Narrative spirituality and the infrapolitical self in the Dark Goddess intertext
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date31/07/2022
Ní Bharáin, Áine
In the last three decades a discourse on the ‘Dark Goddess’ has arisen in the context of the Anglo-American ‘spiritual milieu’, and more specifically in the Goddess Spirituality and contemporary Pagan movements. Between 1992 and 2017, thirteen printed non-fiction texts were published with the term ‘Dark Goddess’ in their title. This corpus depicts the Dark Goddess as an instigator of ‘spiritual’ destruction and renewal, and relates her to specific characteristics and experiences of women which have been repressed by patriarchal society. Conversations about this ‘Dark Goddess’ have simultaneously arisen across social media platforms. A principal site is the YouTube video channel which provides an accessible forum for individuals to represent their beliefs and experiences. Between 2011 and 2017 fourteen individuals uploaded videos with ‘Dark Goddess’ in their title. Many more have uploaded videos on ‘The Morrigan’, a specific dark goddess of Irish origin, of which I have chosen five for supplementary analysis. Many video creators explicitly reference each other, or published Dark Goddess texts. Others reference the wider discourse through recurring themes and taxonomies. This dual combination of printed texts and self-published online content constitutes the Dark Goddess ‘intertext’. The term ‘intertext’ is derived from the poststructuralist concept of ‘intertextuality’ which refers to how ‘[a]ny text is a new tissue of past citations’ as described by Roland Barthes (1986, 39). This thesis delineates the content of the Dark Goddess intertext and examines how the devotee reciprocally contributes to this discursive field through a methodology of narrative and thematic analysis of the corpus. The videos were transcribed, coded and analysed alongside the print text, noting non-verbal visual and aural elements as part of analysis. Placed within a Religious Studies approach to the spiritual milieu and Goddess Spirituality, this analysis offers insight into a sector within the spiritual milieu which focuses on women’s experience. The primary findings consist in a new theory of the role of ‘narrative spirituality’ within the spiritual milieu. By critically engaging Paul Heelas’ model of ‘Self-spirituality’, narrative spirituality theorises engagement with the Dark Goddessto create an ‘integrated self’ through negotiating the relationship between the ‘dark self’ and the ‘monstrous other’. This process of narrative spirituality is infrapolitical—a term coined by James Scott (1990) to describe a low-profile form of resistance which culturally and structurally underpins more visible political action. Through the narration of the integrated self, the women of the Dark Goddess intertext reimagine their self-identities in resistance to what they perceive as patriarchally-enforced ideals and in Scott’s words, ‘carve out’ space, both publicly and personally, ‘for the autonomous cultural expression of dissent’ (1990, 166). To develop this argument, the core chapters examine the relationship of the self to the Dark Goddess, the conception of the Dark Goddess as a monstrous other, the affective use of narrative in engagement with the Dark Goddess, and the extent to which the resulting intertext can be considered ‘counter-cultural’. I argue that the Dark Goddess intertext models an integrated self that is narrated within its discursive environment of the intertext rather than the discovered ‘Self-spirituality’ in dominant models of the spiritual milieu which are static and disconnected. The thesis concludes that the ‘monstrous’ component of the Dark Goddess is crucial to a holistic understanding of ‘narrative spirituality’, a model which therefore rejects critiques of the ‘individualisation’ of the ‘spiritual milieu’. Instead the model argues for implicitly subversive or counter-cultural content which connects transformational self-narratives to societal issues. In this way the Dark Goddess intertext can be understood as a gendered ‘infrapolitics’ (Scott).