This thesis provides a theoretical base for understanding the relationship between medieval romance literature, matristic romance literature, and the emerging spiritual feminist tradition. The study consists of two sections. The first section situates it in relation to the contemporary western spiritual feminist tradition, while the second provides a detailed consideration of a selection of medieval and contemporary texts and of their role in the lives of individual spiritual feminists and in the spiritual feminist movement.
Spiritual feminists are defined as women who: are committed to the all embracing, self sufficient Goddess, value women's empowerment, practise ritual and/or magic, revere nature and work for justice for all life. The study explores briefly the role which literature, both medieval and modern, has played, and is playing, in spiritual feminism. It then undertakes a detailed study of five medieval romances and five contemporary matristic romances, clarifying those romance literature characteristics which are most significant for spiritual feminism. The term 'matristic romance' is an expansion of the classification system developed by Gloria Feman Orenstein for cycles of matristic storytelling.
The medieval romances are Thomas of Erceldoune and the Queen of Elf- Land, Sir Degare, Sir Launfal, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Sir Perceval of Galles. These are examined briefly, identifying recurring themes and motifs and hints of early pagan myths as well as focussing on the female protagonists in each story. Five common themes emerge: the adventure/quest theme, particularly the search for deeper know^ledge of self; different worlds; nature, the earth and sexuality; goddesses, gods, fairies and witches; and magic, ritual and the Grail.
The matristic romances discussed are The Gate to Women's Country by Sheri S. Tepper, The Fifth Sacred Thing by Starhawk, Amazon by Barbara G. Walker, The Ancient Future: The Dark Age by Traci Harding and The Mists of Avalon by Marion Bradley. The themes identified in the medieval romances are also found to be dominant in these contemporary romances.
One medieval text and one matristic romance are selected for detailed analysis: Sir Perceval of Galles and The Mists of Avalon, respectively. In each case the feminist psychoanalytic approach of Luce Irigaray, combined with Julia Kristeva's theory of countertransference, is used to elicit meaning from the textual unconscious and to explore the conscious and unconscious impact of the text on one spiritual feminist reader. The findings suggest that, for a woman, tapping her unconscious in this way can reveal a deep self knowledge, and the challenge to live in accordance with that knowledge.
The psychoanalysis is then extended to focus on this same woman's experience as a participant in a spiritual feminist full moon ritual. The analysis centres on her conscious and unconscious responses to the ritual, with similar findings to those of the earlier studies of her reactions to reading romance literature.
The study reveals a very close relationship between medieval and matristic romance literature and spiritual feminist ritual. The themes and motifs which structure romance literature are the same themes and motifs which shape spiritual feminist rituals. The experiences of reading romance and of participating in spiritual feminist ritual are remarkably similar. The myths that are being re-membered and re-told in spiritual feminist ritual parallel those which are found in medieval and matristic romance.
The thesis concludes that spiritual feminist ritual is, effectively, romance enacted. The emerging mythology of spiritual feminism, enacted in ritual, both draws upon and moves beyond the truths expressed in medieval and matristic romance literature. Spiritual feminists are re-membering a tradition which, like the empowering journeys of romance literature, is a journey of individual and communal discovery.