Goddess Worship

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Goddess Worship

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Monotheistic religions have, from their inception, pictured God as masculine. Some may insist God is "above" or "embraces" gender. They may claim that in terms of leadership and importance gender doesn't matter to God and that women and men are equal in God's eyes. But anyone who reads the scriptures or peruses the religious history of monotheism soon comes to understand, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that God is masculine and men are in charge. It is so patently obvious that objections to the contrary are simply silly. Pronouns alone destroy any argument. God is a "He," a "Father," a "King," and a "Lord." End of story.

But it wasn't always that way. Many scholars believe that for the great majority of the time humans have existed on Earth, God was viewed as both male and female. And the most accessible, sometimes the highest ranking, and perhaps (and this is a big academic "perhaps") the most important god was the goddess.

The goddess is nature, the universal Mother. She is the source of fertility, the one who gives us birth and nurtures us. At times she gives us her caress in the gentle spring rain. But she is also capable of the monsoon and tornado. She is the unplowed field as well as the full harvest. She is as full of compassion and warmth as a day in June and as cold and heartless as a January snowstorm. Each month, the moon illustrates her progression from maiden to mother to crone. She is stability itself until she shows her dark side of fickleness and anger. She is wild, tempestuous, moody, and loving. She is nature, pleasant to view as long as you keep the screen door closed. At her best she is miraculous. At her worst she can kill. She is Gaia, the queen of heaven, the Divine Source, and the Great Mother.

We know virtually nothing about her worship, but legends do persist. Opinions are often stated as fact. We make assumptions based on archaeological finds and present-day theories of feminist psychology, but that is all they are. Some of these assumptions follow.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of prehistoric so-called Venus statues have been discovered from Spain to Siberia. They have wide hips and big breasts, so we assume they are fertility figures representing the goddess. It's probably a safe assumption, but the key word is "assumption." We don't know for sure. It's possible that they are merely erotic figurines.

Almost every religion in the world has built fences of "purity" around menstrual blood and has warned against contact between men and women during a woman's menstrual period. A woman's "power" has often been said to be strongest during this time. She has usually been confined by religious dogma to retire to a special place, perhaps a hut, "outside the camp" once a month. The Pentateuch of the Hebrew and Christian Bible is full of such passages that are rarely, if ever, read on Sunday mornings during Christian worship services. They are universally ignored in the Lectionary, the cycle of Bible readings designed to take both Catholic and Protestant worshipers through the whole Bible over the course of four years. It seems a safe bet that no one has ever read, for instance, Leviticus 15:19-30 from any pulpit, anywhere. We assume such passages refer to early patriarchal influence and male fear of the unknown and the, to men at least, mysterious processes of female biology.

In Judeo-Christian monotheism, the first sin is attributed to Eve. She ate the apple. She was deceived. Adam just went along because he loved his wife. Polynesian cultures often blame "first woman" for falling under the spell of a strange man. Inuit legends place a woman at the center of tales telling the story of how evil entered this world. Culture after culture blames the woman. We assume it's because men wanted to cement their power base by laying the cause for the world's problems at women's feet. Such an assumption seems to fit patterns of present-day psychology.

The truth of the matter is very complex. Worship of the goddess has been archaeologically proven, but the form of that worship has been so effectively wiped out by patriarchal religion that we simply don't know what it entailed. Many have tried to discover the goddess's power and duplicate what her worship might have entailed. But often, such attempts are simply pale imitations of typical patriarchal religious patterns. When that happens, they fail miserably. Then they are ridiculed.

The Salem witch trials, Nathaniel Hawthorne's classic book The Scarlet Letter, fear of pre-Christian Celtic rituals, Jewish attempts to resurrect female presence by offering the cup of Miriam along with the cup of Elijah, Islamic insistence on "proper" dress for women, Catholic and some Protestant refusal to ordain women based on the writing of Saint Paul—all offer the historic reminder that the goddess or women, possibly both, have been feared by men and kept under wraps.

Social customs echo the theme: Men ridicule and scorn prostitutes but keep them in business, year after year. America has yet to even consider electing a woman president.

To all who will look with open eyes the message seems clear. Men are in control and afraid of the power of the goddess. They attempt through both religious and social means to keep her buried in the tomb to which they have confined her.

The balance of power is said to have shifted some six to ten thousand years ago (see Agricultural Revolution), before recorded history. Thus most of what we know about religious life for the majority of human existence is lost. So the question becomes whether men have always been in power or whether there was a metaphoric changing of the guard after a golden age of the goddess.

Attempts are underway to try to recover a semblance of balance. Wiccan scholars (see Wicca) have tried to read between the lines of what remains concerning the religion of those who worshiped the goddess. Feminist spirituality and neo-pagan movements, often referred to as "goddess movement" organizations, believe that prior to a patriarchal revolution, men and women lived in harmony with each other and with the environment, worshiping a Mother Goddess and Spirit Father who gave birth to human beings. They believe art proliferated and beauty was sublime until masculine, warlike energies destroyed the balance. They believe the worship of Mary in Catholic tradition represents goddess worship gone underground, awaiting future resurrection. Groups such as the California-based Temple of Isis flourish under the "New Age" rubric. Clarissa Pinkola Estes's Women Who Run with the Wolves (1992) was only one of many recent books daring to make the statement that women and men are different, and that that is a good thing.

But, irrespective of what both female and male feminists believe is right and just, was there an age of the goddess? Or was there even a time when male and female power were balanced and healthy?

The plain truth is, we just don't know. If, of course, by "goddess" and "god" people are referring to actual feminine and masculine personal deities, that is a religious view that must be accepted by faith or rejected through skepticism. But if the definition of "god" and "goddess" entails projected male and female images of the divine, although many might like to hope there was a time when their energies were in balance—when emotion, intuition, compassion, and other so-called female or right-brained energies balanced analysis, hierarchical, warlike, and so-called masculine or left-brained traits—then the archaeological jury is still out. The evidence is subject to broad interpretation.

But there seems to be a growing number of people in many different religious traditions making serious attempts to move toward balance. Only time will tell if the goddess has survived six thousand years of male domination to be resurrected in a new incarnation.

The Religion Book: Places, Prophets, Saints, and Seers © 2004 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
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