From our very beginnings, women have danced with time. Our bodies’ moon cycles have always been a human calendar. As the first agriculturists, we partnered with the seasons to feed our families and communities. When we served as midwives and carers for the dead, we ushered our species into and out of their Earthly lives.
Time is also embedded in the stories of goddesses worldwide. Like human gatekeepers of birth and death, goddesses are often the stewards of fate. The Greek Moirai spun the thread of life and cut it at death’s proper time. The Balkan Laima , the ancient Arabian Menat, and the Etruscan Nortia are other among many fate goddesses. Some goddesses oversee change, the physical manifestation of time, including Anna Perenna, goddess of the circle of the year as well as all the seasonal goddesses. Kali, Rhea Kronia, and other Creator/Destroyer goddesses rule over time itself.*
Now, however, time is often a weapon of oppression against women. Women overburdened with an unfair share of daily life’s tasks were never able to create millions of paintings, symphonies, and inventions, make scientific discoveries, or engage in other endeavors at great loss to themselves and the world. After just a few years of maturity, we are cast aside as being “old.” How many lives have been cut short by violence, human-made disease, poverty, and war? For how many centuries have we been told to wait for equality and freedom until another war or crisis is over or we die and go to heaven?
The goddesses of fate tell me not that the events of our lives are predestined but that we must again bring time’s sacred nature into the human realm. If each of our moments is goddess-spun, then everyday human time is also holy, eternal time. We must therefore examine each task we have taken on, willingly or unwillingly, and ask ourselves if it is really worth sacrificing hours that we might otherwise spend on something more essential to us, our happiness, and our life missions. As a feminist, I must also give my time and resources to restoring to the woman who works three minimum-wage jobs to feed her family or the woman across the globe who picks my coffee beans both her rights to basic necessities at a reasonable cost of time and the right to a life full of joyful moments.
If every year is part of our divine thread, every life cut short is not just a human tragedy, but a cosmic loss. For every day of life that is presentably lost to domestic violence, hate crimes, war, despair, or environmental degradation, the whole universe mourns. Therefore, even the smallest act towards a more peaceful, sustainable, life-loving world is of absolute importance. You don’t need to author major legislation or found an international organization to know you have done what is needed – answering a call on a hotline or teaching a class that opens one student’s eyes is of infinite worth. We also must not forget the importance of protecting our own lives and valuing our bodies enough to eat well, exercise, rest when we need, and take the time to find life-giving bliss every day.
In goddess time, aging is not just a stage of life, it is a divine gift. When so many women do not have the opportunity to live out the full measure of their lives, greeting old age, even with its inevitable losses and challenges, with gratitude only makes sense. We must recognize and right the attitudes and institutional structures that make later life a time of poverty, ill health, and marginalization, especially for older women, and value and pass down our own wisdom that we have gained throughout our decades.
While the fate goddesses remind us of the sacredness of our lives, the seasonal goddesses offer the message “never give up.” They know that transformation is as inevitable as time itself; it is the physical manifestation of time. Heeding them means seeing that change must come, welcoming it, and working to ensure that it leads to a world we want to pass down to future generations. They tell us not to despair when change seems slow but to also have the wisdom to see when the time is right for change and we can no longer accept excuses for obstacles to progress.
Kali and other Creator/Destroyer goddesses do not simply work through time, but by conjuring the physical world into being, they are outside of time. What do they have to tell us? When we view our world from outside of our small niche of 2015, witnessing the hundreds of millennia humans have walked the Earth, we can see not only how long women have lived under repression, but also how far we have come in only a few generations. We realize that ancient egalitarian societies are truly not that far from us in the context of all human existence. We can see thousands of years of immense courage as well as the friendships and love for one another and women of the future that have sustained women and led to progress out of these treacherous times. Kali brings life and death to her daughters, but also hope.
Changing how we think of time doesn’t magically create a world of equality, freedom, and sustainability, give an exhausted woman without a moment to rest more hours in the day, or restore to life a woman who is lost too young. But, re-envisioning it and rethinking how we mold our lives with it can transform us as we go about our daily lives, making our moments richer, our commitment to moving forward positive change deeper, our vision clearer, and our faith in our future stronger. The wisdom of the stories of the ancient goddesses is ours to reclaim as we learn again to dance with time.
*The stories of many of these and hundreds of other Goddesses are told in Patricia Monaghan’s New Book of Goddesses and Heroines, Llewellyn Publications, 2000.