Interview with Samantha E McGonigle
Margot Hilraven: What do you think about the patriarchy? Can you envisage a time when it might finally be consigned to history?
Samantha: That’s a very interesting question. It’s also a fairly loaded question, though I wouldn’t have said that several years ago. I mean, it depends what is meant by the patriarchy. Like other women I know in the Goddess movement, the meaning is considered definably clear and belief in the patriarchy is an Article of Faith. But I have to say, I no longer see the issue as quite that straightforward.
Margot Hilraven: That’s rather interesting. Can you tell us more?
Samantha: I know it probably sounds like a betrayal of everything I once stood for, but the more deeply I thought about the issue, the more I realised that the deplorable state of the world is not entirely the fault of men. Yes, the history of mankind has been one of violence, warfare, and exploitation, but women are not above all that. Are bad women merely mimicking the patriarchy? I don’t think so. I believe that the patriarchy has to be understood more broadly. The Jungian scholar Marion Woodman once said that the patriarchy is a culture in which the driving force is power. Whenever we see men – or women – exerting power and control over others, then we see the patriarchy in action. It’s unfortunate, in my opinion therefore, that the term “patriarchy” is such a gendered term.
Margot Hilraven: But surely the patriarchy was created by men to serve the interests of men? Do you not agree with that?
Samantha: To make sense of the patriarchy, we first need to understand gender. Genderism when allied to spiritual issues is a major stumbling-block in the world today. In nature, we don’t find complete separation between masculine and feminine behaviours and therefore ultimately, the deities cannot be gendered, no matter how much we try to make them conform to our own image. Such binary terms are cultural constructions. In fact, what is considered feminine in one culture, can be considered quite differently in another. But more importantly, if we value both feminine and masculine, the less likely we are to regard one gender as more superior or hostile than the other and then we can begin making some progress towards defusing the gender war. We also hear a lot in our culture about the Sun being male and the Moon being female, for instance. I suppose as a gay woman, I never really identified with the Moon at all. I once read a book many years ago, written by Janet McCrickard, which challenged the conventional view that the Sun is male. That started me thinking along different lines.
Margot Hilraven: That’s intriguing. I’ve always accepted the Sun as masculine and the Moon as feminine. Am I mistaken here?
Samantha: If I say you’re not fundamentally mistaken, you might think I’m being evasive, or even contradictory. But as I see it, gender attribution in such a case is symbolic and cultural rather than actual. You’re entitled to adopt the symbolism or the correspondences that resonate with you – but they do not constitute the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Let me give you an example. There were women from the Tuvan tribe in Siberia who said the sun was female because it rose early, like the women did, and gave birth to the day. The moon, on the other hand, was considered male because the moon was absent a great deal of the time from the sky, similar to the men who were frequently away hunting. It’s all a matter of perception.
Margot Hilraven: I see. It’s hard to argue with that one, so I’ll move on. Do you ever have regrets about leaving the Goddess Movement?
Samantha: I have to say that I never really wanted to leave the Movement; there are many sincere seekers within it – good women who are on a quest to be the best they can be and who strive to make the world a better place for the benefit of everyone. But there are also those who only focus on so-called “feelgood” stuff. I’ve known many within the Movement who are simply narcissistic and self-interested by nature. When there’s a strong focus on “embracing the Goddess within each of us”, or in finding a goddess that we “like the look of”, then there’s also a grave danger of appealing only to those with outsized egos. And believe me, I’ve seen more than my fair share of those.
Margot Hilraven: Finally, do you have any advice to women, or indeed men, seeking a spiritual path?
Samantha: That’s a difficult one. All I can say is: don’t pursue the concept of perfection. There’s a saying you may have heard: “It’s better to be whole than to be nice”. If your quest is to be a well-rounded person, the less you will feel driven to be "perfect". I always felt, perhaps because I grew up in a strict Catholic background and attended Convent school, that I was grossly imperfect as a human being and squandered years trying very hard to be a “nice” person. I can tell you, that was a mighty struggle – despite regular visits to the confessional box, I’m afraid to say. There were times instead when I felt like simply going out and punching somebody. (laughs) I’m pleased to say, however, that I never did and no longer want to.
Thank you, Samantha, for such candid and insightful views.