Great Cosmic Mother: Rediscovering the Religion of the Earth

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This classic exploration of the Goddess through time and throughout the world draws on religious, cultural, and archaeological sources to recreate the Goddess religion that is humanity’s heritage. Now, with a new introduction and full-color artwork, this passionate and important text shows even more clearly that the religion of the Goddess--which is tied to the cycles of women’s bodies, the seasons, the phases of the moon, and the fertility of the earth--was the original ...

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The Great Cosmic Mother: Rediscovering the Religion of the Earth

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This classic exploration of the Goddess through time and throughout the world draws on religious, cultural, and archaeological sources to recreate the Goddess religion that is humanity’s heritage. Now, with a new introduction and full-color artwork, this passionate and important text shows even more clearly that the religion of the Goddess--which is tied to the cycles of women’s bodies, the seasons, the phases of the moon, and the fertility of the earth--was the original religion of all humanity.

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Editorial Reviews

School Library Journal
YA This long-awaited reference book is an important addition for students studying women's ancient history and the roots of religion. Sjoo and Mor describe the great spiral of cultural movement that began ``in the beginning . . .with a very female sea,'' and continued into Neolithic times. They show how our brains have been emptied of women's cultural history, and then they begin to piece together, detail by detail, that history. This does not lend itself to cover-to-cover reading, but it is a worthy book to discover while researching the roots of religion and/or the history of women as creators of culture. Readers will get a varied taste of world symbols, obscure myths, dazzling images, and formidable goddesses which will allow them to see connections that they might otherwise miss in current culture. The black-and-white illustrations include sketches, photographs, and reproductions of Goddess sites worldwide and ancient artifacts and culture. While libraries with women's studies' collections and schools in which students study cultural history will need this book, it is also an engaging book to browse through, and belongs on the shelves of any library.Lucia Bettler, formerly of Waltrip High School, Houston Independent School District
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780062507914
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 5/28/1987
  • Edition description: 1st ed
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 528
  • Sales rank: 356,839
  • Product dimensions: 6.12 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 1.46 (d)

Meet the Author

Monica Sjöö is well known in Europe as the foremost artist and theoretician of the reemerging Goddess religion. Forty-four of her own works illustrate this volume.
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The First Sex:
"In The Beginning,
We Were All Created

In the beginning...was a very female sea. For two-and-a-half billion years on earth, all life-forms floated in the womb-like environment of the planetary ocean — nourished and protected by its fluid chemicals, rocked by the lunar-tidal rhythms. Charles Darwin believed the menstrual cycle originated here, organically echoing the moon-pulse of the sea. And, because this longest period of life's time on earth was dominated by marine forms reproducing parthenogenetically, he concluded that the female principle was primordial. In the beginning, life did not gestate within the body of any creature, but within the ocean womb containing all organic life. There were no specialized sex organs; rather, a generalized female existence reproduced itself within the female body of the sea.

Before more complex life forms could develop and move onto land, it was necessary to miniaturize the oceanic environment, to reproduce it on a small and mobile scale. Soft, moist eggs deposited on dry ground and exposed to air would die; life could not move beyond the water-hugging amphibian stage. In the course of evolution, the ocean — the protective and nourishing space, the amniotic fluids, even the lunar-tidal rhythm — was transferred into the individual female body. And the penis, a mechanical device for land reproduction, evolved.

The penis first appeared in the Age of Reptiles, about 200 million years ago. Our archetypal association of the snake with the phallus contains, no doubt, this genetic memory.

This is a fundamental and recurring pattern in nature: Life is a female environment in which the male appears, often periodically, and created by the female, to perform highly specialized tasks related to species reproduction and a more complex evolution. Daphnia, a freshwater crustacean, reproduces several generations of females by parthenogenesis; the egg and its own polar body mate to form a complete set of genes for a female offspring. Once annually, at the end of the year's cycle, a short-lived male group is produced; the males specialize in manufacturing leathery egg cases able to survive the winter. Among honeybees the drone group is produced and regulated by the sterile daughter workers and the fertile queen. Drones exist to mate with the queen. An average of seven drones per hive accomplish this act each season, and then the entire male group is destroyed by the workers. Among whiptail lizards in the American Southwest, four species are parthenogenetic; males are unknown among the desert grassland, plateau, and Chihuahua whiptails, and have been found only rarely among the checkered whiptails.

Among mammals, even among humans, parthenogenesis is not technically impossible. Every female egg contains a polar body with a complete set of chromosomes; the polar body and the egg, if united, could form a daughter embryo. In fact, ovarian cysts are unfertilized eggs that have joined with their polar bodies, been implanted in the ovarian wall, and started to develop there.

This is not to say that males are an unnecessary sex. Parthenogenesis is a cloning process. Sexual reproduction, which enhances the variety and health of the gene pool, is necessary for the kind of complex evolution that has produced the human species. The point being made here is simply that, when it comes to the two sexes, one of us has been around a lot longer than the other.

In The Nature and Evolution of Female Sexuality, Mary Jane Sherfey, M.D., described her discovery in 1961 of something called the inductor theory. The inductor theory stated that "All mammalian embryos, male and female, are anatomically female during the early stages of fetal life." Sherfey wondered why this theory had been buried in the medical literature since 1951, completely ignored by the profession. The men who made this herstory-making discovery simply didn't want it to be true.

Sherfey pioneered the discussion of the inductor theory; and now, with modifications based on further data, its findings are accepted as facts of mammalian — including human — development. As Stephen Jay Gould describes it, the embryo in its first eight weeks is an "indifferent" creature, with bisexual potential. In the eighth week, if a Y-chromosome-bearing sperm fuses with the egg, the gonads will develop into testes, which secrete androgen, which in turn induces male genitalia to develop. In the absence of androgen, the embryo develops into a female. There is a difference in the development of the internal and external genitalia, however. For the internal genitalia — the fallopian tubes and ovaries, or the sperm-carrying ducts — "the early embryo contains precursors of both sexes." In the presence or absence of androgen, as one set develops the other degenerates. With the external genitalia, "the different organs of male and female develop along diverging lines from the same precursor." This means, in effect, that the clitoris and the penis are the same organ, formed from the same tissue. The labia majora and the scrotum are one, indistinguishable in the early embryonic stages; in the presence of androgen "the two lips simply grow longer, fold over and fuse along the midline, forming the scrotal sac."

Gould concludes: "The female course of development is, in a sense, biologically intrinsic to all mammals. It is the pattern that unfolds in the absence of any hormonal influence. The male route is a modification induced by secretion of androgens from the developing testes."

The vulnerability of the male newcomer within the female environment is well known. Vaginal secretions are more destructive to the Y-bearing sperm. The mortality rate is higher among neonate and infant males. Within the womb the male fetus, for the first two months, is protected by being virtually indistinguishable from a female. After that, it must produce large amounts of the masculinizing hormone in order to define itself as male, to achieve and to maintain its sexual identity. For all we know the Near Eastern myths upon which our Western mythologies are built, those which portray the young god or hero battling against a female dragon, have some analog here, in utero, where the male fetus wages a kind of chemical war against rebecoming female.

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Table of Contents

Preface xiii
Introduction xviii
I Women's Early Culture: Beginnings 1
The First Sex "In the Beginning, We Were All Created Female" 2
Marx and the Matriarchy 13
The Original Black Mother 21
Women as Culture Creators 33
The First Speech 39
II Women's Early Religion 45
The First Mother 46
The Organic Religion of Early Women 50
Female Cosmology: The Creation of the Universe 55
The Cosmic Serpent 57
The World Egg: Yin/Yang 63
The Gynandrous Great Mother 66
Mysteries of the Throne, the Cave, and the Labyrinth 71
The Cult of the Dead 77
The Mother of Wild Animals and the Dance 79
III Women's Culture and Religion in Neolithic Times 87
The First Settled Villages 88
Southeast Europe: The-Bird-and-Snake Goddess 91
The Megalithic Tomb: The Moon and the Stone 96
The Earth Mound as Cosmic Womb of the Pregnant Goddess 104
The Islands of Malta and Gozo 110
Twelve Circling Dancers 116
Earth Spirit, Serpent Spirals, and Blind Springs 124
Underground Caverns and Alchemic Mysteries 131
The Goddess at Avebury in Britain 133
Moon Time: The Great Intellectual Triumph of Women's Culture 139
Lunar Calendars 144
Moon Minds 150
Moon Mother 155
The Cow Goddess and New Foods 161
Mother and Daughter, and Rebirth 165
The Moon Tree 171
The Dark of the Moon and Moon Blood 176
Moon and Womb 189
Menstrual Rites: Rights and Taboos 191
The Original Woman: Witch, Rebel, Midwife, and Healer 200
Goddess of the Witches 208
Crete and the Bronze Age 212
Tantra and the World Spine 219
IV Patriarchal Culture and Religion 229
God as Father 230
The Olympian Male 235
Sun's Victory over the Dark Mother 244
The Sun God 253
The Jealous God 264
Split in the Garden 276
Life as a Mistake 288
The Witch-Hunts 298
Denial of the Mother: Denial of the People 315
The American Split 330
"The Divine Homosexual Family" 346
The Machine 358
Beyond the Male God and His Machine... 391
...The Magic Flight Home 410
Respell the World 425
Notes 433
Bibliography 477
Photograph and Illustration Credits 492
Index 493
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 10, 2013

    A Very well written book. It is encyclopedic scope.

    Great read and reference for spiritual and religious history. It wil become a great reference tool.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 10, 2006

    very enlightening and appreciated

    This book is very truthful and very detail-oriented. I have never read a book that has been more real, just reading it brings back memories(from where, i can only guess). The Great Cosmic Mother has changed my life, and it is hard to find books out there that are dedicated to the past, present and the future. I recommend everyone to get a copy, you will be glad you did.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 14, 2001

    A Textbook for the Reclaimation of All That is Female

    For about 3 or 4 thousand years women have been told that we are the root of all evil. Women are the reason for the curse of Judaeo/Christian Original Sin. We are the temptress, whore, dark side etc., All of this and thousands of years of female enslavement is man's and his patriarchal religions' (Christianity, Judiasm, Islam, Hindu and so forth) attempts to dominate women and destroy the first religion, as well as the facts that women were the first, most knowledgable and most powerful practitioners/celebrants in this joyus,life affirming ancient religion. Women invented and/or discovered all of the important attributes of civiliation and for the last few thousand years men and their God have built civilization to suit themselves on the backs of their mothers, sisters, wives and daughters. THE GREAT COSMIC MOTHER will take you on a journey of biological, historical and psychological discovery. It will reveal the ultimate joy, sacredness and holiness that is woman and therefore our birthright. Wiccan, pagan, feminist or woman. This is a must read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 31, 2000

    Amazing and Profound

    Never before have I come across a book that so thoroughly covers the great tale of our beginnings and the enormous contributions of women to the foundations of 'cosmic' and earthly life. Sjoo and Mor's work is a wonderful source book for those interested in the largely hidden and obscured female dimensions of the human experience. The authors present a profound and substanial argument against the destructive influences of patriarchal societies which have deliberately attempted to erased the Womb/Mother/Goddess from the very world in which She has created. This book is a must read...a must know...a must embrace. Many thanks to Sjoo and Mor for this enormous contribution and for giving homage and respect to the 'Original Black Mother'. Ache.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 12, 2000

    A well written and well researched book...

    In-depth history of the earliest Goddess-based religions and beliefs from a wide variety of cultures. Great for those following an earth-based religion, or those simply interested in Goddess theology. As a Wiccan, I found it very helpful in learning the origins of early Goddess worship, but as I am not Dianic or very feminist I found it was a little harsh on the male aspect of religion and deity. If you approach this book with an open mind, you can learn a lot.

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