At least a year or more ago I bought the book Ariadne's Thread: A Workbook of Goddess Magic by Shekhinah Mountainwater as a Dianic/Goddess focused community I was then a part of intended to go through it together as a book study. Unfortunately, the study fizzled fairly quickly after we started and the book remained on my shelf ever since. I decided to pick it up again and read it feeling inspired to do so. I'm glad I did!
This book was originally published in 1991 just before the Internet became a public/nationwide thing and most people owned a personal computer. It's clear in reading it that it was because she makes references to teaching through correspondence and provides many addresses for publishers, authors, shops, etc. but no links. (My copy came from a 5th printing in 1999 but the material had not been updated and I don't know that it ever was).
Shekhinah wrote from a feminist activist point of view, having been one of the first wave of women in the 60's and 70's to publicly stand up for equality for women and to embrace Goddess centred spirituality. At the time she wrote the book, she had been teaching about Goddess for over 15 years. The fact that quite a lot of this teaching took place via correspondence, i.e., when it wasn't as easy as doing it over the Internet, I think, shows how committed she was to teaching and reaching out to others. Running a correspondence course in such a fashion could not have been entirely easy!
Ariadne's Thread, when done as a course, takes the student reader through the labyrinth of the Goddess over the course of 13 moon cycles and weaves an eclectic Goddess focused tradition of witchcraft. Shekhinah drew upon goddesses mostly from the Greeks, Romans and Celts and also seemed to draw upon the influences of Wicca in practice (although her tradition was by no means Wiccan). At the centre of it all is Aphrodite, to whom Shekhinah was a dedicated priestess.
At first, I found the layout of the book a bit strange. Things that I, personally, would have thought were important to teach right off, she didn't touch on until much later. For example, she does not teach about the eight festivals of the Wheel of the Year until chapter 8 (or Cycle 8), instead focusing on teaching about the three faces of Goddess, the moon and other basics. However, as I read on, I realised that the layout does work and is a good format for teaching those who are completely new to Goddess spirituality. No doubt, the way in which this course was taught was a result of a lot of trial and error on Shekhinah's part.
There were many things I liked about this book. It's full of wonderful ritual ideas, chants, poetry, stories and above all Shekhinah's experience and wisdom. It seeks to empower women in their lives and spirituality. It teaches us about love, healing and connection with other women.
However, there were a couple things I found difficult about this book. The first was the constant reference to the way a patriarchal focused society and religion has denigrated Goddess and women for thousands of years, changing myths and facts to their own ends. I completely honour this and agree.
On the other hand, it was difficult to read through pages of what sometimes seemed her diatribes about the way women and Goddess have been wronged. I think at the time this was probably very important as women generally were still learning this and needed to become aware that change was needed. However, Goddess spirituality has grown by leaps and bounds since then and knowledge and understanding of the problems which stem from a patriarchal/hierarchal society are more well known, even outside of Goddess spirituality.
That is not to say that a feminist/activist perspective is no longer needed or that such views should be sugar coated. It is needed, especially as feminism these days is often viewed as "extreme" and many women are now openly shunning the term "feminist". But I can't help but feel that the way Shekhinah presented some of her views and teachings are precisely why many now view feminism in a negative light given the very strong way in which she puts hers views across. Still, despite my difficulty, I had/have a great deal of admiration and respect for her pioneering ways and spirit. Thanks to women like Shekhinah we have come a long way although it's clear there is still much work to be done.
The other thing which concerned me is her suggestion, in a chapter/cycle devoted to Aphrodite, that women should be physically intimate with one another. Shekhinah mentions being a lesbian and how in ancient times women loving women was not uncommon. Fair enough, but I felt her suggestion might be misconstrued as being a suggestion that women should turn away from men on an intimate/sexual level. I don't believe this is her point but is suggesting that women being intimate or even sexual with other women can be very powerful and healing which in turn leads to empowerment of women and women's groups.
This is a wonderful book/course and it's clear that it came along at a time when books like hers were desperately needed to teach and guide women into new ways of thinking, celebrating themselves, Goddess and the world around them. I love that Shekhinah encouraged other women to teach this course or to come together in groups to learn together. I was also very touched by her wisdom at the end of the book when she talks about teaching, priestessing and the trials and errors she has gone through in holding groups of her own. She provided great insight into the future when she talked about having a Goddess ministry and how as the decades go on, many more will seek to learn and become priestesses and teachers. How right she was!
As many know, Shekhinah died in August 2007 from cancer. This book is therefore not only a very good book for seekers of the Goddess path, but also an important legacy left by Shekhinah to the Goddess movement as a whole. In addition, Shekhinah also left her website http://www.shekhinah.net/ which is now being maintained by her son and the Council for the Protection of Shekhinah Mountainwater's Legacy. Her site contains many of her other writings and poems which were left "as is" from when Shekhinah was alive. The Council have done wonderful work to preserve Shekhinah's other work and are still offering her other book on Women's Runes and a new CD of her music. A DVD of her last interview, recorded about a month before she died, is also now available.