Guest Post: Women Blessing and Healing
I am a single Mormon 21 year old in my last year of studies at Princeton University. From Monday to Saturday I am engrossed in my anthropology major and women’s studies minor, and on Sundays I get to teach the coolest Senior Primary girls in the world. When I’m not studying or inculcating ideals of feminism and social justice into 10 year old girls, I enjoy playing the violin, singing, and acting.
I am in the middle of writing my senior thesis, an anthropological study of female spiritual rituals in Mormonism. As a long-time Exponent reader, it was only natural to ask the amazing commenters here for help in my research! I am particularly interested in your thoughts about women in the Church blessing or healing others, and any experiences you feel comfortable sharing about times you blessed or healed others.
I remember the first time I really heard about Mormon women’s past and present participation healing: it was four years ago and I was stuck in an airport. I had the online text of Women and Authority up on my laptop screen, and proceeded to spend the next four hours immersed in its essays. For my junior year independent work I decided to examine the historical practice of female healing rituals within Mormonism under an anthropological lens, which my advisor then wished for me to continue into the present day for my senior thesis.
The blessing and healing of others by women in the Church is a particularly ambiguous and undefined area. On one hand, the gift of healing is an un-gendered gift of the spirit, available to all, and therefore in theory a perfectly “kosher” area of participation for Mormon women. However, throughout our history healing has become so entwined with priesthood power that for many there is a knee-jerk reaction against female healing. Female healing seems to provide a way for women to become more deeply involved in the spiritual rituals of Mormonism without necessarily crossing a line that would essentially exile them from the Mormon mainstream.
In my research so far, I’ve not come across a single instance of a woman blessing and healing someone that looks exactly like any other instance. Women’s healing rituals do not have the set structure and required phrasings that priesthood blessings do; they practically require the development of new forms of female religious creativity like those Bednarowski discusses in her book, The Religious Imagination of American Women. The different forms of Mormon women’s healing rituals and the way each woman thinks about the act may be indicators of how she navigates her identity as a not-completely-traditional Mormon woman. As the study of female healing brings together many issues interesting feminists in the church today (e.g., priesthood vs. motherhood, Heavenly Mother, the “innate” spirituality of women, etc.), it is an especially rich area to study.
What are your thoughts on the roles blessing and healing might serve for Mormon women? If you have experiences in these areas, please feel free to comment. Do you agree or disagree that healing is at least semi-allowable for women in mainstream Mormonism? Do you think male and female healings should be demarcated by their priesthood/non-priesthood qualities? Do women’s healings take their efficacy from prayer and faith, or from priesthood power? Does female ritual healing in Mormonism provide a way for women to resolve frustration with gender inequity in one area of their spiritual lives, or does it merely serve to increase frustration with imposed limits?
If you are interested in participating in my research, please email me at anthro.thesis.research at gmail dot com. Participation is very low-key; it simply consists of emailing any of your thoughts and experiences to me, or answering any of the sample questions I’ll send to you. Your identity and any information used in my thesis will be entirely confidential, and you may withdraw your participation at any time. Thanks so much in advance!