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Editors IntroductionGlenn Hartelius

Altered States During Shamanic Drumming: A Phenomenological Study

Anette Kjellgren & Anders Eriksson
A Chakra System Model of Lifespan DevelopmentK. Candis Best
Transpersonal Feminism
Introduction to Special Topic SectionChristine Brooks & Courtenay Crouch
Unidentifed Allies: Intersections of Feminist and Transpersonal Tought
and Potential Contributions to Social ChangeChristine Brooks

Ecology of the Erotic in a Myth of InannaJudy Grahn
Mothering Fundamentalism:
Te Transformation of Modern Women into FundamentalistsSophia Korb
Psychospiritual Development of Female Adoptees
Raised Within a Closed Adoption System:
A Teoretical Model Within a Feminist and Jungian PerspectiveApril E. Topfer

Te Word, the Body, and the Kinfolk: Te Intersection of Transpersonal Tought
with Womanist Approaches to PsychologyJuko Martina Holiday

A Transpersonal Feminist Approach to Family SystemsIrene Sheiner Lazarus

Te Wheel of the Year as a Spiritual Psychology for WomenValeire Kim Duckett

Eclipse (Poem)Judy Schavrien

War and Nature in Classical Athens and Today: Demoting and Restoring
the Underground GoddessesJudy Schavrien
A Reply to CaprilesJohn Abramson

Volume 29(2), 2010
ranspersonal Studies T

he International Journal of
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies
Table of Contents
Editors IntroductionGlenn Hartelius iii
Altered States During Shamanic Drumming: A Phenomenological Study
Anette Kjellgren & Anders Eriksson 1
A Chakra System Model of Lifespan DevelopmentK. Candis Best 11
Transpersonal Feminism
Introduction to Special Topic SectionChristine Brooks & Courtenay Crouch 28
Unidentifed Allies: Intersections of Feminist and Transpersonal Tought
and Potential Contributions to Social ChangeChristine Brooks 33

Ecology of the Erotic in a Myth of InannaJudy Grahn 58
Mothering Fundamentalism:
Te Transformation of Modern Women into FundamentalistsSophia Korb 68
Psychospiritual Development of Female Adoptees
Raised Within a Closed Adoption System:
A Teoretical Model Within a Feminist and Jungian PerspectiveApril E. Topfer 87

Te Word, the Body, and the Kinfolk: Te Intersection of Transpersonal Tought
with Womanist Approaches to PsychologyJuko Martina Holiday 103

A Transpersonal Feminist Approach to Family SystemsIrene Sheiner Lazarus 121

Te Wheel of the Year as a Spiritual Psychology for WomenValeire Kim Duckett 137

Eclipse (Poem)Judy Schavrien 152

War and Nature in Classical Athens and Today: Demoting and Restoring 153
the Underground GoddessesJudy Schavrien
A Reply to CaprilesJohn Abramson 180

he International Journal of
ranspersonal Studies
Volume 29(2), 2010
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies
The Internatonal Journal of Transpersonal Studes
Volume 29, Issue 2, 2010
Glenn Hartelius
Senior Editor
Harris Friedman
Coordinating Editor
Les Lancaster
Assistant Editor
Maureen Harrahy
Honorary Editor
Stanley Krippner
Editors Emeriti
Don Diespecker
Philippe Gross
Douglas A. MacDonald
Sam Shapiro
Special Topic Editors
Christine Brooks
Courtenay Crouch
Associate Managing Editors
Jessica Bockler
Charles Flores
Cheryl Fracasso
Adam Rock
Rochelle Suri
Associate Circulation Editor
Adrian Andreescu
Editorial Assistant
Lila Hartelius
Floraglades Foundation, Incorporated
1270 Tom Coker Road
LaBelle, FL 33935
2010 by Floraglades Foundation, Inc.
All Rights Reserved
ISSN (Print) 1321-0122
ISSN (Electronic) 1942-3241
Board of Editors
Manuel Almendro (Spain)
Rosemarie Anderson (USA)
Liora Birnbaum (Israel)
Laura Boggio Gilot (Italy)
Jacek Brewczynski (USA)
Sren Brier (Denmark)
Elias Capriles (Venezuela)
Michael Daniels (UK)
John Davis (USA)
Wlodzislaw Duch (Poland)
James Fadiman (USA)
Jorge N. Ferrer (Spain/USA)
Joachim Galuska (Germany)
David Y. F. Ho (Hong Kong, China)
Daniel Holland (USA)
Chad Johnson (USA)
Bruno G. Just (Australia)
Sean Kelly (USA)
Jefrey Kuentzel (USA)
S. K. Kiran Kumar (India)
Charles Laughlin (Canada/USA)
Olga Louchakova (USA)
Vladimir Maykov (Russia)
Axel A. Randrup (Denmark)
Vitor Rodriguez (Portugal)
Brent Dean Robbins (USA)
Mario Simes (Portugal)
Charles Tart (USA)
Rosanna Vitale (Canada)
John Welwood (USA)
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies

Editors Introduction
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies, 29(2), 2010, pp. iii-iv
he International Journal of Transpersonal Studies
(IJTS) has a three-fold mission: to build and enrich
the literature of transpersonal psychology and
related felds, to encourage the publication of empirical
research in these felds, and to expand transpersonal
studies by cultivating the use of a transpersonal approach
to other areas of scholarship. Te current issue advances
all three of these goals.
Early in the transpersonal felds history it was
recognized that other disciplines of study contributed
to transpersonal psychology (Boucouvalas, 1980). Later
it became clear that transpersonal approaches might
also develop in non-psychology areas such as sociology,
education, anthropology (Walsh, 1993), medicine
(Achterberg, 1992), and business (Schott, 1992). Some
felds not carrying the transpersonal name have also been
seen as closely related, such as ecopsychology (Davis,
1998) and somatics (Walsh, 1993). Tese disciplines
arguably belong under the umbrella of transpersonal
studies, to which this journal is devoted.
In addition to cultivating transpersonal disci-
plines, IJTS also supports the development of transper-
sonal approaches within felds with which there are
signifcant points of overlap. Contemporary feminism is
one of these felds, and the Special Topic in this issue
ofers papers that explore a transpersonal approach to
feminist thought and research. Tese are previewed by
Special Topic editors Christine Brooks and Courtenay
Crouch in the editoral introduction to that section.
In this way, a major portion of the issue is devoted to
pursuing the third of the journals goals.
Te second goal, promotion of empirical work in
transpersonal psychology, is furthered by one of the two
general articles also presented here: a phenomenological
study by Anette Kjellgren and Anders Eriksson on altered
states experienced during shamanic-like drumming.
Te result is a clear description of the experience of
shamanic-like journeying, richly studded with the
personal language of the participants. While shamanic
experiences have been of great interest to transpersonal
psychologists, this study is one of a small number that
investigate the processes associated with shamanic
journeying in a systematic way.
Te importance of empirical work within
transpersonal studies cannot be overemphasized.
Transpersonal felds are rich with theory and philosophy,
and while there is some evidence that the trend is toward
more research within tranperonal psychology (G. Rothe,
personal communication, June 6, 2011), there is much
low-hanging fruit in terms of opportunities to test
transpersonal ideas empirically. For this reason, IJTS
gives precedence to empirical submissions.
A second paper, by Candace Best, ofers a
lifespan development model based on the traditional
Indian chakra system. In this view, the fetal stage and
approximately the frst 16 months after birth correspond
to the root chakra, which sits at the base of the spine.
Tis chakra is associated with the rudimentary processes
of existence. From here the average individual passes
through stages associated with another three of the
seven chakras: the sacral, navel, and heart chakras.
Te heart chakra corresponds to the stages of middle
adulthood through old age. For individuals with
exceptional spiritual development, the throat, brow,
and crown chakras may also open, bringing with them
higher human capacities. Tis paper represents an area
not yet well developed within transpersonal psychology,
and thus particularly noteworthy.
Additionally, the issue contains a response by
John Abramson to the extensive work of Elias Capriles
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies v
presented in Volume 28(2) of this journal. Capriles paper
ofered a detailed critique of three major transpersonal
theoristsWilber, Grof, and Washburnfrom the
perspective of Dzogchen Buddhism. Abramsons
comments acknowledged much of Capriles critiques of
Wilber, but ofered several correctives, mainly along the
line that Capriles work did not take into consideration
Wilbers most recent theoretical advances. Tis is a
familiar theme in such rebuttals of Wilbers critics, due
in part to the fact that Wilber shifts his views frequently
(MacDonald, 2007). In this case the point is accurate, as
Capriles was re-stating critiques written some years prior
(also published in IJTS; see Capriles, 2000); Wilbers work
was not the major focus of this paper. Abramsons points of
correction are thus fair-minded and specifc, and a helpful
IJTS is committed to advancing dialogue and
scholarship within transpersonal studies, and the volunteer
staf that helps to produce the journal is growing in both
size and skill. Without them, the many authors who have
shared the fruits of their work, and the reviewers who
have helped to strengthen those eforts, the journals
contributions would be impossible. My sincere thanks to
each and every one.
Glenn Hartelius, Editor
Institute of Transpersonal Psychology
Achterberg, J. (1992). Transpersonal medicineA
proposed system of healing. ReVision: A Journal of
Consciousness and Transformation, 14(3), 140-148.
Boucouvalas, M. (1980). Transpersonal psychology: A
working outline of the feld. Journal of Transpersonal
Psychology, 12(1), 37-46.
Davis, J. (1998). Te transpersonal dimensions of
ecopsychology: Nature, nonduality, and spiritual
practice. Humanist Psychologist, 26(1-3), 60-100.
MacDonald, D. A. (2007). Wheres that wascally
wilber? Te challenges of hitting a moving target.
PsychCritiques, 52(13).
Schott, R. L. (1992). Abraham Maslow, humanistic
psychology and organization leadership: A Jungian
perspective. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 32(1),
Walsh, R. (1993). Te transpersonal movement: A
history and state of the art. Journal of Transpersonal
Psychology, 25(2), 123-139.
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 1 Altered States During Shamanic Drumming
Altered States During Shamanic Drumming:
A Phenomenological Study

Anette Kjellgren & Anders Eriksson
University of Karlstad
Karlstad, Sweden
Tis study investigated the experiences gained from a 20-minute shamanic-like drumming
session. Twenty-two persons participated and made written descriptions afterwards about
their experiences. A phenomenological analysis was applied which generated 31 categories,
that were organized into six themes: 1) Te undertaking of the drumming journey, 2)
Perceptual phenomena: visual, auditory and somatic, 3) Encounters, 4) Active vs. Passive role,
5) Inner wisdom and guidance, and 6) Refections on the drumming journey. A multitude
of detailed experiences were described such as visual imagery, hearing sounds, encountering
animals, as well as gaining insights. Participants generally appreciated the drumming session
and few negative efects were noted. Te conclusion made is that shamanic-like drumming
can be a valuable supplement to other psychotherapeutic techniques.
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies, 29(2), 2010, pp. 1-10
he drum is an important tool in indigenous
cultures for achieving shamanic visionary
trance states (often described as journeys).
Drumming can be used alone or in combination with
singing or dancing. Te main rhythm used in drumming
for shamanic purposes is typically a steady rhythm of
about 4 to 5 beats per second (Neher, 1962; Symmons &
Morris, 1997). Tese frequencies correspond to the theta
dominated activity in the brain (Neher, 1962), which
also seems to facilitate visionary experiences with vivid
imagery, altered states of consciousness and perhaps also
experiences of paranormal occurrences (Symmons &
Morris, 1997). During this journey the shaman is awake
and alert, and is able to move at will between ordinary
and non-ordinary reality (Maxfeld, 1994). In the
worldview of a shaman, the purpose of such a journey
could be for example contacting the spirit world to gain
information about which medical plant to be used or how
to fnd food. Tis is done for an individual, a family, or
a community that seeks his or her help (Metzner, 2009).
Some features of altered states of consciousness
(ASCs) are perceptual changes, body image changes,
disturbed time sense, alterations in cognitive functions,
but also experiences best described as mystical or
inefable (cf. Kjellgren, 2003). ASCs can be induced by
a variety of techniques such as sensory isolation (e.g.,
prayer, meditation, fotation tank), sensory overload (e.g.,
rhythmic drumming), physiological methods (e.g., long
distance running, hyperventilation) or by psychoactive
substances (e.g., LSD, ayahuasca, MDMA).
However, diferent opinions on the concept
altered states of consciousness exist, and the term is
subject to several defnitions. A classic defnition by Tart
(1972) is a qualitative alteration in the overall pattern and
mental functioning, such that the experiencer feels his
consciousness is radically diferent from the way it functions
ordinarily (p. 1203). Another defnition by Krippner (1972)
is a mental state which can be subjectively recognised by
an individual (or by an objective observer of the individual)
as representing a diference in psychological functioning
from the individuals normal alert state (p. 1). In these
defnitions, ASC is described as a recognised deviation in
psychological functioning compared to the ordinary baseline
normal state. Rock and Krippner (2007) have pointed
out a possible confusion in the discussion of altered states
of consciousness, where consciousness per se is confused with
the content of consciousness. Tey emphasize that the term
altered pattern of phenomenological properties should
be used instead of ASC, to minimize this confusion. Tis
is an important distinction, which needs to be discussed
further. Also, whether or not shamanic journeying states
are really altered states is, in fact, a contentious issue in the
literature (see, e.g., Krippner, 2002). For the present study,
we are using the term ASC as a way of describing subjective
alterations in psychological functions, as compared to the
experienced normal state.
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 2 Kjellgren & Eriksson
In a historical perspective ASC might be
considered the worlds oldest healing method
(cf. Eliade, 1972). Ancient cultures and native
shamanistic societies have used consciousness
altering techniques for the purpose of healing and
wellbeing for persons suffering from diverse ailments.
Several scientific studies indicate positive and
healing effects for methods known to induce ASCs,
such as meditation (cf. Kjellgren & Taylor, 2008),
sensory isolation in f lotation tanks (Bood et al.,
2006; Kjellgren, Sundequist, Norlander, & Archer,
2001), yoga (Kjellgren, Bood, Axelsson, Norlander,
& Saatcioglu, 2007) and psychedelic drugs in a
spiritual or clinical setting (Johansen & Krebs, 2009;
Kjellgren, Eriksson, & Norlander, 2009; McKenna,
2004; Morris, 2008).
Drumming as a method for achieving ASCs or
spiritual experiences also became popular in the New
Age or neo-shamanic movement in the Western world
(Bittman et al., 2001; Lindquist, 1997). Te book,
Te Way of the Shaman, by Michael Harner (1990)
has likely been one of the factors contributing to this
interest. Since the participants in the present study
were not shamans, we have used the term shamanic-
like drumming instead of shamanic drumming, as
suggested by Rock, Abbot, Childargushi, and Kiehne
Techniques may be conceptualized as shamanic-
like insofar as they bear some relation to shamanic
techniques and yet depart from what may properly
be called shamanism. For example, listening to
monotonous drumming to facilitate soul fight on
behalf of ones community may be considered a
shamanic technique, while recreationally listening to
monotonous drumming to facilitate purported shifts
in consciousness is merely shamanic-like. (p. 80)
It was early pointed out by Walsh (1989) that
scientifc research on drumming was rather neglected and
that such studies were needed. Since then several studies
have been performed, evaluating the phenomenological
efects and diferent aspects of monotonous drumming
such as change in mood and visual imagery, as well
as comparisons with other induction techniques or
instructions (Rock, 2006; Rock, Abbott, Childargushi,
& Kiehne, 2008; Rock, Abbott, & Kambouropoulos;
2008; Rock, Baynes, & Casey, 2005; Rock, Casey, &
Baynes, 2006; Rock, Wilson, Johnson, & Levesque,
2008; Woodside, Kumar, & Pekala, 1997). In the study
by Rock (2006) a thorough analysis of phenomenological
contents during rhythmic drumming (as well as for
other induction techniques and control condition)
was performed. As an extra manipulation control, this
study investigated the efects of a shamanic journeying
instruction (as proposed by Harner, 1990) about
how to perform the journey and also if an additional
religious information afected the outcome. Another
aim with this study was also to explore the origin of
the mental imagery. Several themes emerged in the
phenomenological analysis of participants experiences
such as predatory creatures, whirlpools, helping spirits,
obstacles, and religious mental imagery. Shamanic
journeying instruction coupled with religious instruction
were associated with the highest religious imagery, and
it was concluded taht most of the visual images were
primarily from autobiographical memories.
All techniques involving ASCs (both non-drug
as well as drug induced) are heavily infuenced by a
persons set (expectancies) and the setting (environment
and circumstances) where the technique or method
is performed (Gustafson, 1991). We are interested in
analyzing the psychological experiences obtained during
shamanic-like monotonous drumming and how such
experiences are interpreted. Since we realized that the set
and setting are of great importance we deliberately chose
participants with an interest in transpersonal psychology
in the hope that their ability and enthusiasm to engage
in a task like this are superior to persons without these
interests. We also expect this sampling to generate rich
and elaborated descriptions.
he aim of the present study was to make a
phenomenological analysis of the experiences gained
from a shamanic-like drumming journey in a group
of Swedish students of transpersonal psychology. Our
research questions were: a) What kind of experiences/
themes might emerge? b) Do participants experience
some kind of healing or benefcial efects of the
drumming journey?, and c) Are there any occurrences of
concurrent negative or disturbing experiences?
A total of 22 persons (3 males, 19 females),
mean age 48.45 years (SD = 12.62), participated in
a shamanic-like journeying drumming session. All
participants were students in a course on transpersonal
psychology at Karlstad University, Sweden. Tey had
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 3 Altered States During Shamanic Drumming
on average participated in similar drumming session
2.68 times before (SD = 3.75, range 0 15 times). For six
of the participants it was the frst time.
A shamanic-like drumming session was
performed (rhythmic live drumming) in a dimly-lit
room for 20 minutes. All participants were lying down
on mattresses on the foor. Instructions on how to
perform this imaginary journey were given before the
drumming started. Afterwards data was collected using
written reports.
Data collection
Data was collected on participants estimation
of the time duration of the session, the subjective
experience of the process, and the degree to which the
phenomenology of the event deviated from normal.
Duration estimation. Immediately after the
drumming stopped, participants were asked to write
down their estimation of the duration (in minutes) of
the drumming journey. Te actual length (20 minutes)
was not known to the participants. Tey were not
informed beforehand that they were going to be asked
this question.
Drumming experiences. A questionnaire with
three questions was constructed for use in this study.
Te questions were: 1) Please describe your experiences
during the drumming, 2) Was the drumming a positive or a
negative event? Please describe, and fnally 3) Were there any
experiences during the drumming that you believe can have
any importance for your everyday life? Te questionnaire
also included questions about age, gender, and number
of earlier experiences with drumming journeys. Each
participant flled in this in silence after the drumming
journey was completed. Te questionnaires were already
distributed (upside down) before the drumming began,
in order to minimize distraction and movement in
the room. Tere was no time limit for flling in this
questionnaire. Te data gathered here was used for the
phenomenological analysis.
Degree of experienced deviation from normal
state. As a supplement to the phenomenological
research, a set of quantitative data were also gathered
using the EDN (Experienced Deviation from Normal
state) questionnaire. Tis questionnaire consists of 29
statements (items), each responded to on a VAS-scale 0-
100 mm (endpoints 0 = No, not more than usually; 100
= Yes, much more than usually). Here are some examples
of the items: I saw scenes rolling by like in a flm; I could
hear sounds without knowing where they came from;
Perception of time and space was like in a dream. All the
points obtained from these 29 items were averaged to
provide an index of experience (0 100). Tese values
refect the total experience of deviation from normal
states. Te scale reliability measurement Cronbachs
alpha for EDN was 0.94 in the present study. Te EDN
scale has been used in several earlier studies (e.g., Bood
et al., 2006; Kjellgren et al., 2007; Kjellgren & Taylor,
2008; Kjellgren, Lindahl, & Norlander, 2009-2010;
Kjellgren & Buhrkall, 2010) with Cronbachs alpha
ranging between 0.91 0.97, which indicates very high
reliability for this scale. Te validity of the scale has
been confrmed in studies where comparisons between
treatments such as relaxation in a fotation tank or yoga
with control conditions (relaxation in armchair and/or
resting on a bed) have been done (Kjellgren, Sundequist,
Sundholm, Norlander, & Archer, 2004; Kjellgren et
al., 2007). Te EDN-scale has generated consistent
measurement across diferent conditions.
Te EDN tests have been extensively used in
connection with fotation-tank research (e.g., Kjellgren
et al., 2001; Kjellgren, 2003). Typical EDN values after
an individuals frst experience of sensory isolation in a
fotation-tank are about 30 EDN points and about 40
points on subsequent occasions. By comparison, the
experience of resting on a bed in a dark, quiet room
scores 15 EDN points (Kjellgren et al., 2004). Tere was
no time limit for response to this questionnaire. When
the questionnaire was completed participants tiptoed
out of the room in order to minimize disturbance and
Before the drumming started all participants
were informed that their participation was voluntary
and were assured of total confdentiality. Tey were
also informed that all the data reporting was to be done
independently. Te participants were all gathered in a
room with mattresses on the foor. Before the drumming
began, all were instructed to perform a Lower world
journey as described by Harner (1990). Te instruction
involved visualizing (closed eyes) a hole in the ground
as an entrance for the journey, then going through
a tunnel, and fnally trying to fnd what was at the
end of this tunnel. Tey were instructed to search for
an answer or solution to a personally pre-formulated
question or problem area. Tey were also instructed to
visualize going the same way back to ordinary reality
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 4 Kjellgren & Eriksson
when the drumming journey ended (indicated by a
notable diferent drumming rhythm). All participants
laid down on the mattresses, the lights were turned of,
curtains were drawn to produce semi-darkness, and
then the live drumming (about 4 beat per second) was
performed by the frst author. Twenty minutes later the
drumming was terminated by four sharp beats repeated
three times; thereafter the drum was beaten very rapidly
for 30 seconds. Te light was then turned on. Te frst
author then asked the participants to write down their
estimation of the duration of the journey and then to fll
in the questionnaires. When all completed questionnaires
had been handed in, participants were invited to gather
again in order to talk freely and share their experiences.
Tey were all thanked for their participation.
Te participants written descriptions were
transferred to a Word fle. Ten, the Empirical Pheno-
menological Psychological Method (EPP-method)
devised by Gunnar Karlsson (1995) was used in analyzing
the data. Te EPP-method comprises an analysis in fve
steps and was performed by the frst and second author.
Step 1. Tis stage involved reading participants
descriptions carefully until a substantial understanding,
overview, and sense of the material was obtained.
Te aim of this reading was to distinguish relevant
psychological phenomena. In this study, the descriptions
were read three times in no particular order. Te reading
excluded the aim of testing validity or any specifc
Step 2. In the second step of the analysis, the
text was divided into smaller so-called meaning units
(MUs). Tis division is not based upon any rules of
grammar, but entirely upon the content the researcher
discovers and at places where a suitable shift in meaning
occurs. Here is a short example yielding two diferent
MUs: 1/ It felt dreamlike, exciting, and primitive but
2/ afterwards I was not able to remember everything that
happened. A total of 542 MUs were identifed in the
written descriptions.
Step 3. During the third step, each MU was
transformed from the language of the participant to the
language of the researcher. Tis was the frst abstraction
of the material. Tis transformation follows no specifc
rules; however, everyday language is preferred to
psychological terminology. Te purpose is to make the
implicit and underlying meaning of a phenomenon visible
and explicit. Two examples of transformed MUs (from
the examples above): 1) Te participant described feelings
of an unusual state, and 2) Te participant described
amnesia for some of the drumming experiences. All 542
MUs were transformed, so 542 transformed MUs were
transferred to step 4.
Step 4. In the fourth step, the 542 transformed
MUs were synthesized into categories. An attempt to
describe and answer the question how the phenomenon
expresses itself (noesis) and what the phenomenon
is (noema), were focused on in the categorization.
Te categories vary in content depending upon the
phenomenon from which they originate. Te categories
or situated structures were developed during processing
whereby repeated consultations of raw data continued in
a hermeneutic manner. Tis was the second abstraction
of the material. A total of 31 diferent categories emerged.
Tree examples of categories that emerged were: visual
imagery, loss of memories, and encounters with animals.
All 542 MUs were used when these categories were
Step 5. In this fnal step, the categories were
moved into more general themes or typological structures.
Tis is the third and last abstraction of the material. Te
level of abstraction was decided according to the principle
that clarity should be attained without excessive detail.
Te purpose was to refect at a more abstract level. Te
themes included categories that denoted various aspects
of the experience of participating in the shamanic-like
drumming: for example the theme Encounters was
composed by the following fve categories: Encounters
with animals, Encounters with plants, Encounters with
insects, Encounters with humans, and Landscapes.
Reliability and validity
A trustworthiness test, the Norlander Credi-
bility Test (NCT), was used for the phenomenological
analysis (Edebol, Bood, & Norlander, 2008; Norlander,
Grd, Lindholm, & Archer, 2003; Pramling, Norlander,
& Archer, 2003) in order to ensure reliability. It
was conducted by random selection of fve of the 31
categories. Four of the transformed MUs were then
randomly selected from each of these fve categories.
Te material was given to two independent assessors.
Teir assignment was to put the twenty MUs into the
fve diferent categories. One of the tests yielded an 84 %
agreement, and the other test yielded an 80% agreement.
Te overall agreement was thus 82%. According to
Karlsson (1995), high validity is ensured by following
the stages of the EPP method.
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 5 Altered States During Shamanic Drumming
he Empirical Phenomenological Psychological
method (EPP; Karlsson, 1995) was used to analyze
the material. Te analysis yielded 542 MUs from which
31 categories emerged. Each category illustrated a
special perspective on the phenomena studied and, when
considered as a whole, the categories can illuminate and
provide insight into experiences and meanings derived
from the drumming experience. Te categories are
presented below (Table 1) in the approximate sequence
in which they emerged in the analysis. Each of the 31
categories provides interesting information, and even
more so if they are interrelated in a general structure. In
the last step of the analysis, the categories were further
abstracted and combined into six themes and will be
further discussed as such. Te six themes are:
1. Te undertaking of the drumming journey
(categories: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 27)
2. Perceptual phenomena: visual, auditory and
somatic (categories: 8, 9, 11, and 13)
3. Encounters (categories: 14, 16, 18, 20, and 22)
4. Active vs. Passive role (categories: 7, 10, 12, and
5. Inner wisdom and guidance (categories: 19, 21,
25, and 26)
6. Refections on the drumming journey (categories:
15, 23, 24, 28, 29, 30, and 31)
Supplementary quantitative data
Degree of experienced deviation from normal
state (EDN). Te mean value derived from the group
was 34.88 (SD = 18.34, range 0.52-66.20).
Time perception. Participants estimated the
duration of the drumming journey in average as 15.5
minutes (SD = 5.40, range 6 30 min). Te actual time
was 20 minutes.
he aim of the present study was to make a
phenomenological analysis of the experiences gained
from a shamanic-like drumming journey. A multitude
of detailed and elaborated experiences were described by
the participants, including rich visual imagery, hearing
inner sounds, and gaining psychological insights. Te
participants liked the drumming journey and stated
that it was a valuable and interesting method. Very few
negative experiences were documented. In the light of
both the written reports and the quantitative measuring,
it seems reasonable to conclude that the participants
No. Category (Meaning Units [MUs])
1 Te setting (10 MUs)
2 Aim (12 MUs)
3 Entry hole (17 MUs)
4 Te tunnel (32 MUs)
5 Infuence of the drumming sound (13 MUs)
6 Movements in diferent levels (8 MUs)
7 Alterations initiated by the free will of the
participants (8 MUs)
8 Bodily sensations during the drumming jour-
ney (8 MUs)
9 Visual imagery (8 MUs)
10 Experiences of being active with their bodies
(17 MUs)
11 Events are passively experienced or seen (33
12 Sudden transformations (10 MUs)
13 Inner sounds (8 MUs)
14 Encounters with animals (32 MUs)
15 Refections about power-animals (12 MUs)
16 Encounters with insects (5 MUs)
17 To be an animal (10 MUs)
18 Encounters with plants (17 MUs)
19 Emergence of memories (12 MUs)
20 Encouters with humans (13 MUs)
21 Emotions during the drumming journey (25
22 Landscapes (29 MUs)
23 Problems during the drumming journey (36
24 Loss of memory (7 MUs)
25 Processing of personal issues (26 MUs)
26 Insights (33 MUs)
27 Return to everyday consciousness (10 MUs)
28 Feelings after the drumming journey (7 MUs)
29 Descriptions about performance of the drum-
ming journey (22 MUs)
30 Comparison with other similar experiences (35
31 Evaluation of the drumming journey as a
method (27 MUs)
Table 1. Results of Analysis of Phenomenological
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 6 Kjellgren & Eriksson
were induced into a mild altered state of consciousness by
the drumming, since their experiences to a great extent
seemed to difer from their normal state of being.
Te six themes are discussed below. A few
illustrative citations from participants are presented (in
Te undertaking of the drumming journey
Tis frst theme refers to the descriptions given
about the experiences of participating in the drumming
journey concerning preparation and technical details
(e.g., the drum, entry hole, the tunnel) during the
drumming (categories: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 27). All participants
formulated an aim to themselves before the drumming
journey started. Common aims were questions about
health issues and personal relations. Tey pointed out
that they felt secure and comfortable in the group, and
that this factor was of great importance. When the
drumming began, participants visualized some kind of
entrance into the ground (a well; tree-root; pond) as a
starting point for the inner journey. After the entrance
they visualized/experienced passing through a tunnel.
Many diferent descriptions of what it looked like were
given (smooth; straight; dark; narrow) and the passage
through it were experienced in diferent ways such as
walking, fying, or crawling. For some it was easy, others
found it harder. Sooner or later all participants found an
exit from the tunnel and experienced entering into an
inner landscape (lower world). In this inner landscape
(many detailed descriptions of what it looked like
were given) participants experienced moving through
diferent levels of worlds or realms. In the worldview of
indigenous shamanistic cultures the concept of multiple
levels of reality is central (Metzner, 2009). Participants
also appreciated the rhythm of the drum and experienced
the sound as a healing source. Tey pointed out that
the drumming was felt as physical sensations in their
bodies and how these sensations facilitated the feeling of
actually undertaking the journeying. Te drum was also
central in signalling the re-entry into normal reality; a
task the participants experienced as easy.
Perceptual phenomena: visual, auditory, and somatic
Te second theme summarizes diferent
experiences of perceptual changes (categories: 8, 9, 11, 13)
that occurred during the drumming, phenomena usually
described as characteristics of altered state of consciousness.
Te most common perceptual alterations described
were lively visual imagery. Encountering sceneries such
as kaleidoscope patterns, spirals, or diferent colors
were common, but also descriptions of more detailed
sceneries involving gardens, animals, humans, plants or
mushrooms. All things perceived were organic forms like
landscapes or living beings; nobody reported having seen
technological or man-made products or forms. Several
acoustic impressions were noted such as hearing futes,
running water, songs or even the song of the mountain or of
the earth. An altered perception of the body was pointed
out, and described as either an increased sensitivity to
normal bodily functions (could hear my heartbeats; I felt
my aorta) or as physical alterations of functions (tears
were running from my eyes; my body changed form; I felt
light as a feather).
Te participants reported on how the lucidity
and clearness of these experiences fuctuated during
the course of the drumming journey. Te sensation was
described as fuctuating between a dreamlike irrational
and a clear focused state, maybe indicative of moving
in and out of an ASC. Te perceptual alterations that
occurred might suggest that an ASC was achieved during
the journey. Te supplementary quantitative measure
(EDN-scale) with a mean value of M = 35 strengthens the
assumption that an unusual non-ordinary mental state
was achieved, approximately equivalent to 45 minutes
of sensory isolation in a fotation tank (Kjellgren et al.,
2004). Another measure aimed at documenting possible
occurrence of ASC was the time-estimation measure.
Participants in general underestimated the duration
(about 25%) of the journey. Disturbed time perception is
one of the hallmarks of ASCs.
Apparently the intensity of the drumming
state could vary from a very mild experienced deviation
from normal state, such as meditative daydreaming
with just some perceptual alterations, to more powerful
experiences where convincingly detailed scenes pass by
similar to the experience being immersed in a flm. Te
state induced during the drumming includes several
of the important characteristics of ASCs. Despite the
discussion in literature regarding the question whether
shamanic-like drumming induces an ASC or not (cf.
Krippner, 2002), we would like to suggest that the state
during the monotonous drumming is best described as
an ASC.
Tis theme comprises diferent kinds of encounters
(categories: 14, 16, 18, 20, 22) experienced during the
drumming journey. Close encounters with landscapes
and natural sceneries were commonly described.
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 7 Altered States During Shamanic Drumming
Sometimes the landscape was perceived from a birds eye
view, but mostly from the perspective of walking around
in it. In these inner landscapes diferent kinds of beings
were encountered, such as humans, animals, plants, and
mushrooms. Te humans encountered often seemed to
be of native ancestry or from the past, generating an
exotic impression (the man with the leopard fur talked
to me, advised against going down the slope; the native
American presented some twigs to me). Several diferent
animals were seen, ranging from amphibians, reptiles,
insects, birds, and mammals. Tese meetings often had
a stark emotional charge (when I met the brown eagle,
waves of excitement few through my body; Te elephant and
I put our foreheads together and it warmed my heart, the
moment was full of grace) and were regarded as precious
moments. Participants wondered whether such highly
emotional moments might be an indication of a meeting
with their power animal, as described in shamanic
traditions. It might be speculated whether the characters
or attributes of the encountered animals in some way
could be recognized as symbolic metaphors for hitherto
unknown or unconscious dimensions of participants
own mode of being or acting. Te encounters with
plants were described as highly rewarding; old trees with
fowers or fruits were common features. Te experience of
meeting insects, which was less common, was described
as generating feelings of discomfort, and was regarded as
a kind of intrusion.
Active vs. Passive Role
Tis theme describes participants experience
of taking an active or a passive role during the journey
(categories: 7, 10, 12, 17). Participants reported that they
were able to make conscious choices during the journey,
such as to change or move into a specifc direction, to
create things needed, or to intervene when they sensed
that their help was needed. Tey mostly experienced
having a physical body and were able to voluntary talk,
swim, and walk or do some other activity. But sometimes
things changed without their conscious intent; a sudden
unexpected movement might occur or they felt thrown
into a totally diferent scenery and course of events. Te
environment would quickly change from familiar into
unfamiliar sceneries during the journey; sometimes this
transit was instantaneous. Even their own bodies were
suddenly transformed into something else (my mouth
was changed into a beak, and my hands were transformed
into claws). Tere were many descriptions given of
being transformed into animals, mostly referred to as
becoming a bird and being able to fy or get a birds eye
view (it was a fantastic feeling being a fying sharp-eyed
hawk). Such events are common shamanic features. If
these experiences occurred because the participants were
acquainted with or interested in shamanism could not
be ascertained.
Inner wisdom and guidance
Te ffth theme deals with issues that are best
categorized as psychotherapeutic processes (categories:
19, 21, 25, 26). Participants gained insights into specifc
problem areas or issues in their lives. Tought processes
involving personal problem-solving were initiated,
mainly involving three areas: relations, physical health
and psychological health. Te insights that arose were
experienced as coming from an inner source of wisdom,
the emergence of which were said to be facilitated by the
drumming. Several persons reported how memories from
their childhood emerged which were considered important
and of great signifcance. Needs for working/dealing with
these memories were expressed. Sometimes such processes
or their hidden meaning were revealed later during the
journey. Te experiences as such were seen as defning
metaphors of their lives (I could see how I tried to harvest
the crop before it was ripe, thats exactly how I live my usual
life). Many diferent emotions were experienced, mostly
as peaceful or harmonious, involving some solution to a
problem or life situation (a fantastic euphoric feeling when
the eggs hatched, this reassured me everything is going to be
fne; I realized I can re-create this feeling of peace and harmony
in my daily life). Sometimes the solutions appeared as
indirect metaphors, but also as direct recommendations.
Te most prominent feature of the insights concerned the
importance of taking responsibility for their own lives and
not await for others to help them. Te experiences of such
deep and valuable insights suggest that the method could
serve as a valuable complement to other psychotherapeutic
interventions. A therapeutic session subsequent to the
drumming journey (as part of a therapeutic treatment
programme), would probably have yielded more benefts.
Refections on the drumming journey
Te last theme summarizes descriptions about
participants refections on the drumming journey and
sense of awe (categories: 15, 23, 24, 28, 29, 30, 31).
Refecting on what was happening while the drumming
journey was still going on was regarded as a disturbing
problem since it restrained the possibilities of relaxing
and going deeper into the experience (I lost focus when I
tried to analyze what was happening). Some participants
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 8 Kjellgren & Eriksson
reported having problems fnding a suitable starting place
(entry hole) or to be able to move forward at all; these
problems were encountered during the frst minutes but
all of them fnally managed to perform the session.
In general, refections in retrospect arose regard-
ing the validity and relevance of the experience and its
possible applications. Many wondered if the encountered
animals constituted a real power animal or not, or if
such exists, and if there was a hidden possible meaning.
Te drumming session was considered a pleasant method
for achieving stress reduction and relaxation. A few stated
that they had problems recalling or recapitulating the
content of the session. Others refected on the strange
or exotic feeling when the body was experienced as still
remaining on the foor but the mind wandered and took
part in an alternative reality or process independent of
the body. Finally, some efects of the drumming session
reported were positive feelings of rest and relaxation and
that it was an interesting and worthwhile experience
(I felt very alert afterwards; I had never done this before
but it felt good and was very interesting). It is interesting
that the participants reported feeling relaxed despite all
the emotional and intense experiences. Tis might be
an indication of the healing and benefcial potential of
temporarily entering a state of mind quite diferent from
the daily normal. Some persons also refected upon the
fact that there were some similarities but also diferences
between the drumming state and other techniques (e.g.,
dreams, earlier psychedelic experiences, hypnosis, and
fotation tank).
Suggestions for future research
Many psychologically interesting experiences
during a shamanic-like drumming session were
documented in the present study. Healing and benefcial
efects were reported by the participants. Very few
negative experiences were encountered. Tis might be
one of the reasonsalong with motivations such as
pure curiosity or an urge for spiritual explorationwhy
the technique of shamanic-like drumming has gained
popularity in the Western world in recent years.
Te conclusion is that shamanic-like drumming
as a technique can be an interesting and fruitful domain
for future research. Its value as a supplement to other
psychotherapeutic techniques needs to be investigated
and further evaluated, and to establish, for instance,
whether there are also negative efects if the method
is applied to unprepared or psychologically vulnerable
individuals. As far as we know, there have been no studies
to date investigating possible risks or adverse efects.
Also many diferent physiological studies, investigating
changes in factors such as EEG-patterns or hormonal- or
immunological functioning could be performed.
Possible methodological limitations of the present
Since it is well known that set and setting heavily
infuence the experiences during a consciousness-altering
technique, it can be argued that the experience of seeing
tunnels, meeting animals, and other shamanic elements
might simply be the result of instructions given or the
expectations of the participants and not by the drumming
per se. An experimental study by Rock et. al (2006)
suggested that many experiences during shamanic-like
journeying involve recall of autobiographical memories.
Te experiences recounted in the present study
were considered real and genuine by the participants and
in a phenomenological study the inner life world is of
particular interest. Te intention of this study was not
specifcally to prove any particular efects induced by
shamanic-like drumming (such a claim would require
several randomized controlled trials) but to increase the
body of knowledge about what might happen during
monotonous drumming. A study with other types of
drumming, other instructions or other participants,
could have yielded very diferent results. Also, the validity
and reliability of a phenomenological analysis can always
be questioned. In the present study the NCT with two
independent assessors were used (see Method section) in
order to increase reliability, and strict adherence to the
stages of an EPP-analysis (Karlsson, 1995) ensures high
Final remarks
In a speculative sense, it may be argued that
the drumming journey can be seen as a metaphor for
a persons life. Birth happens through the birth canal
(symbolized as the tunnel), and one enters into a still
unknown world (as in the drumming journey) where
many things happen to us as humans. Some of these
just happen, others are under our control (theme:
active vs. passive role), we encounter and interact with
other beings (theme: encounters) and we learn and
evolve during our lifetime (theme: inner wisdom and
guidance). Te theme refections on the drumming
journey is analogous to our refections on our own life.
Te beat of the heart make our lives possible, just as the
rhythmic pulse of the drum sustains a journey through
an alternative perception of life.
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 9 Altered States During Shamanic Drumming
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About the Authors
Anette Kjellgren, PhD, is working as an Associate
Professor in the Department of Psychology at Karlstad
University, Sweden. She has performed studies
about sensory isolation in fotation tanks, yoga,
meditation, relaxation outdoors in nature, as well as
about psychoactive substances. She has an interest for
transpersonal psychology and teaches in courses in this
feld for students in psychology and psychotherapy.
Anders Eriksson, MSc, is a teacher in biology, chemistry
and psychology and is currently a psychotherapist
student. He is practising yoga, zen meditation and
qi-gong on a regular basis, and also has an interest in
About the Journal
Te International Journal of Transpersonal Studies is a
peer-reviewed academic journal in print since 1981. It is
published by Floraglades Foundation, and serves as the
ofcial publication of the International Transpersonal
Association. Te journal is available online at www., and in print through www. (search for IJTS).
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 11 Chakra Model of Development
A Chakra System Model of Lifespan Development

K. Candis Best
St. Josephs College
Brooklyn, New York, USA
Tis article presents a model of lifespan development based upon the tantric chakra system.
It begins with a survey of the evolution of transpersonal psychology and its alignment with
eastern philosophies as previously espoused by William James, Carl Jung and others. Te
chakras are defned in relation to their potential infuence on psychological functioning with
a focus on development beyond the level of ego stability and functioning. Building upon
prior work integrating the chakra system with developmental processes, this article presents
an interpretation of the chakras as a model that defnes a pathway for growth-oriented
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies, 29(2), 2010, pp. 11-27
ll humans follow a developmental sequence as
they mature from infancy through adulthood.
Barring signifcant trauma, this sequence can be
expected to follow a predictable pattern and to be relatively
consistent across cultures (see Broderick & Blewitt, 2006).
Over the course of several decades, volumes of research
have been conducted on human development resulting
in the emergence of discrete categories that organize
these theories according to specifc schools of thought.
Tey include behavioral, cognitive, interpersonal, object-
relations, and evolutionist paradigms among others. Each
ontological model has provided a unique perspective
on what it means to develop as a person. Among the
more recent paradigms to be explored among Western
psychologists is the transpersonal, which evolved from
the humanistic tradition (Scotton, Chinen, & Battista,
William James has been credited with being the
frst Western psychologist to use the term transpersonal
in relation to the feld of psychology (Ryan, 2008). From
James to Jung, and up through the late 1960s when an
actual feld of transpersonal psychology was ostensibly
chartered with the publication of the frst issue of the
Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, a dynamic tension
has existed concerning the extent to which the feld of
psychology is an appropriate venue for exploring matters
that are essentially spiritual (Cunningham, 2007;
Scotton & Hiatt, 1996). Tis tension can also be viewed
as what Walsh and Vaughan (1996) termed a paradigm
clash wherein adherents with extensive knowledge
of or an epistemological preference for one school of
thought are unable to objectively critique theories from
other related yet distinct schools (e.g., existentialism vs.
Nonetheless, as the body of literature and re-
search in transpersonal psychology has grown over the past
several decades, the relationship between transpersonal
philosophy and the psychological discipline has defned
itself more clearly. Transpersonal psychology is based
upon the premise that human function potentiates along
a continuum that can be divided into three sections:
pre-personal (prior to the formation of a separate ego),
personal (ego formation), and transpersonal (superseding
a fully functional ego; Nelson, 1994; Rama, Ballentine,
& Ajaya, 1976; Scotton & Hiatt, 1996; Wilber, Engler,
& Brown, 1986). As a consequence, transpersonal
psychology has frmly rooted itself as an anchor on the
continuum of human development.
Just as the cognitive, evolutionary, and
behavioral schools have produced their own theories
and perspectives on development, the transpersonal
school has also reached a point where discrete theories of
development can be profered for critique and analysis.
Tis article presents a theory and model of development
that is drawn from one of the transpersonal movements
earliest sources of inspirationHindu (or yoga)
Western Psychology/Eastern Infuences
hile William James is generally regarded as the
father of transpersonal psychology, Carl Jung is
credited with being the frst Western psychologist of note
to embrace a cross-cultural perspective in the development
of his theories (Scotton, Chinen, & Battista, 1996). He
is known to have solicited opportunities for his students
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 12 Best
to learn about Kundalini Yoga albeit with cautionary
caveats due to his belief that Western perspectives were
ill-suited for assimilation of tantric approaches (Coward,
1985). Nonetheless, Jung to his credit allowed Eastern
philosophies refective of both Hindu and Buddhist belief
systems, to emboss some of his most popular theories.
Jungs interest in Indian psychology was not
an isolated example of the nexus between Eastern and
Western views on human psychology. In 1946, noted
psychologist and member of the Harvard University
Department of Psychology, Gordon Allport, wrote the
introduction to a book on Hindu psychology that had
as a stated aim the identifcation of synergies between
these two seemingly disparate approaches to evaluating
the human psyche (Akhilananda, 1946).
Traditional views of psychological development
are predicated upon the construction of stable
psychological structures that can support a healthy ego.
Transpersonally oriented developmental theory follows
the two great arcs premise advanced by Wilber, Engler,
and Brown (1986) in which the frst major phase of
development leads to the personality and the second
major phase leads beyond it. It is this notion that healthy
human functioning requires development beyond the
formation and stability of the ego that most clearly has
its origins in Eastern philosophy.
Neumanns (1954) exhaustive review of the
origins and evolution of consciousness on both the
individual and collective level made repeated references
to Indian and Egyptian mythological scripts. Neumann
referred to these scripts to illustrate how the concept of an
unfolding collective unconscious manifested itself in the
literature and art of antiquity. Both Hindu and Buddhist
precepts identify attachment to ego-philic pursuits as
the source of misery and discontent. According to the
Hindu tradition, this is referred to as samsara. Yoga,
which is a word most appropriately used to describe a
spiritual course of development, is pursued as a path to
the only source of lasting contentment because it has as
its goal the transcending of egoic concerns in pursuit of
reunion with divine consciousness. However, it cannot
be overstated that one must have an ego before it can be
Te unanimity of agreement on this issue is
what made it possible for transpersonal psychology
to move beyond merely asserting the existence of a
tripartite developmental structure to actually describing
developmental frameworks that might exist within
it. Ken Wilber, as perhaps one of the most prolifc
theorists in the feld, has ofered and refned a theory
of development based upon the pre-personal, personal,
and transpersonal structure (Wilber, 1977, 1980, 2001;
Wilber, Engler, & Brown, 1986). Aurobindos (1993)
theories are more directly linked to Hindu yoga practice
than psychology, but have also infuenced developmental
models based on the tripartite structure.
Te chakra system model described in this
article builds upon this and other related bodies of work
by presenting this ancient system in the tantric tradition
of Hinduism as a self-contained framework of ontogenic
markers indicative of healthy development through to
the transpersonal level. One of the enduring strengths
of Eastern philosophies is their accommodating stance,
which acknowledges that there are multiple paths to the
same, or related, destinations.
Te Chakras
hakra is the Sanskrit word for wheel. Within the
Indian tradition, the chakras represent centers of
energy located vertically along the spine. Tese centers of
energy are also believed to serve as seats of consciousness.
Rama, Ballentine, and Ajaya (1976) refer to the chakras
as an inner playroom where the individual explores
experiences with consciousness during the course of
growth and development. Tis conceptualization is a
perfect starting point for considering the chakra system
as a developmental model. However, frst a summary
description of the chakra system is in order.
Te concept of a chakra system of energy or
consciousness centers exists in many forms in diferent
indigenous systems including Egyptian, Chinese, Native
American, Suf, and Kabbalah (Williams, 2008). In
addition, even according to the Hindu tradition upon
which the present model is based, there are by some
estimates more than twenty major and minor chakras
(Brennen, 1988). However, most discussions of the
chakra system center on the seven major chakras and
this is the view upon which the chakra system model is
Te frst is the Muladhara (root) chakra which
is located at the base of the spine. It is identifed with
basic survival and self-preservation. Te second is the
Svadisthana (sacral) chakra which is located in the genital
area. It is identifed with sensuality and procreation. Te
third is the Manipura (navel) chakra. It is located in
the abdominal or gut area of the solar plexus and is
identifed with the assertion of will. Te fourth is the
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 13 Chakra Model of Development
Anahata (heart) chakra located in the upper chest. It
is associated with the expression of unconditional love.
Te ffth is the Visuddha (throat) chakra. Located in the
throat, it is associated with creativity and expression.
Te sixth is the Ajna (brow) chakra and is located in
the center of the head behind the eyes. Tis chakra is
associated with intuition and wisdom. Finally, the
Sahasrara (crown) chakra is located just above the crown
of the head and symbolizes not only the highest state
of consciousness but complete and total union with
the source of all creation (Rama, Ballentine, & Ajaya,
1976; Scotton & Hiatt, 1996). Much more will be said
about each of these centers of consciousness as this
model is described in more detail. However, it would
frst be prudent to establish how and why this system
is appropriate for use as a self-contained developmental
Gilchrist and Mikulas (1993) used the chakra
system as the basis for a model of group development by
aligning the seven chakras with other recognized stages
of group development. In the course of establishing the
synchronicity of the chakra system with developmental
progression, the authors noted that individual
development progressed along a sequential path within
the chakra system as well. Prior to Gilchrist and Mikaulis,
Wilber (1986) described a similar alignment between the
chakra system and other theories of human development
that included his own, as well as the theories of Sri
Aurobindo, Albert Maslow and Jane Loevinger. Finally,
Judith (2009, 2004) has written extensively about the
chakra system and provided a detailed synthesis of how
the chakra system maps to the developmental sequence of
the individual according to Western systems of lifespan
psychology. However, it is Nelsons (1994) interpretation
of the chakra system as a diagnostic tool for personality
disorders that is most similar to and has been most
infuential on the present model.
In Healing the Split and a related journal
article published the same year, Nelsons (1994),
primary objective was to present the chakra system
as a transpersonal diagnostic system. Te properties
of each chakra were presented frst with attention to
their correlations to recognized patterns of individual
development, followed by a detailed explication of how
regressions in each chakra might present as conditions
of psychological maladaptation. Te richness in detail
ofered by Nelson concerning the connection between
psychotic, neurotic, and borderline levels of personality
disorder and their corresponding chakra centers is made
plausible by frst outlining how the chakra system aligns
with individual development as it is currently appraised
within the feld. For the purposes of this article, this
nexus will be demonstrated by discussing each chakra
in relationship to its corresponding phase of human
development as well as related developmental theories
(see Table 1).
Te Root Chakra and the Infant
(Unborn Fetus to First 16 Months of Life)
s mentioned earlier, the root chakra governs security
and survival. In this way it is similar to the frst
motivational need of Maslows hierarchy (1968) as well
as the sensoriphysical stages identifed by a variety of
theorists including Piaget, Aurobindo, and Wilber
(Wilber, 1986). From a developmental perspective, the
root chakra represents those most rudimentary needs
that must be confronted and satisfed before attention
can be turned to other developmental tasks. For this
reason, the status of a newborn infant is an ideal starting
point both, literally and metaphorically, for evaluating
the position and purpose of the root chakra in a chakra
based system of development.
From a purely physiological perspective, a
healthy infant is a self-contained but not yet self-
sufcient organism. While it possesses all of the
functional capacities that it will require to mature, it is
completely dependent on its environment in order for
these capacities to be activated in a manner that will
enable it to thrive. From a psychological perspective,
its introduction into this new and foreign environment
is jarring and potentially debilitating. Here again, it is
dependent on external support in the form of its primary
caregiver to create a sense of order and orientation. In
this way, this level also conforms with Eriksons (1968)
frst stage of development which is characterized by basic
trust versus mistrust. Trust or mistrust will be established
based upon how well needs for safety, security, and stable
orientation are met by others. Te root chakra also aligns
with Kegans (1982) Stage 0/Incorporative stage, where
the infant functions purely at the subjective level, and
has not yet achieved a level of individuation that allows
for the perception of objects outside of him or herself.
Nelson (1994) added that the birth experience
serves as an initiation into individualized consciousness.
Tis necessitates the development of psychic membranes,
the veiled partition separating the corporeal reality into
which infants are born from the pre-sensate state out
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 14 Best
of which they emerged. Te root chakra represents the
initial stage of formation for these membranes and, as
would be expected at the beginning of any developmental
process, they are relatively undiferentiated. According
to Nelson, their role at this stage is to create a stable base
of consciousness that will support human emotions,
reason and the consensual reality of society (p. 173).
Tus, the root chakra establishes a line of demarcation
between the collective consciousnesses (perceived as
unconsciousness at this stage) and the nascent stages
of an individual and personal consciousness. It also
initiates the construction of a framework that will house
the self-system which will be defned in greater detail
shortly. By virtue of the narrowly defned parameters of
its functionality, however, the root chakra represents a
crucial but nonetheless transitional stage of development.
By virtue of its relentless focus on the survival instinct,
its defning feature can be described as the challenge to
move from fear to fearlessness.
Te Sacral Chakra and Early Childhood
(12 to 24 Months)
uring the frst stage of development as represented
by the chakra system, the fedgling individual is
consumed with its own survival. While theorists debate
the extent to which this stage is aptly characterized by
primary narcissism as proposed by Margaret Mahler
(Mahler, Pine, & Bergman, 1975) or refects a greater
awareness and receptivity to interpersonal response
(Reddy, 2008), there is little doubt that one of the
distinguishing features of an infants transition to early
childhood is the emergence of a separate identity. In
the chakra system, the sacral stage marks the point
of embarkation for this individuation process as
well. According to Nelson (1994) among the eight
characteristics of the sacral stage resides the emergence
of self-boundaries that, while still shared to a certain
extent with parents, will nonetheless come to delineate
a sense of I-ness. However, this stage involves more
than a period of experimentation with separateness in
relationship to caregivers. Here, individual consciousness
is also beginning to diferentiate itself from the collective
consciousness; what Nelson referred to as the Spiritual
Ground. Te signifcance of this pre-egoic level of
consciousness for transpersonal psychology as well as the
model proposed here is crucial.
Jung was the frst Western psychologist to
identify this level of consciousness in relation to the
development of the individual psyche (Scotton, 1996).
His use of the term collective unconscious was
intended to represent a source of psychic infuence
that did not originate within the individual but rather
was shared with all human beings. However, for Jung
this consciousness was inherited and he refrained, at
least in his earlier writings, from ascribing a spiritual
component to it. Nonetheless, Jung did allow his views
to be infuenced by indigenous spiritual beliefs and
practices. Hindu philosophy was most certainly among
them (Coward, 1985). Accordingly, Jungian psychology
can be seen as establishing one of the earliest bridges
between Western psychology and Hindu psychology in
two important respects. First, it introduced the concept
of a shared consciousness that is pre-extant to an
individuated identity. Second, through the dichotomous
orientations of introversion and extroversionwhich
would later evolve into personality types (Briggs Myers,
McCaulley, Quenk, & Hammer, 2003)it explored
energy as a psychosocial dynamic rather than a purely
biophysical phenomenon.
As it pertains to the chakra system model
of development, the individuals relationship to this
collective consciousness (which for the sake of clarity
will be referred to hereafter as universal consciousness)
functions as a navigational marker throughout the
life cycle. For the remainder of this article, the term
universal consciousness will be used to distinguish it
from Jungs collective consciousness which, while similar,
should not be considered parallel to the model presented
here. During the frst three chakra stages, ego formation
emerges in direct proportion to the minimization and
ultimate cessation (albeit temporarily) of contact with
universal consciousness. Nelson (1994) described this
process as a choice between the external world of material
reality with the attendant forfeiture of access to the fount
of creativity and intuition that universal consciousness
provides, and regression to that consciousness. However,
regression to universal consciousness can only result
in the arrest of the developing ego because of how
overwhelming a constant stream of energies would be at
such a fragile stage of development. As a result, healthy
psychological development must direct Nelsons choice
toward the external world.
For Kegan (1982) whose developmental theory
also refers to orders of consciousness (but from an object-
relations rather than a transpersonal theory perspective),
this next stage which he called Impulsive, marks the
beginning of decentration. Decentration refers to the
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 15 Chakra Model of Development
evolutionary process of meaning-construction that
is central to the process of development. It causes the
individual to move from embeddedness in her subjective
reality to relationship with a more objective view of
reality. Kegans subject-object theory of development will
provide heuristic insights into this model at later stages
of this discussion as well. For purposes of describing
the transition from root to sacral chakra, the individual
moves from being fully consumed by the refexes
experienced primarily as alternations of fear and relief, to
having perceptions by virtue of his frst opportunity to
practice disembedding from these experiences.
One of the consequences of this frst
disembeddedment as refected in Nelsons depiction of
this transition is that the subtle energies of universal
consciousness increasingly become unavailable as a
mechanism for processing experiences. As a result,
the senses take over this function. Not surprisingly,
a preoccupation with sensual pleasures at this stage of
development is precisely what Freudian psychology
predicts. As it happens, the sacral chakra is identifed
primarily with sensuality, sexuality, and the genital area
(Rama, Ballentine, & Ajaya, 1976). So simultaneous
with a childs experimentation with autonomy and a
stable sense of self in relation to others, he or she is also
learning to rely on sensual responses to stimuli to make
meaning of the external world.
Tis shift in focus brings with it both a
redirection and intensifcation of energy that, for both
Western and Hindu psychology, is localized in the genital
area. However, Hindu psychology as expressed through
the chakra system, views the developmental process as
facilitating the redirection of this energy upward. In
this way, development involves the introduction to and
mastery of energies that have specifc functions but are
expected to eventually be integrated into a stable self. At
the sacral stage, however, the individual is tasked with
consolidating a food of sensations while learning to do
so with increasing independence from caregivers. With
no prior experience to draw upon, and now with rapidly
diminishing input from universal consciousness, the
individual must increase its reliance on cues from the
external world, which during the earliest stages takes the
form of imitation.
Children begin to imitate what they see during
infancy (Reddy, 2008). However, imitation cannot
be regarded as a scafolding strategy for purposes
of personality formation until a child possesses the
capacity for object constancy and the ability to form
representational models of self and others. Tere is little
disagreement that this process begins in early childhood.
Terefore, the sacral stage can be regarded as the period
where identity formation is concerned with refning
the boundaries of self, but is also heavily infuenced by
external referents in determining how to construct those
boundaries. Sensual experiences provide feedback that
is internalized to determine which external referents to
adopt or adapt and which to discard. However, the self
is ultimately expected to be experienced as unique and
independent. Tus the defning feature of the sacral stage
can be viewed as the challenge of moving from imitation
to independence.
Te Navel Chakra and
Early Childhood Trough Adulthood
(18 Months to 4 Years and Beyond)
very bit of knowledge and experience that has
been acquired through the transitions to and through
the frst two stages is consolidated and then purposefully
directed during the navel chakra stage. Te third chakra
is identifed with the will or personal power. Several
important developmental markers are characteristic
of this stage. First, the individual is frmly committed
to the task of individuation. Chiefy concerned with
defning a self-concept that supports healthy self-esteem,
she or he will become preoccupied with this task if its
accomplishment is perceived to be unsuccessful in any
respect. Here the hallmarks of the frst two stages are not
only evident but instrumental to the task of creating and
maintaining a positive self-concept.
Second, during adolescence peer groups replace
caregivers as the primary reference sources and imitation
as a vehicle for acceptance is at its zenith. Exploration
of sensuality and sexuality is also intensifed as a result
of a rapid surge in hormones. As the individual moves
from adolescence to adulthood, vocational choices,
mate selection and the acquisition of symbols of success
become an integral part of the self-concept. A functional
will is central to the achievement of all of these tasks.
Furthermore, all other developmental resources
previously acquired and the extent to which they are
successfully mastered, infuence how the individual
exercises his or her will.
For example, the man who has emerged from
the frst chakra stage fearful and unsure of whether
his security concerns will be met and who proceeds
through the second stage by over-identifying with the
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 16 Best
power of sexuality and sensual experiences, may elect to
exercise his will in adulthood through the acquisition
of material wealth by dominating others and viewing
them as objects for exploitation. Tere are many possible
permutations of how personality develops up to and
through the third chakra stage. Nonetheless, the exercise
of the will (aggressively or passively) is the focus. If the
energies of this stage are not directed upward toward
further evolution, this focus becomes a preoccupation
with maintaining the symbols of status that support the
individuals self-concept.
Tis is at the heart of the Hindu and Buddhist
admonitions about the ultimate sources of sufering. Te
frst three stages provide ever increasing and complex
sources of attachment that the will becomes preoccupied
with either adding to or maintaining. Terefore, the
defning feature of the third chakra stage is the challenge
of moving from a preoccupation with current ego-based
attachments to the surrender of subjective attachments
so that the process of ego transcendence can begin.
Te navel chakra stage is a uniquely pivotal
one in the chakra system model of development for this
reason. Barring any major life trauma, it is the last stage
that one is presumed to be able to reach automatically.
In fact, Hindu psychology and many complementary
Eastern philosophies assert that, for most people in
the West, this is the highest stage of development that
they will ever reach (Akhilananda, 1946; Aurobindo,
Tis also marks an important point of departure
between this model (Nelsons [1994] model) and Judiths
(2004) schema. Judiths chakra based developmental
framework aligns each chakra with Western equivalents
of stage development across the lifespan. Judiths view
suggests that all individuals evolve through all seven
chakras during their lifetime, which facilitates alignment
with Eriksons (1997) widely accepted lifespan model as
well. Under the chakra system model this is not assumed
to be the case. To the contrary, this model asserts that for
most individuals, after reaching the navel chakra stage
for the frst time by the age of 4, they recycle (for many,
indefnitely) through the frst three chakra domains. Te
primary challenges of fear, imitation, and preoccupation
are worked through as these challenges re-present
themselves with ever-increasing complexity in the form
of life experiences that correspond with successive phases
of biopsychosocial maturity (e.g., adolescence, young
adulthood, etc.).
Heart Chakra and Middle Adulthood
Trough Old Age
he heart chakra stage represents a pivotal transition
point. It is the gateway to the second of the two
great arcs. Te heart chakra represents a selfess form
of love and compassion for others. Its place within the
chakra system model of development, however, reveals a
shift in how love is regarded and experienced. As Nelson
(1994) noted, ascending to the heart chakra stage means
that love is no longer manifested as a need or craving
that involves the acquisition or control of the afection
of others. In this sense, it becomes a proving ground
for the individual in establishing whether one is really
prepared to transcend the ego-oriented preoccupations
of the frst three stages. Terefore, it should be viewed
as no coincidence that this stage spans the period of life
when most adults are navigating the myriad challenges
of parenthood.
For most new parents, the birth of a child is
likely the frst true experience of selfess love. In his
seminal work on attachment theory, Bowlby (1988)
described patterns of mother-child interactions that
ensue immediately after birth with specifc attention
to the manner in which a mothers selfess nature of
responsiveness to the child leads invariably to the
development of secure attachment patterns and healthy
development for that child later on. More recent studies
on the disruptive efects of maternal intrusiveness during
early childhood and the potentially moderating efects
of maternal warmth (Ispa et al., 2004) lend credence to
the notion that parenthood ofers orienting glimpses of
the heart chakra stage.
On the other hand, becoming a parent also
provides a whole new set of preoccupations, security
concerns, and imitative triggers. A childs safety is the
exclusive province of its parents for the frst decade of life
and beyond. During that time and through adolescence,
parents will tend to gauge their success or failure by
measuring their childs progress against the children of
other parents. A childs perceived success or failure on
any number of measures from academic achievement, to
athletic prowess to physical attractiveness and popularity
can become their parents nearly obsessive concern until
the child becomes adult.
Tus, middle adulthood becomes the earliest
opportunity for most adults to refect upon their own
lifes activities and to decide on the kind of meaning
they will attach to what they see. Te heart chakra stage
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 17 Chakra Model of Development
will be entered and subsequently mastered only by those
adults who upon refection, see their lives as stable yet
incomplete, being thereby motivated to seek completion
not through the acquisition of more external objects but
by turning within. Hindu psychology regards this as
the last of the fve primary urges and credits this urge
with being the reason why the overwhelming majority of
individuals seek out religion at some point during their
adult lives (Akhilananda, 1946). However, from a purely
developmental perspective an interest in religion is one
possible indication, among several, of engagement with
the heart chakra stage.
Kegans (1982) Stage 2 Imperial and Stage
3 Interpersonal phases bear many of the hallmarks of
the navel to heart chakra transition. In fact, Kegan
encapsulated the primary challenge of moving from
Stage 2 Imperial to Stage 3 Interpersonal as relating
to the individuals inability at Stage 2 to step outside
of his or her subjective attachments. Such attachments
represent precisely the type of anchors that can impede
progress from the Navel to (and ultimately through) the
Heart stage. Tis constriction limits the individuals
ability to take the kind of broad, objective view of both
the world and all of the diverse concerns within it, that
can accommodate the possibility of a shared reality
within which personal needs and demands give way to a
mutuality of concerns.
Te key diference between Western views of
psychological development and those espoused by the
chakra system, is that from the Western point of view
healthy development is seen as complete upon attainment
of a fully functioning ego, even when the ego is still
bound by subject-object attachments. Tis, however,
neither suggests nor explains an internal drive to fnd
meaning in ones life and work, a drive that remains
unsated for many at precisely this stage of adulthood. Te
heart chakra explains this as the impetus to continue to
develop and only transpersonally oriented developmental
models such as the chakra system model ofer additional
stages to pursue that align with this purpose. Te chakra
system model positions this stage as one in which ego-
based pursuits will either be relinquished in favor of
higher chakra stage attainment or result in stagnating
behavior in which no further development is possible.
If, as Rama, Ballantine, and Ajaya (1979)
suggested, the chakras represent a playroom or
laboratory in which life experiences are used as tests
and experiments in the service of self development, the
heart chakra is the capstone exercise. Most individuals
will continue to confront and revisit their self-concept in
relationship to the impulses, desires, and preoccupations
of earlier chakras. If they are unable to transcend them,
they will fnd themselves bobbing up and down between
this stage and the navel stage as the currents of their lives
Te Troat Chakra Stage
table ascent through the Heart chakra stage is
achieved only by those whose self-concept and broader
worldview is steeped in the embrace of the underlying
unity of all things (cf. Wilber, 2000, 2001). . Here again,
the selfess love and compassion which is attributed to
the heart chakra and the openness to experience which
accompanies it has one other important consequence. It
reintroduces the individual to universal consciousness in
a way that allows the individual to experience it as an
intrinsic part of the self. A byproduct of this reunion
is an increase in creativity and the need to express that
creativity in ways that beneft others.
Nelson (1994) stated that there is a call to
service as the self prepares to ascend to the ffth chakra
(p. 275). He further defned the throat chakra stage as
a fne balance of reason and intuition, self-control and
surrender, discipline and freedom, individuality and
unity (p. 284). Tese descriptors are often used to depict
those who have approached their later years with grace
and dignity. However, the chakra system does not view
ascendancy to this stage as an automatic inheritance of
aging nor is it the exclusive province of the elderly.
Eriksons (1997) stages of development ofer
many parallels to the chakra system, including his
description of the concerns that correspond to the
transition to higher order chakra stages of development.
Specifcally, according to Erikson, mid-adulthood marks
a stage where the individual will either remain self-
absorbed or turn his focus outward toward society and an
interest in leaving a legacy of creativity and productivity.
His corresponding stage to the throat chakra is described
as a challenge of intimacy versus isolation.
For most, middle adulthood represents a decade
or more of experiences upon which to refect and act.
Te consequences of the life choices accumulated during
that time highlight opportunities for intimacy in the
form of a growing extended family (e.g., marriage, child
birth, inlaws, granchildren). At the same time ones social
and professional network will likely have grown during
this time span. By contrast, if these opportunities were
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 18 Best
missed or avoided, it will be at this period in life that the
absence may be felt most keenly, leading to feelings of
Tis depiction may initially appear to align
itself more appropriately with the heart chakra than the
throat chakra stage. However, Rama, Ballantine, and
Ajaya (1979) helped to clarify this discrepancy by noting
that the throat chakra is aligned with nurturance as
well as creativity. It moderates the other-directed focus
of the heart chakra by teaching the individual to accept
and receive love as well as guidance from the universal
consciousness with which it has now been reacquainted.
Tus it redefnes intimacy as a psychospiritual rather
than a sensual construct. Notably, it is at this stage that
it becomes possible to refer to the Self with a capital
S because it is no longer the self that has heretofore
been exclusively identifed with the ego.
Te Brow Chakra
iberated from the obsessions of the ego and
experiencing free communication with universal
consciousness, the Self is now the embodiment of wisdom.
Te interesting corollary for this discussion is that just as
Erikson labelled his corresponding stage as the choice
between stagnation and generativity, the chakra system
model positions this stage as one in which access to the
higher order chakras liberates an unprecedented level of
intuition that would likely manifest itself as a wisdom
that has a benefcent infuence on others.
In their article on wisdom, Baltes and Staudinger
(2000) grouped the then-existing theories on wisdom
into three categories: personal dispositions, expositions of
post-formal thought, and expert systems concerning the
meaning of life. Te approach of that article, and others
like it, attempts to empirically validate the correlates of
wisdom, something that might appear to be folly to the
intuitive aspects of wisdom as experienced at this level.
Nonetheless, they do provide objective measures by
which to consider how a person who has ascended to the
brow stage would appear to others, although it should
be noted that the Baltes and Staudinger model was not
designed to validate transpersonally oriented stages of
Wisdom has been broadly classifed as
demonstrated expertise in and a capacity to successfully
navigate what Baltes and Staudinger (2000) referred to
as the fundamental pragmatics of life (p. 125). Tese
pragmatics are translated into a model of personal
wisdom by Mickler and Staudinger (2008) in which its
constructs are purported to include personal maturity, self
mastery in the form of subjective well-being, functional
levels of fuid and crystallized intelligences (i.e., both
cognitive capacity for problem solving and knowledge
acquired through past experience), and demonstrated
self-refection based upon life events. Te results of their
study revealed several patterns that align with the brow
chakra stage.
First, personal wisdom was positively correlated
with an intermediate number of life events that
stimulated refective thinking. Second, the relation-
ship between personal wisdom and intelligence was
curvilinear suggesting that individuals of higher
intelligence and presumably higher status have a harder
time incorporating non-intellect related facets of wisdom
(Mickler & Staudinger, 2008). In particular, the authors
noted that lower scores on the domain of universalism
suggested a more ego-oriented value system which may
tend to devalue issues of social concern that are an
intrinsic element of wisdom. It should be noted that
wisdom was also found to be correlated with high levels
of moral reasoning (Pasupathi & Staudinger, 2001).
It should go without saying that by the time a person
ascends to this chakra stage, they would evidence among
other virtues a discernable and unimpeachable moral
Tese observations illustrate a central feature of
the brow chakra, which refnes the intellect in a way that
integrates the emotions, relational concerns, and drives
of the lower order chakras into a more intuitive form of
interaction with the external world (Rama, Ballentine,
& Ajaya, 1976). It involves a mastery of detachment
from the objects that serve as barriers to growth because
they operate as tethers to egoic concerns. By rising above
these concerns, individuals who have ascended to the
brow chakra stage not only evidence the hallmarks of
wisdom, but they have balanced their feminine and
masculine aspects and enlarged the opening to universal
consciousness which prepares their ascent to the seventh
and fnal chakra stage.
Te Crown Chakra
ith the ascent to the Crown chakra, the boundaries
of the psychic membranes that were fortifed
during the transition through the frst three chakras
and then gradually deconstructed during the next three
chakras are fnally and completely dissolved. Having
frst fully experienced and stabilized an ego structure,
the transpersonal or post-egoic self can relinquish these
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 19 Chakra Model of Development
structures because they are no longer needed for support
or reference. Te unity with all things that is concomitant
with universal consciousness no longer threatens the self-
concept because the concept of Self has been enlarged
and integrated through the developmental process.
Here again, Eriksons lifecycle provides insight
by analogy. His fnal stage of integrity versus despair
forecasts the psychological and emotional state that
ensues when individuals fail to progress to this stage by
later life. Te use of the term integrity is consistent
with ascent to the highest chakra stage which afrms
ones true Self identity.
Nelson (1994) referred to this stage as sage
consciousness. Because this stage contains all of the prior
stages, it also possesses access to all of the knowledge
gained through them. Te sage is free of attachments
and is thus fearless, independent, and unfettered by
preoccupations of any sort. She or he has mastered what
Hindu scholars referred to as afectionate detachment,
which mimics the activating agent of the Agape form of
love. But most notably, it symbolizes direct communion
with universal consciousness and thus completes the
cycle of development by returning the Self to its source.
Te Model
he signifcance of any developmental model can be
evaluated by how well it explains human functioning
relative to three criteria: progress, productivity, and
positivity. Te central feature of all developmental models,
regardless of their ontological underpinnings, is that they
purport to delineate human progress. Life span models
such as Ericksons predict human progress over time;
cognitively oriented models such as those of Piaget and
Chomsky describe progress relative to the mechanisms of
the intellect or the development of language; biologically
oriented models focus on the progress made or not made
along physiologic lines; Kohlbergs model charts progress
relative to moral development. Tat they are termed
developmental makes the progress element of these
models self-evident.
However, to qualify as developmental models
from a psychological perspective, these theories must
also be anchored both subjectively and objectively.
Te subjective anchors can be found in the particular
paradigms through which they are crafted. Te objective
anchor is the standard they all have in common which,
in the feld of psychology, is linked to the degree of
individual functionality demonstrated. In other words, as
individuals develop are they able to be productive within
the settings and according to the expectations of their
stage of developmental attainment? Finally, progress and
productivity are both measured against a scale that seeks
to determine what is developmentally positive. Tis may
be defned by using terms such as healthy, normal, or
Proceeding from this rubric, the chakra system
model, to be classifed as a developmental model, must
also address progress, productivity, and positivity in its
depiction of human functioning. As previously identifed,
the seven chakras have already been presented in a stage
sequence by other authors (Judith, 2004; Nelson,1994).
However, viewing the chakras purely from a stage
perspective only avails of the more superfcial elements
of its architecture because it bypasses the most central
tenets of the system. It bears restating that the chakras
also represent centers of energy. Te feld of energy
medicine, proceeds on the premise that energy is a life
promoting and sustaining force (Srinivasan, 2010). Tus,
the chakras are not and cannot be conceived of only as
stages to be reached, but must also be viewed as domains
through which their corresponding energy felds operate
to engage and infuence individuals as they move from
stage to stage.
Te Self-System
ilber (1986) described the self as a self-system
with six constituent functions: identifcation,
organization, will, defense, metabolism, and navigation.
Identifcation is the source of the self-concept;
organization unifes the mind to frame experiences with
the outside world; will is the exercise of agency and
choice; defense consists of mechanisms of self protection
from perceived threats; metabolism is the assimilation
of past experiences; and navigation is movement from
one developmental stage to another. For purposes of
the chakra system model, the self-system is perhaps
best visualized as a sphere that is constructed by the
individual as he or she proceeds through life (Figure 1).
Te chakra stages represent the layers of the sphere which
are constructed from the bottom up. However, as with
any structure, the building process has many phases.
First a foundation must be laid, then a skeletal structure
is erected, followed by the external surfaces and fnally
the internal structures and components.
Tis order is crucial for several reasons. Te
foundation must be laid frst because its stability
determines how high the skeletal form can reach while
still maintaining its structural soundness. As previously
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 20 Best
Figure 1. Te Self-Sphere with Chakra Stages

stated, an individual must have a fully formed and stable
ego before it can be transcended. Tis begins with a
secure transition from from the root chakra, without
which the individual may question their very existence
(Nelson, 1994). Te skeletal form must precede the
application of the external surfaces for these surfaces to
have anchoring points. Tis is the function of the sacral
stage during which the individual begins to explore both
their individuation and the defnition of the self-concept
that they will project to others. Finally, the external
surfaces must be afxed before signifcant work is done
to the interior so that the internal fxtures are adequately
protected from the corrosive efects of the external
environment. Te assertion of personal will characteristic
of the navel stage serves among other functions, to
protect the developing psyche and ego based attachments
through the deployment of defense mechanisms. Each of
these steps must be taken in this order and with attention
to detail. Otherwise, deviations will emerge as tectonic
defects once the structure is subjected to uses such as
the daily life activities each individual experiences and
the concomitant variations of excitement and stress that
accompany them.
As Eastern views of human development meet
West, the former might depict the latters conceptualization
of the self-sphere as half complete. According to the
chakra system model the skeletal structure of the sphere
is constructed in two hemispheres. Individuals construct
the bottom half up to a point that would support the
frst three chakra stagesroot, sacral and navelwhich
typically takes until middle adulthood to achieve. Ten
and only then, depending upon the life of the individual,
is one capable of constructing the skeletal structure that
will support the second hemisphere that will complete
the Self and contain the four remaining chakra stages.
As with any hierarchical structure, the skeletal form of
this spherical model of the Self is erected vertically, thus
creating latitude and longitude efects. Te latitudes
mark the chakra stages. Te longitudes represent
developmental paths as the individual moves up through
the potential infuences of the chakra domains.
Recall that each chakra is distinguished from
the others by several defning characteristics: the root
chakra by its focus on security and survival, sacral by
sensations and individuation, navel by will and initiative,
heart by love and afection, throat by creativity and
nurturance, brow by intuition and wisdom, and crown
by oneness with creation. Each of these characteristics
also manifests as energies that infuence perception and
behavior. When functioning as domains (as opposed
to stages), the chakras signal the individual energies or
schematic frames that predominate in an individual as
he or she engages in the tasks and requirements of life.
It is at this point that a return to the six
functions of Wilbers (1986) self-system is particularly
illuminating. Te metabolism function refers to the
self-system function of ingesting experiences and
converting that material into components that will be
accepted, internalized, and manifested as the building
blocks of the self. Alternatively, the self will sometimes
reject some of the experiences it tastes, by exercising its
defense function. Tese defenses serve as the outer wall
that protects the self from the elements that appear as
a threat to the evolving self-concept. Under the chakra
system model, the chakra domains serve as metabolizing
agents as well as agents of defense that flter experiences
based upon the characteristics identifed with that
specifc chakra (e.g., fear, survival, sensual pleasure, will,
etc.). Tis model accommodates the biological, social
and environmental factors deemed infuential by other
developmental models and rubricizes them.
As Wilber (1986) noted, development involves
attaining and identifying with a stage until it is mastered
and then transitioning to the next stage. Tis transition,
however, can be difcult as it involves detaching from
the stage that has just been mastered and engaging in
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 21 Chakra Model of Development
the uncertainty of a stage not yet experienced. It is not
uncommon for individuals to become rooted or stuck at
a stage of development for any number of reasons. Te
chakra system model afords an alternate nomenclature
that permits evaluation of how arrested stages become
operationalized. However, its utility lies in the fact that
it extends the developmental paradigm in ways that
aford a therapeutic pathway even for those who would
be deemed healthy according to Western psychology.
In making the case for a spiritually-oriented
branch of personality psychology, Emmons (1999) noted
that spirituality facilitates adaptive functioning because
it supports goal attainment, self-congruence, and self-
regulation. He went on to argue for the existence of a
spiritual intelligence and supports this hypothesis
by arguing that spiritually-infuenced behavior meets
Fords (1994) pre-requisites for efective functioning
motivation, skills, biological architecture, and supportive
environment. In other words, spiritually-infuenced
lives involve goal directed activity (motivation), deliberate
action requiring the application of skillful conduct, and
the biological capacity to support motivated action along
with an environment that will not hinder its progress.
Te chakra system model puts this spiritual
intelligence in context. Specifcally, it provides a
developmental sequence for the individual such that goal
directed activity is evaluated in light of both chakra stage
attainment and the chakra domains which predominate
an individuals perceptions at a given time. For example,
chakra stage attainment would place the typical 25 year
old male at the navel stage. However, if he were still overly
focused on materialism to defne his self-concept, the
sacral domain would suggest that the energies of the sacral
domain were still a dominant infuence over his choices.
Additionally, this framework serves as a reference point
for measuring both the skillfulness of the conduct and
the adequacy of the supporting environment. However,
on a more practical level, chakra domains ofer guidance
for investigating all levels of development in both healthy
individuals and those experiencing varying levels of
psychological dysfunction. Even the most narcissistic or
aggressive individual can be found to demonstrate isolated
gestures of selfess compassion, while the popular press
is replete with examples of pious fgures succumbing to
their sensual urgings. Te mediating infuences of the
chakra domains ofer an explanation for these patterns
of seemingly incongruent behavior, because the chakra
stages and domains interact independently. Universal
consciousness is comprised of the energy represented by
all seven chakra domains. Its existence is constant as is
its availability. What varies is the individuals ability to
control the lower order domains and access higher order
domains without being overwhelmed by them. Grof
and Grof (1989) suggested that behaviors sometimes
diagnosed as psychiatric disorders actually represent the
premature accessing of higher order psychic functions
that correspond with the higher order chakra domains,
something they called spiritual emergencies.
Te chakra system model explains development
as a process by which the individual begins life
experience navigating upward from the root chakra with
a primary focus on security and survival. Accordingly,
all experiences are also metabolized through the prism
of the root chakra domain. Te remaining six chakras,
while present, are undiferentiated and thus unavailable
for use (Figure 2). As the individual matures, however,
if safety and security needs are met adequately through
appropriate interactions with caregivers, additional
chakra domains become accessible (Figure 3) and assist
the nascent being with the transition to the sacral chakra
stage followed by higher chakra stages that will rest
on the secure foundation of the chakra stages already
What is most important to note, however, is
that the construction of the bottom hemisphere of the
self-sphere refects an autonomic progression through
Figure 2. Chakra Domains (Unbalanced
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 22 Best
the frst three stages. Tat is, progression through
infancy, childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood
(corresponding to the root, sacral, and navel chakra
stages respectively) is generally dictated by physiological,
cognitive, and behavioral markers that assume stage
attainment unless major structural defcits are noted.
Terefore, the chakra system model does not
determine positive, productive progress to be achieved
based upon attainment of the third stage, as this is
presumed. To the contrary, progress is determined by
how well these stages have been supported as indicated
by unobstructed access to all seven chakra domains
(Figure 4), so that experiences can be metabolized in an
appropriately balanced manner. In this way, access to fully
balanced chakra domains helps the individual produce
the building material that forms the skeletal supports
and internal fxtures of the self-sphere. Te quality of
the interior, particularly in the lower hemisphere of
the self-sphere, is thus determinative of whether and to
what extent development will continue into the upper
hemisphere. Premature access to higher order chakras
before an individual has become sufciently grounded
by full and stable access to the lower order chakras can
lead to a destabilization of the ego structures (Grof &
Grof, 1989; Nelson, 1994). Alternatively, fxation on the
lower order chakra domains without progression to the
moderating efects of the higher order chakra domains
leads to stagnation.
Brow Root
Navel Heart
Figure 4. Chakra Domains (Balanced)
Figure 3. Chakra Domains (Unbalanced
Tus, what has heretofore been described as
regressions under other paradigms (Washburn, 1990)
is regarded here as a continual reliance on the infuence
of the root, sacral and/or navel chakra domains. Access
to higher domains as a result, is either sporadic or not
experienced at all depending upon the extent to which
reliance upon lower order chakra domains inhibits the
individuals ability to diferentiate higher order chakra
domains. Tis diferentiation of higher order chakras
is a necessary precursor to their exploration, use and
ultimately to higher order chakra stage attainment.
Chakra System Teory
ll models must be supported by an underlying
theory. Te chakras have been discussed both from
religious and psycho-spiritual perspectives for several
thousand years (Akhilananda, 1946). Neither is their
relationship to the psychological discipline within the
Western worldview a novel concept. However, it is
necessary nonetheless, to frame the chakra system as
an independent theory if it is to support a model as is
intended in this article.
Feist and Feist (2009) identifed three
characteristics of a theory that can serve as a useful
framework for presenting a chakra system theory. Te
theory must present (1) a set of related assumptions; (2)
that can support logical deductive reasoning; (3) from
which testable hypotheses can emerge. Tus to qualify
as a legitimate theory, the assumptions supporting the
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 23 Chakra Model of Development
chakra system model, must be readily identifable and
able to support a variety of hypotheses in the form of not
only the model itself, but also for example, diagnostic
strategies, measurement instruments, and therapeutic
interventions as well.
Earlier in this article, one set of assumptions
advanced was that under this theory, developmental
progression from infancy to adulthood was characterized
as the challenge to move from a state of fear, imitation, and
preoccupation to a state of fearlessness, independence, and
surrender of subjective attachments. Tese assumptions
were based upon the presumed existence of lower order
chakras that must be mastered before higher order
chakras can be realized. To master the selfess afection,
creativity, intuitiveness, and wisdom that serve as the
defning characteristics of higher order chakra stages, it
is reasonable to deduce that one would have to overcome
worries about having security needs met, possessing the
afections of others, or preoccupations with the egoic
concerns that can characterize adulthood, a period when
the lower order chakra domains predominate.
Maslow (1968) described this transition in
terms of a dichotomy comparing defciency motivations
to growth motivations. Defciency motivations are
directly linked to the individuals dependence on the
environment. For Maslow, these motivations could be
linked to the frst four levels of his hierarchy of needs
(safety, security, belongingness, and esteem); however,
they map just as efectively to the frst three chakra
stages. Just as Maslow identifed ego transcendence as
representing the transition from the dependency stage
created by defciency motivations to the independence
attendant with growth, the line of demarcation for the
two hemispheres of the self-sphere divide the dependency
that characterizes the fear, imitation and preoccupation
of the lower order chakras from all that the higher order
chakras represent.
Moreover, it is only through how one uses the
flters of the chakra domains to interpret life experiences
that growth is possible. Tis is illustrated in the wisdom
research done by Mickler and Staudinger (2008) which
identifed how one manages life events as a defning
characteristic of personal wisdom. Terefore, in returning
to the self-sphere, the individual capable of transition to
and through the heart chakra to the higher order chakras
will be the individual who has fully metabolized life
experiences through the frst three chakras in a manner
that leaves little to no undigested bits such as residual
neuroses, complexes, or ego-based preoccupations.
Following Guntrip (1971), Wilber (1986) described
psychopathology as failed metabolismthe self fails
to digest and assimilate signifcant past experiences and
these remain lodged, like a bit of undigested meat, in the
self-system, generating psychological indigestion (p. 79).
Security concerns no longer serve as a motivation
to operate out of fear. Mastery of sensual impulses and
the need to imitate others free the individual from
the overwhelming infuence of desire and ego-based
concerns. Otherwise, the individual interprets the will
as a tool for dominating or being dominated by others
as insurance that dependency needs will be met. Tis
process facilitates navigation through the chakra stages,
defnes the organization function of the self-system and
activates the identifcation function in a manner that
either releases the individual from external dependencies
and ultimately from the ego itself or keeps the individual
perpetually bound to ego-based concerns. In this way,
the chakra domains function as heuristic devices through
which higher level stage attainment is made possible.
Implications for Future Research
hat does the chakra system model add to the
developmental literature that is not already
addressed by other models? In proposing a grand
theory of development based upon dynamic systems
theory, Spencer et al. (2006) identifed four central
tenets of development: behavior is both of the moment
and consequential; it is softly assembled from varied
causes and subsystems deriving from and merging with
nonlinear interactions; perception, cognition, and action
are embodied in behavior as an integrated component;
and these experiences combine in idiosyncratic and
personalized ways.
Such a view would suggest a chaotic view of
development that should defy attempts to predict the
emergence of coherent stages. Yet such a coherence
does exist. Te chakra system model asserts that an
unlimited variety of individual experiences are softly
assembledthrough a fnite number of prismsthe
chakra domains. Te domains encase these nonlinear
interactions of living in ways that explain why progress
can appear to be regression (e.g., struggling with
sacral domain impulses while working to master heart
chakra stage attainment; intuitive creativity appearing
spontaneously in the midst of self-indulgent and
destructive behavior). Additionally, the concept of
chakra domains explains how perceptions, cognitions
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 24 Best
and actions are fltered and ultimately infuenced such
that observed behavior can be explained in a systematic
way while still accommodating the idiosyncratic nature
of individual development.
More importantly, however, this model
provides a therapeutic course for those who have met
the requirements and expectations of a satisfactory and
well-functioning adulthood, yet still feel unfulflled. Te
chakra system model explains that what has heretofore
been viewed as complete is only the frst half of ones
developmental journey, as has also been advanced
by Erikson (1997), Washburn (1990), and Wilber
(1986, 2000, 2001). It can also provide support for
developmentally focused psychotherapy, which has been
argued for as a necessary alternative to problem focused
approaches (Sperry, 2002).
Te disciplines of counseling, education,
leadership, and even divinity all posit theories aimed at
aiding individuals toward the development of improved
functionality within their respective purviews. Yet,
each struggles to fnd a defnitive approach upon which
universally accepted and invariably successful models
can be based. Te limitation more often than not can be
traced to the individual as the unit of analysis. Terapeutic
interventions, educational strategies, leadership styles
and religious inspiration are all predicated upon stability
in the mode of delivery, which in every instance is traced
back to the individual. Transcendent individuals will
become more intuitive counselors, provide more efective
instruction, function more consistently as holistic leaders
and inspire the spiritual development of more people
through the examples they set.
Te chakra system model presents a paradigm to
support these and other discipline-specifc approaches. In
keeping with other transpersonal theories, it extends the
range of human development and adds depth and context
to the upper strata of stages to which the healthy psyche
aspires. By regarding this model as a developmental
model, it like other developmental models, ofers a
scafolding structure upon which to build growth-
oriented strategies both for neurotic and pathologic levels
of human functioning in need of therapeutic invention
as well as healthy individuals looking to continue the
development of their potential in all areas of life.
Specifcally, further areas of research that would
test the efcacy of this model could include the creation
of validated instruments to identify both chakra stage
attainment and the over or underutilization of specifc
chakra domains; the development of counseling strategies
and coaching techniques based upon a diferentiation
of lower versus upper hemisphere stage attainment;
implications for the refnement of diferential diagnoses
of neurotic and pathologic behaviors that may in the
alternative represent the premature accessing of higher
order chakra domains (Cortright, 2000); and leader and
leadership development models based upon the chakra
system model stage descriptions. Tat said, this list is just
a frst step toward many potential uses and applications
for this model. Limitations include constraints on
identifying measurable constructs related to higher order
chakras (e.g., Brow & Crown). However, research based
on this theory could build upon the research designs used
for wisdom-related studies as well as those previously
conducted to validated theories of transcendence
(Tomas, Brewer, Kraus, & Rosen, 1993).
eturning to Kegan (1982), evolution from lower
to higher order chakras (viewed as moving
from subject to object according to his orders of
consciousness model), represents a recursive process of
meaning making applied to our personalized view of
reality. He wrote:
Subject-object relations emerge out of a lifelong
process of development: a succession of qualitative
diferentiations of the self from the world, with a
qualitatively more extensive object with which to
be in relation created each time; a natural history
of qualitatively better guarantees to the world of its
distinctness; successive triumphs of relationship to
rather than embeddedness in. . . . What is taken as
fundamental is the activity of meaning-constitutive
evolution. It is true that infancy marks the beginning
in the history of this activity. As such, infancy
initiates themes that can be traced through the
lifespan and inaugurates a disposition on the part of
the person toward the activity of evolution. Te frst
years of life do indeed have great salience. But it is a
not a salience sui generis; the distinctive features of
infancy, it is suggested, are to be understood in the
context of that same activity which is the persons
fate throughout his or her life. Te recurrence
of these distinctive features in new forms later
on in development are not understood as later
manifestations of infancy issues, but contemporary
manifestations of meaning-making. (pp. 77-78)
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 25 Chakra Model of Development
In the foregoing quote, Kegan (1982) articulated
the core function and purpose of the chakra domains and
their relationship to chakra stage transitions. It is through
the defning characteristics of each chakra domain that
individuals work through the process of shifting from
subject to object relative to that corresponding stage.
Tat is, the developmental process of the chakra system
model fnds the individual working from a position
of being so immersed in the tasks, challenges, and
identifying features of a stage so as to be embedded in
and thus unable to distinguish him or herself from the
those featuresto objectifying and thus transcending
that stage such that she is able to relate to, learn from
and incorporate these features into a newly evolved self
that begins the process anew at the next stage.
However, Kegans orders of consciousness model
ofers even more insight relative to the crucial transition
from the lower to the upper hemispheres of the Self-sphere.
As the heart chakra is defned as a proving ground for the
surrender of subjective attachments, this stage transition also
represents the very mastery of the subject-object transition
itself. Beyond the heart chakra, the Self emerges as a form
that no longer needs to create objects to make meaning but
internalizes experiences as a refection of the undiferentiated
whole to which all individuals belonguniversal
consciousness. When viewed in this fashion, the line of
demarcation between the lower and upper hemispheres
of the Self can be visualized as delineating the epic battle
between defning our experiences of self by our knowledge
of the world and defning our experiences of the world by
our knowledge of Self. In so doing, the perspective ofered by
the chakra system model extends the accepted sequence of
lifespan development by augmenting the present conceptual
understanding of when, how, and under what circum-
stances healthy adult development can truly be achieved,
and complements them with a model organized around the
chakra system.
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Walsh, R., & Vaughan, F. (1996). Te worldview of ken
Wilber. In B. W. Scotton, A. B. Chinen & J. R.
Battista (Eds.), Textbook of transpersonal psychiatry
and psychology (pp. 62-74). New York, NY: Basic
Washburn, M. (1990). Two patterns of transcendence.
Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 30, 84-112.
Wilber, K. (1977). Te spectrum of consciousness. Wheaton,
IL: Quest.
Wilber, K. (1980). Te atman project. Wheaton, IL:
Wilber, K. (1986). Te spectrum of consciousness.
In K. Wilber, J. Engler, & D. P. Brown (Eds.),
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MA: Shambhala.
Wilber, K. (2000) Integral psychology: Consciousness, spirit,
psychology, therapy. Boston, MA: Shambhala.
Wilber, K. (2001). A brief history of everything (2nd ed.).
Boston: Shambhala.
Wilber, K., Engler, J., & Brown, D. P. (Eds.). (1986).
Transformations of consciousness: Conventional and
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Williams. Retreived from www.patriciadaywilliams.
About the Author
K. Candis Best, JD, PhD, is an educator, consultant,
speaker, and author. She is licensed to practice law in
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 27 Chakra Model of Development
the States of New York and New Jersey as well as before
the federal courts of the Eastern District of New York.
In addition to a law degree from Villanova University,
she possesses a Masters in Business Administration from
Adelphi University, a Masters in Psychology from Capella
University, and a PhD in Social Welfare Research and
Policy Development from Stony Brook University on Long
Island, where she enjoyed the distinction of being a W.
Burghardt Turner Fellow. She holds board certifcations
in Healthcare Management and as a Human Services
Practitioner and is a fellow of the American College of
Healthcare Executives.
About the Journal
Te International Journal of Transpersonal Studies is a
peer-reviewed academic journal in print since 1981. It is
published by Floraglades Foundation, and serves as the
ofcial publication of the International Transpersonal
Association. Te journal is available online at www., and in print through www. (search for IJTS).
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 28 Brooks & Crouch
Editorial Introduction to Special Topic Section:
Transpersonal Feminism

any women who have passed through the
halls of the Institute of Transpersonal
Psychology, where both Special Topic editors
are currently located, have asked, Why are there so
few women published in this feld? Women of note
have published well-received books on a variety of
topics such as psycho-spiritual development (Ruumet,
2005; Vaughan, 1995/2005), as well as developing
research methods infuential within the feld of
qualitative research (Anderson, 2011; Clements, 2004).
While women authors in the Journal of Transpersonal
Psychology have increased as a percentage since the
1980s, women have been consistently under-represented
in the professional literature of the transpersonal felds
(Daniels, 2005; Hartelius, Caplan, & Rardin, 2007).
To date, no scholarship has adequately addressed the
reasons for this historical situation or examined the
motivations and support necessary for women to achieve
more publication in the transpersonal feld (G. Rothe,
personal communication, April 20, 2011). Whatever the
roots of this dynamic, the current special issue addresses
this gender imbalance with an ofering of womens voices
to the transpersonal audience, with a specifc focus on
feminist perspectives.
Along with women-centeredness, feminist
perspectives ofer rhetorical and analytical tools for
examining issues of social and personal rights and the
mechanisms through which such rights are constricted
based upon gender. For example, feminist scholarship
in felds such as psychology over the past four decades
have revealed the imbalance in gender representation
in the vast majority of research upon which these
disciplines were built (Yoder & Kahn, 1993; Enns,
2004). Additionally, feminist critiques of foundational
psychological forefathers such as Freud (Flax, 1990;
Turer, 2005) and Jung (Wehr, 1987; Young-Eisendrath,
2004) have expanded some of the culturally-bounded
and, at times, sexist classical concepts of early psychology
with the explicit goal of creating schools of thought that
are more inclusive and less pathologizing of diverse
As a feld of study, feminism, in its many
forms, centers scholarship around the experiences of
women and issues of vital importance to womens lives
and well-being, such as economic justice, reproductive
freedom, and freedom from harm and discrimination.
With regard to areas of focus in much transpersonal
scholarship, including states of consciousness, psycho-
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies, 29(2), 2010, pp. 28-32
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 29 Editorial Introduction to Special Topic Section
spiritual development, extraordinary human experiences,
and psychological well-being, considerations of the
diferences men and women may experience are vastly
underrepresented in the literature. Socio-cultural location
and the infuence of gendered identities on the daily lived
experience of both individuals and groups are real factors
in the difering ways women and men are treated as both
subjects of research as well as authors of transpersonally-
oriented scholarship. Consideration of and research
on the variety and richness of womens psychospiritual
experiences will help to broaden understanding in the
feld of the various ways in which the transpersonal can
be viewed and interpreted.
However, the voices of women cannot be
represented by any single author: it is a confuence of voices
that will bring forward the dynamic, multidimensional
ways in which womens experiences can inform a
deepening understanding of transpersonal phenomena.
Te goal of this Special Topic is to invite conversation
and exploration of diverse feminist viewpoints within
transpersonal studies in order to further develop
transpersonal theory that is inclusive of the individuals it
aims to describe.
In this issue, Christine Brooks and Martina Juko
Holiday suggest intersections or possible relationships
between feminism/womanism and transpersonalism.
Tese meeting points create possibilities for novel
approaches to spirituality, critical theory building,
clinical practice, education, research, and activism,
endeavors that ultimately aim to heal the psychospiritual
wounds of those who may have sufered from non-
inclusive conventions. A discussion of feminism
within the transpersonal feld has been sorely needed;
Brooks piece flls that gap and posits why and how the
transpersonal feld omitted considerations of gender in
transpersonalists early universalizing theories. Brooks
delivers a broad overview of feminist psychological
theory and feminist spirituality in order to give a tangible
characterization of the intersection between feminism
and transpersonalism, noting that beyond scholarly
discourse and research, praxis and education may
serve as potent locations of social action; transpersonal
scholarship may beneft from reaching out to mine the
wealth of subjective experience that exists outside the
formal bounds of the academy, bringing the people and
their experiences front and center in the integration of
feminist and transpersonal scholarship. Indeed, Brooks
notes that both transpersonal and feminist thought
focus on the role of individual agency in personal and
social transformation, emphasizing the acceptance of
subjective experience as the starting point of inquiry
that aims to elucidate the experience of many within
larger collective contexts. Within this epistemological
vein, Ferrers (2002, 2009) participatory philosophy is
presented as a possible theoretical starting point for the
envisioned feminist and transpersonal worldview, as
the participatory turn values and takes account of the
multiple perspectives on spirituality that are recognized
today by those sensitive to feminist views and diverse
transpersonal experiences.
Holiday describes the womanist perspective
in all of its historical, cultural, political, and spiritual
richness, giving credit to the liberationist work of women
of color seeking to communicate their own subjectivity
as a personal form of self-articulation, communion with
spirit, connection with community, and individual and
collective healing. Holiday points out transpersonal
psychologys own early ethnocentricity, but carves
out a space in the transpersonal discourse for the
womanist perspective, which has from its inception been
embedded within an explicitly spiritual context. Holiday
uses the metaphor of the self-created mirror to convey
how womanists must express their real lived experience
authentically, sounding the call for more scholarship
from within the transpersonally-oriented womanist
community. According to Holliday, the healing of deep
wounds and traumas of women of color may be supported
through inquiry that embraces the womanist-infuenced
concepts of the word, expressed through narrative and
testimony; the body, trusted as a viable source of data
and an authoritative embodied voice of experience;
and the kinfolk, recognized as the relationship between
the individual and her community. Here, as in other
articles within this issue, scholarship is not removed
from the object of its study, but rather is conducted by
those who come from within the studied context, by
those whose participation in that reality grants them a
subjective authority that is valued in both womanist and
transpersonal discourse.
Te other six womens voices included in this
special issue demonstrate the depth and breadth of
feminist thought as it is currently expressing itself in
the transpersonal community. Tis collection of articles
brims with the lived experience of women and the issues
that have meaning and importance to them in their
personal, academic, and spiritual lives.
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 30 Brooks & Crouch
Judy Grahn interprets an ancient Mesopotamian
myth about the great goddess Inanna to reappraise how
the personal integrity of women is vital to the urgent
need to save the natural world. Grahn here considers
the myth of Innana and Shukaletuda, in which Innana
is subjected to a sexual transgression, and proposes that
such an image stand for general disrespect of natures
order, represented not only by the transgression of
Inannas feminine power and aesthetics, but also by the
transgressors unthinking pillaging of the land. Grahn
suggests that this transgression is not what other modern
cultural critics might consider as a rape, for the crime
done to Innana is not personal and psychological, but
rather a societal and collective wound inficted upon the
earth to which the community is bound. Te powerful
imagery of Innanas menstruation and menstrual
blood and its power to cleanse the land reinforces the
transformative role of the feminine, which Grahn asserts
was and still is denigrated under the reign of patriarchy.
Grahn gives us a look into how females may choose to
interpret old stories along postmodern feminist lines,
and how this can be ecologically, psychologically, and
spiritually healing.
Sophia Korb proposes an area of potential
research that has been overlooked to date in transpersonal
studies: the lived experience of Jewish and Christian
fundamentalist mothering. Korb points out that
conservative religious movements in the West have
often been derided or rejected in transpersonal circles;
she suggests that the motivations and complexities of
the lives of fundamentalist women must be understood,
as raising children constitutes a vital culture-making
process. Korb illuminates why some modern women
choose to identify with a more restrictive fundamentalist
path instead of a more liberal feminist one, emphasizing
self-agency, religious identifcation, cultural and social
discourse, tradition, and community. Korb presents this
discussion within the sequential framework of a social
and cultural process of identity formation, described as
the infuences of early environment, identity formation,
religious transformation, and fnally the molding of the
early environments of womens children, concluding
that identity, as a whole, is comprised of the intersecting
identities of both the mother and the religious
April Topfer discusses the embodied experience
of female adoptees within a closed adoption system,
weaving in personal narrative as a cogent example of
the authors own hermeneutical process of biological
identifcation and the reclamation of her embodied
female voice. Topfer combines elements from Jungian
and feminist theory to propose a theoretical model of
psychological and spiritual growth that highlights the
role of the embodied female voice as a transformational
component of a female adoptees journey toward self-
understanding. Furthermore, Topfer includes narratives
from birth mothers who relinquished their children,
providing a counterbalance to the discussion of the lived
experience of female adoptees.
Irene Lazarus reports on the efcacy of
incorporating feminism and a family systems view
into a model of psycho-spiritual development as a
healing modality appropriate for personal work as
well as therapeutic practice. Lazarus discusses her own
experience of teaching the course, A Transpersonal
Feminist Approach to Family Systems, at the Institute
of Transpersonal Psychology from the years 1995-
2002, and includes an organic inquiry into the personal
narratives of some of her students, who used transpersonal
modalities such as genealogy, dream work, journaling,
and other forms of creative expression to assist in self-
understanding and self-acceptance. Considering how
family history is tightly bound to a particular socio-
cultural framework, Lazarus feminist revision to Murray
Bowens original family systems theory is a much-needed
update to a transpersonal theoretical system that could
be more inclusive and broadly descriptive by honoring
perspectives grounded in complex and varied contexts.
Lazarus thus sets an example of how transpersonal theory
can be updated according to current feminist discourse.
Te personal, academic, and spiritual lives
of women cannot be considered as separate within a
feminist paradigm, as demonstrated by Kim Ducketts
proposition of the transformational power of using the
Wheel of the Year (WOTY) as a psycho-spiritual healing
process for women. Ducketts teachings and programs
for the WOTY are modeled on ancient European earth-
based systems of psychospiritual development, which
follow the temporal patterns of the changing seasons, and
are also refected in the modern teachings of womens
spirituality, Pagan, goddess spirituality, and Wiccan
traditions, and draw parallels with the transpersonal
developmental model of psychosynthesis. For Duckett, a
womans lived experience and her processes of healing
including the reconstructing and deconstructing of
integral parts of the selfcan be compared symbolically
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 31 Editorial Introduction to Special Topic Section
to the mythology of the Greek goddess Persephone,
whose story of spiritual and psychological development
is entwined with the change of the seasons. Ducketts
model recognizes the necessity of and encourages self-
refection and identifcation with other women going
through individual processes of biological development
and psycho-spiritual growth, and thus presents a healing
modality for more than just the individual female, but
for the whole of the community of women.
Judy Schavrien examines two sets of ancient
Greek trilogies as allegories to current environmental
catastrophes. Setting the stage for her analysis, Schavrien
takes note of the reciprocal dynamic between the
sociopolitical world and the religious beliefs and practices
of the ancient Greeks; she then locates the intersection
between society and societys religion in the gendered
attitudes and beliefs of Athenian males, as witnessed
through the infuential discourse of the theater, which
crafted specifc visions of female deities and thus informed
and was informed by the social roles of Athenian women.
In the frst trilogy of plays examined, Aeschylus Te
Oresteia, Schavrien suggests that the defamation,
demonization, and distortion of the female deities, linked
to the maternal, to nature, and to natures way of both
creating and destroying, ft the purposes of a growing
democratic male-dominated city-state. In the second
example, Sophocles Oedipus trilogy, Schavrien shows
how the playright might have written a tale that aligned
with the sociopolitical context of the time, with the hopes
of restoring the balance between family and body politic,
female and male, and ultimately between humans, nature,
and the gods. Schavriens study, informed by Gross (1993)
feminist hermeneutics of suspicion, exhibits a broad
vision by frst attempting to uncover the androcentric and
misogynistic bias within the earlier trilogy that correlated
with hypermasculinity and hubris, and thus imbalance,
and then fnding some resolution within the later trilogys
foregrounding of the feminine, thus potentially restoring
balance. Schavrien contends that the second triology
served as a critique of not only the sociopolitical scene,
but also of the psychospiritual and psychoecological
characterization of the collective. Schavrien then suggests
parallels between ancient Athens and contemporary
America and modern corporations; then, in consonance
with Sophocles late vision, Schavrien proposes an act
of rebalancing centered on the sustenance of the Earth,
with implications for critical reinterpretations of history,
politics, and psychology.
Te editors of this section are not attempting to
set out a rigid defnition of what feminist transpersonal
scholarship should look like, or set an agenda for
the kinds of topics feminist transpersonalists and
transpersonal feminists should contribute to the growing
body of literature. If any viewpoint stands out within the
feminist movement, it is that contemporary feminists
seek to utilize the most comprehensive and sophisticated
interdisciplinary methods to study and elucidate the
complexity of womens experiences, from illustrations
gleaned from personal, self-refective processes and
development to examination of social and collective
roles, relationships, and identities.
Many of the articles in this issue describe or
employ qualitative methods of research and review
of extant literature; such approaches aim to privilege
subjective accounts of womens experience, drawing
from the psychological, the experiential, the embodied,
and the actual lived reality of women. Interestingly, a
number of authors chose to discuss their own personal
experiences as these relate to their research endeavors.
Qualitative methods are gaining increased visibility and
credence within the social scientifc felds, and feminist
researchers and scholars have employed qualitative
approaches to gathering and analyzing subjective
experience, both formally and informally, for decades.
Additionally, transpersonal psychology has from its
inception developed qualitative approaches for research,
since many of the experiences that transpersonalists have
studied cannot be fully elucidated through quantitative
description. Tose working within both feminist and
transpersonal terrains have learned the benefts of
qualitative approaches to inquiry and can take strong
positions in favor of these methods with decades of
meaningful data to support them.
Te transpersonal feld is a progressive academic
discipline and it is imperative to engage in scholarly
discourse that promotes forward-thinking, fexible, and
adaptive methods of inquiry to support the constant
changes within intellectual discourse. Te editors are
honored to bring this special section of the International
Journal of Transpersonal Studies to life. Christine began
to vision such a project as a student at the Institute of
Transpersonal Psychology almost a decade ago. Eight
years later, through collaboration with passionate
women scholars in the transpersonal community, this
issue ofers eight articles representing diverse viewpoints
from within a feminist-transpersonal perspective. Te
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 32 Brooks & Crouch
editors hope that this issue will help to bridge feminist
and transpersonal research and scholarship that fosters
interdisciplinary intellectual thought, and that it will
explicitly support academic work by transpersonally-
oriented women. Each new and diverse perspective
that is given voice adds to the whole picture of human
experience, complex though it may be; if the inclusive
vision of transpersonalism cannot be achieved through
universalisms, then it must be pursued through a rich
plurality of diverse voices.
Christine Brooks
Institute of Transpersonal Psychology
Courtenay Crouch
Institute of Transpersonal Psychology
Anderson, R. (2011). Intuitive inquiry: Exploring the
mirroring discourse of disease. In F. J. Wertz, K.
Charmaz, L. M. McMullen, R. Josselson, & R.
Anderson (Eds.), Five ways of doing qualitative
analysis: Phenomenological psychology, grounded
theory, discourse analysis, narrative research, and
intuitive inquiry (pp. 243-278). New York, NY:
Guilford Press.
Clements, J. (2004). Organic inquiry: Toward research
in partnership with spirit. Journal of Transpersonal
Psychology, 36(1), 26-49. Retrieved from <http://>
Daniels, M. (2005). Shadow, self, spirit: Essays in
transpersonal psychology. Charlottesville, VA: Imprint
Enns, C. Z. (2004). Feminist theories and feminist
psychotherapies: Origins, themes, and variations (2

ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.
Ferrer, J. (2002). Revisioning transpersonal theory: A
participatory vision of human spirituality. Albany,
NY: State University of New York Press.
Ferrer, J. (2009). Te plurality of religions and the spirit
of pluralism: A participatory vision of the future
of religion. International Journal of Transpersonal
Studies, 28, 139-151. Retrieved from <http://www.>
Flax, J. (1990). Tinking fragments: Psychoanalysis,
feminism, and postmodern theory in the contemporary
West. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Gross, R. (1993). Buddhism after patriarchy: A feminist
history, analysis, and reconstruction of Buddhism.
Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
Hartelius, G. Caplan, M., & Rardin, M. A. (2007).
Transpersonal psychology: Defning the past,
divining the future. Humanist Psychologist, 35(2),
1-26. Retrieved from <http://www.informaworld.
Turer, S. L. (2005). Te end of gender: A psychological
autopsy. New York, NY: Routledge.
Wehr, D. S. (1987). Jung & feminism: Liberating
archetypes. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.
Yoder, J. D., & Kahn, A. S. (1993). Working toward an
inclusive psychology of women. American Psychologist,
48, 846-850. doi:10.1037//0003-066X.48.7.846
Young-Eisendrath, P. (2004). Subject to change: Jung,
gender, and subjectivity in psychoanalysis. New York,
NY: Brunner-Routledge.
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 33 Feminist and Transpersonal Tought
Unidentifed Allies:
Intersections of Feminist and Transpersonal Tought
and Potential Contributions to Social Change

Christine Brooks
Institute of Transpersonal Psychology
Palo Alto, CA, USA
Contemporary Western feminism and transpersonalism are kaleidoscopic, consisting of
interlocking infuences, yet the felds have developed in parallel rather than in tandem.
Both schools of praxis developed during the climate of activism and social experimentation
of the 1960s in the United States, and both share a non-pathological view of the human
experience. Tis discussion suggests loci of synthesized theoretical constructs between the
two disciplines as well as distinct concepts and practices in both disciplines that may serve
the other. Ways in which a feminist-transpersonal perspective may catalyze social change on
personal, regional, and global levels are proposed.
ontemporary Western feminism (which will be
defned below) and the transpersonal movement
both came of age in the climate of activism
and experimentation in the United States during the
late 1960s, and both movements continue to evolve
today. As with many schools of thought that blossomed
during the height of modernism and then transformed
during the postmodern turn, both feminism and
transpersonal studies
are kaleidoscopic disciplines made
up of interlocking yet distinct infuences and sources.
However, as evidenced in the literature of both felds and
demonstrated herein, feminism and transpersonalism
have moved in parallel rather than in tandem over the
course of their development. Feminist thought, and even
the voices of women scholars, are woefully lacking in
transpersonal literature. Hartelius, Caplan, and Rardin
(2007) devoted an entire section of their discussion of
a contemporary working defnition of the transpersonal
feld to evaluating gender diversity in the literature; it
is interesting to note that they found that only 25% of
the 182 articles published in 30 years in the key journal
of the feld, the Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, were
attributed to women. Tis led the authors to conclude
that, if transpersonal psychology is to stand for human
wholeness and transformation, it needs to embody what
it teaches; there can be no lasting human transformation
without inclusiveness, nor holism without diversity (p.
19). Te absence of womens voices in the professional
literature takes on political and social signifcance
in relation to such burning questions: who among
transpersonalists is publishing in the professional
literature, and what barriers continue to exist in
transpersonal circles that maintain the invisibility and
silence of many women? Te ongoing diversity work at
the core of feminist movements, described below, may
serve as a rich resource as transpersonalism moves, as
Rothberg (1999) and Hunt (2010) urged, into a more
socially-engaged phase.
Michael Daniels (2005) suggested that the
feld of transpersonal psychology has relied heavily on
aspects of theory and practice historically related to
an ascending (transcendent) model of psychospiritual
development rather than a descending (immanent) model.
Daniels went on to argue that ascending models value
the masculine while descending models are often related
to aspects traditionally related to feminine qualities. Te
problematics of gendering psychospiritual qualities (i.e.,
using terms such as masculine and feminine to describe
psychological or spiritual qualities) is a topic worthy of
scholarly inquiry in its own right; though it will be a
running question throughout this piece, the full attention
that this burning issue deserves within the feld is put
of for a future inquiry. It must sufce here to note that
the frequent utilization of binary gendered language (i.e.,
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies, 29(2), 2010, pp. 33-57
Keywords: feminism, feminist psychology, transpersonalism, transpersonal psychology,
social justice, spiritual development, spirituality, interdisciplinarity.
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 34 Brooks
masculine and feminine qualities)notably common in
transpersonal psychologyis an area ripe for additional
critique, research, and theory in the future of the feld.
As a researcher and educator who straddles the
two disciplines in my own work, I began my exploration
of the relationships between feminist and transpersonal
thought with a series of questions: What are the
intersections between feminism(s) and transpersonal
studies? Where do these progressive movements align?
How do they difer? What does it mean to identify as
both feminist and transpersonal? It is not my intention
herein to trace the entirety of the complex and compelling
histories of both transpersonal and feminist thought,
although excellent sources for both are noted below.
My goal is to highlight a few locations of synthesized
theoretical constructs and practice between the two
disciplines. Additionally, initial proposals of how a
feminist-transpersonal perspective may catalyze social
change will be addressed.
Te Transpersonal Terrain
s the feld of transpersonal psychology matures,
histories of its origins and continuing research
seeking to defne the boundaries of this feld of inquiry
and practice have become more prevalent (Daniels, 2005;
Hartelius et al., 2007; Hastings, 1999; Lajoie & Shapiro,
1992; Lukof, Lu, & Turner, 1996; Shapiro, Lee, &
Gross, 2002; Walsh & Vaughan, 1993). Hastings (1999)

placed the birth of the feld of transpersonal psychology
in the late 1960s with the publication of Maslows
(1968/1999) second edition of Toward a Psychology of
Being. Originally published in 1962, Maslows work
explored peak experiences and how such experiences
promote a transcendence from a doing level of self to
the level of being (Hastings, 1999, p. 193). Additional
infuences in the development of the discipline include
the work of Anthony Sutich and the Palo Alto Group
who associated transpersonal theory with the feld of
psychology to establish what Maslow viewed as the
Fourth Force of psychology. However, many concepts at
the core of transpersonal psychology pre-date this era and
refect ancient wisdom traditions such as Buddhism and
Sufsm as well as theories about spirituality developed by
earlier psychologists such as William James (1902/1997)
and Carl Jung (1934/1954).
Citing William James approach to the
psychology of religious experience, transpersonal scholar
William Braud (2006) referred to James concept of
becoming conscious of and in touch with a More (p.
135) in the human experience. In short, in transpersonal
psychology there is an explicit acknowledgement of the
spiritual nature in human consciousness and recognition
that the study and understanding of the spiritual
experiences in peoples lives deepen a psychologists
comprehension of the human condition. Building upon
the work of humanists such as Abraham Maslow and
Carl Rogers, the feld has devoted much of its theory
building and scholarship to understanding concepts
such as exceptional human experience, higher states of
consciousness, and altruistic behaviors and attitudes
such as compassion, mindfulness, and forgiveness.
Transpersonal psychology additionally chal-
lenges the rigid, materialist epistemology of traditional
schools of psychology in favor of a system that is fexible
enough to hold many perspectives at once (Mack, 1993,
p. xi). As Mack noted: Psychology in this [materialist]
paradigm, has limited its healing potential by following a
therapeutic model in which one person treats the illness or
problems of another, separate, individual, whose relevant
world is confned to a few principle relationships (p.
xii). Te burgeoning transpersonal feld has ofered an
alternative view:
In the transpersonal universe or universes, we seek
to know our worlds close up, relying on feeling and
contemplation, as well as observation and reason, to
gain information about a range of possible realities.
In this universe we take subjectivity for granted
and depend on direct experience, intuition, and
imagination for discoveries about the inner and outer
worlds. A transpersonal epistemology appreciates
the necessity of ordinary states of consciousness
for mapping the terrain of the physical universe,
but nonordinary states are seen as powerful means
of extending our knowledge beyond the four
dimensions of the Newtonian/Eisensteinian [sic]
universe. (p. xii)
Tis epistemology values multiple ways of
knowing, moving beyond scientism and embracing
the complex and diverse voices comprising the
transpersonal feld to date. Additionally, Macks (1993)
view of transpersonal psychology suggested the validity
of the subjective experience. As will be noted below,
the primacy of the subjective voice is a major locus of
intersection between transpersonal psychology and
feminism. However, it is important to note, albeit briefy,
that a distinction is to be made between individualism
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 35 Feminist and Transpersonal Tought
and subjectivity. For the present purposes, individualism
considers the individual as a discrete whole, an entity aware
of and intentionally participating in its own growth and
development, a process that is decontextualized and not
dependent upon others. Subjectivity is rather the state of
awareness of inner and outer events as ones own experience,
the experience of a contextualized, bodily-located self.
Such a distinction is important to consider with regard
to the evolution of both the feminist and transpersonal
felds over the course of the past four decades.
As noted above, the feld of transpersonal
psychology (much like the social movement of feminism
and the feld of feminist psychology) has multiple faces.
Over the more than 40-year course of the development
of the feld, defnitions of transpersonal psychology have
evolved from Maslows early focus on peak experiences.
In 1992, Lajoie and Shapiro published a synthesized
defnition from more than 40 defnitions of transpersonal
psychology: Transpersonal psychology is concerned with
the study of humanitys highest potential and with the
recognition, understanding, and realization of unitive,
spiritual, and transcendent states of consciousness (p. 91).
As I examine this defnition almost two decades after its
publication through my own feminist lens, two elements
stand out: 1) a privileging of transcendence and higher
states of human potential and consciousness rather than
an acknowledgement of the complexity and depths of all
lived experience (cf. Daniels 2005); and 2) a seemingly
exclusive focus on the decontextualized individual.
So much has changed in the intervening years
since this defnition was developed: the internet alone has
expanded the capacity to network, connect, and interact
with one another at levels never dreamed possible, while
also highlighting the increasing isolation felt by many in a
world too fast and demanding to encourage actual person-
to-person interaction. Increasing globalization of the
marketplace has created opportunities for extreme levels
of wealth for a very few while simultaneously threatening
ecological and economic disaster as human and material
resources continue to be consumed at unsustainable
levels. Te frenzy of capitalism and consumption has led
to the explosion of the sustainability movement that seeks
to restore a healthy relationship to the planet and replace
entitlement with respect for the relationships needed to
fulfll the most basic levels in Maslows (1943) hierarchy
of needs: food, water, shelter, and love.
In this climate, transpersonal psychology has
needed to evolve in order to stay relevant. Mainstream
psychology is beginning to embrace its own roots in
spirituality, re-engaging with both psyche and spirit in
both practice and research.
In the United States positive
psychology (e.g., Snyder & Lopez, 2007) and health
psychology (e.g., Sheridan & Radmacher, 1991) are now
established felds of research and clinical intervention,
and spiritual practices such as mindfulness meditation
are studied and taught as mainstream psychological
treatment to minimize stress and promote healing
(e.g., Kabat-Zinn, Lipworth, & Burney, 1985; Stahl &
Goldstein, 2010).
A contemporary defnition of the transpersonal
feld addresses these cultural changes and the evolution
of the feld. Following the example of Lajoie and
Shapiro (1992), Hartelius et al. (2007) conducted a
thematic analysis of 160 defnitions and concluded
that transpersonal psychology is comprised of three
interacting themes: Beyond-Ego Psychology; Integrative/
Holistic Psychology; and Transformative Psychology.
Hartelius et al. wove the themes into a new defnition
of the transpersonal feld: An approach to psychology
that 1) studies phenomena beyond the ego as context
for 2) an integrative/holistic psychology; this provides a
framework for 3) understanding and cultivating human
transformation (p. 11). While this defnition may be
viewed as individualistic in scope, the authors stressed
that the transformation of the individual is but one
important aspect of creating change in the world:
Te three aspects of the feld complete rather
than compete. As beyond-ego aspects of human
experience become understood, a view emerges
in which human individuals are integrally
interconnected with much larger contexts. Tis larger
vision, in turn, allows glimpses of how to become a
greater, deeper humanity. As humanity transforms,
individually and collectively, it cultivates more
beyond-ego development worthy of study. Together,
the three themes of transpersonal psychology form
an interdependent, mutually supportive cycle of
inquiry. (p. 11)
Tis statement seems to mirror the often-
paraphrased quote by Gandhi: Be the change you want
to see in the world. Such a comparison is not meant
to diminish either the nuanced complexity of the above
defnition, nor to frame Gandhis quote in a reductivist
manner. Rather, it is to point out that both concepts focus
on the vital importance of individual agency and action
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 36 Brooks
as catalysts for personal as well as social transformation:
moving from rigid individualism to the embracement
of unique subjective experiences within intersubjective
milieus. As will be discussed later, it is important to
highlight that transformation begins with the individual
in this frame, and thus subjectivity is reafrmed as the
locus or starting point of the process. Te self is the place
where transformation begins, though not its full and
fnal purpose.
Te Feminist Terrain(s): A Brief History of Western
Academic and Activist Feminism
estern (or Euro-American) feminism,
understood to include the movements developed
in the late 60s through early 80s in the United States,
Western Europe (notably the United Kingdom), and
Australia, has contemporary roots, as well as a deeper
lineage reaching back to the frst wave of women-
centered activism focused primarily on sufrage (womens
right to vote) that took place in the late 19
and early
centuries in the United States and United Kingdom
(Freedman, 2002). What is generally understood as
Western feminism is one faction among many in the
broader global womens rights movements that focus
on issues such as human trafcking, reproductive
and family planning rights, violence against women,
women impacted by war, womens representation in
government and the workplace, and povertyto name
but a few of the crucial areas of concern (Morgan, 1996).
Consideration of the complexities, nuances, and rich
history of the myriad womens movements that now
span the globe and interlock in multiple ways through
scholarship (e.g., Bhavnani & Phoenix, 1994), activist
endeavors (e.g., Women in Black and Code Pink, two
international war protest groups), social media (e.g.,
websites such as Facebook and GlobalSister that seek
to connect and inform women) and non-government
organizations (e.g., Sisterhood is Global Institute and the
Global Fund for Women) are beyond the scope of this
work; thus, it is not possible to provide a comprehensive
overview of feminism here. Major concepts describing
key schools of thought and evolutions of the Western
feminist movement that have infuenced my perspectives
on feminisms will be briefy noted to provide context
for the considerations at hand (but see Freedman, 2002;
LeGates, 2001).
Te Western feminist movement of the 1960s
to 1980s, now referred to in many feminist academic
circles as second wave feminism and understood as the
modern origin of contemporary Western feminism(s),
was greatly infuenced by the civil rights, anti-war, and
youth activism movements in the United States during
the 1960s (LeGates, 2001); its development paralleled
the counter-cultural inception of contemporary
transpersonalism. Te movement was driven by
a wide variety of womens concerns, including sex
discrimination; limited opportunities in employment;
restraints on reproductive freedom; and concerns about
domestic violence, sexual victimization, and womens
unpaid labor (Biaggio, 2000, p. 3). Early activism and
political action focused on women as a distinct class
(diferentiated from men) who shared the common
experience of dominance and oppression simply
by being women (Lerner, 1986; Spivak, 1988). Te
construct of a monolithic class of women has become
increasingly complexifed as the rise of diverse voices
in the movement(s) has demonstrated the problems
that come with conceptualizing women as a class.
Nonetheless, early feminist thought demonstrated the
need to delineate a starting point for the movement that
starkly highlighted the extreme inequity and disparity
of privilege that women have experienced due to gender
and/or sex roles associated with biological sex (Jehlen,
1990; Kessler & McKenna, 1985).
Tis early activism began to dismantle
assumptions about womens position in society as well
as what had traditionally been assumed as fxed gender
roles. Te feminist movement grew through grassroots
eforts, notably the formation of consciousness-raising
(CR) groups. Tese groups were collectives of women
gathered together, focused on facilitating personal
awareness of a central tenet of the movement: the
personal is political (Biaggio, 2000, p. 6)
All across the [U.S.], as if by spontaneous
combustion, women were meeting to discuss
their personal plights and arriving at the same
conclusion: that their problems were not unique
or isolated phenomena, but rather refections of a
political environment that devalued and subjugated
women . Tis is how the movement caught fre;
women bonded around the new insight that they
were being treated like second-class citizens. Tey
realized that they had grown so accustomed to this
status that they had been blind to its very existence.
Tis awareness and the fervent sense of sisterhood it
gave rise to fueled the movement. (p. 6)
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 37 Feminist and Transpersonal Tought
Acts of consciousness-raising often also led to personal
and public confrontations of long-held views on race,
class, and social injustice, along with protests of gender
inequality. Women began to write personal narratives of
their own experiences as subjective accounts of such issues
(Friedan, 1963/2001; Pratt, 1984; Rich, 1979/1995). Tis
early work became the heuristic ground of qualitative
information that coalesced into feminist theory through
various manifestos and anthologies (e.g., Morgan, 1970;
Redstockings, 1969/2010).
Te Spectrum of Feminism
Feminism is, and has been from its inception,
a collection of many movements. What is generally
referred to as second wave feminism developed out of
four major sub-categories: liberal feminism (or equality
feminism), radical feminism, socialist feminism (or material
feminism), and cultural feminism. Radical feminism
and cultural feminism have been greatly infuential in
contemporary feminist psychology and warrant brief
explication herein.
Radical feminism. Radical feminists believe
that the patriarchal structure of society oppresses
women. Radical feminists have conducted research and
created theory demonstrating how some of the most
sacred cultural institutions, including marriage and
child-bearing/care, operate as mechanisms of control and
domination over women (Rich, 1979/1995; Firestone,
1970). Psychologist Laura Brown (1994) is dedicated
to dismantling and restructuring theory, practice, and
even the patriarchy inside ourselves in an efort to
create a vision of the just society in which oppression
and domination are no longer the norm (pp. 233-234).
Browns voice displays the intermingling of theory and
politics that most often characterizes the radical feminist
perspective. Te prominent social and political work of
radical feminism pursues the elimination of violence
against women and highlights issues of sexualitymost
notably the issues of rape and pornographyand the
efects these two elements have on women (Dworkin,
1981; MacKinnon 1982/1993). Amid the criticism of
unrealistic separatism leveled at some of their political
stances, radical feminists nonetheless have been at the
forefront of antiviolence legislation and were among the
frst to develop rape crisis centers and battered womens
shelters (Echols, 1989) and have had a lasting impact in
feminist psychology.
Cultural feminism. Cultural feminists are
generally credited with seeking to resurrect, reconsider,
and re-vision the cultural meanings of female qualities
such as the concept of the feminine as it is used in areas
such as Jungian analytic work (e.g., Woodman, 1990,
1997; see also Downing, 1992/2003) and feminist
spirituality (e.g., Christ, 1992, 1997). A core assertion
of many cultural feminists is that women have been
oppressed due to inherent unique qualities such as
intuition, emotionality, and relationality (Alpert, 1973;
Donovan, 1992; Noddings, 1984; Wilshire, 1989).
Cultural feministshave tended to embrace the
biological and psychological understandings of the
diferences between men and women. From their
perspective, the social problem women encounter is
not the diferences per se, but rather the diferential
value placed on those diferences. (Whalen, 1996,
p. 23)
Or, as Wilshire (1989) noted in her explication of how
ancient philosophers laid the groundwork for ongoing
oppression of women qua women:
One sees that the more things change, the more
they stay the same, for philosophic tradition
continues to extol things culturally perceived as male
(e.g., knowledge in the mind) and suppress things
culturally perceived as female (e.g., knowledge in the
body). Note here, briefy but pointedly, that maleness
and femaleness in this context often have nothing to do
with being a woman or a man. (pp. 94-95)
Tree major contributions of cultural feminism are:
(a) the celebration and honoring of motherhood; (b)
a resurgence of womens spirituality, including the
resurrection of goddess traditions; and (c) re-evaluations
and reformations of traditional philosophies of
knowledge such as strict empiricism, materialism, and
logical positivism (Alpert, 1973; Starhawk, 1979/1999;
Wilshire, 1989; Lips, 1999).
A Tird Wave in Feminist Tought and Action
As in political parties, each branch of feminism
has a particular platform and mandate upon which the
members of the group operate. However, the boundaries
between these ideologies are fuid, and many feminists
hold beliefs from more than one group and/or create
hybrid platforms such as ecofeminism, a fusion of ecology
and feminism (e.g., Daly, 1978; Grifn, 1978/2000;
Shiva, 1988), womanism, an African-American feminist
movement highlighting the strengths of women of color
(e.g., Higgenbotham, 1992; Walker, 1983), and post-
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 38 Brooks
colonial and critical race theories, schools of thought critical
of mainstream American feminism for universalizing the
experience of women and thus fattening the complexity
of identity (e.g., Ahmed, 2006; McClintock, 1995;
Sandoval, 2000; Spivak, 1988). Additionally, the voices
of lesbian, queer, and transgender women continue to
impact feminist endeavors through the exploration of how
sexuality (including sexual orientation and afectional
orientation), gender orientation, and biological sex
interplay in multivalent ways and further complexify
and diferentiate the experiences of women (Ahmed,
2006; Bornstein, 1995; Butler, 1990, 1993, 1997; Rich,
Contemporary U.S. political, social, and
academic feminism of the late 20th and early 21st
centuries has come to be called the third wave (Findlen,
1995; Gillis, Howie, & Munford, 2007; Heywood &
Drake, 1997; Walker, 1995). Tis movement is a pastiche
of history, politics, and pop culture (Baumgardner
& Richards, 2000) and embraces the contradictions
of identity and the subjective voices of a variety of
perspectives to demonstrate the diversity and complexity
of womens experience in response to perceived earlier
essentialist stances taken in some feminist activism.
Essentialism is understood here as adhering to the belief
that there are unique attributes that women possess that
are diferent from men; thus, this perspective is also
referred to as diference feminism. While third wave
voices are prevalent in the felds of womens studies and
philosophy, many of the rhetorical and conceptual devices
employed in this school of thought have yet to penetrate
into the institutional structures of psychologyand are
notably absent in transpersonal psychology. Tese ofer
promise for future theory and research.
Te Evolving Voices of Feminism:
Considerations of Diversity
heorizing and research in feminist work continues
to evolve the feld, notably in relation to continued
eforts to understand the complexity of identity. Some
third wave feminists have viewed the stance of cultural
feminists as essentialist. Much work in third wave
feminism argues for the varying utility of this stance,
and questions whether the essentialist view contributes
importantly to the feminist goal of liberating women
from oppression grounded in devaluation (Bohan,
1993, p. 6). However, the point remains that these
[essentialist] theories have been criticized for presuming
universality and ignoring diversity in human experience
(DeLamater & Hyde, 1998, p. 13; for additional critique
of such essentialism in feminism, see also Bohan 1993;
Lorber & Farrell, 1991; Stone, 2007).
Te ongoing
dialectic around the concept of essentialism underscores
the challenging work of exploring the socio-cultural
nature of identity and demonstrates the vital need to
keep issues of diversity at the fore of research and theory-
Te critique against essentialism arose within
feminist camps because early theory and research in
the second wave years was primarily conducted by and
generally included an overwhelming majority of white,
middle-class women (Yoder & Kahn, 1993). As feminism
has continued to evolve in the past three decades,
scholars such as Patricia Hill Collins (1990), bell hooks
(1981, 1989, 2000), and Johnnetta B. Cole (1986) have
highlighted the absence of the voices of women of color
in second wave feminist theory and research. Cole noted
the chauvinism among white women, that takes the
form of attitudes and behaviors which ignore or dismiss
as insignifcant diferences in class, race, age, sexuality,
ethnicity, and physical ability (p. xiii). Peggy McIntosh
(2002) wrote about white chauvinism, the weightless
knapsack (p. 358) of white privilege that is, as McIntosh
wrote of her own racial awakening to whiteness, the
invisible package of unearned assets which I can count
on cashing in each day, but about which I was meant to
remain oblivious (p. 10):
[Tis privilege] leads white women to make the
assumption that their experiences are universal,
normative, and representative of others experiences,
although well-motivated, white, middle-class
feminist scholars have fallen into the trap of
presenting the experiences of mainstream women
as the yardsticks of womens experiences. Terefore
the impacts of racial, cultural, and class-based
factors are ignored, not only for women of color, but
also for white women. (Espin & Gawalek, 1992, p.
Over the past three decades, feminist
psychological theory has begun to move beyond a
consideration of gender in a vacuum, recognizing that
the intersections and interplay of gender, race, class,
physical ability, sexual orientation, other socio-cultural
factors, and personal identity create matrices through
which people experience their lives (Ballou, Matsumoto,
& Wagner, 2002; Brown, 1994; Crenshaw, 1991;
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 39 Feminist and Transpersonal Tought
Espin & Gawelek, 1992; hooks, 1989). A contextual
consideration of identity is especially urgent in the feld
of transpersonal psychology, which has sidestepped the
mundane self in much of the literature, relegating that
discussion to traditional forms of personality psychology
(see Daniels, 2005). However, new work is beginning
to appear that addresses the concept of a transpersonal
self (see MacDonald, 2009), and further theoretical and
empirical work will need to continue to fesh out such a
concept, as described further in sections below.
Te ongoing revelations of the complexity of
female experienceon national and global levelshave
led to continuing, lively debates in feminist camps. Spivak
(1988) suggested early on that at times it is necessary to
rely on strategic essentialism in order to focus directly on
realities that impact the lives of women. She suggested
that one must not lose sight of harm against women in
the process of creating philosophy or theory, and that
alliances must be created across ideological diferences
in order to achieve social justice. Since Spivaks early
statements, others have suggested more sophisticated
models of coalition-building (Anzaldua, 2007; Anzaldua
& Keating, 2002), bridge identities (Ferguson, 1997), and
complex models that better represent the intersectionality
(Crenshaw, 1991)
of identity. Te intention is to create
feminist theory and practice that embraces contradiction,
multiplicity, and diference (Gillis et al., 2007, p. xxiv) so
that activism on behalf of womens rights and safety may
continue without relying on an exclusively essentialist
understanding of women as a monolithic class.
I see parallels in this critique of essentialism
to questions Ferrer (2000, 2002) has raised in
transpersonalism with regard to the perennial
philosophy. Ferrer argued against the universalization of
understanding concerning religious/spiritual experience.
In the context of feminist discourse, if universalizing
constructs are relied upon, then which classes or
categories of (female) experience become foregrounded,
and which experiences are erased or backgrounded?
Questions related to who has the right or power to name
and legitimize their own experiences are at the heart of
much feminist work and also at the core of Ferrers work
through the past decade.
Who Speaks for Women?
While the rhetorical and philosophical stance
of postmodernism is at risk of being dismissed by some
as a futile, nihilistic project,
the core understanding of
the power of language (and other forms of signifcation)
is nonetheless valuable in a consideration of pluralistic
movements such as transpersonalism and feminism.
Postmodern theory, a term confated and interchanged
with social constructionism in the feld of psychology,
seeks to deconstruct the very categories (e.g., sex, gender,
masculine/feminine, disorder) that have achieved truth
status within psychology (Cosgrove & McHugh, 2002,
p. 22). Some scholars argue for a distinct diference
between strict postmodern theory and the principles of
social constructionism (Butler, 1990). However, the two
schools of thought hold fast to a common understanding
that we have no way of knowing with certainty the
nature of reality (Bohan, 1993). Bohan defned the
basic structure of this theory and how it may ameliorate
the assumptions promoted by essentialism:
So-called knowledge does not refect the discovery of
a free-standing reality, existing apart from the knower
and revealed by careful application of procedures.
Rather, what we purport to know, what we see as
truth, is a construction, a best understanding, based
upon and inextricably intertwined with the contexts
in which it is created. Among the most forceful
factors that shape our constructions of knowledge
are the modes of discourse by which we exchange
our perceptions and descriptions of reality. Tus,
knowledge is a product of social interchange; what
we call knowledge is simply what we agree to call
truth. (pp. 12-13)
In a detailed account of potential intersections
and understood contradictions of postmodern and
feminist schools of thought, Cosgrove and McHugh
(2002) underscored the tension between wanting
to explore the subjective expressions of research
participants while adhering to postmodern tenets.
Language thus becomes a primary tool of a combined
feminist/postmodern method in that language (the
term discourse is frequently used because of its inclusive
connotation) is seen as constituting rather than revealing
reality. Language afects what we do (and dont) notice,
what we do (and dont) experience (p. 24). Holding
the tension between feminist identity politics and a
postmodern perspective as described above allows a
theorist, researcher, or practitioner to examine the
relationship between ontology (being) and epistemology
(knowing) (p. 25).
While language is of central importance to
postmodern thought, scholars such as Butler (1990,
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 40 Brooks
1997) and Barvosa-Carter (2001) have been careful to
move toward a poststructuralist stance in which language
is but one aspect of the discourse that constructs reality
and subjectivity. Te importance of this diferentiation
rests in these theorists insistence on constant refexivity
in order to uncover the power structures through which
reality is socially constructed. In an overview of Butlers
contributions to both postmodern and feminist schools
of thought, Barvosa-Carter (2001) summarized the
central tenet of their collective thinking:
Poststructuralist theories (including Butlers)
describe the social world in large part in terms of
the production of norms and veiled attempts to
deem those norms natural or universal. Butlers
strident anti-normativity is born out of her attempt
to unmask the pretense, falsehood, and will to power
behind attempts to declare socially constructed
norms universal across space and time. To reveal the
contours of normative precepts and the activities of
those who advance them is neither to dispense with
the need for norms within political practice nor to
eliminate their complex role in the formation and
transformation of social relations and practices.
Hence, from a poststructuralist perspective, acknow-
ledging the subordinating misrepresentations by
which some social norms are created, advanced,
and maintained will not banish norm generative
activities from feminist political practice. (p. 133)
Tus, the inclusion in feminist discourse of
schools of thought such as postmodernism, social
constructionism, and poststructuralism, each focused
squarely upon the political act of delimiting the source(s)
of power and infuence upon which norms are created,
has broadened feminist perspectives toward a new school
of thought which can and must attend to both symbolic
and material politics (Barvosa-Carter, 2001, p. 135). In
relation to psychology, and notably and specifcally to
transpersonal psychology, a feld in which the symbolic
is often deemed as vital to subjective experience as
material reality (Campbell, 1974; Hillman, 1997; Jung,
1976; Woodman, 1997), the above perspectives may
contribute new and nuanced frames of reference from
which to explore how power and reifed gender roles are
replicated in classical transpersonal work. Tis occurs,
for example, through tactics such as using terms such
as masculine and feminine to describe psycho-spiritual
constructs and states.

Applied Feminism:
Psychology and Spirituality
eminist psychology, as a feld, has been dedicated to
centering women and womens issues in psychological
research, theory, and treatment modalities. Utilizing
the strong analytical tools developed in academic and
activist strands of the movement, feminist psychologists
have served key roles in addressing gender as a crucial
locus of psychological health and development.
Accounts of the many feminist threads that inform
feminist psychology and psychotherapy are prevalent
in the literature, including Enns (2004) comprehensive
overview, Feminist Teories and Feminist Psychotherapies.
A core concept that informs many of the scholars
and researchers in feminist psychology is relationality, or
the theory that we, as human beings, grow and develop
through relationship and not in individual vacuums of
experience. Relational-Cultural Teory is a feminist construct
that has posited the need for and value of interpersonal
relationship in healthy psychological development; as a
theoretical model, it has become a keystone of efcacy
in the therapeutic process (Baker Miller, 1978; Jordan &
Hartling, 2002). Additionally, feminist psychologists have
highlighted the necessity of focusing on subjectivity, or the
actual lived experience of women in order to create valid,
verifable data upon which to build theory and practice
that will serve diverse populations of women (Lerman,
1986), since the need remains to continually build diverse
theory that no longer speaks only to narrowly-defned
populations (Brown, 1994).

In the past decade, Suyemoto (2002), for
example, has proposed a model of socially-constructed
self and identity as perpetually shifting and developing
rather than relying on rigid, step-wise, hierarchal concepts
of personality development that have defned personality
psychology as a feld. Suyemoto asked of traditional
theorists and researchers: Who determines what
my . . . personality is or is not . . . what is or is not healthy or
pathological in personality? (p. 74) Additionally, Ballou
et al. (2002) created an ecological model of human
nature that includes community, ecology, and cosmos as
infuences that shape the self and ones understanding of
identity. Similar to the earlier work of Bronfenbrenner
(1979; see also Bronfenbrenner & Ceci, 1994), the
Ballou et al. model extends a holistic model of identity
to include consideration of the sociopolitical realities of
intersectional identity as understood and interpreted
through a feminist lens (Crenshaw, 1991).
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 41 Feminist and Transpersonal Tought
Feminist work has been primarily focused
on identity politics and conceptualizations of what it
means to be a socially-constructed self, diferentiating
these models from the psychospiritual models generally
utilized in the feld of transpersonal psychology,
which have historically placed primacy upon spiritual
experience and the importance of ego-transcendence
as a move toward wholeness (Wilber,
1973, 2000; see
also Washburn, 1995, 2003; Ruumet, 2006). In overly-
simplifed terms, the political orientation of much
feminist theory has served well the motto noted above,
the personal is political (Hanisch, 1969/2006). Just as
it was suggested above that Gandhis exhortation to be
the change might signify the gestalt of contemporary
transpersonalism, this simplifcation of a classic feminist
slogan is not meant to be reductive; rather it is to
suggest that the core focal strength of feminism(s) is
that it values subjectivity while acknowledging that the
socio-political reality of such lived experience impacts
the lives of actual individuals. In my own work as an
educator, theorist, and researcher, I fnd that feminism
informs the transpersonal, and vice versa, to create new
synergistic lived spiritual activism. It may be that this
sort of mutually-inspiring relationship can also evolve
between the felds themselves.
Feminism and Spirituality
Troughout the varied and voluminous
anthologies of academic feminist theory,
and textbooks on feminism and psychology,
issues of spirituality or religion are often noticeably
absent. Womens studies and political science professor
Leela Fernandes (2003) devoted an entire work to
highlighting the lack of focus onarguably even
avoidance ofthe issue of spirituality in mainstream
Western academic feminism and womens studies
programs. In her work, Transforming Feminist Practice:
Non-Violence, Social Justice, and the Possibilities of a
Spiritualized Feminism, Fernandes posited that academic
feminists have been wary of religious institutions that
have sought to control womens bodies and sexualities
and that this wariness had inadvertently allowed
conservative religious and political organizations
and movements to colonize spirituality (p. 9). She
further suggested that secular, urban, middle-class
feminists (p. 9) would beneft from an exploration of
the possibility of social transformation through a
spiritual revolution, one which transforms conventional
understanding of power, identity, and justice (p. 11).
Te author recounted that the students in her womens
studies courses are loath to discuss spirituality in the
context of feminism, and her work is ofered as a bridge
between these academic circles and the lived spiritual
reality of most women.

While Fernandes makes the case that spiritu-
ality has often been missing from mainstream
feminist academic discourse, she has not addressed the
interdisciplinary feminist scholars who focus attention
on aspects of spirituality, most specifcally issues related
to womens religious and spiritual experience. Her work
circumvented the fact that the relationship between
feminism and spirituality is not absent, but ambivalent;
while her point may be valid in the feminist circles in
which she resides, it does not take into consideration
the richly complex vista of feminist spirituality that
afords interesting locations of intersection between
transpersonal and feminist schools of thought.
Te feld of feminist spirituality developed
alongside the activist and academic camps of the
movement since the inception of the second wave
and also has deep roots in the religious motivations
espoused by frst-wave feminists such as Elizabeth
Cady Stanton (1895/2003). Accounts of the history
of feminist spirituality are available, including an
overview of feminist infuence in monotheistic religion
and goddess worship by Stuckey (2010) and the
history of womens spirituality as researched by Eller
(1995). Much scholarship has been written concerning
institutional religions, especially, in the United States,
Catholicism, Protestantism, and Judaism; notable works
include Plaskow (1979/1992, 1991), Gross (1979/1992),
Schssler-Fiorenza (1983, 1984), Reuther (1983, 1985),
and Daly (1978, 1968/1985). Some of these works
(including Schssler-Fiorenza) seek to re-establish
women as active participants in the living traditions
of religion, while some scholars seek to re-vision the
sacred scripture, liturgy, and ritual of religion to make
it more inclusive for practicing women (as in the work
of Reuther, Gross, and Plaskow). Dalys work argued
for women to abandon patriarchal religious institutions
altogether due to the inability of such religions to truly
value and honor women and womens experiences.
Goddess traditions, Wicca, paganism, shamanism,
earth-based spiritual traditions, and womens circles are
also present in prominent literature in the feld (Christ,
1979/1992, 1997; Noble, 2001; Starhawk, 1979/1999;
Teish, 1988). Activist and emancipatory spirituality
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 42 Brooks
are continuing to evolve and diversify, and one such
example among many is the work of Lillian Comas-
Diaz (2008) on Spirita, a spiritual perspective focused
on collective liberation and social justice, grounded
in mujerista, or Latin womens spiritual and liberatory
Several core constructs are central to feminist
spirituality theory and practice: women-centeredness,
processes of reclaiming or renaming, praxis, and educating
other feminists. Prime examples of these constructs can be
found in the Womens Spirituality masters program at
the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology in Palo Alto,
Te program is explicitly woman-centered:

placing womens experience as the central focus of study
and research (D. Jenett, personal communication,
April 6, 2009). Te program is interdisciplinary and
focuses on the archeological and mythological roots
of matrifocal culture and goddess worship, as well as
contemporary social and political issues afecting how
and whom women worship (thus, reclaiming and
renaming). Courses in the program include the use of
ritual, and women enrolled are required to engage in
an applied learning practicum in a community setting
(praxis). Finally, the program is an excellent resource
for feminists who have not encountered spiritually-
oriented feminism before (educating other feminists).
Similar accounts of parallels to these core concepts
can also be found throughout the feminist spirituality
literature (e.g., Christ & Plaskow, 1979/1992; Plaskow
& Christ, 1989; Powers, 1995). Te concepts noted from
the feminist spirituality research and literature above,
grounded primarily in the felds of womens studies,
history, archeology, mythology, religious studies, and
social and political activism, have recently begun to
contribute to the feld of psychology.
Feminist Spirituality
and Psychotherapeutic Practice
Te academic journal Women & Terapy has
devoted two full issues to the topic of women and spirituality
in the past two decades (Kaschak, 2001; Ochshorn &
Cole, 1995). Both of these volumes explored the multiple
ways in which spirituality afects the therapeutic process,
including the use of spiritual elements such as ritual in
therapy, and the place spirituality holds within the realm
of mainstream feminist psychology. Te 1995 issue
had three articles of note: Ballous Women and Spirit:
Two Nonfts in Psychology, Bewleys Re-membering
Spirituality: Use of Sacred Ritual in Psychotherapy, and
Hunts Psychological Implications of Womens Spiritual
Health. Te articles in the 2001 issue had a similar
theme, building upon the platform established in the
former issue: namely, the vital importance of spirituality
in the development of a holistic understanding of the
self (Funderburk & Fukuyama, 2001; Perlstein, 2001;
Weiner, 2001). While none of the articles in either issue
mentioned transpersonal theory specifcally, Noble
(2001) utilized alternative nonrational knowledge
techniques (p. 193) and ancient healing techniques
(p. 193) in her conception of bringing spirituality into
the therapeutic setting. Such techniques included
ritual, dreams, oracles, hands-on healing, and other
forms of shamanistic technique that are applied in hopes
of disrupting the entrenched pathological patter and
simultaneously stimulating a rebalancing to take place on
its own (pp. 194-195). Transpersonal psychotherapeutic
literature is thick with analogous sentiments as evidenced
in the works of authors such as Fox (1990) and Vaughn
Te language used to introduce the later issue
(Kaschak, 2001) also demonstrated compatibility with
much transpersonal thought:
Spiritual practice contributes to a dimension of
consciousness untouched by psychodynamic and
other approaches that emphasize awareness. It
also demands a profound level of responsibility for
oneself, to oneself, to others, and, fnally, to all beings
and to the earth herself, thereby acknowledging and
making visible the inevitability of our mutuality
and connectedness. We need not create connection;
we need simply to awaken to it. (p. xxii)
Te absence of specifc transpersonal voices indicates a
place for exploration and potential research and theory-
building that may further illuminate intersections of
feminist and transpersonal perspectives and generate
transformative professional conversations.
Contributions that transpersonal psychotherapy
could make to feminist therapists work include expertise
in techniques that assist in the discernment between
pathology and spiritual emergency (Grof & Grof, 1989;
Lukof et al., 1996), the integration of spiritual techniques
such as meditation in clinical practice (Vaughan, 1993)
and personal wellness (Stahl & Goldstein, 2010), non-
pathological language to better understand exceptional
human experiences (Palmer & Braud, 2002), and
applications of forgiveness in therapeutic practice or work
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 43 Feminist and Transpersonal Tought
with groups in confict (Luskin, 2002; Lewis, 2005).
Additionally, the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology
has developed excellent models of whole-person clinical
training programs that illustrate the importance of the
integration of personal and professional development
as forms of transformational learning (Braud, 2006;
Frager, 1974; see also Ferrer, Romero, & Albareda, 2006;
Meizrow, 1997).
Terapists, scholars, researchers, and educators
in both feminism and transpersonalism tend to be
eclectic and interdisciplinary. Tus, the fact that these
felds may already share some common vernacular,
as tentatively illustrated above, may serve as a bridge
between them. Additionally, of course, there are
already feminist-oriented transpersonal practitioners
and transpersonally-oriented feminist practitioners, as
evidenced by the other transpersonal/feminist works
included in this special issue of IJTS, as well as a litany of
excellent dissertations produced by doctoral students in
schools such as ITP, the California Institute of Integral
Studies, Saybrook University, the Pacifca Graduate
Instutite, and other similar schools globally.
works serve as a tentative beginning to the mapping of
such intersections.
Feminism and Transpersonal Psychology:
imilar to many feminist psychologists, including
the work of Ballou and Brown (2002), Hare-Mustin
and Maraceck (1990), Maraceck, (2001) and others, the
pioneers in the feld of transpersonal psychology found
the emphasis on pathology and malady in mid-20th
century psychology only representative of a fraction of
human experience and sought to create a feld of study
that would honor the fullness of humanitys multiple
ways of being, knowing, and experiencing the world
around us. While self-proclaimed feminists are active
clinicians, researchers, theory-builders, educators,
and spiritual guides within the transpersonal milieu,
the relative absence of feminist voice is problematic
with regard to theory-building and models of efective
clinical interventions. Tis lack threatens to perpetuate
sexism in the feld of transpersonal psychology through
It is possible that some of this gender gap may
be attributable to what Ferrer (2002) has pointed to as
an over-reliance on the perennial philosophy during the
frst quarter century of the felds development. Ferrer
described perennialism as:
the idea that a philosophical current exists that
has endured through centuries, and that is able to
integrate harmoniously all traditions in terms of a
single Truth which underlies the apparent plurality
of world views. . . . this unity in human knowledge
stems from the existence of a single ultimate reality
which can be apprehended by the human intellect
under certain conditions. (p. 73)
As Ferrer observed, despite their professed inclusivist
stance, most universalist visions distort the essential
message of the various religious traditions, covertly favor
certain spiritual paths over others, and raise obstacles for
spiritual dialogue and inquiry (p. 71). Just as perennialist
views homogenize the topography of human spiritual
experience, they may fatten the plurality of lived experience
that results from inhabiting a gendered body, and overlook
the need for participation by women scholars.
As noted earlier, feminist postmodern scholars
employ dialectics that continually question the validity
of universal truths or monolithic theories claiming to
represent all human experience. Te inclusion of womens
voices generally, and feminist voices in particular, can
support the felds eforts to overcome unexamined
presuppositions and, through embracing diversity,
achieve a greater degree of plurality in the philosophical
foundations of the discipline.
Louchakova and Lucas (2007) have recently
written a critique that also suggests that the avoidance of
the examination of the self in transpersonal psychology
is linked to the roots of the feld in the personal growth
endeavors of the 1960s, which sought to diferentiate from
other mainstream schools of thought and relied heavily on
Eastern conceptions of no-self as a template for enlighten-
ment. As ego-transcendence was and still is a core value of
the feld, the question of self (as identity or contextualized
subjectivity, which includes the ego) has been a problematic
conundrum that has only recently been addressed in
transpersonal circles (see also MacDonald, 2009). Te
deep and skillful socio-cultural analytic tools developed in
feminist psychology may be essential to help transpersonal
theorists and clinicians ground solid defnitions of growth
and transformation beyond (or through) ego, but in situ,
in cultural context. While spiritual experiences are often
described as inefable, decontexualizing the individuals
experiencing such inefability risks creating essentialist
models that may not ft diverse experience, as Ferrer
(2002, 2009) has suggested.
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 44 Brooks
Epistemologies and Research Methods:
Explicit Intersections
Feminist perspectives have greatly infuenced a
body of scholarship exploring alternative epistemologies
that challenge the positivist position held in science for
more than a century (Lips, 1999). Feminist theorists
have explored and critiqued the ways in which
knowledge is collected, interpreted, and transmitted
(Chelser, 1972; Chodorow, 1978; Gilligan, 1982; Jaggar
& Bordo, 1989). As Ballou and Brown (2002) pointed
out, epistemologies deriving from psychologies such
as postmodern, multicultural, and ecological are more
commonly utilized and more broadly understood (p.
xiii) to be more inclusive and fexible, and thus better
tools for the study of models such as Relational-Cultural
Teory (Jordan, Kaplan, Miller, Stiver, & Surrey, 1991)
or the feminist ecological model of the self (Ballou et al.,
Te above epistemological frames complement
and, in some instances, intersect with some of the core
constructs that have been developed in transpersonally-
grounded research methods (Anderson, 2004; Braud,
2004; Braud & Anderson, 1998, 2011; Clements,
2004). Both feminist research methods (grounded
often in the perspective of social constructionism) and
transpersonal research methods seek to move beyond
exclusive reliance on experimentally or objectively
gathered data, demonstrating an early valuing of and
confdence in qualitative research methods, including
the use of heuristics, hermeneutics, and phenomenology
(Anderson, 2004; Ballou, 1992; Braud & Anderson,
1998). As noted, neither feld seeks to do away with
empirical methods of data gathering (Bohan, 1993),
but rather to select a method that best fts the research
questions at hand (Braud, 1998). However, in the case
of a social constructionist stance one is reminded of
the diferentials of power in all research endeavors, and
is urged to remain skeptical of received truths and
taken-for-granted frames of reference . . . knowledge is
never innocent, but always value-laden and predicated
on specifc sociopolitical conditions that it serves to
legitimize (Maraceck, 2002, p. 6).
In the case of a transpersonal stance toward
research, the transformative and liberating potential of
doing research is highlighted, while close care is paid
to the integrity and refexivity of the researcher (Braud,
2004; see also Anderson, 2000; Clements, 2004).
Research is not to be taken lightly and attention is to
be paid to vigilant self-development in order to create
as clear a vision in data analysis as possible. A researcher
with a feminist orientation may be infuenced by the
values of egalitarianism, mutuality, multiple viewpoints,
and a respect for subjective experience (Reinharz, 1992).
Additionally, emphasis may be placed on lived experience
and the subjective voice of research participantsoften
referred to as co-researchers in both feminist- and
transpersonally-oriented models.
Within the transpersonal feld, two research
methods embrace explicitly feminist epistemologies:
intuitive inquiry and organic inquiry. Intuitive inquiry is
a process through which objective and subjective data is
analyzed through successive hermeneutic cycles of data
collection and refection (Anderson, 2000). According
to Anderson (2004), this method is rooted in both
feminist and transpersonal concepts; she identifed the
process of intuition as a transpersonal act that may take
several forms and is admittedly difcult to quantify. In
one moment, intuition seems vibrant and breathtaking
to beholdand then it disappears (p. 4), yet Anderson
nonetheless purported that intuition is a viable form of
knowingan argument also made in feminist work
(Wilshire, 1989). Symbolic processes, sensory modes of
intuition, and empathetic identifcation are all forms of
knowing that are valuedindeed, encouragedwithin
the method. Anderson (2001) also encouraged embodied
writing as a technique that:
brings the fnely textured experience of the body to
the art of writing. Relaying human experience from
the inside out and entwining in words our senses
with the senses of the world, embodied writing
afrms human life as embedded in the sensual world
in which we live our lives. As a style of writing,
embodied writing is itself an act of embodiment.
Nature feels close and dear. Writers attune to the
movements of water, earth, air, and fre, which
coax our bodily senses to explore. When embodied
writing is attuned to the physical senses, it becomes
not only a skill appropriate to research, but a path of
transformation that nourishes an enlivened sense of
presence in and of the world. (p. 83)
In intuitive inquiry, the subjectivity of the researcher is
valued equally to the voices of the co-researchers. Tese
research methods and techniques demonstrate models of
conducting research that value transformation, personal
responsibility, and a researchers capability, and are
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 45 Feminist and Transpersonal Tought
useful for understanding human experience through a
transpersonal lens.
Another method valued in transpersonal research
is organic inquiry, which:
stands at the intersection of feminine spirituality
and transpersonal psychology. Organic studies to
date seem to be motivated by a desire on the part of
the researcher to investigate and share the meaning
of her or his own deeply-held experience in order to
improve the life of another, by a desire for social and
individual transformation, a goal which mirrors the
high ideals of both the feminist and transpersonal
movements. (Clements, Ettling, Jenett, & Shields,
1999, p. 5)
Like intuitive inquiry, the organic method
seeks to understand and legitimize ways of knowing
traditionally dismissed in mainstream psychological
research (Clements, 2004). Tis method utilizes nature
metaphor such as the cycle of planting, growth, and
harvest to highlight non-rational processes available
to the researcher as well as synchronistic experiences
that may arise while the research is being conducted
and reported. Additionally, there is an explicit social
justice mandate for research conducted in this manner:
not only should the research transform the researcher,
it should also positively impact the co-researchers and
the readers of the research, and should lead toward
social transformation for all exposed to the material
(Clements, 2004). Additionally, the method encourages
the reporting of fndings through the actual voices of
the co-researchers: the researcher uses as much of each
participants story as possible to fesh out the fndings.
Tus, organic inquiry is a technique that values the
subjective nature in qualitative research and feminist
theory in general.
Te explicit ways in which feminist theory
is utilized in the aforementioned transpersonally-
oriented methods may serve as an excellent template
for additional ways in which feminist perspectives
may support and enhance continued development in
transpersonal methods. Ongoing development may
include considerations of the unique nature of power,
relationship, and identity, and how socio-political and
personal factors impact the generation and production of
research fndings. Such feminist critique could contribute
to the already-existing gifts of the spiritual focus of
transpersonal research methods and techniques.
A Rare Published Example
of Feminist Critique in Transpersonal Psychology
In the areas of transpersonal developmental
theory, an early (and solitary) example of a deconstruction,
based upon gender, of one widely-accepted model of
transpersonal development was produced by Peggy
Wright in the mid-1990s.
Wright (1995, 1998) sought
to explore, critique, and engage with Ken Wilbers pre/
trans fallacy model, which privileges transcendence of
the ego as the ultimate goal of spiritual development.
Wrights critique and reevaluation of Wilbers model
is of note because she, like Karen Suyemoto (2002),
raised questions and alternate perspectives in order to
bring to the fore the supposition of universal human
experiencea task central to the feminist model of
theory-building (Lerman, 1986) and, as noted, not often
seen in transpersonal psychology.
Wrights (1995, 1998) primary assertion was
that much of Wilbers theoretical framework hinged on
an understanding of the self in which the development
of higher states of consciousness are universal across not
only culture, but also gender. Wright made the argument,
based upon the work of Chodorow (1978) and Jordan
(1984), that womens ego development and conception
of the self difer from the developmental experience
of men. Referring to the relational aspects of womens
development, Wright (1995) relies on permeable
boundaries to allow the simultaneous experience of self
and other. Te self-boundaries are permeable in the
sense that they are open to the fow between self and
other (p. 6). Due to this experiential diference, Wright
postulated the following:
Because womens prepersonal development difers
from mens, it is not much of a stretch to postulate
that womens transpersonal development may also
difer. I propose that the connected self, with its
permeable boundaries, cuts across developmental
lines in the prepersonal, personal, and transpersonal
stages. Permeability afects all levels of experience.
In terms of how it afects transpersonal development,
it may subtly change the developmental path.
I speculate that because of permeable self-
boundaries, womens experience of an isolated,
unitary self already may be diminished. Awareness
may naturally focus on the holographic, interwoven
nature of reality. In this awareness, the hierarchical
structures that the mind uses to reduce experience
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 46 Brooks
into comprehensible packets of reality can be more
easily dissolved, and formlessness and ambiguity are
better tolerated.
Boundary permeability may ease the path
to union with a spiritual self. Te merging and
embedding of the self into God or Self may not
always be experienced as a loss of self. Instead it may
refect a coming to self/Self. (p. 7)

Building upon her theoretical constructs, Wright
(1998) further suggested alternative visions to Wilbers
assessment of how contemporary Western culture must
undertake its own healing. Drawing upon the self-in-
relation models of female development, Wright (1998)
suggested that we, as people, must heal the splits between
mind/body and culture/nature not as individuals only,
but also in community. In addition, she disagreed
with Wilbers conception of the diferences between
transcendence and regression, insisting that, at times, one
must regress in order to heal. Wright posited:
A diagnosis of what needs to be healed in our
culture and the process of healing can be clarifed
through theoretical models, but the healing itself
requires lived experience. Tis healing is sometimes
an exceedingly difcult and unpleasant process.
Coming back into the individual and collective
bodies to heal trauma often means reliving our
sufering. Without healing, we may ascend, but
we cannot be whole. Healing the split at times
requires messy, emotive, and nonrational regressive
experiences. In addition, it requires developing
personal, empathic relationships with the elements
of the biosphere and with each other, as well as with
Spirit. Ultimately, individual and social healings
facilitate our spiritual development. (p. 225)
Wrights theoretical stance (1995) called for multiple
approaches to transpersonal development that may
be needed to keep a balanced perspective (p. 10). Like
Ferrer (2002), Wright (1995, 1998) brought into question
the rigid adherence to perennialist models that may not
adequately represent the experience of non-dominant
groupsin Wrights case, the category of women.
However, Wright did not address issues of
essentialism, and her work is now more than a decade old.
A contemporary development of her critique into theory
would be of value in order to explore how a feminist
critique of essentialism, as well as of other developmental
models (e.g., Washburn, 1995; Ruumet, 2006), would
enhance transpersonal psychology as a feld by exploring
assumptions in models that tend towards generalization
across gender or other aspects of identity. Such a critique
might demonstrate ways in which some models fail
to represent non-dominant experience, which in turn
might highlight the need for expanding and revising
those models in ways that increase inclusivity. Tis
might enhance the potential relevance and applicability
of the models.
A Contemporary Opportunity for Dialogue:
Te Work of Jorge Ferrer
s noted throughout this exploration, intersections
in the ways feminists and transpersonalists view
common psychological and spiritual phenomenon
have yet to be explicitly formulated. Te work of Jorge
Ferrer (2002, 2009) may be a ripe place to begin formal
conversation on the richly complex matrix of potential
agreement and contradiction that can be found
in exploring transpersonal studies relationship to
feminism. A specifc place to initiate this inquiry may
be the tension between a postmodern skepticism for the
acceptance of universals and the pursuit of for universal
human experience found in some transpersonal theory.
Most notably, such universalization relies on works
such as Huxleys (1945) and Schuons (1953/1984)
explication of perennial philosophy, which, at its most
basic level, holds belief in an ultimate reality or
Debate on this issue can be found in Ferrers
(2002) work, who put forth a concept of a participatory
nature of spiritual knowing; this perspective seeks to
re-vision and broaden transpersonal theory beyond
either postmodernism or perennialism. Ferrer critiques
transpersonal psychologys roots in a perennialist
paradigm in which specifcity and diversity are
eschewed in favor of a search for common spiritual
ground. As an alternative view, Ferrer suggested it is
time to deconstruct transpersonal models that adhere
to the validity of monolithic Truth in search of a more
fexible theoretical model able to hold a participatory
spiritual pluralism (p. 189).
Ferrer (2002) believed that transpersonal
phenomena are not solely individual inner experiences,
but are rather multilocal participatory events (p. 117).
Tus, transpersonal phenomena are:
(1) events, in contrast to intrasubjective experiences;
(2) multilocal, in that they can arise in diferent loci,
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 47 Feminist and Transpersonal Tought
such as an individual, a relationship, a community,
a collective identity, or a place; and (3) participatory,
in that they can invite the generative power and
dynamism of all dimensions of human nature to
interact with a spiritual power in the cocreation of
spiritual worlds. (p. 117)
Ferrer criticized the feld of transpersonal psychology
for reifying the inner experience of spiritual and
transpersonal phenomena, which leads to intrasubjective
reductionism (p. 23). Such reifcation, Ferrer suggested,
holds back the evolution of the feld:
Te task of emancipation of spirituality set forth
by the transpersonal project will be incomplete as
long as transpersonalists remain committed to the
experiential vision. We need to free transpersonal
theory from its modern experiential prejudices and
expand the reach of spirituality out of its confnement
to the subjective space to the other two worlds, that
is, the objective and the intersubjective. (p. 23)
In his vision of transpersonal psychology,
grounded in participatory, pluralistic perspectives,
Ferrer (2002) sought to move transpersonal thought
and practice into a stance of active engagement and
embracement of the wide variety and expressions of
spiritual experience. Tis participatory turn does not do
away with the individual or with individual experience,
but rather honors contextualized experience and
subjective reality; the participatory turn aims to foster
our spiritual individuation in the context of a common
human spiritual family, but also turns the problem of
religious plurialism into a celebration of the critical spirit
of pluralism (Ferrer, 2009, p. 140). From this starting
place, it may be interesting to inquire how Ferrers (2002,
2009) participatory concepts could create an important
dialectic of theory and praxis with a feminist construct
such as the Relational-Cultural concept of growth-in-
relation (Jordan & Hartling, 2002; Jordan et al., 1991;
Miller, 1987). Judith Jordan (2001) succinctly summed
up the clinical application and utility of this model:
Terapy based on the relational-cultural model
suggests that the primary work is to bring people
back into healing connection, where they begin to
reconnect with themselves and bring themselves
more fully into relationship with others. We posit that
growth occurs in connection and that we grow, learn,
expand, and gain a sense of meaning in relationship.
Tis does not mean that we are in actual physical
relationship with people at all times, but that there is
an attitude of relatedness, of mutuality, of openness,
of participating in experience. Tis can occur in
solitude, in nature, when we feel connected and in
relationship with our surroundings. In isolation, we
are not in relationship, we are cut of, we are not in
mutual responsiveness. (p. 97)
Te emancipatory and relational/participatory
sentiments of the above constructs (both the work of
Ferrer and Jordan et al.) suggest a place of opening for
conversation about how socio-cultural realities such
as gender and other intersectional identities impact
participatory events. Ferrer (2000) sought to break
through the long-held perennialist viewpoint in the
hope that the exposition and airing of the presuppositions
of perennialism will help create an open space in which
transpersonal theory need not subordinate alternative
perspectives but can enter into a genuine engagement
and a fertile dialogue with them (p. 25). Ferrers (2002)
vision of transpersonal psychology, frmly grounded
in participatory, pluralistic perspectives, seems closely
aligned to feminist principles and suggests several
intersections in theory and practice that may contribute
to a feminist transpersonal perspective.
Toward a Socially-Engaged
Spiritual Future
o what might this all mean for a socially-engaged,
spiritually-focused psychological paradigm of human
experience? Both the feminist and transpersonal felds
are concerned with the concept of consciousness-raising,
which is clearly an elemental aspect of their shared
counter-cultural roots, as noted above. However, the
forms of this consciousness-raising seem to have taken
somewhat divergent paths over time, with feminism
and feminist therapy doing an exceptional job with
socio-cultural analysis and political action in support of
groups and individuals who traditionally have not had
voice in dominant cultures. Concurrently, transpersonal
psychology has fostered forms of consciousness-raising
with regard to altered states, alternative ways of knowing,
self-knowledge, and personal growth: concepts related to
Jungs models of psychological health, which includes the
process of individuation, or moving toward wholeness
and integration.
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 48 Brooks
In the transpersonal camp, Elgin (1993) wrote
that the evolution of our consciousness (and supportive
social forms) is not a peripheral concern; rather, it is
of central importance to our human agenda (p. 249).
Rothberg (1999) spoke of the need for a socially-engaged
spirituality that is concerned with ethics and action
(p. 41). Tus, in the transpersonal world there exists a
call for social engagement and the recognition that one
cannot stop change at the personal growth stage, and also
that one must use that change to transform the world
(thus, back to Gandhis exhortation be the change).
However, feminist expertise in social organizing and the
long history in feminism of critique, analysis, and personal
refection as social action (e.g., Hanischs (1969/2006)
the personal is political) would serve as a rich model for
the applied ethics and action Rothberg (1999) sought.
Conversely, transpersonal studies may ofer new
insights into conceptualizations of spiritual development,
novel approaches to integrating spiritual interventions
into clinical practice, and reminders that psychology
encompasses the beauty and richness of the full range
of human experience in each client seen and each
student educatednot to mention in ones own lived
experience. As early as 1994, Laura S. Brown saw feminist
psychological theory moving toward considerations of the
spiritual or existential realms (p. 233). Leela Fernandes
(2003) and others (Flinders, 1999; Klassen, 2009) have
demonstrated the deep hunger in academic feminist
circles for a more spiritually-infused form of activism. Te
conversation between the two felds has barely begun.
Readers who seek to integrate the sacred, the mundane, the
social, the personal, and the righteous into a holographic
understanding of psychology and human consciousness,
are invited to contribute their eforts in forging paths
that lead to further intersections of thought and practice
between transpersonal studies and feminism.
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Woodman, M. (1997). Te pregnant virgin: A process of
psychological transformation. Toronto, Canada: Inner
City Books.
Wright, P. A. (1995). Bringing womens voices to
transpersonal theory. ReVision, 17(3), 3-10. Retrieved
from: <>
Wright, P. A. (1998). Gender issues in Ken Wilbers
transpersonal theory. In D. Rothberg & S. Kelly
(Eds.), Ken Wilber in dialogue: Conversations
with leading transpersonal thinkers (pp. 207-236).
Wheaton, IL: Quest Books.
Yoder, J. D., & Kahn, A. S. (1993). Working toward
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International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 55 Feminist and Transpersonal Tought
1. See Friedman (2002) and Daniels (2005, p. 265) for
the argument that transpersonal studies encompasses
a wider scope of what is truly taking place among
transpersonally-oriented scholars and that this term,
rather than transpersonal psychology, is utilitarian
as the feld of transpersonal psychology continues to
develop and grow.
2. Another excellent overview of the feld and the core
theoretical constructs that inform transpersonal
psychology is Michael Daniels (2005) Approaching
Transpersonal Psychology.
3. A report was recently published in the professional
magazine of the American Psychological Association
(Monitor on Psychology) on neuroscientifc research
demonstrating that religious belief in humans
fosters stronger social bonds as well as staves of
existential angst (Azar, 2010). Tis report took a
distinctly non-pathological view of the religious
impulsea relatively new stance for a mainstream
psychological publication. Weve had this long
history of believing that the things of the spirit are
in one camp and that science and technology are in
another camp, says [Tomas] Plante, professor and
director of the Spirituality and Health Institute at
Santa Clara University and president of APAs Div.
36 (Psychology of Religion). If anything, this work
reiterates that we are whole people; the biological,
psychological, social, cultural and spiritual are all
connected (para. 16).
4. All three felds, positive psychology, health psych-
ology, and mindfulness studies and applications
are commonplace in the U.S. market today, with
specialized professional journals and conferences in
each feldand all three disciplines are core areas
of consideration at the Institute of Transpersonal
Psychology and other like-minded schools in the
5. Western feminism is generally understood to include
the movements developed in the late 60s through
early 80s in the United States, Western Europe
(notably the United Kingdom), and Australia.
6. Tis phrase was originally coined as a title for a
treatise written by Carol Hanisch in 1969. For a
detailed history by Hanisch and the original article
of this title, go to <
7. For a difering perspective that seeks to reafrm
the value of second wave feminist research while
simultaneously critiquing some of the faws and
assumptions of earlier feminist research, see Hayes
8. An intersectional perspective is the ability to view
the lived human experience through multiple lenses
of identity which infuence how one walks in the
world. Examples of these multiple lenses are class,
race/ethnicity, socio-economic status, region, physi-
cal ability, religion or spiritual orientation, sexual or
afectional orientation, or gender.
9. Philosophers from within and outside of postmodern
circles continue to debate the value of deconstruction
as a process (see Habermas, 1981). Nonetheless,
understandings of the power structure of language
and the social construction of the self have been
invaluable projects in feminist and queer theory
building with the goal of de-centering assumed
and implicit identity and power structures (e.g.,
Foucault, 1970, 1980; Butler, 1990, 1993, 1997;
Gergen, 2001).
10. Transpersonal psychology is rife with examples
of gendered language that have gone unexamined
with regard to how such usage reinforces gendered
roles based upon psychospiritual developmental
expectations. Examination of how and to what
purpose such language is used may expose
problematic, rigid gender roles that do not represent
or symbolize the lived experience of individuals who
do not easily ft into categories such as masculine
and/or feminine. It is the hope of the author to
address these very issues in a future essay.
11. Feminist psychotherapist Laura S. Brown has
written for decades on the complexity of the feminist
endeavor to create fexible, non-pathologizing,
and holistic theory and practice in order to
address the experiences of women. Nontheless,
Brown (1994) has continued to hold strong to the
perspective that the feminist project must include
novel approaches to psychological theory-building
rather than an additive approach to broadening
what already exists in mainstream psychology. She
stated: I believe that we can continue to borrow
from mainstream developmental theories only at
our peril. Te feminist clinical psychologist and
theoretician Rachel Hare-Mustin has aptly noted
that feminist personality theorists continue to stand
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 56 Brooks
on the bellies of dead white men in building our
theories (personal communication, July, 1993) A
feminist theory of personality requires starting
afresh, departing from the patriarchal universe of
knowledge, standing on our own feminist feet, and
allowing our politically oriented way of knowing
to represent good personality theorizing (pp.
231-232). Her perspective may be controversial
to some, but her stance is one that suggests that a
careful examination of unspoken oppression and
tacit acceptance of gendered stereotyping in much
psychological research and theory may continue to
maintain patriarchal power dynamics unless care
is taken to make such unidentifed discrimination
plain throughout the research and theory building
12. Wilber would, most likely, disagree with the
supposition that there is a lack of consideration for
socio-political issues in integral theory, even though
it is clear that this area has not received signifcant
development or emphasis in comparison with topics
of personal transcendence. It is also clear that
signifcant gaps remain within transpersonal studies,
including critiques of the socio-political implications
of spiritual development.
13. Te three major third-wave theory anthologies do
not address religion or spirituality in any substantive
form. If mentioned at all, spirituality is eschewed
for activist work (see Baumgardner & Richards,
2000) or addressed so peripherally as to have no
substantive presence in feminist theory-building in
these contexts (see Gillis et al., 2007; Heywood &
Drake, 1997).
14. A search conducted in the Psychology of Women
Quarterly archives (dating from 1997 to the present)
yielded a total of three articles in response to the
the keyword spirituality (Retrieved from EBSCO
Host database, December 23, 2010). Tis is the
fagship journal of Division 35 of the American
Psychological Association, the Society for Women
in Psychology.
15. Examples include Biaggio and Hersen (2000) and
Lips (1999).
16. Te Pew Forum for Religious and Public Life
conducted the U.S. Religious Landscape survey
in 2009 and reported that 86% of women in the
U.S. were religiously afliated and in many factors
score higher on religious measures than men (http://
17. Tis is one of two programs in the San Francisco
Bay Area of California dedicated specifcally to
the study and practice of womens spirituality. Te
other program is housed at the California Institute
of Integral Studies in San Francisco.
18. Woman-centeredness does not denote gender or
sex exclusivity with regard to those invited to study
the feld. Rather this perspective is grounded in
transformative teaching practices and feminist
theory: through de-centering norms (such as male-
centeredness, or the primacy of male experience, in
patriarchal religious structures), new vantage points
of understanding and shifts in frames of reference
may create opportunities for profound personal,
social, and intellectual change through viewing ones
self or experience as centered rather than othered or
19. With the comprehensive indexing of dissertations
and theses on databases such as ProQuest, access
to this rarely considered literature is now widely
possible. As noted elsewhere in this piece, the politics
of why these dissertations have not been published to
date as articles or books in the professional literature
continues to go unexamined.
20. Another early self-identifed feminist author in the
feld who utilized gender as a locus of psychospiritual
exploration (notably through the lens of self-
psychology) is Judy Schavrien (1989; 2008). Her use
of classical Western drama as a tool to explore the
rise of (her term) Te Feminine in the development
of a mature psyche is further explored in an article
in this special issue.
21. Tarnas (2002) encapsulated the unfolding of trans-
personal theory based upon inherited principles that
revealed themselves to be acutely problematic
(p. viii). He continued:
With modernitys focus on the individual
Cartesian subject as the starting point and
foundation of any understanding of reality, with
its pervasive assertion of the knowing subjects
epistemic separation from an independent
objective reality, and fnally with the modern
disenchantment of the external world of nature
and the cosmos, it was virtually inevitable that
transpersonal psychology would emerge in the
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 57 Feminist and Transpersonal Tought
form that it did: namely, with an overriding com-
mitment to legitimate the spiritual dimension of
existence by defending the empirical status of
private, individual intrasubjective experiences
of an independent universal spiritual reality.
And since experience of the ultimate spiritual
reality was regarded as one shared by mystics of
all ages, it was, like scientifc truth, independent
of human interpretations and projections,
and empirically replicable by anyone properly
prepared to engage in the appropriate practices.
In turn, this consensually validated supreme
reality was seen as constituting a single absolute
Truth which subsumed the diverse plurality of
all possible cultural and spiritual perspectives
within its ultimate unity. Tis was the essential
transcendent Truth in which all religions at their
mystical core ultimately converged. (p. ix)
About the Author
Christine Brooks, PhD, is Assistant Professor and
Chair of the Residential PhD and Masters programs in
Transpersonal Psychology at the Institute of Transpersonal
Psychology. She is a member of the Advisory Board of
the Center for the Sacred Feminine and the Chair of
the Diversity Action Team at ITP. Her scholarship is
focused on issues of diversity in transpersonal psychology
and related felds and exploring the potential for social
transformation and social justice from a transpersonal
perspective. Additional areas of interest include womens
adult psychospiritual development, the use of gendered
language and imagery in psychospiritual theory and
models, and transformational education and leadership.
Correspondence regarding this article should be directed
to the author at
About the Journal
Te International Journal of Transpersonal Studies
is a peer-reviewed academic journal in print since
1981. It is published by Floraglades Foundation, and
serves as the ofcial publication of the International
Transpersonal Association. Te journal is available
online at, and in print
through (search for IJTS).
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 58 Grahn
Ecology of the Erotic in a Myth of Inanna

Judy Grahn
Institute of Transpersonal Psychology
Palo Alto, CA, USA
Myths of Mesopotamian Goddess Inanna, planet Venus in the ancient Sumerian pantheon, have
been useful in psychological processes of contemporary women. A lesser-known myth, Inanna and
Shukaletuda, includes sexual transgression against the deity and ties the deifed erotic feminine
with fecundity and sacredness of felds and trees. Interpretation of Inannas love poems and poems of
natures justice contextualizes ecofeminist relevance to psychological issues. Deconstruction of rich
imagery illustrates menstrual power as female authority, erotic as a female aesthetic bringing order,
and transgender as sacred ofce of transformation. Meadors (2000) interpretation of three Inanna
poems by a high priestess of ancient Ur provides four new archetypes for women that situate an axis
for further understanding of Inanna and Shukaletuda.
ithout question, the literature of the goddess
Inanna of ancient Sumer has been valuable
in the teaching of both transpersonal
psychology and spirituality to contemporary women, and
men. Te Mesopotamian poets of the second millennium
BCE were not only the frst to capture in lasting written
form their peoples sacred stories, but they also left much
material that is remarkably accessible and applicable to
our current world.
We have beneftted as section after section of
the lyrical poetry and myths of the Sumerian goddess
Inanna has been excavated, translated, and published.
Such psychologically relevant treasures as Inanna Meets
the God of Wisdom (Wolkstein & Kramer, 1983), and
Te Descent of Inanna into the Underworld (Wolkstein
& Kramer, 1983; Meador, 1992) enable both women
and men to delve deeply into their own psyches, and,
for example, to understand some forms of depression as
possibly creative journeys that not only achieve resolution,
but are also benefcial. Earlier in the 20
century the
surfacing of the Gilgamesh myth with its food story, and
Inannas courtship tale of choosing the shepherds gifts
over the farmers, brought attention to the antiquity of
stories that later became retained in biblical texts, long
after the great Sumerian civilization had faded. By the
frst millennium BCE, if not earlier, Inannas name had
become replaced by her more recent and familiar names
of Ishtar and Astarte. Meadors (2000) interpretations
of translations of the long poems and temple hymns
of Enheduanna, the great poet-priestess of Ur, have
contributed to the knowledge of Inanna as a vehicle
for a pro-nature philosophy that is pressingly needed in
current times. Psychologists, activists, and artists have
used the mythology to further contemporary methods
and worldviews (Grahn, 1993, 1999; Meador, 1993,
2000; Perera, 1981; Starhawk, 1988; Wolkstein &
Kramer, 1983). Some examples: Inannas Descent to
the Underworld has been used to re-describe depression
as a creative journey endowing the eye of truth as its
outcome. Inanna attains laws of the cosmos in the myth,
Inanna Meets the God of Wisdom, a story that helps
teach women that power is paradoxical, belongs to them,
and involves struggle. And, Inannas richly sensual love
poetry attaches sexuality to the sacred in ways seldom
seen in other literature. Now, interpreting yet another
and less known myth, Inanna and u-kale-tuda, about
Inanna seeking justice for a sexual transgression of
her body, I would like to suggest that once again her
fne Sumerian poets can teach us something of her
contemporary as well as ancient, psychological and
ecofeminist value. Te myth does not, and I do not, use
the term rape, something I will discuss at length later.
As a mythologized personifcation of the planet
Venus, among other natural features, Inanna was queen
of the night sky where she fared as a living torch, and
she ruled the day as well, coming down to walk about
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies, 29(2), 2010, pp. 58-67
Keywords: ecofeminism, Inanna, archetype, erotic, menstruation, rape, mythology, trans-
gender, embodied spirituality, Sumerian, ecology, spirituality.
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 59 Ecology of the Erotic in a Myth of Inanna
in human form among her people, the black-headed
(as they called themselves) of the Mesopotamian river
valley (Simo Parpola, as cited in Meador, 2000, pp.
17-18; Wolkstein & Kramer, 1983). As long ago as six
thousand years, temples were built to her, and her signs
were left stamped in baked clay and on carved seals. Te
earliest cuneiform tablets were found at her temple site at
Kulaba, the place that would become old town as the
great city of Uruk grew (Schmandt-Besserat, 1992).
Fifty-fve hundred years ago, the clay tablet lists
and accountings of Sumerian scribes began to yield a
new art, written literature (Schmandt-Besserat, 1992).
Much was written in praise of powerful Sumerian gods
who preceded Inanna in the lineage of the pantheon, the
sky god An, the wind god Enlil, the stony earth goddess
Ninhursaga, the moon couple Nanna and Ningal
(Inannas parents), and the god of wisdom and sweet
water, Enki, her grandfather. But by about 2300 BCE,
Inannas own literature would exalt her to the highest
position in the complex pantheon of Sumerian deities
(Jacobsen 1978; Meador, 2000; Wolkstein & Kramer,
As a prototype of active female power, Inannas
range is unique, her love poetry some of the most lushly
sensuous ever written, her combination of authority and
emotional intelligence unparalleled among the other
Sumerian deities (Black, Cunningham, Robson, &
Zlyomi, 2004; Wolkstein & Kramer, 1983). Lady of
largest heart one of her poets called her (Meador, 2000,
p. xxx). She is a protective warrior in that fghting is
her play (p. 118), yet she also tenderly kisses babies and
cares for her Sumerian people in their complex economic
lives as they balanced both urban and rural activities.
She is a complex, paradoxical goddess of both nature and
Dated from the late third millennium BCE,
the extensive poetry of high priestess Enheduanna
so expanded the character of the goddess Inanna that
Jungian analyst and writer Meador (2000) deciphered
from its stirring lines four new archetypes for women:
lover, priestess, warrior, and androgyne. While warrior is
one aspect of this complex deity, another is her far-ranging
rule of her people, after she receives the paradoxical
cosmic powers of tenderness and care, drought and food,
wealth and ruin, health and illness (Meador, 2000), and
of all things related to the peoples occupations of metal,
wood, and stone crafts, trading, herding, and horticulture
(Wolkstein & Kramer, 1983). Yet another aspect of her
character is her sexuality, expressed in fne love poetry,
in which she chooses among suitors, celebrates her own
vulva, and spells out in detail how her lover is to approach
her (Wolkstein & Kramer, 1983; Jacobsen, 1987).
Inanna, though merged with the planet Venus
as her identity, takes other forms in the imagery of her
poets: torch, dragon, snake, lion, bird; she also creates
permeable boundaries of gender for her people. She is
sometimes titled the Woman as though she represents
a collectivity of Sumerian womankind, with the same
physical body and experiences. She is very much an
elaborate social construct of both Sumerian culture and
nature. Meador (2000) summarized something of her
On the cosmic level, Inanna pulls the rug out from
under our belief in order and principle. She is the
element of chaos that hangs over every situation, the
reminder that cultures and rules and traditions and
order are constructs of humanity. Society congeals
possibility into laws and mores so that we can live
together. Inanna reminds us these are but products
of the mind. At bottom all is possible. (p. 11)
As this is a myth of ecofeminism, the four
qualities I am tracking through this article all have to do
with the power of womens bodies magnifed as powers of
nature, and embodied in Inannas mythology: Inannas
sexuality as eros that feeds the Land; her capacity to stop
the peoples economic life with the power of her menses;
her ability to deprive her transgressor of rebirth; and her
control of gender androgyny that implies transformation
of relationship or situation. A valuable correspondence to
these powers is provided by Meadors (2000) articulation
of the four archetypes, as named above.
Note that the translators of this myth spell the
goddess name with one n; I am following the usual
spelling of Inanna except in quotes from the text, but
also capitalizing Land as do they.
Te Myth:
Inanna and u-kale-tuda
he myth tells of a confrontation between the goddess
and a young man, a callow youth, u-kale-tuda. Te
story begins by extolling Inannas righteous authority, as
she stands in her temple, which was called E-ana, and
how she set out one day on a quest for justice:
Te mistress who, having all the great divine powers,
deserves the throne dais; Inana who stands in E-ana
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 60 Grahn
as a source of wonderonce, the young woman
went up into the mountains, holy Inana went up
into the mountains. To detect falsehood and justice,
to inspect the Land closely, to identify the criminal
against the just, she went up into the mountains.
(Black et al., 2004, p. 197)
Te scene then shifts to Enki, god of wisdom
and sweet (fresh) waters, who is teaching a raven the arts
of gardening. Te raven closely follows the instructions
of the wisdom god; he chews up the kohl plant, he pulls
up a shoot that is a palm tree and plants it; he even
properly works the shadouf, the long thin pole with a
counter weight that makes the water bucket rise up and
down drawing priceless liquid from the river (Black et
al., 2004).
Meanwhile on her mission of inspection,
goddess Inanna went into the mountains and began
fying around. From one border of the territory to the
other, she few round and round. She few around the
Tree whose roots intertwine with the horizon of heaven,
by now so tired that she lay down beside its boundary
roots. She had for her loincloth a weaving of the seven
cosmic powers, across her thighs. Her thoughts were
with her shepherd lover, Dumuzid. On the same plot of
land a youth, u-kale-tuda, was working, and saw her;
he approached, untied the loincloth of divine powers
across her holy vulva. He had intercourse with her as she
slept, kissed her, and returned to his place at the edge
of the garden plot. By the light of the risen sun, the
woman inspected herself closely, holy Inana inspected
herself closely (Black, Cunningham, Fluckiger-Hawker,
Robson, & Zlyomi, 1998-2001a, para. 112-128).
She was immediately outraged, asking, what
should be done (Black et al., 1998-2001a, para. 129-
138) on account of her vulva? Specifcally, what should
be destroyed (para. 129-138) because of her vulva? She
instantly acts. First, she flls all the water wells of the
Land with her own blood, so that blood is irrigating
the orchard crops, and they are producing blood. Te
adult slave who goes out to gather frewood is drinking
blood; the girl slave who is drawing water from the well is
drawing up blood. All the Sumerian people are drinking
blood. Te people are asking, how long will this last? No
one knew when this would end (para. 129-138). Inanna
declared that she would search all through the Lands for
the man who had done this. She began to search, taking
with her an entourage of assistants:
She mounted on a cloud, took (?) her seat there . . . Te
south wind and a fearsome storm food went before
her. Te pilipili (one of the [temple] personnel in
Inannas entourage) and a dust storm followed
her . . . Seven times seven helpers (?) stood beside her
in the high desert. (para. 185-193)
She searched everywhere, but she could not fnd the
man who had had intercourse with her.
u-kale-tuda went to see his father, and told
him some of the story, that he was worried as the
woman had vowed to fnd him. His father told him to
go into the city and hide among the other black-headed
youth. Once again Inanna fooded the Sumerian water
supply with her own blood, and once again she went
looking for the man who had had intercourse with her.
Again, she could not fnd him. Again, the boy went in
fear to his father, and was given the same advice. Yet
a third time she went looking for him, taking another
ofensive measure. She took an implement in her hand
and blocked of all the roads; no one in the Land could
now travel. And still, she could not fnd him.
Now, Inanna went to the elder wisdom god,
Enki, who had been helpful to her in other of her life
events. Enki was in charge of the elemental creation
place, the apsu (watery abyss from which reality arises).
Who will compensate me? (Black et al., 1998-2001a,
para. 239-255) for this, Inanna asked him. I shall only
re-enter my shrine E-ana satisfed after you have handed
over that man to me, (para. 239-255), she declared.
Enki, whose province was provision of fresh water in the
Land, responded, All right! . . . [and] . . . So be it! (para.
239-255). He opened the apsu; immediately u-kale-
tuda had no place to hide. He went running into the
mountains. Tere, Inanna arched her body across the
sky in the form of a rainbow, from one end of the Land
to the other. And, although in his frightened and solitary
situation he made himself very small, she saw him.
She questioned him, and while the text is unclear
here, it seems she compared his behavior to that of a
dog, a donkey, and a pig. Addressing her as my lady
(Black et al., 1998-2001a, para. 262-281), he told his
complete story to holy Inanna. He explained that his job
was to water the garden plots and build an installation
that would be a watering well for the plants, but not a
single plant remained there, not even one, I had pulled
them all out by their roots and destroyed them (para.
262-281). Ten, a stormwind from the mountains blew
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 61 Ecology of the Erotic in a Myth of Inanna
dust into his eyes; he could not wipe it all out; he had
sand in his eyes. He looked and saw the exalted gods
of the plains and of the mountains, the wind and the
sky. And then he saw fying toward him a single god,
I saw someone who possesses fully the divine powers
(para. 262-281). He saw her divinity. In the middle of
the plot stood the Tree whose roots entangle with the
horizon, a Euphrates poplar, so large its shade remains
the same all through the day. Under this tree the lady
had laid down to rest after she had fown around heaven
and around earth, from Elam to Subir, and she was very
tired. He noticed her; he approached, had intercourse
with her, and kissed her. Afterwards, he went back to
the edge of his plot. Having heard his testimony, she
then determined his destiny (para. 290-310). Holy
Inanna said to u-kale-tuda: So! You shall die! What is
that to me? (para. 290-310).
But his name, she continued, would be
remembered; his name would exist in songs and make
the songs sweet (Black et al., 1998-2001a, para. 290-
310). Te songs would be pleasingly sung in the palace
of the king; shepherds would sing them in their work of
churning butter, and in the meadow where they grazed
their sheep. As for u-kale-tuda himself, the palace of
the desert shall be your home (para. 290-310). Such was
his destiny. Te myth ends with praise to holy Inanna,
who decides fates.
An Interpretation
with an Ecofeminist Perspective
hat is that blood? Tis myth has elements
that are mysteriousat frst reading. What is
this about her blood? Why are the cosmic powers in
a loincloth across her thighs? Why doesnt the myth
tell us his motivation? And why, if she has the power
to declare the criminals death as her retribution, does
she then say that his name will be remembered, sweetly
sung even in the kings palace? And what, exactly, was
his transgression, given that she is a divine shape-shifter
and he a mortal callow youth? Te myth doesnt call it
a rape; should we?
An appropriate place to search for answers is
Inannas favorite site: her sexuality. Te seven cosmic
powersin some myths she wears them in her cloak,
however in this myth the image is of a girdle or loincloth
with the powers woven into it, that lies protectively and
provocatively across her vulva, drawing a connection
between the cosmic laws and her place of eros. What
is it about her vulva that has anything to do with the
correct functioning of the cosmos? Te myth shows this
in the series of actions of the criminal.
As learned from his confession to the goddess,
prior to approaching her, the young gardener was really
no gardener, he had already transgressed the Landhe
was to make a well for the garden plot but as he complains,
there were no plants to water, for he had pulled them
all up. He was a criminal of a person already. Tough
recognizing her as divine, he disrespected her need for
rest and also the sacred place, the tree she had chosen,
where the roots of the horizon entangle, a Tree of Life
as it were, under which she lay sleeping. A Euphrates
poplar, a huge, long-lived, spreading, riverbank tree,
turns brilliantly golden in FallInannas gold color of
the planet Venus shining in the evening sky. Tat this
tree is explicitly named, described as having its roots
tangled at the place intertwined [at the] horizon of
heaven, (Black et al., 1998-2001a, para. 112-128) and
is visited by a goddess, designates it a Tree of Life
(Haynes, 2009, p. 68), and therefore a sacred site. When
the water of the Euphrates is still, a mirror image of the
tree refects in such a way that the river bank looks like
an island foating between two blue seas, the Land held
together by the roots of both treesthe one real, the
other refected and imagined. And then, at that sacred
site, before he committed his sexual transgression on
the body of the goddess, he frst disrespected the seven
powers of her girdle, pulling them aside. Finally, he
sneaks upon her as she sleeps, and obviously, leaves her
will out of his act, which is for himself alone.
By knitting the imagery together, the poet ties
together the two transgressions, sexual and ecological
a man who would carelessly transgress the Land would
carelessly transgress the person of the Woman as well.
Te belt across Inannas loins contains the laws or orders
of nature; the implication is that her vulva holds things
together for the world of Sumer. Besides her identity as
nature itself, how does her vulva hold things together?
For one thing, her benevolent sexuality, which is
fulsome in her literature, manifests her vivacious force
of eros, aesthetic sexuality that gives abundance to the
people. But her frst action after inspecting her vulva
and realizing she has been transgressed is to reverse her
vulvas benevolent power, spewing venomous, show-
stopping blood instead.
Tat she flled all the wells of the Land with her
own blood is the clue that this is a major transformation
with a menstrual component. In her guise as a maiden
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 62 Grahn
lying under a tree, Inanna produces blood as her frst act
of correcting the sexual transgressionsignifying that
the gardener has broken a nearly universal menstrual
taboo that prohibits sexual intercourse (and another
that prohibits economic activity) while the woman
is bleeding (Grahn, 1993, 1999; Jacobsen, 1987). She
sends a signal that his act is on the order such that the
blood law of the Goddess has been transgressed, and
consequently all the Land is brought to a startled halt
by the substance, which she deliberately pours into the
water sources.
Tis is a deity for whom menstruation, sexuality,
and other functions of her vulva are at the heart of her
sacrality (Meador, 1992; Wolkstein & Kramer, 1983).
Tis surely explains why the laws of the cosmos are
woven into a holy loincloth that binds her loins. One of
her other names, Ishtar, contains the syllables indicating
menses (Meador, 2000, p. 56). Te inner sanctum of her
temple, the giparu, is the womens secluded section. Te
Sumerians were people who celebrated Inanna at the
new moon by holding a parade for her, and who reveled
in sacred blood: they sprinkled drops of blood when
they walked in procession to her, and they poured the
red liquid of blood onto the dais where she would stand,
or seat herself (Black et al., 1998-2001a; Wolkstein &
Kramer, 1983). So now this blood of her outrage that
she foods into the wells has brought local life to a
standstill. She has taken away the water of life from her
horticultural people. When will this end, they ask.
A second indication that menstrual taboo is
being invoked in the poem occurs the third time she
could not fnd u-kale-tuda, though she looked over
all the territory. She then blocked all the roads, so the
people were prevented from traveling. Once again we
sense we are in menstrual taboo territory, suggesting
that this refers to a prohibition against traveling (a
restriction which could apply to the men in the family as
well as to the women) whenever the women are in their
bleeding rituals (Grahn, 1999). Te goddess is in her
stormy period, she has changed all the water in the land
to her own blood, and now no one is to travel. No one
is to work. No one puts lips to the water from the wells.
With her paradoxical and elemental feminine powers,
she has altered her usual bounty to a state of suspended
tension that impacts all economic and social activity.
All this because a puny gardener lifted her skirt?
Trough my reading I had the uneasy feeling that rape
is not an appropriate term of description here. Uneasy
because does one dare let go of the protective properties
of using this term, even for a moments refection? Rape
has undergone a change of defnition within my lifetime.
Te patriarchal view of rape is that it is a transgression
of one male upon the property of another male, to the
shame of the female, who may be blamed and punished
rather than the perpetrator. A feminist view of rape is
that it is an act of aggression against her (or him if the
victim is a male) person, with grave psychological and
perhaps social consequences to the victim; it may lead to
pregnancy, disease, social stigma and punishment, post-
traumatic stress disorder, and an inner sense of shame
that may last a lifetime. Te victim is an individual with
personal rights; the rapist is seen as having great powers
of destruction.
But in this myth from the era of still potent
goddesses, on the cusp of the patriarchy with its
emphasis on kingship, militarism, slavery, and empire,
Inanna is still an active, paradoxical, and extremely
powerful Feminine Principle. She is nature as a living
participant and culture as a protective agent. In this
myth, as I interpret it, the crime is against a goddess who
embodies simultaneously woman, society, and nature.
Te transgression against her vulva is hardly describable
as rape in our modern sense given that Inannas quest
for justice has such an expanded, complex implication
in this story. Tis myth takes rape out of the realm
of the personal, and extends the transgression to that
which impacts all society and how society intersects
with nature.
Inanna sets out consciously to identify the
criminal against the just (Black et al., 1998-2001a,
para. 1-10). Te goddess is outraged, but she is not
psychologically damaged. She does not complain of
personal pain, or nurse her wounds. She does not fee
or hide out; she is very public. Shame does not enter in.
She is the one who does damage in order to locate the
culprit. Her blood is her frst force of expression. She
brings economic activity to a standstill; she efectively
shuts the water wells; she blocks of the roads; and she
tells the god Enki, her ally in other myths as well as
in this one, that she will not sit down again on her
throne until he hands over to her the culprit. She will
not stop her restless and counter-productive activity. He
immediately agrees to her terms, and to reveal the culprit
he opens the apsuthe place of originationand again
there is an implication of transformation, starting over
from the beginning, re-orienting.
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 63 Ecology of the Erotic in a Myth of Inanna
Inannas Sexuality Is Life Force
nanna is most commonly understood as a goddess of
love, including sexual love. Her poets celebrated this
about her, from what has been recovered, more than
any of her many attributes. For Inanna sex is openly
enjoyed, a public and holy joy. In the oldest part of her
city, Uruk, is her original precinct, Kulaba, of which
a Sumerian poet wrote, Inanna the mistress, the lady
of the great powers who allows sexual intercourse in
the open squares of Kulaba (Black, Cunningham,
Fluckiger-Hawker, Robson, & Zlyomi, 1998-2001b,
para. 358-367).
For Inanna sex is joyful lovemaking, with
elaborate rites that precede and accompany the
intercourse itself. First she prepares her holy body; she
bathes and adorns herself; she paints her eyes; her bed
is made up especially for the sexual encounter with her
lover. Cedar and other sweet smelling balms are spread
among the sheets. She describes her preparations:
When I have bathed for the king, for the lord, when
I have bathed for the shepherd, Dumuzid, when I
have adorned my fanks (?) with ointment (?), when
I have anointed my mouth with balsamic oil (?),
when I have painted my eyes with kohl . . . (Black,
Cunningham, Fluckiger-Hawker, Robson, &
Zlyomi, 1998-2001c, para. 14-35)
Te lover is called holy, and spouse; she calls him My
honey-man (Wolkstein & Kramer, 1983, p. 38). He too
meticulously prepares himself and approaches her in the
appointed place, not just anywhere. Te time and the
place are under her specifcation; the acts are regulated.
His behavior includes play that is foreplay, carefully
spelled out by the poets, when he rufes my pubic
hair for me, when he plays with the hair of my head,
when he lays his hands on my holy genitals (Black et
al., 1998-2001c, para. 14-35). Her pleasure is part of
the act, and part of the troth between them, when he
treats me tenderly on the bed, then I too will treat my
lord tenderly (para. 14-35). Te texts about Inannas
sexuality imply that her sexuality is for the beneft of
everyone, and the words also seem to be instructions
to the populace from the priestesses and priests, of how
lovemaking should proceed through the aesthetics of
beauty and tenderness, in order to induce the maximum
Inanna is the one holding the power position:
her lover must treat her tenderly, then she will treat him
tenderly. But he must prove himself. Her genitals are
holy, they must be approached in a holy manner. For
Inanna the sex act itself is so much about the upwelling
of joy that the high sexual arousal and orgasmic climax
is called rejoicing:
After the lady has made him rejoice with her holy
thighs on the bed, after holy Inanna has made
him rejoice with her holy thighs on the bed, she
relaxes (?) with him on her bed: Iddin-Dagan,
you are indeed my beloved! (Black, Cunningham,
Fluckiger-Hawker, Robson, & Zlyomi, 1998-
2001d, para. 187-194)
As though her attractiveness and sexuality keep the
whole economy reciprocal, Inannas lovers must bring
her, through her temple personnel, oferings in their
courtship: Dumuzid, her favorite, brings the best
milk and cheese; the farmer brings cakes and wine;
the fowler brings the fnest birds; the fsherman brings
her his catch (Black, Cunningham, Fluckiger-Hawker,
Robson, & Zlyomi, 1998-2001e).
Inanna is the unpredictable tumult of natures
cycles, and she is also the cultivated Land and its
abundance: Oh mistress, let your breasts be your felds!
Inana, let your breasts be your felds, your wide felds
which pour down fax, your wide felds which pour
forth grain (Black, Cunningham, Fluckiger-Hawker,
Robson, & Zlyomi, 1998-2005, para. 70-77). Te
priests ask the goddess to fow forth water from her
breasts, and they give her a libation in exchange.
For Inanna, sexuality is joy that leads to
abundance and wellbeing, and therefore it is part of
celebrative public ritual. Te solitary nighttime act of
the gardener is thus an act of his personal will exerted
on her body as an isolated psychological release, not a
ritual or sacred act, having no relation to the formal rites
of erotic arousal, love, and tenderness that her temple
poets so carefully prescribe. Te errant youth could not
think much of himself, as he has already wrecked the
meaning of his own task to provide water to nurture
seedlings by inexplicably pulling up all the plants by
the roots and killing them. As with those mindless acts,
his transgression on the body of the sleeping goddess
is a stupid crime of opportunity, done impulsively. He
is a creature driven by irrationality, inability to control
his impulses. Te story calls him a boy (Black et al.,
1998-2001a, para. 139-159). He knows he is in trouble
for what he has done, and goes to his father for advice;
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 64 Grahn
his father tells him only to go to the city to be among the
other black-headed young men who are your brothers
(para. 177-184) so she cannot fnd him.
Inanna solves this crime, though not by herself.
Inanna is an integral part of the Sumerian pantheon
in which none of the gods is hegemonic; together they
constitute a powerful community. Tough some of her
powers and attributes will later contribute to Yahwehs
characteristics, unlike his more separated portrayal, she
is immanent in nature, she fies around in the form of a
hawk as she circles the earth; she rides a cloud, becomes
a rainbow; she is the planet Venus on its courses. She
is intricately involved with the other gods, who are also
elements of nature, and she is a child of the moon couple
with their cycles.
Te Eyes of Life, Death, and Rebirth
he role of priestess is to create rituals of
transformation, and with the goddess acting as
priestess, these would be amplifed. Within the religion
of Inanna, as seen through her mythology, at least some
of the Sumerians would have believed in cycles of rebirth.
Te theme of life, death, and rebirth in the myth, Te
Descent of Inanna into the Underworld, belonged
both to Inanna and to the queen of the netherworld
Ereshkigal, who is Inannas elder sister. She is the agent
of Inannas three days of death, and she also gave her
over to the forces of resurrection. Tat the underworld
is a place of rebirth is reinforced by the characterization
of Ereshkigals daughter Nungal as the midwife of life
and death. Te midwifes temple dais was set up at the
edge of the netherworld, just as the human midwife is
stationed at the gateway to the womb. Nungal speaks
for herself: My own mother has allotted to me her
divine powers (Black et al., 2004, p. 341). Among these
powers, in addition to cutting the umbilical cord and
speaking benevolent destinies, Nungal has the power of
judgment over who among the people shall live and who
shall die. Ereshkigals role makes it clear that she has the
power of restoring life to at least some who have died;
Dumuzid and his sister, for instance, die and are reborn
every six months, respectively (Wolkstein & Kramer,
1983). Inanna acquires from her underworld death and
rebirth the Eye of Death to balance her eye of life, and
therefore she has this power as well. Tough some writers
have interpreted the two powerful sisters as enemies, I
see them as a family: Inanna, her sister Ereshkigal, and
Nungal, Inannas niece, who is the joy of her heart.
For us, Inannas journey through her elder
sisters ferce domain models life, death, and rebirth
as a psychological passage, whatever else it might have
meant for the Sumerians. She did not go through this
transformation alone; she received shamanic assistance
and the agency of the god Enki, who in the genealogy of
Sumerian gods is her maternal grandfather (Wolkstein
& Kramer, 1983). As the quintessential fertile male
principle, Enki is sweet water, and semen, and the
construction of irrigation systems so crucial to these
alluvial plain river horticulturalists, craftspeople, and
herders. Enki is part of the creation cycle, and he afects
Inannas return from the Underworld.
Now, in this story of the gardeners criminal
transgression on the body of the goddess of love, Enki
is again the source of a solution for her. When Inanna
cannot fnd the man who had intercourse with her,
not even after fooding the water with blood twice,
and trying thrice to fnd him, she turns to Enki. She
supplicates, but she also threatens, and he capitulates.
u-kale-tudas misuse of the goddess begins with misuse
of the plants of the Land, then of the Tree of Life, then
of the cloth with cosmic powers, then her holy vulva.
Finally, he kisses her. In Sumer, this might have had a
particularly transgressive quality, as the kiss was perhaps
more than a sign of afection or a method of sexual
arousal: one Sumerian poem suggests that the kiss on the
lips was part of a troth, a promise of loyalty in love, and
acknowledgment of Inanna as a fruiting tree, a garden
(Jacobsen, 1987, p. 98). Inanna, hearing the youths
confession, compares his behavior to that of animals who
do no courtship rituals: dog, donkey, pig. From the text,
Enki had taught even a raven to plant and irrigate, two
things this failure of a gardener cannot manage to do.
Inannas punishment is swift and terrible; she
decides u-kale-tudas destinythat he will have no
destiny. Te frst thing she does is to take away from
him not only his life but perhaps more importantly,
the goddess gift of rebirth. So! You shall die! (Black
et al., 1998-2001a, para. 290-310) she says. Te So
rings out with its meanings: therefore, consequently,
because of your actions, or perhaps meant more in the
sense of so be it! (para. 239-255) as she declares his
destiny. Emphasizing how thoroughly she is turning all
her considerable benevolence away from him, she adds,
What is that to me? (para. 239-255). She will not
mourn, there will be no lamentation over his loss. She,
and by implication, the cosmos itself, the Land itself, does
not care that he will not return. He is dead forever. Ten
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 65 Ecology of the Erotic in a Myth of Inanna
she adds what for him must have been a bitter, ironic
twist. His name alone will live on, she will make sure of
this. But not as a great or crazy criminal, or a contrite
sinner, or a thief in the night, rather his name will be
used to sweeten a song, and the song will be sung by a
shepherd, not by a farmer. Te song, in other words, will
further the goddess, and her enterprise of sexuality as
joy and celebration. Since in the myth of her courtship,
the goddess had rejected the farmer as a suitor while
accepting the shepherd, she is condemning Su-kale-tuda
to be misrepresented by his rival, and not celebrated as
antihero by his own farmer people. Te song will be sung
even in the palace of the King. As for u-kale-tuda, his
palace will be the desertthe lifeless place, infertile and
dry, from which he will never return.
Reconstructing Gender and Sexuality
eadors (2000) archetypes are efectively guiding
the way through this myth. As a warrior, Inanna
halts all activity and demands redress; as a lover, her
sexuality brings joy and abundance to all; and as priestess,
she afects life, death, and afterlife. Yet what of the
archetype, androgyne? As noted, the blood that Inanna
sends through the waters of her lands indicates that this is
a myth of transformation, a recipe for handling a certain
form of insanitymisuse of the Land, and misuse of
the Lady of Heaven and Earth, whose holy sexuality
must be held sacred in order to maintain joy, and the
abundance of life that accompanies joy. In addition to
the menstrual blood signs, another indication that this
myth is a transformative object lesson is the presence not
only of the dust storm following the goddess and a food
proceeding her as she searches for her transgressor: she is
also accompanied on her justice quest by a pilipili. Tis
temple ofce is held by lamenters, mourners, singers,
and those who go into ecstatic trance in behalf of the
goddess. Te ofce is highly shamanic, artful, and
emotional, unlike a more staid temple function such as
scribe, libation-pourer, or lamp-lighter.
Te pilipili drum and dance while going into
deep states of ecstasy or grief, and they are transformative
in character. At least some of them are the head-
overturned (Meador, 2000, p. 124) men and women
whose gender has been changed by the goddess. In
the section of a longer poem describing her process of
switching the genders of a particular woman and man,
Inanna names them reed marsh woman [and] reed
marsh man (p. 124). Tus they are, metaphorically,
geographically positioned as a combination of sweet water
and bitter (salty) water, they mix within themselves those
frmly gendered elements, as well as the female earth. Te
oldest Sumerian creation myth is of Nammu, goddess of
the womb of primeval seas, and Enki who as noted is the
seminal god of sweet waters. Out of Nammu also came
An, god of the sky and Ki, the frst earth goddess. Tis
all happened, the myth says, before anyone recognized
the marshlands and their intermediary character as
boundaries between river and sea.
One of Inannas symbols is thought to consist
of two bundles of reeds from the marshlands that may
have held the doorposts of her granary. Again, a gateway
or borderland is implied, as well as a guardianship.
Tat Inanna is accompanied by a pilipili in her
successful exertion of justice and rebalancing suggests
she undertook a transformative justice ritual with not
only artful blood rites but also shamanic and gender
fuidity to help produce the outcome: setting boundaries
of gendered behavior. Tis characteristic can be seen as
part of the archetype of androgyny, giving the goddess
(and the individual psyche) more tools, more aspects
of the marshland, the in-between place, this estuary
teeming with life forms from both sea and earth, where
evolutionpsychic and materialcontinues its roiling
and beautiful creativity.
Such a transformation appears to happen
in Inannas bestowing of her transgressors destiny.
Te narrative ties the crime of sexual transgression
against the Sacred Female Principle to a second equally
serious ecological crime against the same Principle,
transgression against the Land, and the precious cosmic
powers that rule it. He has set aside the laws of being,
of reciprocity. Trough the mindless disconnection of
his transgressions, he has placed himself outside of both
culture and nature, as he has broken the bond between
them. Tere is no place for him, he has transgressed
place itself; he is to be deprived of his life and more, his
afterlife, his rebirth, and his history; he is to be deprived
of everything about himself, including his crimes. Yet she
thwarts his alienated disconnection, and turns his name
back toward her sweetness of life force and sexuality;
she converts his very name toward the positivity of her
endeavors, and reabsorbs him into her vast being.
As a warrior, the goddess seeks justice, a
balancing that keeps the Land protected just as surely as
it keeps the people protected, and it keeps the Feminine
Principle of reciprocity. As a lover, she uses her sexuality,
and by extension everyones sexuality, in rituals with
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 66 Grahn
an aesthetic of eros for the beneft of all, including the
plants. Her poets are priestesses mediating emotional
intelligence; they tell stories that maintain connections
between humans and the rest of creation; they co-create
Inanna can be vulnerable, ferce, just, and
tender. Trough her diversity of forms, her people
can more easily identify themselves with not only the
goddess but also other creatures and beings. Her quest
for justice however is from her warrior self: what should
be destroyed? (Black et al., 1998-2001a, para. 221-230)
and who will compensate me? (para. 239-255), both
meanings balanced, because of the transgression against
her vulva, that site of social and natural order. Te
myth implies that as modern women living in a world
ruled to a large extent by the same kind of unconscious,
mindless refusal to connect cause and efect of behaviors,
we too could use a diferent approach to issues of sexual
transgression. Were we to understand the inheritance of
our sexuality as a power for positive social grace, allied so
closely to the prosperity of the earth toward us and our
being, we could efortlessly see a transgression of one as
a transgression of the other, a diminishing of the joy that
keeps all life revolving. We too can reconstruct gender to
include reciprocity and justice.
Te act of the gardener is a mindless transgression
against civil order, against natures order, and against the
joy inherent in sexuality that is, in the carefully proscribed
rituals of the goddess, life enhancing. His act against the
plants, pulling them up by the roots, he seems only to
partially understand. His explanation, which seemed to
be, what was the use of making the well when the plants
were gone? (Black et al., 1998-2001a), reveals his utter
incapacity to comprehend his own place in both culture
and nature, and the consequences of his actions; his sense
of cause and efect are warped. He has sand in his eyes.
He has no allies in nature. In his psychology he lives in
a desert of the heart. He sounds eerily like many leaders
of our culture today.
Inanna had no sympathy for his lack of
consciousness and heart connection; why should we
tolerate this lack in our national and corporate leaders, or
for that matter, in ourselves? Te myth also implies that
as mindless destroyers (consumers) of natures bounty, as
people who casually set aside cosmic and natural order
for our own impulses, we as a culture have sand in our
eyes. Our culture is allowed to completely mis-defne
economy, omitting both the labor of women and the
necessities of the natural world. We are slow or even
unable to see the connections between our actions and
the consequences, or seeing them, to act. But we can
change, we can relearn ourselves as land, as sea, as river,
and as tree.
Te myth tells us through the character of
Inanna that when nature is not approached with love
and respect, with mindfulness, and with consciousness
of self, the result is chaos for us, and not just death,
but also disappearance, and disconnection. Te love
carried by the goddess is not only maternal, though it
is certainly that. Te love is explicitly eros; the hearts
joining in joy, in the ecstatic artful aesthetic of the bodys
communication, of self and nature, of love. Eros is what
a peach, a fg, or a honey-cake gives. If we could give to
nature what a peach gives to us, we would have made the
initial step.
Te myth says that in order to live with natures
bounty we must pay close and heart-flled attention to
how we interact with her, which also means how we
interact with each other and ourselves. To co-create with
her, we must cultivate her joy, and accept at times her
caprice, even her patterns that are or seem destructive or
limiting to us. We must be wise to the places in her we
must not touch; we must know when we are touching
her inappropriately, inviting disaster upon ourselves and
other living beings. Te parts of us that use her heedlessly
and heartlessly, we must killwe must turn from
them utterly, not glorify them in any way, and not give
them a hiding place within ourselves.
Black, J. A., Cunningham, G., Fluckiger-Hawker,
E, Robson, E., & Zlyomi, G. (1998-2001a). Te
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About the Author
Judy Grahn, Ph.D., is a poet, cultural theorist, and teacher.
She is co-director of the Womens Spirituality Masters
program at Te Institute of Transpersonal Psychology in
Palo Alto, California. She has written two book-length
poems on the archetypal fgures of Helen of Troy and
Inanna of Sumer. Both long poems have been produced
as full-length plays, one of which toured Europe. In
turn, these and others of her poetical works have been
the subject of critical writing in Joe Mofets (2007) Te
Search for Origins in the Twentieth Century Long Poem:
Sumerian, Homeric, Anglo-Saxon; Linda Garbers (2001)
Lesbian Identity Poetics: Class, Race and the Roots of Queer
Teory; and Johanna Dehlers (1998) Fragments of Desire:
Sapphic Fictions in the Work of HD, Judy Grahn, and
Monique Wittig. Dr. Grahn has published over a dozen
books, and edits Metaformia Journal (www.metaformia.
org). Her most recent collection is Te Judy Grahn
Reader (Grahn, 2010). Correspondence concerning this
article should be addressed to Judy Grahn: judygrahn@
About the Journal
Te International Journal of Transpersonal Studies is a
peer-reviewed academic journal in print since 1981. It is
published by Floraglades Foundation, and serves as the
ofcial publication of the International Transpersonal
Association. Te journal is available online at www., and in print through www. (search for IJTS).
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 68 Korb
Mothering Fundamentalism: Te Transformation of
Modern Women into Fundamentalists

Sophia Korb
Te Institute of Transpersonal Psychology
Palo Alto, CA, USA
Despite upbringings infuenced by modern feminism, many women choose to identify
with new communities in the modern religious revivalist movement in the United States
who claim to represent and embrace the patriarchal values against which their mothers
and grandmothers fought. Because womens mothering is determinative to the family, it is
therefore central to transforming larger social structures. Tis literature review is taken from
a study which employed a qualitative design incorporating thematic analysis of interviews
to explore how womens attitudes about being a mother and mothering change when they
change religious communities from liberal paradigms to fundamentalist, enclavist belief
systems. Tis has implicit relevance to the feld of transpersonal psychology, which could
incorporate the spiritual experiences of an often-ignored group.
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies, 29(2), 2010, pp. 68-86
ranspersonal psychology has been criticized
for focusing too much on the positive aspects
of religious or spiritual experience, bypassing
sufering in favor of an optimistic worldview (Alexander,
1980), and lacking a clear enough understanding of the
negative dimensions of human consciousness. In that
regard, transpersonal psychology often takes a reductive
approach to religionseeing religion either as simply the
vehicle for spiritual experience, or as a calcifed obstacle
to genuine spiritual experience. Tis framework fails to
incorporate a full view of the pros and cons of religious
community, discipline, and practice that may be present
in many fundamentalist communities. However, Walsh
and Vaughn (1993) proposed a diferent defnition of
transpersonal psychology, one that incorporates religion.
Tese authors defned transpersonal psychology as the
branch of psychology that is concerned with transpersonal
experiences and related phenomena, noting, these
phenomena include the causes, efects and correlates of
transpersonal experiences, as well as the disciplines and
practices inspired by them (p. 203). Te topic of this
article, women who mother in religious communities in
which they were not raised, confronts new-age-infuenced
transpersonal psychology (Sovatsky, 1998) by exploring
and reclaiming as an object of respectful study an often-
exiled character: religious fundamentalism.
Te modern religious revivalist movement
arose in the 1970s as a backlash to the decadent 60s
in the United States. It was characterized by a rise in
afliation in both Christianity and Judaism (Aviad,
1983; Pew, 2010). Tese numbers continue to swell
(Pew, 2010). Tis was not the frst religious revival for
either faith tradition, but is the most recent in America
and was accompanied by growing political action and
cultural shifting to the right, as well as reafrmation
of fundamental religious and social beliefs. Religious
revivals accompanied a massive backlash against
feminism and asserted a return to traditional gender
roles (Almond & Appleby, 2006; Faludi, 1991). Men
and women chose to engage in patriarchal constructions
of identity and community.
Contemporary American culture is overwhelm-
ingly pronatalist (Daniluck, 1996; Hird & Abshof, 2000;
Lisle, 1996; Meyers, 2001; Morell, 2000), valorizing
mothers and procreation, yet modern motherhood is
characterized by guilt and ambivalence (Guendouzi,
2006). Motherhood is one of the most important identities
for women in both modern and fundamentalist religious
communities. Te work of mothering, not simply
physically bearing a child, but the care and nurturing
that mothers are expected to do, is integral to society.
Mothers socialize children, instilling attitudes and ideas
about the sexual division of labor and sexual inequality
both inside and outside the family and the non-familial
world (Chodorow, 1989, p. 3). Because womens
mothering is of profound importance to the family, it
Keywords: religion, mothering, motherhood, conversion, feminism, spirituality, qualitative.
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 69 Mothering Fundamentalism
is also central to transforming larger social structures
and society (p. 3). Motherhood is a time for values to be
transmitted, and is thus a crucial developmental period
to study psychological change in women who have
moved from modern to religious communities.
Women transitioning from modern to
fundamentalist communities may experience a profound
shift in perspective on motherhood and family. Studying
that shift elucidates several issues. First, understanding
the reasons modern women embrace an outwardly
pro-patriarchal lifestyle and raise their children in that
society can inform the psychological community about
what attributes within the modern communities women
are choosing to leave, as well as seeing what attributes
they value within the communities they join. Second,
understanding the development of womens faith and
mothering in fundamentalist women, and how this
process interacts with personal identity, may add to
understandings of religious practice, discipline, and
community. Tis understanding is sorely needed, as
feminist spiritual literature has tended to concentrate on
goddess imagery (Spitler, 1992) or feminist critiques of
traditional religions (Christ & Plaskow, 1979; Reuther,
1979) rather than the experience of women in traditional
religious groups.
First, in order to create a background from
which specifc groups can be discussed, this article will
defne religious fundamentalism. Ten it will address
the historical backgrounds of Christianity and Judaisms
fundamentalist movements and describe each briefy.
Next, the connections between the two communities
will be addressed. Diferent motherhood ideologies will
be described and analyzed, frst in the fundamentalist
community, and then with regard to modern American
society in general. Finally, the approaches taken so far
to the study of women in these communities will be
critiqued, and a new one will be suggested, afrming
fundamentalist womens ability and agency. Tis is
a preliminary consideration, a review of the terrain
of fundamentalist mothering from a transpersonal/
feminist perspective into an ongoing piece of research
that the author is conducting. In that research the
author recruited and interviewed women for whom this
experience is their lived reality.
Cross-cultural Fundamentalism
or the purposes of this article, religious
fundamentalism is defned as:
A system of absolute values and practiced faith in
God that frmly relies on sacred canonical texts,
a signifcant level of afnity among its members,
seclusion from the world that surrounds it, strict
communal discipline and a patriarchal hierarchy.
(Barzilai & Barzilai, 2004, para. 3)
Tis defnition has the advantage of including
commonalities found by extensive research and also the
understanding of how the fundamentalists understand
themselves as a religious community based on a theology
dependent on fundamental methods of textual analysis.
Tis defnition is intended to be inclusive of both
fundamentalist Jews and Christians without denigrating
Fundamentalism has been explained as both
a pathological retreat from reality and a rational
reaction against modernity (Monroe & Kreidie, 1997).
However, a broader defnition of fundamentalism, as
seen from inside the movement, is a religious reaction
to modernism. In that view, fundamentalism seeks to
recover the lost force of religion and its institutions
that has been hidden, or repair the chain that has been
broken, by modernity (Castells, 1996).
In 1987, Marty and Appleby (1994) began an
international scholarly investigation of conservative
religious movements throughout the world called Te
Fundamentalism Project. Te project, which collected
empirical data from all over the world, concluded in 1995.
Te project understood fundamentalism as a militant
opposition to modernity, which is a controversially
inclusive defnition. Te authors for the capstone project,
Strong Religion (Almond, Appleby, & Sivan, 2003),
wrote that it is improper in most contexts to use the term
fundamentalist with regard to Jews. However, they also
wrote that the danger of restricting that word because of
inappropriate use is that it can restrict the conversation
and reduce the ability to discuss fundamentalism as a
global phenomenon.
Te Fundamentalism Project found several
similarities between fundamentalist groups in their
global study. First, the groups are founded on a profound
embedded patriarchy; men lead and women and children
follow. Second, the rules of their religion are complex
and rigid and must be followed. Tird, fundamentalist
groups do not accept a relative pluralism. Te rules of
their group apply to everyone everywhere. Fourth, they
see discrete groups of insiders, and all others as outsiders.
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 70 Korb
Fifth, although they claim to pine for an older age and
yearn for a past time when their religion was pure, they
engage in selective historical revisionism to reinforce
their nostalgic view of a utopian past. Sixth, they see
their religious views as weapons against a hostile world
(Marty & Appleby, 1994).
History of Christian Fundamentalism
in the United States
odern Christian Fundamentalisms rise is
connected with the rise of the Christian Right,
also called the Religious Right, a political movement
characterized by their strong support of conservative
social and political values and causes. Tis rise is often self-
attributed to political action against Roe v. Wade (Joyce,
2009), a US Supreme court case decided on January 22,
1973, that upheld the legal right to a womans termination
of pregnancy for any reason, until the time when the
fetus becomes viable, or able to live outside the mothers
body. Tis understanding of their own history reinforces
the Christian Rights current political agenda, which
concentrates on a triad of sexually related agenda items:
abortion, homosexual marriage, and abstinence only
sexual education (Deutchman, 2008).
Regardless of the
historical origin of the movement, American Christian
Fundamentalists are politically conservative, are against
abortion rights for women, resist governments intrusion
into family life, and tend to be politically involved.
Within the US population, 26.3% identify
themselves as as evangelical Protestants (Pew, 2010).
Distinguishing between evangelical Protestants in
general and fundamentalist evangelical Protestants can
be difcult because they share many traits and beliefs
and are part of the same overarching category. Also,
fundamentalists exert political and social control over
more than their small group. Evangelical Protestants share
a belief in the need to be born again, some expression of
the gospel in efort, a high regard for Biblical authority,
and an emphasis on teachings that proclaim the life
and death of Jesus Christ. Te more specifc group of
fundamentalist evangelical Protestants have a more
specifc belief defned below.
Tough over 50% of Americans are Protestant
Christians, the makeup of that group includes
an increasing number of evangelicals, as Liberal
Protestantism is in demographic decline. Southern
Baptist is the largest group within evangelicalism, and
included within the category of fundamentalism. For
the last 20 years, Southern Baptists have been growing
at 12% a year outside the South and 2% a year inside
the South. Tey have gone from being an intentionally
white denominationas late as 1970to being a
denomination that is currently 20% ethnic. Tere are
750,000 African-American Southern Baptists, and about
a half-million Hispanic American Southern Baptists.
History of Jewish Fundamentalism
in the United States
udaism has had a similar fundamentalist
attributed to both a backlash against the liberal 1960s
as well as a surge of Jewish pride and identifcation after
Israels victory in the 1967 Six-Day War (Aviad, 1983).
In the 1970s, religious afliation in Jews increased
across the board, in the US, internationally, and in every
denomination (Heilman, 2006). Many Jews who were
once unafliated with any movement within Judaism
became Reform, the most liberal Jewish movement, and
those already afliated with a particular denomination
of Judaism moved to the right. In the Orthodox
world, the infux of once liberal or secular Jews joining
Orthodox communities and adopting Orthodox ways of
life and thinking became known as the Baal Teshuva
Movement (Heilman, 1992, 2006). Tese new adherents
to Orthodoxy are known as baalei teshuva (masters of
return or repentance), in the singular baal teshuva for a
man or baalat teshuva for a woman. Te total number of
baalei teshuva is unknown but is estimated to be in the
hundreds of thousands (Heilman, 2006).
In broad strokes, one can divide Orthodox
Jewish society into two major groups: the Modern
Orthodox, who explicitly engage with the outside world
ideologically, and the Hareidim, or Ultra-Orthodox, who
engage with the outside world not for its own sake, but
rather because of pragmatism (Heilman, 1992, 2006;
Yehuda, Friedman, Rosenbaum, Labinsky, & Schmeidler,
2007). Estimates place the number of Hareidi Jews in
America at around 250,000 (Wattenberg, 2005), but
statistics about the Hareidi population are scarce, not
only because of difculties in counting the members of
the community but also because of a Hareidi taboo on
counting people at all.
One third of the Orthodox Jewish community
is comprised of 18-25 year olds, many of whom have
chosen to join the community as young adults (Ringel,
2008). Tese adherents continue to join. According
to the Jerusalem Center for Public Afairs, synagogue
afliation in the Orthodox community grew from 10%
to 20% of the general Jewish population from 1990 to
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 71 Mothering Fundamentalism
2001, but stayed about the same or declined in other
Jewish denominations (Heilman, 2006).
Te Baal Teshuva Movement is associated with a
general cultural shift to the right towards more enclavist,
conservative forms of Judaism opposed to modernity.
Rabbi Yosef Blau (2004), the spiritual director of Yeshiva
University (one of the cornerstone institutions of Modern
Orthodoxy) has noted the Orthodox communitys
difculty in integrating the not particularly modernist
baalei teshuva:
A baal teshuva movement has emerged with a
signifcant number of Jews from non-traditional
homes returning to the observance of grandparents
and great grandparents. In fact one of the challenges
facing modern Orthodoxy is that many of these
returnees are attracted to a European Orthodoxy.
(para. 6)
Rabbi Blau pointed out a discontinuity of culture and
purpose between the traditional Modern Orthodox
and the newly joined Orthodox. A baal teshuva may
be interested in learning Yiddish, wearing garments
from Eastern Europe, and escaping from the perceived
excesses of modern culture, whereas non-baalei teshuva
may be more likely to engage in Modern Orthodoxy.
Tough baalei teshuva may be interested in
engaging in the old European style, the way that Orthodox
Jews learn to be part of their community has changed in
the last hundred years. Traditional Jewish communities
were based primarily on behavioral mimesis of the
religious way of life, but today, with increasing literacy,
both Modern Orthodox and Hareidi Jewry emphasize
the value of the religious texts as the basic source of
increasingly strict norms, as a key cultural symbol, and
as the organizer of the social order (Soloveitchik, 1994).
Baalei teshuva are often very concerned about their full
integration into their chosen community, and some see
their status as a baal teshuva not just as a transitional
status but also as an identity (Sands, 2009). Te Baal
Teshuva Movement is itself one sign of the diference
between American and European Judaism. How an
individual practices Judaism has changed from fate to
choice (Davidman, 1991).
Womens Lives in Christian Fundamentalism
he Christian fundamentalism movement, also
known as Fundamentalist Christianity or
fundamentalist evangelicalism, is characterized by
afrming a fundamental set of Christian beliefs: (1) the
inerrancy of the Bible, (2) sola scriptura, the belief that
the Bible is the only authority for the Christian Church,
(3) the virgin birth of Jesus Christ, (4) the doctrine of
substitutionary atonement, the idea that Jesus died on
the cross to atone for the sins of others, (5) the bodily
resurrection of Jesus, and (6) the imminent personal
return of Jesus Christ (Colaner & Giles, 2008; Wagner,
Other doctrines of individual congregations
vary, but members of the movement still recognize
one another. Some fundamentalists embrace the term,
despite or because of the fact that it is sometimes used
as a pejorative. Some fundamentalist leaders enjoy the
separatism and group cohesion inherent in rejection
from the greater society (Wagner, 2003). Many
conservative fundamentalist groups view the other
congregations as co-belligerents, allied people fghting
against a common cause (Joyce, 2009). Te churches pit
themselves against abortion rights for women, and more
broadly, see themselves fghting against the infuence
of modern day feminism writ large, which they see as
responsible for the breakdown of the family as well as
the increased pressure in modern society for women to
look sexy and attractive (Brasher, 1998; Joyce, 2009;
Luker, 1984).
Tough fundamentalist groups difer in their
details, several themes are typically true of fundamentalist
communities. First, there is an emphasis on individual
salvation; each individual needs to come to redemption
of their own accord and be born again. Another main
theological feature of fundamentalist Christianity is the
headship of men, based on the Biblical verse,
Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.
For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is
the head of the church, his body, of which he is the
Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also
wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
(Ephesians 5:22, New International Version)
Tis theology has evolved into a spiritual practice for
women based on submission to their husbands. Some
Fundamentalist Christians see this as natural and a
due right for men because of womens punishment and
culpability in the Fall from Grace (Joyce, 2009), but
the main thrust of the theology emphasizes that the
submission is not about the man himself, but rather
that one is submitting to Christ through submitting
to ones husband. Te man is the spiritual head of the
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 72 Korb
family and the submission has metaphysical properties:
it reorders the family as a microcosm of the universe,
reordering humans with respect to God. Tese practices
of spiritual submission reinforce a society that embraces
traditional, homebound roles for women. Submissive
wives and mothers have an extensive social network
within their particular religious communities, but also
across communities, including very active online fora.
Te Patriarchs Wives group on Yahoo is an excellent
example, where women send each other support in the
spirit of Titus 2:3-5,
Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in
the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted
to much wine, but to teach what is good. Ten they
can train the younger women to love their husbands
and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be
busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their
husbands, so that no one will malign the word of
God. (New International Version)
Tus, there is textual support for the practice of women
mentoring each other in wifely submission and being a
Brenda Brasher (1998) performed an ethno-
graphic study in which she spent six months as an
active participant in two Christian fundamentalist
congregations. Brasher went to womens ministries and
Bible study groups, openly as a researcher, and listened
to conversion narratives to explore how and why women
become involved in these groups. Her writing brought
to light the apparent paradox that fundamentalist
women can be powerful people in a religious sphere
organized around their submission. Gender functions
as a sacred partition (p. 5), which literally divides
the congregation in two, establishing parallel religious
worlds. One world is led by men and encompasses
public congregational life; the second is a more private,
domestic world, composed of and led entirely by
women. Te women-only activities both create and
sustain a parallel world within and among the diferent
fundamentalist congregations. Tis enables the women
to direct the course of their lives and empowers them
in their relationships with others. Te women develop
intimate social networks that serve as a resource for those
in distress and provide for coalition when women wish
to alter the patterns of more public congregational life,
despite the fact that they are ostensibly not empowered
in that realm. Some authors have explained womens
involvement in these groups by pointing to the fact that
the prescription of a home-based life for women releases
men from the macho individualism of secular culture,
in turn creating devoted family men (Davidman, 1991;
Luker, 1984).
Kristin Luker (1984) interviewed pro-life
and pro-choice activists and very carefully traced
the worldviews of the two sides in her seminal work,
Abortion and the Politics of Motherhood. Luker suggested
that essentially the two sides are characterized by
diferent values and ideas about womens roles and the
family. Although not all fundamentalists are pro-life
activists, Lukers data ofered an interesting window into
a world of the more politically active, and those who feel
they can represent at least the political interests of the
community. As evidenced above, abortion remains one
of the Religious Rights primary political campaigns.
In 1984, 80% of Lukers study participants
were Catholic activists; nonetheless Lukers work
remains important in studying todays mostly Protestant
fundamentalist Christians. Tough the demographic
has changed, Lukers 1984 analysis still articulately
explains a worldview consistent with this political action,
now mostly carried out by members of fundamentalist
Christian groups. Her analyses of the activists
philosophies are consistent with more recent research
done exclusively on Protestant fundamentalist groups,
detailed more precisely below (see Joyce, 2009; Brasher,
1998). Tis may refect a shift to the Right in general, a
sign that the worldview of activists in 1984 is now the
commonly held perspectives of many religious groups.
Second, 60% of those pro-life activists inter-
viewed in Lukers (1984) study were religious converts,
people who grew up in other religious communities.
According to conventional wisdom about the zeal of
the converted, religious converts are often those who
most vehemently espouse the ideologies of their adopted
group. Tis folk saying has been backed up recently by
a quantitative Pew Research study, which demonstrated
that people who have switched religions consistently
exhibit higher levels of religious commitment than those
who still belong to their childhood faith (Pond, 2009,
para. 6). Also, research indicates that some adult converts
play out, and sometimes resolve, their psychodynamic
issues, dysfunctional patterns learned in childhood and
brought forward into adulthood, in their newfound
religion (Mirsky, 1992; Mirsky & Kaushinksy, 1989).
Some might speculate about patterns of psychodynamic
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 73 Mothering Fundamentalism
wounding in the secular community that may lead
people both to join fundamentalist groups and serve as
activists against abortion rights for women and against
feminism in general.
Some of the following ideas about social
reality are characteristic of both Christian and Jewish
fundamentalists, and relevant to their relationship to
motherhood, so will be explicated in more detail below
in sections about fundamentalist motherhood. Here,
though, they serve to explain Christian fundamentalist
involvement in anti-abortion politics. Fundamentalists
believe that men and women are intrinsically diferent
(Joyce, 2009; Brasher, 1998; Heilman, 2006). Tis both
leads to and explains the diferent social roles assigned
to men and women in fundamentalist society, which
fundamentalists view as proscriptively and descriptively
positive. Fundamentalists believe that motherhood is the
most fulflling role that women can have (Joyce, 2009).
Tey believe that mothering is a full-time job, which
deserves complete time commitment (Joyce, 2009;
Brasher, 1998). Because they see it as so encompassing,
they tend to disbelieve that one can be in the work world
and still do as good a job with ones home and family.
Fundamentalists see the sets of tasks required in the
public mens world and the domestic womens world as
requiring a diferent set of emotional skills; they imagine
that the working mother must shift modes to transition
between her working and mothering skills. Tey argue
that doing so is difcult and damaging to her mothering
and to her work.
According to Luker (1984), these views support
the belief that abortion is wrong in three ways, all
of which are relevant to fundamentalist models of
motherhood. First, abortion is taking a human life, and
what makes women special is their ability to nourish life,
so all abortions are degrading to all women. Second, by
giving women control over their fertility, it breaks up
an intricate set of social relationships between men and
women that has traditionally surrounded (and in the
ideal case protected) women and children (Luker, 1984,
p. 162). Tis applies to birth control in general, not just
abortion, and may explain and predict negative views of
fundamentalists towards birth control. In both cases,
the fundamentalists see themselves not as taking rights
away from women, but rather as maintaining womens
power. Fundamentalists continue to see themselves as
protecting women from abortion (Shaw, 2008). Tird,
fundamentalists in the anti-abortion movement see
abortion as wrong because it supports a worldview that
diminishes the traditional roles of men and women.
Fundamentalists in general see those roles as natural and
good; the roles are natural extensions of the two separate
male and female spheres described abovewomen who
are tender, moral, emotional, and self-sacrifcing are the
exclusive holders of those feminine qualities and occupy
the female sphere. Tere is a confation of the idea of
the feminine and actual physical females. When women
cease to be traditional, fundamentalists see a loss of
those qualities. Fundamentalists believe society on the
whole benefts from the division of male and female
qualities and attributes into separate spheres, where those
qualities can more fully express themselves and are not
compromised by their combination in one individual.
Womens Lives in Jewish Fundamentalism
rthodox Jewish society is family-centered, tends
to cluster in urban areas, and valorizes the study
of ancient texts. Tere are strict gender divisions from
a young age and socialization is generally same-sex.
Members of the Orthodox community follow legalistic
interpretations of ancient texts as interpreted by the
Talmud and later scholars in almost every area of their
individual lives. From what thoughts to think about
other people, to how to pour tea on the Jewish Sabbath,
to what shoe to put on frst, Orthodox Judaism is
integrated into almost every action one might take.
Hareidi Judaism, what many consider to be
fundamentalist Judaism, advocates segregation from
non-Jewish culture, although not from non-Jewish
society entirely. Tough Hareidi Orthodoxys diferences
with Modern Orthodoxy ostensibly lie in interpretation
of the nature of traditional Jewish legal concepts and in
understanding what constitutes acceptable application of
these concepts, the major division is one of culture. Te
enclavist Hareidim eschew engagement with modernity
and the infuence of the outside world, including the
infuence of modern ideas of culture and sexuality.
Hareidi men occupy all the public religious leadership
roles in their community. Hareidi Judaism is divided
strictly between male and female spheres. Because
Hareidi Judaism emphasizes that Jewish men have a
constant, unending obligation to learn Torah, Jewish
women take on responsibilities for many communal
functions outside of the parameters of ritual observance.
Hareidi women run charities, educational foundations,
and orphanages with minimal input or help from men,
aside from fgureheads.
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 74 Korb
Tznius (Yiddish), or modesty, is a prominant
ideology of fundamentalist Jewish women. Tough the
Biblical dictate of hatznea leches or walk humbly with
your God (Micah 6:8, New International Version) is
enjoined upon both men and women, traditionally the
law has been interpreted to restrict womens actions
much more than mens. In fact, the dictate of tznius has
been said to be the womens equivalent of Torah study
for men, the paramount obligation in the Jewish world
(Falk, 1998).
In other words, the same reward that a man
accrues for his fulfllment of the most important stricture
within Judaism, studying the tradition, a woman
accrues for wearing modest clothing and not attracting
attention to herself. Tere are strict restrictions on
womens dress and action, ranging from dictates about
not boasting about oneself to skirt lengths toat its
most extremeadmonitions that young girls should not
laugh and dance in the streets lest they draw attention
to themselves (Yafeh, 2007; Falk, 1998). Tis concept
of modesty extends beyond restrictions of dress into an
ideology of both physical and emotional humility and
modesty. While both Modern Orthodoxy and Hareidi
Judaism acknowledge the legal and spiritual importance
of modesty, the emphasis on particular details and the
central importance of this ideology for women is one of
the major departures of the two communities. Feminist
critiques of this construction point out the asymmetrical
emphasis on womens dress and action as opposed to
mens, as well as placing responsibility for male sexual
behavior on women (Yafeh, 2007). Men and women
will not speak to members of the opposite sex that they
are not related to, let alone shake hands. Dating only
takes place through a matchmaking process leading to
courtship and marriage.
Jewish fundamentalist ideology tends to
emphasize the concept that womens private role is an
elevated one (Sands, Spero, & Danzig 2007; Shai, 2002).
Tough women are frmly placed in the domestic realm,
Jewish fundamentalist society difers from most other
fundamentalist societies in that women are responsible
for both domestic life and for economically supporting
the family, especially in the early years of the marriage
(Shai, 2002). At that stage, Jewish women work outside
the home, and Jewish men are often encouraged to
maintain a lifestyle exclusively devoted to Torah study
(Stadler, 2002). However, this isolationist and singular
focus towards Torah study for fundamentalist Jewish
males leads to the irony that women are more connected
to the outside world, despite an ideology that actively
promotes modesty and separation for women.
In 2007, Sands, Spero, and Danzig authored a
study comparing what male and female baalei teshuva
appreciate most about the culture that they have joined.
Baalot teshuva women like the community and family-
centered society and appreciate that aspect more than
their male counterparts, who tend to appreciate structure
and learning. As such, the parts of the adopted culture
of the baalei teshuva that they most enjoy are those parts
that are emphasized for their gender. Tis could be due
to a number of factors, one of the most obvious being
that those women who choose to become baalot teshuva
are those who appreciate womens roles in their chosen
culture. In Ringels 2007 study, baalot teshuva reported
that they perceived Jewish fundamentalist society as
understanding women better than secular society.
Fundamentalist Motherhood
espite their basic similarities, diferent fundamen-
talist groups have diferent cultures, traditions, and
expressions of their beliefs. In Bergers (1969) Te Sacred
Canopy, the author theorized that religious adherence
and practice in modern societies is increasingly a matter
of individual choice. He claimed that this heightened
ability to choose would inevitably and inexorably weaken
traditional religious commitments. Warners (1993)
Work in Progress Toward a New Paradigm for the
Sociological Study of Religion in the United States article
asserted the future of American religious choice, arguing
that religion need not represent something in which
people are primordially rooted. Religious afliation in the
United States is not tribal (p. 1078). Warners point of
view is challenged by authors who have stated that despite
the existence of choice, choosing does not make the
commitment of an adherent weaker (Davidman, 1991).
Additionally, many religious traditions in modern America
incorporate an ascriptive element in their understandings
of the boundaries around their community. Ascriptive
religious traditions claim that religious identity adheres
to a person upon their birth: for example, Jewish law
states that a Jew is a convert or the child born to a Jewish
mother. However, in Avishais 2008 study of women
observing the laws of niddah (menstrual separation),
she concluded that religiosity is a status that is learned,
negotiated, and achieved by adhering to or performing
prescribed practices that distinguish the religious from
the nonreligious (p. 429). Religions of ascription are
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 75 Mothering Fundamentalism
contrasted with religions of achievement, in which
personal belief is the determinant of the boundaries
of religious identity (Cadge & Davidman, 2006). An
example of this is the Protestant Christian belief that
personal salvation is the only path to heaven; each person
must independently come to his or her belief in God.
Tough ascription and achievement are
conceptually distinct ways of constructing religious
identities, in a study conducted by Cadge and Davidman
(2006) in which they surveyed Jewish and Buddhist
Americans, both from groups with strong inherited
religious identities, they found that the respondents
combined the two ideas when talking about their religious
life. Rather than being treated as a dichotomy, the
concepts of ascription and achievement were integrated
in nuanced ways in the narratives of religious identity
told by these Americans.
Tese diferences are relevant when comparing
fundamentalist mothers, the main focus of this article.
Mothers from these diferent traditions may have
diferent goals and measures of success for their children
and diferent priorities in educating them. Because the
religious identity of the child comes from the mother
in traditional Judaism, and from the childs faith in
fundamentalist Christianity, motherhood in those
traditions may be conceptually and experientially
Due to their restricted public roles, the primary
valued role for Hareidi women is as wife, mother, and
housekeeper (Longman, 2000). A fundamentalist Jewish
womans worth is defned according to her relational
capacitieshow she relates to her husband, children,
family, and the community at large (Longman, 2008).
In studies of fundamentalist Jewish womens spirituality,
the women have reported experiencing personal
fulfllment by putting their children and husbands
before themselves (Ringel, 2008). Jewish women see
motherhood as a religious responsibility (Burt &
Rudolph, 2000; Yehuda et al., 2007) and connected
to their experience of spirituality and relationship with
God (Burt & Rudolph, 2000). Family is seen as a means
for self-actualization (Ringel, 2008). Motherhood is an
extremely important goal for fundamentalist Jewish
women, such that their schooling is primarily geared
toward it (Longman, 2008).
Jewish motherhood is particularly stereotyped
in America. Te stereotype of Jewish mothers is an
emasculating, controlling, materially-focused, pushy
woman who evokes the Oedepus complex in her children
(Antler, 2007). Tis stereotype emerged in the 1950s as
immigrant Jews made their way to the suburbs. Antler
posited that it was a way to locate stereotypes about Jews
in just one group of Jewish society, allowing for Jews to
gain greater acceptance in a secular world by blaming
their diference on mothering practices.
One recent qualitative study (Hamama-Raz,
2010) studied spontaneous abortions in Hareidi women.
Te women found the loss far more devastating than their
partners. Te experience brought up issues of self-esteem
concerning their value as women. Te self-judgment of
the women made their sense of isolation much worse.
Te women brought up issues of faith, belief in God,
and a sense of loss of Divine Providence. Tis fnding
speaks to the religious importance of motherhood to
Hareidi women.
In 2006, Fader performed a discourse analysis on
how Hareidi women speak to their children. Te author
noted that childrens queries regarding gender categories
are an important time for caregivers to essentialize
gender diferences as markers of Jewish morality. Fader
wrote that Hareidi women implicitly teach children that
their relationships to those around them are parallel to
the hierarchy between them and God. To their children,
Hasidic (a subset of the Hareidi) women caregivers present
communal hierarchies of authority as rehearsal for and
parallel to obeying divine authority. Local hierarchies of
authority (gender, age, and religious practice) gain their
legitimacy because parents and older siblings, teachers,
and religious leaders all consistently share authority as
the transmitters of sacred beliefs and practices.
In response to childrens disobedience or
challenges, caregivers respond in a wide variety of ways,
from least severe to most severe: reminding them of
responsibility, warning of a boundary that may not be
crossed, and, as a last resort, publicly shaming them
(Fader, 2006). In the most severe cases, the childs
behavior might even be compared with that of Gentile
children or animals. Fader took note of the ideology that
Hareidi Jewish children must always care about what
they do and say because of the belief that God is always
watching. Von Hirsch Erikson (1995) similarly noted
that the phrase I dont care is a particularly loaded
one and elicits very strong reactions from mothers and
Fundamentalist Christian mothers also see
motherhood as an incredibly important part of their
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 76 Korb
identity. Motherhood is promoted as part and parcel of
a fundamentalist womans Christian religious identity
that is, as a unifying identity. In Fundamentalist
Christian ideology, the sin of Eve is redeemed through
the act of childbirth using the following quote from the
New Testament:
Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I
permit no woman to teach or to have authority over
a man; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed
frst, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the
woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet
she will be saved through childbearing. (I Timothy
Because mothering inculcates children with the culture
of their society, the role of the mother is the link between
the general society and the womans body (El-Or, 2002).
According to the point of view expressed in I Timothy,
the actual act of childbirth is what is redemptive, not the
mothering that comes afterwards. It is a point of view that
emphasizes the physical rather than the experiential.
A quantitative study by Colaner (2008) of
134 college-aged, evangelical women pointed to an
interesting intersection of role ideologies and aspirations.
Te young women surveyed did not jointly hold career
and mothering aspirations. Te young women saw
those two goals as separate. Tey were less conficted
about motherhood than modern women who hold more
egalitarian points of view. In these women, the desire to
adhere to the traditional female role preceded the actual
realization of the goal of motherhood. Women in the
Evangelical subculture do not seem to experience the
same tensions of having it all as women at large.
Modern American and fundamentalist mother-
hood may be diferent in some respects. Women in
modern religious or secular culture must contend with
competing values: simultaneously women should stay
home and tend to children, as well as create and maintain
an image of a high-powered, beautiful professional. Tese
conficts will be addressed at length below. However,
fundamentalist women do not necessarily contend with
the same competing values. Tey are part of a society
that actively supports the choices that they make and
rejects the modern demands of a career for women. In
the research on baalot teshuva, many women report
that they joined their group in order to join a society
that is more encouraging toward traditional femininity
(Kaufman, 1991; Longman, 2007) and a nuclear family
(Danzger, 1989). Religion afects parent-child relations
as well as the other way around (Pearce, 1998). Pearce
pointed to three ways in which religion impacts parent-
child relations: religions disseminate the idea that
families are important, religious communities provide
formal support for families, and religious groups add to
the familys social ties.
Education is an important responsibility for
fundamentalists, who often see their parenting as better
than that of the secular people around them (Heilman,
2006, p. 259) and defne their observance largely in
terms of their diference from others (Avishai, 2008;
Heilman, 2006). In religious enclave communities
that engage in explicit cultural critiques of the society
surrounding them, appeals to moral superiority are one
of the key means for retaining members and building
boundaries (Sivan, 1995, p.17). Both Jewish and
Christian fundamentalist communities have developed
extensive online homeschooling resources and private
school systems (Kunzman, 2009).
As mentioned before, Shai (2002) studied
Orthodox women using a family development approach,
with the hypothesis that the asynchronous pattern of
Orthodox Jewish womens lives as compared to the rest
of society would negatively impact them. Te Orthodox
womens lives are out of step in that for young Jewish
families, the highest priority of the young family is that
the man learns Torah full time, so Jewish women work as
much as they can and have children, supported by either
or both sets of parents, during the time when modern
American families are developing their professional
identities and stockpiling money toward the future.
Despite being out of step with how the rest of the society
does family, fnances, and motherhood, fundamentalist
women are not showing ill efects. Shai explained this by
pointing to the strong insular community that supports
fundamentalist women. Individual women who are
difering from outside society are not doing it alone, they
are doing it as a community with particular values and a
specifc timeline.
Barrenness is a major theological issue in cultures
in which the ability to bear children is exalted, impacting
both Jewish and Christian fundamentalist societies. Two
books by Christian authors illustrate popular opinions of
fundamentalist Christians with regard to the situation of
infertile couples. Vicky Love (1984) in Childless is Not Less
provided the perspective that childlessness is a tragedy to
be overcome, never a conscious choice. Kristen Johnson
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 77 Mothering Fundamentalism
Ingram, (1988) in Childless but Not Barren, wrote a number
of fctionalized Bible stories about childless women.
Ingram ofered stories of nine childless women from the
Bible and nine women from real life and showed how their
faith in God led them to live fulflled and valuable lives. In
her perspective, all nurturing skills are those of mothering.
Not having children challenges a woman to perceive
Gods grace in another way; her recommendation was to
transform the mothering skills a woman has to care for
others in ways other than in biological motherhood and to
spread Gods light in diferent ways. To some members of
the evangelical Christian community, fertility treatments
are also discouraged. Tey see barrenness as something
to be accepted from God if that is His choice, while
recommending prayer to change Gods decree (Ingram,
In Tamar El-Ors (1994) anthropological study
of Hareidi women, Educated and Ignorant, one of the
women in her study, Nava, is childless. Tough she is
from an important lineage within her religious group,
and thus is part of the social elite, she is threatened
with a potential loss of status because she is three years
married and not pregnant. El-Or interpreted the other
womens preoccupation with Navas attempts to get
pregnant as a desire to see her infertility as punishment.
Infertility would cause an incredible loss of status, even
for a successful young woman from an elite family.
In general, conservative religious beliefs predict
more disapproval for chosen childlessness (Koropeckyj-
Cox & Pendell, 2007). Christian and Jewish funda-
mentalists also have a range of diferent attitudes toward
sexual activity and birth control within their own and
others communities. Te major launching points for the
Christian evangelical rights political action have been
fghting against three issues: abortion, birth control, and
gay marriage (Deutchman, 2008). Te fact that these are
all related to sexuality is not a coincidence. Te Christian
Rights perception is that sexuality is a major axis around
which their values difer from the modern society around
them. As Luker (1984) noted:
Rosalind Petchesky argued as early as 1983 that
issues over sexuality could well serve as the glue to
bind a new generation of conservatives together,
with opposition to changes in sexual and gender
roles taking on the role that anti-communism once
played in binding diverse conservative constituencies
together. (p. 223)
Furthermore, the Christian movement is the
main driving force behind abstinence-only education,
and diferent Christian Fundamentalist groups have
diferent interpretations and opinions about the
permissibility of birth control. One common opinion in
the Christian Right is natalism: promoting procreation,
and eschewing all forms of birth control. For example,
Charles D. Provan (1989) argued,
Be fruitful and multiply ... is a command of God,
indeed the frst command to a married couple.
Birth control obviously involves disobedience to
this command, for birth control attempts to prevent
being fruitful and multiplying. Terefore birth
control is wrong, because it involves disobedience
to the Word of God. Nowhere is this command
done away with in the entire Bible; therefore it still
remains valid for us today. (p. xxx)
Diferent fundamentalist Jewish communities have
diferent attitudes toward the legal or social acceptability
of birth control (Nishmat, 2010). Tese legal restrictions
arise from the interpretation of the commandment
to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:28) and the
commandment In the morning sow your seed, and
in the evening do not desist (Ecclesiastes 11:6), which
obligates Fundamentalist Jews to do more than the
simple letter of the law as stated in the Book of Genesis
(i.e., to have big families). In most Jewish communities,
there are few injunctive rules against all forms of birth
control; many rabbis will give women dispensation to
use family planning methods for a variety of reasons
(Nishmat, 2010).
Despite the technicalities allowing women to
use birth control, the social system creates descriptive
rules against the use of birth control: it is considered
taboo to ask for birth control. In a sample of 1751
married urban Israeli Jewish women, contraceptive use
was reported by 73% of secular subjects, 54% of Modern
Orthodox women, and 15% of ultra-Orthodox women
(Haimon-Kuchmon & Hochner-Celinkier, 2007). With-
in the fundamentalist community, contraception is
employed mainly for birth spacing, contrasted to secular
women who use contraception to prevent pregnancy
altogether or postpone even their frst pregnancy. In
many fundamentalist communities, families of more
than 14 children are the norm as well as the expectation
for women to be considered successful members of their
society. Te average birth rate of Israeli Hareidi Jews is
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 78 Korb
7.7 children per family (Remmenick, 2008), one of the
highest birth rates of any nation. Many Hareidi women
invoke Jewish traumas such as the Holocaust when
questioned about their large family size (Wattenberg,
Additionally, the taboo against birth control is
accompanied by a strong fundamentalist Jewish legal and
social taboo against premarital sexuality. All touching
is forbidden between members of the opposite sex who
are not related to each other. Fundamentalist Jewish
groups have not been major players in the American
politics of abstinence education or birth control, the
political issues which afect people both in and out of
their own communities. One reason for this may simply
be a more liberal stance on abortion in Judaism than in
Christianity (Feldman, 1995). In both communities, a
perception that outside society cares less for children and
family values than their community reinforces a sense
of their own community identity and the danger of the
outside world (Davidman, 1992; Joyce, 1996).
Modern American Motherhood
othering is a social construct found in every
contemporary society (Arendell, 2000). It
encompasses more than simply bearing, nursing,
and caring for a child, functions that can be done by
someone who is not mothering and by someone who is
not a mother. Mothering is largely determined by social
circumstances; mothers do not nurture or care for their
children the same way across cultures, and what it means
to be a mother is reinforced and supported by cultures in
diferent ways. How one cares for a child, and how one
conceives of that caring, is culturally organized.
Te feminist movement in the United States
afected more than simply the rise of fundamentalism that
fostered change in the American religious communities.
In addition, motherhood as a modern institution among
women not in these religious communities also drastically
changed. Tough feminist action led to great strides in
what women can accomplish in their careers, this was
simultaneously accompanied by increased expectations of
motherhood. On one hand, the mothers who stayed home
needed to justify that decision by making motherhood
into a full-time job that required all of their energy,
while mothers who went out to work applied the same
standards of competitive work to their home life. Tose
rising expectations led to a new style of mothering named
intensive mothering by Sharon Hays, who has researched
the social construction of motherhood since the 1980s.
Hays explained, Tis motherhood mandate declares
that mothering is exclusive, wholly child centered,
emotionally involving, and time-consuming (as cited in
Arendell, 2000, p. 1194). Tis is the dominant ideology
among North Americans in general. Tere is extensive
research on the intensive mothering ideology and how
it has increased the amount of confict and guilt that
mothers are feeling (Arendell, 2000; Guendouzi, 2006).
Yet, this is not the only current modern Western model
of motherhood. Researchers Elvin-Novak and Tomsson
(2001) reported that in general, Swedish mothers are
rewarded for being more happy and fulflled, from
expression of their individualism in their own careers to
promoting well-being in their children. Te American
intensive mothering mandate is not the only possible
Access to ideology and fulfllment of the
hegemonic American model described above are highly
class-based (Arendell, 2000; Daniluck, 1996). While
in the 1970s and 1980s, middle class and poor mothers
were taught that the attachment with their child was
the most important priority, more important than their
individual or personal fulfllment, external pressures
dictated diferent outcomes for the two groups. Te
federal welfare-to-work programs of the 1990s required
poor mothers to seek employment outside the home as
a condition of their welfare beneft, ostensibly to the
detriment of their children. Te rhetoric positioned them
as selfsh for staying home.
At the same time, middle class mothers were
required to decide whether to self-sacrifce by staying
home with their children or to selfshly sacrifce their
childrens welfare by going to work. It is no wonder that
modern motherhood is characterized by considerable
ambivalence and guilt among women (e.g., Colaner, 2008;
Giele, 2008; Guendouzi, 2006). Tus, American social
policy reinforces the dominant ideas of a good mother as
one who is married and supported by her partner, and
as such, reifes a particular view of appropriate womens
roles (Arendell, 2000).
Motherhood, as the cultural construction
through which children are educated for society, presents
the opportunity for the society as well as the family to
judge the mother. Mothers are held accountable for the
deeds of their children (Hartman-Halbertal, 2002) and
are blamed when things go wrong. Te psychological
literature points to diferent psychopathologies and
names the characteristics of the mothers of individuals
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 79 Mothering Fundamentalism
who sufer from those conditions. For example, in the
1950s, it was proposed by Bateson, Jackson, Haley, and
Weakland (1956) that children develop schizophrenia
when their mothers face them with double-bind scenarios.
Tis was debunked later, when it was discovered that
mothers instead give double-bind statements when faced
with difcult children who exhibit prodromal symptoms
of schizophrenia (Koopmans, 1997). Mothers fnd
themselves constantly negotiating with the oughts of
motherhood (Hartman-Halbertal, 2002). Additionally,
mothers expect themselves to mother in ways other
than how they were mothered because they recognize
the change in culture and new psychological oughts.
However, many mothers fnd themselves, to their horror,
saying exactly what their mothers said (Fraiberg, Adelson,
& Shapiro, 1980). Motherhood is often characterized by
self-doubt on the part of women, rather than questioning
the social pressures around them (Hartman-Halbertal,
2002). As a counterpoint, critics of the contemporary
culture often point to the deinstitutionalization of the
private domain, characterized by changing family norms,
as a cause of discomfort, leading to the rise of religious
movements (Kaufman, 1991).
Motherhood is socially entwined with notions
of femininity (Medina & Magnuson, 2009). Te specifc
kind of intensive motherhood conceived of today is a
modern social construct, but mythologized as natural
and immutable. Social deconstruction of the maternal
instinct concept was pioneered by Badinter (1981) in her
work, Motherlove, which traced the development of the
myth of maternal love and sacrifce.
Badinter (1981) argued that many early French
feminists, fred by Jean Jacques Rousseaus Emile, were
encouraged to view child rearing as a liberating and
empowering appropriation of their husbands former
sphere of infuence. It became the role of women to
transmit their educational and moral values to their
children, and as such, the education of women became
more highly valued. Tis was motivated by the changing
French economys experience of the Industrial Revolution,
which required men to work long hours outside the
home. Tis forced women into what had traditionally
been the mens role of running the home, and also put
a growing importance on individual children as French
citizens and workers. In order to stem the loss represented
by childhood mortality, French women were persuaded
that their new kingdom was in their home, raising
their children (p. 179).
Badinter (1981) argued that maternal instinct
is a relatively recent social construct. It was designed
to confne women to a very limited conception of
their identity and to convince them of their daunting,
perhaps unfulfllable, obligations. Badinter asserted
that Maternal love is a human feeling. And, like any
feeling, it is uncertain, fragile, and imperfect. Contrary
to many assumptions, it is not deeply rooted in womens
natures (xxiii). Badinter argued that perceptions of
mother love are culturally constructed and that the
concept of motherhood was yet another manipulation of
women and their conception of their place in the world.
In her cultural analysis of the evolution of the ideals of
motherhood in the United States, Diane Eyer (1996)
made a similar point:
Motherhood, as most people think of it, was really
fashioned in the 1830s as a response to the labor
dilemma posed by the Industrial Revolution, which
threatened to draw work out of the home and into
the factory. Women should stay at home, it was
decided, and become hearth angels, exemplars of
moral virtue to inspire the children who were mere
clay in their hands. (p. xiv)
Similar to Badinters specifc historical point above, many
authors have argued that motherhood is constructed
not only for individual children but also for the larger
social group in which they are situated (Arendell,
2000; Guendouzi, 2006; Hartman-Halbertal, 2002).
Mothering is the main vehicle for identity formation of
children (Arendell, 2000). In motherhood, childrens
gender identities are reinforced and society, through its
infuence on the mother, creates its future citizens.
Arendell (2000) wrote that mothering is more
important to womens identity than either marital
status or occupation. Living in an overwhelmingly
family-focused society, in which being a mother is more
important to ones identity than being a lawyer, it is no
wonder that women feel guilty about their motherhood
(Arendell, 2000; Guendouzi, 2006). Tis maternal ambi-
valence is sourced in the paradoxical nature of mothering
experience; not every minute with another individual
can be close and happy, let alone one that is completely
dependent upon you and with whom you are expected
to spend every moment.
Motherhood can be an incredibly powerful
identity for women, but Anna Snitow (1990) wondered if
the patriarchal construction of motherhood inevitably
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 80 Korb
placed women outside the realm of the social, the
changing, the active (p. 21). In other words, does
placing motherhood on a pedestal isolate mothers from
the experience of being people? If mothers gain power
by being connected to the patriarchally-constructed,
powerful spiritual identity of motherhood writ large,
which is greater than themselves and defnes them and
their interests, it may also serve to silence them. Teir
inclusion in this archetypal class may detract from their
individual voices. Despite the fact that all mothering
is necessarily done by someone other than the child,
psychological research generally only speaks from the
childs perspective (Hartman-Halbertal, 2002). When
the mother is named in the conversation, she is brought
in through the childs experienceas powerfully good,
bad, or silent. A mother reading these theories cannot
fnd her own experience by reading the perspective of the
child looking to the mother as a mirror.
Andrea Dworkin (1977), the controversial
American feminist, saw women as trying to create power
by positioning motherhood as the most important act
that women could do. She warned of the pitfalls of what
she called womb worship, valorizing women simply
for their reproductive capacity while romanticizing the
womb. On the one hand, this allows mothers to avoid
the discomfort of modern-day expectations of doing it
all by making their mothering into something that can
seem all-encompassing and that can only be fulflled
by women. On the other hand, it locks women into the
idea that the body is the source of destiny and identity,
an idea that Dworkin saw as contributing to the history
of womens oppression over time, used to justify mens
domination over women because men are physically
Modern American society is hugely pronatalist,
or valuing of motherhood, childbearing, children, and
defned social roles for women (Brooks, 2007, p. 17).
Tis pronatalist trend is often traced to a backlash
from the Womens Liberation movement of the 1970s
(Daniluck, 1996; Hird & Abshof, 2000; Lisle, 1996;
Meyers, 2001; Morell, 2000). Parallel to the pronatalist
agenda, childlessness is regarded as an afiction in
modern America (Spitler, 1992). Te concept that some
women never want to have children seems to be drowned
out in the debate about reproductive rightswhich
centers around the question of when women will have
the children they are assumed eventually to have. Even
though these attitudes are commonly thought to be a
response to the rise of feminism, some authors have
suggested that feminism may have contributed to the
pronatalist agenda by valorizing mothers experiences
over those of non-mothers and suggesting that wars and
human violence were due to male control and power.
Te notion that women naturally have a more nurturing
instinct than men, and thus should be at home with
children, is an example of biological determinism, the
idea that biology is destiny.
xtensive research exists on the cultural and political
phenomenon of the Christian Right, and research
on fundamentalist women has begun to take hold, with
several Christian groups opening themselves up to schol-
ars and the mainstream media. Some research has been
done on baalot teshuva, and so far it has concentrated
on the process of identity transformation (Aviad, 1983;
Glanz & Harrison, 1978), the recruitment process (Shafr,
1983), gender issues (Davidman, 1991), and comparisons
between diferent groups of returnees (Davidman, 1991;
Davidman & Greil, 1994). While considerable efort
has gone into studying the experiences of women in
fundamentalist groups amid a recent resurgence in
interest in traditional religion (Avishai, 2008), including
conversion and transition experiences, a gap looms in
the research as far as comparing the lived experience of
changing between models of motherhood.
In a 2008 article, Avishai argued that women
who participated in her study are neither passive targets
of religious discourses (doormats), nor strategic agents
whose observance serves extra-religious ends. Instead,
she argued that their observance is best explained by
the notion of religious conduct as a mode of being, a
performance of religious identity, or a path to achieving
orthodox subjecthood in the context of threatened
symbolic boundaries between [their religious and secular]
identities (p. 410). Avishai analyzed the extant academic
literature about women in conservative fundamentalist
religion and presented three main responses to the
problem of women giving up agency by participating
in such religious groups. Te frst response is that
while women may experience conservative religions as
restricting, they are also empowered or liberated by their
religion. Te second is that women subvert and resist
ofcial dogma through partial compliance, and lastly,
that religious women strategize and appropriate religion to
further extra-religious ends. Tese theoretical frames are
all fawed: for example, such theories create a dichotomy
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 81 Mothering Fundamentalism
of subordination versus subversion, empowerment, or
accommodation, which equates agency with resistance.
Tese fawed theoretical frames reinscribe modern liberal
valuesresearchers valuesas being the only expression
of true self, rather than allowing people to consciously
choose which actions refect their higher selves, or seeing
the womens current state as an expression of their true
Tese frameworks do not acknowledge that
women may participate in a religion for a religious end,
rather than an extra-religious one, or that compliance
is not a strategy, but rather something that the women
are choosing to do, a mode of conduct and being.
Lastly, the focus on the women as individuals ignores
the structural and cultural contexts that organize their
lives and religious observance. Looking at religion
as something that women do, parallel to gender as
performance (Butler, 1990), or modes of behavior and
comportment that are shaped by social rules, assumes
that they are actively making religious choices. Agency
is thus grounded in the very construction of gender.
Butler in Gender Trouble located agency not only in
acts of transgression, but also in the internal work one
does to be able to receive a particular cultural discourse.
Gender is understood as an unconscious performance,
whereas Avishai (2008) proposed looking at doing
religion as a semiconscious, self-authorship project
(p. 411). Tis is particularly poignant in the case of
adults who change religious communities, who exert
agency and engage in self-reconstruction by choosing
diferent cultural discourses to be subject to. Tey are
engaging in the project of self-authorship by moving
their protagonist, themselves, to a new location with
new rules. Tis is a new, compelling paradigm that can
examine fundamentalist womens choices and afrm
these choices through respectful research.
Models of motherhood remain important
to study as they refect cultural oughts (Hartman-
Halbertal, 2002), and because of the unconscious way
that ones own childhood comes out in ones parenting
(Fraiberg et al., 1980). Tis is especially poignant in the
case of people who change religious communities, as
they deliberately choose to raise children with a diferent
social group than that in which they were raised. Tey
must navigate the oughts of their new society with their
own psychodynamic issues arising through parenting.
Tough transpersonal psychology tends to pathologize
fundamentalist religion, and the news histrionically
reports about the rise of fundamentalism in America as
a source of terrorism, analysis is called for to deconstruct
and analyze the fear expressed in research about the
threat of fundamentalism. New research is also called
for that re-examines what has often been seen as a
regressive choice of modern women (Avishai, 2008;
Longman, 2007), thus afrming the agency of women
to choose a new cultural discourse. Such research may
help create a fuller, more relatable understanding of
fundamentalist womens experiences of their identity,
and particularly their experience of themselves as
mothers, an identity that they, and society, see as most
Te relationship of motherhood and religious
experience are complicated mechanisms of intersecting
identities, both important to transpersonal psychology.
As cited in Fausto-Sterling (2000), Grosz pointed out
that the inner and outer self co-construct themselves
and each other, thus rejecting a nature or nurture
model of development. While diferent disciplines
study the outside and the inside of the Mbius strip,
identities are one whole. In this case, the interaction
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1. Some non-fundamentalist scholars have suggested
that the movements true beginnings lay with the
Engel v. Vitale (June 25, 1962) Supreme Court
case, which addressed prayer in public schools
(Dierenfeld, 2007). Still others, including
Jerry Falwell, a televangelist and conservative
commentator and founder of the Moral Majority,
an evangelical Christian-oriented political lobbying
organization, have pointed to a history beginning
with Bob Jones University v. US (May 24, 1983),
which addressed the tax-exempt status of a private,
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 86 Korb
nonproft religious university that prescribed and
enforced racially discriminatory admission standards
on the basis of religious doctrine (Wagner, 2003;
Wald & Siegelman, 1997).
2. Te term fundamentalism is more highly
controversial in application to Jews and is highly
contested in academia (Longman, 2007). Watt
(2008) wrote that the term fundamental as applied
to Jews invokes supersessionism, the belief that Jesus
death superseded the law of the Hebrew Bible, and
re-inscribes that meaning when used today. He
also contended that the term fundamentalism is
simply used to describe someone seen as extreme or
dangerous. Harris (1994) wrote extensively about the
term, arguing that the type of textual reading that
traditional Jewish culture engages in is considerably
diferent from Christian fundamentalists. Addition-
ally, the use of the word fundamentalist can be
problematic when it includes Jews who are only
politically and not religiously conservative, such as
settlers in the Israeli occupied territories, who may
not be considered fundamentalists simply based on
their religious beliefs.
3. In the Six-Day War, Israel was attacked by the
neighboring states of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria with
the help of Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tunisia,
Morocco, and Algeria. Te confict lasted 6 days,
between June 5 and June 10, 1967, and by the time
it was over, Israel had gained control of the Sinai
Peninsula, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, East
Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights.
About the Author
Sophia Korb is a 5th year Clinical Psychology Ph.D.
student at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology in
Palo Alto, California. She is working on her pre-doctoral
clinical hours while employed as a Harm Reduction
Specialist for Community Access, a person-centered
social service agency in New York City that assists people
with psychiatric disabilities to transition from shelters
and institutions to independent living. She is writing
two books for Whole Person Associates in the next year.
Continuing work she began in graduate school, she
researches and writes on the social and spiritual meanings
of substance use with Jim Fadiman, as well as the efcacy
of innovative housing programs in San Mateo County
with Shelter Network.
About the Journal
Te International Journal of Transpersonal Studies is a
peer-reviewed academic journal in print since 1981. It is
published by Floraglades Foundation, and serves as the
ofcial publication of the International Transpersonal
Association. Te journal is available online at www., and in print through www. (search for IJTS).
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 87 Psychospiritual Development of Female Adoptees
Psychospiritual Development of Female Adoptees
Raised Within a Closed Adoption System:
A Teoretical Model Within a Feminist and Jungian Perspective

April E. Topfer
Te Institute of Transpersonal Psychology
Palo Alto, CA, USA
Tis article proposes a transpersonal theoretical model suggesting that the embodiment of
the voice of the feminine is a signifcant catalyst for awakening the psychological and spiritual
growth and development of female adoptees. Existing Jungian and feminist theoretical
models regarding the psychological and spiritual implications for a female adoptee raised
within a closed adoption system will be discussed. Te author will share her adopted voice
about her spiritual and psychological process toward fnding wholeness using a hermeneutical
process of inquiry. Te voices of birth mothers who relinquished their children will also be
included. Voice is then explored to be an essential component of the embodied feminine,
in turn becoming a catalyst of psychospiritual growth and developmental awakening for
female adoptees.
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies, 29(2), 2010, pp. 87-102
Keywords: hermeneutical, birth mothers, female adoptees, embodied feminine voice.
bout 64% of Americans know someone who has
adopted, been adopted, or relinquished a child
for adoption (Evan B. Donaldson Adoption
Institute, 2002). With this large of a percentage, and
considering the large percentage afected and the lifelong
efects of adoption for all members within the adoption
there is a great opportunity to bring a new and
fresh transpersonal perspective into the existing adoption
literature. For an adoptee, a transpersonal perspective
is important because adoptees pay a high psychic,
psychological, and spiritual price when they grow up
feeling like anonymous people cut of from the genetic
and social heritage that gives everyone else roots (Lifton,
1994, p. 8). Te disconnection they feel is so deeply
rooted in the psyche and spiritual in nature (Jaggard,
2001) that the primal wound (Verrier, 1993, p. 1)
they sufer is not only from the genealogical loss of their
biological origins but also from a bodily incompleteness
that remains with them into adulthood (Lifton, 1994;
Verrier, 1993, 2003). Hence, there is a signifcant need to
fll in the gap in the transpersonal theoretical literature
with a psychospiritual developmental model, which will
help transpersonal clinicians, and clinicians in general
(especially those who are not familiar with the issues of
gain a better understanding of an adoptees
quest of an authentic identity (Lifton, 1994, p. 10).
Ultimately, a psychospiritual developmental model can
help adoptees transform and integrate what adoption
and Jungian writer Axness (1998) described as the
pervasive shadows of an abstract burden that have woven
themselves around their lives.
Several terms regarding adoption need to be
clarifed. Although adoption can take many diferent
forms in the United States,
the primary focus in this
article will be on adoptions within an independent or
private agency, domestically, and within a closed system.
An independent or private agency adoption involves the
ofcial legal transfer of parental rights and responsibilities
to adults who are not a childs biological parents (Miller,
Fan, & Grotevant, 2005). A domestic adoption occurs
when the child is adopted within the country of origin.
A closed system of adoption is when an adopted childs
biological identity remains unknown to him or her and
to the adoptive parents. Adoptive parents names replace
the childs biological parents names on a new legally
amended birth certifcate that is issued to the child upon
his or her entry into the adoptive family. Te adopted
child is thought to be reborn (Baran & Pannor, 1990,
p. 321) into a new family with a new identity and
identifcation. Te adoption proceedings, including
the original birth certifcate and any other information
concerning the identity of the childs birth parents, are
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 88 Topfer
sealed depending upon state court order and supported
by statutory law and regulations.
Although closed adoptions were the standard
procedure for adopting a child throughout the United
States by the end of the 1930s and still are commonly
practiced today, current research conducted by the Evan
B. Donaldson Adoption Institute (2009) concluded that
contact with birth relatives is the most important factor in
achieving a positive adoptive identity in white adoptees.

While contact with birth relatives may have a positive efect
upon adoptees development,
this paper is not concerned
with matters of adoption reform. Te discussion will focus
solely upon Jungian and feminist theoretical considerations
and literature relevant to the psychological and spiritual
implications for female adoptees raised within a closed
adoption system. Troughout, I share my experience of
being adopted and the impact of this experience on my
spiritual and psychological development and my growth
toward fnding wholeness. Additionally, the known efects
of the closed adoption system upon birthmothers who
surrendered their children will be illustrated utilizing a
feminist perspective. Finally, I propose a transpersonal,
theoretical model suggesting that the embodiment of
voice of the feminine becomes a signifcant catalyst for
awakening the psychological and spiritual growth and
development of female adoptees.
Authors Personal Voice
chose to focus solely on female adoptees psychospiritual
development within this article because of my own
personal experience as a female adoptee raised within a
closed adoption system. My focus is further congruent with
the beginning stages of engagement with my dissertation
and research in which I will use a hermeneutical process
of inquiry as well as my spiritual practices of meditation
and yoga.
I am curious to know whether other female adoptees
have experienced similar somatic, phenomenological, and
psychospiritual experiences as I have while embarking
upon their spiritual paths. As I began to engage in the
hermeneutical research method of intuitive inquiry by
reading the adoption literature and listening to the feminine
and feminist voices of adoption from female writers such
as Axness (1998), Fessler (2006), Jaggard (2001), Lifton
(1994), Solinger (2001), and Verrier (1993, 2003), I found
they all held a deep feminine embodied wisdom, truth,
and voice regarding the issues and ramifcations of being
adopted. Teir voices deeply resonated on a bodily level
within me, causing psychospiritual shifts and deepening
my embodied awareness regarding my adoption identity
and body.
Tis process fostered more curiosity about the
development of voice and how other female adoptees
develop and cultivate their own embodied feminine
voice through an embodied spiritual practice, such as
meditation, or other mindful awareness practices. In
my experience, growing up within a closed adoption
system had a severe impact on my ability to fnd and
cultivate my authentic and embodied feminine voice.
However, as I began to undertake the hermeneutical
journey of my adoption and deepened my mindfulness
practice of meditation, my embodied voice grew stronger
and continues to demonstrate a wisdom that I never
experienced growing up. Additionally, I noticed that each
of these practices, including the inquiry into my adoption,
which became a practice unto itself in my journal writing
and Jungian analysis, became inseparable from one
another. Ultimately, these practices helped to sustain a
process of transformation and integration of my adoption
experience and identity in my life.
My Adoption Story
Te loss, grief, and the closed adoption systems
ideologies of secrecy and shame that had been bestowed
upon my birthmother became the legacy passed to me.
Given the paradigm of silence in the closed system and
a lack of information or knowledge about my biological
identity, I experienced what adoptee and feminist writer
Leighton (2005) stated was an erasure of details that
might contradict what could be read or seen about the
body (p. 163). Due to this erasure, my family upheld the
silence in our home by never discussing my adoption or
the adoptive status of my older sister. Tis strict denial of
my adoption rendered my adoption identity invisible and
my embodied authentic feminine was lost as a result of
my hidden biological origins. As a result, it constricted
my ability to speak from a known and trusted embodied
feminine source, which was especially evident as a teenager
and in early adulthood when the conspiracy of silence
(Lifton, 1994, p. 10) felt like a smothering unspoken
Lifton (1994) wrote that an adoptee knows
something is amiss, missing, not acknowledged, something
that is the ramifcation of her society, and perhaps her
adoptive family, who has informed her that discovery
of her true biological identity is forbidden and must be
kept in a secrecy of silence. Ultimately, the underpinning
force of the unspoken was the not knowing womanhood
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 89 Psychospiritual Development of Female Adoptees
and the unknowns of biological motherhood. As feminist
Cornell (2005) stated, the struggle of every woman to
become who she is demands a confrontation with the
connection between femininity and motherhood (p.
26). For my birth mother who relinquished me and for
my adoptive mother who could not bear a child, the
connection had been lost within the development of my
embodied feminine.
My birth mothers story is one that adoption
feminist writers Fessler (2006) and Solinger (2001)
candidly wrote about. My birth mother was a sixteen-year-
old unwed mother who became pregnant in conservative
Youngstown, Ohio, lived in a Florence Crittenton home
for unwed mothers, and then relinquished me upon my
birth in October of 1973. Despite the Roe v. Wade (1973)
decision that gave women the right to choose to terminate
their pregnancies or not during the month I was conceived,
my fate would have it that my birth mothers Catholic
upbringing most likely prevented even the thought of an
abortion within her mind or the minds of her parents. Te
only conceivable option would have been to relinquish
me for adoption, or so I am left to assume. She does not
deny nor admit she is my birthmother; I take her denial
as evidence that she is indeed my birth mother. Given the
circumstance, I am forced to weave my own self-narrative
of the details concerning my relinquishment from other
stories of courageous birth mothers who have come forth
to recall their relinquishment experiences. It is from the
shared voices of these birth mothers that I am able to
reconstruct and claim their story as my birth mothers,
thus unveiling the unspoken unknown of my adoption
and biological identity that has been trapped and confned
within the walls of the closed adoption system.
In this psychospiritual process, I am also forced to
unweave the unconscious projections and fantasies that
my birth mother and I were ever a dyad in order to awaken
myself from the limiting confnes of my double identity.
Cornell (2005) stated:
Te beginning of a relationship between mother and
daughter, and the celebration of a symbolic distance
that makes recognition possible, can occur only once
the fantasy that we ever were a dyad is dissolved.
Trying to simply reenact the dyadic fantasy gets us
nowhere new. (p. 35)
Tis process of recognizing my projections and fantasies
becomes especially difcult when I visit my hometown
of Youngstown, Ohio, where my adoption and the closed
systems patriarchal paradigm is continually reinforced
in my life due to not being in a successful reunion with
my biological family. Even after having undergone the
process of reconstructing my relinquishment story from
the embodied voices of birth mothers while consciously
deconstructing my unconscious fantasies and projections,
time is eerily suspended in my hometown in the year
1973. It is as if the attitudes and the secrecy of the closed
adoption system still deeply permeate throughout my
identity and voice when I am there, and my biological
identity begins to form a force of its own in its strong
desire to search and connect with my biological origins
and roots. However, my adoptive identity still feels
trapped and helpless in doing so due to Ohios laws that
deny me access to my original birth certifcate.

My Conscious Journey Into and Apart from
the Closed Adoption Circle
I manage the two psychic forces of my split identity
and the unconscious fantasy and projection that my birth
mother and I are still merged together within the closed
adoption systems confning space by experiencing the felt
sensations of tension and ambiguity in my bodily aware-
ness while engaging in a hermeneutical process of inquiry.
Te realization that I am separate from but not value-
free and independent from my adoption experience arises
in my consciousness. Lifton (1994), herself an adoptee,
wrote about adoptees mythic return to their true selves:
Adoptees must weave a new self-narrative out of the
fragments of what was, what might have been, and
what is. Tis means they must integrate their two
selves: the regressed baby who was abandoned and
the adult that baby has become. Tey must make
the Artifcial Self real, and allow the Forbidden Self
to come out of hiding. Tey must integrate what is
authentic in these two selves, and balance the power
between them. (p. 259)
In my experience, the balancing of powers becomes a
possibility for psychological integration and healing with
embodied mindful awareness practices of meditation
and yoga. Both mindfulness and yoga help me to draw
attention and awareness to the present moment without
judgment or criticism. Tis helps support me to call
back my authentic power and feminine body from the
overwhelming adoption force. A more creative and
transformative power naturally occurs with the greater
spaciousness in my mind, psyche, and body to permit me
to further explore what further felt sensations, thoughts,
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 90 Topfer
images, and feelings arise from my adoption experience,
body, and identity.
Similar to my process, adoptee and feminist
Leighton (2005) wrote that the adoption experience is
not about identifcation with an unknown lost family
but rather as an identity of possibility (p. 147). For
her, it is a way to make sense of the tensions produced
by being both at once the product of ones environment
and someone whose meaning always exceeds that
environment (p. 147). She stated,being adopted
opens up a space of non-identity between the self as a
subject and the self as an object such that one cares about
the processes (social, historical, cultural, political, and
relational) through which one has come to be (p. 147).
Leightons experience closely resembles a hermeneutical
process of interpretation.
Five levels of interpretation are found in intuitive
inquiry (Anderson, 2004), the research method I have
chosen for my dissertation project. I chose intuitive
inquiry for my dissertation research because of its
personal exploration and transformative potentials. Te
researcher is deemed a co-participant. Te frst cycle
of interpretation that I have completed has led me to
learn about the preconceived lenses through which I
view the social, familial, and psychological interaction
of my adoption within the closed system. Interpretative
researcher Addison (1989) wrote that a hermeneutic
cycle begins when the researcher identifes and names
her lenses, perspective, and beliefs about the subject
matter she is investigating. Tis is called the forward
arc. After each area of exploration is complete, such as
the literature review and data collection, the researcher
evaluates her old lenses and decides whether to discard
them or establish new ones. Tis is the reverse arc of
the hermeneutical circle. Overall, the process of a
hermeneutical cycle encourages the completion or
continuation of the researchers own self-refective
narrative and truth through the lenses she possesses.
Alas, truth is seen as an ongoing and unfolding process,
where each successive interpretation has the possibility
of uncovering or opening up new possibilities (p. 56).
As I began to engage in the frst hermeneutical
cycle of interpretation, I recognized that the embodied
expression of my voice was left paralyzed and my
projections, which interpretative researcher Addison
(1990) considered part of the persons existential
structure, were unevaluated and unbeknownst to me.
Te possibility of moving my arc forward within a
hermeneutical cycle remained stuck because of my
lived-felt experience of being psychically drowned in the
unconscious mothering attitude of the closed adoption
system. It was also the unconscious bonds I shared with
my two mothers within the closed adoption circle that
stunted the arcs forward process.
Te weight I felt describes what Jungian writer and
analyst Woodman (1990) wrote is an unconscious bond
that can create an insurmountable block if the daughter
feels guilty when the time comes for her to outstrip her
mother, to go beyond the level of consciousness her
mother achieved. Te adoptee not only has one mother
with whom to face this challenge but twoher adoptive
mother and her biological mother. I faced guilt with
both of my mothers by breaking the silence about my
adoption experience to my adoptive mother, making
contact with my birth mother, and speaking my truth
about the closed adoption system to fellow adoptees.
However, as I had the opportunity to listen to the
various conscious embodied voices from other adoptees,
as well as from birth mothers and feminists, my inner
sense of freedom and creativity about my adoption
experience was being restored, resulting in feeling less
and less guilt about examining and expressing my
adoption experience. As I see it now, I was engaging in
the reverse arc of the hermeneutical circle by evaluating
other womens adoption experiences against my own
neglected and unexamined psychological projections
and fantasies. Tus, the conscious process of embodying
my adoptive identity and voice completed the frst full
hermeneutical cycle in my research method of intuitive
inquiry, resulting in feminine growth, awareness, and
development. Ultimately, my lived felt experience of my
adoption story was transforming itself.
An Adoptees
Conscious Mother and Crone
My Jungian analyst has told me that I am working
through the bi-valent nature of the mother archetype
the terrible mother and the good mother. Tis has
been demonstrated with my unconscious fantasy and
splitting that my adoptive mother is the good mother
who loved me so much that she rescued me from my
birth mother who is the terrible mother who could not
raise me. Tere was another story, however, that was
never voiced yet continuously felt, held, and reenacted in
my unconsciousness: my adoptive mother is the terrible
mother who took me away from my birth mother who is
the good mother that can save me from my deep longing
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 91 Psychospiritual Development of Female Adoptees
for connection. Tis latter fantasy refects Jaggards (2001),
Liftons (1994), and Verriers (1993) accounts of adoptees
unconsciousness experiences. Similar to my experience,
these authors accounts reported that many adoptees
feel a bodily experience of disconnection. Unwittingly,
these authors accounts invoke what Jungian scholar and
adoption writer Severson (1994) described as the Mother/
Child archetype, especially Verriers concept of the
primal wound (p. 1). Te primal wound is the trauma
that many adoptees experience due to relinquishment
in infancy. Te primal wound can be experienced as a
split of baby part of ones self and can have long-lasting
efects upon an adoptees psychological, emotional, and
spiritual life.
In my own personal process toward healing and
wholeness, Liftons (1994) and Verriers (1993) accounts
began to form an invocation of the Mother/Child
archetype for me through the power of reading adoptees
voices. My primal wound was being put into words
and the process of the hermeneutical circles forward
arc began. Although reading adoptees voices played an
important role in my process of healing, I still experienced
a disempowerment in my adoption story and voice. Tis
shifted, however, when a fellow adoptee invited me
to attend the Alliance for the Study of Adoption and
Culture conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts. At
this conference, I discovered a new level of my feminist
identity as I listened to the voices of birth mothers who
relinquished their infants. As a result, my unconscious
fantasy and projections about the archetypal mother
that society has constructed about birth mothers were
deconstructed, ultimately leading to a more realistic
representation of my own personal birth mother and
consequently, my adoptive mother.
In addition, my conscious mother began to fully
emerge as I listened and took in various birth mothers
experiences. I was greatly impacted by feminist writer,
researcher, and documentary flmmaker Fesslers
(2010) seminar. I viewed her documentary based on
her courageous and landmark book Te Girls Who
Went Away (Fessler, 2006). Te book and documentary
present the voices of birth mothers who relinquished
their children in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. Another
powerful seminar presented a discussion by birth mother
Lynn Lauber (2010), who held the voice of the conscious
crone. Woodman (1990) stated that the conscious crone
can aford to be honest, for she is not interested in
playing games. Tis was the case with Lauber. She was
not interested in perpetuating the games of the closed
adoption system. She spoke from an embodied place
about her pregnancy experience, the relinquishment
of her child, and of her pain, loss, confusion, and
devastation. Her voice held the unwavering truth that
was silent and steady. It held great somberness, grief,
loss, and sadness. Her steady eyes, her gaze, and her
unwavering lips conveyed a lost part of herself that she
had determined to reclaim and resolve again and again.
As I am able to see it now, up until the time I
listened to birth mothers experiences of relinquishing
their children, my ego was not ready nor able to hold the
tension generated by the opposites of the Great Mother,
one who is nourishing and containing and one who is
also devouring and restrictive (Woodman, 1990). What
made this so difcult was the dualistic projections of the
opposites of the Great Mother upon both mothers
my adoptive mother and my biological mother. My
embodied voice and sense of identity had been devoured,
smothered, swallowed up, and drowned. It is the closed
adoption systems web of silence and secrecy that created
this constant felt experience.
A Feminist Perspective on
the Closed Adoption System
doption is a social construction (Lifton, 1994) and
is deeply embedded and cannot be separated from
feminism. Adoption practices refect sociopolitical,
economic, and moral attitudes and changes in history
that pertain to the second-wave feminist movement.
Te attitudes pertaining to adoption and the closed
adoption system prevailed until unwed mothers became
politically active in the 1970s, speaking out about the
ramifcations of relinquishing their children,
and until
abortion was legalized in 1973.
Before this time (after
World War II and during the 1950s and 60s), childless
married couples, who desired to parent and conform to
the social and familial expectations of the time, turned
to adoption in record numbers. Approximately one and
a half million babies were relinquished for nonfamily or
unrelated adoptions between 1945 and 1973 (Fessler,
In turn, the rising demand for adoptable children
intensifed the pressure for young unmarried pregnant
women to surrender their children within the closed
adoption system. Despite popular opinion, feminist
writer Solinger (2001) explained It is very rare in this
country to think about relinquishment as a coerced act,
forced on a mother who wanted to keep her child (p.
74). However, that was often just the case.
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 92 Topfer
In her landmark interviews with women
who surrendered their children between the end of
World War II and 1973, Fessler (2006) illustrated how
these women were not ultimately given a choice and
consequently denied their right to keep their children.
Many of these women did not make a decision to
surrender but instead were rendered powerless
in their
ability to choose what was best for them and for their
children. Te only choice presented was the one that was
available to them: living in an unwed mothers home,
immediately surrendering their child, and legally signing
away their right as a parent. It was the only option
prescribed within the patriarchys
defnition of what
it meant to be a mother. According to authorities and
those who enforced the closed adoption systems extreme
polices, such as social workers and parents, these non-
marital pregnancies were treated as evidence that young
women were unft to be mothers. It marked them as
bad choice makers and poor prospects for becoming or
raising good citizens (Solinger, 2001).
Motherhood was
not determined by biology or by giving birth. Rather, it
was determined by marriage and the commodifcation
of their babies (p. 78). Solinger explained that adoption
is rarely about mothers choices; it is, instead, about the
abject choicelessness of some resourceless women (p.
67) and about the economic resources of other women.
It is typically overlooked that economic and
cultural degradation can cancel a womans ability to assert
the biological claim to motherhood (Solinger, 2001,
p. 75). Young pregnant girls were not given a realistic
picture of the responsibilities and costs of raising a child.
Tey were denied information that could have saved
them and their motherhood, thus preventing them from
participating in making an informed choice. Despite
the fog of their despair and helplessness, some women
recognized that when adults denied them motherhood
and their babies, it was about power over one who is
less socioeconomically and sociopolitically infuential
in society. As a result of their lack of status power, the
only choice was to conform to the enormous societal
pressures of the middle-class values of the time. Middle-
class parents were quick to agree that the only choice for
their young daughters problem was relinquishment and
adoption. Solinger added:

When daughters became objects of their own parents
terror in the era of family togetherness, they felt
absolutely resourceless. Mothers and fathers worked
quickly to erase these girls as social actors; what the
daughters wanted for themselves was completely
irrelevant. (p. 72)
Hence, there was no other acceptable solution than for
pregnant girls to go along with family wishes or risk
being permanently ostracized from family members and
their communities.
Consequences of Birth Mothers
Lack of Choice
Te legacy cast upon birthmothers in the
closed adoption system left deep scars in their lives,
especially considering the common societal myth and
psychological split cast upon a young girls psyche after
she surrendered her child:

Following this course, their daughter would be
given a second chance. Her pregnancy would
efectively be erased from her history and she could
expect to go back to a normal life, as if it had never
happened. Without her child she would be able to
marry a decent man and have other children. She
would not have to live with her mistake. (Fessler,
2006, p. 148)
Unraveling this myth forty years later from accounts
of women who tell stories that force us to gauge the
relevance of biology when biology is denied (Solinger,
2001, p. 75), Fessler (2006) found that surrendering a
child for adoption was described by many of the women
she interviewed as the event that defned their identities
and shaped their entire adult lives. Despite the ideal
hope for a better future, their experience felt like a
lifelong, psychologically wrenching burden to them. In
a study by Winkler and Van Keppel (1984), birthparents
regarded the surrender of a child to adoption as the
most stressful experience of their lives. Young unwed
mothers were made to carry the full emotional weight
of circumstances that were the inevitable consequence
of a society that denied teenage sexuality, failed to hold
young men equally responsible, withheld sex education
and birth control from unmarried women, allowed
few options if pregnancy occurred, and considered
unmarried women unft to be mothers (Fessler, 2006).
Many women who went through this experience have
said that when women lack such fundamental controls,
their lives can be ruined (Solinger, 2001).
Studies have concluded that relinquishing
mothers are at risk for long-term physical, psychological,
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 93 Psychospiritual Development of Female Adoptees
and social repercussions (Askren & Bloom, 1999).
Te pain of the surrender remains as intense as if the
adoption just happened yesterday and intensifes over
time (Winkler & Van Keppel, 1984). Relinquishing ones
infant can become such as intense experience that the
loss has been likened as a form of trauma (Fessler, 2006)
and PTSD (Verrier, 2003). Cornell (2005) wrote that the
closed adoption system unfortunately blocks any hope
for the recovery from this trauma (p. 21) due to the legally
enforced, absolute cut of a birthmother from her child.
Not only is the closed adoption system to blame for these
womens trauma but also many of the younger women
who were sent to a maternity home, such as the Florence
Crittenton home for unwed mothers,
confrmed that
it was a traumatic experience for them (Fessler, 2006).
Solinger (2001) depicted one birthmothers experience:
I left my heart and soul, as well as my baby, in that drab
little institution. I left my youth, my innocence . . . my
trust, my laughter, and my love. . . . Pieces of that girl
who entered the Home in August, 1962 are still
missing today. . . . I have not been and never will be
whole again. (p. 79)
Another birthmothers words capture the experience that
many of the women identify with deeply: I was a singing
teacher, but I lost my voice after the relinquishment.
Losing my voice was the result of almost dying of a
broken heart (p. 79).
Because surrendering a child is not commonly
recognized as a loss by society (Silverstein & Kaplan,
1982), birthmothers were not permitted to talk about or
properly grieve the loss of their child. From a feminist
perspective, this protection from public exposure of the
adopting mothers failure to be a woman because she
has failed to meet the symbolic meaning of womanhood
demands erasure of the birth mother (Cornell, 2005,
p. 24) as well as erasure of her voice. Regardless of the
reason for the underlying societal motive:

When a young woman surrenders an infant for
adoption we set her apart from us. Sworn to secrecy
and admonished to return to school or work as
though she had been on holiday or helping with an
unfortunate relative, the privilege of grief is denied.
(Brodzinsky, 1990, p. 311)
Due to this lack of privilege, a birthmothers
grief becomes exacerbated, and sometimes chronic.
In her qualitative study, Davis (1994) found that all
15 birthmothers she interviewed experienced a lack of
support and encouragement from others for the need
to grieve following the relinquishment of their infants.
Te loss they face continued to intensify over time and
had similarities to the loss experienced after a death.
However, with death there is closure, but with adoption
there is no end to the loss, and thus, no closure to the
loss experience (Silverstein & Kaplan, 1982). As a result
of having no closure for the loss of their children, many
of the women faced depression, lost their jobs, and had
difculties in their relationships because, as Solinger
(2001) candidly wrote, dignity and independence are,
in fact, the life enhancing ingredients that tend to be
incompatible with relinquishing a child (p. 23).
Ramifcations of the Closed System
upon Adoptees
Despite the intention to erase the stigma of
adoptees pasts to insure their equal status and treatment
among their nonadopted legitimate ofspring (Brodzinsky,
1990), some of the psychological problems observed in
adult adoptees appear to be directly related to the secrecy,
anonymity, and sealed records of a closed adoption system
(Baran & Pannor, 1990; Lifton, 1994). Ultimately, the
closed system diminishes what leading adoption expert
and adoptee Lifton (1994) wrote are the civil rights of
adult adoptees. She stated that adoptees are second class
citizens (Lifton, 2010, n.p.) due to a large majority of
adult adoptees in the United States who are denied access
to their original birth certifcates.
Additionally, adult
adoptees who are denied access to information related to
their births and adoptions experience potentially serious
negative consequences to their physical and mental health
(Baran & Pannor, 1990; Evan B. Donaldson Adoption
Institute, 2007; Lifton, 1994).
Aside from denying adoptees full access to
information regarding their biological origins,
message cast upon birthmothers was that they should
feel grateful that other women could mother their
children better, which was translated into the message to
adoptees that they were chosen, picked, or special
for being adopted and that their adoptions were no big
deal (Brodzinsky, Schecter, & Henig, 1992). Another
message sent to adoptees was that speaking about their
biological origins was forbidden territory (Hartman &
Laird, 1990, p. 236).
Tese attitudes imparted within the closed
adoption system encourage a more secretive and avoidant
communication style among adoptive parents. It was, and
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 94 Topfer
sometimes currently is, common for adoptive parents to
treat their adoptive children as if they were their own
biological kin (Brodzinsky, 2005). Given fctitious and
nonexplicit narratives of adopted childrens stories, many
adoptees experience a ruptured (Hartman & Laird,
1990, p. 236) continuity of personhood and identity.
Consequently, adoptees must weave a new self-narrative
out of the fragments of what was, what might have
been, and what is (Lifton, 1994, p. 259). Tey are on
a quest to search for the missing parts of their narrative,
for their origins, for meaning, and for a coherent sense
of self (Lifton, 2007). Tis usually manifests in an
adoptees search to reunite with her biological origins.
Te meaning of the word search is important to adoptees,
whether they have made contact, have had reunion with
their biological family, or have no desire to search for
their biological family. Schooler (1995) stated:
Te word search for an adopted person carries with
it multiple layers of meaning. Te word search for
many is not limited to its literal meaning of a physical
efort to make a connection. Te meaning expands
to include all that is part of the adoptees quest, for
it is an emotional, psychological, and spiritual quest.
(p. 24)
Te quest for an authentic identity among
adoptees can reinforce feelings of disconnectedness
(Bertocci & Schecter, 1991; Jaggard, 2001; Lifton, 1994;
Nickman, 1985; Verrier, 1993). Schecter and Bertocci
(1990) wrote that the lack of connection can become so
intense that it can be equivalent to starvation (p. 85).
Adoptee and adoption researcher Jaggard (2001) made
a similar conclusion in her qualitative study with 14
midlife female adoptees. Jaggard suggested that female
adoptees disconnection was deeply rooted (p. 158)
and contained spiritual components. In addition, she
concluded that connectedness is not solely due to the
adoptive family relationship but that it comes from a
physical, emotional, and psychological genetic core or
template (p. 159). Tis conclusion is also highlighted
by adoptive mother and clinician Verrier (1993), who
stated that a deep identifcation with the adoptees
ancestors genes are stamped into every cell (p. 102) of
an adoptees body.
A Proposed Psychospiritual Developmental Model
for Female Adoptees
ased upon the narratives of other adoptees and my
own experience, I propose that a developmental
model is relevant for understanding the psychospiritual
journey of female adoptees. Te psychospiritual process
of development and integration for female adoptees
involves what transpersonal theorist Levin (1985)
described as a retrieval of ones body.
For women, it
becomes a retrieval and awakening of ones feminine
body, thus leading to the embodiment of the conscious
feminine (Zweig, 1990); this entails the embodiment
of the conscious virgin, mother, and crone. Female
Buddhist writer Feldman (1990/2005) echoed that
awakened women are embodied women and that the
very frst step toward ending estrangement from their
true selves is reclaiming their bodies. She stated, We do
not begin on a spiritual path divorced from our sexuality,
or lives: all of this we bring with us (p. 5).
A female adoptee searching for wholeness
brings all aspects of her adoption experience and story
with her on the journey of awakening her feminine
body: an extreme longing for connection (Jaggard,
2001), cumulative losses (Axness, 1998), and broken
narratives (Lifton, 1994). She courageously begins to
inquire and examine these areas, which is the forward
arc of the hermeneutical circle, thus transforming her
lenses and perspective, representing the returning arc of
the hermeneutical circle. Analysis, conscious embodied
spiritual practices such as meditation and yoga, and
journaling can all activate the process of transformation
and growth. Eventually, her mother projections are deeply
revealed and the most painful feelings of abandonment
and rejection can be dealt with. Ten, a female adoptees
feminine wisdom, including her conscious crone, mother,
and virgin, can be born from her conscious sufering
(Woodman, 1990, p. 99), and she can discover and
retrieve her forbidden feminine body amidst her primal
wound and the smothering conspiracy of silence built
into the closed system (Lifton, 1994, p. 10). Te process
becomes a lifelong journey for adoptees.
As a female adoptee walks into what fellow
female adoptee and child expert Axness (1998) described
as the emptiness inside an adoptees self, she can feel
her sufering from the separation from her biological
and feminine origins deeply and then grieve her loss.
Feldman (1990/2005) added that any spiritual journey
asks a woman to cultivate a deep, inner aloneness as the
frst step in reclaiming inner wholeness. Te journey for
inner wholeness happens when a female adoptee can sit
in her inner aloneness, listen, and be with the deep inner
voices of her adoption experience. Her hidden Forbidden
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 95 Psychospiritual Development of Female Adoptees
Self can be retrieved, and a coherence of her experience
and story can be integrated.
Transpersonal theorist Washburn (1995) wrote
about this process of human awakening and development
using a transpersonal perspective. In his view, development
begins in an original dynamic, creative, spontaneous
source out of which the ego emerges, from which the
ego then becomes estranged, to which, during the stages
of ego transcendence, the ego returns, and with which,
ultimately, the ego is integrated (p. 4). Tis process
highlights what Zweig (1990) called the life-enhancing
potential for more transpersonal values in a persons life
versus the destructiveness of egocentric values (p. 5). She

For women, whose source of ego identity is our
mothers, this developmental process unfolds in one
way. We identify with our mothers as our origin,
both biologically and psychologically. So, to be a
woman, we need to face the paradox of breaking the
personal identifcation yet remaining grounded in
the Feminine. (p. 5)
Only then can a woman provide her adult self with the
essential qualities that she may have missed as a child.
Tose qualities will nourish and sustain her feminine
embodied growth and development.
A female adoptees process of retrieving an authentic
relationship with her feminine body or what Woodman
(1990) called a womans embodied spirituality (p. 98)
can unfold as a female adoptee makes her own identity
distinct from her birth mother, from her adoptive mother,
and from the closed adoption system that holds the
virgin, crone, and mother unconscious. It is essential that
a female adoptee re-mother herself (Zweig, 1990) and
develop the mature feminine and the conscious virgin
(Woodman, 1990, p. 105). Part of this re-mothering is
consciously working through and owning responsibility
for her mother projections and fantasies in order to arrive
at what Woodman referred to as a females embodied
conscious virgin. Woodman described the conscious

Te virgin lives her own essence. Like the virgin
forest, she contains the seeds of countless possibilities.
She refects the Divine Feminine that resides in and
resonates through all the senses of our body so long
as we live on earth. She is the maturing and mature
soul child, the feminine container, strong enough
and fexible enough to receive the masculine spirit.
She is the consciousness that radiates through matter
and lives after matter returns to dust. (p. 105)
Woodman (1990) stated that a womans journey
to fnd her embodied spirituality and to bring the
birth of the virgin in her life entails fnding those lost
parts, standing to their truth, and living them in our
everyday life (p. 99). Upon the adoptees realization of
her biological heritage, also named by Lifton (1994) as
her Forbidden Self (p. 56),
the conscious mother and
virgin can embark upon a more authentic relationship.
Te conscious crones voice is thus heard, understood,
and embodied.
A female adoptee can diferentiate her feminine
nature from the closed adoption legacies of secrecy
and silence when she discovers, listens, celebrates, and
connects to the internal rhythms of her forbidden
body. She had not grown up connected with the bodies
of her biological mother, and any other biological
feminine family members such as her sisters, aunts, and
grandmothers. Tus, how can a female adoptee begin
her psychospiritual journey that is necessary to retrieve
her conscious feminine body when her biological body
and its rhythms were not refected and mirrored back
to her by her biological feminine ancestry? Feminist
writer Tanas (1997) claimed that women in general do
not know how to listen to their own natural bodies. An
adoptees task of deeply listening to her biological body
and aligning with its natural rhythms is challenged with
her Forbidden Self trapped within the closed adoption
system. Considering this, what are the tasks that a female
adoptee needs to accomplish in order for her to be able to
deeply listen and connect with her biological body when
she never had it refected back to her?
Lifton (1994) wrote that the task for adoptees
is to retrieve their Forbidden Self versus succumbing to
the Artifcial Self (p. 50), who was created out of the
false messages and myths within the closed adoption
system. Te retrieval of the Forbidden Self happens
when a female adoptee can distinguish, identify, and
pursue inquiry into her adoptive identity distinct from
her biological and Forbidden Self. From this practice
of deeply listening and being mindful of her Forbidden
Self and body, she creates more openness and receptivity
to the conscious feminine. Te possibility of more
connection to her own internal rhythms arises when
she relates to her birth mother and adoptive mother
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 96 Topfer
without unconscious projections and fantasies of them.
If a practice of mindfulness and deeply listening is not
sustained, her projections and fantasies will succumb
to the closed adoption systems psychic split and loyalty
binds that created her Artifcial Self. Her lifelong work
of fnding wholeness is both psychological and spiritual.
Another way for a female adoptee to retrieve her
Forbidden Self and biological body is by listening to the
authentic stories of birthmothers who surrendered their
children for adoption. Deeply listening and connecting
with their stories creates a new perspective and deepens
her feminine bodily receptacle for the female adoptees
voice to be expressed and heard.
In my personal experience, my feminism was
deeply illuminated as birth mothers shared their authentic
stories. My deeper feminist perspective became apparent
as my adoption experience was intimately connected with
birth mothers experiences. At last, my adoption identity
became more fully embodied and integrated, allowing
open expression and inquiry into my adoption experience.
Jungian feminist writer Young-Eisendrath (1990) stated
that the adoption of a feminist perspective awakens an
appreciation for the fact that beliefs infuence perception,
and that whatever one takes to be realwhat one assumes
to be really true (p. 160) of ones self and of others
is true from ones vantage point at that moment. Tis
feminist awakening and its appreciative stance refect
the forward arc of a hermeneutical cycle; one begins
to own and take responsibility for ones projections. As
previously stated, for a female adoptee it is her projections
upon her birthmother and adoptive mother. She can
begin to dissect her known lenses as they currently reveal
themselves. A practice of mindfulness with meditation,
journaling, and/or analysis helps support the process of
establishing ones current lenses.
Te returning arc of the hermeneutical cycle
is when one compares fresh and new information with
ones established lenses. In my hermeneutical process, I
was given the choice of either rejecting the new feminist
perspective that saw how my birthmother was given little
to no choice about relinquishing me, or accepting this
perspective. I noticed that when I tried on and was
open to this new perspective, it provided me tremendous
relief from my sufering and guilt. Integration quickly
happened as I felt held and supported by other feminists
and adoptees. My familiar and unconscious lenses from
the closed adoption system that I had been carrying
around and felt chained to for my entire life had been
challenged and thus a deeper feminine receptacle was
created to allow my forbidden voice and body to feel
stronger and more alive.
As I refect upon my experience, this particular
cycle of the larger hermeneutical process toward fnding
wholeness liberated part of my Forbidden Self from the
unconscious and oppressive bonds of the closed system,
within which my birthmother is still confned. I gained
an embodied felt sense and connection of autonomy and
strength from my newly expanded conscious feminine
container. Young-Eisendrath (1990) stated:

Until a woman is ofered a feminist explanation
of her felt condition of personal inadequacy, from
a theory that accounts for the function of gender
stereotypes and the reality of female experiences,
she is necessarily in a double bind about her own
strengths and authority. (p. 160)
Tis conscious feminine strength and authority is in
radical opposition to the unconscious mother that is
created in the closed adoption system. Te unconscious
mother alienates and disconnects the Forbidden part
of the Self from the biological and adoptive mother,
and from the female adoptees feminine and feminist
expression of voice and body. Tus, a feminist perspective
helps support the adoptees psychospiritual development
and growth.
Voice as a Path to an Adoptees
Psychospiritual Development and Awakening
Woodman (1990) explained a womans path
of self-realization is the heros journey out of the
unconscious, like the dragon slayer on the way to fnding
personal power. For a female adoptee, her dragons are
the ghosts (Lifton, 1994, p. 11) of the closed adoption
system that continue to haunt not only her feminine
body and voice but also those of her birth mother and
adoptive mother. When she develops a new perspective
and voice that is aligned with other adoptees and
feminists, one which connects the cultural movement
with a personal meaning system, a female adoptee can
consciously discovery the hidden ghosts that have caused
her great sufering. She then has more internal room to
allow her Forbidden Self to exist. Te conscious virgin,
mother, and crone can be awakened.
As stated, a female adoptees psychospiritual
journey provides an opportunity for her to reclaim what
was lost and forgotten in the closed adoption systems
belittling attitudes by consciously embracing her feminist
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 97 Psychospiritual Development of Female Adoptees
expression of voice. In female writer Gilligans (1993)
study on womens psychological descriptions of identity
and moral development, voice takes on an embodied and
lived experience quality in the women she interviewed.
Voice describes when people speak about the core of the
self. Gilligan wrote: Voice is natural and also cultural.
It is composed of breath and sound, words, rhythm,
and language. And voice is a powerful psychological
instrument and channel, connecting inner and outer
worlds (p. xvi). Whether it is a womans own voice or
the voice of other feminists, the instrument of voice is
always there to access more development and growth
toward fnding wholeness.
For female adoptees, the catalyst of discovering
their feminist voice, thus expanding and deepening their
embodied feminine container, begins as a deep inner
longing to fnd a sense of belonging and connection with
something outside of themselves; predominantly, the
longing manifests in the search for their biological family.
Despite the many successes or failures that can be involved
in reunion with her biological family, a female adoptees
feelings of inner disconnection can continue because
she searches for love and acceptance from relationships
outside of herself. She has not begun the conscious
journey of unraveling, disengaging, and distinguishing
her own sense of self from the Great Mother archetype
and its gripping unconscious projections and fantasies
regarding her birth mother and adoptive mother that are
held in her psyche. Te adoptee feels a groundlessness
and lack of security due to the primal wound and due to
the false messages in the closed adoption system. Neither
sustain nor nourish a conscious feminine container, body,
and voice.
Spiritually, the adoptee cannot connect with the
voice of her inner mystic (Feldman, 1990/2005, p.
34). Buddhist writer Feldman stated that the awaited
inner mystic voice for women is discovered when a
woman asks questions that are crucial to her growth and
freedom. Because the unconscious gripping forces of the
unchallenged Great Mother have smothered her feminine
voice, the adoptees feminine growth and freedom is lost.
With a practice that cultivates mindfulness, however, the
adoptees inner mystic can be discovered and can begin
to examine, question, and discard the various social and
spiritual values that undermine and limit her sense of
worthiness, acceptance, and sense of self. A feminist
lense and perspective held in mindful awareness can
cultivate deeper questions about the closed systems
patriarchal motivations and the ramifcations it has
upon the adoptees psyche and spirit. Hence, the female
adoptees inner mystic is the wise conscious crone that
questions and is courageous enough to speak out and
be heard. Her new awareness can cast light upon her
invisible loyalty binds between her adoptive parents, her
biological parents, and the closed adoption system, thus
freeing her of them.
Moreover, Gilligan (1993) found that in
womens psychological development, a womans identity
becomes a lie when girls and women alter their voices to
ft themselves into images of relationship and goodness
carried by false feminine voices. Te closed adoption
system carries this false lie with the adoptees identity of
the Artifcial Self and the image that the adoptee is the
natural child of her adoptive parents. Te legislature and
laws reinforce this lie by endorsing shame and secrecy
with the concealment of her original birth certifcate.
Tis creates massive confusion and doubt within
the adoptee, and furthers self-defeat when she is not
granted access to her identifying birth information. Te
closed adoption systems voice conveys she is a second-
class citizen and not an embodied woman who can
know, embrace, and connect to her biological heritage.
Despite these false messages, she can disengage with
nonjudgmental awareness the psychic and spiritual lies
of the closed adoption system when she engages in her
embodied spiritual practice, such as in yoga, meditation,
analysis, and journaling. Te conscious crones voice
replaces the lies of the closed adoption system and helps
support the female adoptees deep attunement to her
embodied biological rhythms.
Once the adoptee cultivates an attunement
to her feminine biological rhythms, this can deepen
psychospiritual awakening and embodied feminine
growth within her. She is listening to the voice of her
authentic and conscious feminine inner mystic. Shuttle
and Redgrove (1978) refected this by writing that if
mental experiences refect, as they often seem to, bodily
ones, then there are many possibilities of experience
if one opens up to ones own bodily rhythms. Due to
the psychological refecting the somatic, when a female
adoptee aligns herself with her feminine inner mystic and
voice, an authentic and conscious narrative regarding
the impact of the closed adoption system can take form.
Her mental ability can make more sense of her adoptive
experience as deeper and deeper recesses of the psyche
and spirit unfold. Trough this process, a female adoptee
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 98 Topfer
can connect to her feminine container and body and
nonjudgmentally acknowledge the difculties that her
adoptive status has had in her life.
With her new found freedom, awareness, and
voice, a female adoptees adoption story can become more
fully integrated with compassion because she has been
able to gather up the missing pieces of her Forbidden Self
with her own fecundity. Tus, her adoptive identity is no
longer hanging in the shadows of the closed adoption
systems outdated patriarchal framework. Her voice can
tell her full adoption story without the weight of shame
and secrecy. Her adoption story and its efects upon her
can be one of coherence, curiosity, and inquiry. She is
now on the conscious path of awareness. Jungian writer
Hancock (1990) wrote about a woman arriving home to
her feminine consciousness. In her words:

When a woman carries her conscious virginal girl
across the threshold into womanhood, when she
speaks in her own idiom as naturally as she mouths
the language of the patriarchy, when she hits on the
deepest truth about who she is and tells her story of
becoming whole, she gains access to a world that is
as fertile and abundant as the most verdant gardens.
(p. 63)
For a female adoptee, her practice of mindfulness
and a hermeneutical circle of inquiry help her gain access
to the world of her authentic biological self, and feminine
body, container, and voice, all of which are fertile and
abundant in her search for wholeness.
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1. Te adoption triad members include adoptee,
adoptive parents, and biological parents. Each one
experiences loss at the hub of the adoption wheel,
then rejection, guilt/shame, grief, identity, intimacy,
and control (Silverstein & Kaplan, 1982).
2. Te psychodynamics of an adoptive family life are
often overlooked by professionals (Lifton, 1994). How-
ever, Sass and Henderson (2000) conducted research
with over two hundred practicing psychologists,
asking them to assess their preparedness in treating
members of the adoption triad. Only 22% responded
as well prepared or very well prepared to work
with adoption issues, while 23% responded they
were not very prepared (p. 355). Te researchers
concluded that psychologists need more education
concerning adoption triad members, considering
that a large proportion of adoption members seek
psychological services and are afected by the
dynamics of adoption.
3. One major distinction falls between domestic and
international adoption. Shortly after World War II,
a large number of Americans began to adopt from
abroad, reaching out to war orphans, those in poverty,
and others facing unmanageable social conditions.
To date, South Koreans comprise the largest group
of internationally adopted persons in the U.S., and
adoption from South Korea into this country has a
longer history than from any other nation (Evan B.
Donaldson Adoption Institute, 2009). Adoptions
from Russia have increased over the years.
Within the category of domestic adoptions,
there are several different kinds: stepparent,
second-parent, foster care, private and
independent. Stepparent is the most common
form. Second-parent adoptions provide a way, at
least in some states, for same-sex couples to adopt.
With private and independent adoptions, there
is the choice of closed or open adoption systems.
While this article focuses on the psychospiritual
ramifcations of the closed adoption system, it
is worth mentioning briefy the open system of
adoption because contemporary adoptions often
occur within an open system, with varying degrees
of openness. An open adoption system is a process
in which the two parties meet, exchange identifying
information, and the birth parents have some degree
of contact with their expected adopted child. In
some states, openness arrangements are legally
binding, in other states they are not. Openness of
communication between the parties can be a fuid
process and system, leaving greater and lesser degrees
of contact between the parties (D. M. Brodzinsky,
personal communication, February 16, 2010).
4. Despite public and scholarly opinion, there still
remains considerable controversy regarding the
impact of open adoptions on the various members
of an adoption triad (Brodzinsky, 2005).
5. It has long been accepted that adoptees live with a
dual identity, yet if they have knowledge about their
biological origins, it positively contributes to their
emotional and psychological well-being (Baran &
Pannor, 1990).
6. In an updated report by Howard, Smith, and
Deuodes (2010), the authors wrote that barring
adopted adults from access to their original birth
certifcates wrongly denies them a right enjoyed by
all others in our country and is not in their best
interests for personal and medical reasons.
7. A small group of unwed mothers who relinquished
their children formed the organization called
Concerned United Birthparents (CUB) in 1976
in order to reconstruct themselves and claim
their personal strength. Tey gathered together to
provide mutual support for birthparents. Today,
CUB members include birthparents, adoptees,
adoptive parents, and others afected by adoption.
Teir ongoing work includes supporting adoption
reform, preventing unnecessary family separations,
and assisting adoption-separated individuals in
search of family members.
8. Roe v. Wade was announced on January 22, 1973.
Te ruling was a landmark for changes in adoption
attitudes. Te legalization of abortion had a lot to
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 101 Psychospiritual Development of Female Adoptees
do with the rise of single mother families (Solinger,
2001). As Baran and Pannor (1990) explained,
Unmarried, pregnant women expressed the
feeling that if they completed the pregnancy,
it was because they planned to keep the baby.
Otherwise, they would terminate the pregnancy.
Tey began to express the thought that having
a baby and giving it up left lifelong scars. Tere
was no way, they said, that a woman could truly
resolve relinquishing her child. Keeping a baby
and raising a child as a single parent had become
much more acceptable. (p. 323)
9. Solinger (2001) wrote that no one really knows how
many women gave their babies away in adoption before
Roe v. Wade (1973). Estimates suggest numbers in
the neighborhood of a couple of hundred thousand a
year in the 1950s and in much of the 1960s.
10. Cornell (2005) wrote that a birth mother who
was forced to give up her child obviously was not
granted the protection of her right to represent
her own sexuate being (p. 30). Her decision was
thrust upon her either by economic circumstances or
because of the sexual hypocrisy that dominated the
United States in the 1950s and 1960s.
11. Borrowing from Cornells (2005) defnition of
patriarchy, the current usage indicates the manner in
which a womans legal identity remains bound with
her duties to the state as wife and mother within the
traditional heterosexual family. Relinquishment has
historically been enforced and felt by many to be
necessary in the protection of these family values
(p. 21). Cornell demanded a full release of women
from this legal identity that defnes and limits what
it means to be a woman.
12. Tis was true for both black and white unwed
mothers, yet black and white unwed mothers were
treated very diferently from each other by their
families and communities, by social agencies, and by
the government. After the war, a black single mother
typically stayed within her family and community
and kept her child to raise herself, often with the
help of her family.
13. Te intense social pressures that families felt during the
1950s and 1960s and the stigma associated with unwed
pregnancy have waned dramatically over the last forty
years. Te same language used today, such as selfsh
and incomprehensible, to describe the women who
initiate adoption of their own child is the same
language used forty years ago against young mothers
who did not want to surrender their children.
14. When the maternity-home movement began, the
nurses and staf of the homes helped encourage a
mother to bond with her baby with breast-feeding
and would help fnd mothers employment. However,
after the end of World War II, maternity homes
became a place to sequester pregnant girls until they
could give birth and surrender their children. By the
1950s, the message they sent was one in which an
unwed mothers interests were best served in giving
her child up for adoption. Solinger (2001) stated
that the homes developed a raft of strategies, some
quite coercive, to press white, unwed mothers to
relinquish their babies to deserving (p. 70) couples.
Te strategies were astoundingly successful.
15. While many states still keep these records sealed, other
states such as Alaska, Kansas, Alabama, Delaware,
Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon, and Tennessee
allow adoptees unconditional access to their original
birth certifcates and records when they reach the
age of 18 or 21. An additional 11 states allow adult
adoptees access to their identifying birth certifcate
under certain conditions, such as if their adoptions
took place before or after a certain date, or if a birth
parent signed permission for her relinquished child
to have access to his or her identifying information.
16. In the 1970s, through the impact of the Adoptees
Liberty Movement Association (ALMA) and other
organizations, adoptees claimed the right to own
the truth about their origins. Tey explicitly tied
their causetheir right to search for their biological
parentsto the civil rights movement. By the mid-
1970s, adoptee liberation (Solinger, 2001, p. 82)
was referred to as a civil right.
17. Levin (1985) also wrote that the retrieval is a
hermeneutical process. He stated, It is no mere
return to bodily life as it was experienced during
early childhood but is rather a regathering of this life
at a higher transpersonal level, a level that integrates
bodily life with our cultural and personal histories
(p. 4).
18. Lifton (1994) coined the terms Forbidden Self
(p. 56) and Artifcial Self (p. 50) in the adoption
literature to describe the psychological phenomenon
of an adoptees divided self. She stated the Forbidden
Self is the adoptees self that might have been, had
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 102 Topfer
it not been separated from its mother and forced to
split of from the rest of the self. It goes underground
and keeps itself hidden; whereas, the Artifcial Self is
artifcially created, compliant, and desires to please.
Lifton stated, It is a social construct, an as if self
living as if in a natural family (p. 52). It tries to
structure its psychic reality to match the reality of
the family in which it fnds itself. Some adoptees
are so successful at splitting of a part of themselves
that they stop asking questions about the birth
mother early and do not fantasize or dream about
her (p. 53).
About the Author
April E. Topfer is a doctoral student at the Institute of
Transpersonal Psychology. Her dissertation and research
focus on the efects of mindful awareness practices
upon adult female adoptees sense of self, identity, and
relationships. April is on the board of directors for PACER
(Post Adoption Center for Education and Research) and
facilitates a support group for adoptees. She currently
lives in Fairfax, CA and has made successful contact
with her birth aunt.
About the Journal
Te International Journal of Transpersonal Studies is a
peer-reviewed academic journal in print since 1981. It is
published by Floraglades Foundation, and serves as the
ofcial publication of the International Transpersonal
Association. Te journal is available online at www., and in print through www. (search for IJTS).
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 103 Te Word, the Body, and the Kinfolk
Te Word, the Body, and the Kinfolk:
Te Intersection of Transpersonal Tought with Womanist
Approaches to Psychology

Juko Martina Holiday
Institute of Transpersonal Psychology
Palo Alto, CA, USA
Since Alice Walker coined the term womanist in the early 1980s, black feminists and
feminists of color have created a rich, soulful body of scholarly work. Contributions to
womanist thought have emerged primarily in the felds of theology and ethics. Te aim
of this article is to put womanism in historical context, examine transpersonal expression
in womanist scholarship, and to articulate the values that inform emotional healing in a
womanist context. Womanism is spiritualized due to its original defnition and subsequent
development, making transpersonal thought a resonant ft for unearthing paths to authentic
cultural competency in psychology and other disciplines.
ver three decades ago, Alice Walker (1979/2006)
planted a seed that has blossomed into a
spirited academic movement. She accomplished
this by observing a character in a short story: the wife
never considered herself a feministthough she is, of
course, a womanist. A womanist is a feminist, only
more common (p. 7). Four years later, Walker (1983)
published In Search of our Mothers Gardens: Womanist
Prose, in which she prefaced her work with a more
complete defnition:
1. From womanish (opp. of girlish). A black
feminist or feminist of color. From the black folk
expression of mothers to female children You acting
womanish, i.e. like a woman. Usually referring
to outrageous, audacious, courageous or willful
behavior. Wanting to know more and in greater
depth than is considered good for one. Interested
in grown-up doings. Acting grown-up. Being grown-
up. Responsible, in charge, serious.
2. A woman who loves other women, sexually and/
or non-sexually. Appreciates and prefers womens
culture, womens emotional fexibility (values tears
as natural counterbalance of laughter), and womans
strength. Sometimes loves individual men, sexually
and/or non-sexually. Committed to the survival and
wholeness of the entire people, male and female.
Not a separatist, except periodically for her health.
Traditionally universalist, traditionally capable.
3. Loves music. Loves dance. Loves the moon. Loves
the Spirit. Loves love and food and roundness. Loves
struggle. Loves the folk. Loves herself. Regardless.
4. Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender.
(p. xi)
Walkers (1983) articulation of transpersonal
presence by her inclusion loves the Spirit (p. xi) in her
defnition has touched the hearts of several Christian
women theologians, who, in turn, have inspired
scholars in other disciplines. Since the seed was planted,
womanist scholars have been defning and articulating
core principles in their work within the disciplines of
theology (Baker-Fletcher, 2006; Grant, 1989; Riggs,
1994; Williams, 1986/2006), ethics (Floyd-Tomas,
2006b), pedagogy (Lynne, 2006; Sheared, 1994/2006),
nursing science (Banks-Wallace, 2000; Taylor, 1998,
2000), and literary criticism (April, 2003). In psychology,
Lillian Comas-Daz (2007) has worked to clearly
express the active and liberating role spirituality plays
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies, 29(2), 2010, pp. 103-120
Keywords: womanist, feminist, mujerista, transpersonal thought, depression, African
Americans, somatic experiences, testimony, kinfolk, liberation psychology, engaged spiri-
tuality, narrative therapy.
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 104 Holiday
in the lives of women of color, framing it as essential
to the development of womanist psychological theory.
Tis approach to psychology resists the idea that the
emotional needs of women of color can be met without
foregrounding our values and investigating our lived
experiences for ignored and discounted wisdom.
While most of the early work articulating
this perspective has been done by black women, there
is a mujerista movement (from mujer, Spanish for
woman), which also has roots in the feld of theology
(Isasi-Diaz, 1992, 1994). Te aim is to articulate a
Latina feminist epistemology, taking into account the
impact of colonization and economic exploitation on
its development. Mujerismo is infused with ideas from
liberation psychology and theology, the work of Gloria
Anzalda (2000, 2002, 1987/2007), and the lived
experience of Latina women.
Womanism has been spiritualized and oriented
toward healing and wholeness from its inception, making
the intersection between womanist and transpersonal
thought particularly interesting to me as a transpersonalist,
a psychotherapist, and a woman of color. By placing
womanism in an historical context, articulating the
values that inform emotional healing from a womanist
perspective, and examining transpersonal expression in
womanist scholarship, it is my hope that the felds of both
transpersonal and womanist studies will be enriched.
Tis article is divided into three parts. In the
frst, I defne womanism, explore points of resonance
between womanist and transpersonal thought, and
discuss unique gifts and perspectives derived from
embracing woman of color consciousness. In the second
part, I explore three ideological principles that have
emerged from womanist scholarship. Taken together, they
inform the development of womanist mind, the capacity
to authentically appreciate the complex intersection of
ethnicity, culture, and gender. While a womanist is a
black feminist or feminist of color, the development of
woman of color consciousness, or womanist mind, is
not limited to any particular ethnicity. Tese principles
may serve as guides for those interested in cultivating
this perspective. Te principles are: (a) conscientizaton,
a process of sociospiritual awakening; (b) redemptive
subjectivity; and (c) engaged and liberated spirituality
(Comas-Daz, 2007; Floyd-Tomas, 2006b; Phillips,
In the third part, I examine the role of word,
body, and kinfolk in womanist approaches to emotional
healing. Tese values represent themes that emerge from
womanist literature and the lived experiences of women
of color in the United States and are in resonance with the
work of womanist scholars in psychology (Comas-Daz,
2007; Comas-Daz & Greene, 1994; Vaz, 2006). While
proposing specifc psychotherapeutic interventions is not
within the scope of this paper, word, body, and kinfolk
provide strong theoretical roots for the development of
therapeutic practices that incorporate (a) recognition of
the importance of narrative and testimony as recognized
paths to emotional healing, (b) re-possessing and
using the body as an ally for the end of sufering, and
(c) understanding the importance of community and
context in the process of restoration (Asante, 1984;
Nelson & Prilleltensky, 2005; Young-Minor, 1997).
As these womanist thoughts about healing
surface from the literature onto these pages, my heart
dances; I begin to reframe my experience in a context
of my own creation, one that values my culture, deeply
appreciates my constraints and opportunities, and
celebrates woman in me. My framework for studying
and understanding psychology broadens to include a
context of my own creation, one that values my culture,
deeply appreciates my constraints and opportunities, and
celebrates woman in me. I acknowledge the limitations
of mainstream paradigms, becoming mindful of how
omitting spirituality and neglecting deeper inclusivity
limits the capacity of traditional psychology to fully
address my needs as a woman of color. Tis is the process
of conscientizaton in action. I gently tend to the ground
of my womanist heart, this piece of earth all my own.
Seeds are sown, blossoms grow; my bent back straightens,
I slowly turn to face the sun.
Womanist and Transpersonal Intersections
Te frst time I saw my own refection
Was in the buckle of the boot
Tat was stepping on my neck . . .
(Westfeld, 2006, p. 209)
his poet so truthfully expressed what it means to hold
on to Divine vision in the presence of oppression.
Later in the poem, she described the beauty she fnds
in her face, despite the distorted refection. Womanists
are quite adamant about the reality and importance of
the spiritual world, with less concern for the diversity of
ways that it is conceptualized (Phillips, 2006, p. xxvi).
It is this acknowledgment of the existence, signifcance,
and infuence of that which dwells beyond ourselves that
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 105 Te Word, the Body, and the Kinfolk
separates womanism from other ideological perspectives
and methodological approaches. Tis focus also serves as
a point of connection to transpersonal thinking. Walker
(1983) included a love of Spirit in her original defnition,
and subsequent womanist writing has been infused with
that presence. In the section that follows, I highlight the
early history of womanist scholarship while underscoring
ways in which womanist and transpersonal perspectives
overlap. Despite points of natural resonance, African
American womens perspectives and examination of
racism are widely absent from transpersonal literature.
One of the frst scholars to use Walkers (1983)
defnition to describe the work she was doing was
Jacquelyn Grant (1989) in her book White Womans Christ
and Black Womans Jesus. Her work was like sunlight for
womanist ground, and a body of womanist theological
scholarship began to emerge after her work was published.
Early womanist scholars were engaged in acts of spiritual
liberation, informed by their experience at the crossroads
between gender and ethnic discrimination. Teology
from this point of view claimed that their experiences
as black women constituted valid data for theological
refection (Copeland, 2006).
Early womanist scholars re-visioned Biblical
stories (e.g., Hagar in the Old Testament) and theological
constructs (e.g., emphasis on Jesus as Lord and master)
in a context specifc to the conditions of African
American women throughout the history of the United
States. Teir work was important in that it extroverted
themes and connections between Christian practice and
African American womens lived reality, a perspective not
previously included in the academic canon or considered
a topic of scholarly importance. Williams (1986/2006)
documented the connection African American women
felt to Hagar, an exiled single mother who modeled faith
and survival in the face of oppression. Grant (1989)
examined the tradition among black women to frame
Jesus as divine co-suferer (p. 212) as opposed to master
or Lord, particularly given the historical usage of Biblical
text by advocates of slavery to justify the institution
and preach unquestioning obedience from their slaves.
Ultimately, the intention of their work was to articulate
and emphasize the connection between faith, the unique
aspects of black womens painful experiences, and their
struggle to manage, rather than be managed by their
sufering (Copeland, 2006, p. 228). Tis intention
inspired womanist scholars to expand notions of what
constituted a legitimate source of knowledge in a way
that has parallels with methodological innovations in
transpersonal research (Braud, 1998; Braud & Anderson,
1998; Copeland, 2006; Ferrer, 2000).
Both womanist and transpersonal approaches
(a) value lived experience as a valid source of data,
(b) challenge paradigms that privilege mainstream
assumptions (e.g., regarding the validity of including
spirituality in psychology or the study of entheogens),
and (c) ofer empowering contexts for experiences
that are often pathologized. Grof (2008) pointed out
that the creation of transpersonal psychology was, in
part, a response to the observation that the practice of
psychology was hampered by its ethnocentricity. It was
formulated and promoted by Western materialistic
scientists, who consider their own perspective to be
superior to that of any other human groups at any time
of history (p. 47). It was clear to early transpersonalists
such as Grof, Marguiles, and Sutitch that this stance led
to a bias that automatically pathologized, devalued, or
ignored a valuable range of human experience, easily
dismissing entire bodies of religious practices and cultural
norms in psychopathological terms (p. 48). While
transpersonalists and womanists might difer in areas of
focus and content, both work to redeem sacred human
experiences from narrow paradigms that cut of valuable
opportunities for expanding human knowledge.
Womanist and transpersonal approaches to
scholarship have several noteworthy points of inter-
section. Each feld honors transcendent and spiritual
experience. Walsh (1994) outlined the importance of
Maslows (1968/1999) study of peak experiences to the
origination of transpersonal studies. Phillips (2006) and
Keating (2006) observed that while traditional academic
disciplines avoid being spiritualized, womanism openly
acknowledges the transcendent realm.
In addition to an inclusion of the realm of the
spiritual in their work, scholars in both disciplines
often fnd themselves countering traditional, Western
psychological perspectives that are dismissive of the
narrative of the lived experience. Transpersonal pioneers
were not satisfed with the nature and meaning of
non-ordinary experiences as interpreted by traditional,
Western psychological scholarshipparticularly as
this perspective quite often characterized these states as
possible evidence of delusion or psychosis.
Many transpersonalists engaged with Asian
philosophies, which contained detailed accounts, not
just of peak experiences, but of whole families of peak
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 106 Holiday
experiences and systematic techniques to induce and
sustain them (Walsh, 1994, p. 115). By moving beyond
traditional frameworks, these transpersonal scholars
were rediscovering and reclaiming their own lived
transcendent encounters from a dominant narrative that
had dismissed or pathologized this aspect of human
experience. Eastern spiritual philosophies, meditations,
and practices provided structured containers for
processing and learning about this realm.
For reasons beyond the scope of this paper,
transpersonal scholars have focused heavily on Eastern
practices and philosophies (Myers, 1985), though
Bynum (1992) correctly observed that transcendent
experiences, by diferent names, are present in all
societies, and in particular, African ones. Because of
the important cultural role organized spiritual practice
has among people in the African Diaspora, black
womens consciousness and ways of knowing have been
heavily informed by encounters with Spirit (Lincoln
& Mamiya, 2003). Many of us have experienced quite
normalized contexts for transcendent experiences in
contrast to Western scholars who pioneered the feld of
transpersonal studies. Whether through participation
in the Black Church in the United States or exploration
of other African-infuenced traditions such as the Afro
Cuban practice of Santera, transcendent experiences
are often sanctioned by spiritual authority and not
stigmatized by the community. In my own culture,
up close and personal experiences with Spirit were far
from non-ordinary. Transcendence (in the form of being
flled with the Holy Spirit) was part of a normal Sunday
service; it happened every week and was expressed in a
variety of ways.
While the development of both disciplines has
been infuenced by embodied transcendent experience, I
am not suggesting that womanists and transpersonalists
translate those experiences into their respective episte-
mologies in the same way. Womanist synthesis of the
transcendent has informed an activist stance that
connects political and spiritual liberation, supporting
the liberation of all humankind from all forms of
oppression (Phillips, 2006, p. xxiv). Transpersonal
psychology has moved from an early focus on individual,
beyond-ego experience to wider explorations of human
transformation, consideration of spiritual experience in
social and cultural contexts, the articulation of models of
spiritual development, and the inclusion of transpersonal
perspectives from other disciplines (Ferrer, 2000; Grof,
2008; Walsh, 1994). Te transpersonal feld, however,
has not remained vigilant about addressing its own
ethnocentricity. Published transpersonal literature has
been heavily skewed toward male authorship. While
there has been minor participation from non-Western
scholars, those voices that do emerge are often overlooked
(Hartelius, Caplan, & Rardin, 2007).
Transpersonalists have the tools to address this
blind spot. A respect in the feld for the lived experience
and personal truth can facilitate authentic dialogue about
gender and culturean admittedly complex subject
that can hold a lot of emotional charge. Connection to
a more expansive understanding of human development
provides space to move beyond bias, prejudice, and
passive racism. At the same time, operating from the
assumption of interdependent spiritual connection
can lead to bypassing the difcult work of confronting
that bias. It can be quite tempting to frame serious
consideration of ethnicity and culture as issues that are
irrelevant to the transcendent focus of transpersonalists
Te expansive nature of transpersonal thought
has space for the unique sociospiritual work womanists
do, transforming constraint by giving it both political
and psychospiritual meaning. Womanists teach each
other the alchemists secret, or how to turn dirt into
gold; this spiritual transformation enables them to
alchemize their oppression into liberation (Comas-
Daz & Greene, 1996, p. 17). Te result is healing and
increased possibility for well-being. Womanist mind is
informed by transpersonal consciousness, and there is an
undeniable spiritual presence in womanist philosophy.
From inception, womanism has been intertwined with
an acknowledgment of a transpersonal dimension of
experience. Te two are bound together by inclusion
of Spirit, the work of early theologians who dared call
themselves womanist, and the prayer I hold in my heart
as I write these words. I engage this connection directly
in the next section by ofering a womanist perspective of
the term transpersonal.
A Transpersonal View of Womanist Identity
When I consider the term transpersonal from a womanist-
oriented perspective, the meaning (a) is understood to
represent a worldview that existed in diferent forms
before the term was coined in mid-twentieth century
California, (b) expands to include consideration of
the beyond-self here on Earth(Schavrien & Holiday,
2010), and (c) is both vernacular and academic. First, a
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 107 Te Word, the Body, and the Kinfolk
womanist understands that the transpersonal dimension
of human experience existed and was expressed long
before it was named by scholars. Te serious study of
transegoic states, with and without the aid of entheogens,
was not a discovery made by Western scholars (Bynum,
1992; Tedlock, 2005). So a womanist conception
of transpersonal considers the unacknowledged,
unpublished, unconscious body of knowledge that existed
before it grew into the current published canon, which
has mostly been achieved by borrowing heavily from the
forms and customs of Western psychology. I am grateful
for and acknowledge the transformative impact of this
work while remaining aware of its limitations. While
black womens transpersonal experiences have not been
widely published, it does not mean those experiences
do not exist. A womanist engages in the task of flling
in these gaps, working in ways to make sure that the
astonishing omission of her presence in the literature
does not translate into continued bias.
A womanist perspective is mindful that the trans
of transpersonal also means across, not only beyond, and
that reaching across to otherto serve and to learnis
part of our work. Tis is integrating our beyond self
wisdom with service that is beyond-selfsh here on
Earth (Schavrien & Holiday, 2010). Transpersonal
knowing is irrelevant if limited to discourse, so a
womanist stance encourages useful applications in every-
day living and curiosity about how the transpersonal
afects the vernacular experiences of common people. Te
transpersonal becomes a worldview that is not limited to a
formal, disciplined study of transcendent experience, but
one that is useful for personal and social transformation.
To be clear, these thoughts are not limited or unique
to a womanist perspective. Tey are dimensions that
have been addressed by other scholars (Bynum, 1992;
Ferrer, 2000; Hartelius, Caplan, & Rardin, 2007). Te
intention is to continue to uncover points of resonance
and connection. Tis is particularly important when
discussing complex and emotional topics, such as race
and power.
My grandmother fought courageous battles
every day, none of which were studied by academics or
written down in a book. Helen Brooks could visually
pass for a white woman and could get work in places
darker-skinned black women could not. Determined to
be truthful, she never lied when she was confronted with
suspicions about her ethnicity. Once, co-workers chided
her about the style of hosiery she was wearing, asking her
why she was wearing Colored womens stockings. Fully
aware that the truth would cost her the job, she stopped
working and put on her coat. I wear Colored womens
stockings because Im Colored, she said, before walking
out the door (H. Brooks, personal communication, 1989).
Helen did not call herself feminist; she never heard the
word womanist. At the same time, she certainly moved
through life with a courageous and audacious heart. She
was a womanist before the word was spoken.
Tis womanist way of being in the world did not
begin when Walker (1979/2006) fnished her fnal draft
of Coming Apart. One hundred years separate the activism
of Sojourner Truth and that of Fannie Lou Hamer.
Imagine the scores of anonymous women who qualifed
as serious, grown-up, and in charge while navigating the
busy intersection of race, gender, and lack of privilege.
Most of these womens stories died with them, excluded
from shaping history, much less psychology.
It is a particularly cruel tool of patriarchy to
rob women of color of our access to historic and mythic
foremothers by acts of erasure and distortion. Yet examples
of audacity and courage survived such as with Alice
Dunbar, Anna J. Cooper, Zora Neale Hurston, and Lydia
Cabrera (hooks, 1981). Teir work and the stories of their
lives deepen my understanding of what it means to be
responsible and in charge. Tese women cleared space for
other Black and Latina feminists who followed, including
author Audre Lorde (1984/2007), politician Shirley
Chisholm (1970/2010), theologian Patricia Hill Collins
(2000), culture theorist bell hooks (1981, 1989, 2003),
political activist Angela Davis (1983), Chicana and queer
theorist Gloria Anzalda (2000, 2002, 2007), and Pulitzer
Prize-winning novelist Alice Walker (1983, 2006).
Anzalda (2000) embodied mujerista spirit
in her work, writing about the unique conditions of
women living at the crossroads of racism, sexism, and
faith. I recall with clarity the frst time I heard someone
mention Tis Bridge Called my Back: Radical Writings
by Women of Color, an anthology Anzalda edited with
Cherrie Moraga (1981/1983). Just hearing the name of
the book evoked a sense of recognition in my soul. Te
title she penned summed up some unnamed tension in
mean anger, isolation and confusion I was feeling as
an undergraduate at an Ivy League university in the early
1990s as well as the frst person in my immediate family
to go to college. Her articulation of the internal struggle
that paralleled my external ones spoke to some deep
place in me. Her experience as a Tejana woman, stuck
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 108 Holiday
between worlds, touched what I was feeling as a poor,
black-identifed woman at an Ivy League school. She
wrote: Te struggle is inner: Chicano, indio, American
Indian, mojado, Mexicano, immigrant Latino, Anglo in
power, working class Anglo, Black, Asianour psyches
resemble the border towns and are populated by the same
people (Anzalda, 1987/2007, p. 109). Te border towns
she wrote of in this passage are those between Texas and
Mexico, but she purposefully relates that literal space to
the psychic and spiritual borderlands in which women
of color fnd themselves. In my case, it was the frontera
(border) between my growing identity as a feminist, my
connection to the African American community, and
my position as a woman from a poor family living and
studying among people of privilege.
Near the end of Anzaldas (2000) life, she was
working to expose the concept of race as a social construct
and a tool of patriarchy. Labeling all humans with dark
skin of African descent Black implies a universality
that does not exist. African American experience is
diferent from African experience, which is diferent
from a person of African descent living in Jamaica or
Brazil. Her writing challenged racial divisions that are
very deeply embedded in the North American psyche.
Witness, for example, the struggle to apply the correct
racial label to Barack Obama. I am a light-skinned
black-identifed woman of mixed parentage and have
been routinely questioned about my racial identity, very
often by strangers. Anzalda (2002) wrote: Of all the
categories we today employ, race is the most destructive.
Race is for sure one of the masters tools, one of the
most insidious tools of all (p. 2). So many terms have
been devised to categorize people: black, white, Hispanic,
Latina, Asian, indigenous, Tird World women, women
of color. Tere are the hyphenations, and there is the
supreme frustration with the seeming need of dominant
culture to ignore or deny the diversity that exists within
these categories. Along with several other scholars in the
African Diaspora (Asante, 1984; Collins, 2000), I do not
capitalize these terms. I use them instead as adjectives,
to describe consciousness and connection to culture as
opposed to literal skin color or actual ethnicity.
I liken the degree of race consciousness in the
United States to a sea of fsh who have no idea they are
wet. We are trained to classify a person based on racial
appearance. Tis leads to an array of assumptions,
generalizations, and openings for distortion. What we
miss in this process is the true richness of culture and
the opportunity to approach ethnicity as only one facet
of identity (Anzalda, 2002). Anzalda and Keating
(2002) framed race as an historical creation by European
men to categorize, defne, and control those they viewed
as other. Keating wrote: [Our] approach questions
the terms white, and women of color by showing that
whiteness may not be applied to all whites, as some
possess women-of-color consciousness, just as some women
of color bear white consciousness (p. 2, emphasis
added). I connect this consciousness to Anzaldas
(2007) liminal borderlands by acknowledging the
many sources of sufering that can keep a woman on
the sidelines of power and discourse. Border women are
those who thrive and grow from in-between forgotten
cracks; they are women of multiple identities and live
with varied sources of social constraint.
Grounding in the transpersonal makes it possi-
ble to look past the literal and consider that women
who inhabit these borders are not exclusively women of
color. Being a bi-sexual or lesbian woman, an immigrant
woman, a women living with disability, or a women facing
economic or social constraint are all reasons a person (of
any ethnicity) may fnd herself marginalized. Border
women know who they are. Tey do not need academics
to tell them about life spent reaching for sun from dry,
narrow growing grounds. Tere is healing to be found in
continuing to thoughtfully and carefully unmask race as
a social construction. By rejecting rigid categories used to
oppress us, we can fnd more accurate ways of refecting
the fullness and complexity of who we are.
Some of the original womanist scholars might not
feel comfortable with the expansions I make here. Karen
Baker-Fletcher (2006) wrote:
Te defnition of womanist is broad and deep,
intentionally left open for interpretation within
certain limits. For example, a womanist is never a
white woman or a white feminist . . . most simply,
a womanist is a black woman or woman of color
committed to freedom from gender, racial and
economic, planetary and sexual oppression. (p.

Naming and having ownership over what we have created
is important in the African American community, and
I have deep respect for the black women who are the
roots that ground my work. I am not suggesting any
radical shift in the way anyone chooses to identify
herself. However, I am suggesting womanist values are
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 109 Te Word, the Body, and the Kinfolk
traditionally universal (Walker, 1983, p. xi). Looking
at this potential confict through a transpersonal lens
opens up possibility for expansion, not so much about
who calls herself womanist, but in the cultivation of
womanist mind, irrespective of ethnicity. Developing
womanist mind is thinking seriously about the sufering
of those who usually matter least in our society, as
symbolized by poverty-stricken black women (Kirk-
Duggan, 2006, p. 142). Comas-Daz (2007) presented
it as the development of a multicultural brain (p. 16),
one engaged in the promotion of critical consciousness
regarding sociopolitical context and works to transcend
a colonized mentality (p. 16). Cultivating womanist
mind can allow for fuller appreciation of the complex
intersection of culture, ethnicity, and gender. It ofers a
path to be fully aware of ones own privilege in relation
to others, locally and globally, and it can create space to
swap stereotypes for deep understanding.
A common criticism of womanist thought is the
focus on Christianity, which has dominated womanist
spiritual writing. Smith (1998) and Harris (2006) have
both pointed out that Walker no longer defnes herself as
Christian; she professes an ecospirituality that encompasses
both Pagan and Buddhist practices. Some foremothers
in this feld have taken great pains to note that the frst
womanists were black and Christian (Riggs, 1994). Te
scholarship of these Christian black women shaped this
epistemology, and I have profound respect for their work.
At the same time, I resist any implication that one must
be a Christian woman of African descent to engage in
womanist scholarship, as this would silence the multiplicity
of marginalized womens voices, narratives, and wisdom.
Feminism and womanism have been contrasted
by scholars (Collins, 2000; Comas-Daz, 2007; Williams
1986/2006), a discussion I frame as a continuation of
the challenge feminism has had to be meaningful for
and inclusive of common women. My hope is that
the development of what I call womanist mind can be
useful for transpersonal feminists interested in engaging
in a process of more authentically understanding
what Kimberl Crenshaw (1991) referred to as the
intersectionality of ethnicity, class, and gender. I prefer
the term womanist to black feminist because it connotes
for me a connection to and concern for the state of
women globally, whether they are of African descent or
not. At the same time, there are black feminists who do
not fnd it necessary to identify as womanist or have not
seen the need for another term (Coleman, 2006).
Walker (1983) has clarifed that her intent was
never to frame womanism as better than feminism.
She ofered society a new term because the other, black
feminist, did not convey the organic fullness of the spirit
of black women she wanted to describe. She also sought to
fnd a term that adequately acknowledged a fundamental
diference between the patronizing patriarchal narratives
white women were confronting, as African descended
women in the United States were not historically
stereotyped as weak, incapable of hard labor, or in need
of male protection. She began her defnition by calling a
womanist a black feminist or feminist of color (p. xi). As
such, I do not place them in confict. Tey are concentric
circles with respect for womanhood at the center, spreading
out an infnite number of times, each encompassing,
embracing, challenging, and informing the other.
Gifts of the Nepantlera
t is from my unique position as an inhabitant of the
borderlands between black and white, loving women
and loving men, between the Friend I have in Jesus and
the peace I fnd in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the
Sangha that I articulate ways marginalized women can
engage in the process of emotional healing. Living along
these borders is a source of great richness in my life. I also
know dwelling in such busy intersections puts a woman
at risk for being run down. Anzalda (2000) called this
in-between-a-rock-and-a-hard-place-space the nepantla,
a word from Nahuatl she adapted to mean a psychic and
spiritual in-between space that aids in our development
and transformation. Te nepantla is a narrow opening,
where life takes root against probability. It represents
the liminal spaces where change occurs (Anzalda,
2002, p. 571). Nature provides a meaningful example
of this concept via the ability of trees and plants to grow
through narrow cracks and crevices. Imagine an acorn,
hidden in the crevice of a rock by a bird, that manages
to take root. As it grows, it pushes against stone instead
of earth, and its struggle changes both the nature of the
rock and the oak tree it eventually grows into.
Tis oak holds a wisdom other trees do not
possess. To survive it must seek liberation, which it
fnds as it discovers pliable places among the hardness
of the stone. Women who live in spaces like these are
nepantleras: in-betweeners, those who facilitate passages
between worlds (Keating, 2006, p. 9). Nepantleras are
borderlands women who do visionary work by acting as
cultural intermediaries between the diferent worlds they
inhabit. Tey are threshold people: they move within
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 110 Holiday
and among multiple, often conficting cultures and refuse
to align themselves exclusively with any single individual,
group, or belief system (Anzalda, 2002, p. 1).
In a womanist frame, skills born of difculty
are celebrated to the same extent trauma is identifed
and processed. Comas-Daz (2007) identifed trauma-
derived vicarious empathy (p. 18) as one of the gifts
womanists might fnd in the rubble of oppression.
Resilience is another quality that can grow from a life
spent pushing against rock. At the same time, survival
at the meeting point of multiple streams of constraint
is not a matter of exhausting ourselves by incessantly
hammering at the rocks that oppress us; it is about wisely
fnding and moving toward the sun, getting succor and
nurturance where possible, and sending the tap root
down as far as it will go, to whatever depth is necessary to
survive. It is sensing the presence of light despite having
ones face pressed toward the ground.
Womanist Mind
xamination of womanist scholarship, prose, and
the lived experience of women of color provide us
with a theoretical ground for womanist thought. In the
following section, I consider three processes that emerge
from the literature that further clarify the womanist
paradigm: conscientizaton (critical consciousness),
redemptive subjectivity, and engaged spirituality. While
I present them in this order, the intention is not to imply
a linear progression (i.e., being fnished with one process
before beginning another). Each informs and fosters
development of the other, and as a whole they provide a
starting point for engaging womanist mind.
Te struggle has always been inner, and is played
out in the outer terrains. Awareness of our situation
must come before inner changes, which in turn must
come before changes in society. Nothing happens in
the real world unless it frst happens in the images
in our heads. (Anzalda, 2007, p. 109)
A womanist approach for addressing societal
sufering recognizes that resistance begins when change
is envisioned. Conscientizaton, a process of awakening
to sociospiritual and critical consciousness, helps to
develop the focus and scope of this vision. Te roots
of conscientizaton are found in the writings of Latin
American liberation psychologists. Ignacio Martn-
Bar (1994), drawing upon the work of Paulo Freire,
challenged the ability of mainstream psychological
paradigms to meet the needs of people afected by
multiple layers of oppression and trauma. He proposed
that sociospiritual awakening was a process that involved
breaking the chains of personal oppression as much as
the chains of social oppression (p. 27), and he saw the
connection between the liberation of each individual
and the liberation of all people.
Stacey Floyd-Tomas (2006b) believed conscien-
tizaton began when a black woman experiences
cognitive dissonance in light of what is considered
normative in society. . . . while cognitive dissonance
may be feeting, conscientizaton is a salient experience
in which black women realize that what is considered
normal negates all that they embody (p. 83). Tis is the
beginning of the process of identifying the damaging
distortions we see when looking in fawed mirrors, then
setting out to fnd refections that are more attuned with
who we know we are.
Anzalda (2002) wrote about the related process of
conocimiento, or deep awareness. It begins with a similar
moment of dissonance, which she called el arrebato, or
rupture. From this fragmentation, one realizes what it
means to inhabit the nepantla, then experience liberation
through resistance and faith. Tis deep awareness inspires
new personal and collective stories of transformation,
which embolden one to act out transpersonal vision,
resulting in engaged spiritual activism. Conscientizaton
wakes one up to the realm of the sociospiritual, allowing
consideration of life with one foot in older discourses
and another at a growing, opening edge, that of the not
yet voiced (Keating, 2002, p. 19).
When a woman follows the path of conscien-
tizaton from being shook by cultural dissonance through
to the development of a kind of emotional fexibility that
allows her to dance out our liberated dreams, she performs
alchemy between sufering and healing and between
spiritual vision and social activism. Te faith of womanists
is not without works, it is infused with movement. It is
not static; it is active, connected, and engaged.
Viewed from within the Souls presences, theres
no me or you. Tere is just us. And yet this
us has been shattered and fragmentedsplit into
a multiplicity of pieces marked by the many forms
our identities take. I believe, with all my heart, that
spiritual activism can assist us in creating new ways
to move through these boundaries. (Keating, 2002,
p. 19)
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 111 Te Word, the Body, and the Kinfolk
Awakening to the extent to which border womens
lives are distorted by cultural relativism and patriarchy
begins with an experience of cultural dissonance that
can lead to Anzaldas (2002) vision of spiritual activism.
However the process of conscientizaton unfolds, inviting
deeper sociospiritual awareness is critical to cultivating
womanist mind.
No Margin, No Center
It is a waste of time hating a mirror
Or its refection . . .
(Lorde, 1997, p. 67)

What Lorde (1997) suggested in her poem is that
one confront the glassmaker who turns out new mirrors
that lie (p. 67) and is thus responsible for perpetuating
limited and inaccurate refections of oneself. I grew up
knowing women could write, be heard, speak the truth
with hand-on-hip and head-held-high. My identity as a
black woman was fortifed by my grandmothers, the one
who taught me how to make peach cobbler and the other
who put Maya Angelous (1971) poetry in my hands as
soon as I could read. When Arzlene gave me those books,
it was as if the three of us were colluding in blatantly
willful womanist behaviorme by reading them, my
grandmother by giving them to me, and Angelou by
writing them in the frst place. Tese early refections by
such willful, profound, and honest voices have protected
me from many of the faults in the mainstream mirror.
When Grant (1989) called upon black theologians
who were challenging sexism in African American spiritual
traditions to call their work womanist theology (p. 205),
she proposed it as a means to release in totality the need to
choose between racism and sexism, to identify as feminist
or black liberationist, and to demand the right to think
theologically and independently of black men and white
women (p. 209). Tis is the type of radical subjectivity
(p. 7) described as a tenet of womanist epistemology by
Floyd-Tomas (2006a). Tis principle practice, which
encourages borderlands women to centralize our experience
and hold it as a valid reference for understanding ourselves,
also emerges from the work of Layli Phillips (2006), who
emphasized the power of redemptive self-love. We redeem
pieces of ourselves lost, subtly, each time we have been
excluded due to an absence of conscientizaton. We create
our own standards for what constitutes an accurate refection
of our values, challenging the grinning glassmaker Lorde
(1997) invoked in the end of her poem, who is constantly
turning out new mirrors that lie (p. 67).
Te practice of subjectivity also serves to reframe
our day-to-day experience, what Phillips (2006) called the
vernacular (p. xxiv) part of the lives of border women.
Womanist thought honors the process of shunning
theoretical norms in favor of the lived experiences of
women of color. As a result, womanist thought is non-
ideological at heart. Tis point of subjectivity is meant
to aid us in our redemption and healing, not to create
rigidity around what womanism is or is not. We place
ourselves at the center as an act of inclusion and in hope
of connection. Tere are no demarcations, no lines in
the sand, as womanists understand how damaging rigid
demarcations can be (Phillips, 2006).
Tis non-ideological stance resonates with
liberation psychology. Martn-Bar (1994) identifed
the conscious process of de-ideologizing vernacular
experience as critical to the formation of a distinctly
Latin American psychology liberated from distorted
Western knowledge claims. Going beyond a stance that
resists rigid ideology, this process counters dominant,
inaccurate narratives, especially those that discount the
reality of common people by rejecting their validity. To
de-ideologize means to retrieve the original experiences
of groups and persons and return it to them as objective
data which they can use to articulate a consciousness
of their own reality (p. 31). It is a process of redemption
via the construction of more accurate refections of so-
called marginal experiences, questioning judgments,
assessments, and diagnoses that come from psychological
perspectives that were created in a way that assumes
dominant culture is normal.
By re-evaluating our emotional health from a
place of redemptive subjectivity, border women reclaim
pieces of our psyches lost to scholars who described but
did not understand us. Tis lack of being interpreted in
light of our own values created myths and stereotypes
that keep us bent over to this day. Engaging in the process
of rejecting and countering oppressive ideologies is a way
to experience the relief of standing up, stretching out,
and moving toward healing.
Womanists do not theorize without evidence
but work to expand concepts about what that evidence
may consist of. Building on Grants (1989) original
womanist theology that emphasized personal connection
to the divine, it makes sense that womanists encourage
information that comes from personal experience.
Womanists act as our own foundations; when black
women critically inquire, probe, refect, judge, decide,
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 112 Holiday
challenge and act in service of truth, they constitute
themselves as critical knowers and doers (Copeland,
2006, p. 229).
It is acting in service of truth that we create
a psychology that accurately refects us. Black women
have been so long un-mirrored, we may have forgotten
how we look (OGrady, 2003, p. 176). Trough the
practice of audacious subjectivity, we can reject refections
that mine our struggles for evidence of pathology and
disorder; we take a stand against the patriarchy that
negates our wisdom and ways of knowing.
Engaged Spirituality
Walker (1983) very purposefully included refer-
ence to faith when she crafted her defnition of womanism.
Comas-Daz (2007), a pioneer in psychology aimed at
women of color, introduced the term Spirita (engaged
and liberated spirituality) as essential to womanist
psychological thought. One of a handful of scholars using
womanist and mujerista perspectives in psychology, she
also draws upon the tradition of liberation psychology
advanced by writers such as Martin-Bar (1994).
Comas-Daz (2007) defned Spirita as a spirit-
uality defned by protest, resistance, and r/evolution
(p. 13). It is rooted in the idea that the transpersonal is
not divorced from the psychological if women of color
are writing the psychology. Spirita is a way of life that
celebrates love and spirit and reclaims the sacredness in
all (p. 16). It is a means of connection to generativity
and promotes the gestation of people who liberate
themselves and others (p. 16). By connecting to Spirita,
women have permission to let their experience stand and
not feel the need to repress or revise it in order to ft in
with frames that do not resonate or that deny the validity
of their lives.
Political action informed by spiritual belief
undergirds the work of other feminists of color. Phillips
(2006) pointed out that spiritual intercession and
consideration of the transcendental or metaphysical
dimension of life enhance and even undergird political
action (p. xxvi). Anzalda (2000) believed spirituality
was a powerful tool for women in the borderlands, the
only weapon and means of protection oppressed people
have (p. 72). She exemplifed the connection between
the transpersonal and the political by highlighting the
importance of spiritual and ideological fexibility to
complement the kind of emotional fexibility Walker
(1983) wrote of in her original defnition. Anzalda
(2000) exposed the danger of clinging so closely to
an institution or ideology that one loses enlivened
spirituality, audacious faith, and practice of transpersonal
resistanceall important to living an engaged spiritual
life. She saw activism as a natural extension of imaginal
experience and spiritual vision.
Placing an engaged, liberated spirituality at
the heart of womanist psychology honors the part of
the woman that feels and senses the sun despite having
her face cast downward. It stresses the importance of
allowing and making room for the transpersonal in
transcultural work. Christian womanists frame God in
an equally engaged role as healer, provider, liberator,
redeemer, and most often as the way-maker. Black
womens negative life experiences can be transformed
by seeing that their relationship with God trumps
social conditions (Townes, 2005, p. 97). Critical
consciousness, subjectivity necessary for redemption
of womanist soul, and a socially-engaged intention for
spiritual practice are three values that can help develop
womanist mind, and from there vision womanist
Te Word, the Body, and the Kinfolk
n this section, I look at three conduits to emotional
healing that resonate with womanist values: the word,
the body, and the kinfolk. Tese paths acknowledge the
importance of using narrative and testimony, engaging
the body as an ally, and remembering the individual
in the context of her community in the development
of more culturally competent therapeutic tools. By
looking at how these themes are woven into womanist
scholarship and experience, it is possible to move toward
a more fully articulated approach to the development of
womanist psychological practice.
Te Word
My early experiences with worship were in a
traditional African American church. I have danced
in the Holy Ghost and cried on the mourners bench.
I have experienced the particularly African spiritual
phenomenon of call and response, a practice meant to
join and encourage the person who is speaking or giving
testimony. It is an expected part of the service for the
congregation to provide immediate feedback about how
that message is resonating with them. Te sanctuary
whether it be a soaring building complete with stained
glass windows or a storefront with folding chairs instead
of padded pewsis flled with voices of the congregants:
Amen! Say that, preacher! Tell it! and Testify!
One of my favorite parts of the service was at
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 113 Te Word, the Body, and the Kinfolk
the end, when the preacher would open the doors of
the church. A weeping member of the congregation
in need of prayer or a recently converted sinner would
stand, walk to the front of the sanctuary, then turn to
the assembly to give her testimony. Testimony might
include references to how bad things were (or how bad
things are), how she was sitting and wondering how she
was going to get the light bill or the car note paid. She
might speak of some trouble at home or of her struggle
with illness or disease. As she shares her burdens, she is
encouraged and supported by the voices and the presence
of those listening.
From here, the story fows to her direct personal
experience of Gods grace and providing. She may quote
from scripture, from the book of Matthew, reminding
herself and all those who listen that God is aware of
every sparrow that falls from the sky. She speaks to the
power of a God who makes a way out of no way, has
blessed her before, and always brought her through. Te
purpose of testimony is to risk baring it all and having
it witnessed. It provides a personal account of faith that
is superior to circumstance. Te testimony is a path to
healing, a soul-witness account of what is possible. Te
audible response of those listening is a means of building
an alliance with the person sharing the story, inviting
catharsis, connection, and healing for the church
community. Redeeming painful experience through
testimony transforms those events into something
valuable, algo para compartir [something to] . . . share
with others so they may also be empowered (Anzalda,
2002, p. 540).
Contrast this with what I was taught as a
clinician. Tere is no such thing as testimony in
psychotherapy, it is called self-disclosure, and is
discouraged in some therapeutic theoretical orientations
(Gehart & Tuttle, 2003; Moursand & Kenny, 2002). In
traditional psychoanalysis, there is the extreme of the
therapist as blank screen, purposed to invite a patients
transference (Fall, Holden, & Marquis, 2004). A clini-
cian I know shared that he was advised to stand in front
of a mirror and practice holding his face in a blank,
non-reactive way during his early training as a therapist.
For nepantleras, used to being invisible and unseen, I
often wonder about the ways these approaches may do
unintended harm. While many mainstream clinicians
resonate with Rogerian ideas about the importance of
creating a warm and healthy alliance with patients,
there is little room for anything akin to testimony. From
womanist consciousness, narrative and testimony are
rich sources of healing, employing nommo, defned as
the generative quality of the spoken word (Asante,
1984, p. 171). Clearly, there are many other orientations
that value this principle, and I am in no way suggesting
that the value placed on vocalized healing narrative
is exclusive to a womanist perspective; the intent is to
underscore the importance of narrative and testimony to
womanist work and to place it in a context specifc to our
history and spirituality.
Pinkla Ests (1995) stands in the space
between formal psychoanalytic training, the language of
archetypal psychology, and the world of the cantadora
(sacred singer), the griot (West African oral historian),
and the cuentista (story-keeper and teller). She speaks to
the fuidity with which women engage in the process
of story-telling and narrative. Holding and passing
knowledge through stories and oral tradition has deep
roots in indigenous culture. Tese stories have helped
women learn to honor our processes, in particular when
it comes to emotional and mental well-being. She wrote
that the psyches and souls of women have their own
cycles and seasons of doing and solitude, running and
staying, being involved and being removed, questing and
resting, creating and incubating, being of the world, and
returning to the soul place (p. 256). We learn about
these cycles through stories, testimony of other women,
and through dreams and meditation; it is these cycles
that keep us balanced and are essential to our emotional
and spiritual health.
A person who witnesses the testimony and
narratives of others comes closer to fnding their own
guiding myths, which in turn provides what is needed
for personal healing and development (Ests, 1995). Te
process of weaving ones own story is a way of reclaiming
oneself and releasing internal burdens; the process of
telling stories is a way of experiencing union with those
who witness them. Hooks (1989) framed it as a longing
to connect with the past and deconstruct it at the same
time, using the wisdom of ones older self to heal the
wounds of the younger one.
Testimonio is a witnessing narrative in Latin
American literature that is socially and politically con-
scious. Maier and Dulfano (2004) called it resistance
literature (p. 5). Tese narratives are highly personal
accounts of oppression by narrators who identify as
excluded or disempowered. Testimonios are often
written in the third person, with the intention to give
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 114 Holiday
voice to marginalized peoples. Tese narratives are not
written to be received passively. In a parallel to the
tradition of testimony in African American Christian
contexts, testimonios intend to inspire action and aid in
the process of conscientizaton (Nance, 2002). Tey are
not disinterested, nor are they objective. Tey contain
los desconociminetos, knowledge that has been ignored
(Anzalda, 2000). It is a fuid form of anti-oppression
storytelling, which sometimes includes connecting the
narrator with mythical or historical fgures.
Lorde (1984/2007) called a similar mixture of
autobiographical fact and myth autobiomythography. By
weaving a narrative this way, one un-weaves oppressive
or harmful narratives at the same time. Floyd-Tomas
(2006b) wrote that:
[Autobiomythography] allows for the transformation
of something that is initially crippling to become
something empowering . . . the biomythographical
narrative is a purposeful form of call and response
from one unique black womans voice to a larger
community of women who are invited to resonate
with her voice and become a part of it. Tese
women, when coming together into this new
mythic community, become transformed. (p. 22)
Te Body
Te broken mirror she used to decorate her face
made her forehead tilt backwards
her cheeks appear sunken
her sassy chin only large enuf
to keep her full lower lip
from growin into her neck
had learned to make allowances
for the distortions
(Shange, 1977, p. 24)

Womanist writers have made a place for the
body in academic discourse, so I make a place for
reclaiming the body in identifying womanist pathways
to emotional healing. Again, I do not claim this stance
is unique to womanists. Using the body as an ally in
emotional healing appears across many cultures. My aim
is to underscore the importance and put that importance
in historical context. In this section, my focus is on the
black womans body in particulara terrain that has
been heavily dominated by patriarchy, and at the same
time holds the means to heal that domination (Razak,
2008). Womanists position the body as a hermeneutic,
as a modality of interpretation useful in deconstructing
(and re-constructing) life in the Americas (Pinn, 2007,
p. 404).
Tere is a grief I feel about the abuse of black
womens bodies that is in my DNA. Among my
ancestors is an unnamed slave woman who bore a girl
child by her owner. When this girl was still in her early
teens, this same owner, her father, started raping her.
He impregnated her twice before she turned eighteen. I
take the time to root the need for somatic redemption in
historical context in order to give some idea of the depth
and scope of healing work to be done.
Womens bodies are often battlegrounds for
great political and cultural wars, from the fght for
reproductive rights to the untold number of African
women who have experienced mutilation of their genitals
(Roberts, 1997). Tere is hardly any quarter on this globe
where one would not fnd womens ownership of their
bodies being challenged, whether it is by over sexualized
objectifcation or total denial that our sexuality exists.
Given the extent to which it has historically been under
scrutiny, attack, and objectifcation, making space for
any woman to reclaim her body is an act of courageous
mujerismo. By writing through and in the presence of
grief in my own body at this moment, I turn my heart
toward and acknowledge the robbery and lack of control
women, and, in particular, poor female children of color,
have over their bodies.
During the era of legal slavery in the United
States, the abuse of African American womens bodies
was particularly atrocious. Sojourner Truth delivered the
following speech in 1853. When she fnished, she bared her
breasts to prove to the audience she was, indeed, a woman,
after being challenged by a member of the audience:
Dat man ober dar say dat women needs to be helped
into carriages, and lifted ober ditches, and to have de
best places . . . and aint I a woman? Look at me! Look
at my arm! I have plowed and planted and gathered
into barns and no man could head meand aint I
a woman? I could work as much as any man (when
I could get it), and bear de lash as welland aint I
a woman? I have borne fve children and I seen em
mos all sold of to slavery, and when I cried out with
a mothers grief, none but Jesus hearand aint I a
woman? (Stanton, Anthony, Gage, & Harper, 1889,
p. 116).
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 115 Te Word, the Body, and the Kinfolk
Truths famous speech barely hints at what slave
womens bodies endured: an unimaginable amount of
work; routine infiction of emotional trauma; lack of
access to education, medical care, or proper food; and the
recurrent, horrifc physical abuse and sexual exploitation
of their bodies. Slave women were often stripped naked
when they were being physically beaten by owners or
overseers, creating an objectifed, sexual layer on top
of horrible physical pain. Black women were bred like
animals to bear ofspring for their owners, many times
seeing those children sold away from them. Teir bodies
existed for the proft and pleasure of the men who owned
them (hooks, 1981).
Another example of the extent to which black
womens bodies were made objects is found in the life of
Saartjie Baartmann. She was a woman from what is now
South Africa who was put on display in Europe in the
early nineteenth century. Her features were considered
exotic, in particular her breasts and buttocks. Patrons
could pay extra to touch and examine these parts of
her body. When she died, her remains, including her
genitalia, were put on display in a museum in Paris until
the mid 1970s. Known as the Hottentot Venus, these
remains were eventually returned at the request of Nelson
Mandela (Collins, 2000).
One of the outcomes of the stereotype of the
strong black woman has been to dismiss or diminish the
traumatic nature of the abuse our bodies have endured
(hooks, 2003). While a womanist approach to healing
draws upon the power of nommo and faith, it is not with
the intention to invite spiritual bypass. A. Elaine Brown
Crawford (2002) addressed this in Hope in the Holler,
noting that many black women move immediately to
demonstrating strength as the primary response to
trauma. Part of reclaiming our bodies is creating safe
spaces for us to grieve the historic lack of control, abuse,
and objectifcation of them. Engaging the grief is a means
to fnding wholeness.
Consider that the spiritual practices of
communities of color are often physical, engaged, kinetic,
and active. If womanist spiritual practice is infused
with movement, so then are womanist approaches to
reclaiming and healing the body. Anzalda (2000)
stated: to reclaim body consciousness tienes que moverte
[you must move your body] go for walks, salir a conocer
mundo, engage with the world (p. 97).
Liturgical dance and other ways of honoring
the body as a vessel of Spirit and a tool for worship hold
great potency for releasing women from oppression that
has come from religious repression. Hooks (2003) noted
that Christian scriptures were often put in a context that
perpetuated the notion that the body was inherently
unclean, evil, corrupt, that sexuality was bad (p. 110).
A womanist liberation from those doctrines could ofer
African Americans a way of thinking of their bodies that
resists these ideas and ofers healing from messages that
hold the body with disdain.
Womanist writers such as Walker (1983), Can-
non (2007), and Williams (2005) have a tenacious regard
for the dynamics of the black womans body (Pinn,
2007, p. 404), especially in the context of reclaiming it
from oppressive theology. Consider this passage from
Beloved. Baby Suggs, holy, shared this message with
those assembled to hear her preach:
She did not tell them they were the blessed of the
earth, its inheriting meek or its glory bound pure. . . .
Here, in this here place, we fesh; fesh that weeps,
laughs; fesh that dances on bare feet in grass. Love
it. Love it hard. Yonder they do not love your fesh.
Tey despise it. Tey dont love your eyes; theyd just
as soon pick em out. No more do they love the skin
on your back. Yonder they fay it. And O my people
they do not love your hands. Tose they only use,
tie, bind, chop of and leave empty. Love your hands!
Love them. Raise them up and kiss them. Touch
others with them, pat them together, stroke them on
your face cause they dont love that either. . . . Tis is
fesh Im talking about here. Flesh that needs to be
loved. (Morrison, 1987, p. 88)
Tis sermon unlocks the most essential
element of any intervention designed to rectify somatic
damagethat is to move and love our fesh. To reclaim
the body is to love the body, to fll it up with ourselves, to
invite entry of the Spirit, to be real about the feelings we
have about it, to know the history of it, and to confront
the ways in which it is used, claimed, controlled, and
shamed by others.
Te Kinfolk
Te therapist encouraged me to take eight to ten
deep breaths. I was feeling agitated, anxious, and sad. Te
clinician was sensitive and attuned. Yet something still
felt missing from our work. I closed my eyes. Before I had
taken ten breaths, the image of a woman holding a child
in her arms came into my awareness, and I immediately
identifed her as my aforementioned ancestor, who bore
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 116 Holiday
two children by her owner-father. It was in that moment
I was more at ease about the time and resources I was
putting into healing myself because I became aware it
was also in service of healing my ancestors, both the
slave and the man who raped her.
Te work became more meaningful to me
culturally and spiritually, taking on a depth and import-
ance it had not had before. Te therapy was about more
than just my healing, my growing up, the ways in which
I was or was not nurtured. By putting my journey into a
transpersonal communal context, therapy was no longer
confned to traditional psychodynamic theories about
family of origin. In that moment, it became connected to
my family of Origin, with a capital O, my kinfolk. Te
importance of our kinfolk, a term I use here to signify
both the immediate and extended circle of family and
community to which a woman belongs, emerges as an
important consideration in womanist paradigms, which
make room for an expanded notion of community to
include the ancestors, both literal and mythical.
What happened in this experience was a shift
from work that was oriented toward what Roland (1988)
called the individualized self (p. 8) to a connection
with my communal self. His work, which has made
distinctions between the concept of self in Japan and
the concept of self in India, clearly demonstrates that
not all cultures view the healing of emotional pain as
an individual endeavor. Womanists pluralize their
concept of self (Comas-Daz, 2007, p. 18), holding
and honoring the connection between communal
healing and individual healing. Following frameworks
in community psychology, womanists understand it
is not a matter of privileging the communal over the
individual, but seeking balance between the two. If
all we do is therapy while neglecting poor peoples
circumstances, our practice is out of balance. If all we do
is try to restructure communities without attending to
peoples inner struggles and feelings, we are equally of
balance (Nelson & Prilleltensky, 2005, p. 213). Tis
pathway to emotional healing seeks balance between
the individual and her community and is informed
by African American spirituality, the secret of which
is the recognition of the need for individuals to take
responsibility for themselves while at the same time
recognizing this is impossible without other people
(Asante, 1984).
In a womanist paradigm, emotional healing is a
process that involves both individuation and development
of a communal self. Tending to this communal self is
not always a pathology (sometimes mistakenly framed as
enmeshment). It is a necessary component of emotional
balance. Tere is an understanding of the connection
between individuals and their communal contexts. As
my wounds heal, so can those of my family and my
kinfolk. As my community is liberated, my possibility
for freedom from sufering increases.
Te presence of the word, the body, and the kin-
folk are themes that run through womanist scholarship,
lived experiences, and literature. Foregrounding them
here is a step toward making connections to how
they might be enlisted in the practice of womanist
psychotherapy. Points of resonance between these
frameworks and postmodern/narrative therapy, somatic
psychotherapy, modalities that include dance or
movement, group therapy, and community psychology
provide exciting possibility for bringing womanist
ideology to praxis.
hen feminists of color create frameworks anchored
in their unique values and experiences, we reclaim
parts of ourselves lost to distortions and objectifcations.
Sociospiritual awareness and redemptive subjectivity
give us tools to shape mirrors that truly refect who we
are. Tis frees us to reinterpret theoretical canons in
ways that uncover what has been buried, the voice that
is deep speaking into deep (Cannon, 2007, p. 133), el
ro abajo ro [the river beneath the river] (Ests, 1995,
p. 29), which contains lost wisdom we need to reclaim
ourselves. Embracing Spirita, the active and engaged
spirituality articulated by Comas-Daz (2007), clears
up any dissonance from dominant narratives about the
practice of linking our spiritual struggles to our political
ones. Te scale of our engagement is unimportant. It is
the continual, determined resistance to being silenced
that leads to freedom and wholeness. Tis spiritual
empowerment gives us insight into the ways our trials in
the borderlands can create a quickening space (Floyd-
Tomas, 2006b, p. 97), a courageous embracing of the
gifts inherent to life in the nepantla. When Spirit enters
these rituals of restoration, a kind of cultural alchemy
can temporarily cook whats raw, unite whats divided,
give meaning to whats chaotic, and thereby enchant,
refresh, and reanimate all participants (Lorenz, 2002,
p. 497).
Te refective surfaces I have invoked in the
poems of Lorde (1997), Shange (1977), and Westfeld
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 117 Te Word, the Body, and the Kinfolk
(2006) demonstrate the most basic reason for the need
to continue to develop womanist thought: to ofer
undistorted, accurate refections of the experiences of
women of color. Lorde (1984/2007) famously stated the
masters tools will never dismantle the masters house
(p. 112). Liberated by a transpersonal womanist point
of view, broad and deep enough to contain redemption,
forgiveness, and all manner of contradiction, my focus
shifts beyond the masters house to a dwelling of my own
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About the Author
Juko Martina Holiday is a doctoral student at the
Institute of Transpersonal Psychology in Palo Alto,
California and works as a psychotherapy intern in a
community clinic that serves working poor and unin-
sured women in Los Angeles. She completed her clinical
studies at Antioch University Los Angeles in a program
that emphasized cultural competence and social justice.
Her undergraduate degree is from Brown University
in Providence, Rhode Island, with a concentration in
International Relations.
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 120 Holiday
About the Journal
Te International Journal of Transpersonal Studies is a peer-
reviewed academic journal in print since 1981. It is published
by Floraglades Foundation, and serves as the ofcial
publication of the International Transpersonal Association.
Te journal is available online at www.transpersonalstudies.
org, and in print through (search for IJTS).
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 121 Transpersonal Approach to Family Systems
A Transpersonal Feminist Approach to Family Systems

Irene Sheiner Lazarus
Chapel Hill, NC, USA
Tis paper presents a preliminary description of A Transpersonal Feminist Approach to Family
Systems (ATFAFS) as taught at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology (ITP) between 1995
and 2002. In this approach, students studied the principles of Murray Bowens family systems
theory with attention to feminist revisions of the theory while simultaneously investigating
their own multigenerational family histories. Additionally, students kept a journal, recorded
and worked with their dreams, and worked with a chosen creative expressive modality. Tey
may also have worked with other transpersonal modalities. Student narratives, informed by
organic inquiry, illustrate aspects of the approach. Te paper concludes with a detailed look
at students perceived benefts and drawbacks of the approach.
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies, 29(2), 2010, pp. 121-136
his paper presents a preliminary description of
A Transpersonal Feminist Approach to Family
Systems (ATFAFS) as taught at the Institute
of Transpersonal Psychology (ITP) between 1995
and 2002. It is my hope that this description, based
in rich student narratives, will provide a sense of the
multifaceted, instructive, and healing experiences that
we, teacher and students, shared together. Te paper aims
to contribute to the emerging transpersonal-humanistic
family-systems perspective (Lukof, 2005/2006, p. 4)
and to the ongoing discussion concerning the training of
transpersonal psychotherapists (Boorstein, 1986; Braud,
2006; Hastings, 1983; Hutchins, 2002; Hutton, 1994;
Kennett, Radha, & Frager, 1975; Lazarus, 1999; Ram
Dass, 1975; Vaughan, 1979, 1982, 1991; Speeth, 1982).
A single course in this topic was developed and
taught to graduate students at ITP between 1995 and
1999 as a method for inner transformational work and
for the training of clinical graduate students. Since 1999,
a curriculum based on this approach has been available
for Global distance-learning students at ITP. In 1998, I
initiated an exploratory organic qualitative study with
interested students of this course and approach to elicit
a more detailed description from those who had used
it and to ascertain benefts, drawbacks, and avenues for
further study.
Beginning with a Dream
t seems ftting to begin with a dream of March 24,
2006. I knew that I had allotted this day and the rest
of the weekend to prepare for a poster presentation for
the North Carolina Association of Marriage and Family
conference on the portion of this study focusing on the use
of dreams as a complement to family study. My dream:
I realize that I have put my son Ben to sleep in the
freezer. I become worried about him and go to take
him out of the freezer. In the dream, he is a baby,
maybe 6 months old, and I am very relieved to see
that he is breathing easily and his skin looks pink
and healthy, though there is much ice forming in
the freezer. I take him out of the freezer. He says,
Mom, I did not want you to put me here. As I
watch, he suddenly begins to transform and grow
rapidly until he becomes the handsome 19 year old
he currently is.
At frst, I am perplexed and a bit alarmed
about this dream. Why would I be putting my son into
a freezer? I wonder if there is some unconscious way I
have been harming my son, which this dream is trying
to bring to consciousness. My husband reminds me how
much I miss my son who is now fnishing his sophomore
year at Georgetown and has plans to stay in Georgetown
all summer. My husband suggests I may have a wish to
freeze Ben back in time. Ten I remember that this is the
weekend I have set aside to fnish my preparations for a
poster presentation on dreams and family study. I recall
Marie-Louise von Franzs reminder that young boys in
womens dreams can represent important work projects
Keywords: multigenerational family systems, transpersonal, feminist, dreamwork, journ-
aling, organic inquiry, creative expression.
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 122 Lazarus
(Boa & von Franz, 1994). Te teaching and developing
of ATFAFS is a work project very close to my heart, so
close that it is not surprising that my dreammaker would
choose my son Ben to represent it. I have been working
on this particular project for almost as many years as
my son has been alive. I suppose I did put this beloved
project in the freezer when I left California and my
teaching in the Residential program of ITP in 1999 to
move to Chapel Hill, North Carolina with my family. It
is delightful and reassuring to see that Ben in my dream
is healthy and unharmed, though not very happy about
spending time in the freezer. It is my hope that, as Ben
has matured in the dream, so has the work presented
What Is A Transpersonal Feminist Approach
to Family Systems?
TFAFS is a method of working on the self, used
in the training of transpersonal psychologists and
psychotherapists at ITP. In this approach, students study
principles of Murray Bowens family system theory
(Bowen, 1985/1990; Kerr & Bowen, 1988; Papero,
1990) with attention to feminist revisions of the theory
(Knudsen-Martin, 1994, 1996; Lerner, 1985, 1989;
McGoldrick, 1998), while simultaneously investigating
their own multigenerational family histories using tools
of the genogram and family chronology (McGoldrick,
Gerson, & Shellenberger, 1999). Additionally, students
keep a journal (Goldberg, 1986; Pennebaker, 1991, 1996;
Progof, 1992), record and work with their dreams (Boa
& Von Franz, 1994; Mellick, 1996, 2001; Taylor, 1992)
and work with a chosen creative expressive modality
(Cassout & Cubley, 1995; Mellick, 1996, 2001).
may also choose to work with other transpersonal
modalities, such as prayer (Dossey, 1993, 1996) or
meditation (Hanh, 2003; LeShan, 1974). Students may
choose to present their work in a fnal project submitted
privately to the instructor, or they may elect to prepare
a family presentation to be shared with their classmates.
Students are encouraged to make sense of their family
history in their own terms and are encouraged to use
whichever transpersonal modalities they deem useful.
Family Systems Aspects
Te approach is built on the foundation of
Murray Bowens (1985/1990) brilliant contribution
to family systems theory, particularly his formulation
of the multi-generational transmission process (the
notion that individual diferences in functioning and
multigenerational trends in functioning refect an orderly
and predictable relationship process that connects the
function of family members across generations (Kerr &
Bowen, 1988, p. 224), his encouragement of the study
of ones family of origin to become aware of family
history and patterns both for patients and as a method of
psychotherapeutic training (Bowen, 1985/1990), and his
coaching to move in ones family in a diferentiated
(pp. 140-141) way. Bowen spoke favorably about the
value of working on ones family of origin in a clinical
training program:
Later in 1967 and 1968 I noted that this group of
residents were doing better clinical work as family
therapists than any previous residents. At frst I
simply considered this an unusually good group of
residents. As time passed I became aware that the
diference between these and previous residents
was too great for such a simple explanation. Te
diference appeared to be related to something I was
doing and I began to ask questions. Ten it became
clear that it was precisely those residents who had
done best in the efort with their parental families
who were also doing best in their clinical work. (p.
Feminist Aspects
In the 1970s, in psychology and elsewhere,
feminists mounted a challenge to traditional institutions
and disciplines, encouraging them to be more inclusive,
transparent, and honoring of feminine ways of being. In
this approach, Bowens work is presented with a feminist
revision (Lerner, 1985, 1989; McGoldrick, 1998). First,
the approach emphasizes sensitivity to issues of gender,
race, and power (Ault-Riche, 1994; Belenky, Clinchy,
Goldberger, & Tarule, 1997; Brown & Gilligan,
1992; Knudson-Martin, 1994; Lerner, 1985, 1989;
McGoldrick, 1998; Miller, 1986). Second, it encourages
the empowerment of the individual (Lerner, 1985,
1989). Rather than going to outside experts, students are
encouraged to study their own families and make sense
of their histories in their own terms. Tey are encouraged
to become their own experts on themselves. Tey are
encouraged to develop and strengthen their own voice.
Tird, the use of story and narrative is important in this
approach. Fourth, the value of feeling is acknowledged
alongside the value of thinking.
Transpersonal Aspects
Tis approach incorporates various transper-
sonal elements. It is holistic, encouraging integration of
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 123 Transpersonal Approach to Family Systems
body, mind, spirit, emotions, creative expression, family,
and community. It is transpersonal, encouraging aspects
that go beyond the personal ego level of development.
Te approach uses transpersonal modalities such as
dreamwork, ritual, journaling, prayer, and meditation.
It focuses on health as well as pathology and aims to
cultivate transpersonal values such as love, wisdom,
compassion, and mindfulness.
A vibrant, contemplative atmosphere was devel-
oped in the class in several ways. Confdentiality is
established early on. Students are instructed that they
may discuss their own family work any time they feel it is
appropriate to do so, but they may not discuss any other
students family work without express permission. Tey
are instructed to bring compassionate, non-judging, and
mindful attention both to themselves and to others who
are presenting family histories or are reading portions of
their journals. A contemplative atmosphere is fostered in
the class through time spent in silence, journaling, and
meditating together, as well as through compassionate
listening to presentations of the multigenerational
journeys of their classmates.
Te Emerging Transpersonal Humanistic
Family Systems Perspective
innbauer and Camerota (2004) pointed out
that although the discipline of transpersonal
psychology has been working with the integration of
spirituality and psychology for over 30 years, it is only
recently that the mental health feld is turning attention
to this matter. Tis trend has been seen in the discipline
of family therapy as well. Walshs chapter, Beliefs,
Spirituality, and Transcendence: Keys to Family
Resilience, appeared in McGoldricks (1998) important
book, Re-Visioning Family Terapy: Race, Culture, and
Gender in Clinical Practice. Walsh discussed how core
beliefs and spiritual connections are important sources
of resilience that support clients in transcending
adversity. More recently, Caldwell, Winek, and Becvar
(2006), citing the growing acknowledgement of the
mind/body connection both within and outside of
medical settings, studied the extent to which marriage
and family therapists were afected by and/or had an
impact on this shift. Te authors, after conducting a
survey of a random sample of 1000 clinical members
of Te American Association of Marriage and Family
Terapy (AAMFT) regarding their relationship with
Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)
practices, found that most of the respondents indicated
knowledge of a variety of CAM practices (p. 110)
and recommended CAM. Interestingly, a relatively
small number of respondents indicated that they
were qualifed to practice, supervise or teach relative
to a specifc CAM modality. Such practices include
relaxation techniques, guided imagery, meditation,
diet/lifestyle changes, hypnosis, and prayer therapies
(p. 110). Te authors concluded:
Te fndings of this study certainly are comparable
to the results reported by Barnes et al. (2004)
regarding the high percentage of use of CAM
services in this country. In the professional arena,
it appears that MFTs and psychologists (Bassman
& Uellendahl, 2003) also are experiencing a
similar increase in awareness and utilization of
CAM practices. (p. 110)
Becvar, Caldwell, and Winek (2006) reported on a
qualitative aspect of this study in which 54 respondents
were interviewed. Notably, the respondents described
a sense of a ft between CAM and marriage and
family therapy:
Tere is frequent agreement regarding the logical
ft between the assumptions underlying family
therapy and those on which complementary
alternative medicine is premised. It therefore
is not surprising that many MFTs seem to have
established a comfortable working relationship
with a variety of CAM approaches and thus are
open to and desirous of learning more. (p. 123)
I have certainly sensed this ft in my own work as an
instructor and as a marriage and family therapist.
Outside the mainstream of family therapy
discourse, there have been some important
contributions regarding the integration of
transpersonal modalities in healing work with
families. For example, Kenneth McAll (1982), a
British psychiatrist, in his book entitled Healing the
Family Tree, reported on his success curing psychiatric
disease through the Eucharist prayer for troubled
members of the patients family tree.
Edward Bruce Bynum (1993) has been
conducting Te Family Dreams Research Project,
an ongoing national and cross cultural study in the
relationship between dream life and family processes
(p. 227). Bynum (2000) described a fascinating
concept called the family unconscious:
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 124 Lazarus
What we discovered was a feld of shared images,
ideas and feelings in each individual within the
family. Tis shared family emotional feld, which
we call the family unconscious, is a shifting,
interconnected feld of energy that does not obey the
conventional rules of space and time in the waking
state. Tis feld of interconnected energy, infuence,
and information in many ways parallels some of the
developments in sub-atomic physics. (para. 12)
Psychotherapist Les Rhodes (2000), in her
autobiographical account of dealing with Parkinsons
disease, was very infuenced by both family systems work
(she worked and studied with Virginia Satir for many
years) and Jungian work (she was involved with Jungian
analysis). Te book is an extraordinary account of her
deep blending of the two traditions, including many of
her own dreams, and the part they played in her journey
toward wholeness. Te integration of dreamwork and
family systems is an important aspect of the transpersonal
approach to family systems described in this paper.
Research Approach for this Preliminary Study of
A Transpersonal Feminist Approach
to Family Systems
rganic inquiry (Clements, Ettling, Jenett, &
Shields, 1998; Braud, 2004; Clements, 2004)
was developing at the ITP at the same time I was
teaching there and working to develop what I now call
A Transpersonal Feminist Approach to Family Systems
(ATFAFS). According to Clements,
Organic Inquiry is an emerging approach to
qualitative research that is especially meaningful for
people and topics related to psycho-spiritual growth.
Ones own psyche becomes the instrument as one
works subjectively in partnership with liminal and
spiritual sources, as well as with participants who
are able to relate their stories of the experience being
studied. (p. 27)
In discussing the origins and infuences of organic
inquiry, Clements noted:
In the spring of 1993, Dorothy Ettling (1994),
Diane Jenett (1999), Lisa Shields (1995), Nora
Taylor (1996), and I found ourselves searching for
avenues of research where the sacred feminine might
be included and in which the positive values of
cooperation and interdependency were appreciated,
where diversity would make us equals rather than
causing a separation into leader and followers.
Feminist research suggested the importance of
balancing objectivity with subjectivity, in process as
well as content. (p. 28)
I developed the frst version of an interview
protocol during a practice session in a class on organic
inquiry taught by Clements in 1998. Organic inquiry
seemed quite suitable to this preliminary investigation
of ATFAFS as taught at ITP. ATFAFS aims to support
psycho-spiritual growth. Students are invited to work
subjectively in partnership with liminal and spiritual
sources through their journaling, dreamwork, and
meditative work in class. Prayer, meditative practice,
meditative journaling, and dreamwork supported me
all along in the development of this approach and in
this investigation. Te feminist and transpersonal roots
of organic inquiry suited the transpersonal, feminist
aspects of ATFAFS.
Organic inquiries are born out of ones deep
personal experience. Alongside developing, teaching,
and investigating ATFAFS, I have been immersed in
my own process of healing and transformation within
my own family. On August 11, 2006, I refected in my
I am struck by how important my mother is to
this study. I recall that I wrote the frst rough outline
of this study proposal in the Spring of 1998. I lived
then in Menlo Park, California, and had come
down to Los Angeles to visit my mother. I took her
to Palm Springs, which ofered a climate that was
soothing to her lungs (she has sufered from severe
asthma since she was 5 years old). I wrote ideas for
this study proposal while sitting by the pool at our
Ten came my familys move to Chapel Hill.
I thought I would have so much free time to
write and work on this research project, but the
work of transplanting myself, my family and my
practice was consuming for many years. I slowly
transcribed interviews and pored over data. I used
this transpersonal approach to family systems in my
work with clients.
I began working more steadily on this
article, however, when life brought me closer
to my mother. A scary car accident in January,
2006, convinced my mother it was time to sell
the house she had lived in for almost 50 years
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 125 Transpersonal Approach to Family Systems
and move closer to family. Between December,
2005 and May, 2006, I made 5 week-long trips
back to Los Angeles to help my mother heal from
her car accident, prepare to sell her house, and
then pack things up and move when the house
sold. On the plane fights between North Carolina
and California, and in the early morning hours
at my mothers house when I was still on North
Carolina time, I began working quite seriously on
this article. As the days got closer to the move, all
my extra energy went into assisting my mother, and
the article waited.
It is now almost 3 months since my mothers
move. She has chosen to live in Chapel Hill and
is now living with my husband and me while she
gets her bearings and decides her next steps. I am
on a two-week vacation from seeing clients, and I
am devoting time to this article again. It is a labor
of love. I wonder if I will fnish the article while my
mom is living in our house with us.
My relationship with my mother has not always
been an easy one, but has of course, been a very
important relationship in my work and in my life.
Tese days together, while challenging, have been
very healing days.
In 1998, I began to work with a group of interested
students to create an interview protocol with the aim of
developing a preliminary description of ATFAFS. Over
several weeks, we developed the protocol, refned it, and
practiced by interviewing each other. Questions included
the following:
Please tell your stories of healing and
transformation in your family in your own
words. Include places of struggle and release,
victories and defeats, light and dark.
Were there any important dream images that
potentiated your family work?
Were there any important synchronicities?
Were there any particular transpersonal modal-
ities that supported or helped you in your family
Were there any particular transpersonal
experiences that supported or helped you in
your family work?
Please share any thoughts you have about
drawbacks to the Transpersonal Feminist
Approach to Family Systems you were exposed
to in your Innerwork Practicum/Clinical
Practicum class at ITP.
Please share any thoughts you have about
benefts of this approach.
Is there anything you would like to add?
How has this process been for you?
As a part of the protocol, participants rated diferent
parts of the course/approach based on their perception of
the helpfulness of various aspects of the course. Twenty
interviews were conducted, transcribed, and analyzed.
Subsequently, two global students who completed their
distance education version of ATFAFS gave permission
for their work to be included in this study. In addition,
22 students gave permission for portions of their fnal
papers, which discussed the experience and impact
of presenting their genograms to their classmates, to
be included in this exploratory study. In the fndings
reported herein, I also drew on my experiences teaching
this approach, using it in my own life and in my work
with clients.
Participants ranged in age from 20s to 60s.
All met the criteria for admission to various graduate
programs at ITP. All students had completed at least
a Bachelors degree. Some had higher degrees as well.
Some had extensive training and experience in the
felds of psychology and psychotherapy; others were just
beginning study. Some had extensive experience with
their own families in therapy and recovery, while others
had not. Te group was primarily Caucasian with some
representation from the African American, Asian, and
Hispanic communities.
Invitations to participate were given to
all students who had attended an ITP class in
which I presented this approach to family systems.
Participation was entirely voluntary. I did not look at
the names of anyone who chose to participate until
all grades were turned in for the last quarter I taught
residentially at ITP. Although grades were pass/fail
and all students in the class passed by virtue of
completing their assignments, I took this precaution
to protect students anonymity while I was writing
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 126 Lazarus
Student Reports on the Usefulness of
Various Aspects of
A Transpersonal Feminist Approach
to Family Systems
wenty students provided answers to the following
question about various aspects they experienced in
relationship to their family work:
Please rate the following activities in terms of how
helpful they have been in your processing of healing
and transformation within your family. Rate the
items on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 representing
not helpful at all and 10 representing extremely
In Table 1, results are presented in the order of amount of
the students perceived helpfulness of class activities. Tis
table also provides an overview of the mix of activities in
which students were engaged.
All activities received rankings in the helpful
range. Te highest ranking (9.30) was given to
preparation for the family presentation and the lowest
(6.77) was given to dreamwork.
Te three activities of highest rank related to
family presentations: preparing for family presentations,
presenting ones family to classmates, and listening to
classmates family presentations. Tese are activities that
are commonly used in the study of Murray Bowens
(1985/1990) family systems theory and the high rankings
tend to support Bowens assertion that the work of family
investigation can be extremely helpful in working with
ones own family of origin. Next highest were activities
related to journaling: reading journal entries in class
ranked highest, followed by listening to classmates
journal entries, and journaling with the class.
It is possible that the lower rankings for creative
expressive work, prayer, and dreamwork have to do with
the fact that not all students were exposed to all activities.
Dreamwork was discussed in Innerwork Practicum
briefy but not in Clinical Practicum. Students had
exposure to dreamwork in other coursework at ITP.
Creative expressive work was also ofered in separate
courses at ITP. Prayer was entirely voluntary and was
not a class activity. Harriet Lerners books Dance of
Intimacy (1989) and Dance of Anger (1985) were required
reading for the Innerwork Practicum classes taught to
frst year doctoral students, and were recommended
reading for Clinical Practicum students. Additionally,
it is important to note that rankings are subjective and
may change with refection. As Karen noted:
Reading journal entries to class I ranked it as a
6. But now that Im thinking about it, it should
probably be like a 10. Wow, I just never felt really
accepted. I think thats what it is. I felt really accepted
by the class and I think a lot of that has to do with
Innerwork, because I really put myself out there. I
think there was only 1 or 2 times when I didnt read.
I remember always saying to myself, Other people
are passing, but Im going to read.
Upon reviewing the results of this questionnaire, I
realized that there were several important activities in
the class that were omitted in the questionnaire, and
that I hoped to include in future studies. Tese include
maintaining a non-judgmental stance, compassionate
self-awareness, and compassionate listening.
Illustrations of Important Aspects of
A Transpersonal Feminist Approach
to Family Systems
his section includes detailed examples of important
aspects of ATFAFS provided by student accounts
of their experiences. I selected the passages because of
their ability to transmit various aspects of the process.
Participants chose their own pseudonyms for the study.
I changed certain details to disguise identities. Passages
have been editing lightly for clarity and brevity.
Table 1.
Average Ratings of Class Activities in Terms of How
Helpful They Were in the Process of Healing and
Transformation Within Ones Family
1 = not helpful 5 = moderately helpful 10 = extremely helpful
Preparation for family presentation 9.30
Presenting your family to classmates 8.98
Listening to your classmates family presentations 8.75
Reading journal entries to class 8.11
Listening to classmates journal entries 7.76
Journaling with class 7.61
Creative expression work 7.61
Reading Dance of Intimacy (Lerner, 1987) 7.36
Informal discussions with classmates 7.23
Prayer 7.19
Reading Dance of Anger (Lerner, 1985) 7.15
Dreamwork 6.77
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 127 Transpersonal Approach to Family Systems
Janes Dream, Family Presentation,
and Experience with Journaling
Jane: [I had] one dream right before I gave my
presentation. I hadnt thought it was going to be any big
deal, giving the presentation.
Id been preparing for this for about 10 years.
About 10 years ago, I began asking my mother about the
family. . . . My mother had some notes she had written. It
wasnt very complete but at least it was something. So I
thought, well, its not going to be any big deal and I was
really looking forward to doing it. Like I said in class,
who else is going to listen to this. So its kind of an honor
to be able to tell these stories.
But the night I gave my presentation, I had this
dream about these grubby people. I told this dream in
I was at a party, some outdoor party of some kind. I
was with my friends, my people, my community, the
people I socialize with. And in walked these grubby
people. Filthy, dirty people with dirty clothes and
dirty hair and everything. Fat. Tey werent bad
looking, but they were just so flthy. It was sort of
horrifying. Nobody was really saying anything
about it. My friends were making conversation, were
making nice with those people, and I thought, do
you guys not notice that these people are incredibly
flthy? I was the only one. I didnt even know who
these people were. Tey werent my relatives, like
anyone I recognized, but everybodys acting like,
Teres so and so. Finally I asked my friend B.,
Who are these people? Why are they so flthy?
And she said, Ill tell you later. But still people
were being so kind to them.
I woke up and thought, what a weird dream. I wonder
who those people are. Tats so odd. And so it wasnt
until I wrote that in journaling that I realized it was my
family, that I had some sense of shame about who they
were, their faws, their dysfunction. I never really felt
that because I didnt feel any particular connection with
most of them. I really didnt know them. Most of them
were dead by the time I came along. And so I thought,
thats really interesting that I feel that.
And so, after I did the presentation, what I was
also struck by, there was this huge, it was like a big release
afterwards. It was very emotional afterwards. It was
very emotional afterwards. I did this presentation on
Tursday. On Friday, we had that closing ritual group
practice. Tat whole day I was just a basket case. I was
fne Tursday, but by Friday, I felt absolutely exhausted,
spent emotionally. I think it was a rebound efect from
doing the presentation. I couldnt stop crying. I just
couldnt stop crying. Tis whole family presentation
thing which I had determined was merely going to be a
benign little exercise was tapping into feelings of which I
was totally unaware.
Tere is a big diference in sharing my familys
story with people who are interested and care about me
and sharing it with people who are not that interested.
For one thing people who arent interested in me and
my history wont sit and listen to all that. It makes them
uncomfortable. It is an act of love to be willing to listen
and empathically take all of it in. Presenting my family
in that empathic supportive environment allows me to
see and begin to drop some of those engrained defenses
and contact some of that wounding as well as the feelings
generated by that wounding. It also allows me to place
myself not just in an historical context but in an emotional
and psychological context. Tat part felt so big to me.
Refections on Jane. I chose to begin this
section with Janes account because it illustrates quite
well many aspects of ATFAFS, demonstrating how many
of the pieces ft together and support each other. Janes
dream came right before her family presentation, and
the dreams signifcance began to clarify for her during
a class journaling session before the presentation. Jane
noted that she underestimated the power of the family
presentation, having been gathering family information
for 10 years.
Te dream is about grubby people. While
journaling about the dream before class, Jane realized
that these grubby people were her family, and she
tapped into some feelings of shame about her family,
feelings that surprised her as she had never met many of
the people represented on her genogram. She said: Most
of them were dead by the time I came along.
Te dream and Janes commentary illustrate
the class atmosphere that was intentionally cultivated
over time: an atmosphere of loving-kindness, respect,
curiosity, exploration, openness, and non-judgment
toward all participantsself, family members, class
members, and their families. Te kindness, acceptance,
and non-judgment of her friends in the dream are
remarkable to Jane, while in her dream, as the dreamer,
she is so focused on her judgments: Tey werent bad
looking, but they were just so flthy.
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 128 Lazarus
Jane commented: Presenting my family in that
empathic supportive environment allows me to see and
begin to drop some of those engrained defenses and
contact some of that wounding as well as the feelings
generated by that wounding. Here we see a beautiful
example of Jane making sense of her family history in
her own time, in her own terms. Te interplay between
contemplating her dream through her journal and
contemplating her family history seems to promote
a deepening of understanding and a bridge beyond
the intellect to deep feelings that had previously been
Sunshines Family Investigation, Journaling,
and Listening to Classmates Family Presentations
Sunshine: I think it was a good experience in
that I had never really talked to my parents about their
childhoods. I mean we had talked a little about them,
but never really had gone into depth about them. It was
a good process in terms of me asking them questions
about their family life and childhood and getting them
to open a little bit more because they were closed about
disclosing their childhood experiences. Tey both had a
painful childhood in a lot of ways. So it was defnitely
healing for me to talk to them and gave me insight into
what some of the patterns were.
It was really helpful for me in terms of getting
in touch with the unconscious. Te journaling, really, is
like letting your unconscious take over. Teres space for
that. And theres something about the class that helps
to elicit it, I think. I never really journaled that much
outside of class. I never really got much out of it. Te
space kind of allowed the unconscious to open. So I
think it is a great tool for getting in touch with your
unconscious. Hearing other people share is a great way
to build connections or intimacy. I saw sides of people
that I had never seen in other classes. And the family
presentations were really powerful tooI saw sides of
people I would never normally know about or see. [Tese
aspects] cannot really come out because there are some
norms or something. I dont really know what it is. Its
like a transpersonal thing.
Te space is created for peoples whole self to come
forward, which I guess is what the transpersonal is. It is
a powerful approach because it does bridge the personal
family history with the transpersonal. Transpersonal is
not just focusing on your defects and pains and your
familys problems but it is holistic. I think it is a really
powerful approach.
Refections on Sunshine. I was struck by
Sunshines words, Te space is created for peoples
whole selves to come forward. Tis was something I
noticed as well, again and again, particularly during
students family presentations. I often noticed a sense of
students full presence and wholeness during their family
presentations and afterwards, when I observed students
relating to each other in class.
Sunshine refected on the healing aspects of
talking to her parents about their childhoods, which
opened new conversations and avenues for exploration
and helped her understand family patterns. Many
students reported similar experiences.
She described helpful aspects of journaling
sessions in class, which particularly assisted her in
getting in touch with the unconscious. Sunshine said,
Te journaling really is like letting your unconscious
takeover. . . . Te space kind of allowed the unconscious
to open. Some of the writing exercises I presented,
especially those developed by Ira Progof (1992) and
Natalie Goldberg (1986), do have a quality of allowing
one to open to and listen to the unconscious. It was my
hope that journaling would also allow time and space for
integrating the information and insight that came from
the unconscious, as seen in Janes comments above.
Sunshine noted that the class atmosphere
allowed the unconscious to open. I believe this is
true. I believe the atmosphere of compassionate, non-
judging awareness of ones own words and of others
sharing fostered the openness. I further believe that the
presence of a group who are journaling together helps
everyone in the group move more deeply, just as a group
of meditators can support the depth of an individuals
meditation experiences.
Sunshine refected on the community-building
aspects of ATFAFS: Hearing other people share is a great
way to build connections or intimacy. Te opportunity
to hear classmates journal entries as well as family
presentations contributed to this sense of intimacy.
Marys Creative Expressive Prayer
and Genogram Work
Mary: One of the things I did was to make a
REALLY BIG CHART (genogram), and I lived with it
on my wall. So there was this corner I would slip into to
do my family work, and the three dimensionality of it
was important, the spatial aspect.
And lately what I have been doing is I have
been casting the faces of my family in plaster and then
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 129 Transpersonal Approach to Family Systems
pressing clay into them, so right now I am doing people
that are closer to me. So I put their pictures around,
and I work on the mask, and I pray about them, and
I think about them, and I make other things around.
And theres a lot of stress and struggle in this. Im
doing my oldest sisters children right now. Shes going
through a horrifc time. Its hard being so far away.
So for me, its like laying down these prayers for them
and decorating their faces with leaves of plants that are
blooming. Its a trippy thing, but its been really good
for me, you know. I woke up this morning. I spent
a couple of hours working on L. And so, its like the
same part of my room. Teres a way that spatially I
feel likeI dont know. I havent articulated this yet.
So theres a way that its signifcant for me to return to
that part of my room, to start to put up on the walls
further manifestations or explorations into my family.
And its helping me open myself to them in a really
good way. And theres a way I can touch those faces and
be aware of myself with those faces that I am hoping to
more and more be like.
And when I frst started casting them, I didnt
have any idea that it would turn out to be such a big heart
thing for me, you know. I feel like, when Im working
on the faces, you know how you tend a little kid when
theyre sick, you wipe their face, just like that big heart
thing. You know, I really feel this big heart thing for me
to work on these.
So heres something else. Im thinking out
loud. Teres a way we have a family situation where
the boys havent really helped us. And its an old pattern
in the family where the men are very charismatic, very
powerful, and theyre each in their own way crazy . . . .
Tey have wild hair or they played too hard or like this
man, he really has a screw loose.
I feel like in doing these masks that I am fnding
my way with thosethat feld thing again . . . spending
that time and I love this. [It is] really prayerful, loving
to do this work. I feel like myself. Im fnding a way in
myself to be able to be congruent with whats going on. It
also feels that the working Im doing three dimensionally
is helping me fnd my way to this other part of the family
that Im not . . . that Im fnding my way with this mask.
Im fnding my way also into myself, like how to view the
way I develop.
Refections on Mary. I chose to include this
excerpt because it provides a striking example of a mode of
creative expressive prayerful work that one student developed
for herself. Mary found that working in three dimensions
was important for her. She lived with her REALLY BIG
CHART (genogram) in a special corner of her house. She
described a creative expressive, prayerful practice that she
created for herself as she did her family work.
Mary worked on a project of casting the faces
of her family members in plaster and then pressing clay
into them to create masks. As she worked with each
mask, she surrounded herself with pictures of that family
member, thinking about him or her, ofering prayers, and
decorating the mask with the leaves of blooming plants.
Tis is a modality that arose spontaneously for
Mary, and its power surprised her. Mary said, When
I frst started casting them, I didnt have any idea that
it would turn out to be such a big heart thing for me.
Mary found huge beneft in this practice. She touched
a new part of herself she hoped to develop: And theres
a way I can touch those faces and be aware of myself
with those faces, that I am hoping to more and more be
Sweetness Continuous Family Investigation:
Compelling, Exciting, and Painful
Sweetness: Yes, its been about 3 years. Its been
a continuous three years of working. Tere hasnt been a
time in which I said, OK, I need a break. Im not going
to do anything on this. Tings have come about the
family and pieces about the family and family dynamics
continually over this three-year period of time, and I
know that theres still this call to continue to do work
with it. My father is very excited for me to come home
this summer because were going to look up some more
things. I have been sharing with him each step of the way
what Ive been doing and hes very, very excited about it.
Ive become more excited about it and keep doing things
on the Internet.
Interviewer: What kinds of things are you doing
on the Internet?
Sweetness: Finding birth certifcates, fnding
death certifcates. Like I never really knew the history
of Kentucky and where people came from and how the
land was allocated originally and Kentucky was next
to Tennessee, which was a state that we were not free
in and couldnt be free in. So lots of people came to
Kentucky with no sense of family, nothing, but just to
get away from being in a slave state. Uncovering that
piece of history and what Ive recently found out is that
my mothers grandparents werent from Kentucky. So
thats been really, really interesting to really start tracing
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 130 Lazarus
and picking and fnding and delving into. And its been
painful. Its been a really painful process. I got into some
of the Archives of Kentucky and found some of the court
hearings and where they would, a slave was trying to
run away, of a plantation, they would be caught and
sentenced to so many lashes, whippings. Reading this, the
pain and the torment, it sometimes feels overwhelming,
it feels a little much, and yet there is this push to keep
delving and trying to locate this information and trying
to make sense of it.
Im not quite sure what all this means, but its
been really important to share with the family. And
everyone wants me to bring home the big sheet that I
prepared for class, so I can hang it up. And everybody
wants to be on it. Its like we all want to fnd where we
are. Did you put this person in? Well yes, mom, of
course I put them in. Oh, we were hoping maybe we
could have a reunion when you come and everyone can
see this.
Teyre hoping that I have found some pieces of
information about my mothers grandparents, which has
been very difcult if you were African American. You
didnt go on a census; you went on as property. Its those
kinds of things, and peoples names changed. Oftentimes
you had to take the name of the family that owned you.
So its been that kind of holding thats been hard. . . . I feel
a weight has been lifted from my shoulders. And I feel
this research is part of the big piece.
Refections on Sweetness. Whereas Marys
family work drew her toward prayerful mask-making,
Sweetness was drawn deeply into family investigation. In
this transpersonal feminist approach to family systems,
students are encouraged to follow a particular direction
that has the most heart and meaning for them. Sweetness
found much beneft in her chosen direction. It brought
her closer to her family. She enjoyed sharing her work
with her father at every step of the way. In addition, her
family was interested in her ongoing exploration: And
everyone wants me to bring home the big sheet that I
prepared for class, so I can hang it up. And everybody
wants to be on it.
It also eased a burden she carried. Paradoxically,
though some of what Sweetness uncovered was extremely
painful (e.g., If you were African American you didnt
go on a census, you went on as property), she felt a sense
of lightening: I feel a weight has been lifted from my
shoulders. She attributed a part of this lifting to her
family work.
As I witnessed students of diferent cultures and
ethnicities share particular pieces of their family history,
I perceived greater possibilities for understanding,
empathy, and appreciation of diferences. It was as if
we were each privileged to look through a very detailed
and private window of life and experience at times so
diferent, at times so similar, to our own. Tere was
something very powerful and illuminating about seeing
each person in the very deep context from which she or
he came. Several students reported that this process was
a start in the healing of past hurts that had happened in
their relationships.
Austins Somatic Response
to His Family Presentation: A Heart Opening
Austin: So it [my family presentation] was a very,
very touching experience. I didnt know how touching it
was, but I knew when I was asked how I was doing at
the end [of the presentation] I couldnt say. I didnt know
because I was so touched, too deep to really put a label or
name on what it was.
And then we did a Reichian experience [in my
next class]. We were lying on our backs and loosening
up the armoring in our bodies. I remember feeling a
ping in my left lung. I didnt know what it was. I just
remember feeling it go of, kind of like a small needle. I
went through the rest of the day. I did a drawing while
listening to class and it ended up being this drawing of
a person sitting cross-legged and having a swirl coming
out of the chest cavity. I did it completely unconsciously.
I wasnt paying attention to what my hands were doing
as I was listening to class.
Ten I went home and came back the next day.
As I was pulling up to ITP a song came on the radio,
Elton Johns Candle in the Wind, the verse, youre
like the candle in the wind, youve been blown out
long before your legend ever did. At that instant my
grandmother on my moms side fashed into my mind
and I just saw so vividly my genogram and her children,
all my uncles and aunts and my mother and myself as
her lineage, and you know she was blown out so quickly
in the car accident. I just lost it.
I cried for the rest of the song. I had a little bit of
time so I was going to go in and meditate. I went into the
meditation room and my left lung started hurting again.
And so I did some concentration meditation on that area to
see what was going on. With every breath it started getting
worse and worse and fnally I just stopped concentrating
on my breathing because it was hurting so much.
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 131 Transpersonal Approach to Family Systems
I thought I had a defated lung and so I ended
up going to the hospital. Te doctor said it wasnt a
defated lung, that it was muscular, in between my ribs
up against my lung something had pulled, supposedly.
He was going to do an EKG on me because he thought I
was having heart problems. But after checking me out he
said he didnt think that was necessary because my heart
was sounding strong. I hadnt even thought about it
being over my heart. I just was thinking about my lung.
So that was the frst indicator that maybe this
was heart related. Within two weeks I was back in Aikido
practicing and so that kind of ruled out strained muscles.
It didnt hurt after that. Te only other time after that
was when I was listening to someone elses family
presentation, and I was being touched emotionally again.
So really for me that was an opening up of my heart to
my family and to myself and thats kind of my indicator.
When I feel that little ping I know, Oh, that must be
emotional. Something emotional is coming up.
I havent felt it in quite a while because I am
paying attention more now to my emotions. Its like when
Im not paying attention that it goes of. Its my indicator
light. It says, Pay attention to whats going on.
Refections on Austin. Austin spoke to the
power of the experience of his presenting his family to
his classmates: I didnt know how touching it was, but
I knew when I was asked how I was doing at the end [of
the presentation], I couldnt say. I didnt know because
I was so touched, too deep to really put a label or name
on what it was.
Te experience continued as Austin progressed
through his courses that day. A Reichian experience
in his next class focused on loosening body armor. He
reported feeling a ping and unconsciously completed
a spontaneous drawing of a person sitting cross legged
and having a swirl come out of his chest cavity. I am
reminded of Peter Levines approach to the healing
of trauma, which he has termed Somatic Experiencing
(Levine & Kline, 2007). Levine talked frequently about
the healing efects of the discharge of energy that has
been trapped in the nervous system after trauma. I
wondered if Austin was experiencing such a discharge of
energy, straight from his heart area.
Austins experience continued into the next day.
In response to a song on the radio, Austin reported, my
grandmother on my moms side fashed into my mind
and I just so vividly saw my genogram . . . and you know
she was blown out so quickly in the car accident. I just
lost it. I cried for the rest of the song. I wondered if
perhaps more of what is called discharge in the
somatic experiencing work was occurring for Austin. I
also wondered if, in Reichian terms, Austin was feeling
the beneft of a loosening of his body armor.
Troubled by an intense pain in his chest area,
Austin made a trip to the hospital, thinking that there
was a problem with his lung. Austin was told that his
heart and lungs were fne, and that the doctor suspected
some sort of muscular strain. Austin noticed that the
ping only happens when he is touched emotionally,
as when he is listening to someone elses family
presentation. He made sense of the experience in his
own terms: So really for me that was an opening up of
my heart to my family and to myself and thats kind of
my indicator. . . . When . . . I feel that little ping I know,
Oh, that must be emotional. Something emotional is
coming up.
Recent discoveries in neuroscience have pointed
to the importance of mindfulness of emotion as a factor
that supports neural integration. Siegel (2009) noted:
We fnd that this fow toward maximal complexity
occurs with integration and actually achieves
the qualities we can remember with the acronym
FACES: fexible, adaptive, coherent, energized and
stable. (p. 157)
Siegel further observed:
Tis is how integration can be seen as the heart of
healthin a body, a brain, a mind, a relationship,
or a group such as a community or a society. When
we emotionally process something within any of
these levels of experience, we are altering the state of
integration of our system. (p. 159)
I believe the way Austin moved through his experience
demonstrates the characteristics of the FACES fow:
he described an experience that is fexible, adaptive,
coherent, energized, and stable. It will be interesting to
check in with Austin to see, years later, if he feels that
experience contributed to an alteration in the state of
integration of his system, as Siegel implied.
Benefts and Drawbacks of
A Transpersonal Feminist Approach
to Family Systems
ajor themes from students comments about the
perceived benefts and drawbacks of ATFAFS are
presented in Tables 2 and 3, respectively.
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 132 Lazarus
Four main themes of pitfalls or drawbacks
emerged from the data: possible hurts, class organization
issues, critiques regarding approach, and critiques
regarding the instructor.
Possible hurts. I discussed confdentiality issues
at the beginning of the class, and I asked that students
respect each others confdentiality. Tere is, though,
always the risk that there might be a breach.
I was aware, when planning and teaching this
course, that some deep and unpleasant material might
arise, which might at times be overwhelming. Tough
there was processing time in class, through dreamwork
and journaling, I understood that this might not be
enough for some students at some times. To address
this concern, I made a repeated recommendation to
students from the beginning of class that they arrange
support for themselves through outside psychotherapy.
Tere were quite a number of transpersonally-trained
psychotherapists in the community during the time I
was teaching. Additionally, as I became aware of how
powerful an efect the family presentations could have
on students, I regularly suggested that students plan for
some time of rest and support after their presentations.
During my last year of teaching, with the able
help of my teaching assistant, we experimented with
creating a way in which older students might mentor new
students through this process. My teaching assistant held
a number of support groups for interested students.
Finally, due to the risks involved with bringing
up trauma, some training and practice in trauma healing
(Levine, 1997; Ogden, 2006) might be a useful adjunct
to this curriculum to support the transformative aspects
of the program.
Class organization issues. Most comments in
this category asked for more of various aspects of the
course: more presentation time, more processing time,
more theory.
Critiques regarding the approach. More
information is needed in defning this approach, which
this article begins to address. It is interesting that for
some there was too much emphasis on emotions/feelings,
while for others this emphasis was seen as a beneft. Te
approach does take time, though students can choose
how much time they wish to devote. Te approach does
involve taking a look at the past, but I would argue that
the present can be greatly enriched when there is a fuller
understanding of the past.
Critiques regarding the instructor. I think
there is some truth to the observation that I was in a
process of reintegrating the feminist part of myself that
did not have full expression in my spiritual life at the
time. I think there is also truth to the critique that I had
some issues with relationship to my own authority and
Table 2.
Students Perceived Drawbacks to
A Transpersonal Feminist Approach
to Family Systems
Possible hurts
Possible hurt from family members you contact/
are unable to contact
Possible cut off from important family relationships
Possible breach in confdentiality
Group not supportive
Possible physical repercussions
Process can be overwhelming
Not adequate support or container if someone has
a spiritual or psychological emergency
Process can take you to some very dark places
Unpleasant memories
Uncovering a family secret can create nervousness
in the family
Too much emotional processing for some without
enough balance of practical work in the world.
Class organization issues
Would prefer separating family systems and journaling
into two classes. More theory. More experiential
work. More time to present. More family systems
courses in curriculum for those who choose to go on.
Presentation time too rushed
Need more processing time
Would have liked a smaller class with more processing
Critiques regarding approach
Needs more information about the defnition of a
transpersonal, feminist approach to family systems
Not easy to evaluate statistically
Lack of acceptance from the counseling world
Not enough emphasis on emotions/feelings
Takes a lot of time
Past oriented
Critiques regarding the instructor
April: My experience is that shes bringing back the
feminist side of her she had to push down in the
spiritual part of herself. In coming to terms with this,
I believe she is trying to integrate those pieces of
Mary to Irene: I question your relationship to your own
authority. Irenes own biases and blind spots
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 133 Transpersonal Approach to Family Systems
with fnding my voice. I do see this preliminary research
and the writing of this article as a way of fnding and
strengthening my voice.
Te benefts described by students were
substantial. Four main themes emerged: healing,
empowerment, community building, and powerful.
Te healing theme divided into the subthemes healing/
transforming of self, emotional healing, healing of
important relationships, healing for other family
members, and contributes to global healing.
It is not surprising, and heartening as well, that
healing was the major theme that emerged regarding
benefts of ATFAFS. Tat the healing category
encompassed strengthening sense of self, emotional
healing, and healing of important relationships is also
not surprising; this confrms my own experience with
the work and my observations of students and clients
over the years. I was delighted to see that the theme of
empowerment emerged as a perceived beneft: fnding
voice, strengthening voice, discovering for oneself rather
from outside experts, and choosing ones own focus
were all aspects that are consciously nurtured in this
Community building was another major theme
that emerged, and again confrms my observations while
teaching. A very special kind of community is described,
one that I hope we as humanity are growing toward, where
dark parts are seen and accepted, intimacy is increased,
there is support for appreciation for diferences, as well as
an increased feeling of being understood and accepted.
Powerful was the fnal beneft mentioned,
described by a comment as, working many levels at
A major beneft not mentioned by students, but
that I have enjoyed in my own life as a result of working
with this approach, is something I call sturdiness. I
have noticed a deep groundedness, which I attribute to
an understanding and familiarity with my roots through
the generations. I have, of course, worked with this
approach longer than my students, and this sturdiness
has developed over time.
Final Words
hen I was on faculty at ITP, I participated in
a retreat at which we talked about core values
for the Institute. As I recall, we agreed on four values:
mindfulness, compassion, discernment, and appreciation
of diferences. I believe ATFAFS contributed to each
Table 3.
Students Perceived Benefts of
A Transpersonal Feminist Approach
to Family Systems
Healing/transforming of self
Nurturing the coming out of aspects of self not
yet been explored
Insight into self/self understanding
Seeing patterns
Broadening perspective/seeing people in context
Seeing self differently
Stronger sense of self
Creates an opening to the unconscious
Making the unconscious conscious
Emotional healing
Allows dropping of engrained defenses
Opening gates to emotional awareness and
Being seen and accepted
Weight lifted from shoulders
Opening the heart
Healing the heart
Movement toward softer emotions (love, forgiveness)
Developing love and compassion
Access to forgiveness
Healing of important relationships
Being more fully ones authentic self in
important relationships
Process of forgiveness
Honoring people as they are
Holding all people in a loving way
Renewed appreciation for those who came
Appreciation for family members journeys
Insight into important others
Healing for other family members
Contributes to global healing
Finding voice
Strengthening voice
Discovering for one self rather from outside experts
Choosing ones own focus
Community building
Having dark part seen and accepted
Increases intimacy
Promotes appreciation for differences
Feeling understood and accepted
Working with many levels at once
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 134 Lazarus
of these values. Were that meeting happening today, I
would argue for a ffth value: empowerment. I would
argue that developing and strengthening voice is
critical to the training of transpersonal psychologists.
I believe that strong and developed voices will support
transpersonally-trained psychologists, spiritual guides,
teachers, and scholars as they set out to do their various
forms of healing work in the world.
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1. I am very grateful to the substantial contributions of
Kathryn Lazarus Baron, with whom I developed this
approach, beginning in 1989. I am also very grateful
to Marianne-Ault Riche, June Singer, Robert
Frager, Hillevi Ruumet, and Louis Vuksinic for
their insightful consultation. Te works of Murray
Bowen, Michael Kerr, Daniel Papero, Monica
McGoldrick, Carmen Knudsen-Martin, Natalie
Goldberg, James Pennebaker, Ira Progof, Fraser
Boa, Marie Louise von Franz, Jill Mellick, Michelle
Cassout, Larry Dossey, and Tich Nhat Hanh have
been very infuential as well. I am grateful as well
to all students who were present in my classes and
those who chose to participate in this preliminary
investigation. Special thanks to Darcy Horton, for
her careful editing, and Marie Mae for her invaluable
contributions as my teaching assistant.
Special thanks to Ryan Rominger and Mary
Zinsmeyer, who assisted in developing the protocol
and also conducted and transcribed interviews
and assisted in analyzing data. My thanks as well
to Kathy Stannard-Friel and Monique Vazire who
assisted in the developing of the protocol.
2. In the residential doctoral program at ITP, this
approach was taught in a class entitled Inner Work
Practicum; Creative Expression was taught as a
separate course by Dr. Jill Mellick. In the ITP Global
course A Transpersonal Approach to Family Systems
(Lazarus, 1999), creative expression was included
as part of the course. When students worked with
this approach in Clinical Practicum, journaling,
dreamwork, creative expression and other modalities
were not a part of the course. Students used these
modalities as they felt called to individually.
Public disclosure of journaling, dreams, or
family history is never required. Students may pass
on reading journal entries and may elect to submit
a paper on their family investigation instead of
choosing to make a family presentation to the class.
About the Author
Irene Lazarus, PhD, maintains a private practice as a
licensed marriage and family therapist in Chapel Hill,
North Carolina. Dr. Lazarus served on the faculty
of the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology for 24
years during which she taught in both the global
and residential programs. Dr. Lazarus served as the
Associate Editor for Clinical Matters of the Journal of
Transpersonal Psychology from 2002-2008 and as the
Coeditor and Editor of the newsletter for the North
Carolina Association of Marriage and Family Terapy
from 2002-2009. She has presented at national and state
conferences and to graduate students on A Transpersonal
Feminist Approach to Family Systems.
About the Journal
Te International Journal of Transpersonal Studies is a
peer-reviewed academic journal in print since 1981. It is
published by Floraglades Foundation, and serves as the
ofcial publication of the International Transpersonal
Association. Te journal is available online at www., and in print through www. (search for IJTS).
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 137 Wheel of the Year as Spiritual Psychology
Te Wheel of the Year as a Spiritual Psychology for Women

Valeire Kim Duckett
Asheville, NC, USA
Te Wheel of the Year is a name used to describe the cyclical progression of the seasons
through time and most often described as part of Pagan, Goddess, and womens spirituality
and/or Wiccan magical traditions. Tis article introduces the authors conceptual model
of the Wheel of the Year as an earth-based psychology for women, one that is inherently
feminist and also based in transpersonal psychologies. Women explore the turning points,
or holydays of the Wheel, on both spiritual and psychological levels through a wide range of
modalities that engage body, mind, emotion, and spirit. Te Wheel provides an overarching
psychospiritual framework for recognizing, understanding, and responding to experiences
and processes that may occur over the course of a womans life.
fter woman and spirit, feminist is the term I most
often use to describe myself, my worldview, and
my spiritual path. I believe I chose, on a spiritual
level, to be part of bringing balance to the power dynamics
between the sexes/genders on the planet at this time, and
to that end, I have chosen and feel that I have been called
to work specifcally in the area of female healing and
empowerment. I have done this in a number of ways all
the adult years of my life: as a student of feminism, as
an activist for the prevention of violence against women,
and through my thirty-year career as a womens studies
teacher in university settings.
Some time ago, even as I continued teaching in
the university, my work with women moved from the
academy back out into the community, where, like many
feminists of my generation, my passion and advocacy
for women began. Equipped with a solid foundation in
academic scholarship about women, I have gone on to
create environments, structures, and processes for women
to acknowledge, retrieve, name, release, and heal old pain
and anger, both as individuals and collectively, and to do
so in ways that honor and celebrate women and womens
ways of knowing and being. I call the container in which
this is done circle, and the way that it is done ritual, both
of which I consider to be remnants of ancient, long-
buried spiritual psychologies that are re-emerging today.
Although the technologies of circle, ritual, and the Wheel
itself can be successfully applied to a variety of settings
(Baldwin, 1998) and populations (Baker & Hill, 1998;
Starhawk, 1999), I work exclusively with women in my
professional endeavors and in theorizing, as I do here,
regarding the Wheel of the Year and female development
and psychology from a feminist perspective.

For over two decades I have ofered formal
classes in Goddess and womens spirituality
and in this
way, sat circle with hundreds, and perhaps thousands,
of women, listening and learning about women from
women. As a woman who also teaches classes in women
and psychology in the university, I consider what I have
learned from women in circle to be of equal value to
what I have learned in academic settings. As with the
work of other woman-centered psychologies, such as
that of Carol Gilligan (1982; Gilligan, Ward, & Taylor,
1988), Jean Baker Miller (1986; Miller & Stiver, 1997),
and now many others who have also listened to and
researched the lived experiences of girls and women,
I have gone on to apply feminist research by creating
learning environments that are specifc to, and supportive
of, women. For example, I have ofered a Womens
Mystery School since 1997, with a three-year formal
curriculum that ofers training in feminist (Christ &
Plaskow, 1989; Christ, 1997) and Goddess spirituality
based on my professional experience and training in
womens psychology and spirituality and my work with
Te Wheel of the Year. I now travel throughout the US
teaching a year-long training called Te Wheel of the
Year as an Earth-based Spiritual Psychology for Women
through the auspices of the Re-formed Congregation
of the GoddessInternational,
and I am currently
completing a book on the subject.
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies, 29(2), 2010, pp. 137-151
Keywords: earth-based psychology, female development, womens spirituality, Wicca,
feminism, transpersonal psychologies, psychosynthesis.
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 138 Duckett
Although my interests and work encompass
all aspects of womens spirituality in general, and
Dianic Goddess and Wiccan traditions in particular
(e.g., Barrett, 2007; Budapest, 1989; Jade, 1991), for
the last twenty years much of my work has focused on
European, earth-based shamanic and magical traditions.
Te centrality of the Wheel of the Year, or the Wheel of
Life, in these traditions has become a beloved tool in my
personal spiritual practice. I have also discovered, along
with my sisters who have followed the Wheel together
as a community for many years, that the Wheel is not
simply a teaching or illustrative tool about the seasons,
or planting, or a backdrop for the agricultural myths of
antiquity. I have come to see it as yet another remnant
of ancient psychologies as well as a spiritual path, and I
teach it as such, as will be detailed below.
Te reader will note that I have adopted instances
of capitalization throughout this document to refect the
conventions of usage adopted by the spiritualities that
are foundational to the Wheel of the Year work (e.g.,
in relation to words that signify sacred and symbolic
terminology and concepts in traditions such as Wicca or
Paganism). Such use of capitalization is in keeping with
traditional usage in mainstream religious and spiritual
practices. In other instances I have capitalized terms
and concepts that I have developed as a theorist and
practitioner that are integral to the overall conceptual
framework of this psychospiritual model.
Te Wheel
he Wheel of the Year is a name used by those
involved in contemporary European earth-based
spiritualities, and now in common usage, to describe
the cyclical progression of the seasons through time. Te
turning points, or holydays, of these seasons have also
been given names, though the names vary from culture
to culture and in diferent time periods. Some of the most
commonly known of these are: Imbolc, Spring Equinox,
Beltane, Summer Solstice, Lammas, Autumn Equinox,
Samhain, and Winter Solstice.
Some contemporary
sources (e.g., Hutton, 1991) have asserted that the
term Wheel of the Year is a fairly recent invention of
contemporary Wicca and Neopaganism. Tese same
sources stressed that there is currently no evidence that
any one group of ancient peoples celebrated all eight of
the holydays now recognized by contemporary European,
earth-based groups.
It may never be known what the ancient fore-
mothers called the movement of the seasons through
time, or how many seasons or increments of time they
celebrated, or the names these special days were given.
However, because of the work of Marija Gimbutas
(1982, 1989, 1991, 1999), the eminent authority on old
European cultures, and others (e.g., Marler, 1997) in the
felds of archeology and archaeomythology,
it is known
that these ancestors did in fact celebrate the seasons and
experienced them, and human life itself, as cyclical.
In Neolithic Europe and Asia Minor (ancient
Anatolia)in the era between 7000 BCE and 3000
BCEreligion focused on the wheel of life and
its cyclical turning. Tis is the geographic sphere
and the time frame I refer to as Old Europe. In
Old Europe, the focus of the religion encompassed
birth, nurturing, growth, death, and regeneration,
as well as crop cultivation and the raising of animals.
(Gimbutas, 1999, p. 3)
Just as the ancient foremothers did not separate them-
selves from nature in the ways later patriarchal worldviews
proscribed (Eisler, 1987; Stone, 1978), it is also likely
that they, like contemporary transpersonalists, did not
separate their experiences into separate compartments of
spiritual and psychological.

Although I speak in passing about the idea that
following the seasons may have been a psychology as
well as a spirituality and a way of life for ancient Old
European peoples and cultures, proving such psycho-
spiritual suppositions or the antiquity of the Wheel in
its present form is not the focus of this article. My focus
instead is to introduce readers to the concept of Te
Wheel of the Year as a helpful contemporary earth-based
psychology for women and that it is, as I conceptualize
and teach it, inherently feminist and also solidly based
in transpersonal psychologies. To that end, after some
contextual information and an overview of the Wheel
of the Year teachings and format, I will explore in some
detail a number of the holydays to show how I work with
them as a spiritual psychology.
Transpersonal and Spiritual Psychology
he Wheel as it is known today is seen or experienced
mainly as an inherent part of contemporary, earth-
based spiritualities, as in Wicca, Paganism, Goddess and
womens spiritualities. As I previously asserted, my work
shifts the focus of the Wheel to being a psychology, and
specifcally, a transpersonal and spiritual psychology.
I have always had an organic interest in
psychology, though never in its traditional forms. My
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 139 Wheel of the Year as Spiritual Psychology
early feminism taught me to mistrust much of psychology
because of its inherent androcentrism (Baker, 1986)
and, as I began to understand later, its limited scope.
I encountered more expansive psychologies in the ideas
of the transpersonal through my early experiences with
holotropic breathwork and the accompanying theoretical
frameworks of Christine and Stanislov Grof (1988) and
elsewhere in my graduate program in transpersonal and
spiritual psychologies. Only then did I begin to fnd and
apply psychologies that made sense to me.
Transpersonal psychologies recognize, study, and
develop responses to experiences that are transcendent
and spiritual, including those that cannot be explained
fully by the biographical life of an individual. Tese can
range from what Maslow (1983) called peak experiences
to altered and non-ordinary states of consciousness,
mysticism, trance states, and the like (Lajoi & Shapiro,
1992). Caplan (2009) asserted that transpersonal
psychology addresses the full spectrum of human
psychospiritual developmentfrom our deepest
wounds and needs, to the existential crisis of the human
being, to the most transcendent of our consciousness
(p. 231).
During my graduate studies in the 1990s, I
encountered a trend calling for changes in transpersonal
psychology to include more focus on the spiritual. Tis was
the spiritual psychology described by Tomas Yeomans
(1999). Te need to distinguish between transpersonal
and spiritual psychology seems to have diminished
today, and I continue to use the terms interchangeably.
Central to both transpersonal and spiritual psychology
is the recognition of the connection and overlap of the
psychological and the spiritual, which is the basis of my
assertion that the Wheel of the Year as I conceptualize
and work with it is a spiritual psychology.
It took me some time to realize that what I
was already doing in my circles and rituals with women
was, in fact, transpersonal/spiritual psychology. Tat
realization came in the mid-1990s when I was introduced
to the writings of Anne Yeomans (1984) and her work
regarding psychosynthesis, which I will expand upon
later in this essay.
Te Wheel of the Year
as a Spiritual Psychology for Women
he basis of the Wheel of the Year (WOTY) as a
spiritual psychology is that of honoring both the
seasons of nature and the corresponding seasons of
womens lives. Although many womens and Goddess
spirituality sources have made these same connections
(Barrett, 2007; Budapest, 1989; Christ, 1987;
Mountainwater, 1991; Starhawk, 1999; Teish, 1985),
none have named or practiced the Wheel, specifcally
or explicitly, as a psychology, nor have they recognized
or explicitly made the case for the potential of
conceptualizing, living, and teaching it as such. Most of
these sources speak of and teach the Wheel as a part of
Pagan or womens/Goddess spirituality and/or Wiccan
magical traditions. I deeply honor, am versed in, and
live these traditions myself and consider these and other
women writers and thinkers my respected foremothers
in this endeavor. However, because of my training and
experience in womens circles, womens studies, womens
psychology, and transpersonal psychologies, I believe
my perspectives and theoretical model regarding the
Wheel as a psychology are broader.
Although there are many diferences, some of
the works closest to my own perspective of the Wheel,
specifcally as a psychology, include the articulations of
Davis and Leonard (2002) in Te Circle of Life: Tirteen
Archetypes for Everywoman and the tone of Judith Bergers
(1999) work Herbal Rituals. Surprisingly perhaps, Laurel
Ann Reinhardts (2001) book for young readers, Seasons
of Magic: A Girls Journey, ofered one of the most
profound psychological perspectives of the Wheel and
the holydays that I have encountered. Perhaps this is not
so surprising given that Reinhardt is also a practicing
In working with the WOTY, participants
explore the psychospiritual nature of the eight holydays
of the European earth-based Wheel as well as other
holydays that have been identifed and added based on
womens lived experiences. For example, this Wheel
includes holydays related to Menarche, the Amazon, and
the Crone.
Whether it is in the monthly format of the
Womens Mystery School or the quarterly weekend
intensives of the WOTY trainings, all participants attend
an initial eight-hour overview of Te Wheel as a spiritual
psychology. Trough lecture, discussions, altars, theatre,
music, and rituals, women begin to unlearn or expand
upon much that they may have read or experienced
about these holydays exclusively as related to spirituality.
Simultaneously, they encounter the basics of this new and
unique way of perceiving and experiencing the Wheel
and the holydays as a synthesis of both psychology and
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 140 Duckett
Tereafter, for each of the holydays, participants
prepare by reading materials from a wide variety of sources,
including those that describe traditional spiritual ideas
about the holydays per se and readings from womens
studies about womens lives and psychology specifcally
(Kesselman, McNair, & Schniedewind, 2004; Maitlin,
2004). For example, for Spring Equinox (March 21/22),
which in the WOTY is also the holyday of Te Divine
Girl-Child, students read from Pagan, Goddess, Wiccan
and womens spirituality sources about how Spring
Equinox is generally thought of and celebrated, as well
as from feminist sources that describe the reality of girls
socialization and experiences (Gilligan, 1982; Gilligan,
Ward, & Taylor, 1988; Kesselman et al., 2004; Maitlin,
2004). As a way of exploring each womans personal
experience of Spring Equinox or the Divine Girl-
Child holyday, participants are asked to take all of this
information in and allow their own response to surface.
From that response, women create a fve to seven minute
ritual gesture that each woman shares/enacts when the
group meets for the holyday.
Like other contemporary non-dominate
spiritualities (Cahill & Halpern, 1992), womens
spirituality has expanded upon the defnition and
experience of ritual that goes beyond the notion of a
series of actions performed according to a prescribed
order (Oxford, 2002, p. 1170) to include rituals that are
organic, individual, spontaneous, and creative (Miller,
2004). I have developed a methodology I use in the Wheel
as psychology work that I call personal rituals. Individual
personal rituals are gestures that speak about or to the
emotional response that arises in a woman as she explores
the readings and refects upon her own life experiences.
Tey can include enactments, psychodrama, the creation
of altars, readings, dance or movement, the honoring of
items from that time period, shamanic healings, and the
like, all done within a fve to seven minute timeframe.
Although she may enlist the help of other participants
(e.g., as in a psychodrama), these are neither group rituals
nor performances, but rather deeply personal connective
conversations among the participant, the aspect of herself
she is working with, and Spirit. Often it is the emotional
and developmental processes a woman goes through
as she prepares her personal ritual that is even more
signifcant than the actual gesture itself. Personal rituals
done in this way are unique to this work and one of the
main reasons women are drawn to follow the Wheel as a
psychology. At each holyday, depending upon how many
women are participating, the personal rituals take three
or four hours, with women enacting their personal rituals
one after the other. Although the group takes brief breaks
in silence, the whole experience is considered a ritual in
and of itself. Te intensity and power of 13 to 18 women,
each speaking the truth about her life experience in the
modality of ritual and gesture, rather than just word-
saying, creates an environment of exponential healing
and authentic celebration.
All of this is done in what is called circle or
circle culture, which has been best described by Christina
Baldwin (1998) in Calling the Circle: Te First and Future
Culture and popularized by Jean Shinoda Bolen (1999) in
Te Millionth Circle. Circle is a way of being together

(Te Womens Well, n.d., para. 1) and includes the use
of a talking item (a technique used by Native American
and other indigenous, earth-based peoples to assure that
each speaker in a circle may speak without interruption),
guidelines for respectful, attentive listening and
witnessing, as well as commitments to confdentiality
and anonymity. Te personal ritual format described
here is, without a doubt, one of the most powerful
psychological tools I have ever experienced, applied, or
Since learning is not just an intellectual endeavor,
in addition to the personal rituals, each time the group
meets, women also invite learning through their
bodies, emotions, and spirits using modalities such as
personal processing, meditation, movement, journaling,
visualization, creating art, divination, singing, chanting,
drumming, trance dancing, shamanic journeying, and
the like. Tose using transpersonal psychologies will
most likely recognize these healing modalities. Using a
large repertoire of methods helps assure that participants
with diferent learning, experiential, or emotional styles
are served.
Tus, at every holyday juncture, each woman
of the group encounters related material prior to the
session and allows an emotional response to surface, and
responds in the language of personal ritual. Te group
then encounters further information and experiential
exercises related to the holyday when they meet as a part
of the Mystery School or WOTY weekend. In this way,
women work throughout the year, and each year, with
each life phase represented on the Wheel, including the
Girl-Child, the Maiden/Adolescent, She Who Cycles,
She Who Creates, Sustains, and Nurtures,
the Amazon,
the Mid-Life Woman, the Crone, and so on.
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 141 Wheel of the Year as Spiritual Psychology
One can name and work with these encounters
of the seasons of womens lives in many ways. For
example, in psychosynthesis they can be identifed and
worked with as subpersonalities (Rowan, 2001; Ruefer,
1996). Tese points on the Wheel and the corresponding
phases of womens lives can also be experienced and
worked with using shamanic techniques. I use the term
shaman and employ shamanic methods with respect and
care, being aware of and committed to an ethic I gained
and maintain as a feminist, namely to take care not to
appropriate the spiritual traditions of cultures other than
my own (Tree Rivers, 1991).
I have chosen to work specifcally with
European, earth-based traditions such as the Wheel for
that very reason, to ofer all women, and particularly
women of white, European ancestry and backgrounds,
an opportunity to explore and fnd their own indigenous,
earth-based roots and shamanic traditions rather than
taking the spiritual traditions of others. Sadly, at this
time, just as the names the foremothers of Old Europe
gave to the seasons or holydays remain unknown, so too
the names they gave to those who embodied what is today
known as shamanism have been lost. Although the full
extent of their practices remains unclear, this situation is
being partially rectifed by the work of Max Dashu (n.d.),
Vicki Noble (1991), Barbara Tedlock (2005) and others.

Te WOTY itself, both as a spirituality and a
psychology, can be conceptualized and experienced
as shamanic in a number of ways, including using a
universal commonalities perspective (Harner, 1990). Te
standards used to describe or identify shamanic methods
or experiences are many and include the following: they
must incorporate a notion of the birth/death/rebirth
cycle, be used for healing/wholeness, and include the
notion of various dimensions of reality or places one
can travel or visit for information to bring back to this
reality, or another reality, for healing. In the model I am
presenting here of the WOTY as a spiritual psychology,
all of these factors are present including the notion that
work with subpersonalities or developmental life phases
can be considered other dimensions and worked with
through the use of shamanic ritual.
Shamanic rituals and transpersonal perspectives
are fully integrated into the WOTY practice. For example,
I believe that Western women have yet to fully acknowledge
and grieve the loss of the Goddess cultures that occurred
some 6,000 years ago (Gimbutas, 1991; see also Eisler,
1987); those feelings can and do afect Western women
collectively and as individuals today. Tese unrecognized
and unnamed transpersonal experiences or matrices can
present in any number of ways, including serious and
immobilizing psychological problems such as anxiety,
depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, phobias, and
Women in the WOTY practice learn about
Goddess cultures and their loss in intellectual work
with the Wheel, we do personal and group rituals of
acknowledgment and grieving, and we may also use
shamanic journeys to retrieve specifc information and
memory in support of healing. As the ritualist and
transpersonal helper or guide, I give the same kind of
support and suggestions in these situations as one might
when working therapeutically with a personal, repressed
biographical memory, but with the added perspective of
transpersonal psychology and methods.
A similar situation often occurs as we study
the Inquisition and the torture and murder of women
en masse in what is known as the Burning Times

(Armstrong, Pettigrew, Johansson, & Read, 1990;
Barstow, 1994). Women in general, and especially those
currently involved in herbalism, midwifery, and other
female healing modalities common during that historical
period of Europe or those interested in or returning to
or maintaining their earth-based roots from any cultural
tradition, often have transpersonal experiences they
have no way of understanding or working through
within traditional psychological frameworks. Common
transpersonal perspectives and methodologies such
as visualization, ritual, past life regressions, shamanic
journeying, and the like can be of great help in these
Tis has been one of the most fulflling aspects of
the fusion of feminism and transpersonal psychology for
me. Feminism, and the subsequent scholarship that has
grown out of feminism, can give factual information about
womens experiences, while transpersonal perspectives
and psychologies can ofer not only a framework to
contextualize collective non-biographical experiences
but also methods inherent in that framework to respond
to womens bodily/emotional/spiritual reactions to this
information. As a longtime feminist educator and as a
woman involved in womens psychology, often the only
way I have witnessed movement and healing in womens
psyches and lives has been through this application
of transpersonal psychology, transpersonal/shamanic
methods, or both.
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 142 Duckett
on earth cease to grow and produce until another god
intercedes and Persephone is permitted to spend half of
her time above ground with her mother. However, she
must still reside the rest of the year in the Underworld
with her abductor. If elaborated on at all, this story of
abduction and rape continues to be proposed in world
civilization classes as a story that the Greeks created
and used to explain the seasons, specifcally Winter
and Spring. When I recount this version of the story to
women, they shudder, shake their heads, and roll their
eyes (and often weep). All of us who share those moments
are very clear that we would never tell our children, and
especially our daughters, such a story to explain the
naturalness and beauty of the changing seasons; nor do
we believe that Greek mothers did this.
Neither did Charlene Spretnak, one of the
early writers in womens spirituality, who constructed
an earlier version of the story based on the many
artistic representations of Persephones descent that
omit the rape (Downing, 1994, p. 106). Spretnak
(1992) saw these as reminders of an earlier version of
the story. Spretnaks version of the myth proceeds
from her assumption that the story of Persephones rape
and abduction was added to the Persephone traditions
after the rise of patriarchy, indeed, that it is a disguised
representation of the patriarchal invasion (Downing,
1994, p. 106).
In Spretnaks (1992) rendition of the story,
Persephone and her mother Demeter are living in beauty
and peace. Persephone, however, experiences an internal
shift when she sees the spirits of those who have died
of in the distance, their faces drawn with pain and
bewilderment (Downing, 1994, p. 110). She chooses
to go and minister to them and in this way spends time
in the Underworld. In this story, she also returns from
the place of the dead in the spring to be with her Mother
in the above world. She feels called to be in both worlds
and goes back and forth voluntarily. Tere is no violence
in this version, only the story of the natural cycles of
birth, death, and rebirth.
In work with the WOTY as a spiritual psych-
ology, Spretnaks story and her notion of Persephones
descent as voluntary is taken one step further, a step
based on what can be readily observed in nature and
in ones own garden. Te story is much the same,
with Persephone and Demeter, the Goddess, having a
wonderful time in the beauty of the world, marveling at
all of creation and loving one another. One day, however,
From Autumn Equinox to Spring Equinox:
Te Underworld/Inner Time of the Year
lthough this is not the place to ofer an in-depth
description of each of the holydays, I would like to
focus on some of them to give the reader a sense of how
they can be worked with as a spiritual psychology. In
doing so, I also wish to highlight what I think is one of
the most important aspects of the Wheel as a psychology
for women and one that I later found echoed in the
transpersonal psychology of psychosynthesis. To explain
this further, I will return to the example used earlier:
Spring Equinox.
Earths peoples have always given names and
personality forms to the energies they experience, and
one of the names given for this time of year and its
processes is Persephone. Her story involves voluntarily
leaving her mother, Demeter, and the outer world ways
of being, in the autumn of the year, to turn toward her
inner life, to explore her soul-self and learn wisdom from
her inner Wise One, Hecate. At Spring Equinox, one
says goodbye to the inner time and returns to the outer
time to create the world anew, guided by the wisdom
gained in inner time refections/lessons.
Te WOTY has been used to describe the amount
of sunlight reaching the Earths surface at any given time
of the year, resulting from the tilt of the Earth, which in
turn creates the seasons. Tis is of great importance to
those who must be attentive to the light and the seasons:
the farmers, gardeners, gatherers, fsherfolk, herders, and
others involved in the growing or pursuing of food and
other resources needed for the living of life. Tere are
also many myths and stories that have been overlaid on
the Wheel. Some use the lifespan of a deity, but others
were created and used to explain and teach the lifecycle
of vegetation, grain, animal life, and the seasons. One
of the most ancient of these stories is that of Persephone
and Demeter.
In the patriarchal version of this story (Foley,
1994), Persephone lives with her mother, Demeter, in a
world that is always sunny and beautiful. Tey pass their
days together happily tending to Earths bounty and
caring for one another. Persephone is exploring on her
own one day when Hades, the god of the Underworld,
creates a huge chasm in the earths surface and forcibly
takes Persephone into the underworld to, as it was
euphemistically framed in classical Greek versions of the
myth, be his wife. Demeter, who does not know what
has happened, grieves so deeply that all living things
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 143 Wheel of the Year as Spiritual Psychology
Persephone has a feeling and wonders earnestly: Is this
all there is? Is there more to life? By doing so, she names
a restlessness or knowing that there is more to life than
outer pursuits, a knowledge that she later chooses to
heed by traveling to the Underworld for other kinds of
learning and experiences.

It is not difcult to imagine that European
foremothers, as well as those of other cultures, used these
observable realities, the cycle of changing light and the
growing seasons of both animal and plant life, and the
stories they created about these cycles, to describe their
own inner lives and the dynamics between and amongst
themselves in human relationships and communities.
Just as trees and plants stop their process of producing
leaves, blossoms, and fruits in the Fall and move their
energy downward to the roots to renew and resource
by absorbing nutrients and slowing their life processes
for Winter, so too might womens needs for rest and
refection amid cycles of productivity and outward focus
be conveyed by such a story.
Tis account, which stresses Persephone going
voluntarily into the Underworld, has other precedents in
nature as well. In late Autumn, if left to fnish their cycle
in the garden, plants drop their seeds naturally or, as it
were, voluntarily. Tey fall to the ground to winter over
until the light and warmth of the sun bring them to life
again as fragile shoots in early Spring, and the growth
cycle begins again. Food plants that grow where they
were not planted or that appear unexpectedly in compost
bins are commonly called volunteers. Ancient peoples
saw this same process and may have used it as the basis
of early pre-patriarchal descent psychologies and stories
not reliant upon violence or abstract ideas.
Contemporary Western women often respond
deeply to this version of the story and its basis in nature.
Many immediately relate to the story as that of a literal
mother-and-daughter dynamic, and especially regarding
the daughters need to go on her own adventures. In the
spirit of others who also work with this story as a psychology
for women (e.g., Carlson, 1997; Downing, 1994; Meador,
1993), I ask women to consider expanding the storys
meaning to describe other relationships and psychologically
complex situations. I ask, for example, about the scenario
of being truly happy in a love relationship and with ones
life and also wanting to travel on ones own or return to
school. What about being successful and happy with a
career but feeling called to make a change that will afect
the status quo of ones life in some way? Women often nod
gravely in response to these questions. Although such a
dilemma is not an easy place to be, it is a situation women
recognize, know, and are relieved to hear described as
a natural part of their psychology, whether or not they
choose to follow the call.
In the work with the Wheel as a spiritual
psychology, we honor that each year in the Autumn,
or at other times in our lives or personal cycles, we as
Persephone go voluntarily and naturally into the inner
time of growth, often wearying of the always outer time.
We understand our need to be more refective, knowing
that it will strengthen us. We learn to know and respect
that signifcant growth happens below ground and we seek
it. We say we go to be with our Grandmother Hecate,
the name we give to our own inner Wise One, a term
and concept readily recognizable to transpersonalists
who utilize shamanic or mythic tropes in their own
In this psychology, Persephones return and
our own are also voluntary and natural, the heeding of
an internal call for both inwardness and outwardness.
Tough adherents to patriarchal science claim to be the
ultimate authorities on the processes of nature, who can
really explain the confuence of factors that make a seed
fall when it does, or what causes it to germinate, sprout,
grow, and bloom? In the same way, who can know an
individual womans corresponding internal rhythms and
cyclical needs and patterns? Working with the Wheel in
this way can help a woman to deeply know herself, and
encourages her to fnd and eventually listen to and trust
her own internal cycles and processes.
We ask women following the Wheel as a
psychology to step fully into this teaching story, to think
of times they have been Persephone, Demeter, or Hecate.
In this way, we try to honor that each of us has all of
these aspects within us and to encourage ourselves to
see the overarching wisdom inherent in the story as a
psychology. Together we learn that each of us must go
inward for refection, rest, and inner nourishment before
coming out to grow and bloom, to be healthy women.
In relation to this seasonal pattern, Spring
Equinox and Autumn Equinox are the two crucial
holyday thresholds. One can see them as the beginning
of Autumn and the beginning of Spring but also, and
more importantly as a psychology for women, the former
is the beginning of a going-in time or experience, and
the latter is a coming-out time or the Return from an
inner or Underworld experience.
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 144 Duckett
Te WOTY as a spiritual psychology is not
an abstract idea. Te Wheel is the name given to a
literal natural phenomenon, the predictable but ever-
changing fow of the seasons through time. While
this work with the Wheel as a psychology asserts that
there is great healing value in realigning ourselves
with this chronological reality, it is also meant to be
a psychological and developmental map or framework,
and while it is one that is frmly embedded in nature,
it can be experienced and used outside of the actual
chronology. As a way of internalizing the map, we
encourage women to follow the Wheel chronologically
year in and year out, and in this way, the Wheel can
ofer women practice in this psychospiritual framework
for recognizing, understanding, and dealing with a
range of situations that may arise in the course of their
Te focus here has been on the under time of the
Wheel that begins with Autumn Equinox (September
21/22) and includes fve other holydays: Samhain
(October 31), Winter Solstice (December 21/22), Imbolc
(February 2), and Spring Equinox (March 21/22).
ffth, one of the created holydays of our year, occurs in
November. It is the time of the Late Winter woman, the
Crone, the older woman who is honored and revered
as the Wisdom Keeper of her people. Although each
of these will be mentioned briefy in the following
discussion, the focus for now is on the two threshold
holydays, the Autumn and Spring Equinoxes, and the
season of Winter generally.
Autumn Equinox has a multitude of meanings
and psychological opportunities for those who follow
the Wheel as a spiritual psychology. In the larger Pagan,
Goddess, and womens spirituality communities, it is
most often associated with the end of the growing season
that culminates in harvest celebrations. While honoring
the harvests of the year just past, or of a lifetime, may
be part of what a woman feels called to ritualize at this
holyday, as a developmental model, this time of the year
is equated with the Autumn woman (Monaghan,
2002, p. 93). As such, it is a time of proactively taking
stock, much as the foremothers did literally in the Fall,
assessing their storehouses of foods. At Autumn Equinox,
one encounters a corresponding time of assessment. We
ask ourselves a set of pointed questions as we explore
the spiritual psychology of a woman at mid-life and the
Blood Mystery of menopause.
Another focus of Autumn Equinox is what is
called Persephones change in consciousness. Tis gives
name to that poignant, complex moment in the story
of Persephone and Demeter, and in real womens lives,
when a woman fnds herself in the midst of situations
of abundance but is also being called to something else.
Tis poignancy can also intensify during mid-life and
menopause when a woman grapples with a need to seek
rest, refection, contemplation, and resourcing for the
next half of her life as she simultaneously contends
with the life she has already created.
Terefore, those
of us who follow the Wheel as a psychology speak of
and ritualistically enact Autumn Equinox as the time of
going voluntarily into the Underworld or what is most
often referred to as the Deep.

It is here that one can begin to discern the many
ways to go in or fnd ones self in the Deep. It is possible
to see that there are times in a womans life when she has
been taken down, grabbed by Hadesor, in other words,
by patriarchy. Tis describes those experiences that are
outside of nature or the natural fow or experience of
nature. Tese are caused by human social/political
dominator systems and include such horrors as rape,
incest, and chronic povertysituations outside the
natural fow of plenty and scarcityand the many other
experiences of being degraded, diminished, or limited
that occur specifcally because one is female.
Illness, separations, traumas, losses, and deaths
are also things that happen in nature or in the nature of
human life, and one can describe these experiences that
can take us Down
as being grabbed by Hecate, and though
devastating, can be seen as an integral part of the living
of life. One can see being grabbed by Hecate as inner
wisdom or Self-creating, serving the purpose of growth
or good, situations that prompt a change in direction.
Tese situations, though perhaps painful and confusing
when one is in the midst of them, can ultimately serve
as a guide to more authenticity or wholeness. A woman
can still experience these situations as part of nature or
as part of the natural cycle.
It is also possible to enter the Deep voluntarily
to work on issues that need attention. I suggest to women
that they be alert to things that come up during the
outward seasons in their lives, and to make note of them
even when they cannot attend to them immediately,
knowing that there will be a time, either seasonally at
Autumn or otherwise, to focus on these issues. If these
things are not attended to voluntarily, they will likely
arise sooner or later, and often in devastating ways.
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 145 Wheel of the Year as Spiritual Psychology
Tere are other less dramatic ways to be in the
Deep. A woman may simply fnd herself feeling out of
sorts, disoriented, or restless and seeking time alone to
check in on the direction of her day or life. She may
withdraw to try to attune herself to the natural fow, for
example, by seeking to spend the Winter as a time of
rest and quiet refection or by taking time during her
menstrual cycle to dream and journey. It can also mean
making time in each week or day for a balanced mix of
outwardness and inwardness.
Te Wheel turns and with it, life and the
seasons of womens lives continue. After Autumn
Equinox comes Samhain and with it, the multitude of
personal, psychological opportunities awaiting in facing
and grieving the losses of the year or a lifetime. It is also
a seasonal opportunity to work with and face the fact of
mortality. In November, it is time to explore the notion
and the reality of the Crone, to engage in personal
rituals focused on aging, and to celebrate and honor
female elders and strengthen the internal Wise One
or She Who Gains Wisdom Trough Experience. Winter
Solstice, which is probably the best known and the most
appropriated of all the Pagan holydays, is celebrated by
those who follow the Wheel as a time of rest and quiet. It
is a time to imagine aligning ourselves with our ancient
ancestors rhythms, who, after the tending and mending
of post-harvest and the early winter days of resting and
storytelling by the fre, may have moved into semi-
hibernation for the months of deep winter, hunkering
down into a shamanic sleep-dreaming-journeying state.
Te lower level of activity and subsequent reduction
of body temperatures among these ancestors may have
stretched resources and at the same time created ample
opportunity to dream and journey for ones tribe.
Te latter begins to describe the time of year
known as Imbolc (February 2), which in the Northern
Hemisphere is usually the darkest and coldest part of
Winter. Some cultures and traditions speak of Imbolc as
the beginning of Spring, and it can, in fact, have those
qualities. It is, however, this darkest, coldest, part of
Winter that serves as the focus of Imbolc. When seen as
the nadir of Winter, Imbolc signifes endurance in the
face of adversity and scarcity of resources. It is a fragile
time, when life is tenuous and uncertain. Based upon
the clues that ancestors left in the activities and gestures
suggested for this time of year, I have often imagined
the rituals foremothers created for their communities in
the darkest of Winter. I imagine that they sat circle in
caves and cottages, with whatever sources of light were
available to them, and listened closely to each member
of the tribes description of how things were for them:
this one with little food left, this one in need of a new
blanket, and this one unsure if she will even survive the
Winter. I imagine the priestesses, shamans, or healers
responding to what they heard, making sure this one
was fed, this one had the extra blanket, and that they
spent time telling stories or enacting dramas of Spring
and Return with the ones who spoke of despair and
uncertainty. In this way, I speak of Imbolc as a time
of faith, the real faith of earth-based folk living in and
closely with the cycles of nature.
Tis approach to teaching Imbolc is also refected
in the work of Anne Yeomans (1984), specifcally in
her articulation of psychosynthesis and transpersonal
perspectives in the essay Self-Care During Dark
Times. Her insights have now merged with and deeply
informed the way we work with the Underworld or inner
time seasons of the WOTY and is yet another example
of the value I have found in the confuence of feminism
and transpersonal psychologies.
Te Wheel of the Year and Psychosynthesis
nne Yeomans (1984) described some of the basic
tenets of psychosynthesis in the following way:
As a psychosynthesist, I assume the existence of a
natural process of growth within the individual. I
also assume that the process unfolds in a certain
direction. It tries to move from confict to integration,
from partiality to a greater and greater wholeness.
I also assume that the process of growth necessarily
goes through some very difcult times. As well as
times of integration and harmony, and peaks of joy
and ecstasy, there are also times of disorientation,
of falling apart, of struggle, of darkness, of crisis.
I also assume a principle in psychosynthesis, often
hard to remember in dark times, and that is there is
help for us, both inner and outer. (p. 67)
Yeomans named specifc processes that are described in
psychosynthesis as destructuring, restructuring, and the
place in between. Although it is not the main focus of her
article, she later uses the seasons as metaphors for these
Yeomans (1984) described destructuring as
experiences of coming apart, undoing, or what
has also been called the positive disintegration (p.
69). Not surprisingly perhaps, she has also associated
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 146 Duckett
destructuring experiences with Autumn. She defned
these as times:
when old ways are not working, where old symbols
have a kind of emptiness and have lost their vitality
and meaning. We are in a time when the usual
habits and patterns of activity do not work quite as
well, where things may feel awkward. We are not
at one with our lives the way we might have been a
month or two before. (p. 71)
Tis describes the awareness or restlessness earlier
referred to as Persephones change in consciousness and
may also aptly describe ones experience of mid-life.
Recall that Yeomans (1984) also described
destructuring as those times of disorientation, of
falling apart, of struggle, of darkness, of crisis (p. 67),
and, in so doing, began to identify the other ways that
going into the Underworld or the Deep can happen.
While one may go voluntarily into Autumn as the
inner world time to release or deal with issues that
need to be healed or experiences that diminish ones
life, Yeomans description aptly captured those intense
experiences earlier described as being grabbed by Hades
or by Hecate.
Restructuring is a familiar concept. Destruct-
uring, however, is something not only less known but
also feared.
When someone is in a period of destructuring, we
say they are falling apart or breaking down. Tese
are scary words, critical words. Our language
indicates a lot. We rarely see these times with
respect or as a necessary aspect of the process of
growth. We hope they will be gone quickly. We
hope they will not stay at all. We worry that people
will not make it through. We worry we will not
make it through. (Yeomans, 1984, p. 70)
Yeomans (1984) also likened destructuring to dying,
or the dying of certain ways of being, of certain patterns
of coping (p. 70), which echoes the understanding of
Samhain, the holyday that honors loss and death as an
integral part of life.
Before the restructuring time, here described as
the time of Spring and Return, Yeomans (1984) spoke
of the place in between as another part of the process....
Tis is the time between endings and beginnings, the
time in between... the time in the Winter when you
are not at all sure there is going to be a Spring (p.
70). Linda Leonard (1983), whom Yeomans referred
to in this essay, also used the metaphor of Winter to
describe what is being said here about the in between
time: Soon it will be Winter, the time for accepting
the cold outside and going inside, the hibernation and
patient waiting which cannot talk of victory, but which
can hold through and endure the dark (p. 176).
Tis sounds much like the description of
Winter and Winter Solstice ofered here and, although
neither Yeomans (1984) nor Leonard (1983) made
distinctions or spoke of the increments that those who
follow the Wheel do, it appears that both spoke initially
of Winter generally and then of Imbolc specifcally. For
If destructuring is the Fall, then the time in-
between is the Winter. It can be a time of great
darkness and despair that tests ones faith deeply.
It is often experienced as fatness, an emptiness, a
time when one really doubts that there could ever
be any light at the end of the tunnel. (Yeomans,
1984, p. 74)
She then described the time in-between (as a time)
which challenges our faith. the tools of prayer and
meditation, and being with those people who have
faith in these tools, who practice them honestly, can be
very helpful (p. 77).
Regarding spring and restructuring, Yeomans
(1984) said: If we have lived through the falling apart,
the breaking down of destructuring and the waiting,
and the doubting and resting of the time in-between,
the process takes us naturally to restructuring (p.
78). Leonard (as cited in Yeomans, 1984) warned,
It would seem that this season Spring would be the
easiest to accept, but we know that suicide rates
are high in Spring. If one hasnt properly related to
Winter, if one has fought it and not really accepted
the possibility of both birth and death, or if one
has gone into it too deeply, forgetting the passage
of seasons, then one may not be able to accept the
new and fearing change will cling to depression
and the old. (p. 78)
ften I envision Spring Equinox and Return as a
woman walking out of the woods, tired, clothes
a bit tattered or mussed, gaunt perhaps, but also clear-
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 147 Wheel of the Year as Spiritual Psychology
eyed. She has been on a vision quest. She has been to
and back. She is worn out and in need of care and
nourishment. She may want a hug, or she may still be too
raw, and it may take some time for her to be comfortable
around others. She has had experiences, often shamanic
experiences, that have torn her apart and put her back
together again. Hopefully, she returns more healed,
more whole, or at least with more of the parts of herself
integrated. She has at least learned a bit more about
herself and encountered opportunities for wisdom.
She has come out; she has returned. Tat is often
a miracle in and of itself. And now, like Persephone, she
is also a shaman, with one foot in one world and one
in another. Remember, this thing she has just traversed
(the being taken, or the going-in voluntarily to seek and
address her own shadow self, the Winter and the Imbolc
of her journey) has been tenuous, and she has made it
this far. But as Yeomans (1984) reminded, she is not yet
out of the dark (or woods) even now. Spring, re-entry,
and restructuring can be tough and dangerous.
It seems to be helpful to remember that we are
working with the re-forming of a process that is
deep inside us. We need to leave time to allow the
new integration to take shape. It is a process that
is deeper than the conscious mind can fathom.
Something new is trying to reconstruct itself within
us. We need to give it space and time. Tis does not
mean waiting passively or limply, but being in a state
of alert, aware receptivity. (pp. 78-79)
Each year, in the Mystery School and in the
WOTY weekend intensives, in addition to the personal
rituals each woman does in honor of her Divine Girl-
Child, the community creates and enacts a large ritual
at Spring Equinox to honor this thing called Return,
and what Yeomans (1984) described as restructuring. To
create such a ritual it is necessary to know something
about the psychological experiences of having gone
through a destructuring time and the transition time
of the in-between and of having returned from such an
experience. How might one honor the complexity of
going into the Deep or destructuring experience and
the subsequent restructuring process? What is it like
to come out of such an experience? What is needed
for integration? What ought contemporary priestesses,
shamans, or healers do to help prepare each woman for
these experiences? Te answers are in the language of
Te ritual of Return is created in a safe, wooded
place in nature. Te women have a sweat experience, or
bathe in the river or involve themselves in other deep
purifcations before the movement toward Return. Tis
is done to leave behind the dross of the work of the inner
time. Each woman emerges from the river or the dark
hut and begins a self-paced journey, walking the forest
alone, guided by the path itself and directives along the
way. Just being out in nature in the early Spring brings
many gifts and may ofer women many instances of what
Yeomans (1984) spoke of as the inner and outer help
(p. 67): Tere are also interactive altars and experiences
discretely incorporated into nature all along the way. Te
journey continues down a slight incline. At the nadir of
the path, there is a fnal meeting with Hecate, who is
sometimes in the form of a woman, but most times in
the form of an old tree. Here is the reminder that:
Hecate is the name given to our inner Wisdom, the
place where we go to listen, refect, hear, and to heal.
Any time we need. And for earth-based women,
we also actively seek this time of introspection and
listening to our inner Self at the dark moon, or
when we are bleeding/menstruating, and during the
Winter season, the season just past. And at this time
of year, at the Spring Equinox, we ritualistically
leave this place, the Inner Time, to turn our energies
to the next part of the natural cycles of our world,
the Outward/Growing time. A part of that, then, is
one last visit with Hecate, to hear what fnal wisdom
She may ofer us and to say our goodbyes to Her, as
we turn our faces toward Spring and new growth.

(Duckett, 2008)
Participants then begin their ascent, at the end
of which is a fnal ritual within the ritual, that of being
greeted by Demeter:
Demeter is that aspect of us and the Goddess that
awaits our return from the Inner Time and who
is here to not only greet us but to wholeheartedly
welcome us back from our Inner, and sometimes
dark and challenging, journeys to know our Selves.
She is our guide in the Outward Time, teaching
us how to grow and bloom, create and manifest.
(Duckett, 2008, see n. 16)
A Priestess, embodying this energy, takes each woman
by the hand and says: Persephone, just as the seed must
be planted in the earth, so too must you go into the
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 148 Duckett
Underworld, the Inner Time, for the nourishment of
solitude, healing, and refection (Duckett, 2008, see n.
16), and ofers a piece of pomegranate, the fruit of the
inner world.
And, now, just as you were called to the time and
gifts of the Inner World, you are now called to the
Outer, to bring your gifts of wisdom, integration,
and all that you have learned in the Inner Time so
that you and your community, and the world, shall
beneft from your Cycles, your Journey, and your
Wisdom as you move from the Inner to Outer,
and Outer to Inner, and through all the Turnings of
the Wheel. (Duckett, 2008, see n. 16)
She gives each woman a slice of apple, the fruit of the
outer world. She continues, But for now, walk gently
and surely toward rebirth, renewal, new growth, and

(Duckett, 2008, see n. 16). She places an eggshell
in each open palm, to hold, sheltered, as each woman
continues her journey toward Spring.
Each woman is led out of the forest, back out
into a clearing. Here she is fed easy, nourishing foods
and beverages. She is seated and cared for as she eases
herself into the restructuring time, into Spring. Te
Wheel continues to turn, for after the Return and
Spring Equinox are the other outer time holydays of the
Maiden/Adolescence, Menarche, Summer Solstice, the
Amazon, Lammas, each with their attending spiritual
psychology for women.
believe that in her essay Self-Care During Dark
Times, Yeomans (1984) accurately described the
Underworld or inner time of the WOTY and did so in
the language of a transpersonal psychology. She stressed
that the processes she described are not well known
or accepted by general society and said, We need
to build a new thought form that says, for example,
that destructuring is essential, that it is integral to
restructuring (p. 70), and that the in-between time is
also necessary. In psychosynthesis, all of these processes
are seen as a part of life and the living of life in a
conscious, meaningful way. I believe that the WOTY as
an earth-based spiritual psychology as I have described
it herein, is such a thought form, and one that is solidly
based in the reality of nature and natures cycles and
Using the Wheel and its holydays in this way
ofers women a language as well. I can say to a friend,
Im feeling Imbolc-y, and she has some notion of what
I am saying or how I am feeling and what is really going
on for me. It means I feel a deep uncertaintynot the
uncertainty of what to wear to the party tomorrow but a
far more complex, I dont know if Im going to make it
state of mind. Because the Wheel is not just a seasonal
or chronological reality, it also serves as a developmental
model for women and a map of psychospiritual processes
that can be applied and followed at any given moment.
As noted at the beginning of this essay, I believe
that many of my foremothers, the writers and thinkers
in Goddess and womens spirituality, have instinctively
known that the WOTY is a spirituality that has
psychological value. Yet, until now, no one has named
nor developed it explicitly as such. Tose in my circles
who have followed the Wheel as a spiritual psychology for
many years have begun to apply it to their own work. For
example, a psychotherapist used the WOTY as a spiritual
psychology with female prison inmates for two years,
meeting weekly to tell our stories and heal wounds
(N. Vanarsdale, personal communication, May 13,
2010). A counselor of adolescent girls in an out-of-home
care program ofered the Wheel in a course on healthy
relationships. Te class ended with the young women
creating a Menarche ritual for themselves, following the
guidelines of all that they had learned throughout the
year (S. J. Fussell, personal communication, January 18,
It is my hope that in the coming years, as more
and more women in Goddess and womens spirituality
and in transpersonal psychologies encounter the Wheel
of the Year as a spiritual psychology, that others will not
only be able to apply it to a variety of settings, but will
also join those already working with the Wheel in this
way, in exploring, developing, and crafting a woman-
centered, earth-based, spiritual psychology for women
that will be helpful and healing.
Blessed be!
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1. Tere are many and conficting defnitions of
feminism. For this discussion, I appreciate the work
of bell hooks (2000) in Feminism is for Everybody:
Passionate Politics. Regarding psychology from a
feminist perspective, please see the mission statement
of the Association of Women in Psychology (AWP)
2. Womens spirituality, Goddess spirituality, and fem-
inist spirituality are all related but distinct threads
that developed out of the feminist movements of the
1960s-1980s and share the notion that women have
the agency to defne spirituality for themselves.
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 151 Wheel of the Year as Spiritual Psychology
3. Te Re-Formed Congregation of the Goddess,
International (RCG-I) is the oldest ofcially recognized
womens religion in the US (
4. Although these particular names come from two
diferent cultures (the quarter-days, or the solstices
and equinoxes, are from the pre-Christian Germanic,
and the other four, Imbolc, Beltane, Lammas, and
Samhain are from pre-Christian Celtic traditions),
both are recognized as part of the Old European
culture described by Marija Gimbutas (2001) in
Te Living Goddesses, and as such, may be seen as
sharing a common, ancient spiritual heritage.
5. Archaeomythology is an interdisciplinary approach
to cultural research of ancient societies, combining
research methods and perspectives from such diverse
felds as archaeology, folklore, art, anthropology,
linguistics, and so forth. For more information, see
the Institute of Archaeomythologys website (www.
6. One of the best descriptions of Circle is from Te
Womens Well, in Concord, Massachusetts (www.
7. Along with many others, I use the term She Who...
based upon Judy Grahns (1977) poem, She Who.
Alicia Ostriker (1987) described the usage as being
the goddess as verb, in Stealing the Language: Te
Emergence of Womens Poetry in America.
8. For further information about ancient and contemporary
women and shamanism, please see Shakti Woman by
Vicki Noble (1991), Te Woman in the Shamans Body by
Barbara Tedlock (2005), and the work of Max Dashu,
founder of Suppressed Histories Archives (http://www.
9. From the unpublished program (Duckett, 2000) of
our A Year and a Day Sacred Mystery School for
Women, Spring Equinox ritual, in Asheville, North
10. Regarding other descent stories, please see Austen
(1991), who identifed a number of such stories,
Wolkstein and Kramer (1983) who wrote about the
descent story of Inanna specifcally, and Marguerite
Rigoglioso (2010) and her provocative interpretation
of the Persephone/Demeter story in Virgin Mother
Goddesses of Antiquity.
11. Troughout this article, I am speaking specifcally
of the seasons as they manifest in the Northern
hemisphere. Tey are opposite on the Wheel in the
Southern hemisphere; for example, when it is Winter
Solstice in the northern hemisphere, it is Summer
Solstice in the Southern hemisphere.
12. See Borysenko (1996), especially chapter eight,
regarding womens mid-life metamorphosis.
13. Te use of the term the Deep in reference to going
into or being in the Underworld comes from the lyrics
of the song Inanna by Suzanne Sterling (1994).
14. From the same song by Sterling (1994), lyrics are
She goes Down as we go Down, we follow her
15. Hecate/Persephones equivalent in Norse mythology,
the female ruler of the Underworld.
16. From the unpublished program (Duckett, 2008) of
our A Year and a Day Sacred Mystery School for
Women, Spring Equinox ritual, in Asheville, North
Carolina. What is said at each of these junctures may
change from year to year but the original sentiments
come from a synthesis of womens voices in womens
spirituality gathered by the author of this article.
Capitalizations refect the spiritual foundations of
the Mystery School and terms and concepts integral
to the conceptual framework of this psychospiritual
About the Author
Kim Duckett, PhD, received her doctoral degree at
Union Institute. She is an ordained Priestess, a beloved
Teacher, and shamanic ritualist in the Dianic Goddess
tradition. After thirty years as a Womens Studies
educator, including the area of womens psychology, she
now devotes her time to exploring, developing, teaching,
and articulating psychologies for and about Goddess
women. She travels throughout the US teaching the
Wheel of the Year training and is currently completing
a book on the Wheel of the Year as an earth-based
psychology for women. She lives in the mountains of
western North Carolina.
About the Journal
Te International Journal of Transpersonal Studies is a
peer-reviewed academic journal in print since 1981. It is
published by Floraglades Foundation, and serves as the
ofcial publication of the International Transpersonal
Association. Te journal is available online at www., and in print through www. (search for IJTS).
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 152 Grahn International Journal of Transpersonal Studies, 29(2), 2010, p. 152
through frozen branches
the bright moon slowly darkens
must it be so?

dreaming across the ocean
as the moon and our last embrace
fade piecemeal:
even in Amsterdam
hearing her voice
I longed for Amsterdam
the sparrow alights
and the bare branch gives way
I am not resigned

losing both the friend
and the city I love
how dare she!

woke up this morning
mote in my eye
tearing and tearing
aap van n meid we called her
no longer makes her laugh

should have kept up my Dutch
on the phone, frst time ever,
too tired for English

shes doing it her way
full of grace and laughter
but now, less laughter
and when youre gone
Ill refrain from what you call
my Jewish opera
no wailing, no
railing and rending of garments
but a true savoir faire

even the sweet moon herself
fades after all
utterly to black
For your sake, dearest,
Ill bow my head to it
these things happen
Judy Schavrien
December 20, 2010, Walnut Creek, CA
For Marianne in Amsterdam
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 153 Te Furies Demoted and Restored
War and Nature
in Classical Athens and Today:
Demoting and Restoring the Underground Goddesses

Judy Schavrien
Institute of Transpersonal Psychology
Palo Alto, CA, USA
A gendered analysis of social and religious values in 5th century BCE illuminates the Athenian
decline from democracy to bully empire, through pursuit of a faux virility. Using a feminist
hermeneutics of suspicion, the study contrasts two playwrights bookending the empire:
Aeschylus, who elevated the sky pantheon Olympians and demoted both actual Athenian
women and the Furiesdeities linked to maternal ties and nature, and Sophocles, who granted
Oedipus, his maternal incest purifed, an apotheosis in the Furies grove. Te latter work,
presented at the Athenian tragic festival some 50 years after the frst, advocated restoration
of respect for female fesh and deity. Tis redemptive narrative placed the life of Athens
democracy and empirein the wider context of Nature. Present-day parallels are drawn.
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies, 29(2), 2010, pp. 153-179
Much of this study was conceived during Spring
of 2010, the time of the British Petroleum oil spill
study concerns itself with two matricides, Orestes
and Oedipus (the latter as the indirect cause of
Keywords: Erinyes, Furies, Eumenides, mythological defamation, feminist, archetype,
Athens, Minoan, Eleusinian, Clymenestra, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Oedipus, masculine,
gender, ecology
of f t he coast
of Loui siana.
Te Furies are
said in Hesiods
Teogony (ll 186-
7) to be daughters
of Gaia, and are
often portrayed
with the wings of
birds. Tey bring
on madness for
oaths foresworn
and the spilling
of kin blood. As
I watched with
horror images from
the spill, pour-
i ng through in
the day and revisiting in my dreams, I knew it
was time to ofer this homageto the Furies and
to Gaia desecrated, in hopes of restoration. Te
hi s mot hers
suicide). On a
present-day col-
l i si on cour s e
wit h nat ure,
t he people of
the world risk
our own kind of
matricide. Let
the Louisiana
gul l depi ct ed
here serve as the
tutelary deity of
this study, stand-
ing in metonymy
f or t he pre-
O l y m p i a n
chthonic pan-
Figure 1. Laughing gull coated in heavy oil from BP spill, June 4, 2010, on
East Grand Terre Island. (Wim McNamee/Getty Images News/Getty Images)
theonthe matristic network of the Furies, Gaia,
Demeter, Persephone, and moreand for the
living beings of the planet.
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 154 Schavrien
his study examines, from a gendered perspective,
the history of the Golden Age of Athens, from
the early middle to the closing of the 5
BCE, from after the great Greek victory at Salamis over
the Persians (472 BCE); through the solidifcation of the
fedgling democracy of Athens; the rise and fall of its
empire; and then the skitterish survival of the city-state
after the Athenian defeat in the Peloponnesian War (404
BCE). A central focus is on the function and character
of the goddesses known as the Furies, while reference is
also included to the mother-daughter deities, Demeter
and Persephone. Demeter regulated agricultural fertility
on Earth or Gaia (Demeters grandmother); her daughter,
Persephone, reigned part-time in the netherworld;
both goddesses, like the Furies, claimed pre-Olympian
incarnations. In contrast with the Mt. Olympus, sky-
congregating gods, imported by Indo-European invaders,

Demeter and Persephone, along with the Furies, extended
back to an earlier pantheon of earth and chthonic
(pronounced kthonic) deities that preceded absorption
into what became the pantheon of 5
century BCE classical
Greece, ruled by a martial Zeus of the thunderbolt. Due
to this lineage, the goddesses help illuminate the interplays
and oppositions of war and nature in the Athenian Golden
Age, throwing onto them a pre-patriarchal light.
Tere are ongoing controversies about the exact
lineage of these goddesses; they stretch back indubitably
to the Bronze Age or 13
century BCE, and this study
will suggest that they have roots in the Minoan Crete
of approximately 15
century BCE. It will analyze the
goddesses, however, more locally as they are depicted
within two sets of 5
century BCE tragedies. One set,
Te Oresteia, a trilogy by Aeschylus, captured frst prize
at the sacred Dionysiac tragic festival in 458 BCE; the
second set, known as Te Teban Plays, was a trilogy by
Sophocles dealing in large part with the story of Oedipus.
Tis latter was written over the decades stretching from
the 440s BCE to the time when the empire saw its
destruction in 404 BCE. Te last of the Teban plays
was not produced until after the death of its playwright,
then 90 years of age. By then, Sophocles had witnessed
the rise and fall of his beloved Athens, and the proud
imperial navy had been stripped down to two ships by
the Spartan victors. Tus Te Oresteia trilogy and Te
Teban Plays bookend the Golden Age.
Te key works for examining the goddesses
in question are Aeschylus last play of his trilogy, Te
Eumenides, and Sophocles last play, Oedipus at Colonus
although summaries of all plays in the trilogies will be
provided as context. In Te Eumenides, Aeschylus chose
to depict the underworld goddesses, the Furies, as
preternaturally ugly. In the Coloneus, by contrast, these
same goddesses manifested as an uncannily beautiful
grove, one linking the weathered Oedipus not just to his
own magical apotheosis but also to these goddesses and
their earth-based network. As with Aeschylus, Sophocles
lived within a primarily patriarchal religious and social
tradition; why then did he heal his Oedipus through
reconciliation with feminine and natural presence? Tis
study proposes that his long overview of the rise and
fall of the Athenian empire aforded him an augmented
wisdom about the need to rebalance gender relations
through restoring the status of females both in the fesh
and in presiding deities.
It is fruitful to examine the dynamic between
social and religious structures of 5th century BCE
Athens, rather than either the sociohistory or the religion
alone. A gendered sociopolitical life interacted, in a
reciprocal dynamic, with religious beliefs and practices.
Gender roles in pantheon and society are neither due
strictly to pantheons infuence on societyas in Dalys
famous saying: If God is king in heaven, then man is
king in the homenor to the projection of social mors
onto the Greek pantheon (Harrison, 1903/2010).
Te meeting point between the society and the
religion is to be found in the gendered attitudes and
values of Athenian malesas these had bearing on both
actual women and feminine deities. Te work of the two
repeatedly prize-winning playwrights must have aligned
with that of the mostly male audiences at the Dionysiac
tragic festivals; in return, the plays, as a crucial public
media event, did more than refect citizen views, they
shaped them (cf. Platos assertions in Te Republic, c.
380 BCE, 410c-412b, 595a-621d). While this reading
requires inferences and assumptions, these opinions are
informed by laws, historical accounts, popular religious
and civic myths, and the testimonies of archeological
remains that led up to and paralleled those times (cited
along the way). How did the values and attitudes show
themselves in history? How did they evolve? What efect
did they have on the fate of the bold new Athenian city-
state, cradle of democracy, and on the maritime empire
which grew from it? How did the attitudes supply a
context or even a dynamus for citizen behavior as Athens
fell and in its subsequent moment of choice as to whether
and how to survive the decimation of empire?
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 155 Te Furies Demoted and Restored
Furthermore, there are likely parallels between
the Golden Age and our Western contemporary times.
David Grene suggested, although along diferent lines
from my own, that our afnity with the political life of
ffth-century Athens is striking (1950, p. vi). I will
extend the parallel he draws into the 21
Remarks on Methodology:
Mythological Defamation
Produces an Athenian Charter Myth
efore entering more fully into the content of the
trilogies, it is imperative to introduce as context
the dynamic of mythological defamation, the means
by which Aeschylus promoted the thunderbolt god,
Zeus, and downgraded the Furies in his Eumenides. He
accomplished this defamation through a reframing of
divinity, thereby crafting a charter myth that blessed
Athens newly-fourishing democracy. Te Furies,
seemingly placated, are forced into accepting a name-
changethe title of Eumenides,
or Kindly Ones.
It would seem that these older goddesses had been
properly re-fashioned at the hands of the newcomer
Olympian deities, made gentler, re-named accordingly.
Yet this camoufaged a subversion. For two and a half
millennia this story of a proper defeat and makeover
Literary Events Dates Historical Context
Aeschylus in Te Oresteia,
Sophocles in Te
Teban Trilogy, draw on
established myths and
pantheon fgures, vary
Written in 5th
century BCE
Myths refer to heroic fgures (Orestes, Oedipus) in Founding
Times culture, 13th century BCE: Bronze Age
During 6th-5th century BCE: Golden Age
democracy solidifes
Athenian empire rises and falls
late 5th sees emergence and re-emergence of Mystery
cultsDemeter, Persephone, Dionysus: counters secular/
rational developments
Homer in Iliad and
Odyssey, Hesiod in
Teogony, coalesce myths
and pantheon, projecting
back to 13th century
BCE heroic fgures of
the Bronze Age and,
in Hesiod, to Earth as
Written in 8th
century BCE
Myths and pantheons have sources in pre-Bronze-Age and evolve
through 5th century BCE Golden Age. May be traced through
layers and eras:
Matrifocal religionVestiges from 15th century BCE
Minoan Crete and earlier, goddesses with a chthonic
emphasis, earth and underground; Hesiod later absorbs
them into his pantheon tales, acknowledging they created
the world
Patrifocal religion13th century BCE onward, Minoan/
Mycenaean syncretic religion forged by Indo-European
invaders; invaders absorb Minoan goddesses, and other
deities from East, to enhance the sky-congregating Olym-
pian pantheon they bring with them into Greece; Olympians
divide up the world they conquered, but do not create it
Patrifocal religion extends into 5th centur BCE and
beyondIndo-European pantheon of Olympians, with con-
tributions from Doric invaders (the latter disputed), jells
further during Homers 8th century BCE and carries over
into Golden Age writings of Aeschylus, Sophocles
Table 1. Chart of literary events with historical contexts, spanning Bronze Age through Golden Age
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 156 Schavrien
of the goddesses was largely accepted at face value.
Not until the late 20th century did such views come
to be questioned, often by the feminist classicists, both
female and male, or their sympathizers (Komar, 2002;
Powers, 2000; Zeitlin, 1978; Campbell, 1991). Rather
than being inducted into a superior identity within a
superior socio-religious arrangement, the Furies were
demoteda demotion that functioned to the detriment
of what became an increasingly belligerent society, cut
of from roots in nature and bloodline provided by
feminine deity.
Tere are three Ds that evoke the dynamics of
demotion: mythological defamation, the demonization
that helped to perpetrate it, and the historical distortion
that ensued. Obviously Aeschylus in Te Eumenides was
not creating single-handedly the demotion of the chthonic
goddesses at the hands of Olympians. He pretended only
to be documenting how such things occurred 800 years
before his own contemporary moment (Table 1 clarifes
the chronologies). One might picture Charlton Heston
enacting the Moses tales from the Bible, advocating
American values with a seemingly ancient and sacred
underpinning. Te changes in values had of course been
evolving for millenia before Hollywood seized on the
story. Likewise with Aeschylus: What he pretended to
transmit was a re-framing driven by agenda.
Aeschylus was amplifying the efect of demoting
infuences by constructing Te Oresteia as a propaganda
piece for the increasing masculinization of the Greek
pantheon; the masculinized religion he presented would
do valiant service as a civic religion, peculiarly fashioned
to the (imagined) best purposes of the newly ascending
democratic city-state. Tis theatrical trilogy came to
function as what Lillian Doherty (2001) has called a
charter myth (p. 100)blessing a given arrangement
through narrating its hallowed founding events. As David
Grene has said (L. Doherty, personal communication,
December 19, 2011): Watching Te Oresteia would be like
witnessing what began in the Garden of Eden and ended
with the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
Aeschylus trilogy is thus typical of a charter mythone
which in this case made a defaming portrait of feminine
deity its stepping stone.
Countering the Tree Ds:
A Feminist Hermeneutics of Suspicion
n using the acronym of three Ds to represent
the dynamics of defamation, I extend the work
of Joseph Campbell (1991) and Meredith Powers
(2000). Campbells reputation fares better among
transpersonalists than among classicists, due to the
occasional lapse in detailed accuracy, unsurprising from
such a far-ranging generalist; his methodology, however,
contributes well in this instance. My own study, in the
spirit of a feminist hermeneutics of suspicion (Gross, 1993),
attempts to reverse the historical distortions by undoing
the inevitable whitewashings perpetrated by a dominant
population, those that give history as a tale told by the
victors. Feminists aim to discover an accurate and
usable past (p. 30), one which undoes androcentric
bias. Feminist scholarship is often for women and about
women, but based on a social vision of bringing women
into full respect for the purpose of accomplishing the
same for all beings.
De-coding Defamation:
Understanding Myth as Cluster
Te originating myths from which the relevant
Greek tragedies were constructed are not uniform
narratives. Tese source myths are instead clusters of
variants (Harrison [1903/2010] drawing on Durkheim);
the tragedian then selects from the myth-cluster a
variant that serves his or her aims, and sometimes even
innovates to this end. Especially in Te Oresteia, both
the selections and innovations helped shape a city-state
religionto serve as prop and propaganda for a new
civic ideology.
Aeschylus contributed to the coalescence of a
religious myth that afrmed new and recent institutions
in the Athenian polis, or city-state, institutions that
expanded the evolution into a male democracy while
contracting the status and rights of women. Solons
sumptuary laws initiated the confnement of women
socially and politically in the early 6th century BCE;
the Ephialtic reforms of 562 BCE, four years before the
production of Te Oresteia, marked a step forward for
the demos men in their challenge to aristocratic clans
but, again, no advancement for women. Te Athenian
polis, emerging triumphant from a war with the Persians,
David to Goliath, was evolving its self-afrmations: We
won because we are the freedom-lovers and they, those
Persians, the tyrant-ridden barbarians. Froma Zeitlin
(1978) identifed additional binary oppositions in Te
Oresteia: We Athenians are not just Greek vs. barbarian
but also light vs. dark, new vs. old, orderly vs. chaotic,
reasonable vs. unreasonable, male vs. female. In short, the
gods are on our side for all these reasons, and not just
any gods either, but the shiny new patrifocal ones.
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 157 Te Furies Demoted and Restored
Campbell (1991), to illustrate mythological
defamation, discussed the Mesopotamian myth in which
Tiamat, primordial ocean goddess, decorates the chest of
her frst-born, who is, in the usual early confguration,
her son/consort, preparing him to war against challengers
to her hegemony:
Te reader will have recognized here the pattern of the
Greek war of the Titans
and gods, the darker brood
of the all-mother, produced of her own female power,
and the brighter, fairer, secondary sons, produced
from her submission to fecundation by the male. It is
an efect of the conquest of a local matriarchal order
by invading patriarchal nomads, and their reshaping
of the local lore of the productive earth to their own
ends. It is an example, also, of the employment of
a priestly device of mythological defamation, which
has been in constant use (chiefy, but not solely, by
Western theologians) ever since. It consists simply in
terming the gods of other people demons, enlarging
ones own counterparts to hegemony over the
universe, and then inventing all sorts of both great
and little secondary myths to illustrate, on the one
hand, the impotence and malice of the demons and,
on the other, the majesty and righteousness of the
great god or gods. It is used in the present case to
validate in mythological terms not only a new social
order but also a new psychology. (pp. 79-80)
Tis late work of Campbell portrayed a
sociocultural context that evolved in contrast with what
might otherwise be misperceived as universal truth on
the part of a religiously believing population. Campbell
suggested, by contrast, a context and portrayal that
morphs the archetypes, instead of keeping them static
and universal. He also discerned the political purposes to
which a patrifocal culture supplanting a matrifocal one
would put its own new narratives.
Further Socioculture Setting:
Te Gender War in Athens as Pivotal
Frederick Adam Wright (1923) opened his book
Feminism in Greek Literature from Homer to Aristotle with
the following remark: Te Greek world perished from one
main cause, a low ideal of womanhood and a degradation
of women which found expression both in literature and
in social life (p. 11). Known through textbooks as the
cradle of democracy, this city-state evolved, or rather
devolved, into a society in ruthless pursuit of empire.
In short, one might say that the Athenians developed a
masculinity insufciently tempered by womens wisdom,
a hypermasculinity.
In the light of the historical analysis by
Tucydides (411 BCE/1951), who was equipped with
not only the military expertise of a general and the
vantage point of a contemporary witness, but also, one
may assume, a knowledge of at least some tragedies at
Athenian festivals, Athens lost the Peloponnesian War
due to its having grown in hubris. Te word, often
translated to mean an insolence or blinding pride, was
punishable by law and was understood by some to
characterize tragic heroes.
Tucydides treated hubris as
an overreaching while acting upon a longing for what
one does not have [3.39.4, 5]; this may be matched with
his later description of values in Corcyra [3.82-3.83]).
Such fatal overreaching manifested in the Sicilian
Expedition in 415 BCE, which contributed greatly to
the empires downfall. Tis was reckless risk-taking,
against the advice of Pericles before he died, undertaken
more for the short-term repair of the bruised Athenian
ego than for long-term prospects of lucre. Furthermore,
the mistake was foreseeable; Athenian values had been
careening downhill
(cf. Tucydides, 411 BCE/1951,
Melian dialogue [5.17]; Corcyra analogous to Athens
Te Oresteia:
Te Olympians vs. the Chthonic Goddesses
hat follows are brief plot summaries of the three
plays in Te Oresteia, with commentary both in
the process and the wake of the summaries. Te accounts
are cast in present tense, for the sake of vividness.
Te Agamemnon
Clytemnestra and her lover, Aegisthus, have ruled
a stable Argos for more than a decade; nevertheless, the
chorus of old male clansmen, left behind by the Trojan
War, resent the man-minded woman (Aeschylus, 458
BCE/1903, l. 11).
Clytemnestra plans to avenge herself
against Agamemnon, upon his return, for his having
sacrifced their virgin daughter, Iphigenia, to put wind
in the sails of the Greek expedition. Her paramour
carries his own grudge; he is the surviving son of the
man to whom Agamemnons father fed the fesh of his
own children. In return, the paramours horrifed father
pronounced a curse, bringing the gods into play. Here
are themes of war versus natureAgamemnon the hero,
returning from his Trojan expedition, vs. the bloodline
ofenses that eventually enlist the Furies to execute kin
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 158 Schavrien
Tere are complexities regarding Clytemnestras
motives: jealousy as Agamemnon brings home a war booty
mistress; lust for her own paramour, and so on. Which
motives are uppermost? Aegisthus has underplayed a
motive that afords her the greater dignity, her intent to
avenge her daughters sacrifce. Nevertheless, she holds
the stage as the most charismatic and complex character
in the drama. She and Aegisthus kill Agamemnon, with
the Queen taking the lead; she assures Aegisthus that
they will rule and thrive.
Te Libation Bearers
Electra, Clytemnestras daughter, discovers
that her exiled brother, Orestes, has returned in secret;
they can now avenge the murder of their father. Most
of the play occurs at Agamemnons grave. Te chorus
of female slaves help the children gain resolve through
drumming up with characteristic mourning, uncanny
in its ululations, the angry ghost of the unavenged
father (Holst-Warhaft, 1995). To say characteristic is to
highlight that this resembled the way much mourning
was handled in the purported era of Te Oresteia,
through the hiring of professional women (for which
the slaves stand in), women trained to lament with
vehemence. Tis custom served in addition as part of
the old justice system, the one for which the Furies
were a cornerstone; the angry ghost once roused was
the initiator of retributive actions, including the Furies
maddening pursuit of a kin murderer. In the trilogy,
there will soon be the depiction of a transition in the
justice systemaddressing purgation from pollution
and the redressing of blood-debt; that is to say, Te
Eumenides will institute new deities and sociopolitical
institutions, due to Olympian reframing, for presiding
over purgation and justice. Clearly, however, in this
second play of the trilogy, the old system prevails.
Orestes manages, in the wake of the ghost rousing, to
kill both Aegisthus and his own mother. But the end
of the play sees himhaving satisfed and held at bay
the fathers Furiesunable to reclaim the throne, beset
instead by the mothers Furies, who attack his sanity.
Te Eumenides
Te third play, Te Eumenides, focuses directly on
these underworld goddesses, still known, when the play
begins, as the Erinyes, the furious ones.
As mentioned
before, it tells the story of their forced conversion into
subordinate and tamer powers, the Eumenides or Kindly
Ones, under the new Olympian patriarchs. Te play
opens at the Delphic oracle, with the priestess soon
entering the inner sanctum and then recoiling in horror
from what she has seen, crawling out. She stammers:
A dreadful troop of women. / No, I wont say they
were women, but Gorgons. / No, not that, either;
their shapes did not seem to be / like Gorgons
shapes. . . . Tese I saw now / were wingless, black
and utterly repulsive. / Tey snored, the smell of
their breaths was not to be borne, / and from their
eyes there trickled a loathsome gum. (Aeschylus,
458 BCE/1989, ll. 47-55; Greek ll. 47-54)
Aeschylus has conjured the Furiesindefnite in
number though tradition would later curtail them to
threeas a stunning and memorable theatrical premise;
he even himself invented their horrifc masks (Verrall,
1908). Snakes for hair completed the picture, which
Orestes had perceived as they pursued him, at the close
of Te Libation Bearers. Aeschylus, I contend, was here
stacking the cards against the old female gods and, by
implication, the theacentric goddess network, including
Earth, Demeter, Persephone, and all those, above and
below earth, interconnected with the Furies. (I will
eventually argue the relevance of the network.)
After the scene at the Delphic Oracle, Orestes,
with the Furies in pursuit, arrives to stand trial at
Athens, even though, as he argues, he murdered his
mother in obedience to Apollo. His motives, in truth,
had been multiple, as were Clytemnestras; he aimed
not just to obey Apollo and take vengeance but also to
claim a patrimony. He and the goddesses are to undergo
an adjudication over which Athenaportrayed as an
Olympian (cf. note 1)will preside. Te Furies seem
to give consent rather than collide with the new set of
gods, holding back on what is usually their immediate
and implacable retribution for kin murder, whatever the
motives or circumstances.
Athena will submit the issue to a jury, her novel
invention for city-state life, but will make up the rules
as she goes along; she warns that a tie means she casts
the deciding vote. Te jury, naturally, ties. She votes to
pronounce Orestes free and clear,
due to extenuating
circumstances; but due, most of all, to what is newly
declared in the course of the trial, the preeminence of
the male over the female, even in bloodline matters.

In response to his vindication, the Furies
threaten to blight the Athenian earth and wombs, as is
within their power and purview. Athena musters all her
persuasive charm, in a ritual back-and-forth with them,
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 159 Te Furies Demoted and Restored
to reassure that they are not being insulted; they really
and truly have received recognitionafter all, the vote
was tied, and they shall, any minute, fnd themselves
well recognized and recompensed if only they relent.
She will grant them a localized shrine by the Areopagus,
the now newly founded law court for homicides, with
an underground portion, as would please them; she will
grant them ultimate authority as guardians of the oaths
taken in the court, of the oaths taken in marriage as well,
and of womb and land fertility. In fact they will soon
be seated in some metaphorical sense right next to the
ascendant Olympian Zeus, glorying in their power, for
they will preside over Fate (all the gods, even Zeus, shrink
from overriding Fate; cf. the Homeric epics). Tey will
enjoy this new description of themselves: Tey bring to
perfection for all to see / what they have provided; / for
some, occasions for song; / for others, a life rich in tears.
(2010, ll. 952-954; Greek ll. 954-955). Tey need only
Tey only seem to assent without coercion,
perhaps, because of the quantity of argument, as if they
were already transported from the 13
century BCE
heroic setting of this drama into the world of 5
BCE Athenian law court and assembly debate (Ober &
Strauss 1990, p. 238). Te play ends with their shedding
old black garments for new red ones and accompanying
an honorifc procession, mostly female, out through the
theater audience toward their new sanctuary. To convert
to their new status they need only leave to languish the
ghost of Clytemnestra, who had appeared to them at the
Delphi sanctum, spurring them on as proper avengers
of matricide. Her matricideits importance, its cry of
blood for bloodis now consigned to pre-patriarchal
history, for the patriarchy has eclipsed her mother-right.
Olympic vs. Chthonic:
Shiny and Civilized Over Dark and Irrational?
Aeschylus made choicesbecause, as explained
earlier, there was not just one myth to dramatize but
a cluster of variants, from which he selected and upon
which he even innovated (e.g., creating the horrifc
masks, also portraying them as wingless [cf. Jane
Harrisons assertions, Prolegomena, 1921/1962, pp. 221-
232] that this too-human form made them all the more
contemptible). Te Eumenides seemed to tell the tale of
the triumph of the new young Apollonian and sunlit
Olympians, advocates of reason, over the old haggish
underworld goddesses. Te Olympians promised to
bring with them a new system of purifcation (Grene,
1989), a new subtler set of legal considerations as to
guilt and innocence, one that would acknowledge,
quite rationally after all, extenuating circumstances.
Example of a Variant Construction: Te Furies
Just as Aeschylus had chosen from variant
descriptions of ClytemnestraHomers, for instance,
gave her a role as accessory rather than prime mover
in the killing of Agamemnon, and aforded her stature
by way of her landed backgroundso Aeschylus made
choices as he characterized the Furies. To demonize is
to exercise a certain creativity. Te Furies need not have
been cast as frst and foremost promoters of vendetta.
Tey might instead have been viewed as circuit-stoppers
(Visser, 1980). In actual practice, a family could, by
making suit to them at their shrine, lay the responsibility
for retribution at their door; the family could thereby
abstain from perpetuating a tragic intra-familial feud,
like the one portrayed, for instance, in Te Oresteia.
Also, were the Furies properly presented as
embedded in their matrifocal network, rather than
isolated as if they were a sheer monstrosity, they would
disprove Apollos portrait of them as pariahs (cf. his
attack: To such a fock as you, no god feels kindly
[1989, complete version, l. 196; Greek, l. 197]). Implied
throughout Te Oresteia is the battle between the new
he-gods and the old she-gods. Te Furies, in the history
and myth implied but mostly suppressed by the trilogy,
are networked in the old pantheon with the well-loved
Demeter, who tracks back to her grandmother and
their mother, the oldest goddess, Gaia or Earth; the
underworld extension of the network would include the
maid as well as the mother, Kore / Persephone, daughter
of Demeter, and include netherworld spirits such as
the various keres (ghosts of the dead, with their roots
likewise back in Minoan religion), whom Harrison
(1903/2010) viewed as transmuting and expanding
into the Furies. Te Erinyes or Furies sometimes had
reciprocal resonance with Demeter, in, for example, the
worship of Demeter Erinys of Megara, so characterized
because of her fury in the wake of Poseidons having
raped her while she desperately sought out her abducted
daughter. Demeter is also called Demeter Chthonia. Te
old chthonic goddesses, in short, embedded Athenians
in an earthly and netherworld existenceand much of
that existence had roots to be found in the culture of
Minoan Crete (cf. note 17). Such fgures as Earth (Gaia,
Ge) and her granddaughter Demeter were, in the frst
instance, the very ground itself, giving birth to Titans,
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 160 Schavrien
or were otherwise confated with what found root in the
ground, given that Demeter presided over agriculture;
such fgures as Demeters daughter Persephone, the
Furies, and the Fates, lived part- or full-time below.
Te Olympian gods, those sky invaders, most
likely arrived in the train of invaders-in-the-fesh,
pastoral warriors from the North and Northeast, the
Indo-Europeans. Teir gods never pretended to have
yield to the shift in status. But they, like Earth and
Demeter, had already been accustomed to afecting the
fertility of womb and land. If, for instance, unredressed
kin blood polluted the earth, sterility in the land and
womb would in fact result; so too would plague. One
sees such consequences in Sophocles Oedipus Tyrannus:
unredressed patricide issues in plague. Tere is a sleight-
of-hand, then, in the seeming generosity of Athena,
created existence as
Earth had created it.
Tey were instead in-
vading hunter-warrior
gods, who divided up
the spoils (Burkert,
1991). Zeus took
heaven for himself,
di s t r i but i ng t he
w a t e r s t o o n e
brother, Poseidon,
and the underworld
to the other brother,
Hades . The gods
raped and plundered
in the spirit of the
human crew who
carried them into
the conquered terri-
tories; some critics
would interpret their
celebrated rapes as
metaphors for con-
quering and absorbing
goddesses, one after
the other, sometimes
by ofering a pre-
tense of marriage,
s omet i mes not ;
frequently propa-
gating by the indi-
genous goddesses to
enhance the new
pantheon (Campbell,
1991; Spretnak, 1992).
In their old
incarnations within
the chthonic network, the Furies had already possessed
the powers Athena pretends to award them in Te
Eumenides. She catalogues consolations should they
who awards to the Furies those powers of preventing or
fostering fertility that they already possessed. Tere is
mythological defamation as well in denying them both
Figure 2. Greek Wine Bowl: Orestes pursued by the Furies. Circa 340-330 BCE. Retrieved from
Southern Italian Greek colony. Orestes, with Fury above him, addressed by Athena. Apollo turns to a
Fury wielding a snake, Clytemnestra, above left. (Trustees of the British Museum)
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 161 Te Furies Demoted and Restored
their place in the theacentric network and their own
power to ofer sanctuary (Visser, 1980); in Te Oresteia
only Apollo or Athena, in their sunlit generosity, ofer
the sanctuary that the Furies grant when Sophocles has
later restored them to dignity. Te sanctuary they come
to ofer Sophocles Oedipus was one they could also ofer
in the historical religion (Visser, 1980).
As to their sheer primitive ugliness, this too is a
choice Aeschylus made. Pindar preceded him in this, but
Aeschylus might have relied instead on a very diferent
version bequeathed by his predecessor Heracleitus.
Heracleitus portrayed the Furies as august enforcers of
justice who exercised their power throughout what one
might call his natural philosophy universe. Te Furies
are that force which keeps each aspect of the universe in
its proper path, confnes it to its proper function. Said
Heracleitus: If the sun were to stray from its course, the
Furies would put it right (B94).

In some sense, then, Aeschylus was innovating,
not just by creating horrifc masks for the Furies but
by associating the goddesses with the monster crew
Gorgons and Harpies and so forth. After his horrifc
portrayal, vase painters nonetheless chose to portray
them as lithe and beautiful young women with wings
on their shoulders or on their hunting bootsaiding
in their swift pursuitssometimes with snakes for hair
but not necessarily repulsive ones. Goddesses were often
accompanied by snakes, especially in the old networks;
this was the case even in the immigrating healing cultto
which Sophocles attached himselfwhich had Asklepius
as a healing (male) deity. Te Asklepian cult had a live
tutelary snake which Sophocles was said to have hosted
during a transition period, while the shrine was being
moved to Athens. In the 2nd century CE, Pausanius (c.
143-177 CE/2001), touring Greece, remarked: He saw
the Furies statue with snakes for hair, but the latter were
not a perturbing sight (1.28.6). In the 4
century BCE,
a ceramicist portrayed Orestes, with Apollo and Athena
fanking him, and Furies both above and to the side
of Apollo; there is no hint of the ugliness suggested by
Aeschylus (Fig. 2).
How rational is rational? Tere are at least
three arguments used by Athena and Apollo to beat
down their chthonic opponents. One is slyly ensconced
in Athenas more civilized blandishments and has been
missed by too many critics: Athena lets the goddesses
know that she herself is the only deity to have inherited
the thunderbolt of Zeus her father (Aeschylus, 458
BCE/1989, ll. 827-829, complete version; Greek, ll. 826-
828). All the appearances of rational persuasion pale
beside this veiled but decisive threat against them.
Beyond this, having set up a juried court,
Athena makes the rule that if the jury ties, she breaks the
tie. Tey do and she does. She explains her tie-breaking
vote in favor of Orestes as follows: I was born from Zeus
forehead and have no mother; except for marrying one,
Im all for the male. Terefore it matters less that Orestes
killed his mother than that he was taking vengeance on
his fathers behalf. I will vote for the male because that
is what I do.
Apollo drives the nail home. He says: Further-
more, the mother only nurses the seed; the real parent
of the child is the father alone. Tis purports to be
a presentation of the latest scientifc certainties. It
establishes that the mother has no rights because the child
is not hers. In addition, he rebuts the Furies argument
that their job is to redress the violation of blood bond,
not marital bond. He pronounces that there must be
a primacy of the womans bond to her husband, the
marital bond, over her bond to the children (Aeschylus,
458 BCE/1989, ll. 657-671; Greek ll. 667-666).