I first met the Divine Feminine in a book.
It was Goethe’s Faust, and after hundreds of pages of dense, bewildering story about the quest for power and knowledge, I had little hope for a good ending. But then I read its final two lines, and they changed my life: “The Eternal Feminine draws us onward.”
I know some people insist that the Divine Feminine must be encountered in the body, in the heart, in the spirit, but I believe firmly She can also be met in the mind. In reading about and comprehending the Divine Feminine, I have participated in the new exciting field that religious scholar Carol P. Christ calls thealogy, the study of Goddess. And that study has primed me for the intuitive, emotional, and spiritual experience of the Feminine that has changed me.
I needed to learn first, so I could fully open myself to Her truth. And so I offer you the books that introduced the Feminine to me, the ones I believe every Divine Feminist should explore.
1. When God Was a Woman by Merlin Stone
This is one of those obscure books that quietly changed the world. In 1976, art historian and sculptor Merlin Stone (bravely) published this archaeological and anthropological masterpiece that exposed the true history of the Goddess that had been ignored by scholars for decades. Stone spent years piecing together the existence of a prehistoric Great Goddess, as well as the cause of her downfall by patriarchal suppression. At its core, this book is a historiography of the golden age of the Goddess, and the tragic story of how the patriarchy not only usurped her power in the first millennium B.C., but drove her into repression and defeated her. It’s essential for any Feminist reaching toward a deeper understanding of the Goddess and her legacy.
2. The Great Mother: An Analysis of the Archetype by Erich Neumann
This is another one of those foundational texts that opened the door to exploring the Feminine. A Jungian scholar and psychologist, Neumann spent a large portion of his life dedicated to uncovering the archetype of the Divine Feminine, and introducing her to modern scholarship. This book looks at the Great Mother as an ancient archetype of Femininity that has been lost or misunderstood for centuries. Neumann examines the archetype in her various forms, from Devouring Mother to Virgin to Crone, and basically creates the schema through which thinkers have been studying the Feminine since.
3. Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype by Clarissa Pinkola Éstes
When this book was released in the early 90s, it instantly became a Feminist hit. Éstes looks at the Feminine as an archetype of wildness, encouraging women to challenge the tidy ideas of womanhood we’ve been taught for centuries. Using depth psychology, archetypal thinking, and mythology, Éstes teaches women how to re-wild themselves into their organic, embodied power. It is less academic feeling than the previous two, but no less brilliant and poignant. Absolutely a must-read.
4. The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth by Robert Graves
Robert Graves can be a tough one to get through, and he’s often ridiculed in academic circles, but lemme tell ya, this guy had some balls. Back in 1948, when the cult of the masculine hero was at its height, Graves published this book which claims that deep down the world really worships a Goddess—the White Goddess. Analyzing primarily Celtic, Greek, and near-Eastern mythology, Graves theorizes that all poetry and art and numinous devotion is (often unconsciously) inspired by the singular and tripartite Goddess of birth, love, and death. In this stunning (though dense) book, Graves inscribes the poetry of the White Goddess onto his readers’ heart forever.
5. Dancing in the Flames: The Dark Goddess in the Transformation of Consciousness by Marion Woodman & Elinor J. Dickson
Marion Woodman is every Jungian woman’s guru. She is witty and brooding, brilliant and whimsical. Dancing in the Flames is one of her most popular works, and it’s a very readable dive into the darker side of the Feminine, the unconscious, deep, powerful Goddess from whom we’ve been alienated over the last several thousand years. As a Jungian text, it looks at the archetype both in theory and practice as a psychological phenomenon. It’s a life-changing read for the woman (or person) seeking a more embodied experience of the dark side of the Feminine, and an understanding of how she affects the human heart and mind.
6. Return of the Goddess by Carol P. Christ
As her name indicates, Carol Christ was originally a Christian theologian with a PhD. from Yale, who met the Goddess through the experience of her mother dying. She began digging into the reality of the Divine Feminine, and initiated a lifelong vocation to reintroducing her to the world. Christ has authored and edited numerous books on feminist spirituality and the Goddess, but this one is my favorite. It’s concise and clear, and touches on almost everything, from the ancient patriarchal murder of the Goddess to the burgeoning field of ecofeminism. For someone really interested in what it means to believe in the Divine Feminine, this is a beautiful examination of the qualities and powers of the Goddess.
7. Lost Goddesses of Early Greece: A Collection of Pre-Hellenic Myths by Charlene Spretnak
I’ve read this little book multiple times, and every time I’ve fallen in love. Moving away from more analytical territory, this is a book of myth, but it’s the myth of the Goddess as she would tell it. It’s clear that Spretnak did tremendous, painstaking research to try to piece together the original myths of Hellenistic goddesses who were fundamentally changed by the patriarchal invasions of the 3rd to 1st millennia BC. It’s a beautiful attempt to return the voice of the Divine Feminine to her, and pretty to read, too!
8. Goddesses in Everywoman: A New Psychology of Women by Jean Shinoda Bolen
Ok, I have to admit that I’ve never fully read this one, but I’ve meant to for pretty much ever. Another brilliant Jungian, Bolen goes a step farther than her predecessors and examines the Divine Feminine not as a singular archetype, but as a multiplicity of archetypes. Using the goddesses with whom most of us are familiar, Bolen examines them as differentiated models that can help us to further individuate specifically as women. It’s a psychological and educational tool that has been recommended to me literally countless times.
9. Meditations with Hildegard of Bingen
Did I save the best for last? If you are not familiar with Hildegard von Bingen, google her now. Hildegard was a medieval visionary, mystic, and polymath, meaning she did pretty much everything and was damn good at it. But while Hildegard’s antiphons take my breath away and her visions give me the chills, it’s her poetry that shakes me to the core. Her meditations are inspired from her personal encounters of God, and are remarkably Feminist and Nature-revering. Reading them is like stepping into the heart of the Divine Feminine, and it elicits a comprehension that surpasses the intellect and settles deep in the soul.