The ancient Vesta faith is making an astounding comeback among women...but why?
The rediscovery of ancient faiths like Vesta, as well as other pre-Christian polytheistic belief systems, has been skyrocketing for years now. And while both men and women are embracing these, I'd like to focus here on why women are doing so.
For starters, more and more women are re-thinking the religious whopper that being born with a uterus automatically makes us subordinate humans to those born with a penis. I mean, honestly, would any self-respecting omnipotent being make such important designations based on genitalia?
Yet there it is, in the Bible, for all to read. In Ephesians: "Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands...for the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church...now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything."
This message comes directly from an all-powerful, invisible, supernatural male god, as recorded by a mortal man. Hmm...that's handy.
Of course, Christian leaders and followers alike regularly jump through hoops trying to qualify and rationalize this kind of thing. Most typically, they'll say "It's such a complicated passage...it doesn't really mean submissive...well, not exactly."
To me, there's absolutely nothing complicated about this passage. It says that women should do what their husbands tell them to do. The message is clear and intentional, and it's one that is still being dished out today in sermons across the continent and across the world.
After all, men are stronger and might makes right...right? And it's impossible to have a marriage where a husband and wife can be equal, right? (I guess my husband and I didn't get that message.)
But let's imagine for a moment that the passage read as follows: "Husbands, submit yourselves to your own wives...for the wife is the head of the husband as Christy is the head of the church...now as the church submits to Christy, so also husbands should submit to their wives in everything."
Let's also imagine that this message comes directly from an all-powerful, invisible, supernatural female goddess, as recorded by a mortal woman.
How many men do you know who would sign up for this religion? None, I hope. If you have a son, would you want him to enter into marriage believing this to be true? I hope not. We're raising a son and we would never want him to think that he was somehow less than a woman.
Yet turning it around like this should make us aware of how "normalized" it has become to subordinate women in a spiritual sense, and also how absurd that is.
We are often told that Christianity "advanced" the status of women. Hardly. Even the old boys club of ancient Rome had its forward thinkers in terms of humanism and gender issues.
Polytheistic Romans were the first to conceive of marriage as a union between one man and one woman, which was an important step toward improving the status of women.
To be sure, life in pre-Christian ancient Rome was no bed of roses. It was a patriarchy where men dominated most aspects of a woman's life. Spiritually, however, no such hierarchy existed. Gods and goddesses, including Vesta, were both revered.
The feminine was not spiritually subordinate to the masculine. In fact, the Vestal order—managed by priestesses—was Rome's most important and only state-funded, full-time priesthood.
After Christianity forcibly established itself as the sole religion of the Roman Empire, this culture of patriarchy continued. Men continued to dominate almost every area of a woman's life. That didn't change.
The only thing that changed was that the feminine became spiritually subordinate to the masculine. There was only one god—a male one.
This gave men "divine justification" to rule over women. Had that kind of divine justification not existed in our Western culture, there's no telling what advances may have been made in terms of gender equality; however, I'd lay bets that we wouldn't still be fighting for control over our own reproductive systems in the year 2015 CE.
As it happened, progress—social and scientific—only happened when the world started to look over the shoulder of religion and back at humanist ideas that had taken root in the ancient world. We call this time of re-discovery the Renaissance. And regardless of your gender, your life is better because of it.
Today, a different type of Renaissance is taking place—the "spiritual but not religious" movement. Many people are leaving organized religion, or just rejecting it outright, in favor of personal spirituality which for some includes the re-discovery of Vesta and other ancient belief systems that were violently suppressed during the rise of Christianity.
Interestingly enough, this 21st century Renaissance is motivated by some of the same things as the 15th century Renaissance: a passion to understand the natural (not supernatural) world, free thought and intelligence, compassion and respect for our fellow beings, personal autonomy and values, and the belief that spiritual growth is inherently personal.
I see many people—men and women alike—embracing elements of the Vesta tradition as a spiritual focus for their life and family unit. It marks a return to the pre-Christian value that one's spouse and family come first, rather than god or the church.
It also allows people to participate in the comfort of "ritual" without having to buy into doctrine that they just can't get behind.
Of course, every woman who explores or embraces the Vesta tradition (check it out at NewVesta.com) does so for her own reasons. Yet I regularly speak with women who find the androcentric, monotheistic thrust of the world's "big three" religions to be off-putting and irrelevant to them, and who feel drawn to the "softer" side of spiritual world-views such as Vesta.
It speaks to them, respects them, comforts them and feels natural to them. It complements their values and reason. It brings meaning and devotion to their marriages and strengthens family solidarity.
And in the end—whether you're a woman or a man—isn't that exactly what spirituality is supposed to do?
Visit NewVesta.com for more info.