What does Susan B. Anthony have in common with the priestesses of Ancient Greece? They are all women who set a principle for gender equality and feminism for years to come. It is known that women have been facing oppression since what seems like the beginning of time, but it is not until somewhat recently in history that women are documented as fighting for equal rights. The feminist movement isn’t said to have began until the mid-1800’s, but what about before then? Many assume that women didn’t yet have a voice, however this has been disproven many times through research and archaeological pieces. Ancient Greece is an example of a civilization that was dependent on the powerful roles women assumed in their communities. In cities like Delphi, women served as priestesses who gave advice to travelers from around the world seeking help from Apollo. Priestesses were cherished throughout the communities of Ancient Greece, and were necessary for their religious beliefs. Despite this need for powerful women, the Pythias mostly go unnoticed by modern day researchers.
The main reason why many assume women weren’t appreciated in Ancient Greece is because there aren’t many accounts of meetings with the Pythias. However, researchers are currently working to disprove the idea that just because there isn’t a record of something, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Scholars like Michael Scott theorize that one explanation for this missing information is that consulting the Pythia was such a normalcy amongst citizens of Ancient Greece that there was no need to document the meetings in detail, similar to asking your priest or rabbi for advice.
Religion is also a major barrier when attempting to study women’s roles in Ancient Greece. Archaeologist Joan Breton Connelly explains that many misunderstand women’s treatment because they are either consciously or unconsciously studying through a Christian lens. In the modern, Western world, high religious positions are almost always assumed by men. When there is missing information of how women were treated, we fill in the gaps with our own experiences and biases. A woman priest? Unheard of.
Once you look past these incorrect assumptions, it is easy to see how women could be cherished in ancient societies. Just because feminism didn’t earn its title until the 1800’s, women were fighting (and winning) for equal rights long before that. The successes of the women in Ancient Greece deserve to be recognized not only because they were great achievements, but because they inspired women for centuries to come.
But don’t just take my word for it, ask any of the women who have partaken on a Goddess Pilgrimage. This new fad is taking American women on tours to sites where goddesses and priestesses once made their mark on history. Carol P. Christ has dedicated her life to studying the roles of of women and Goddesses in Ancient Greece, and specifically the island of Crete. Christ has noticed the lack of knowledge present about women’s power in Ancient Greece, so she has decided to spend her career educating others not only through books and seminars, but now through archaeological tours made specifically for women.
Christ’s “Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete” is focused on educating women on the ancient goddesses, while holding many feminist values and undertones. The tour’s website has its purpose written as follows:
“In traveling to Crete, we seek to connect to ancient women, to a time and place where
women were at home in their bodies, honored and revered, subordinate to none. We seek knowledge of a time when women and men came together freely without specters of domination and control, self-loathing and shame, that have marred the relation of the sexes for thousands of years. We have found that the ancient stones speak. Descending into caves we feel grounded in Mother Earth and in the sure knowledge of the power of our female bodies. We seek to heal the wounds of patriarchy, violence and war. We hope to participate in the creation of ecologically balanced, peaceful cultures in which every woman and man, every creature and every living thing is respected and revered for its unique contribution to the web of life.”
Christ believes that women can personally grow through learning about the goddesses of Crete. Her claims are supported by many testimonies from women who have taken the Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete. One woman said, “the tour changed my life, I am no longer asking who I am, I know…” while others say they felt a connection with the land, the people who lived there, and the energy surrounding the sites they visited.
Many skeptics, myself included, have questioned how these connections are gained, if they even exist at all. Professor Kathryn Rountree was fascinated by this growing interest in goddesses, which she calls the “goddess movement.” The goddess movement encaptures goddess pilgrimages and other obsessions around goddesses and priestesses of ancient times. Rountree explains after studying this movement and pilgrimages such as Christ’s and others similar, that feminist women of the western world feel that their values align with those of the sites goddesses once inhabited, as they proved for men and women to be equally powerful and important.
While goddess pilgrimages claim to hold feminist values, they are actually extremely exclusive. Christ’s goddess pilgrimage to Crete, for example, is entirely led by white women, and there isn’t a single woman of color photographed even on the tour’s website. White feminism is a big problem in the US, and is widely unacknowledged. It is the idea that there is a focus on the struggles of white women, especially those of fortunate financial status, while not addressing the oppression of women of color and/or those of lower economic status. Christ’s pilgrimage costs over $3,000 to attend, not including the actual flight, with no scholarship or financial aid opportunities. This automatically lowers the possibility for a diverse tour group, limiting the experience to only women who can afford a highly expensive trip.
Not only does it seem that you have to be wealthy to attend this “life changing” educational trip, but there is also an assumption that all women who attend inherently have female bodies, physically resembling the goddesses. This discourages transgender women, in addition to women of color and women of lower income, from attending. (I want to say more here).
The obsession with goddesses that is taking over the western world claims to be contributing to the feminist movement, but is truly outdated. Modern feminist activists are trying to educate society on what inclusive feminism looks like, and about the need for women of all kinds to come together, but these tours seem to be lacking that key feminist value. I don’t doubt that the pilgrimages are very beneficial to the primarily wealthy, white women who take them, but that is only a very small fraction of all of the women who could be included.
As a white, cisgender woman of low financial status who is also extremely feminist, I can see the power goddess pilgrimages could and do have on the women who attend. They give a great educational opportunity to learn about a root of feminism many people don’t know about, but this opportunity is only given to such a small number of people. While the tours open doors give great opportunities to a small amount of women, which is better than none, let’s not stop there!