Women have long been the keepers of spiritual wisdom and insight, with numerous traditions around the globe providing examples of women’s esteemed presence, practice, leadership, and mystical experience in communion with the Divine, however that may be defined. Still, in a world dominated by patriarchal faiths and institutions, women are often excluded from positions of spiritual leadership?????even in traditions where goddess is honored. More specifically, the role of women is often confined to either that of supplicant in the house of god or to that of household worshiper, women being relegated in many faiths to supportive roles alone, with their powers and passions confined to the more private spheres of life.
Within contemporary Paganism and some forms of Hinduism, notably Shakkta Tantra, however, a different story is clear: women are spiritual and community leaders within their traditions, commanding respect and honor for the carrying out of their sacred charge as defined within those communities and traditions. While ordination requirements, roles, and specific functions may vary, I argue in this presentation to the American Academy of Religion at yesterday’s Western Regional Conference and based on preliminary findings, that women clergy from the goddess-centered pathways of Paganism and Hinduism, regardless of personal and regional variances, offer us today both inspiration and an opportunity toward post-patriarchal renderings of power and authority in our spiritual communities and houses of worship. With this, women clergy too offer new possibilities as role models in not only the immediacy of their congregations and spiritual communities, but also in all the spaces they choose to inhabit as empowered female leaders.