Interview with Rev. Dr. Karen Tate
We live in troubled times of great environmental damage, endless war, economic problems with widening gap between the rich and poor, social unrest with racism, bigotry, and sexism. Could there be another way of doing things that would be more cooperative, nurturing and sustainable? Karen Tate, Seeker, Scholar, Author, Radio Host and Activist, believes that there is a way and working towards making it happen has become a goal of her own life.
Christopher: What kind of background did you grow up in?
Karen: No one is more surprised than I that Goddess spirituality has been the spark guiding my path for the last 25 years because, you see, I was born in the southern region of the United States, in what they call the Bible Belt. I never met anyone who wasn’t a Catholic or Baptist until I was almost 30 years old. And trust me, you didn’t hear about Goddess in that conservative Christian bubble. No one encouraged critical thinking. No one questioned religious or male authority.
I was fortunate though, Christianity never really got it’s hooks into me and my family was not overly religious, so when there was no money to continue to send me to Catholic school, I eventually got to wiggle out of Sunday School too. I just never resonated with the dogma, suffering and sacrifice. I probably couldn’t language it then, but I felt there was more to life.
I was able to free my intellectual curiosity without resistance. So I delved into metaphysics and ancient cultures. I found myself particularly drawn to Egypt and while most people I knew willingly and without thought seemed to live and die within a 50 mile radius of their hometown, I wanted to see the world, particularly ancient sites. I yearned for a time machine!
Christopher: What led you to change paths? What opened up to you a new way to see things in our world?
Karen: As I reflect back, I am so grateful I moved to California, where I could free my blossoming awareness of the world. I think if I had stayed in New Orleans where I was born, I might never have traveled, written books, had my own radio show or know everything I know now about patriarchy, dominator cultures and feminism. I probably would have just accepted everything as normal and the way it’s always been and I certainly would not know what questions to ask to challenge the status quo.
Fortunately though, moving out of the Christian bubble shook me awake. I found the work of Merlin Stone, When God Was a Woman and Riane Eisler, The Chalice and the Blade. I rejoiced in the Mysts of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley (we didn’t know about her controversial life then) gifting her readers with ideas of how things might have been seen from the female perspective in Camelot. I started to go beyond Wicca 101 and realized this is really about sex, power, religion and politics.
So with that back-story for a bit of context, my interest in Goddess spirituality was probably seeded in my Grandma’s worship of Mary with her many altars to Jesus’ mother in her home and yard, then I took a class on Goddess in California and it was a slippery slope. The pieces started to fall into place.
My desire to travel was given focus by my interest in sacred sites and the books I read as a youth about Egypt. Imagine my first really big trip out of the country was a visit to Egypt! It was very interesting how this Southern girl, transplanted in California, actually felt as if Egypt was familiar and somehow a lost part of me. I became drawn to Isis, Sekhmet and that famous British woman, Om Sety. I joined the Fellowship of Isis, started an Iseum and began leading and organizing ancient rituals in a modern context on public beaches in Los Angeles through the non-profit I founded, The Isis Ancient Cultures Society. Over the years, however, the journey to Goddess spirituality evolved.
It went from being a focus for my travel, to nourishing me as a woman discovering there was a feminine face of god and all the empowerment that comes with that, to understanding that the ideals of Goddess spirituality are what’s missing from our world. It’s why there is so much suffering, oppression and exploitation. It’s why the planet is being poisoned and women are devalued. So I started teaching about Goddess as deity, archetype and ideal. Everyone is at a different point in their spiritual journey so seeing the many facets of what Goddess spiritualty actually are, I feel it provides something for everyone, even agnostics and atheists with a conscious for social justice.
Christopher: Where you solitary or did you find groups to work with?
Karen: I found that old truth, “when the student is ready, the teacher appears” happened in my life. I found a group of women interested in Isis, which led to me joining the international Fellowship of Isis (FOI). The late Lady Olivia Robertson, one of the FOI founders, saw something in me I guess, so when she learned my husband and I were traveling to Ireland, she invited me to Clonegal Castle to be ordained.
That was the catalyst it seemed for a tsunami of creativity and inspiration. I started my own Iseum within the FOI, the Iseum of Isidis Navigium, and we began to do Isis-oriented rituals throughout the year, facilitating the annual ritual that became rather famous around town, held each March, the Isidis Navigium. We used as much information we could gather about the old ritual of Isis and re-constructed it for contemporary psyches and culture. All the participants launched colored ice-boats on the waves of the Pacific Ocean commemorating the ship of Isis that was launched in Her honor in ancient times.
Later my husband and I started the not-for-profit Isis Ancient Cultures Society, and expanded on the work of the Iseum; putting out a newsletter, holding personal development salons, monthly moon circles to highlight different traditions, and of course we still did the Isidis Navigium for a decade, as well as the annual Isis Birthday Salon and Tea each July.
About ten years into all this, I got the opportunity to write my first book, Sacred Places of Goddess: 108 Destinations and I knew I could not continue to spear-head the not-for-profit, work full time as I had been and write a book. I asked my Board if they wanted to continue the not-for-profit while I took a hiatus but no one wanted the responsibility, so the organization went dormant while I started my first book and now, 9 years later, I’ve just had my third and fourth books published in 2014.
Christopher: When did you become a speaker and teacher on the Sacred Feminine?
Karen: While I taught some classes early on, such as the Use and Making of the Sistrum, it wasn’t until I had to go out and promote my first book on sacred places that I found I had to begin standing in front of the room. It was hard at first, but I soon found my deep knowledge of the subject and passion carried me beyond the fear.
In hindsight, I can see now your question prompts me to realize each book pushed me out there teaching about another facet of the Sacred Feminine. Walking An Ancient Path: Rebirthing Goddess on Planet Earth had me teaching and speaking about subjects related to incorporating Goddess into one’s life as the devotee or practitioner and all that might entail from being inspired by Goddess, magickal and mystical experiences I’d had, accounts of sacred pilgrimages, to the politics of community.
Then as I realized I wanted to speak about Goddess more as archetype and ideal that might change the world, I started my radio show, Voices of the Sacred Feminine. Simultaneously, I was giving talks and teaching Sacred Sunday services, and that all culminated in book three, Goddess Calling: Inspirational Messages and Meditations of Sacred Feminine Liberation Thealogy and book four, the anthology I’ve edited of radio show guests, Voices of the Sacred Feminine: Conversations to ReShape Our World. The latter two out in 2014.
Christopher: Is the message useful to men as well?
Karen: Most definitely! Men have been damaged in this patriarchal society just as women have. They need to learn incorporating the Sacred Feminine within their lives, as deity, archetype and ideal is essential. Just as women must empower themselves and become more comfortable with archetypes and attributes we might label masculine, men have to become acquainted and embrace attributes society labels as feminine.
While I learned about Goddess among Dianic women and did some of my early work with them, my Iseum and not-for-profit organization were for both genders, including transgenders.
I learned the pain of discrimination early on working with women who might not have realized they were practicing patriarchy in a skirt no matter how much they railed against the mainstream patriarchy. I never wanted to perpetuate that pain on another and have come to realize the necessity of plurality, tolerance and balance. So I can thank them today for being good teachers, teaching me not only important things I needed to learn about Her-story, but also about what ideals and values I want to perpetuate in the world as a leader and teacher.
Christopher: Do you have a schedule of future talks, or workshops?
Karen: Yes. I do my radio show, Voices of the Sacred Feminine, every Wednesday on Blog Talk Radio which can be listened to live or from the archives. I’m leading a tour to Turkey in May 2015 with a good friend and brilliant scholar and archaeologist, Dr. James Rietveld. We could have called it “Come to Turkey with the Social Justice Activist/Priestess and the Scholar!”
I’m out there giving talks pretty regularly related to the Sacred Feminine as deity, archetype and ideal, though it’s random and not like every second Sunday. I’m hoping to get a speaking spot at the Council for the Parliament of World Religions in October in Salt Lake City, UT, be chosen for a Ted Talk and get more of this information out into the mainstream world by way of an internet or television series.
Christopher: When did your research lead to your writing?
Karen: Well, I’d either organized, taken or led sacred tours to Goddess sites across about 5 continents for several years, so when the publisher of my first book asked me to write Sacred Places of Goddess I guess that started my writing in earnest. But before that, I must mention the opportunity Selena Fox at Circle News gave me. After these many journeys, I’d usually write up an account of what transpired and Circle would publish it. So from writing a lot for an assortment of Pagan magazines, it was a natural step to accept the aforementioned book contract. Then once you’re published once, it seems the second book is easier.
Christopher: What kind of writing have you done?
Karen: In between the books, I’ve been writing for blogs on matters in the headlines that are related to rebirthing Goddess as deity and archetype, and on reconciling our spirituality and politics, ideals of the sacred feminine and issues of discrimination, justice and women’s equality.
I write scripts for my radio show, particularly a What’s the Buzz segment when I share with listeners things going on out in the world where Goddess ideals are either becoming mainstream or being trampled upon. I write inspirational messages to deliver at the Goddess Temple of Orange County when I’m invited to guest priestess and I still write rituals and meditations.
I’m most interested these days in writing as a social justice activist, showing how values of the Sacred Feminine can lead to a more sustainable, egalitarian and just future and I encourage Pagans to get involved and be on the front lines advocating and peacefully resisting for change so more of us have a better quality of life.
Christopher: Where can people find your published books?
Karen: My website http://www.karentate. com is the best portal to all my work, including my books. One can go there and get links to a lot of interviews I’ve done talking about all this, watch some classes and talks I’ve given that got uploaded to You tube, learn more about my radio show and access it on Blog Talk Radio from my website.
Christopher: Do your beliefs require that you take action? Is that just in your own life or does it include community social action and more?
Karen: I remember reading how the late Margot Adler, a respected elder in our community, former NPR journalist and accomplished scholar, lamented the fact that more Pagans are not on the front lines trying to support environmentalism, human rights and social justice. I agree. But I didn’t realize this when I started this path. At first it was about myself. Defining me. Defining deity.
Then I learned how it affected the community, and only later still did I see the big picture of how this can change the world. There’s a reason it’s been suppressed! This would change the world from a dominator culture to an egalitarian or partnership culture and there are a lot of rich and powerful people and organizations who would become obsolete, or will become obsolete, when we reach that tipping point, that 100th Monkey, that paradigm shift and demand change. But again, I realize we are all in a different place along our journey. It took me awhile to get here and I struggle for patience as I wait for others to evolve and catch up. I run into Pagans everyday who are in this for the aspect of rebellion, to be entertained at rituals, or those who are still most worried about what color candle to put on their altar. There is so much more to all this than any of that.
Christopher: Does the sacred feminine provide a possible map of how to changes things and solve many of the problems that we face?
Karen: Yes, I’ve touched on that a bit, but to get more specific, I guess I’d first like to credit Riane Eisler, author of Chalice and the Blade, for awakening me to this dominator vs. partnership paradigm. Her book, along with Merlin Stone’s When God Was a Woman are must reads. I honestly think when the Dalai Lama said it would be western women who would save the world, I think he really meant it would be ideals of the Sacred Feminine that would save the world.
Here are some ideas I’ll share to give you some jumping off points to get my meaning excerpted from an article I wrote, Goddess Spirituality as Liberation Thealogy :
1) We find under the broad umbrella of Goddess, many faces across continents and cultures, with no mandate that we worship one name, one face. Instead we see a metaphor for plurality, diversity and inclusion in the loving and life-affirming Sacred Feminine, rather than the jealous, One Way, androcentric and exclusionary god of patriarchy keen on asking men to sacrifice their sons to prove their loyalty and a holy book filled with violence. Those embracing Goddess might easily see embracing peace, tolerance, gender equality and peoples of all walks of life; gay, straight, people of all skin colors and religions or no religion at all, as being in alignment with Her diversity, resulting in a more just, equal, balanced and sustainable world and society.
2) Consider the mythology of the Inuit Goddess Sedna. She is the gatekeeper between humankind and the sea creatures of the regions near icy waters which people depend for their livelihood. If mankind becomes too greedy and exploits the creatures of the sea, Sedna cuts humanity off until he takes only what he needs. Greed and excess are taboo as we are all inter-dependent upon each other. As our environmental Goddess, Sedna, teaches us to be wise stewards of Mother Earth and Her creatures.
This is a rejection of excess and exploitation and She calls us to environmentalism and to be Her spokespeople protecting habitats across the globe. We might be called to be at the forefront fighting against fracking, poisoning our water and air, and depleting our natural resources. We would deplore exploitation of any kind, including wage discrimination, worker exploitation or multi-national corporations decimating local economies and indigenous peoples. We certainly would use our vote to support those who fight for the 99% and allies who would protect Mother Earth and Sedna’s creatures.
3) The Egyptian Goddess Isis bestowed upon pharaohs their right to rule and they were to rule their kingdoms governing under the laws of the Goddess Maat, namely truth, balance, order, and justice. Similarly, we see the Hindu Goddess Kali standing atop her consort, Shiva, whose powers must be activated by Her. Clearly this suggests patriarchy, or rule of the father resulting in rule by the male gender, has not always been the way of the world, nor would be the way of the world with Goddess restored to center.
Neither would we want patriarchy in a skirt as absolute power corrupts absolutely. Even a cursory glimpse here shows a call for female leadership and a respect for women’s power, both of which are sorely lacking in our world as academia, corporate America, religious institutions and politics has less than 20% representation by women in the United States. We must support women who embrace Goddess ideals and support their leadership in these bastions of male control. Isis instructing pharaoh she is granting him the right to rule, but only if he employs the Laws of the Goddess Maat, can be seen in support for civil rights, voter rights, worker and immigrant rights and consumer protection from powers that might mis-use and exploit the individual or the planet.
4) In the thealogy of the Sacred Feminine, Goddess affirms women’s bodies and sexuality. Priestesses of pharmacology, mid-wives and women hold the power over their own bodies and life and death is in their hands.
Today the patriarchy dictates to women the parameters of beauty and women fall victims to their standards spending millions with plastic surgeons to live up to some impossible ideal. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, 13.1 million cosmetic procedures were performed in 2010, up 5% from 2009.
Beyond physical beauty, the patriarchy wants to control all aspects of women’s sexuality and reproduction. Known in the United States as Big Pharma, pharmaceutical companies now hold the power over women’s bodies as they encourage women to disconnect from their menses, that monthly inconvenience, that curse. They say “here, take our pill and see your sacred blood magically disappear.” Disconnect from one of the very things that empowers you as a woman!
In a not so veiled culture war, one political party has declared war on women by attempting to de-fund Planned Parenthood, thwarting access to contraception, trying to pass laws to make divorces harder to obtain, trying to legalize the murder of abortion providers, and by having miscarriages investigated and abortions abolished. Women’s bodies and lives are the terrain on which this current extremist conservative movement is taking a stand.
If we had a feminine face of god at the center of society, or Her ideals affirming female authority and leadership, men and their institutions would not control or dictate to women. Equal is equal. Women would understand their sexuality and bodies are sacred and in their own hands and would not be complicit in their own oppression or exploitation.
5) Goddess thealogy affirms female power. Where Goddess was worshiped, her temples were the centers of wisdom, culture, and financial power and were often presided over by women. Researchers such as Merlin Stone and Heide Goettner-Abendroth, in her book Societies of Peace: Matriarchies Past, Present and Future, point to matriarchal societies where Goddess was venerated and maternal values practiced, women and children were protected and had a spot at the center of the culture, reaping the benefit of that positioning at the center.
We must once again turn to the attributes of the Feminine, such as caring, sharing, nurturing, negotiation, collaboration, solidarity, partnership and peace; all of which have been marginalized or demonized under patriarchy, and embrace these values so that quality of life is restored for the most of us.
In conclusion, these are but a few ideas showing how Sacred Feminine mythology might be reclaimed and reinterpreted to provide a roadmap toward a more sustainable future. We have in the feminine images of divinity deities, archetypes and ideals to show us the way. It is up to us if we want to embrace them as our role models and heed their advice.
Christopher: How did your pod radio show The Sacred Feminine start and what do you try to accomplish on it? Where can people find it?
Karen: Well, that’s interesting. I reveal in my last book Voices of the Sacred Feminine, the anthology I edited based on my radio show of the same name, that I used to be in radio many years ago. I was the Public Service Director of a local radio station, way before the internet was ever an inspiration is anyone’s mind. And it seems appropriate that I went back to my roots, if you will.
The short story is, I believed with mainstream media being controlled by conservative corporations who are not looking out for the needs of the 99%, we needed platforms to be talking about alternatives to capitalism, patriarchy, and this callous culture we live in that seems to care less and less for the average citizen or the commons.
Everything is leading toward privatization, workers becoming slave wagers, without benefits or education. We have Fox News in the United States fostering hate, separation, disconnection and the most mis-informed people aligning themselves to vote against their economic interests. Right now it feels as if the least educated, the racists, sexists, anti-science, anti-gay and anti-immigrant factions are winning. They are certainly the most vocal and seem the most engaged, perhaps because they feel the ground shaking beneath their feet. I hope so anyway.
I guess I just couldn’t sit back and do nothing when we needed to have a conversation. People needed to see that there are alternatives to how things are being done or have been done. When they realize that, they’ll be more secure and likely to promote change. Until they see a way forward, I think it’s human nature to stay with the thing you know, even if it’s the devil. It reminds me of women caught in abusive marriages. They hate it. They get beat up and bloodied, but until they see there’s a safe alternative or a way out, they stick with the abuser.
People can find my radio show here at Blogtalk Radio – Voices of the Sacred Feminine – www.blogtalkradio.com/voicesofthesacredfeminine, and I invite them to listen to the treasure trove of wisdom in the archives.
Christopher: Have you worked with any other media?
Karen: Besides my You Tube Channel which I hope to develop this year, it has been my honor to be in the courageous and important documentary Femme: Women Healing the World, produced by actress Sharon Stone and Emmanuel Itier of Wonderland Entertainment. It courageously starts at the beginning, with Goddess, explaining how our culture for a time was about the “We and the Us” until things got turned upside down and it became about the “I and the Me.” It gets into the damage of patriarchal religions, how it set women up to be marginalized, devalued and it offers solutions what’s so important.
We can change this world, if we work together. If we begin to value partnership, love, caring, sharing rather than this survival of the fittest mentality. I’m in the film, right there along so many of my mentors and I truly believe this should be required viewing in every living room, religious institution and classroom.
I remember, living in that Christian bubble, some of this is really new information to so many people. Remember, you have people who think the world is 6,000 years old, that women should suffer because of Eve’s sin, that women don’t have rights to their own bodies or are on this Earth to serve men, that the poor are being punished by God. They’ve never heard anything else! They’re probably afraid to hear anything else because they’re so afraid of burning in Hell.
We really have to be about education for these people and ourselves. We need to build bridges to them and reach out with compassion and tenacity. We need to take responsibility for our own education and not rely on what we’re fed from the family dinner table, Fox News or the church pulpit to be what truly serves humanity. We need to stop being complicit in our own oppression We need to truly begin acting in solidarity because there are more of us than the oppressors.
Vision it for a minute. If all the women being devalued and marginalized stop volunteering, if workers went on strike and demanded living wages and benefits, if men and women refused to go to war to serve some corporation, if gays, immigrants, minorities, and women stuck together, about the social safety net, environmental exploitation, wages and benefits, peace, campaign finance reform, breaking up the banks, protecting the commons and the socialist institutions that serve us so well – I could go on and on – I think you get my drift. If we got off our couches and banned together, peacefully resisted with courage, strength and tenacity, then I believe we would win this battle for a better world for the most of us and not just the few hundred richest people on the planet putting the screws to the rest of us – and their handmaidens benefitting from supporting the status quo and betraying their gender and class.
Christopher: So what projects are in the plans and where can people find out more?
Karen: In May I’m leading the sacred tour to Turkey I mentioned. I think it’s going to be pretty fabulous. Anyone interested should check out my website. I’m hoping to develop my You Tube channel in 2015 where I do some vignettes talking about how Goddess ideals and values offer a more sustainable future so people begin to connect the dots between social, cultural, political issues and ideals of the Sacred Feminine. I’ll continue my radio show, because it is my guilty pleasure having the reins to ask the questions I want answered of these wise and gifted people.
There’s maybe another book or two in me. I’d like to write more about Goddess and social justice and perhaps a book with tips on having a good relationship with one’s partner. I’d co-write it with my husband of 30 years, Roy, who I describe as the wind beneath my wings and I’ve dedicated a few of my books to.
Christopher: What else would you like our readers to know?
Karen: I would like to dispel the dis-information out there that what I’ve been talking about, which might be called sacred feminine liberation thealogy, or eco-feminist spirituality, or goddess spirituality, is only for women. Feminists simply want equality and a culture that cares, shares and where we have freedom to live a life of equality and partnership, and not be dominated, marginalized or exploited.
We are not man-haters or femi-nazis and many, many men are within our ranks because they realize patriarchy, rule by a male dominated father, revering solely a male god, has not served the most of us.
Too many of us have been denied the chance to reach our fullest potential. Too many of us continue to be exploited, including Mother Earth. Even former President Jimmy Carter left his church because he believed sexism is a sin. We are our brother’s keeper. Greed once was and still is a deadly sin, if you don’t mind me harkening back to my Catholic roots. I think the early Christians got some of it right, particularly those who revered a feminine face of God, didn’t think sex was taboo and those who realized Jesus probably intended Mary Magdalene and women to be leaders in the church. I think we actually have a lot in common with Christians, Jews and Muslims, if we go back far enough, before patriarchy poisoned the well.
Christopher Blackwell Interviews
This article first appeared in ACTION Imbolc 2015