When theologian Mary Daly published Beyond God, the Father in 1973, the book sent shock waves around Boston College, the Jesuit school where Daly taught. Daly’s goal was to explain how men had shaped Western religion to the exclusion and detriment of women. Women’s sense of the divine – with its emphasis on nature and nurturing – needed to be put back in the picture, she said. She challenged women to re-claim their “primal powers” as creators and “spin” a new world.
In retrospect, it is difficult to understand the importance of Daly’s views. They came at a time when many women still accepted that they needed to sacrifice their interests and talents to those of their fathers, brothers, husbands. Daly and other radical feminists called on women to say “Goodbye to All That” .
In an interview with The Washington Post, feminist author Robin Morgan called Daly: “the first feminist philosopher”:
“She really pushed the boundaries, and that drove some people bananas…But that kind of intellectual courage is, in fact, what usually moves the species forward…”
For budding feminists who felt alientated from heavily male-dominated relgious institutions, Daly helped make religion interesting, even meaningful.
The women’s movment went on to make mistakes: with simplistic analysis, at times, and more importantly, a failure to adequately address issues of race and class. But the world is a better place for “uppity” feminists like Mary Daly who helped us see that women have power, talent and rights.
Mary Daily died on January 3, 2010. Drawing on her words, this article is in part a tribute to her. It is also a tribute to the creative talents of San Francisco artist Colette Crutcher, a “Spin-Mistress” in her own right.
See also: Susan Brooks Thistlewaite’s remembrance of Daly in the Washington Post’s blog “On Faith.”
-by Lydia Breen (quotes in bold italics by Mary Daly)
Colette Crutcher had just given birth to her second son in 1991 when she started work on a mixed media mural of Tonantzin, the Aztec goddess of Mother Earth. As she painted Crutcher’s thoughts were about creativity, particularly the creative power of women to bring new life into the world.
“God empowers women in their humanity to uncover their primordial power and make this world rich…It is a time of reverie in the limitless life now felt and made unfolding. ” – Mary Daly
Crutcher says that her image for Tonantzin came largely from her imagination: “I didn’t do research for the piece-except for the symbols [directly on] her body – the idea came from my head.
She is surrounded by the four elements: the snakes represent the earth, the birds symbolize the air. Water is under one arm, fire above it. Later, I did do some research and found that a lot of the symbols I put in the mural were all correct.”
“Women themselves must create new spaces, new galaxies and new times… To be a Spinmaster is to create new landscapes of being and meaning.”
“Tonantzin” is thought by some to be a generic term for any Aztec goddesses. Others think the word refers to one goddess who has many aspects, each with a different name. (For example, the goddess of childbirth, of war, of corn, etc.)
The image of the brown-skinned Virgin of Guadalupe is thought to be a synchronized version of Tonantzin and the Virgin Mary, used by early 16th century missionaries to convert the indigenous people to Catholicism. There is some debate about the missionaries’ motivation: did they want to destroy the notion of the female diety or were they willing to co-exist with it?
While we may not know their intention, we can see that the image they used of the Virgin of Guadalupe ( Catholic teaching say it was revealed by God) is one of a gentle, compassionate, self-sacrificing woman.
Artist Lalo Garcia (link to article) says it is significant that the Virgin of Guadalupe appeared in Mexico without her infant son. Unlike European depictions of the Virgin Mary, she appears as a being in her own right.
“When you look at the scripture,” Garcia says, “Mary vanished until the crucifixion. Mary of Nazareth is a nobody. In the Americas, she is the boss. Anyting related to Christianity you’ll wind up with her.”
Yet there is still considerable difference in imagery between the Mexican Virgin and Aztec goddeses. See for example, the stone statue of Cihuacoatl, seen encompassed by the mouth of a serpent and holding an ear of maize:
By contrast, renditions of the Virgin Mary by European artists portray her as an almost-characterless figure (“an empty vessel”) who bows in submision to her own son.
Crutcher turns that notion on its head. Her Tonantzin stands front and center, a powerful diety making no apologies for who she is. She looks like she woke up from a 500-year nap and, disliking what she saw, is ready to set things straight:
“There is no possibility of redemption within a system which is founded upon the degradation of the human species and its environment.”
Crutcher puts the Virgin of Guadalupe in the middle of Tonantzin’s forehead. The Virgin stands like a watchful third eye in the spiritual center of the goddesses’ body.
One might see this as an analogy: just as Jesus is God – or an apsect of Him in Christian theology – the Virgin is the Goddess, or an aspect of Her. One icon sits at God’s right hand, and another in the Goddess’ forehead.
“Women themselves must become the incarnation of God.”
Crutcher says her inspiration for the mural came from a favorite song. She sings it with Choro Hispano, a choral group she has been associated with for more than 30 years. “Dios Itlaçonantzine” was composed in the early 16th century by Don Hernando Franco, an Aztec Christian convert.
Sung in the native Aztec language of Nahuatl (Nahua), the song is a prayer to the Virgin to intercede on behalf of indigenous people. Crutcher says the lyrics refers to the Virgin as “Dios Itlaçonantzine,” one of the names for Tonantzin.
At a time when indigenous people of Mexico were suffering from brutal treatment by Spanish occupiers, the song to the Virgin by a native might have been a prayer of intercession for a more caring, compassionate world.
For other examples of Colette Crutcher’s work, see this link to the 16th Ave. Tiled Steps Project. See also pictures of the exquisite serpent Quetzalcoatl that Crutcher and Mark Roller, Crutcher’s husband, made in a public playground on 24th Street in San Francisco’s Mission District.
Lydia Breen in a freelance writer and filmmaker who began her career in the 1970’s, while a member of a feminist media collective in Tucson, Arizona. In 1989 she worked with Irene Kahn (recently retired as Secretary General of Amnesty International) and others at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva, Switzerland to formulate a policy, then make a film about how rape is used as a weapon of war.
UNHCR’s groundbreaking work in this area helped motivate other international organizations – the International Red Cross, the World Council of Churches, UNICEF and many others- to take a stand.
Ten years later, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda declared that rape, when used as a weapon of war, is an act of “genocide”. In 2007, then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other female world leaders pushed the U.N. Security Council to resolve that the systematic use of rape is a “weapon of war.”
In 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offered $17 million in funds as well as technical assitance to address the terrible cost of rape in Africa.
…Baby steps. Twenty years of them. But each one required an uphill battle. How much more time would it have taken without “uppity women” like Mary Daly as role models?
See Nicholas Kristoff’s colum and excellent video on rape used as a weapon of war against women in the Congo and one courageous doctors’ efforts to help.