by Helen A. BergerMother, Leader, Teacher
Helen A. Berger is a Professor of Sociology at West Chester University of Pennsylvania. She is the author of A Community of Witches: Contemporary Neo-Paganism and Witchcraft in the United States, part of the religious studies series from the University of South Carolina, in addition to having published several articles on Wicca. She is presently working on a book, Voices from the Pagan Census and is editing a volume, Witchcraft and Magic: North America in the Twentieth Century. She became interested in this topic when preparing a series of talks on Witchcraft in New England for the Boston Public Library and initially thought she would do six months of research for the last lecture. Eleven years later, she is still intrigued and learning about this new religious movement.
In her chapter, Berger argues that the formally recognized role of female religious leadership and authority in Wicca is filled by women who have radically transformed the patriarchal role of mother. The High Priestess uses a reconstructed image of mothering in “ministering” to coven members, and is both nurturant and confrontational. She creates rituals, exercises, and tasks for coven members that facilitate change and growth and which are consistent with the feminist principles Berger found among the American women she interviewed. At the same time that this role serves to empower coven members, it also empowers the High Priestess herself, providing a better sense of who she is and what she values. Although the language used is maternal, this new Mother is seen and experienced as sexual, powerful, loving, and demanding. She is a whole, integrated adult.
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