Report on 2009 Symposium–by Storyteller Nancy Vedder-Shults

Nancy Vedder-Shults takes notes at the ASWM Symposium

I want to thank the newly-formed ASWM (Association for the Study of Women and Mythology) for the wonderful conference they put on last Thursday.

When I walked into the space, I knew I was in the right place, because of the beautiful goddess banners made by Lydia Ruyle that hung around the room.  It felt like a homecoming!  They included Tara, Isis, and Mnemosyne, the Mother of the Muses who as Lydia says “is RE-membering Herstory.”

And when we took our first break, we left the space through a fabric Sheila-na-gig made by Lee Melchior and Susan Swope, that they had hung in the doorway after we arrived.  How wonderful to be birthed and rebirthed through this “vulva” again and again throughout the day!!

About the 2009 Symposium itself:  It was fantastic!  Sid Reger was the M.C., and she started out by introducing Barbara Marx Hubbard’s term “vocational arousal” for passionate work, which was demonstrated by presenters throughout  the day.  Every one of them was enthusiastic about what she shared.  
Normandi Ellis’ keynote speech gave us a powerful example of how spiritual journaling can function in a woman’s life as a means of profoundly knowing herself, and, as a result, helping others to find that depth experience as  well.  She told us that the purpose of writing spiritual autobiography was to create maps for ourselves, an idea which will create great “vocational arousal” in my life.

We met under Lydia Ruyle’s beautiful Goddess Banners

The morning panel on “Goddess Studies and Cultural Issues” was fact-filled and stimulating.  In fact, I heard more than one attendee mention that the short presentations spoke to mythic themes that were important to them.  Marguerite Rigoglioso talked about Bee Goddesses and Bee Priestesses, mostly in Ancient Greece.  Barbara Criswell described how Ix Chel is honored today by the Mayan women of the Yucatan Peninsula.

Kathyrn Henderson reported on her interviews with spiritual leaders in a variety of indigenous and Eastern religions (here in the US) concerning how neo-Pagan pantheons can reflect the multi- cultural reality of today and still avoid cultural appropriation. And finally Isadora Gabrielle Leidenfrost presented a short DVD about her Master’s thesis, a film depicting an American woman, who has  become a master in the Tibetan tangka-making tradition.

Susan Swope emerges from the Sheela-na-Gig portal at our door

My only reservation about the morning was that these four women had much more to tell us, and we were hungry for every tidbit they provided.  Fortunately, next year the conference will last a whole weekend, so we can luxuriate in the Goddess myths that nurture our souls.

After a lunch at which attendees buzzed like Marguerite’s bees, swapping all sorts of ideas and plans, we gathered again to hear a session entitled “Mythic Inspirations: A Panel in Memory of Rae Atira- Soncea.”  It’s fitting that we met in Rae’s name, for she created amazing multi-media art that celebrated many goddesses and called attention to their suppression by patriarchy.

I led off this group by retelling the patriarchal myth of Demeter and Persephone as a story of Demeter as the first feminist Goddess (she goes on a “hunger  strike” to get her daughter back!), as well as  describing how my  work is intimately connected to the understanding that “story shapes lives” (and Goddess myth even more so).

Lee Melchior then presented a slide show of her Goddess puppets, imposing 8 to 9-foot representations of a variety of deities, several of which have been used in elaborate croning ceremonies.  Then Ruth Barrett talked about how Goddess mythology has informed her work as a singer, ritualist, and teacher, and sang a lovely Goddess invocation based on an old folk melody.

Lee Melchior’s Selene the Moon Goddess puppet

The last panel introduced us to the broad array of internet opportunities that are open to us as Goddess scholars.  Susan Swope described her interactive “frog mysteries class” at, and Sage Starwalker made a case for using social media like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter in order to communicate with women younger than 30.  Sage also described Matrifocus, a quarterly e-zine with a wealth of information for Goddess scholars.

Even the final open forum was a tasty treat for those of us present.  From Maureen Aakre-Ross we learned about the next “Meeting of the Eagle and Condor,” a conference of indigenous shamans from North and South America that will be happening in Minneapolis from July 23-26.  Then we heard psychologist Kim Duckett describe her research on pagan women’s psychology, as well as a graduate student, Beebe Frazer, tell about her studies  on the spirituality of natural birth and how it empowers women.

Thank you, wonderful Goddess scholars.  I can’t wait for next year!

About storyteller/songwriter Nancy Vedder-Shults:  “I’ve been studying Goddess mythology and doing Goddess workshops ever since I finished my Ph.D. (in German Literature) in 1981.  In 1993 I put out my first recording, entitled “Chants for the Queen of  Heaven…and Earth.”  This was followed by a second recording in 1998  (“Singing the Promise”).  Since then I’ve been offering workshops, presenting keynote lectures, and writing.  If you want to learn more about my work you can check out my website at”

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One comment on “Report on 2009 Symposium–by Storyteller Nancy Vedder-Shults
  1. Sage says:

    The highlight of the month of May. Still buzzing from the people and the presentations. Huzzah!