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Carol P. Christ
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Our Heritage Is Our Power
This section opens with Paula Gunn Allen's evocation of the Grandmothers of the North American land and closes with Luisah Teish's eloquent and practical assertion that our wholeness depends on honoring our spiritual connections with our personal ancestors. In between we are given glimpses of empowering history in more distant pasts. The authors in this section agree that our heritage is our power, but they hold different views of what heritage is "ours." Some argue that authenticity is to be found in allegiance to the biblical pasts, while others reject biblical religions and seek heritages both nearer and more distant. Recovering the history of women is no simple task because so many resources have been lost or destroyed. The histories of women and female leadership have for the most part been excluded from the Jewish and Christian Bibles. The history of lesbians has been further obscured by biases against sexuality and homosexuality. Those attempting to recreate the histories of women and female power within traditions conquered by Christianity face an even more difficult task: the resources they need have often been destroyed not only by Christians, but also by pre-Christian patriarchal groups, such as, for example, the Indo-Europeans and the Aztecs.
Perhaps in part because of the scarcity of resources for recovering women's heritages, the authors in this section employ a variety of methods. Some rely on written or archaeological evidence, while others freely invoke personal memory or imagination to fill gaps in the androcentric record. While these differences in method are significant, they should not be taken as absolute. All agreethat the history we have inherited is not objective, that it contains gaps and distortions created by the androcentric and other biases of those who have had the power to write history. Judith Plaskow speaks for many others when she writes that historiographical reconstruction of the past must be complemented by storytelling and by ritual celebration. The diversity found in these feminist constructions of empowering history is both exciting and potentially divisive. While the dream of a common history remains elusive, the resources and methods for claiming our heritage as our power are astonishing and stimulating in their richness.
This section begins with Paula Gunn Allen's "Grandmother of the Sun" because we agree with Allen and her sister Carol Lee Sanchez that healing the North American people and our land requires that we learn to honor the spirits of the American land, the Native American Grandmothers, to whom "we owe our very breath." We who live on the North American land are all heirs to an educational and cultural system that has taught us that the original human inhabitants of our land were ignorant savages and that the land and the beings who live upon it are material to conquer and exploit. Many Indians and nonIndians are discovering resources in Native American traditions that can help us learn again to live in harmony with the earth and its creatures.
Paula Gunn Allen uncovers a rich heritage in Native American religion, reminding us that for many Native Americans all things proceed from Thought Woman, the "power of intelligence," whose other names include Old Spider Woman, Serpent Woman, Corn Woman, and Earth Woman (note the similarities to Arachne, the Cretan SnakeGoddess, Demeter and Persephone, Gaia). Allen states that tribal women valued their roles as "vitalizers," whose power was not only to give birth, but to "make, to create, to transform." Her view of the role of women and female imagery in Native American religion contrasts sharply with racist and androcentric popular images and differs from much contemporary scholarship about Native Americans. Allen notes that Native American myths were distorted by those who first wrote them down, in order to make them conform more closely to European and Christian patrifocal conventions. In reconstructing the myths and history of Native Americans, Allen often relies on information she has gained through oral tradition, from her mother and grandmother.
Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza clearly sets forth the argument for a "feminist critical" approach to the past: androcentric or male-centered traditions and sources cannot be trusted as providing a reliable--factual or true--history. Her approach is feminist in that it begins with the assumption that women have been active agents--not merely passive victims--in the historical process. Her approach is critical because it unmasks the male-centered biases of so-called "value neutral," "scientific," "objective" scholarship. Though feminists have been accused of being "biased towards women" and "having a point to prove," the feminist critical approach reminds us that all history is written from a particular perspective with certain goals in mind. Feminist scholarship becomes a model urging all scholars forthrightly to acknowledge the perspectives or biases that shape their work. Schussler Fiorenza also criticizes the biases found in the texts that provideso-called "primary" data for the historian. The Greek Bible or Christian New Testament is, she claims, the product of androcentric imagination. We will discover the history of women in the early Christian movement, she argues, not by accepting the Bible as it stands, but by reading between the lines of the texts to uncover a history of women that the biblical writers themselves attempted to suppress. Schussler Fiorenza's interpretation of the anointing of Jesus' feet by a woman as a "prophetic sign-action" that was originally an anointing of Jesus' head, is a tantalizing example of her contention that the biblical writers distorted the history they had inherited.
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