In the beginning there was the Goddess and all was in harmony. The Goddess. What springs to mind? Greek Mythology? Aphrodite? Little girly fairies? When I was living as an Evangelical Christian, I never thought about the Goddess much.
Perhaps because she’s never mentioned. The three dominant religions in the world–Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all include male-centric ideology and beliefs. The representation of the female divine, the one who controls and gives life, who nurtures the living in her physical embrace, the one related to the moon and earth, the one who heals and counsels is not often spoken about. This post will not only provide a historical overview of Goddess worship, but analytically examine why humans have eliminated the Goddess from our minds, hearts, and souls. Questions such as how the elimination of the Goddess affects the economic, political, and social system, and why the exclusivity of the worship of male deities is destructive and oppressive will be answered in a part 2 post.
Most historians have agreed that humanity originated from Africa 200,000-250,000 years ago. At this time, a systematic society was organized whereby there had to be hunters and gatherers. Also, death was recognized as an inevitable occurrence which resulted in producing a need to create religious beliefs.
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 statutes still survive from this era. One website contains photographs of Goddess statues from circa 30,000 BCE to 1987 CE.
Therefore, the divine female became the ‘vegetative Goddess.’ Now, some historians believe that the carvings and statues they discovered of the female Goddess could be an erotic image of the ancient womun; yet this hasn’t been confirmed. This idea comes from the Victorian images we see today of the female erotica.
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.
This is a liberating and empowering discovery! Our ancestors used to worship and revere the Goddess globally. Both men and womyn lived in a more civilized, egalitarian society where the worship and glorifying of both deities was the norm. How long did Goddess worship really last for? This varies based on historical documentation. Here is one overview that is generally agreed upon:
Among the first human images discovered are the “Venus figures,” nude female figures having exaggerated sexual parts that date back to the Cro-Magnons of the Upper Paleolithic period between 35,000 and 10,000 BC.
In southern France is the Venus of Laussel which is carved in basrelief in a rock shelter. This appears once to have been a hunting shrine which dates to around 19,000 BC. In this carving the woman is painted red, perhaps to suggest blood, and holds a bison horn in one hand.
Also in Cro-Magnon cave paintings women are depicted giving birth. “A naked Goddess appears to have been the patroness of the hunt to mammoth hunters in the Pyrenees and was also protectress of the hearth and lady of the wild things.”
Other female figurines were discovered dating back to the proto-Neolithic period of ca, 9000 – 7000 BC, the Middle Neolithic period of ca. 6000 – 5000 BC, and the Higher Neolithic period of ca. 4500 – 3500 BC. Some of these figurines were decorated as if they had been objects of worship. In black Africa were discovered cave images of the Horned Goddess (later Isis, ca. 7000 – 6000 BC). The Black Goddess images appeared to represent a bisexual, self-fertilizing woman.
During the predynastic Egyptian period, prior to 3110 BC, the Goddess was known as Ta-Urt (Great One) and was portrayed as a pregnant hippopotamus stand on her hind legs.
The Halaf culture around the Tigris River, ca. 5000 – 4000 BC, had Goddess figurines associated with the cow, serpent, humped ox, sheep, goat, pig, bull, dove and double ax. These things were known to the people and became symbols representing the Goddess.
Keep in mind, these are only some discoveries I have listed here and that there are many more to be discovered. I have provided an overview that, in fact, Goddess worship was a natural divinity of religious processes for a long period of time. This brings me to my second question: why has she been eradicated, dismissed from the lives of womyn and men? Firstly, it’s always an issue of power relations and competition. Although much of Goddess worship and reverence included godly acknowledgment resulting in an egalitarian societal structure, men were still intimidated by the Goddess. She held a magical power including both physical and psychic capabilities that men didn’t understand. Reverence then led to confusion which caused anger and war.
Many historians agree that the Divine Goddess began to diminish when war and strife increased. Given men were the primary entities who fought in the wars because of their general physical strength (used for violence rather than to benefit humanity in most cases), this aided them in establishing a definitive dominion over womyn.
The beginning of the Hebrew religion with its God Yahweh is said to have marked the end of the Goddess’ Golden Age. Approximately this was between 1800 – 1500 BC when the prophet Abraham lived in Canaan.
The Christian Church, and especially the Roman Catholic Church, has fought hard to suppress or root out all Goddess worship. The Goddess along with all pagan deities were labeled as evil. But, little proof has been offered for this. One notable example is The Canon Episcopi.
Even though the Church attempted to completely abolish Goddess worship it never successfully did so.
This leads me into another reason for the attempted removal of the Divine Goddess – witch burnings/trials. To clarify, ancient Goddess worship and the embrace of the Feminine Divine was not directly related to witches or witch craft, but paganism extended the evolution of witch craft and spiritual abilities. The christian church decided to gain control, power, and domination over its people and conduct witch trials/burnings.
The large-scale European extermination of individuals charged with Witchcraft or other heresies reached its peak between 1550 and 1650 CE.
Current estimates of the total number of executions of innocent people range from 3,000 (by one Roman Catholic source) to 9,000,000 (by many Neopagan sources). The actual figure, based on the examination of court documents and estimates of the number of lost records, is probably in the range of 50,000 to 100,000.
Most of the deaths seem to have taken place in Western Europe in the times and areas where Protestant – Roman Catholic conflict — and thus social turmoil — was at its maximum.
Essentially, the only reason Goddess worship and the Feminine Divine have been silenced for so long is because the fear, manipulation, and control some men have imposed upon womyn through the utilization of their physical strength. As stated earlier, the practice of witch craft, neopaganism, wicca, and Goddess worship is still prevalent today from a global perspective; yet it has been tainted and wounded. However, there was a time in history where the Goddess was admired, respected, and adored. Where a balance, a unification, and equality was treasured and revered. There is hope. Patriarchy within a spiritual context does not benefit all ‘mankind.’
My objective is to create a world where both the Goddess and God are valued, respected, and worshipped. Where differences are embraced and tolerance is practiced. An egalitarian society is established and social order is beneficial to all humankind. At the end of the day, whether or not there is a true divine, transcendental, supreme Goddess or God, there is one who lives within all of us. That is the one we should explore and discover without any limitations, restrictions, or harm.
I will end this post with an ancient Goddess prayer to inspire and revolutionize:
Divine Mother of All there is, whose essence Lies within us all and in all things.
Please fill this place with your sacred light and presence.
Please protect me and heal me.
Please bring me to wholeness and wisdom.
Make this a day of fresh starts, new beginnings.
Melt all obstacles in my path–gently, gracefully, lovingly.
Reconnect me to my highest self.
Awaken me to what I need to know next.
Let my higher self select and connect with the divine energy that is right for me, right now.
May I be uplifted and empowered by your Love.
So be it and so it is.
–Laurie Sue Brockway,
from Discovering the Goddess
For more information:
Three part Goddess Documentaries