HOLY BOOK of WOMEN'S MYSTERIES
(Complete in One Volume)
ROBERT HALE • LONDON
? 1980, 1989 Zsuzsanna Budapest First published in Great Britain 1990
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the Publisher, excepting brief quotes used in connection with reviews.
Originally published by Susan B. Anthony Coven No. 1.
Robert Hale Limited Clerkenwell House Clerkenwell Green London EC1R OHT
ISBN 0 7090 4128 4
Line drawings by Lindsay Brown.
Thanks to Doreen Valiente for permission to reproduce copyright material on pp. 80, 104-5, 116-17, 117-18, 121, 124-5 and 137 including material from The Witches' Way by Janet and Stewart Farrar with an appendix contributed by Doreen Valiente (Robert Hale, 1984).
Printed in Great Britain by
St Edmundsbury Press Limited, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk
Bound by WBC Bookbinders Limited
How This Book Was Born
Once upon a time, somewhere in Virginia, there were two ex-nuns, Laura and Beach, who embarked on the adventure of following the path of the Goddess with a precious and rare copy of a book in their hands. This book was called The Feminist Book of Light and Shadows. They also had with them a basket filled with candles and food to share, and Peppy, their trusted mutt. And so they set out in the middle of
a windy Halloween night. Beach was reading avidly by flashlight about the ritual for Halloween, when a gust of wind dislodged the book from her hand and carried it triumphantly toward the nearby woods where they were headed.
Laura dropped the basket immediately, and began to chase the airborne copy, but to no avail. For a moment, Beach thought God the man was getting even with them for heresy. Laura thought the Goddess was sending the book ahead of them as a sign for their newly-found faith. But Peppy was delighted with the chase, which she punctuated with wild barks and gruffs at the ever-flying winged book that flew with such ease, each female following it, caught up in her own way in the night's excitement. Finally, in the woods, a birch tree snatched the book out of the wind's hold and dropped it on the wet autumn grass. Peppy immediately snatched it up and brandished it between her teeth. This was the last copy in the world of The Feminist Book of Light and Shadows.
I'm telling you this story because these two women were instrumental in our continuing to publish The Feminist Book of Light and Shadows, which later became The Holy Book of Women's Mysteries. They wrote us a letter of such vivid detail that we realized that the hunger for this information was greater than we had thought. We needed to raise funds, turn the pamphlet into a more permanent form and keep it in print.
The Susan B. Anthony Coven No. 1 was just an experiment at the time, started on the Winter Solstice of 1971 with a handful of friends, later growing into a fluctuating group of between twenty and one hundred twenty women. We met every Sabbath (the solstices, equinoxes and high points in between) and every full moon, which occurred thirteen times a year.
This was a vigorous pagan practice of observing twenty-one major holidays per year. What we put on paper was pretty much what we were doing in the mountains in Malibu. But by the time we wrote it down, we had already
changed one practice, so we kept telling readers not to slavishly follow the patterns we suggested but to internalize the patterns and then improvise what suited them best.
We met on Sundays at Mama's Cafe in Malibu. There were about eight of us in the core group, and I'd like to thank each of them—those who
came and practiced with us and those who helped create The Holy Book of Women's Mysteries. Janet Roslund, of course, was the most instrumental in holding us together with her seriousness as an organizer and her bursts of mediumship. She channeled the Goddess as the Dean of the College. Of course, the college was the universe. She would close her eyes and her voice would come out sounding prim and higher than usual. ' 'Now girls,'' she would say, "you must learn all of the curriculum here at the college: the herbs on my back, the trees in my hair, my nature which is yours. And we want no tardiness in attention.
Graduation is close."
Janet also found a remark written by Florence Nightingale, whom we all admired. She posed a very potent question: "Do you think it is possible for there to be a religion whose essence is common sense?" This question prompted us to respond to her across time and say, "Yes, the earth religions are such that their essence, their dogma, so to speak, is common sense that glorifies practical things and the improvement of our lives right now, not later, after death, which is absurd."
In Malibu, we sat around a weatherbeaten old table outside Mama's Cafe eating our eggs and potatoes, drinking coffee, talking and fantasizing and laughing, and knowing that we were new and doing something revolutionary that was going to influence the world around us. However, we didn't know to what great effect. The sun beat down on our backs and we scribbled our notes. And so The Holy Book of Women's Mysteries was born after many such meetings, contributions, suggestions, stimulation, nourishment, and a lot of bacon and eggs at Mama's Cafe. I want to thank Nina Ramona, who always prayed in the circles for the oppressed countries around the world. She constantly made us remember what a special place we lived in and our responsibility to the rest of the world.
One afternoon I was having a talk with Joan, who never failed to inspire me. She was grilling me.
"What about this witchcraft religion?" she asked. "What is it that we believe in? What is it, Z?" She always had a great effect on me, and I realized I'd never really pulled it together before: feminist witches—what do we believe in that's different from the rest of the pagan community? Why are we new? And I just sat down and channeled the Manifesto of the Susan B. Anthony Coven No. 1, right on the edge of 1972, reflecting all of our moods and times. As I'm reading it today, so much later, I'm amazed.
The only thing that I would change—and we have changed—is the part about
men. We do work with men now. The men are changing rapidly, thank heaven. We recognize this historical fact. The feminist movement is still alive and many men work for it now and many more will in the future. The work with men is usually done in workshops—men's mysteries. Dianic circles
are still for women only.
Around this same weatherbeaten wooden table, there was a great debate: "What do we mean by 'Dianic'? What is it? What does this tradition mean for women?" We decided that it is a women-centered, female-only worship of women's mysteries, but not confined to the worship of the goddess Diana alone. Diana is a European name for the Goddess of the Moon. Her name means "Holy Mother," and we loved the name. Many rivers, such as the Danube, are named after her, as are several other natural areas.
As women, however, we relate to the global Goddess as She was worshipped by ethnic groups around the world. She is more like the Goddess of the Ten Thousand Names, but each time we talk about the Goddess, what we really mean is Life—life on this earth. We always recognize, when we say "Goddess," that She is the life-giver, the life-sustainer. She is Mother Nature.
Valerie, who was leading workshops in assertiveness and prosperity consciousness, always encouraged us to make the book more action-oriented, connecting political and personal. We tried to do this in its tone and direction.
Lhyv Oakwomon came to us from Colorado. She was a natural priestess coming from a black woman's experience, finding it compatible and nurturing to work in the Dianic tradition. She contributed what she had learned in the desert while studying with Native Americans. Annu sat around the table, too. She was a partner in the Feminist Wicca candle shop, which the coven also ran. She was the strangest of all witches because her nose was dead. She could not really distinguish between rosemary and cinnamon. Her contribution is about dreams, where her nose doesn't matter but her inner self is quite clear and she can distinguish very well between images. She contributed by giving us steadiness and keeping the Feminist Wicca's books in order. Essentially the candle shop moved back into her house, where she still runs it as a mailorder business.
Anna Kria, a tall, queenlike lady, was our astrologer. She turned us on to stargazing astrology, also known as sidereal astrology. She made us look at the stars with new eyes, new interpretations, and see it as a precise science, not merely legends and lore passed down since Babylon.
Noel Brennan was a sister we didn't meet in person. Only through the mail did we receive her correspondence, her poems, her spells, her practices. We recognized her as a great soul. Finally, in 1985, I met her
and found her to be everything I thought she was going to be—a sacred
poet, a devoted priestess.
Chris Carol also contributed to the book. I initiated her in 1978 at Beltane, although by then she was conducting her own circles in Portland and had also organized the Changing Women Chorus, a Goddess choir. Her contributions to the Song of Amergin are very moving, especially when you hear them. There is a tape of the Changing Women Chorus singing all those verses.
One day Starhawk was driving down Lincoln Boulevard in Santa Monica, wondering why feminism and witchcraft hadn't found each other yet. Just as she thought this, she drove past the Feminist Wicca and the name caught her eye. She stopped her car and came into our candle shop for
the first time. I happened to be staffing that day, so I told her about the Susan B. Anthony Coven No. 1, and invited her to our upcoming Spring Equinox Festival. Starhawk attended her first ritual with us, and the impact on her life was glorious proof of why we should never close circles to anyone new. She quickly became a great teacher and priestess. She educated herself in different traditions, and is now contributing to the literature of Goddess religion. I've included her piece about the dangers of magic because it was so needed and it shows Starhawk's approach, always looking through everything with humor.
Helen Beardwoman typed and edited the first edition of The Holy Book, Part I. She served as the Maiden Artemis in the coven. She was there the first time the police arrested us on the mountaintop for candleburning and trespassing. We found out that the land we were trespassing on was owned by Iranian interests. This infuriated us. We did not believe that Iran had any business owning this beautiful place of power, and we, as California women, felt that being thrown off this land was most unjust.
It was an absurd night. Over a hundred candles were burning in fireproof containers, because in our practice we usually lit two candles for each woman; there were about thirty-eight of us. Below us lived the Malibu rich with their kidney-shaped swimming pools. One of them, closest to the mountain, called the police, saying that there were strange cars parked outside. Just parking "strange cars" in Malibu was enough to mobilize eight police, armed with rifles. They came for us over the fire roads, because this place was hard to approach, and we'd climbed the mountain to get there. Just as Nina Ramona was reading her list of purposes for her new high coven (this was a Candlemas), we heard a chorus of coyotes howl at us from the mountain in great warning. It was so loud and eerie that we stopped the ritual and listened. Women were looking to me for guidance. I had never heard anything like it. I thought there might be another coven worshipping
somewhere else on the mountain because I heard deeper, male voices mixed in with the higher, female voices. It was a tapestry of solid sounds with human elements. I went on with the ritual, ignoring the sound. Five minutes later the police arrived. I will never again ignore'coyotes, wolves or whoever else is howling and disrupting my ritual; from now on I will take it as a warning. I advise you to do the same. Helen Beardwoman took the rap when the police pointed their car lights at us and asked, "Who is the leader of this group?" At the time, I was on probation for reading Tarot cards to an undercover policewoman, so I could not come out and say I was. Besides, we were not into leaders and followers. We were learning from teacher, but we regarded each other as equals. Helen Beardwoman stepped out and said, "I am." At the time, Helen sported a lifelong beard. She was tortured during her childhood
with electrolysis, trying to kill off her follicles and make her beardless like a girl. She looked like a girl all her life—beautiful,
gentle, strong, but with a beard.
This was when we were all liberating ourselves from bras, corsets and high heels. She decided to liberate herself from electrolysis and see just what she looked like as she was designed by Mother Nature. Her beard was not too visible, since it was very blond. However, the police were immediately fascinated by it. They questioned her about how she grew it, did she take hormones, and was she a man. There was only one policewoman among them, and all thirty-eight of us lined up to be arrested by her. It took a while. My students who were attending' this Candlemas ritual for their own initiation saw the pitfalls of practicing the earth religions.
At the trial, a sign at the entrance to the courtroom said "No bare feet or bathing suits, please." That's Malibu for you.
Our lawyer, who was part of the group and present at our arrest, made a very strong case that there was no fire danger and no private property signs had been posted. Nowhere were there indications that we were not allowed on the land. It was not a state park with a curfew. It was wilderness, and we respected it. We took extensive pictures of our altar and proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that there was no danger of fire.
However, all this groundwork and preparation didn't interest the judge or the district attorney. All they kept talking about was Helen's beard, whether it was real, if she was a man. It just fascinated them no end. Our case was pushed through as an afterthought, and we were fined thirty-eight dollars—a dollar apiece.
Mary Farkas contributed the chapter on nutrition to The Holy Book. She is a countrywoman of mine. I met her in Venice, California. She looked at what I ate—namely, Hungarian soul food—and said. "Listen Z, if you
continue eating our Hungarian cuisine, I'll tell you, in about a year or two,
you'll get a little neck pain and then you're going to have shoulder pains, then back pain. Because what you're eating is a lot of fats from animals, and they're going to accumulate in your body and you're going to be stiff from them before your time."
As she was speaking to me, I realized that I already had small back and shoulder pains. In great fright, I said, "Oh, no—I already have
them? What shall I do?" She and her lover came over and cooked me a wholesome meal with barley and salad, and for protein they taught me to eat more soya curds. It was very delicious, and she converted me to vegetarianism for the next ten years. (However, watch out for eating too much barley, because that can put the pounds on you very quickly; also, beware eating too much cheese to replace the meat. Essentially,
I learned not to eat a lot. When you are a vegetarian, just eat smaller portions. Today, I do with a little chicken and I certainly eat all the seafood I can get my hands on, but I avoid red meat and fatty foods.) Mary then disappeared from my life. The last time I saw her was in Boston at the First Women's Spirituality Festival, but her impact on my life still lingers, and her impact on many women's lives is furthered by her work in The Holy Book.
Carol Christ and I met in New York when she and Naomi Goldenberg were just graduating from Yale Theology School. Carol invited me there for a talk and we found great sisterhood around the Goddess. She and Naomi had a difficult time at an all-male, God-oriented school, holding up the Goddess flag, and we helped each other to stay strong. Her contribution to the daily practices is very valuable. She was involved in teaching rituals at San Jose State, and she now leads tours to Anatolia (Turkey) and Lesbos (Greece) to perform rituals in ancient Goddess temples around the Mediterranean area.
My most beloved contributor to The Holy Book was my mother, Masika Szilagyi.who passed away in 1979.1 consulted a psychic to know what she's been up to. (Doctors don't treat their own children, and psychics go to other psychics to talk to their psychic relatives.) The psychic located her and said, "Well, I don't know if it means anything to you, but I see what appears to be a soul that is making sculpture out of light and is leading groups of people through the sculptures and they feel better when they come out the other end."
I recognized my mother and said, ' 'Yes, that's her. She's having shows again." Of course, when you're dead you don't have clay to work with, so Mother uses light. I'm sure it's a great challenge, working with the other great artists on the Northern and Southern Lights. And she's helping other souls.
My mother had a large collection of folklore and items relating to Hungarian paganism. I inherited her love of pre-Christian religions; my pain at not being able to talk to her is fierce and deep, and will never be appeased.
I'm very much a Persephone type. I feel I manifest that goddess, and my yearning for my mother, Demeter, is great, she of the clay, she of the earth. I believe she is waiting for me, and when I die, she will help me cross the space between life and death. Before her death, my mother sent me her Book of Sorrows, Book of Spells, and I translated it into English. This was one of the last collaborations we managed to bring about. Her beautiful art is all on the second floor of my house in Budapest. The government promised her a permanent museum, but somehow it never materialized. So her pieces are waiting for a home. Right now