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Law, culture, and Catholicism...up in smoke!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

"Wise Woman" Code for Neo-Paganism?

Sonia Sotomayer is very fond of refering to herself repeatedly as a "wise woman" or variously "wise Latina woman" and most of the commentary on this has focused on the "woman" (i.e., feminist/sexist) and "Latina" (i.e., racist) aspects of this phase, but has overlooked the meaning of the phrase "wise woman."

What is a "wise woman?"

Kudos to Culturewarnotes.com for picking this one up. Have a look at the comments of this article and you will find this:

In my experience with having been married to an ex-Wiccan priestess, and having a collection of neopagan books I've used for cultural research that total roughly six shelf-feet, "Wise woman" is always a euphemism for feminist witch (neo-pagan). Whenever you see a feminist "scholar" describing, say, the Witch of Endor from the Bible or the witchhunts of the middle ages, they ALWAYS replace the word "witch" with "wise woman". I have never heard a feminist or a neo-pagan use the word "wise woman" to describe an actually wise woman. It's as much a loaded word as a Communist referring to someone as a "fellow traveler".
As for her being "Catholic", frankly, the most intense feminist neo-pagans I know have Catholic backgrounds.

At first, one might dismiss this as too far flung, however when you take a closer look it fits her profile like a glove.

The meaning of the phrase "wise woman" as code for neo-pagan feminist witch is well established. Just Google "wise woman," 10:1 the returns are about neo-paganism, herbalism, moon circles, and aligned products and services. One of the links is to the book "Wise Woman" which is an "intense, absorbing tale, a grisly drama of passion and witchcraft in 16th-century England."

In the late 80's PBS began to popularize the ideas of mythologist Joseph Campbell and with him, Carl Jung through the Bill Moyers series The Power of Myth. The ideas of these men, and others, really paved the way for the mainstreaming of neo-paganism in America as an intellectually sophisticated practice about depth psychology and self-actualization. Organizations such as Woman Within International offer women "training" (code for ritual initiation) for "empowerment" (code for witchcraft power rituals) and a network of women who "gather" for mutual support (code for monthly communal lunar rituals). Someone who has been initiated into this is a "wise woman." The intellectual foundations for this coincide with feminist and post-colonial critical theory. Needless to say, these organizations are stocked with lesbians because it is the spirituality of lesbianism - women power.

These women do not identify themselves as pointy nosed toothless witches that we know from popular culture, rather they see this stereotype as a patriarchial demonization of the "wise woman" herbalist, shaman, reader of signs who is connected to the wisdom of the Earth Mother, or Sophia, or Goddess(es) that were burned at the stake in the millions by the Catholic Church (a popular and wide spread lie that has been discredited but persists). These are not the tatooed, pink hair, black nail polish, pentagram wearing witches that embrace occultism, rather they are professional women who are looking for avenues to increase their power in a patriarchial world through esoteric means and an elite network of spiritual society. Catholicism is an opressor of women in this worldview and totally incompatable.

Sonja Sotomayor has acknowledged that she is not a practicing Catholic, she goes to Church here and there when family duty calls. So, how does a single high powered career woman find nourishment for her spirit if she is a catholic but doesn't go to mass or participate in community life? Where does she find her spiritual communion with others?

Perhaps she is a member of one of these women initation circles that "train" women for "empowerment" and "gather" regularlly to network and that is where she aquired her identity as a "wise woman" within this spiritual communion?

It just so happens that Sotomayer is a member of such an elite feminist group: The Belizean Grove.

The Belizean Grove is consciously modeled after the occult men's group the Bohemian Grove and includes:

The Grove is an international nurturing network that helps women pursue more significant dreams, ambitions, purposes, transcendence, and spiritual fulfillment, while also opening up more leadership opportunities to these women of diverse backgrounds, talents, ages, and skills.

So what is the "trancendence and spiritual fulfillment" offered by this elite group?

Our laws rest on a Judeo-Christian foundation, what do you think of a SCOTUS who is a practicing neo-pagan. Is faith life irrelevant to this discussion?

Was she signalling to her audience that she was part of this network, specifically of a Latin American neo-pagan flavor?

More attention is needed to understand the meaning of "wise woman." Mind you, she didn't say "intelligent woman" or "educated woman" or "experienced woman" over and over again. She said, "Wise Woman."

This has the strong wiff of speaking in code.

UPDATE: Why Sotomayor is Good for Pagan Rights.

UPDATE 2: Without a doubt, "Wise Woman" is a term of art that invokes the mytho-poetic women's movement which is a Jungian/depth psychology return to paganism. There is a whole cottage industry and movement built around the idea of the "wise woman." Check out these references to "Wise Women" on the web:

1. Google: "define: wise woman" and you get this: Definitions of wise woman on the Web:
  • A person believed to be skilled in magic or local customs
2. Google hits for "wise woman": one, two, three, four

3. Amazon Books:

Goddesses and Wise Women: The Literature of Feminist Spirituality

A Wise Woman's Guide to Spells, Rituals, and Goddess Love

The Wise Woman