The Goddess in the Groves of Academe

by Josh Davis

Sometimes I think my years of graduate school have squelched my faith. My colleagues who are people of faith talk about their beliefs with shrugs and self-deprecating smiles. Most of them are Christians, or so I gather from their quick mentions of bible study and Sunday service. I feel bad for these folks. I don’t want to them to feel as if they have to hide behind feigned embarrassment. Yet even when, despite the secular humanism that pervades the halls, I remember the part of myself that needs or wants to think about the Goddess—is it just goddess now?—I tell no one. Or, like the Methodists and Catholics, I laugh at myself and say, “If God is there, she’s a woman.” Notice the “if.” Other times I say, “I hope God is a woman.” Again with the provisional language. Do I doubt,

or do I think I have to express doubt that may or may not be genuine?

But even if it’s real, my doubt doesn’t prevent me from seeing goddess images and allusions everywhere. In King Lear, Edmund calls out, “Thou, Nature, art my goddess, to thy law.” Emily Dickinson crowns herself Queen of Calvary. The cover of Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye features a blue-robed figure floating above a snowy bridge; between her hands—why do I say “her”?—the figure holds a blue marble, glinting in the wintry light.

And it’s not all about quick sightings. A hunger for the Goddess, as an idea and as an ideal, shapes my interpretations too. For instance, in one seminar last spring, we were discussing Alice Walker’s Meridian. In an unforgettable scene, the title character enters a trance and has a shamanic encounter with the land and with her ancestor, Feather Mae, a matriarch from whose example Meridian draws strength. As we were discussing the scene, I stammered until I admitted, “I care more about stories about women. I just do.” Maybe that’s because I grew up without a mother. Maybe it’s because I’m a feminist. Or maybe it’s both of these and because I feel compelled to call attention to goddess manifestations, even if I’m too cagey to use those words, in the hope that someone else in the seminar will hear what I hear. I’d like to create space in my life for a rejuvenation of my faith, but I feel reassured by the notion that, in the meantime, all the Goddesses, not just the Goddess, make cameos in and influence literature because humankind continues to seek a spiritual alternative to patriarchy. Alicia Ostriker says, “Damn the fathers. / We are talking about defiance.” We sure are.

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