites women across a spectrum of faiths.

In the words of American author and scholar, Carole Lee Flinders:

Feminism catches fire when it draws on its inherent spirituality. When you get Jewish, Catholic, Buddhist, Hindu, and Sufi women all practicing their faith in the same room another religion emerges, which is feminine spirituality.

Following the adoption of the United Nations Resolution 1325 (2000), which mandates that women be involved in all peace negotiations, at gatherings big and small, many women are realizing that putting themselves in the service of the world is feminism’s next step.

In the words of the wonderful Marianne Williamson, “You know what to do. Now go do it!”

Main image: © Sandra Bluhm, ‘In the Forest’,

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