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In Memoriam: Carol Patrice Christ

Carol Patrice Christ was and will remain one of the foremothers and most brilliant voices of the Women’s Spirituality movement

July 14, 2021

Mara Keller, CIIS professor emerita, co-founder of the Women’s Spirituality Program, and close friend and colleague of Carol Christ wrote the following tribute.

Carol Christ

In Goddess religion death is not feared, but is understood to be a part of life, followed by birth and renewal.” - Carol P. Christ 

Carol Patrice Christ died peacefully on July 14 from cancer.  Carol was and will remain one of the foremothers and most brilliant voices of the Women’s Spirituality movement.  At the conference on “The Great Goddess Re-Emerging” at the University of California at Santa Cruz in the spring of 1978, Carol  delivered the keynote address, “Why Women Need the Goddess: Phenomenological, Psychological, and Political Reflections.” Christ proposed four compelling reasons why women might turn to the Goddess: the affirmation and legitimation of female power as beneficent; affirmation of the female body and its life cycles; affirmation of women’s will; and affirmation of women’s bonds with one another and their positive female heritage (Christ 1979). 

Carol graduated from Yale University with a PhD in Religious Studies and went on to teach as a feminist scholar of women and religion, women’s spirituality, and Goddess studies, at institutions including Columbia University, Harvard Divinity School, Pomona College, San Jose State University, and the California Institute of Integral Studies, where she was an adjunct professor since the inception of the Women’s Spirituality, Philosophy and Religion graduate studies program in 1993.  Christ published eight profoundly thoughtful and inspiring books, several in collaboration with her friend and colleague Judith Plaskow, whom she met at Yale: 

  • Diving Deep and Surfacing: Women Writers on Spiritual Quest (1986)
  • Woman Spirit Rising: A Feminist Reader in Religion, anthology co-edited with Judith Plaskow (1992)
  • Odyssey with the Goddess: A Spiritual Quest in Crete (1995) 
  • Weaving the Visions: New Patterns in Feminist Spirituality. Anthology co-edited with Judith Plaskow (1989) 
  • Laughter of Aphrodite: Reflections on a Journey to the Goddess (1987)
  • Rebirth of the Goddess: Finding Meaning in Feminist Spirituality (1998)
  • She Who Changes: Re-imaging the Divine in the World (2004)
  • Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology. Co-authored with Judith Plaskow (2016) 

Christ’s first book, about women writers on spiritual quest,  is a book of  spiritual feminist literary criticism that focused on feminist authors Kate Chopin, Margaret Atwood, Doris Lessing, Adriene Rich, and Ntozake Shange. She discovers four key aspects to women’s spiritual quest: the experience of nothingness; awakening (to the powers that are greater than oneself, often found in nature); insight (into the meaning of one’s life); and a new naming (in one’s own terms). She emphasizes the importance of telling women’s stories in order to move beyond the stories told about women by the male-centered patriarchy. Her concluding chapter speaks of a “Culture of Wholeness,” that encompasses women’s quest for wholeness, and she adds that, for this wholeness to be realized, the personal spiritual quest needs to be combined with the quest for social justice. 

After first traveling to Greece in 1981 with the Aegean Women’s Studies Institute led by her friend Ellen Boneparth, Carol fell in love with the country. She chose to live in Greece, first in Molivos on the beautiful island of Lesbos, and then moving recently to Heraklion, Crete.  She had a passion for saving the environment and was active in the Green movement in Greece.  She also had a love for swimming in the Aegean and sharing Greek food and wine with friends in Greece and from overseas.

Carol’s fascination with Crete, ancient and modern, led her to found the Ariadne Institute for the Study of Myth and Ritual, through which she offered an educational tour, “Pilgrimage to the Goddess” twice annually.  These tours introduced many to a direct experience of the ancient Earth Mother Goddess in Crete (goddessariadne.org).

In her most recent article, for the Encyclopedia of Women in World Religion: Faith and Culture, Christ wrote about the Goddess religion and culture of her beloved island of Crete, and the roles women played in that “egalitarian matriarchal” civilization. Her eloquent words speak not only to the Goddess religion of ancient Crete, but also to the spirituality and ethical values she also cherished, which are much needed in our own culture today.

As discerners and guardians of the mysteries, women created rituals to celebrate the Source of Life and to pass the secrets of agriculture, pottery, and weaving down through the generations. The major rituals of the agricultural cycle involved blessing the seeds before planting, offering the first fruits of the harvest to the Goddess, and sharing the bounty of the harvest in communal feasts. These rituals establish that life is a gift of the Goddess and institute gift-giving as a cultural practice. As women controlled the secrets of agriculture, it makes sense that land was held by maternal clans, that kinship and inheritance passed through the maternal line, and that governance and decision-making for the group were in the hands of the elders of the maternal clan. In this context, the intelligence, love, and generosity of mothers and clan mothers would have been understood to reflect the intelligence, love, and generosity of the Goddess.*

*Carol P. Christ, “Crete, Religion and Culture” Encyclopedia of Women in World Religions: Faith and Culture across History [2 volumes] edited by Susan de-Gaia  | Nov 16, 2018   ABC-Clio Santa Barbara 2019.

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