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  Veröffentlicht in: "Women and Therapy - A Feminist Quarterly". Vol. 16 Nrs. 2/3 1995.
Auch in: Judith Ochshorn, Ellen Cole (Eds.): Women's Spirituality, Women's Lives. New York, London 1995.

Women's Spirituality and Healing in Germany

Marianne Krüll

ABSTRACT: The author first describes her personal experience of celebrating the eight holy-days of the year's circle together with a group of women over a period of several years. The healing power of ritual ceremonies in the spirit of the Goddess is shown through examples of the psychodynamics of the group and of individual women. Differences between consciousness-raising and therapeutic groups are discussed. In a brief review the women's spirituality movement in Germany is presented, mentioning some of the leading healers and writers. In conclusion a comparison between the German and American female spirituality movements is attempted.



This is our ninth year that we - a group of women living between Bonn, Cologne and Dusseldorf - are coming together for celebration of the years's circle, that is, the eight holy-days of the year which our non-Christian ancestors also used to celebrate: (1) 2nd of February: Feast of Light (Candle Mass); (2) 21st of March: Spring Equinox (Easter); (3) 30st of April: Beltane (Walpurgis); (4) 21st of June: Summer Solstice; (5) between 5th and 15th of August: Feast of Cutting and Consecration of Herbs (Harvesting); (6) 21st of September: Fall Equinox (End of Harvesting); (7) 1st of November: Halloween (Feast of Darkness); (8) 21st of December: Winter Solstice (12 or 13 Holy Nights).

In the beginning our group was larger, but even now we are still nine women circling around. In age we range between 33 to 57 now. Most of us are married, mothers of one to five children. In one year we had three babies in the group celebrating with us because the mothers were breast-feeding them! Others are beyond the mothering age, living alone.

When we started most of us did not know the others. All of us had the wish to learn about "the Goddess" as she was celebrated and honored in pre-patriarchal times or societies. From various sources we had heard about women's spirituality and wanted to experience and live what we had read or heard. Starhawk's "Spiral Dance" had been the main source for most of us (we still sing Starhawk's songs in English: "We all come from the Goddess and to Her we shall return ...").

Some are of Protestant faith, others Catholic, one is a Buddhist, several left their religious affiliation. Some of us are academic women (theologians, sociologists, teachers) who started to do women's studies in their fields, discovering our lost heritage. Others in our group are artists: a silk-paintress, a performance actress, a meditative dance teacher. One is expert in herbs and mushrooms. One knows much about astrology. One of us is working in an educational institution and thus in a position to invite prominent women for lectures and seminars. So, we came to work with Zsuzsanna Budapest, Felicitas Goodman from the United States, as well as with Luisa Francia, Gerlinde Schilcher (Judith Jannberg), Ute Schiran and others from Germany. - Thus, the expertise of each of us is shared by the others.

But more important than our sharing of knowledge has been our group-process over the years. Mostly our meetings last one day, some two or three days. We prefer to be outside, sleeping in tents or under the sky, but in winter we mostly celebrate in homes, some rented, some our own apartments or houses.

We usually start with a power-circle to protect us and raise our energies: Holding hands and calling (in silence) the Goddess to be with us. Then follows a "round" to allow each of us to report what happened to her since we last met. The others ask questions but refrain from interpreting or commenting. Sharing our pains and joys in our everyday lives has already a profound supporting and healing effect. Usually a round lasts for several hours, so that afterwards we all need some food before continuing. Although we never plan what kind of food each one should bring, there is always just the right combination of dishes for a lavish meal or several meals when we meet for more than a day. We all set pride in preparing new dishes to surprise the others. The food is also a way for us to materially and symbolically connect with the respective season of the year.

The ritual we celebrate depends on the respective holy-day and on what one or several of us particularly need - as expressed in the round. It may consist of our just gathering in a circle with our symbols for the four corners of the sky and the four elements in the center: a candle to represent the South and the element of fire, a bowl of water for the West, a stone for the North and for the element of earth, a feather or knife to represent the East and the elment of air. But a ritual may just as well consist of several parts: elaborated group actions, performances, trances, dances, chanting, drumming, massaging, tarot-reading or the joint production of objects (like woodcarvings, painted silk scarves, clay figures) - particularly if we meet for more than a day. Working with our inner images may alternate with the outword staging of some kind of performance. Sometimes one or several of us are in charge of the ritual, having planned it in advance. More often we create the ritual spontaneously. Here are some examples:

(1) Candle-mass in February is the time of the beginning light, of clarity and vision. As a ritual we make our candles for the next year. Bee-wax is heated and while we "draw" our candles by dipping the wick into the liquid wax, we express our wishes for the next year. The candle keeps our "light" burning in times of darkness throughout the year. One candle is made for the whole group. The color for this feast is white.

(2) Spring Equinox is a happy holy-day when tender green sprouts start to peep out of the ground and the first spring-flowers are in blossom. We prepare the ground to put seeds in it, and ask Ostara, the Easter-Goddess to let them grow. It is a time for cleansing, so one year we took baths and dried each other in a soft massage. The color is yellow.

(3) Walpurgis is the feast to celebrate the new life in orgiastic joy. It is said that the witches used their broomsticks to fly to the "Blocksberg", a mountain in cental Germany. We always try to be in the open making a fire and jumping over it, dancing, chanting and feeling the power of spring in us and around us. It is a feast of all colors.

(4) Summer Solstice is the years' "high-time" (in German: Hoch-Zeit, meaning also "wedding") when the Goddess and her hero join their power in erotic ecstasy. Mostly, we spend several days together celebrating the abundance of life. The color is a bright red.

(5) Cutting the grain and the grass is the theme of the cutters' holy-day. We pick herbs for our year's bunch of herbs to be dried and kept in our homes for protection. One year we killed a hen in a ritual to experience our power as "cutting" women, as women giving death. To some of us this meant a new form of healing: Cutting off what needs to be killed in order to feed us or make room for new life. The color is a dark red.

(6) Fall Equinox is harvest-time. We give thanks to the Goddess for the goods She has provided us. In one year we had three newborn babies in our midst to be grateful for. It is also a time to give back to mother earth what she needs, particularly in our times of violation and abuse of her ressources. The color is brown.

(7) Halloween is for us the beginning of the dark season when we honor and meet our ancestors (All-Saints' Day in the Catholic Church), but when we also encounter the shadow in ourselves. One year we spent some hours in a grave-yard in the dark, each having to deal with her fear of the place and of her own death. This year everyone of us - one after the other - was wrapped in a huge black silk sheet and cradled by the others like in our mother's womb. We experienced the darkness before birth, but also after our life has ended. The color for this feast is black.

(8) Winter Solstice is the longest night, but also the birth of light. It is a time when the skies are open for good or bad spirits to reach out for us. We perform our ritual to get in contact with the spirits surrounding us. Once we spent the whole night outside wearing masks and dancing around a big fire making noise to chase the evil spirits away. In the morning we climbed up a hill to greet the rising sun (which, however, stayed hidden behind clouds!). In another year we celebrated Winter Solstice inside with a birthing-ritual during which everyone of us found her way through the tunnel which the others had formed with their bodies. For one of us this was a special form of healing since she had just had a hysterodectomy. We guided her through her despair of no longer being able to give birth - as helpful and compassionate midwives would help a child to a new life. Colors are red, green and gold. In closing our meeting each of us draws a tarot-card from Vicki Noble's "Motherpeace" tarot-deck which we spread out in a circle. The card gives us an orientation for the time until our next meeting.

It is difficult to explain what kind of healing we have been getting from our ritual celebrations throughout the years, because most effects are indirect or too subtle for clear observation. I shall try to name some that have been most obvious to all of us:

We have learned to open our senses to the cyclic nature of our lives and of nature around us. This had effects on our physical cycles: menstruating women bled at the same time, for some periods even at full moon. Birth-giving was a beautiful experience for the women who had babies (altogether nine during the past eight years!), some gave birth in their homes. All of us went through personal crises which were easened and even solved through the help of our group: There were separations from partners, unhappy love-affairs, deaths of close family members. There were illnesses, depressive states with suicidal tendencies. There were breakdowns due to crises at work. We helped each other, through just being there and feeling deeply connected with the woman in sorrow.

Rosemarie (1) had been sexually abused as a child by her psychotic grandfather. She did not remember this and was unable to relate her adult problems to that experience. During several meetings, we stood by her when her traumatic experience started to rise to her consciousness and she screamed in terror. She is strong and powerful now, with no signs of depression, mastering her quite difficult life admirably. When Hilde got pregnant from a casual love-affair she was desperate because an abortion seemed impossible for her, although a child would have ruined her life-plans. We held her and cried with her, but also talked to her. When she decided to have the abortion, one of us accompanied her to the doctors and to the hospital. At our next meeting we celebrated a mourning ritual asking the child's soul to forgive her and transform her sorrow into power. She is now studying and has taken her life into her hands. Monika is a single mother. She gave birth to her daughter in the home of Sabine. Some women of our group were present, and also Sabine's two children. Monika's daughter is now like a sister for them. Monika is convinced that her beautiful relationship to her daughter (now almost 5 years of age) would never have been possible without our group.

There were also controversies in the group: For quite some time Carla and Katharina struggled about who had more to say in the group. Again the group offered support and security for both of them to open up and admit that deep down they had been longing for the understanding of the other instead of fighting her. The power-structure of the group changed enormously after that clarification. Sometimes it seems almost impossible to reconcile the wishes of all: The family mothers seek rest from their burdensome daily life at home and want a calm celebration, while others want to dance the whole night through. Some of us felt that we put too much structure into our rituals, others thought it was not enough. Some had problems undressing and dancing naked in the open. A few of us felt - and still feel - that our meals are just too copious and that we should fast for our celebrations. - But whatever conflicts there were - we always managed to transform them into something positive for the group. We also had to say good-bye to several women in the group. They left for various reasons, some painful for the rest of us. We keep in contact with them and the door is open for them to return. It was important for us to learn that separation can be overcome without bad feelings.

Another constant problem has been to find safe places for us to meet outdoors, since in the overpopulated area where we live there is practically no place in the woods, the fields, on hills or in valleys, in caves or in ruins of castles where we can be sure of nobody coming by. Sometimes we were even chased away from places we found.

What is the difference between our group and other consciousness-raising or therapeutic women's groups? I think it is our spiritual orientation. We do not only come together to help each other, but for some "higher" or "other" purpose which is not easily explainable - we call it "the Goddess". Everyone of us feels that the spirit of the Goddess is with her, or even that she is the Goddess. We feel connected with nature around us, with stones and rocks, with plants, animals, other human beings, with the whole cosmos. In the spirit of the Goddess, we accept and respect who and how we are, and we respect the other in her way of being. We may not always like how we or the others are, but knowing that the Goddess is with us, we feel that we have responsibility for our "constructing" ourselves and our world in a meaningful way.

This spiritual orientation is our mutual bond, and probably explains why our group has stayed together for such a long period. We feel that we are not just good friends, but that we are, so to say, called to join our energies so that they may grow - not only for our own benefit, but for the benefit of a larger whole. - Another difference to therapeutic groups is that there is no leader in our group. Whenever one of us shows some kind of superiority over the others, she is lovingly criticized by the others, and immediately returns into the circle of equals.

It is amazing how "good or bad", "right or wrong" change their meaning when you no longer try to hold on one truth, as our patriarchal belief-systems - therapeutic, religious or scientific - force us to do. Having had an academic training myself, I feel tremendously relieved to no longer have to force myself to decide which is right and which is wrong, but to be able to let things and living beings be as they are. For the theologians in our group the change is even more profound: Instead of God-Father up above watching us and punishing us for our wrong-doings, we know that we are responsible for our deeds. As the witches say: Whatever we do will come back threefold to us - so we better be careful not to do what we do not wish to be done to us!

A very important aspect of our spiritual work is a re-definition of womanhood. Although we continue living in patriarchal structures - most of us in marriages, having children of both sexes -, we do not define ourselves as mentally or spiritually dependent on men. We reject men's definition of women as either whore or saint, sexual object or mama. The threefold Goddess - maiden/amazone, mother, crone - is our self-image as women throughout the life-cycle. The maiden-Goddess (in mythology f.ex.: Artemis/Diana, Athene) is adventurous, unattached, a virgin in her spirit, although she may be active sexually. The mother-Goddess (f.ex. Demeter, Hera) is nurturing, creative, giving birth to children, but also to products of any kind. The crone-Goddess (f.ex. Hekate) is the wise, the experienced one who knows the secrets of life and death. Such positive images of women's strength have profound healing effects.

We feel that our lives are cyclic: the daily cycle with the sun rising and setting; monthly with the moon waxing and waning and with our bleeding coming and going; seasonal through a year's cycle. But just as those cycles return, some of us believe that our own life cycle from birth (or even from conception) to death will return. And those of us who do not believe in reincarnation, trust that we are in contact with our ancestors, particularly the female ones. Our bodies are a source of knowledge and understanding for us. We reject the notion of a separation between body and mind, and experience enormous strength in healing ourselves without medical help through visualization, rituals, meditation and trance. Some years ago I would never have imagined to get over an influenza or even to see an open wound heal as quickly as it happens now with my "magic" power. - Dreams are another important source of knowledge. We share them in the group and often find a deeper understanding for ourselves, especially when we dream of one another or of our group. There is an opening of all of our senses making us aware of our reality inside and outside of us. We found that fears are disappearing and positive energies arising when we become more aware of what we hear, observe, feel. Walking at night or even sleeping in the open, is f.ex. no longer a problem for any of us as it had been before.

We made several trips together as a group in search of power-places and sites of Goddess-worship. We went to the isle of Malta in the Mediterranean Sea to feel the magic of the magnificent megalithic temples which all have the form of women's bodies. We were on the isle of Rugen in former East-Germany, where we danced on grave-mounds and flew with the swan-goddess - the swan being the sacred bird of the ancient people there. Last year we got to know the spirits of the Alpes, and found a "witch-rock" high up above a valley. This year we plan a trip to Cornwall, England, with its many magic places.


The history of the German women's spirituality movement has not been written yet, so my report can only reflect a very personal view of mine. Also, I can only talk about West-Germany, since I am not informed about groups in the former G.D.R., which however, I am sure, do exist by now.

The women's spirituality movement had its roots in the political feminist movement following the students' revolt in 1968. In the late 70ies some active feminists discovered that in patriarchal systems women are not only oppressed openly, i.e. economically, sexually, politically, but also mentally and spiritually.

Schiran is a family or clan-name chosen by five lesbian women who - in the early 80ies decided to leave patriarchal structures and live on farms in the countryside of Southern Germany. Ute Schiran is the best known of them, since she wrote several books and is lecturing quite a lot. Together with her clan-sisters she wrote a beautiful astrological book for women. She is a spiritual healer and teacher. The Schiran-women's work has had and still has considerable influence in the German feminist spirituality movement.

Heide Göttner-Abendroth is another leading figure in the movement. She was an academic philosopher who quit her university career. Together with a collective of women she founded an academy for matriarchal living and studies, called "Hagia" in Southern Germany. In 1983 she started celebrating rituals in large groups. Many women who took part in her ritual gatherings are now working on their own. Heide is the author of several books which have greatly inspired the German spiritual movement. A few years ago she started a huge project on the history of matriarchy. Several volumes have already been published. It is of tremendous value to all of us (and should be translated into English soon!). For this project she travelled to many archeological and ethnological sites all over the world.

Luisa Francia is another well-known German healer. Her first book "Moon, Dance, Magic" was a revelation to many of us. Luisa is a wild woman, a true witch with enormous power. (Quite recently, in 1992 she survived a motorcycle-accident by using her spiritual, magical power so that the medical doctors admitted that her healing was a miracle.) Luisa lived in Africa to study witchcraft with native women. She is a very productive and witty writer and lecturer, whose books should also be translated into English.

Judith Jannberg's book "I Am a Witch" (Ich bin eine Hexe) opened up a door for many of us to identify with our medieval sisters, the wise women, who had been persecuted and killed as witches. We learned to be proud of calling ourselves "Hexe" (witch), meaning "hagazussa", the one who is riding on the fence between the worlds.

There are many centers in Germany where spiritual women healers are working. The "Arkuna-Frauenzentrum" is a more recent (since 1988) women's project near Stuttgart offering seminars in various fields with the purpose of enhancing women's power.

Aside from these more prominent women and institutions in women spiritual healing, there is a growing number of individual women or groups doing their healing work in their regional surroundings. In 1993 some 50 women working professionally in the spiritual field gathered in a women's center near Cologne to get to know each others' work. Their field of activities includes: healing through ritual, tarot and I-Ging-reading, astrology, yoga, meditative dancing, self-assertion-courses, organization of travels for women, women's history. A congress will be held in November 1994 to promote networking.

Since the demand for spiritual healing is obviously growing among women, such networking seems essential. It should, however, not interfere with the autonomy and the spontaneous character of many small groups doing ritual work and giving each other spiritual, psychological, and physical help - similar to the kind of groupwork described above.


German spiritual women have learned from Americans. Quite a few of them are of European, German-Jewish origins - as f.ex. Zsuzsanna Budapest or Felicitas Goodman. It is as if German or European seeds had to find the more fertile American soil to flourish and then to come back and nourish us here on this side of the Atlantic! Others, like Starhawk and Vicki Noble also taught us how to resuscitate our European female heritage.

By now we German spiritual women have developed our own knowledge in our own language. It is time now to develop our spirituality from our own roots. Because, after all, we are living here next to paleolithic caves, to magic woods and mountains where fairies and goddesses had their homes, we can celebrate on neolithic graves, in celtic sanctuaries, in temples of Roman goddesses - not to talk about the many female saints in our catholic churches. Here are the roots of sagas, fairytales. We can do our research in local historical archives to find out about regional magic beliefs or rituals, can find places of power in our immediate vicinity.

But of course, we are also haunted by our historical past of millions of witches killed in the fires of stakes. So, in search of our historical roots, we have to confront ourselves with the pain and sufferings of our sisters, whose knowledge as midwives and as women of knowledge was destroyed with their lives. In America women have been persecuted, too. But I think it makes a difference if memories of witch-burnings are present everywhere: On my way to my office I pass by the place in front of the main church where they used to erect the stake to burn women accused of witchcraft. So, I cannot help remembering my sisters every day!

For us German spiritual women there is another, equally painful past which is perhaps even more difficult to overcome: our heritage of Hitler's Nazi-Reich. Nazi ideology abused of Nordic and Germanic spirituality with the purpose to enhance the "Germanic race". The Nazis celebrated the solstices or equinoxes like we do now, they held meetings at holy places, revived sagas of Germanic gods and goddesses. So, in order not to be misunderstood, we need to explain and clarify that reclaiming our Germanic roots does not mean to embrace neo-Nazi ideology! We have to courageously stand up against such accusations and, in fact, re-write history in order to clean it from Nazi abuse.

We must stop being afraid of our own power as women. "Macht" (power) is a rather controversial concept which German feminists hesitate to claim for themselves. I have the impression that American women are more at ease in taking power and putting it into action. This may also be the result of our historical past where power-abuse had been so extreme.

Reclaiming our heritage as women is - in this sense - not only of therapeutic value for individuals or groups, but for an entire social group, it is political action. We have to overcome patriarchy in all of its forms: Roman, Christian, Nazi, or its more recent forms of industrial capitalism. We have to discover our female strength and healing power not in his-toric, but in her-storic times! This is a worthwhile and challenging task for all of us, as Ute Schiran puts it so aptly:

"I see an ever growing number of women seeking to remember their own powers. I see their courage and radicality in their demand that this earth be treated respectfully and how they themselves lead a life of respect for earth. It is a movement which is growing in spirals and networks - and which will definitely be influential in our hopelessly disturbed world." (Ute Schiran 1990 p. 24, trans. M.K.)

(1) All names changed.. zurück zum Text


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