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Breaking the Tabu - doing the unthinkable

Monica Sjoo

Monica Sjoo (1938-2005) was a painter, writer and feminist activist.


On the 9th of May at 10am (1993) we, a group of women taking part in the weekend gathering 'Breaking the Silence/Ama Mawu' in Bristol, did an action in Bristol cathedral. It was incredibly powerful & magical & felt
somehow significant & magnificent...as if we have opened a chink in the ether, allowed some freedom and
power for all women to seep through from some other realm ...we had broken some shackles in our own

I have not been involved in anything quite so empowering with other women since taking part in the
Greenham women-initiated walk across the firing ranges of Salisbury plain, at the Beltane full moon &
lunar eclipse in '85. That time we had reclaimed Silbury, Stonehenge & the land there - ancient sacred
sites of the Goddess - for women.

During our "brainstorming" meeting held in Bristol on 10th Jan I had mentioned that during 20 years or so
my daydream had been to walk into a church or cathedral during service or mass confronting the vicar
or priest with that he & the church "blasphemes against the Mother” as they drone on about the male trinity & oppress women. Never has the Church, either catholic or protestant, apologised publicly for their genocide of women during three centuries of European history...not to talk about their persecution of shamans, women & men, worldwide ...amongst their many other sins.

During that January meeting the idea was born that "the beginning of the End of Patriarchy" is to be celebrated this summer at Silbury during the Lammas full moon ...& I had the words "bringing the crop circles into the cities" come into my mind. Did I mean that we, as the Dongas tribe are doing now at Twyford Down, must act or speak for the Fairies or Spirits of Nature — who are attempting to communicate with us I believe - or are the Ancestors... disrupting the traffic encircling the roundabouts singing and dancing? Much can be done if we listen to Earth as she speaks to us in our dreams.

The reason I had never acted on my fantasies of denouncing the church fathers is because if I had gone into a cathedral years ago & on my own I would probably have been certified as a mad "woman". But...it seemed that my dream fired women's imagination. I both wanted it to happen AND I was frightened that it would actually become reality as I knew that no way could I keep away if women decided to go through with it. So... during the long months of planning and organising our Ama Mawu conference I felt nervous &

Our may weekend gathering finally happened. On the saturday that we had given over to all day workshop on racism in its many forms, I gave a workshop called “How Racism distorts Westem spirituality and values", which is a mega-subject & I had spent weeks preparing for it. So by the time saturday evening arrived (& our social with local singers & musicians Rita Lynch & Invisible voice) I was very tired & unable to really take part in the discussion a group of women were holding about...doing an action next morning at the cathedral!
Another & smaller group of women were discussing doing an action at the local Tesco supermarket that
same morning. It wasn't until the women discussing the cathedral action burst into & sang the entire
“Burning Times” led by Al & Rachel, a song I find very beautiful & moving & powerful, that I finally sat up &
came alive & thought that, yes ...with that group of wild & amazing women something could really happen.

I still wasn't sure that I would feel able to take part & woke up sunday morning at 7am with a headache &
feeling in a state of anxiety. In the meanwhile I had made myself a placard with the poster of my painting
“God giving Birth" on its back & front & with the written words "Return of the Goddess" & “The beginning of the End of Patriarchy". Just in case I'd need it...

I live presently only a few minutes walk from the Cathedral & no way do I want to draw attention to myself in this area or to be arrested.

By 10am I was at college Green by the Cathedral hoping in a way that no-one would actually turn up. But ...no such luck. Some 15 women or so arrived & after centring ourselves, making a circle on the Green & asking for protection ...we walked into the cathedral without any second thoughts. I was scared, so were we all, I’m sure...after all one simply doesn't interrupt a church service in full swing! We walked in virtually unnoticed & no-one realised what was happening until we were actually lined up in front of the altar in the bright lights & facing the astonished congregation. The bishop and his assistants had to stop what they were doing & he zoomed in on me because as the oldest of the women he thought I was “the leader". I had placed myself in the centre as I was carrying the placard & I wanted it to be seen. Considering that during the early 70's I was several times nearly taken to court for “obscenity and blasphemy” for “God giving Birth" (always initiated by rightwing christians) it was very significant to me that I confronted the bishop with that painting ...which I consider sacred & of the Goddess who gives birth to the universe out of Her dark & bleeding womb. He attempted to take it from me & informed me that he was holding a service & that the cathedral is his at which I answered that the cathedrals are built on ancient sacred sites of the Goddess & that we were holding a service of our own. In the meantime a deaconess asked the bishop whether the police were to be called but he didn't want a scandal or media his church. I told him that we wanted to sing a song when he asked me how long we would be there. So...there we were in this great light, congregation in the darkness, candles burning, men in white frocks...singing all the verses of 'Burning Times', again led by Al & Rachel who know the text and melody, very powerfully & accompanied by a few drums. I have amazing visual images of us there...the butterfly wings painted around Rachel's eyes fluttering & taking off...especially when seeing her, as we were leaving the cathedral, leaning on the pulpit declaring the glad tidings of the End of Patriarchy to the congregation. We had indeed served notice to the Godfather & his henchmen that their time is nigh.

As I was leaving an old man, an usher by the door, wagged a finger at me & said: “you are old enough to
know better than this” ...at which I answered that it was precisely because I am old enough to know better
that I was there!

Ann Morgan, from Glastonbury, had been sitting meanwhile in the congregation taking notes & she heard the bishop afterwards saying that we had adopted some decadent Jungian ideas about male & female principles ...that we had been a kind of “commercial break" & now the service would return to its message of male power and hierarchy.

We however felt immensely empowered & like we had broken the sound or mind barrier of some sort ...something had happened on cosmic proportions. When we retumed to the conference women were
drumming ecstatically for hours & we were dancing...dancing...

Blessed Be
Monica Sjoo
28 May '93, Bristol.


Published originally in 'From the Flames' 10 (summer 1993)