Read an Excerpt
history of the goddess
Once upon a time God was a goddess. When you consider that our ancestors created divinities in their own image, giving them human characteristics according to the dominant culture, this is understandable. Both biological and archaeological evidence suggests that early social development evolved around the female. The mate was not considered fundamental either to mother or child and male contact with offspring was precarious. Long before monogamy and marriage were devised, a woman might be impregnated by several men, any of whom might be the father of the child. Before and even after the establishment of settled communities during the Neolithic period mother and child would expect little contact with the father. So both childbearing and nurturing, the responsibility of the woman, required females to take charge of producing food. When agriculture replaced hunting, women became landowners. Thus, the earliest economic and social power was matriarchal. Women are now credited by pre-historians as being the catalysts in the spread of this new waypromoting the very concept of culture. The female archetypes of creation and destruction were thereafter linked with the Earth, on which communities relied. When the Earth was fertile, people lived; when it was barren, they died.
Images of Earth goddesses: At the earliest-known urban center, Catal Huyuk (c. 7200-6500 B.C.E.), archaeologists have documented a plethora of images and symbols of voluptuous Earth goddesses. Prior to cases being made by archaeologists such as Marija Gimbutas, historianGerda Lerner, and author Merlin Stone that communities such as Catal Huyuk seemed to be inhabited by peace-loving, creative individuals acceding to a matriarchate, other voices have raised objections. Few of us see ancient artifacts objectively, imbuing them with contemporary meanings that may have no basis in fact. Thus, many historians have shown discomfort with the notion of Goddess culture by questioning whether any greater value was really placed on female attributes in prehistoric times. This may be true, but let us examine some of the other evidence indicating the importance of the feminine at this time. Excavation of Iron Age tombs in northern Europe suggests that women were interred with great ceremony, accompanied by valuable goods, implying high social status. We know of female Celtic rulers, such as the Icenean warrior queen, Boudicca, and the Battle Goddesses, the Morrigan (see p. 27), played an important role in the wars of Celtic peoples. Known as shape shifters, the Morrigan were associated with ravens or crows. If one of these harbingers of death was seen on the battlefield, this was enough to signal impending disaster. In ancient Egypt, prior to its unification into a single state and the emergence of the concept of Divine Kingship, families would trace their line through the mother's side. Ancient Chinese writings refer to Tibet as "the land of women" and Japan as "the land of queens," and women in ancient Crete assumed prominent roles as hunters, bull-leapers, artisans, potters, and weavers. Figures on frescos show men as smaller than the central female figure probably the Goddess or High Priestess.
The earliest mythological tales place emphasis on a female Creatrix, usually giving birth to a male partner with whom she would mate to produce offspring. Divine male consorts were neither deemed superior nor equal to the Mother, but were considered necessary only to impregnate the female. In early Saxon times the word "husband" was merely the man who tended to the woman's property, since until Christianity, property rights among ancient British tribes were passed through the female line.
So how did the concept of an all-powerful Earth Goddess become subsumed by a male-dominated pantheon? Although the exact time frame is sketchy, it is believed that between 4000 and 3500 B.C.E. a combination of races, Indo-Europeans, emerged from the steppes of Asia Minor, migrated south and west into Old Europe, bringing with them a new culture, a new form of economic exchange, and new ideology: patriarchy. These warlike peoples transformed the social fabric of the cultures they overran and replaced matriarchal religious authority with male political power. This small ruling elite, whose wealth lay in horses and metals rather than land, glorified masculinity because it produced combative males, thus, military success. Their gods were warriors, headed by a sky divinity later known as Zeus. The land-loving Neolithic communities, led by women whose use of metals was confined to tools and ornaments, were no match for invaders such as the Kurgans from the Black Sea, who could produce lethal weapons.
In the same way that later the Christian Church absorbed pagan festivals in order to attempt to obliterate the "Old Religion," the Goddess motif was integrated into the new patriarchal pantheon. The new regime could not only invade a woman's body through rape but set about usurping female power over the land by disseminating stories about the relationship between men and women. Through manipulating existing narratives, the new male-dominated rule justified their treatment of women with tales in which the promiscuous Zeus cheated on his queen, the goddess Hera, and raped nymphs, mortal women, and minor deities. What better way could this small ruling elite assert their ultimate power than through the glorification of patriarchy? Here are some examples of how older tales about the power of the Goddess were adapted to suit the new ideology.
Before the barbarous hunters, the Dorians, invaded Greece, bringing with them the Sky God Zeus, the indigenous peoples honored the Great Goddess. She not only presided over the fertile Earth but controlled the Heavens and ruled the Underworld. Hence the sacred feminine is regarded as both the giver of life and the bringer of death. One of the symbols associated with this supreme female deity was a cow called Rhea, whose alter ego may have been the goddess Heraliterally "the Earth." Since the cult of Hera predated that of Zeus, many temples existed to worship her exclusively. However, if you are planning to successfully co-opt a strong, existing religion into a new regime, what better way to do it than to divide and conquer? Unlike the early Israelites, who insisted that theirs (Yahweh) was the only God, the Indo-European invaders took a more insidious approach. Over time the concept of the Great Mother was fragmented and subsumed into the Greek pantheon, taking on a variety of roles and guises, one of which was Hera. The classification of Greek gods and goddesses was an afterthought, being first presented in Hesiod's, Theogony, written around 800 B.C.E., although the Mother cult of Hera is believed to be significantly older. The earlier goddess undoubtedly bore little resemblance to the patriarchally modified consort, who time after time was humiliated and hurt by her husband. What is important about the marriage of Zeus and Hera is that it signifies the uneasy merging of the patriarchal invaders with the indigenous matriarchy. As you will discover in Hera's story (see p. 84), the Great Goddess was reduced to the stereotype of a jealous, vindictive wife. In order to diminish and weaken her power, the activities of the "father of gods and men" turned his wife into a laughingstock, thereby reducing her power in the eyes of the populace.
In keeping with the nature of myths in mirroring human experience, it has been suggested that this unhappy union represented the loveless state of marriage at that time. This is not surprising when you consider that many involved the forcible merging of two very different cultures. The story of Zeus and Hera also highlights the psychological challenges that warriors would have when required to settle into peaceful domesticity, since Zeus is portrayed as a wife abuser and Hera his battered consort. One of the negative aspects of the Hera archetype is the unwillingness to direct anger at the perpetrator of shame and hurt. In Hera's case her rage and vindictiveness were not directed at her husband but at the various women he seduced and the children he sired.
It is interesting to note how later male storytellers changed the original narratives to better fit the new ideology. Demeter and Persephone's remote origins show them to be the Grain Mother and her maiden daughter (see pp. 78-83 and 56-61). Their story forms the basis of the Eleusinian mysteries. Despite being a religious practice open to all, Greek or foreigner, the war-like newcomers to Greece would have been precluded from the initiation rites, since the requirements included not having taken a human life. Although the story was not written down until Homer's Hymn to Demeter, c. 700 B.C.E., reference to Persephone's entry into the Underworld appears on Minoan artifacts from 2000 B.C.E. on, during which time it would have passed on in the oral tradition. The pre-Hellenic myth is different from the later Homeric version in significant ways. According to the matriarchal rendition of the myth, the maiden willingly enters the Underworld, neither abducted nor raped by Hades. In this version Persephone meets distressed spirits of the dead as she wanders over the hills collecting flowers. Concerned that they might have no one to guide or watch over them, she speaks to her mother. The older goddess replies that it is her function to care for these spirits, but that she has had to neglect that duty in order to concentrate on tending the crops. Persephone then offers to take on that role herself, and despite Demeter's attempts to dissuade her, the maiden enters the lower domain, depicted on early pottery as an open vagina.
Within the deep chasm of the Earth, Persephone calls each of the spirits to her and marks their foreheads with pomegranate juice, an initiatory gesture enabling them to be reborn into the upper world. Demeter mourns the loss of her beloved daughter, neglecting her earthly responsibilities. Only when she notices a crocus blooming in spring, is Demeter reunited with her daughter. The mother is then forced to accept that, for part of the year, her maiden alter ego must descend into the Underworld to comfort and guide the spirits of the dead, enabling them to achieve their next incarnation. What is interesting to note in both of these Greek myths is that the new rulers did not allow their misogyny to completely override their intelligence. They did have the good grace to recognize that women have power over men. Even almighty Zeus had to concede that Demeter had the power to destroy humankind through failing to cause crops to grow, and was thereby forced, according to the later story, to allow Persephone's return, at least for part of the year.
Arguably it has been the Catholic Church that has been the greatest enemy of women and Goddess culture over the centuries. Its ways were even more subtle than those of the Indo-European warlords as it sought to eradicate paganism by adopting its symbolism and incorporating its festivals into the Christian calendar. One such example is the story of Saint Brigit, originally an ancient Celtic Triple Goddess (see pp. 26-27), venerated throughout the northern European empire known as Brigantia. Brigit governed healing, fertility, poetry, and smithcraft in an age when female knowledge and innate skills were revered, and underpinned cultures based on matriarchal values. The cult of Brigit was so strongly embedded in Ireland that the Catholic Church reinvented the goddess as a nun. Even the concept of the pagan trinity was Christianized into Brigit, her son, Saint Patrick, and the maiden martyr, Saint Columba, the Holy Dove. The pagan festival of Brigit on the first of February, celebrating the arrival of spring, was renamed Candlemas by the Church and this Celtic goddess was canonized.
The Church borrowed extensively from older goddess myths and the Bible contains many such sources, some only minor deviations from the pool of universal archetypes, but with an obvious antipagan slant. For example, the Hebrew portrayal of Adam's first wife, Lilith, was an incorporation of the Sumero Babylonian Creation Goddess known variously as Belili, Baalat, Astarte, or Eostre (root of the word Easter).
Before the days in which male-dominant societies subjugated women and the Roman Catholic Church determined sex evil and paganistic, matriarchal societies freely combined religion and sex. The union of men and women was closer to Eastern approaches, such as tantric sex, with emphasis on sensuality and quality of experience. Lilith, in keeping with other sexually liberated goddesses, represented this equality of sexual expression. Unwilling to suppress her joy of sex and thinking of herself as Adam's equal, Lilith was thought to represent antipatriarchal values and thus was first turned into a figure of evil and eventually written out of the canonical Bible. She was replaced by Eve, a more subservient helpmate to Adam.
Eve is linked with the serpent, an early totemic form of the Great Goddess associated with immortality and the active female energy flowing through the Earth. In keeping with the defamation of women's innate powers and because of the Indo-European warlords' fear of female spirituality, Eve and the serpent became scapegoats for mankind's banishment from paradise, further undermining women. The earlier myth, whereby Lilith was made from dust, was further distorted to strengthen the new male-oriented psychology. Thus, in the later story, God created Eve from Adam's rib, to be his companion. Throughout matriarchal cultures the female divinity, not the male, was considered the Creatrix.
Another myth that illustrates the collision of the two ideologies of matriarchy and patriarchy is the Epic of Gilgamesh, whose core theme is achieving immortality. This Assyro-Babylonian poem, written c. 700 B.C.E., undoubtedly influenced early Jewish writers of the Bible. Its characters include a serpent, a woman who "robs" the hero Enkidu of his innocence (Adam in the Garden of Eden), a flood hero (Noah), and precognitive dreams (Joseph advising the Pharaoh in Egypt).
According to the story, Gilgamesh is approached by the Goddess Ishtar, who desires him as her husband. Gilgamesh calls her a harlot, refusing her advances, apparently because he is aware that she discards lovers when they cease to please. However, the male Indo-European mind would undoubtedly have associated Ishtar with the rites carried out by her priestesses, in which bulls were emasculated and their severed genitals offered in honour of the Goddess. Also, the sacred lovemaking and sexual-spiritual joyfulness that honor the female approach is about surrendering the ego, a concept with which the new patriarchal ideology would have been very uncomfortable. As revenge for being shunned Ishtar strikes down Gilgamesh's friend, Enkidu, with a fatal illness. If there is one sure way to subjugate women universally, it is by demonizing them, thus creating fear and mistrust between the sexes and offering justification for one's persecution over the other.
Most books written to help us explore and heal fractures caused by the subjugation of the sacred female focus on ancient Greek goddesses. This is said to be because Greek characters and mythic themes are more commonly known through the arts and literature. My aim is to broaden this focus, so you will find references to goddesses from Celtic, Chinese, Egyptian, and Norse cultures as well as the Greek. While there is similarity between the myths of cultures separated by space and time, there are also some differences of which I think it is worth being aware. It is important not to regard matriarchy as patriarchy, but with the other sex in control. Robert Brifault, writing in The Mothers (1927), asserted that in primitive matriarchal societies women did not dominate men but simply exerted their natural authority based on enhanced interpersonal skills and empathy with the land; thus, women were the innovators of culture. It may seem almost impossible to believe that such female authority once existed. Patriarchal mythology is far easier to accept because it illustrates life as we recognize it, with men desiring control and women regarded as resources. The paternalistic monotheistic religions of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism have played a powerful role in belittling women through the ages. Wise womenthe herbalists, midwives, and healers, who were in touch with their spiritual naturewere labeled "witches." Because of the fear this induced in male-dominated culture, which did not understand that communing with Nature is a natural gift, females were persecuted mercilessly through the ages.
Patriarchy has not always been the natural order; it is just that men and women conspire to maintain the status quo. But if we truly want to reconnect with the Goddess and heal the psychological and spiritual fracture that prevents us from knowing our whole selves, then things must, and can, change. It did those thousands of years ago when patriarchy replaced a "matrifocal" view of life, and can change again today. We just need to start rewriting the stories, beginning with our personal narratives.
the triple goddess
The number three has long been considered special. The sixth-century B.C.E. ancient Greek philosopher and mathematician, Pythagoras, called it "the perfect number," saying that three was the expression of beginning, middle, and end, and therefore a symbol of divinity. Indeed, the threefold godhead emerges in great religions from Christianity (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) to Hinduism (Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva). Ancient Norse cultures revered the triumvirate of Odin, Frigg, and Balder, while in ancient Egypt it was Osiris, Isis, and Horus. In classical Roman mythology, power was considered to rest in the hands of Jupiter (Heavens), Neptune (seas), and Pluto (Underworld).
The trinity is a motif that runs through all sorts of phenomena, symbolizing something that is the sum of one (single focus) and two (duality). We have three primary colors red, blue, and yellow from which all other colors are mixed. The guilds had a three-step processapprentice, fellow, and masterand Christ talked about the way, the truth, and the life. In folktales it is common for the witch or fairy godmother to facilitate three wishes, with the third usually being required to overcome the difficulties that arose from foolishly wasting the first two.
In this book, goddesses are categorized according to the Maiden, Mother, and Wise Woman (or Crone) archetypes. But there are other ways of acknowledging the different energies and qualities of the archetypal feminine and you are invited to choose whichever feels right for you.
Threesomes Here are some examples of the tendency for things to be grouped in threes:
* Past, present, future
* Length, width, height
* Animal, vegetable, mineral
* Liquid, solid, gas
* Mass, power, velocity
* Air, water, earth
* Mind, body, spirit
* New, waxing, waning Moons
* Virgin, Mother, and Elder (or Crone)
* Child, bride, widow
* Creator, destroyer, and preserver/mediator
* Birth-giver, nurturer, and death-bringer
Traditional trinities Some mythologies illustrate the different aspects or energies of the divine feminine as a triad. For example,
The Vikings had the Norns Norse goddesses of fate and spinners of destiny:
* Ur past or waxing Moon
* Verdandi present or full Moon
* Skuld future or waning Moon
These correspond to the Greek Moirae, children of the Creation Goddess, Nyx:
* Clotho the spinner
* Lachesis the apportioner
* Atropos the inevitable.
The ancient Celts of Ireland had the Morrigan, a triplicity of war, fertility, and vegetation goddesses:
* Morrigan "phantom Queen"
* Badb "the crow or Raven"
* Macha "frenzy in battle"
The Morrigan not only represented the complementary generative and destructive characteristics of the sacred feminine but are also said to have expressed the harsh, unrelenting warrior nature of the Celtic soul.
The Furies were three crones within the very earliest Greek pantheon, who were said to live in Hades, or the Underworld, and whose mission it was to guard the matriarchal bloodline by avenging the murder of a mother by her son, as in the story of Clytemnestra and Orestes.
Their names and attributes are:
* Alecto anger
* Tisiphone retaliation
* Megaera jealousy
Once patriarchal values had overturned the earlier matriarchal focus, the Furies were prettied up, renamed the Eumenides, and given gentler, less terrifying, dispositions.
In Hindu mythology the goddess metamorphosing into various aspects or primal energies is illustrated by Shiva's wife, Shakti. She is known variously as Parvati, the beautiful maiden, Uma, the devoted ascetic, and Durga, the invincible destroyer of demons. But she is perhaps best known and venerated as Kali Ma ("the black mother" see pp. 98-103), whose conflicting personality represents the rebirth that follows destruction. Kali Ma is commonly depicted as full breasted and naked, blood dripping from her lips and nails. In this terrible manifestation she is a killer of demons.
Shakespeare worked the Goddess archetypes into his plays. We are probably most familiar with the three witches or crones in Macbeth and King Lear's three daughters:
These could represent the ancient struggle between the new patriarchal order (in the guise of Lear himself) and the Triple Goddess. In this context, the story illustrates the disharmony that comes from dualism, when one facet of the Goddess in this case, Cordelia is denied.
Excerpted from Awakening Your Goddess by Liz Simpson. Copyright © 2001 by Gaia Books Ltd, London. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
JAPAN, THE SYSTEM THAT SOURED
The Rise and Fall of the Japanese Economic Miracle
By RICHARD KATZ
Copyright © 1998 M. E. Sharpe, Inc.. All rights reserved.