The aromas of frankincense and myrrh hang heavy in the air as fifteen "goddesses" enter the candle-lit sanctuary. They smile and hug each other, then take off their shoes and settle into soft chairs that are quickly pulled into a circle.
So situated, the Goddesses of the Divine are ready to explore and celebrate the spirit of the "divine feminine," a term bandied about by Unity Church of Hollywood Minister Gay Lynn Williamson, who formed the group two years ago. She says that historical research shows that females, not males, dominated the earth as far back as 30,000 B.C. Then weapons were invented, and all hell broke loose.
"People were living off [of] the earth until the discovery of metals that could be used to create weapons," Williamson claims. "Those who had the power to take life [then] became more revered than those who had the power to give life."
In an attempt to return to the good old days, groups like Williamson's are going goddess -- that is, engaging in ritualistic activities that honor the nonviolent, life-affirming qualities of femininity, the same ones displayed by the Greek goddesses of pre-B.C. times. The movement has been popularized by books like Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, a Jungian analyst and storyteller who makes use of multicultural myths to debunk contemporary views of women as docile, weak creatures.
For today's meeting the focus is the vernal equinox, which has these "goddesses" reading the myth of Demeter, the Greek goddess of agriculture whose love for her daughter Persephone motivated her to create the seasons. Myths, of course, are rife with symbolism and metaphor. And the metaphor here is spring, or the reawakening of a contemporary woman's sense of self.
After the reading, the women take pink, coral, and white daisies from an altar brilliantly lit by candles and festooned with amethyst crystals, goddess sculptures, and incense sticks. Flowers in hand, each woman finds a peaceful corner and meditates on both the myth she's just heard and the flower. Meditation, in turn, encourages flowery exposition.
"The feminine inside of me is the more tranquil, serene, and calming attributes of my whole self, and this keeps me grounded and balanced, because everyday life is just the opposite," says Linda Constine, age 50, a reservations agent at a holistic health spa. "We don't usually make the time to connect and talk to other women about personal issues."
Kyleigh Clayton, age sixteen, is the youngest goddess here. "I used to think this kind of stuff was so lame," she admits. "But then I began to understand, and it did make a difference on my perspective about life." The difference: She uses the positive energy gleaned from this circle of women to be more open-minded, more receptive to new ideas. Less MTV and more nurturing for her. "It is something I think a lot of people don't get at my age," she says.
As culturally and economically diverse as this group is, its members indeed seem to have formed a kinship. But they're not into male-bashing. In fact Williamson says that her group honors both the feminine and masculine presence in each person. It's just that the feminine side, the one that longs for peace and healing, should dominate.
"We lived for thousands of years with the conquering consciousness," Williamson notes. "Now we are at a time where we see this is not working anymore, so we have to call on this power and ability to honor life. That is what the goddess culture is about."