Goddesses 2


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A short history of the archetypal roles of goddesses from the Paleolithic to the present.

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Goddesses 2

  1. 1. Goddesses The (Almost) Forgotten Feminine Divine
  2. 2.  For centuries goddesses were included in pantheons (groups of deities) from Egypt to Scandinavia to Asia and the Americas. Their status waxed and waned, but their presence remained a constant except in monotheistic religions such as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  In his tome The White Goddess (which, amazingly, is online—see the works cited slide), Robert Graves claims that the Magna Mater (Latin for the Great Mother) reigned supreme in Western Europe for centuries. The names of goddesses in preliterate societies are lost forever, but goddesses such as Isis (Egypt), Inanna (Sumeria), and Cybele (Anatolia) left indelible marks in the mythos of their cultures.  Feminist authors such as Marija Gimbutas theorize that early societies were matriarchal—governed by women with men taking subsidiary roles. This idea cannot be proven because the facts are lost in history. Gimbutas bases her theory on a large body of iconography (paintings, statuary) depicting females compared to a corresponding lack of male representation.
  3. 3.  It is less likely that societies were matriarchal, but matrifocal (women being the center of the culture).  Many societies were matrilineal, lineage and heredity traced through the mother rather than the father. Egypt was matrilineal; it is one reason why pharaohs married their daughters or sisters—to cement their position. This traditional probably came about because a child always knew who his/her mother was, but paternity was not so easily established.  Gimbutas and Charlene Spretnak connect the status of women to goddesses, but it is important to remember that because a culture revered goddesses, it did not mean that women held a high status in that society.  Greece, for example, had many female deities, but women were not held in high esteem.
  4. 4.  Mortal women and goddesses were associated with primal chaos, creatures of darkness and irrationality. Men were of the light, beings of logic and rationality.  From these associations, in most Western mythos, females are associated with the moon and males with the sun (i.e. Artemis and Apollo).  Goddesses were also associated with caves and the earth—caves symbolizing the womb. Hindu myth has the symbol of the “yoni,” an elliptical shape representing the vagina. Cave entrances are often yonic.  In many cultures, the deity of the underworld was female.  These archetypal associations began before there was writing . . . back in the Paleolithic era.
  5. 5. Paleolithic: Venus of Willendorf
  6. 6.  One of the earliest figurines representing the female form was found in Austria in 1908. The statuette is 11.1 centimeters tall and carved from limestone not native to the area, indicating it was “imported.” She was carved in the Paleolithic period, most likely from 24,000-22,000 BCE.  The figure lacks detail—there is no face, and the arms are stick appendages draped over the pendulous breasts. The huge stomach and breasts most likely portray pregnancy, symbolizing the importance of fertility in the culture. She gained the name “Venus” as a joke, and one of the first explanations for her existence was as a type of Paleolithic porn.
  7. 7. Venus of Laussel The Venus of Laussel
  8. 8.  The Laussel Venus was found in 1911 carved on the wall of a limestone shelter in France. She is 17 inches tall and chiseled to fit the natural swell of the rock. She is a bit younger than her sister Venus, her conception estimated between 20,000 to 18,000 BCE.  In her right hand, held aloft, she holds a bison horn resembling the crescent moon. The horn has thirteen notches on it—most likely denoting the thirteen month lunar year. Goddesses such as Inanna and Isis often wear a crescent headpiece, not only to symbolize the moon, but to emulate cow horns.  As with the Willendorf Venus, this figure has large breasts and stomach.  It is theorized that the placement of her left hand on her stomach indicates a known connection between the menstrual cycle and the moon phases. A lunar month is 28 days long, the same length as the menstrual cycle.  This connection between moon and menstruation is another reason why the moon came to symbolize the female aspect.
  9. 9. Neolithic (New Stone Age)  Many such Venus figures from the Paleolithic era have been found, and the popularity of her robust figure continued on into Neolithic times.  In the city of Catalhoyuk (circa 7,500-6,000 BCE), figures of large women have been uncovered.  This statuette portrays a large woman or goddess giving birth.  She is flanked by leopards or large cats.  This statuette was found in a granary bin, most likely symbolizing a link between pregnancy and the fertility of the fields.  The feline icons are later echoed in association with other goddesses: Inanna and Cybele are also pictured with large cats.
  10. 10. A more recently unearthed figurine from Catalhoyuk bears closer resemblance to the Willendorf Venus
  11. 11. The hands of the figure rests on the large breasts. But there is a large difference between the two statues.
  12. 12.  The back of the Catalhoyuk goddess shows her spine on the outside of her body.  Is this an early association between life and death?  It might be a far stretch, but Hel, the goddess of Niflheim in Norse myth, is often depicted with her skeleton on the outside of her body! (I can hear you sigh and see you roll your eyes at that connection.)
  13. 13. The Magna Maters  We know nothing about the early goddesses from the Paleolithic and Neolithic sites, but their descendents are often clearly chronicled.  These goddesses are called by different names in various societies, but their attributes are almost identical.  These goddesses stood at the portals of life and death; they brought you into the world and they took you out of it.
  14. 14. Cybele: Anatolia/Phrygia (Turkey)  Cybele (cave dweller) could be the later version of the Catalhoyuk goddess. She is an ancient goddess, her roots are in Phrygia, but she was “imported” into Greece during the fifth century BCE, and into Rome around the third century BCE. She lasted a long time—her religion was one of the last that the Christians eradicated in Rome.
  15. 15.  Note that the Roman icons of Cybele recall the seated figure from Catalhoyuk. She is not large nor pregnant, but she is flanked by lions—one of her emblems.  Cybele had a consort named Attis who was a lot younger than she and perhaps was her son. Unfortunately, he was unfaithful to her and died. The story varies: he was either gored by a boar; Cybele castrated him; or he castrated himself. He went to the underworld, but was allowed aboveground for part of the year.  The priests of Cybele and Attis were the “Corybantes” who ritually castrated themselves in honor and memory of Attis.
  16. 16. Inanna: Sumeria Inanna,”The Queen of Heaven,” daughter of Nanna the moon god, held a prestigious position in Sumerian myth for centuries. Her counterparts are Ishtar in Babylon. Astarte in Phoenicia, and both Aphrodite and Demeter in Greece. Astarte is “Queen of the Stars,” and her name was first recorded about 1478 BCE.
  17. 17.  In Hebrew scriptures, Astarte is most often the goddess whom the fickle Hebrews ran after in their idolatrous worship. The “Ashtoroth poles” which the Jews cut down on their advance into Canaan belonged to her.  Ishtar shares most of the same experiences—the descent into Kur and a consort whose time is divided between the upper and lower worlds.  Enheduanna, a Sumerian priestess and daughter of Sargon the Great, wrote poems in honor of Inanna circa 2300 BCE., but Inanna would have been very well known before that date and her worship firmly established.  Like Cybele, Inanna (Ishtar, Astarte) has a dying consort whose time is divided between the lower and upper worlds.
  18. 18. In some depictions of Inanna, she is large like earlier icons. The hands on the breasts is an ancient goddess pose indicating her fertility and ability to “nurture the world.”
  19. 19. In other iconography, she is thinner. Note the crescent on her head—denoting a connection with both cows and the moon. Inanna/Ishtar/Astarte often have horns.
  20. 20. Here she is shown with two large doglike creatures and skulls at her feet. She is sometimes called the “Mistress of Animals.”
  21. 21. Isis: Egypt  The cult of Isis became one of the most important in Egypt (Kemet) and spread to Greece and other places.  She is the wife of Osiris, an early dying/resurrected deity, and her search for his body is later emulated by Demeter in her search for Persephone.
  22. 22. Isis has wings—a precursor to the image of angels. In Bierlein’s recounting of the tale, when she revives Osiris from the dead, she fans him with her wings.
  23. 23.  Here she is depicted nursing her son, Horus. This is a often repeated image, and though she is only nursing Horus, it is symbolic of her nurturing nature and her fertility.  On her head she wears cow horns and a disk symbolizing the moon, reminiscent of Inanna’s headgear.
  24. 24. Isis’ popularity has continued for centuries, witnessed by the 60’s TV show for children.
  25. 25. Eurynome: Pelasgian  Eurynome rises from Chaos and not only creates the universe, but instills order into it.  Her primal association with the abyss associates her and later goddesses with chaos.  She also has an early archetypal association with snakes through her mating with the Great Serpent of the Deep, Ophion.  When Eurynome “bruises the head” of Ophion and sends him to the underworld, it sets a precedent for the serpent in Eden. The serpent who tempts Eve will have his head bruised by her descendents, but he will not be sent to the underworld until the end of earthly time.
  26. 26.  There are other “Mother Natures” in Greek myth; Rhea, the Titan, and Gaea ARE the earth. According to different myths, either Rhea or Gaea’s body is the planet. Demeter, however, is probably the best know of the Earth Mothers.
  27. 27. Demeter: Greek  Every polytheistic culture has one or more Magna Mater. Even in modern society, her image lingers on, ala “Mother Nature.”  A strong prototype for Mother Nature is Demeter, goddess of the grain in Greek myth. She is known as Ceres by the Romans.  Demeter, her daughter Persephone, and the crone Hekate make a goddess triad or trinity, representing the three stages of a woman’s life: maiden, mother, and crone.  There are not separate goddesses, per se, but three facets of the same deity.
  28. 28. In her search for Persephone, she undergoes some of the same experiences as did Isis.
  29. 29. During her search, a temple was erected in her honor at Eleusis which became the site for the Eleusinian rites and mysteries.
  30. 30.  The Eleusinian Mysteries, along with the Rites of Cybele and Attis, set the tone for later mystery religions such as that of the Romanized god, Mithras.  These various rites were held in caves—Christ later emerged from the tomb/cave in a rebirth.  Since the earth was often depicted as a goddess—not just a symbol of a goddess—caves were the womb(s) of those goddesses. (As with just about everything, there are exceptions of earth = female.) To be born from a cave such as the Romanized Mithras or to be reborn from a cave is, in essence, a forgotten or suppressed ideology of being born of “”Mother” Nature.
  31. 31. Brede: Celtic Brede (Brigit, Brigantia) is another triple goddess; she is the patroness of medicine, poetry, and blacksmithing, but she also sponsors divination, the hearth, and learning. Unlike other triads, her names does not change according to her station, but remains the same. When Christians converted the British Isles, they could not eradicate the image of Brede so they made her into a Catholic icon—St. Bridget.
  32. 32. Crete: The Snake Goddess  Mainland Greece was greatly influenced by the Minoan society on Crete. Crete was no doubt influenced by the Egyptians with whom they traded.  Iconography on Crete includes that of the “Snake Goddess” or priestess.
  33. 33. This icon shows a bare-breasted female holding snakes in either hands. Since the Cretans did not record their mythos, we can only surmise the meaning from other myths.
  34. 34. The Virgin Goddesses In addition to the Magna Maters, there existed the virgin goddesses. To the ancients, however, “virgin” did not necessarily denote a female who had never experienced sex, but an independent, autonomous woman or goddess. In Hellenic myth, however, the term did come to mean a goddess who did not have sex.
  35. 35.  Two of the most famous Hellenic virgin goddesses are Artemis and Athena.  Artemis is a maiden goddess of the moon (actually part of a triad) and the hunt. She is also patroness of childbirth by some accounts. Artemis was sanitized by the Greeks; in Pelasgian lore she was not the prude who had a man tore apart because he saw her bathing.
  36. 36.  Ephesus was a center of worship for Artemis/Diana. There, she was portrayed as a many breasted goddess who, like the Mothers, could nurture the world.  When the Christian Scriptures note the Ephesians rejecting the evangelical attempts of Paul, they did so because of their devotion to Diana.
  37. 37.  Athena, Goddess of Wisdom, also remained a virgin. Her femininity is almost a sham—she declares that she is “always for her father” and sides with Apollo during the trial of Orestes.  Her status as the child of a male mother influences her decisions. Although she is sometimes noted as being a feminist role model, the term is really a misnomer!  She is a goddess of battle, as well, and is often shown with speak, helment, and shield. Her “animals” are the snake and the owl.
  38. 38. The Dark Goddesses  The Magna Maters have their dark aspects as well as their nurturing aspects. The “Dark” goddesses deal with the somewhat more unpleasant facets of divinity.
  39. 39. Kali: India  Kali, who is often shown with black skin, wears the skulls of demons.  She dances on the head of Shiva who smiles because he knows that to creation comes from destruction.  You will notice that I have used a modern depiction of Kali: this is because her worship has been a constant in the Hindu religion since at least 600 CE (Kinsley 70).
  40. 40. Morrigan: Celtic  The Morrigan is actually a triple goddess of fertility, battle, and strife. Her name means either “Great Queen” or “Phantom Queen.” Her bird is the crow which accompanies her onto the battlefield. Hekate’s bird is also the crow.  Note that she is important enough to the “The” Morrigan!
  41. 41. Dark Goddesses of the Underworld  Since the earth is most often associated with goddesses, and the underworld is most often located inside the earth, female deities often rule over the netherworld.
  42. 42. Hel: Norse  Hel, from whom Christianity derived its name for a place of eternal torture, presided over Niflheim, the abode of the dead.  She is a dread goddess, black skinned, often described as wearing her skeleton on the outside of her body and smelling like a corpse.  I can find no images of Hel from the time period of the Norse—I dislike displaying modern images. If a deity is not represented in a picture, this is why.
  43. 43. Ereshkigal: Sumerian  When Inanna descends into Kur, she faces Ereshkigal, goddess of the dead. Ereshkigal is not a happy queen, she is morose but likes sympathy.  Inanna and Ereshkigal are sometimes called “sisters”; whether they are true sisters or sister because all deities are descendants of the first deities is unclear.
  44. 44. Hekate: Pelasgian/Greek  Before Aryan invaders such as the Achaeans invaded the area known as Greece, the natives had their own set of deities and beliefs. The invaders did not banish the earlier deities, but incorporated them into their own pantheon. Some of the goddesses include Hera, Artemis, and Hekate.
  45. 45.  One goddess (part of a triad) who suffered a demotion was Hekate.  Originally, Hekate ruled Tartarus in her facets as Kore/Persephone, but when Zeus, Hades, and Poseidon cast lots for the areas they would rule, Hades displaced Hekate.
  46. 46.  But Hekate kept much of her power, having a foothold in the underworld, the earth, and Olympus.  In Hellenic myth, she is the crone, the wise old woman, but she has much darker tones.  Hekate sits at the crossroads where three roads meet. She has three faces so she can look in each direction and also into the past, the present, and the future.  Her faces also represents her status as a triple goddess: maiden, mother, and crone. Hekate’s faces are sometimes depicted as those of a horse, a dog, and a bear.
  47. 47. She has a pack of black hounds with which she runs through the countryside accompanied by the souls of people who committed suicide.
  48. 48. Christianity: The Virgin Mary  Christianity adapted the trinity from earlier faiths and their triad of deities.  Although it is a monotheistic faith, Christianity could not wholly eradicate the idea of the feminine divine.  In the Catholicism of the medieval era, the Virgin Mary held a very high status.
  49. 49.  In the mystery or cycle plays of that time, she was called “The Queen of Heaven,” and ruled with her son in paradise.  Mary is the virgin and mother, but she never achieves the status of the wise old woman.  Protestantism “demoted” Mary; she lost her high status in the Lutheran church.
  50. 50. Last but not Least . . . Baubo the Belly Goddess  Baubo is a little known Greek deity who no doubt predates Hellenism by centuries. She represents fertility at its most basic—having no head but her belly representing her feminine essence.
  51. 51.  Long live Baubo.
  52. 52. Works Cited Gimbutas, Marija. The Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe. London: University of California Press, 1974. Print. Graves, Robert, The White Goddess. NY: Ferrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1975. N.p. n.d. Web. 12 Aug 2013. < Goddess.pdf>. Kinsley, David. Tantric Visions of the Divine Feminine: The Ten Mahavidyas. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997. Print. Spretnak, Charlene. Lost Goddesses of Early Greece. Boston: Beacon Press, 1992. Print. Note on works that I cite: Information that is common knowledge does not have to be cited. The class and I might disagree on what constitutes “common knowledge” because my knowledge base might be broader than yours! However, I will not usually cite information that is readily available online unless it is arcane or has a specified author. I will cite print sources. In your papers and projects, however, I expect any information that you take from sources to be cited. In addition, if I mention an author but do not specifically quote, I will list that author in the works cited list.