From Academic Kids

Thealogy is literally the study of the Goddess (Greek θεά, thea, "goddess" + λόγος, logos, "study"). In 1993, Charlotte Caron's definition of thealogy as "reflection on the divine in feminine and feminist terms" appeared, but the term actually originates in the writings of Isaac Bonewits in 1974.


First uses

First(?) usage

In "The Druid Chronicles (Evolved)," privately published in 1974, Isaac Bonewits used "thealogian" to refer to a Wiccan author (Aidan Kelly, aka "C. Taliesin Edwards," who may have given him the term or vice versa) and "theilogy" (defined as "the study of more than one God"). Bonewits also used "theilogy" (and possibly "thealogy," since he coined them at the same time) in the pages of the widely-distributed "Gnostica" magazine he edited in 1974 and 1975.

(Actually, "The Druid Chronicles (Evolved)" were published starting in 1975 and finished in 1976. The article referred to within "The Druid Chronicles (Evolved)" is dated to the summer of 1976. Moreover, this is almost certainly not the first usage; the context of "thealogian" is in citing a work by C. Taliesin Edwards, "Essays towards a Metathealogy of the Goddess." [stress added] There is, however, a possibility that Bonewits altered the name of the work to fit with his terminology)

In 1976, Valerie Saiving, ending her "Androcentrism in Religious Studies" made a much quoted invocation that similarly yearns towards something as yet undefined-

it is just possible that the unheard testimony of that half of the human species which has for so long been rendered inarticulate may have something to tell us about the holy which we have not known - something which can finally make us whole.
(Saiving 1976:197)

Second(?) usage

In "The Changing of the Gods" 1979:96, Naomi Goldenberg selfconsciously introduces the term as a half whimsical possibility, an inspirational comment, not a prelude to exegesis. She does not go on to define what thealogy might be, other than the implicit femininity of the coinage. This lack was perhaps because at that time the very assertion of a serious feminist analysis of religion was virtually unheard of, and the introduction of the concept was an excitingly powerful, but vague, possibility.

This is not to say that both Goldenberg and Saiving do not both offer extremely solid chunks of thealogy, but they do not give an overview of something to which they were midwives.

Bonewits again

Also in 1979, in the first revised edition of "Real Magic," Bonewits defined "thealogy" in his Glossary this way: "Intellectual speculations concerning the nature of the Goddess and Her relations to the world in general and humans in particular; rational explanations of religious doctrines, practices and beliefs, which may or may not bear any connection to any religion as actually conceived and practiced by the majority of its members." While the last clause was his editorializing, the majority of the definition was adapted by removing sexist assumptions from a dictionary then in his library. Also in the same glossary, he defined "theology" and "theoilogy" (spelled correctly this time) with nearly identical words, changing the pronouns appropriately. He has since dropped the use of "theoilogy" in favor of "polytheology," also first published by him in the 1974 "Druid Chronicles."

In 2003 he pointed out that "thealogy" is an obvious coinage that may have been invented many times, and that feminist scholars are unlikely to have been familiar with his writings.

Growing usage by Carol Christ and Ursula King

Carol Christ used the term more substantially in "Laughter of Aphrodite" 1987.

In 1989 Ursula King notes its growing usage as a fundamental departure from traditional male-oriented theology, characterised by its privileging of symbols over rational explanation. She chronicles sympathetically that-

most writing on the Goddess, when not historical, is either inspirational or devotional, and a systematically ordered body of thought, even with reference to symbols, is only slowly coming into existence.

Further expansion of thealogy by Starr* Saffa

Tahirih Thealogy

The basic Definition of TheAlogy as opposed to Theology means viewing the world incorporating the Female lens which to a great extent in the past has been omitted in Theology.

Tahirih TheAlogy is religion beyond religion, politics beyond politics, and spiritual feminism beyond feminism in that it recognizes the Cosmic Christ Spirit in every individual and sets out the pattern of balance for the Sixth Cycle of humanity based on magnetic attraction vs. force and patriarchal constructs.

During the later part of 2004 Starr* Saffa introduced Tahirih Thealogy and the Tahirih Path in her book entitled “Tahirih Thealogy: Female Christ Spirit of the Age” based on the figure of the 19th Century Iranian born Prophet-Poetess Tahirih who was also known as Qurratu’l-ayn, and the return of Fatima.

Tahirih taught that inner knowledge is trumps and Starr* Saffa says Tahirih TheAlogy has the potential to unite East and West where everyone can be living Tahirih’s in this day through the continuous flow of Spirit.

Definition by Charlotte Caron

In 1993 Charlotte Caron's definition of thealogy as "reflection on the divine in feminine and feminist terms" appeared in "To Make and Make Again" (quoted from Russell & Clarkson 1996). By this time the concept had gained considerable (though conventionally marginal) status, broadly analogous to Ruether's view of radical feminist theology as opposed to reformist feminist theology.

Melissa Raphael's view

In 1997 Melissa Raphael wrote "Thealogy & Embodiment" which put the usage firmly on the map, and which she sustained in her subsequent "Thealogy: Discourse on the Goddess" (1999?). Together with Carol Christ's "Rebirth of the Goddess" 1997 Raphael's work provides a start for the "systematically ordered body of thought" King found lacking in 1989.

Three interpretations of thealogy

There are perhaps three distinct interpretations of thealogy, and they are evident in the briefing above.

  • Christ, King and Raphael focus thealogy specifically on Goddess spirituality.
  • Caron defines a broader field of a female worldview of the sacred.
  • Goldenberg's neologism as a political stance that marks the androcentrism of historical theology permeates the other two and raises its own issues.

Thealogy as Goddess spirituality

Taking the Goddess variant first, and it seems the commonest to the point where thealogy is typically assumed to be purely Goddess based, a linguistic derivation from the Greek "thea" (goddess). Goddess systematics inevitably face the question of "god in a skirt" or not, a subtly sexist tag that nonetheless carries a genuine issue. This can be viewed as sexist because "in a skirt" defines a subject norm as altered, trivialised, and definitely derivative, much as some have considered the female to have been historically defined in relation to the male. Thealogy specifically aims to counter what its proponents perceive as the massive dualistic sexism in the field of religion, by asserting a female worldview that is not merely reformist or derivative, so its proponents would see this quip as especially destructive.

Broad interpretation of thealogy (Caron)

Caron's definition "Reflection on the divine in feminine and feminist terms" holds a caution for feminist theologians and thealogians alike that the female sacred extends beyond the feminist agenda. Often theology or feminist thealogy writes as if the Goddess is a feminist discovery. The "womenspirit" Goddess is a highly selected deity who for thealogians such as Christ has nothing to do with goddess practices such as violent sacrifice, or validating a male conqueror. However, this can be seen to be as inauthentic as the habit of some Christians of disowning the Inquisition as "not done by real Christians" (see the "no true Scotsman" logical fallacy).

Nor is it a matter only of past history: many members of a huge international organisation like the Fellowship of Isis would not identify as feminist, nor would a great many Pagans. Outside the goddessing of western NRMs thealogy can recognise and give due respect to the world millions in village and tribal religions who look to goddesses in ways that may or may not be feminist, and Caron's definition allows thealogy to be this widely inclusive.

This broader view accords well with the kind of fluid systematics profiled by Cynthia Eller when she reports her respondent Margaret Keane as saying:

I don't make those kind of distinctions that you hear about, they don't make any sense to me. You can say it's the Great Goddess, and that's the one Goddess, but she's also all of the many goddesses, and that's true. And she's everywhere. She's immanent in everything, in the sparkle of the sun on the sea, and even in an animistic concept. I think certain objects can embody that force and power. So I worship the Great Goddess, and I'm polytheistic and pantheistic and monotheistic too. And I also have a feeling for nature spirits...
(1993 :132-133)

This broader view has most recently been labelled by Michael York as "polymorphic thealogy." He also raises the issue of whether thealogy venerates one Goddess or many, which some thealogicians consider a non-question since it arises from a monotheist worldview that they do not hold.

However Caron's definition falls short of explicitly allowing for male positions in thealogy.

A challenge to androcentrism

The third interpretation of thealogy as an assertion of female sacred worldviews is clearly political. The notes above touch on how this usage aims to counter the deeply established dualistic relegation of female as derivative, making the male the norm: as Daly put it "If God is male, then the male is God."

Thealogy has been criticised as essentialist by queer theorists and others.

To a thealogian it is important to explore the female worldview (not only but notably of the sacred) and not be compelled to take off female spectacles when looking at themes beyond female psychobiology. A speaker may choose to adopt a kind of gender neutral stance insofar as she can, or she may try to empathise with a male worldview, and a male speaker vice versa.

Linguistic twiddling

Many scholars find the term "thealogy" exasperating, a linguistic twiddling, including some feminist theologians. But the position of women operating within the male worldview of theology, as in most of feminist theology, is more marginal than in the general run of professional occupations these days. The rigidly entrenched sexism in the contemporary academy perceived by some thealogs recalls situations of general Women's Liberation in 1972, rather than society 30 years later (see recent research studies Ofsted UK).

See also


  • Isaac Bonewits "The Second Epistle of Isaac" in "the Druid Chronicles (Evolved)" Berkeley Drunemeton Press, 1974.
  • Isaac Bonewits "Real Magic" Creative Arts Book Co., 1979
  • Charlotte Caron "To Make and Make Again: Feminist Ritual Thealogy" NY Crossroad 1993
  • Carol Christ "Rebirth of the Goddess:Finding meaning in feminist spirituality" Routledge 1997
  • Cynthia Eller "Living in the Lap of the Goddess: The Feminist Spirituality Movement in America" Crossroad 1993
  • Naomi Goldenberg "The Changing of the Gods" 1979
  • Ursula King "Women and Spirituality" Macmillan 1989
  • Melissa Raphael "Thealogy & Embodiment" 1997 Sheffield Academic Press
  • Melissa Raphael "Introducing Thealogy: Discourse on the Goddess" 1999 Sheffield Academic Press
  • Letty M. Russell & J Shannon Clarkson "Dictionary of Feminist Theologies" Mowbray 1996.
  • Starr* Saffa "Tahirih Thealogy: Female Christ Spirit of the Age" OzForUs Publishing 2004; Zeus-publications 2005.
  • Valerie Saiving "Androcentrism in Religious Studies" in Journal of Religion 56:1976:177-97

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