Sexist Assumptions, Amazing Women and Tara.

In the last post I described myself as nothing more than ‘a jumbled mess of preconceived ideas’. The other day one of these preconceived ideas popped out again. M and I were discussing the likelihood of there being incarnated extant Masters with the Golden Dawn / RR et AC tradition. I opined that there could be such a Master, but he would keep himself hidden. Naturally M and I both picked up the sexist assumption of the Master being a man.

*Sigh* these things happen; despite being an ex-SNAG and delving into some serious feminist, revisionist politics, theology and herstory when young, my preconceptions are always there. This is why Buddhists and Hindus assert we never see the actual world, but only a illusion of the world, Maya, created by our personal interaction with the world. This is why Christians remind us we are born of Original Sin; meaning that which keeps us separate from God.

And, sadly sexism is still rife within the western traditions. Even those feminine focused Goddess traditions such as Wicca. It seems to have changed a bit recently, but the last empirical analysis I did still had male Pagan authors and leaders of traditions outweighing female. And just looking at this humble blog – where are the women?

So, to redress a little, just a few personal heroines and women of inspiration:

Firstly, of course, my mother.

Without going into detail here I am appreciating my mum more and more as I get older. As a young army wife she found herself with four boys under the age of five living in a foreign country with her husband almost perpetually away on exercise. Yet still she raised us and loved us, and this alone commends respect and admiration.

Dion Fortune

Dion was simply the most significant Priestess and magician of the 20th century. In terms of volume her influence may be less than the naughty boy Crowley, but it exceeds all in terms of quality. As a Priestess she was magnificent, as an author she wrote the only magical novels of note, even now 80 years later. As a magician she developed and promoted the Three-Fold Path which sought to encompass several mystery approaches as one. As a medium she was one of the greatest; her ability to bring the presence of the Masters into this world was beyond par.

However, the main gift Dion has taught me is her very human honesty. She never speculated beyond her own experience. When she assumed something, she told us. She never created any false lineages or other little ‘fibs’ magicians are fond of. And even in death she continued to guide her school, which is the only long standing non-schismatic public esoteric school in the west. Today the ‘Dion Fortune’ contact is still very strong and available for those serving and working along her wavelength.


I first read Starhawk on a Monday. I remember it clearly. I had spent the last week and weekend devouring a mass of magical and Witch books I purchased from a Wiccan ditching her collection (see this post). On Monday morning I wandered into Wisdom Books and found ‘The Spiral Dance‘. Reading on the bus back home I died and went to heaven.

Starhawk was a radiant beacon. It was like she wrote the Spiral Dance for me: it combined my politics, my new found spirituality and my personal therapy work into one. I loved her. Back then I would have crawled naked over cut glass to meet her (today I’d wear some clothes).

Now Starhawk is probably the most influential witch in the world today, and with good reason. As an activist, poet, visionary and practical magician she still inspires and I see her and the Reclaiming Collective as continuing the spirit of the work Dion began in the 1920s. Her work has been highly valuable for so many reasons it’s hard to repeat here. To know more go to her website or her blog.

Sister Veronica Brady

Sister Veronica was my one of my early introductions to that face of Christianity that is so compassionate yet so strong it leaves an indelible mark. One of the first Australian nuns to teach in universities Sr Veronica’s politics is firmly based in compassionate socialism and she has butted heads with the church authorities over issues like contraception and homosexuality. I first came across Sr Veronica at a ‘Conference on Spirituality’ when I was 21.

Throughout the morning we heard from Witches and Sufis, green activists and bishops. Then Sister Veronica spoke: ‘Everyone’s been talking about spirituality’, she said, ‘but we have to realise there is good spirituality and there is bad spirituality. Good spirituality is obedient to God, and bad spirituality isn’t’. This was wonderful, and she went on to explain what obedience to God meant; the surrender of our individual petty concerns for the sake of others, seeing all equally. She is apparently still bouncing around inspiring and writing in Melbourne. You can see a transcript of an interview with her here.

Moina Bergson-Mathers

Moina was the wife of Golden Dawn founder, Samuel Mathers. Her life should have been overshadowed by his genius and madness, but she shone like the stars herself. Early in her life she sacrificed a promising artistic career to birth and maintain the esoteric work she and her husband were called to do. The more psychically gifted of the two she developed her abilities to the point where the couple were able to contact the Inner Plane Masters and bring through much of the Golden Dawn’ s Inner Order material. Most of this has still not been published; some of its existence not even suspected by narrow occult historians and modern magicians.

Moina was a Priestess of Isis, and every modern Priestess owes her a debt; for she was the ground breaker in the reinstallation of Isis into the western consciousness through the Rites of Isis conducted in Paris. Her life, magic and contribution to the esoteric (along with three other women) is detailed in Mary K Greer’s ‘Women of the Golden Dawn‘ – well worth reading J

Pixie Colman-Smith

See the Tarot image here? These and others have been reproduced millions of times across the globe, in books, decks, magazines and the Net. Now, Pixie was the artist, writer, mystic and magician who illustrated this ‘Waite’ Tarot deck. Uncredited, she took Waite’s basic black and white designs and transformed them with her own insights and colour. She also appears to have been the originator of the unique images for the Minor Arcana – previously having been little more than an image of the appropriate number of symbols. Never receiving credit or financial reward she is often overlooked today when the deck is referred to as the ‘Waite-Rider’ deck, Rider being the publisher.

Pixie was a gifted artist and storyteller, and while not much is known (publically) about her inner spiritual life it is known she was devoted to service. She maintained active esoteric links and work until her death. She also devoted much of her resources and time to offering a retreat space to ‘burnt out’ priests at a time when such things were rarely acknowledged to exist.

Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo

Ven. Tenzin started out life as a London girl in the 1940s. At 18 she had a profound spiritual realisation and became one of the earliest western Theravadan Buddhist nuns. Within two years however, her desire to be of compassionate help to all beings saw her move into the Mahayana path with its Bodhisattva ideal and she became the second western woman to be ordained in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.

She devoted herself to her path and retired to a cave for meditation and study for 12 years, the last three in full retreat (see Cave in the Snow for more information). Since returning to the world she has worked tirelessly to both teach the Dharma and promote the path of women in Buddhism, giving them the opportunities to study and practice the full Dharma. The Dongyu Gatsal Ling Nunnery she founded has been one of our favourite charitable causes to support. You can too, if you would like by clicking here.

The Tara Vow

The ideal of the Bodhisattva Vow is pretty well known now; to develop oneself for the aid of all sentient beings and never to rest, incarnation after incarnation, until all beings reach an end of suffering. There is another tradition in Tibetan Buddhism that addresses somewhat the hidden sexism I am speaking of. It is part of the Tara Vow, named after the deity or Buddha, Tara. Here we not only take the Bodhisattva Vow but we also vow to continually return in female form to work for the aid of all beings. I am not sure how well this ideal will catch on in the West, but it is a wonderful thought…:)



  1. Chip · June 7, 2008

    Not everything can or should be viewed through the lens of gender. If there were no women mentioned in certain traditions no big deal.

    What is more important is what are womans accomplishments now. From what I can see women are as competitive as men are in almost all areas of life.

    Men and women are different in many ways so if you see no women or men in a certain area it has nothing do with women or men being barred. It just means there are gender differences in views, approaches, that men or woman may not want that particular career.

    I have been a wiccan for many 18 years of the traditional school and I can tell you that woman are the majority and are run mainly by head priestesses and goddesses of these covens while men and their gods( for example Cerrunus) are down played and put in minor roles.

    I am sorry your views are divisive and not in touch with Wicca today. It is men who are discriminated against, not women. I think this is sad. Women should not want revenge or desire to beat down men, because of ancient history. The men of today are not the men of old.

    Women and men both should look for the best for each other. We should all want equality for all. In essence Woman’s and Men’s rights should be done away with and replaced with Human rights and representation for all.

    Thank You

  2. Ananssy the Spider · June 10, 2008

    Your comments about Pixie Smith are interesting. You say she ” maintained active esoteric links and work until her death.” What is your source for this? I always assumed she left Tarot and the Golden Dawn, etc. behind her when she converted to Catholicism in 1911. In a June 1913 letter, Lilly Yeats wrote that Pixie’s circle of friends had changed completely and that she associated only with “dull” Catholics. Any info you can provide is appreciated.

  3. Peregrin · June 10, 2008

    Hello Chip and Ananssy,

    thanks for your commments.

    Chip: I am sorry you have experienced discrimination as a man in Wicca. I have not seen or heard of this before from any reliable source, nor have most academic studies confirmed this.

    For example in a recent article, “Inappropriate Sexuality? Sex Magic, S/M and Wicca (or ‘Whipping Harry Potter’s Arse!’)” Jo Pearson examines radical sexuality within Wicca. In her conclusion she notes that women are still in the subordinate position both in terms of power and literal actions.

    Your comments will now inform my subsequent views; thank you.

    Ananssy: yes, there is very little out there on Pixie. My information is not from published sources, and thus not immediately verifiable to academic standards.

    Most of it comes from an old ex-warden of a group called (in the outer) The Magical Church Society. I have seen a number of their papers and they were a Christian ‘magical’ order in England lasting until the late 1950s.

    Pixie converted to Catholicism around the same time as the Mathers, and I have been informed this was done on the behest of some contacts.

    I understand her esoteric activities were fully within the traditional Catholic esoteric tradition and societies and not within an ‘occult’ or magical groups. Her name was apparently listed in the visitors book of the MCS on some festival dates.

    I hope someday a good biography of here will be available.

    I hope this helps,

    peregrin 🙂

  4. Pingback: Sexist Assumptions « Philip Carr-Gomm’s Weblog

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