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(written for the forthcoming new edition of The Ancient British Goddess by Kathy Jones).

As a child, I grew up surrounded, in my mind, by goddesses. I must have been about nine years old, when I first encountered them in the pages of The Jewish Encyclopaedia. This set of numerous volumes was one of the few reading resources open to me in a strict Orthodox household; the others I remember included biographies of mothers of 'great Jewish thinkers' (such thinkers of course were all men). But it was the notion of the existence of goddesses that inspired me, a lonely and 'difficult ' motherless girl who found the God encountered in the pages of the bible and in the synagogue services both frightening and remote. Here in these books, under headings such as Egyptology, Idolatry, etc, I found Isis, Maat, Asherah, Ashtoreth; and, a few years later at school, there were their Greek and Roman sisters, Astarte, Aphrodite, Artemis.

For all my childhood years until I left school and home at the age of sixteen, these goddesses were by me; I was frightened of them, but they were close not distant, and their nearness was a female nearness, and my terrors were of their power, but mediated by their gender. They were like me, of me, but greater by far.

Then I put them out of my mind, as I entered work, politics, sexuality, motherhood, the struggle to stay alive in the war, and all the rest. I became an atheist, established my position as a 'what was called a 'secular Jew', and agreed with the pundits that religion was the opium of the people. In particular, I grew disillusioned with leftwing politics, not least because of its hypocrisy about the equality of women...I looked and fought for a milieu that believed this not to be a sham but a comprehensive reality.

It took over thirty years to find it: there in the London Women's Liberation Movement in 1975 I became part of a group which sought not only to deal with the problems in terms of today's inequalities, but called upon the past to support the thesis that the female had not always been subordinate. but from earliest times had been part of the divine.

The Matriarchy Study Group allied the political with the spiritual, the intellectual with the emotional. We published Goddess Shrew in 1977, then Politics of Matriarchy, and Menstrual Taboos. These reached out widely and I think became part of the foundation of the women's Goddess movement in this country. The work was continued by the Matriarchy Research and Reclaim Network, which still exists, and publishes regularly. The Goddess movement has flowered widely and has been influential many different forms. In addition to the popular dimension, I am specially pleased to note and be a part of the developing action to bring Goddess studies and academe closer; in this the new (ish) discipline of Feminist Theology can play a large part. There have been some marvellous investigations done by feminist scholars that open up completely new and women-oriented horizons in traditional texts, and also questions asked that amplify our Goddess knowledge.

I have found that academic work enhances our perceptions, and our spirituality can enhance our intellectual understanding. Shifting the old parameters of androcentric bigotry to a feminist mode of enquiry opens up an optimistic scene for us.

For myself it has been a flowering of my mind and spirit. I became connected again to the Goddesses of my childhood, as well as to the politics of my adult years. I realised I had found my life's task: to search and to communicate especially to women the fact that there is a different path for us. It has been a marvellous twenty five years: the different parts of my life and being all combined for me, and I have seen a huge development of women's and feminist spirituality flower in that time.

© Asphodel P. Long 2001


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