My interest in women and spirituality came out of my doctoral research on interfaith dialogue in Nepal. While I was there, I learned about how women were frequently perceived as less powerful or less capable religious leaders. The objections people made about women’s right to lead were focused on their female bodies, emotional frailty, and ties to their traditional roles as wives and mothers. My spiritual awakening came when I was living in Ireland, and from the first, I had professional and personal questions about how being a spiritual person in a woman’s body might work.
As I began to rearrange my life for the sake of this often indefinable, amorphous closeness with Spirit, my husband’s question, and mine, if I admitted it to myself, became, where does this all lead? Is there a destination or a limit? How will I know if I’ve reached it? Can this become a career and/or a way of life? What will that look like? What about money, teachers, community, and retirement? What can I expect to love and what may need to be sacrificed?
An academic born and bred, I decided to do some research. If there were women (and men) like me out there who had successfully transformed their quiet feelings of purpose or “calling” into full blown lives and careers, I could find them – in person or on the page – and perhaps get them to tell me what that journey had been like for them. I wanted to learn about the choices and opportunities they had had along the way, what their failures and successes were, and to communicate their stories in a way that gave meaning and hopefully guidance to our unique processes of self development.
Since then, I’ve been privileged to record the stories and lives of a variety of women spiritual leaders and communities. I’ve come to consider all women who take responsibility for their spiritual lives to be leaders. Ultimately, I see women spiritual leaders as incredibly courageous people. I see them as people who are in a process of re-visioning who they are, what the nature of what work is, and what is important to them and to society.
Editor’s Note: Jessamine Dana was a guest on HereWomenTalk.com radio along with Shaman Medicine Woman Carla Goddard and “Spirit Stones” author Dianne Ebertt Beeaff. You can listen to our “SOULversation” here.
— Jessamine Dana, PhD, anthropologist and writer, joins YAK to talk about the ‘Woman and the Owl Project’ exploring the development of women spiritual leaders in new and native traditions. Jessamine has travelled the world studying women and spirituality and has recently settled in the American Southwest to work on the book, website, archive, and workshops associated with the Project.