Received: May 2, 2018
Acceptance: December 14, 2018
This article aims to show the links and differences that are woven between alternative spiritualities and feminism through the analysis of women's circles as an archetypal model of female organization. Women's circles are taken as an ethnographic and empirical basis when they are considered spaces where religious and spiritual senses are recreated from non-ecclesial bases, collectivities highly influenced by the feminist perspective by allowing the recreation of women from themselves, their ways of believing and practice, and define and redefine oneself from own, bodily and experiential narratives.
Female spiritualities: the case of women's circles
The essay's goal is to show links and differences that interweave through alternative spiritualities and feminism, via an analysis of women's circles as the archetypical model of women's organization. Women's circles are taken as the ethnographic and empirical base through which to consider them as spaces where non-church-based religious and spiritual feelings are re-created — and as collectives highly influenced by feminist perspectives that enable female re-creation among women, their belief- and practice-modes as well as their ways of defining and redefining themselves as a product of proprietary, corporeal and experiential narratives.
Key words: Spirituality, feminism, mystic feminism, women's circles, the sacred body.
From anthropology, the analysis of women and their approach from feminism continues to be a challenge or, according to Castañeda (2006: 42), an innovation within the discipline and a reorientation with multiple theoretical and methodological implications. Analyzing women by themselves refers, in the first instance, to the notion of otherness so characteristic of anthropology, since it implies stopping looking at them as the other denied not only from culture, but within the same discipline, to consider them Knowing, knowable subjects and recognizing them in their role as cultural creators from their experience as social subjects.
Feminist anthropology has largely promoted close and often intimate methodological approaches. Writing from one's own room (Woolf, 2008) or from situated knowledge (Haraway, 1991) became a premise that has marked many studies of women made by women. This has brought about diverse questions that go from the scientific character of the investigations to a supposed epistemic privilege that forgets that the anthropological analysis is always reflective and is based on the construction of knowledge in relation. Thus, anthropology, particularly feminist anthropology, has sought to give women a voice and give them existence not only from data, but from their contributions and their place in culture.
On the other hand, from the analysis of the religious phenomenon in the Mexican case, the role of women has recently been incorporated as the focus of the studies and not just as one of the participating subjects of alternative churches and spiritualities. There are various graduate theses and ongoing research that have accounted for the female weight in religion and spirituality. This does not mean that women have been previously unknown, but that there is an emergence of new studies that bring with them innovative approaches and that are showing the ways in which women participate, believe, (re) signify the sacred and manage their spirituality. .
This article tries to place in the center of analysis the collectivities of women that have been built on the margins of institutional religions to create new narratives about the sacred, the transcendent, about their own spiritual exercise and their social roles. Women's circles, in addition to being an archetypal model of feminine spirituality of non-ecclesial matrices, have among their characteristics the questioning of religious norms and dogmas reflected in feminized adaptations of the sacred and the links between traditions and diverse knowledge; reason why they are established many times as groups related to the matrix new age and they are denied by religious institutions due to their open, diverse and plural character in their religiosity and in their symbolic anchors. However, these groups, as we will see, are also denied or relegated by secular feminism, in which religious expressions appear as the reproduction and adaptation of oppressive narratives or are seen as defenders of mystical and esoteric struggles that do not respond to the interests of the feminism as a political movement.
Thus, this article's main objective is to show the links and differences between spiritualities that emerged in the non-institutional sphere and feminism, considering women's circles as the main empirical basis. For these purposes, we take as an example a group located in the city of Guadalajara, Mexico, and the changes and adjustments in its public, political and spiritual actions from its origin until today. As collectives, the circles show the tensions and dialogues between the spiritual and a type of personal appropriation diffused and at the same time criticized by feminism by appealing to a feminine nature or essence that is strengthened through emotion and the notion of the body. sacred that is built mainly, although not only, from the biological and organic functions of the body and their spiritual meanings.
The text begins with a discussion about the discourses developed around feminism and spirituality. This section shows the criticisms that feminisms have made towards patriarchal views of religions and how women themselves manage both their identification with the feminist perspective and their identification, separation or recreation of their religious and spiritual affinities.
In a second moment, the subject of feminine spirituality is dealt with from alternative frameworks. Here we discuss the characteristics that allow women's circles to establish themselves as models of collective organization and functioning that have an impact both on the spiritual, religious and political self-ascription of women and on their self-perception as generic subjects.
The third section shows the case of a group of women in the city of Guadalajara, Mexico, some elements of their trajectory as a feminine spiritual circle, their identification processes within feminism, the management and self-management strategies of both their own spaces of action, resources and work topics, as well as relationships and distances with other groups linked to politically-based feminism.
This text concludes with some reflections on how to locate women's circles and women's groups in the spiritual and religious panorama without forgetting the links and particularities that are taken from the feminist perspective. Far from raising conclusive and definitive arguments, the final words constitute part of a current project from which a type of spiritual feminism is drawn that operates on the margins of feminism and spirituality, putting in dialogue perspectives, beliefs and forms of action that are interwoven from complementarity and tension.
The feminist perspective has been one of the thoughts and political positions that has questioned the social and gender order as a whole. Religion does not escape this vision and suspicion. Feminism has encouraged not only to view religious dogmas and approaches with suspicion, but it has also criticized the patriarchal order of religious practices and beliefs and the place that women occupy in the great religions and in their internal organization. . However, it is necessary to recognize that women find in spiritual practice a space of comfort, refuge and also of self-realization. Historically, the space of women was found in monastic life, where they found their own ways of contact with God. In contemporary societies, this form of contact with the divine is as diverse as the religious offer. Religions have within them women's organizations that serve as sustenance and that are part of the social forms that constitute the churches themselves; but this is not the only model.
Feminist thought, by questioning the patriarchal logic and the sexism of religions, enabled at least three movements: the first was the rejection of the great religions and the abandonment of religious practices and beliefs under the argument that they are found in one of the ideological bases of oppression based on sexism and racism. The second was to rethink religions from within, an issue that prompted, among other things, the emergence of a feminist theology that reinterpreted sacred texts by placing women in both a protagonist and equal role. And the third was a shift towards alternative spiritualities and outside the churches driven by the emergence of matrices. new age1 (De la Torre, 2013: 33), which coincided with the feminist movement of the seventies and eighties and that brought with it a social, cultural, political and, in this case, spiritual and religious change.
All these movements have as a common denominator the criticism of patriarchal thought, the questioning of ecclesial structures based on sexual difference, and the search for more just and equitable spaces where women, feminists or not, have a place to exercise their spirituality. and religiosity without the distinctions of sex and gender. As an example, the first movement involved the separation of women from religious institutions to join a type of secular feminism and from there reject religion as a total institution to stick to purely political activism.
The feminist critique of religious phallogocentrism agrees that the institutionalization of patriarchal religions, spokesmen for a transcendent God, Lord and Judge of all that is real, is consistent with the masculine logic of power, the appropriation of violence, regarding which, the dualistic and hierarchical ordering of good and evil is an indispensable presupposition. The spirituality that emerged from such a conception denies life, suspects bodies and represses sensitivity (Binetti, 2016: 40).
The second did not imply a rejection, a distancing from institutions or a denial of belonging or identification, but it did question beliefs from within:
When Christian feminists began to offer new criticisms of Christian beliefs based on the spirituality of creation and renewed interpretations of the Bible, many women were able to reconcile feminist politics and their commitment to Christian practice (Hooks, 2017: 138).
In the case of the third movement towards alternative spiritualities there are different interpretations. One of the most frequent arises from the criticism of patriarchal religions from the incorporation of femininity as a sacred element. This turn involved, on the one hand, the notion that De Norwich (2002: 134) suggested that “our savior is our true mother, in whom we are eternally begotten and from whom we will never leave”; but also a reconsideration of the sacred from the figure of the Goddess, which authors like Restrepo have called postmodern feminism:
Postmodern feminism is that of those women who take a turn from the history of religions towards the "religion of the Goddess." Ecological models that revive the old gnosis are willing to redirect humanity from matriarchal myths ”(Restrepo, 2008: 147).
This movement of the Goddess, for its part, is linked to broader processes related to the emergence and rise of spiritualities new age that promoted the spiritual searches of the subjects towards different traditions of the East, as well as the reconfiguration of the neotraditions linked to indigenous referents.2 In this way, the religions in which female figures were central enabled many women to reconfigure their beliefs in the light of spiritual proposals called alternatives, as a way of liberation from patriarchal religious oppressions, to accommodate a way of belonging and identify with the traditions and neotraditions from the constant search and the lived experience with the sacred from other references:
[these movements] suppose a fuller development of the sense of harmony, balance, justice and celebration of the cosmos. It is for this reason that true spiritual liberation requires rituals of celebration and cosmic healing, which, in turn, will culminate in personal transformation and the liberation of people (Fox cfr. In Hooks, 2017: 137).
However, a footnote regarding this turn to alternative spiritualities is that radical feminisms, as well as those focused on the political, denied the value of the sacred view of femininity as being both apolitical and essentialist.3 and sentimental.
Focusing on the last model described, it is necessary to point out some of the implications that this turn towards alternative spiritualities has brought with it. In the first instance, it is recognized that, although alternative spiritualities have not been the only way to maintain and configure female religious beliefs, they have made it possible to maintain the commitment to spiritual life from other anchors and new paths. Some authors have called this turn "feminist spirituality"; However, the proposal that is sustained here is that the feminine and feminist turn of alternative spiritualities responds rather to a type of mystical feminism that incorporates both the feminization of sacred figures and spiritual narratives and practices, taking the body as main space of meaning and incarnation of the sacred.
Second, the searches for and the incorporation of new sacred referents —mainly through the figures of the Goddess— implied the restoration of respect for sacred femininity and reiterated the importance of spiritual life from non-masculine referents. This brought with it a series of elements that give mystical feminism particular characteristics that are related to the conception of the body, femininity and the importance of experience and emotion as the main axes for the reconfiguration of being a woman from the spiritual point of view. To a large extent, the practice of feminist spirituality or mystical feminism from alternative bases, starts from the acceptance and therapeutic work of women in order to heal the wounds caused by patriarchal aggressions and the denial of femininity ( recognizing that it is often a hegemonic femininity4) and the body from their education, context or life history. This personal work, anchored in emotion and experience, has provided elements for the reconfiguration of spiritual identifications, since many of the women who respond to this model have separated from institutional religious matrices and have established themselves as spiritual seekers;5 but it has also implied both a type of individuation and collective (self) affirmation through groups and organizations that serve as accompaniment, containment, recreation and belonging.
Finally, it is necessary to mention that, following Binetti (2016: 37) this type of feminine spirituality brings together several currents, circles and groups that go from ecofeminism, the Goddess movement and even neopaganism; having as common points "to release the spiritual forces of women and empower them from their own vital and creative energy."
It is in the fabric of these characteristics and contexts that women's circles can be located. These circles, in the first instance, are horizontal women's organizations, often ephemeral in nature, that have the objective of transforming relationships between women through sisterhood and personal work anchored mainly in spirituality, lived experience and the body as sacred space. These groups draw on different cultural, ideological and religious currents, which is why they have a significant impact on the experience, life and spiritual and political affinity of their participants.
On the one hand, its composition questions religious affiliations from institutional frameworks by incorporating elements of diverse traditions and neotraditions through the feminization of spiritual discourses, either from the figure of the Goddess or by bringing into account feminine images and symbols of indigenous and eastern traditions. ; and even placing women themselves as incarnate goddesses. This results in many of the participants making individual religious compositions based on multiple referents - in the manner of the à la carte religiosities described by Champion (1995: 541) - that are woven thanks to their own affinities and meanings about the sacred and far away. of the mandates and dogmas of the churches and ecclesial structures.
On the other hand, these organizations follow the model of feminist organizations in that they reproduce the horizontal model of circles of conscience; They seek equal conditions among women themselves and the development of a reflexivity that implies the transformation of the life history of each one and recognizes the transforming potential of the group. In this sense, the circles have a political and emotional component also anchored with the exercises of corporal appropriation. The slogan "this body is mine" acquires meaning thanks to exercises of self-care, of corporal reappropriation through feminist pedagogies, exercises of (re) knowledge of sexual enjoyment and hormonal processes -particularly of menstruation and the technologies around it, as in the case of menstrual cups, ecological technologies for the treatment and ritual use of blood, etc.—, the reinforcement of self-esteem and empowerment, as well as collective action through the dissemination of acquired knowledge.
Another important reference has to do with the ecological discourse, since through ecofeminism (Gebara, 2000: 17) women are linked with the conservation of resources and the link between women and nature is resignified; This is why authors such as Valdés (2014) and Navarro (2016) call these circles ecosocial communities. On the other hand, technological development from the virtuality of social networks has been crucial for the dissemination, continuity and the congregation of women and circles; since access to information through the internet has allowed not only this organizational model to spread, but there are different ways to share knowledge and make it closer to other women who are interested in internal and spiritual work from these female referents even solo.
Thus, following Ramírez (2017) the circles are:
A model of female organization that takes up various spiritual and cultural elements in order to promote self-management, empowerment, self-knowledge and a strategic contact with the sacred that finds its expression in the body and the experiences of women; thus becoming one of the privileged spaces for the development and management of feminine spirituality (p. 83).
To show the links and differences that are woven around feminine spirituality and feminism from the frameworks described, the example of a group of women established in the city of Guadalajara, Mexico is taken into account. The method followed to obtain the information shown here is based on various participant observation exercises in women's circles, experiential workshops and public rituals organized by this group and by its founder, as well as semi-structured interviews carried out in the winter of 2017 The names of both the group and the interlocutor are presented using pseudonyms for privacy and anonymity purposes. On the other hand, the descriptions posted here are based on the field diary and are made from the voice of the writer with the aim of giving rise to the researcher's own experience in the reflective exercise and knowledge creation:
I met Leticia at a menstrual cycle workshop held in the spring of 2013. On that occasion the group had summoned a Spanish pedagogue to share her knowledge about the menstrual cycle with a group of women in the city. Years later, I contacted her for a workshop spread through Facebook and thanks to their attendance at the presentation of a book on menstrual art. But Leticia was a familiar and frequent face in marches, performances, bazaars and public actions in which they used to spread topics such as the body, natural gynecology and ecological alternatives for menstruation.
I carefully followed their calls, workshops and their networks. In all of them, even those that had nothing to do with each other and that took place in other cities, the use of common terms in academic and feminist circles caught my attention: empowerment, self-care, deconstruction, sisterhood, patriarchy. I was curious, among other things, to know what was the use of these terms in contexts other than those that I myself knew. My attention was also constantly drawn to the separation that the participants in the circles saw with the feminist movement. It was not common to find someone who was openly named that way, but it was frequent to deny this identification. The reasons many times exposed were because they, the participants of the circles,6 they saw far away the feminist struggles and ways of work that they themselves were carrying out. One of the guides of these circles in CDMX once commented that “feminists have valuable work from the political point of view, but we do it from the heart, from love. That is why I do not identify with the movement ”.7 Another told me "I am not a feminist, but I am feminine"8 or Cristina,9 who, from her recognized menstrual and spiritual activism, commented that she did not “need purple glasses” to transmit her knowledge.
The group in Guadalajara has been active for several years on social and face-to-face networks. He calls various workshops, all focused on the sacred feminine from their different arenas, but always anchored to a body work. This responds mainly to the religious and spiritual trajectory of your guide, who in his search went from Catholicism and New Mexico.10 to a free, personal and cosmic spirituality that takes female figures as its main base. The central motivation for creating this group arose from two sources: the first was to bring to more women the knowledge transmitted in spiritual circles carried out in established communities, and the second was to spread the knowledge about ecological alternatives for menstruation, mainly the cup menstrual. One of the means to make this happen was by replicating the model of the circles of spirituality. In this regard, Leticia told me the following about her conception of circles:
The figure of the circle is a tool for the resignification of the relationship between women ... which is what is important to me. It doesn't matter what we're going to talk about. The important thing here is to know that we are all on the same level, that there is no competition or rivalry. That for a moment we can stop all these concepts in which we have been raised to feel that we are safe, that we are with others, that we can be alone here to share. Maybe you have many studies and I only have my life story and my experiences, but that is just as valid, just as valuable and nutritious and we can nurture each other. So, for me the figure of the circle is essential because it redefines our relationships. We reflect on the experiences of others ... the possibilities that women in a circle have, no matter how old we are, is wonderful ... (Leticia, personal interview, November 2017, Guadalajara, Jalisco).
In this way, the organizational model of women's circles, such as the so-called red tents, served as a containment space to talk about menstruation, the body and spirituality: “We did singing circles, dance circles, workshops. The tent would be raised and we would talk about everything ”. It is through these initial exercises that the group is formed and consolidated with the collaboration of 13 women. Each one through their experience realized that they required more knowledge to be able to spread it in their workshops and tents. Many of them undertook higher studies, studied midwifery, learned about female bodily functioning and thus gave way to a series of informed and systematized actions that brought private circles to public spaces with the aim of "creating resonance" in more women outside of the spirituality circuit11.
By making circles and tents in public spaces and in actions also called by others, this group felt underrepresented and as a minority group in light of the themes, struggles, demands and the very gaze of feminist groups:
In feminist collectives we were also a minority because in the marches and collectives they told us that there was talk of gender, diversity, and where does menstruation fit in? The truth is that none of us had feminist studies, until one day someone told us that we were rather ecofeminist. We started to investigate and we knew that we fit in there. The Earth, its resources and the female body were violated and outraged and we had to do studies about it, we had to manifest ourselves and bring it out into the open.
However, despite the fact that this group and its members assumed an ecofeminist and activist identification -particularly on the menstrual issue-, this vision continued to be questioned from other groups mainly because of the relationship with the spiritual and even because of their reading of elements. like clothing or altars.
When we did menstrual activism they invalidated us because they believed that it was an esoteric or mystical issue ... perhaps our speech was not clear. Or maybe it was clear but our clothing ... the very fact of putting up an altar already gave them this idea that it was' ah, yes, I pray. Ah yes, Pachamama. '
On the other hand, this type of opinion shows a mutual construction of the way in which feminist groups are conceived but also those linked to spirituality and their separations both ideological and in practice, since even when they can share ends, the means they seem and appear between exercises of validation and disqualification, as well as the struggles that appear as legitimate and those that deserve - in the light of this vision - a fundamental questioning:
The feminists told us that we were going to Pachamama but that we were not fighting for any rights ... When we raised tents or made women's circles, our feminist colleagues did not feel welcome, because they believed that it was something very soft, very essentialist, spiritual, and the fight was another. They stopped coming and when we convened it no longer beat because part of the performances or the dance was around an altar. This was an element that broke because they did not identify with a spiritual practice. What they did not understand is that we saw a political space on our altar. A giant uterus and vulva are always present on our altar. What we were telling them is that with symbols we were representing the work we need to reappropriate. It is not that we are praying to the holy vulva because yes, it is that we need to reappropriate our own body, which is a political space. Are we not all feminists saying this, ecofem or whatever?
At the same time that they received this type of disqualification, the actions of the group were modified. On the one hand, several of its members undertook tasks individually, others had children and dedicated their time and effort to parenting, and some dedicated their time to study. On the other hand, the collective's public actions were redirected towards the creation of pedagogical tools to share female knowledge through a more controlled network that had been built between friends, colleagues and menstrual activists around the country.
They started calling us from other parts of the country to take the tent and workshops. And that was our active part. We started activism from education. It was our active part because we arrived, we set up the tent, the work space that was the altar where we explicitly put vulvas, clitoris, elements of the earth, the seeds and so on ... we explained to them what was there and that our body is part of the land and that we were going to work with that. We did activism from an educational point of view and it worked more so than standing in public space and doing it from a performance. As it was more digested because women were eager for you to share a task, a task, rather than stand up and make a speech, they wanted to be part of and do it.
Thus, to date, this group and Leticia, together with close friends, continue to create networks, tent workshops to talk about female spirituality, the body, the strategies that women have to survive and support each other. In the interview, when asked about what challenges he sees, he comments:
The main challenge is patriarchy, but also its replication among women, competition, hierarchies, violence, abuse of power, the double face of the discourses of 'yes, everything for everyone, but I'm going to tell you how' .
However, it also questions and places a position on the role and conception of women:
When I listen to sacred women, I see all of them… all women. To see ourselves that way what we need is deconstruction. They tell us that the sacred is untouchable, that which is far from humanity. We need to deconstruct what we understand by woman and by sacred… the body is the main one because this deconstruction takes place there… at some point we come across spirituality on the path of deconstruction.
Throughout this text, a series of elements have been woven that allow us to see the differences and links that exist between two social, political and cultural conceptions that have as a common denominator placing women in a leading place, of equality and of self-management of themselves from different arenas. Taking the example of women's circles, considering their potentialities, allows us to see, in turn, that just as the feminist movement places the slogan of "the personal is political", the spiritual can also have these elements from other symbolic and organizational references. It shows how both feminism and feminine spirituality from alternative frameworks have shared agendas and that, even when they are often excluded, the body, autonomy, empowerment and self-knowledge are elements in common. In this sense, experiencing the body, knowing it and resignifying it makes it a point of assembly of discourses that allow configuring from the religious, the political and the social what is understood and how the idea of the feminine and of being a woman is constructed from these speeches.
In the fabric of the elements shown, it is possible to consider not only the possibility of looking at the type of religiosity and spirituality that is created through the conjunction of discourses, practices and political positions; but to question and raise the type of feminism created in practice when, in this case, spiritual beliefs and conceptions are incorporated from a non-patriarchal framework. In this way, we can speak of the emergence of a mystical feminism that recognizes the importance of the religious and the transcendent in the lives of women, which is developed through the selection, appropriation and feminization of spiritual discourses in favor of protagonism feminine from the different symbolic and cultural arenas in which they have an impact.
As has been seen, one of the central elements of this proposal rests on the importance of the body and its reappropriation through, once again, the strategic selection of biomedical, social and cultural discourses to draw a type of activism and spirituality based on the sacred feminine. But the analysis and the example shown here allows us to see that beyond the political identifications of the groups, of the women participating in the circles and the activists within feminine spirituality, it is necessary to recognize the transformative potential of these groups as well as the elements that question and put into dialogue: on the one hand, the identifications and deep and unforgiving criticism of spiritual discourses and the role of women in religions and religiosities. Second, that the spiritual is an element that is not eliminated or left out of the lives of women even when the struggles for rights or female visibility and empowerment are more visible from the political point of view. And, finally, that from feminine spirituality cognitive bridges have been created with social movements and that these have been appropriated to alter both the ways of believing and of placing oneself in the world from a feminine and feminist position, based on discourse and spiritual empowerment.
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