The Sacred Hoop as inspiration for the feminist movement and myself

For my final project, I read Paula Gunn Allen’s The Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Traditions and presented a brief summary to the class.  I am not sure that I did Ms. Allen justice, but I think that even a very concise introduction to indigenous feminist thought adds another dimension to the course material.  Identifying as a feminist is a huge part of my conception of self.  Reading The Sacred Hoop allowed me to bring this part that has largely been neglected this block into the material and the experiences that we have had.

I took the course Feminist Religious Thought last year, and reading The Sacred Hoop reminded me a lot of the material that we covered.  While Gunn focuses exclusively on the sacred feminine and women in indigenous traditions and Feminist Religious Thought was centered on Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, the two have a few common themes.  One is that religion and spirituality affects every aspect of our lives, even the most secular.  In order to change anything in dominant society and culture, confronting contradictions in religion is necessary.  Another theme is that religions, traditions, and cultures are not static but in a constant state of flux.  Accepting this allows us to see that what is current has not always been and will not always be; we can have an impact on the larger systems and institutions in our lives.  The most important connecting theme that I can see is that restoring the concept of the divine feminine, whether that be through more inclusive language in the Bible or reviving certain indigenous myths, would have a profoundly positive impact not only on women, but on society as a whole.  Patriarchy and an exclusively male divinity are detrimental to an inclusive, egalitarian society.  In a paper for that class, I wrote that “as the subordination of the female sex, as well as the oppression of all groups, is the principle concern of feminism, a feminist theology that addresses the patriarchal nature of traditional theologies is essential to the success of the entire feminist movement.  This theology must change the language surrounding the Divine and the basic relationship of humanity to divinity.”

In the final pages of The Sacred Hoop, Allen writes something related:

“The male principle is transitory; it dies and is reconstituted. The female principle, which is immanent in hard substances (like the earth, minerals, crystals, and stones), wood, and water, is permanent; it remains.  Male is breath, air, wind, and projectile points; female controls, creates, and “owns” breath, air and wind, bird and feather, and the hard substances from which the projectile point is shaped.  Female is earth, sun, moon, sky, water in its multitudinous forms and its ever-generating cycle, corn, mother of the deer, mother of the gods, bringer of fire and light, and fire itself.  He is what comes and goes, she is what continues, what stays.

“When we shift out attention from the male, the transitory, to the female, the enduring, we realize that Indians are not doomed to extinction but rather we are fated to endure.  What a redemptive, empowering realization that is!”

In many contemporary religious traditions, the feminine has been diminished, dismissed, and even demonized.  Through reading and embracing feminist theologies like Allen’s The Sacred Hoop, we, all people, may be able to find what is enduring within ourselves and become empowered as individuals possessing the power to change the world.

~Erin Gould

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