the female divinity

World religions / Neopagan religions

Goddess worship: that real “old time religion?

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Goddess worship in ancient times:

Most researchers currently accept the belief that modern humans originated in Africa about 200,000 to 250,000 years ago. Until about 8000 BCE, our ancestors organized themselves into hunter-gatherer societies. Humans alone had developed the realization that their life was finite; that they would all die. This resulted in the development of the primitive religious beliefs. Societies which relied mainly on hunting by men naturally developed hunting gods to worship. Those in which gathering was more reliable generally created vegetative Goddesses. The importance of fertility in crops, in domesticated animals, in wild animals and in the tribe itself were of paramount importance to their survival. The female life-giving principle was considered divine and a great mystery. Some Goddess statues still survive from this era. One web site contains photographs of Goddess statues from circa 30,000 BCE to 1987CE. 1

It is important to realize that many of these findings by archaeologists and historians are speculative in nature. For example, the interpretation that the old European culture stressed the female as divine is largely based on the number of carvings of a female shape found from this era. Some point to the relative lack of equivalent male statues as evidence of a Goddess culture. Others suggest that the female statues might have been the old European culture’s equivalent of modern-day erotic photographs.

This “old European” culture lasted for tens of thousands of years in what is now Europe. They generally lived in peace; there is a notable lack of defensive fortifications around their hamlets. As evidenced by their funeral customs, males and females appear to have had equal status. Many historians and archaeologists believe that:

  • Their society was matrilineal; children took their mothers’ names.
  • Life was based on lunar (not solar) calendar.
  • Time was experienced as a repetitive cycle, not linearly as we think of it.

Many academics believe that the suppression of Goddess worship in Western Europe occurred a few thousand years BCE, when the Indo-Europeans invaded Europe from the East. They brought with them some of the “refinements” of modern civilization: the horse, war, belief in male Gods, exploitation of nature, knowledge of the male role in procreation, etc. Goddess worship was gradually combined with worship of male Gods to produce a variety of Pagan polytheistic religions, among the Greeks, Romans, Celts, etc. Author Leonard Shlain offers a fascinating alternative explanation. He proposed that the invention of writing

rewired the human brain, with profound consequences for culture. Making remarkable connections across a wide range of subjects including brain function, anthropology, history, and religion, Shlain argues that literacy reinforced the brain’s linear, abstract, predominantly masculine left hemisphere at the expense of the holistic, iconic feminine right one. This shift upset the balance between men and women initiating the disappearance of goddesses, the abhorrence of images, and, in literacy’s early stages, the decline of women’s political status. Patriarchy and misogyny followed.”

Goddess Worship during Biblical times:

Further south, as Judaism, Christianity & eventually Islam evolved, the Pagan religions were suppressed and the female principle was gradually driven out of religion. Women were considered inferior to men. The God, King, Priest & Father replaced the Goddess, Queen, Priestess & Mother. The role of women became restricted. A woman’s testimony was not considered significant in Jewish courts; women were not allowed to speak in Christian churches; positions of authority in the church were limited to men. Young women are often portrayed in the Bible as possessions of their fathers. After marriage, their ownership was transferred to their husbands. Yeshua of Nazareth (a.k.a. Jesus Christ) rejected millennia of religious tradition by treating women as equals. Women played a major role in the early Christian church. Later, epistle (letter) writers who wrote in the name of Paul, started the process of suppressing women once more.

A feminine presence was added to Christianity by the Council of Ephesus in 431 CE when the Virgin Mary was named Theotokos (Mother of God). But her role was heavily restricted and included none of the fertility component present in Pagan religions. A low point in the fortunes of women was reached during the very late Middle Ages, when many tens of thousands of suspected female witches (and a smaller proportion of males) were exterminated by burning and hanging over a three century interval. Today, respect for the Virgin Mary as a sexually “pure,” submissive mother is widespread, particularly in Roman Catholicism.

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Modern Goddess Worship:

A renaissance of Paganism, with its worship of Goddesses and Gods occurred in the middle of the 20th century with the re-emergence of Wicca(popularly called White Witchcraft, the benign religion of the ancient Celts) and other Neopagan traditions. Author Leonard Shlain believes that an “Iconic Revolution” has been made possible by the invention of imaged-based technologies, such as photography, movies, television, the Internet and graphic advertising. “Shlain foresees that increasing reliance on right brain pattern recognition instead of left brain linear sequence will move culture toward equilibrium between the two hemispheres, between masculine and feminine, between word and image.1

Most Neopagan traditions worship the Goddess and God in balance. However, with the rise of feminism, new Neopagan traditions Wicca have been created in which the Goddess grew in importance, and the role of the God shrank into obscurity. One such tradition is Dianic Wicca.

The Goddess in both Goddess Worship and Neo-Paganism is often visualized in three aspects: Maiden, Mother and Crone. Her aspects are mirrored in the phases of the moon: waxing, full and waning.

The Maiden represents youth, emerging sexuality, the huntress running with her hounds. The Mother symbolizes feminine power, fertility, and nurturing. The Crone is wisdom, the compassion which comes from experience, and the one who guides us through the death experience.

Goddesses have been called by many names by different cultures and ages: Anat, Aphrodite, Aradia, Arianrhod, Artemis, Astarte, Brighid, Ceres, Demeter, Diana, Eostre, Freya, Gaia, Hera, Ishtar, Isis, Juno, Kali, Lilith, Ma’at, Mary, Minerva, Ostare, Persephone, Venus, Vesta, etc.

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