Trying to discuss the intersection of spirituality and activism is a funny thing. Especially when you’ve been kind of distanced from both for a while. I had the pleasure of meeting Lasara in Los Angeles this past spring at a Jailbreaking the Goddess workshop at the Crystal Matrix store, during which she discussed some of the key points of her recent work. It was the kind of thing that broke my brain immediately. I expected stale and huggable material about femininity anchored in 1970s ideas that I didn’t agree with. Instead I was jolted awake by her reconceptualization of feminine (which she reworks into the term “feminal”) identity both within Pagan spirituality and the secular world.
Lasara states at the book’s start that her primary goal with this work is to “find a new format for experience and worship of the divine through an archetypal system that welcomes, includes, honors, and offers representation to all women seeking a home in a shared concept and vision of the feminal divine.” Personally approaching this material as an agnostic/humanist/skeptical Pagan with a bare minimum of ritual practices, there were plenty of sections of the book that didn’t pertain to me, but that will provide rich resources for others. What hooked me the most was Lasara’s commitment to intersectional feminism as well as a deep reworking of Pagan belief structure. She proposes that feminal identity be broken down into five archetypes that can describe the phases of a woman’s life as well as individual moments in what Lasara calls the “nonlinear” version of life—moment-to-moment embodiment of different energies.
Jailbreaking the Goddess is an opening statement in a larger conversation about gender equity, revolution and spiritual practice. Lasara begins the book by deconstructing her own privilege in the conversation and asking where it’s possible for the rest of us to participate. Examples of each feminal archetype from the global activist world and from a variety of pantheons provide illustration. Journaling exercises in the book offer an experiential component. For readers who might not resonate with a certain level of spiritual practice, there’s plenty of discussion about activism, decolonizing practice and generally information on how to construct a ritual if one is simply curious as to how rituals work.
This book was life-changing for me for its own unique reasons. Not because of the offer of a spiritual path or the renewal of particular practices. But for opening my eyes further to how activism works. It’s not just for those of us who have the privilege and resources of taking to the streets, of blogging publicly, or civilly disobeying. It is present in our conception of the Divine, from our punk rock DIY altars, to our kitchen witch blends, to our teaching moments with children. Activism and change are a possibility down to our smallest cells. That is what Jailbreaking the Goddess taught me.
An Interview with Lasara Firefox Allen about Jailbreaking the Goddess
It seems like one of the major goals of Jailbreaking the Goddess was to expand on the concept of “feminist spirituality.” What do you think the groundwork for that has been until now? What are you working with and away from here?
I feel that feminist spirituality is a real movement, if a slightly nebulous one. I feel that books like Jailbreaking the Goddess fall into formation, so to speak, behind books by authors like Starhawk, Alice Walker, Trinh T. Minh-Ha, Audre Lorde, bell hooks, and even Carol P. Christ, Z. Budapest, and others. I’m in no way implying that my work is on the level of theirs; I’m just saying this work is following in the wake of those works.
Even Z., with whose work I have some serious breaks, is a foremother to this path. But now we are at a juncture and we need to decide – are we an inclusive, aware, intersectional movement? If so, our structures of faith need to begin representing that fact. Jailbreaking offers this updating. Starhawk said, “Jailbreaking the Goddess: A Radical Revisioning of Feminist Spirituality is an important contribution to the writings on Goddess tradition and feminist spirituality. Allen, a second-generation Witch, brings the tradition firmly into the twenty-first century….”
I believe the 4th wave of feminism is upon us. I believe the defining factor of the 4th Wave is intersectionality. It’s collectivism, in a sense. It’s searching for and arriving at a deeper awareness of where we are leaving folks outside the circle. Where we are falling short of seeing what issues are feminist issues. (Spoiler alert: all issues that affect women are feminist issues.)
I think that Jailbreaking is part of that wave. Maybe it is a product of that wave.
Your updated concepts in this book seem to have a vital relationship to the social justice movement. Please tell us more about that.
White feminism has historically left out a lot of women. It’s time for that to change. Jailbreaking the Goddess was written as a religious working and text that invites every woman to see herself in the goddess, without the discomforting manipulations we have had to do up til now in some sectors of the feminist spirituality movement.
Religion and spirituality help us to weave together. They help us to weave stories, and communities, and beliefs, and ethics. It’s the perfect place for a social justice revolution. I believe that most women who worship the goddess are already thinking, feeling, caring, just-hearted folx.
But religions can get stuck. It happens all the time. And that can cause a serious disconnect between belief systems. So, like, your political belief system and your spiritual belief system may not fully line up. And we settle for it, because we think, “Well, that’s just how it is.”
But we can change it. And then we can power our political beliefs with our spiritual devotions and empowerments, and all things will be moving in the same direction. And when that happens, a lot becomes possible.
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People who don’t identify with feminine qualities may feel alienated by feminine-coded concepts. How can the Fivefold Goddess model be useful or even empowering for those people?
My mind branches in many directions with the question. First I will say, for those who identify as nonbinary, I also identify on the enby [ “n.b”= nonbinary] spectrum. It’s ironic that Spirit Hirself continues to call me to work on the concept of the feminal divine, but I know in my heart it’s because we are wounded there. In the feminal. We all are. Culturally. Globally. Even those of us who do not yet recognize our wounds – and perhaps never will – are wounded there. So the work needs to be done, and so I continue doing it.
I talk a lot about gender in this book. I speak about liberating ourselves from cultural norms of gender. I talk about breaking the binary. Most of this will be stuff you have probably already heard if you are nb. But all the same, I hope and trust that it will speak to you.
The other branch goes to those who are male-identified. Men and male-identified people – but most especially cis males – need to read this book. Your concept of the feminal, and of the feminal divine, is dearly in need of liberation. Of Jailbreaking. Read this book for the female in you, and also for the females around you. It will change you. For the better, ultimately.
I attended your workshop in Los Angeles. I noticed that in some of the language for your workshop you mentioned that non-female-identifying folx were welcome to attend the workshop but to participate in Q&A only. Can you elaborate on what motivated you to direct things in this way?
The language was specifically that men and male ID-ing people were welcome to witness, and would be welcome to ask questions during the Q and A. The reason for the limitation on the behavior of men is that in my experience as a teacher, many men do not even realize when they are centering a discussion onto their own experience. And often, even if they do, they don’t realize that perhaps in this space it is not the time to center onto themselves.
As a teacher wanting to offer women safe space to deconstruct our internal ideas of the feminal, it is essential to allow that unfolding without men centering topics away from the feminal, or female experience.
I saw women pulling themselves in, not feeling safe, not allowing the essential unraveling. And so I invited men to step back, hold safe space, listen, witness. And this is a powerful experience when it occurs. It is powerful for all involved.
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What are your suggestions for people who would like to get involved in social justice work, particularly for those limited by time, finances, and ability?
Figure out what struggles need you the most, call you the most, perhaps challenge you, perhaps make you feel like you’ve come home, maybe all of the above. Once you know what it is you need to be doing, do it. Find an organization, see how you can support. Don’t try to take over. Don’t elbow your way in. Make yourself useful.
For those who have limited resources, remember that you need to take care of your own needs first. Then see how you can turn that into social justice. If you are a single mama, and you need childcare, a childcare share is probably needed by other mamas too. Creating a childcare share is social justice work. Especially when you reach out to mamas who may not have the resources, like yourself. Childcare is a feminist issue.
Gardening will feed you and your loved ones, and if you do it at a community garden it can feed others too. Feeding people is feminist work, and it is social justice work.
There is no single way to do social justice work. There are many ways.
Any favorite workbook exercise or two from the book that took you somewhere interesting?
Wow. That’s a hard one. I feel like the exercises that brought the most gain for me are ones I may not have even included. It’s to work of deep allyship and coconspiracy. It’s the work of inviting scrutiny and listening to feedback. I trust and hope the instruction toward that process is there in the fabric of the book, even if I didn’t give it as a step. But I guess I can add it here; ask for feedback. When you are not sure if a thing is right, ask for feedback. Ask a lot of people. Ask, and then listen. Slowing down won’t damage you. But moving forward with faulty info might.
Lasara also plans to release full workbook companion to “Jailbreaking” on September 22nd!
Do you plan on writing a follow-up to Jailbreaking the Goddess? If so, what would that look like?
I’m working on a project. It’s called The Feminist Tarot. I’m partnering with Ojụ Ayo who will be doing the artwork. In addition to being a tarot deck, this will be a feminist history project. The cards will be portraits of feminist heras and images of stories that brought us to where we are. It is intersectionally aware and motivated. We don’t have a house yet, but I have faith that piece will come through soon.