[This month, we sit down with Goddess devotee, priestess, activist, and author Karen Tate. Here, she discusses her personal spiritual practice; her new book, Normalizing Abuse; and her upcoming projects.]
ev0ke: How do you define your personal spirituality? Does it have a name or is it more intuitive and eclectic?
Karen Tate: That’s a good question. I never quite felt right being called a pagan. Even an Isian. And people looked a you cross-eyed if you called yourself a priestess out in the mainstream world. They didn’t usually know alternative spirituality had clergy. So I coined the label “goddess advocate” for myself and I guess I say I’m an eco-feminist, believer in sacred feminine liberation theology, or part of the Goddess Spirituality Movement. I’m eclectic, a skeptic, a seeker and I continually work on being more intuitive.
ev0ke: Which Deity or Deities do you honor in your practice?
KT: Primarily Isis and later Sekhmet became part of my practice. As long as I can remember I’d been drawn to ancient Egypt. It was my first trip out of the country actually. She was calling me I guess. When I discovered Goddess Spirituality it was a slippery slope to Isis for a time. I’ve had some very magickal experiences with Her I wrote about in some of my books. Likewise with Sekhmet who moved more to the center when I needed more strength and tenacity and my work turned toward social justice.
ev0ke: You recently published Normalizing Abuse: A Commentary on the Culture of Pervasive Abuse. This is a deeply personal book for you. Can you tell us how and why it came about?
KT: Well, I was a priestess of Goddess who had pivoted toward social justice work and feminism. I taught and wrote and spoke about inequality and injustice and how it related to values of Goddess. I was part of Riane Eisler’s Partnership Society and became a Power of Partnership presenter and a Caring Economics speaker. But I was blind to the injustice and abuse happening in my own life. I awakened to it during my Second Saturn return as I was recovering from a stun gun assault and I was caring for my husband who slipped, fell, hit his head and ended up with a brain injury. We’d lost our jobs and found ourselves isolated up on a mountain without an income or support system. I’d gone off the grid in large part due to my C-PTSD or complex post traumatic stress disorder from the stun gun attack. I stopped airing my podcast, Voices of the Sacred Feminine that ran for more than a decade. I wasn’t on social media anymore, or giving talks, going to the mall, making car trips. Nothing. My world shrank and I was plagued with anxiety and nightmares.
During that forced isolation I was using many healing modalities and reflection of my early life rose to the fore. I realized all the times I’d endured abuse to survive. For the paycheck. To keep peace. Because I didn’t know any better. Mean girl crap. Bosses who were passive-aggressive or narcissists who didn’t care about my safety and I was just a tool. I started doing research and delved deep into abuse in academia, military, religion. Institutionalized abuse and exploitation in government, society and culture. Exploitation by corporations or political parties and the media.
Now as a feminist I knew about patriarchy and predator capitalism but I was peeling back more layers, seeing this on a new spectrum. Redefining abuse and exploitation. One revelation I will never forget are definitions for the word boss. I write about it in my book, but you can look it up. I began to see that we were normalizing the bullying, gaslighting, the lies, the mis-use. We’ve even become disconnected from the meaning behind our language. We throw around the words rape and assault and abuse like we were talking about carrots, potatoes and spinach. We’re told things that happen or things people do are just the way it is, humans are violent, greed is good and we believe it because maybe we have to believe it or we don’t know better. We go along to get along, to survive, so we fit in, aren’t lonely or lose our minds. Interestingly, the former Catholic in me thinks if we characterized all that ugly crap we endure as sin, because I think it really is, we might see it for the abuse and exploitation that it is rather than accept it as just the way it is.
The problem is we suffer trauma and wounds and collect baggage because of all this we endure. We lose self esteem and devalue ourselves. We see ourselves and others negatively and our future differently. We become prey for abusers. We have to awaken to this. Plan exit strategies. We have to stand up and reject it.
Normalizing Abuse is for those interested in the intersection between social justice, self help and alternative spirituality. It speaks to how society is rife with trauma we do not recognize and abuses we do not reject. It helps readers recognize trauma and abuse, identify the cause and have the tools to transform how they react to the situations.
ev0ke: Abuse takes many forms, on both a personal and cultural level. How can we, as individuals, tackle the abusive mentality on such a large scale? How can we start to change things?
KT: Well, it starts with ourselves. We need to take stock and see where it’s happening in our lives first, both now or in the past. We have to be honest because in the hundreds of interviews I did people at first said they had no abuse happening, probably due to shame, but by the time we finished talking they realized they had normalized abuse happening in their lives.
We need to employ self care. Realize we are worthy and deserve better. We don’t have to endure what’s happening. We have to have the courage to switch jobs, rid our lives of toxic people, vote for people who really have our best interests at heart. Distance ourselves from abusive family or community members. Don’t buy products of companies that use child labor or abuse animals in their testing, discriminate against certain people or steal water. We need to speak up when we see abuse happening to others. Try to be compassionate and supportive. Surround yourself with healthier people who get it, who are aware and wanting the same thing for themselves.
Then when you get a better handle on your own life, turn outward and teach or volunteer with organizations trying to make a difference in people’s lives. Be of service.
ev0ke: Since abuse is so pervasive, many of us encounter it without realizing it — or we refuse to acknowledge it. How can we train ourselves to watch for it? And what should we be on the lookout for?
KT: Something I do from the training at Riane Eisler’s Partnership Society is look at situations and ask if I’m seeing domination, exploitation and mis-use or partnership, compassion and inclusion. Love or domination. You’ll know if you’re honest with yourself. Also, how does something you’re seeing or experiencing feel in your body? Does your stomach get sick or your chest tight. Does the hair stand up on the back of your neck. Do you get flushed or maybe get a headache. Are you having trouble sleeping. We intuitively know when something is wrong. We just have to listen.
If some authority figure is banning books, curtailing voting or taking away our rights, it’s abuse and oppression. Or if someone trying to isolate you, turn you against your people who have your best interests in mind, that’s abuse. The abusers tell us they’re doing it for our own good but they really aren’t. They’re exercising control and power over us for their benefit or agenda. We can’t kid ourselves that people are abusing us because they love us and we can’t let them do it because we make excuses for them or try to rationalize the mistakes they make is because they don’t know any better.
ev0ke: What resources can you recommend to those who find themselves in an abusive relationship?
KT: I have a Resource List in the back of my book, but some of the help out there includes the National Network of Depression Centers, National Institute of Mental Health, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration, Anxiety and Depression Association of America, and the National Domestic Violence hotline. There are resources online to test yourself to see if you’re suffering from depression or trauma. And if you are, you need to seek out help and not put it off. These things we endure to survive, even if we get away from them, they color how we see ourselves and the world. We need to heal the wounds so that we make better choices for our lives and future. We can’t let anyone discourage us or make us feel ashamed for seeking help. If you’re in school or college, check with the school nurse for resources. Stop by a Planned Parenthood location. There is a lot of help available but you first have to recognize you’ve been abused or exploited and you might be suffering from trauma or depression. There is ancestral trauma. Trauma can even happen in the womb with a mother’s contractions, so we are all exposed to trauma in our lives. It’s more prevalent that we realize.
And one more thing. If you talk to someone about a problem and they tell you to just suck it up and put on your big girl or big boy panties, in other words, grow up and put up with the abuse or mis-use, they are not your friend. Your friend is the person who asks instead, how is your quality of life?
ev0ke: Which book fairs, conventions, or other events will you be attending in the foreseeable future?
KT: Well, I’m back to doing my podcast, Voices of the Sacred Feminine every Wednesday at 11am Pacific, or you can catch it later form the archives. I’m writing a lot and posting essays on my website, www.karentate.net, or sharing them in my newsletter, Karen Tate’s Toolbox for Transformation. I’m giving talks over zoom when invited. The most recent talks were the Mt. Shasta Temple annual Cosmogenetrix Symposium where I gave a talk on The Real Sekhmet: Deity, Archetype and Ideal. Later this month I’m giving a talk at the Harvard Divinity School’s conference titled “Uses and Abuses of Power in Alternative Spirituality” and the topic I’ll address is The Cognitive Disconnect Within Goddess Spirituality.
ev0ke: What other projects are you working on?
KT: I’m one of the facilitators starting a Goddess Circle called All Things Goddess in Grants Pass, OR I think the community was hungry for this and it’s been fun.
What I’d really love to do is teach and reach more people about the importance of the values of Goddess Spirituality to save our world. One of my dreams is to have a television series about sacred sites of Goddess or teach about Goddess herstory. I didn’t learn about it until I was 30 and moved to California. It saddens me to think of all the people who never discover Her.