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Growing Up Without The Goddess

In her book, Growing Up Without The Goddess, Sandra Pope’s rich descriptions are palpable contrast to the stark abuse that wove itself through her life. The imagery draws the reader into a world at once beautiful and terrifying. Following the paths she walked, each turn vivid as she plays among the trees and streams, the reader is caught up in the wonders of childhood, only to be confronted — suddenly, unexpectedly — with the need to flee combined with a morbid curiosity that compels her to continue.

Those who have suffered abuse should be aware this memoir contains many scenes that might trigger painful memories. But if the reader is able to continue, there is much to learn. Pope skillfully weaves the abuse of women and children to the deprivation we suffer without the sacred feminine.

While we enjoy the lush hillsides of her youth, Pope struggles to access her inner torment years later via meditation:

“The landscape shifted. It was barren, as if it had been burned, as if someone had deliberately torched it. A hilly, brown earth stretched out before me, and through it wound a single charcoal-blackened path, the scorched ground of my psyche on which I found myself. It was not the place I wanted to be.

“I looked around for trees, for I have loved them all my life. There were none alive. A single burned one appeared on the far horizon.Its trunk was black, and it had three darkened limbs that had escaped total annihilation, though each one had lost its grace. No undulation of branches there. No lovely limbs lifting themselves to heaven to pray. Just pointed, amputated stumps of limbs where branches had once bobbed into tendrils and tendrils had put forth leaves.” (pp. 6-7)

Still innocent, barely beginning to understand the abuse of her body, Pope struggled through her teen years, grasping tight to the rigid sexual mores of Christianity while knowing there was something amiss. Why did her aunt’s teaching leave her cold and alone, forcing her hide her shame even while being pushed into relationships she did not want and could not comprehend:

“I was Rumi, in great grief, holding onto a pillar and swinging himself around it, mourning the loss of his beloved and speaks spiritual truth poetically and spontaneously that others wrote down as he twirled. I was in the center of my own self, somehow returned there, opened to a spiritual experience that denied the dirtiness of everything “slut” signified.

“I was spiraling inward to the ancient center of my being, like a pilgrim walking the great labyrinth at Chartres, like a Tibetan monk sandpainting a mandala, like a Druid finding her way to the center of the Celtic cross where everything was magnified and glorified, aliving prayer to “‘Our Mother-Father Who Art in Heaven.” And there I remained in my own divine center, entering there through my own divine body, the same body that she taught was dirty, that the church taught was defiled, and I believed that with my mind, while my center split open into a place of light and love, as I followed the only route I knew to get there, and wondered, even then, at fourteen, what was wrong with me that I could only find glory that way.” (pp. 242-3)

The splintering caused by her blossoming sexuality which defied Christian teachings followed her into adulthood, where she tried hard to embrace the Christian ideal of womanhood:

“Suffice it to say that through every man I met, I sought spirit, I sought salvation and I sought God. I began every relationship by falling in love, believing that this could could hold me, could transform my story, and could erase my past. I embraced his ways, his hobbies, his family, his friends. I told my story again and again — victim, lost child, motherless child, fatherless child that I was. And some of the men held me for a season, but for sex, which always felt so initially bonding, eventually became bondage — the kind of experience where the body is present but the spirit has fled. I always left — broken. I wanted to know why. But wasn’t my story enough to explain my brokeness?..No, that was not enough.

There was more. My body, not as object but as spirit blended with matter, knew there was. I, the Holy I, the body and spirit, through which Soul could move, knew there was. The missing part of my story felt present and real to me like an amputee feels the presence of an absent limb. I began to search beyond Memory.” (p 337-8)

She wandered many years, searching. Her search eventually arrived on the doorstep of Mary Magdalene. Through the Magdalene, she met Tamara and received messages that brought her closer to fulfilling her Self as part of the sacred feminine:

“‘You too,’ she assured me, ‘are the Divine Feminine, and even when you didn’t recognize her, she was present in you, and, yes, you were a degraded version of her. What else could you be while she was in exile, in exile from your own heart and mind and in exile from every molecule of your body, which is her body, too? But as you have worked to come to consciousness about your own wounding, you have released her too, for she was wounded every time you or any other woman was degraded and wounded. You are restoring and healing her as you restore and heal yourself.’” (p 387)

These words brought the reader full circle, reminiscent of a short entry in the beginning:

“I began as a single egg, formed within one of my mother’s ovaries when she was inside my grandmother’s uterus. My matrilinial heritage was clearly set before my singular identity was formed when my father’s sperm colonized that egg nineteen years after my mother was born.” (p.9)

Our genes — our pattern for life — reside within the ovaries of our foremothers, passed down through the generations to define us before we can define ourselves. So too is the sacred feminine, flowing through our ancestral memories, patiently waiting to be born again so as to enrich our lives.

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