Perhaps it was my love of Georgia O’Keeffe’s desert landscapes that first hooked me into a desire to go to Santa Fe, or maybe it was all the stories I read of artists and writers who fell under the spell of New Mexico. Whatever it was, when two friends suggested that I go to Santa Fe with them for the Divine Mother Conference in 1994, I didn’t hesitate.
The conference brought 100 women to Bishop’s Lodge, a tony horse ranch in the desert just north of Santa Fe. Leaders were Sondra Ray, a writer and breathwork therapist; Beth Hin, a college teacher of Religious Studies; and Leslie Temple-Thurston, a South African spiritual teacher living in Santa Fe.
These three women spoke of a new women’s spirituality movement. They suggested that it was time for women to embrace the concept that we could have a direct connection with God, with no intercession by a priest. In other words, we as women were not lesser beings spiritually. All beings, men and women, could awaken our direct connection to Spirit.
They spoke of the women’s movement of the Seventies which broke through so many barriers, so that now we could explore and reawaken our connection with the Divine Mother, the feminine face of God, the Goddess.
I had never been exposed to these ideas before, had never given them any conscious thought. They completely and irrevocably changed my spiritual life.
The conference began on a Friday night with a puja: a devotional ceremony honoring the Divine Mother in an East Indian tradition dating back thousands of years. A beautiful altar was erected with images of the Divine Mother from several traditions, anchored by large statues of Quan Yin and a Native American woman.
We chanted song after song in Sanskrit and English, with live drumming accompaniment, evoking the celebratory, magical energy of women gathered in circle. Above us the heavens aligned to provide a full moon, a comet hitting Jupiter, a rare alignment of the star Sirius, and the feast day of Mary Magdalene.
The next morning we worked with the energy of the great Goddess Kali, the dark Goddess who removes suffering. Women were encouraged to share their stories and pain from living in a world mostly devoid of the Sacred Feminine. There was much mourning in the room as a documentary called The Burning Times was shown, which told of the persecution of women as witches in the Middle Ages and the decline of the Goddess.
As an antidote to the rising grief, Sondra Ray had us all lie on the floor for a group breathwork releasing session. We lay there all breathing together, and I focused on breathing out my grief at the loss of my own earthly mother one year earlier. Her illness and death had propelled me on my spiritual journey. I remembered distinctly her call to me that she had cancer. I had decided then that I needed to do something to get through whatever was to come, and that same night I started to meditate on my own. And now here I was breathing and grieving with my spiritual sisters on a Saturday morning in Santa Fe.
I was dealing with a cold, problems with the 7,000-foot altitude, and the messy emotional release of grief, and yet something within me ignited. These women expressed why I had been disenchanted with the Catholic Church since I was a teenager. Back then I rebelled against having to confess my so-called sins to a priest, and I disliked the part of the Mass where I had to repeat by rote the words “Lord, I am not worthy to receive You.” For these transgressions I felt like a quiet outcast in my family of devoted Catholics. Here, finally, one hundred women understood what I felt.
I drank at the well of knowledge, hearing the history of women’s spirituality from the ancient matriarchal societies through 5,000 years of patriarchy to the present day. For the first time in my life I had permission to say, “Divine Mother, I am worthy to receive You.”
Sunday brought more sharing and processes to clear our fear of being in our power as women. The afternoon wrapped up with soothing, healing music and more devotional work where we chanted together one hundred and eight names of the Goddess.
On and on it went, until our minds and hearts were purified and filled with grace from this act of invoking the energy of the Great Goddess.
Late afternoon thunderclouds darkened the sky, setting a poignant atmosphere for our outdoor closing ceremony. We were led up a dirt path toward a small hill behind the lodge and joined by a few men, partners to our conference leaders and others. We participated in a fire ceremony in the tradition of the annual Himalayan Divine Mother Festival. With many prayers for balancing of the masculine and feminine energies in the world and for the re-emergence of the Divine Mother in our daily lives, the conference concluded with an aura of quiet Presence surrounding us.
In Santa Fe, images of the Divine Mother were everywhere. A large mural of the Virgin of Guadalupe covered the outside wall of a downtown building. Goddess pendants jumped out at me in the stores around the Plaza. She followed me through the dusty brown streets, revealing Herself in a small altar in front of an old adobe house or at a quiet patio meal where I was watched over by an enormous Venus statue lovingly adorned with turquoise necklaces.
Seventeen years have gone by since that first weekend in Santa Fe. Since then my life has been blessed with the freedom to explore my spirituality. The mysteries of the Divine Mother continue to deepen their magic in my life and I give thanks for Her calling me again and again to the beautiful Land of Enchantment. ©Kathy Stanley
This story was originally published in the journal Matrifocus.