“She changes everything she touches, and everything she touches,changes”
(Wiccan chant: Starhawk)
As well as the essay below, which gives an overview of the topic, Rhyannan has written several other scholarly essays on aspects of Goddess thealogy:
‘A Herstory of the Goddess through the Development of Morphism‘ traces the way in which our changing concept of the Divine Feminine can be traced through the gradual changes in the way the female body is depicted in art
‘Echoes of the Dark Mother’ links the concept of the ‘dark mother’ to modern theories of cosmology and the creation-centred spirituality of Matthew Fox
‘Faces of the Goddess‘ traces the evolution of the Divine Feminine through mythology .
(Plus you can click through to a reprinted article by Hillary Ratna on black madonnas)
This is the oldest known figurine of the Goddess.She is carved from mammoth ivory and was found in the Hohler Fels caves in Germany. She is estimated to be 35,000 years old, some 5000 years older than any previously known figurine.
In the last century, the Goddess has re-emerged from the patriarchal shadows: the thirst for a feminine face to the Divine can be found even amongst traditional Abrahamic faiths. Feminist spirituality and the revival of pagan traditions re-dis-covered Her – aided by extensive archeology and anthropology, Jungian psychology and its off-shoots, Deep Ecology, and the new physics/cosmology (to mention only a major few).
THE ESSENTIAL GODDESS
The concept of the Goddess appears to have first emerged at the very beginnings of humyn self-reflective awareness, primarily as the concept of an all-embracing ‘mother-ness’ in/of the world. Although She becomes more developed amongst agrarian cultures, She can be found (albeit, sometimes disguised, or in the background) in almost every mythology or scripture, throughout the world and history.
The primary quality of the Goddess is ‘gatheredness’, and/or all-immanent Presence, and therefore, wholeness. In this primal mode, She is beyond any form – deific (that is, a specific Goddess ‘face’) or archetypal imagery – and first and foremost, understood as the ‘mother-ness’/womb to/of the Universe. Patriarchy made way for the supremacy of ‘Father-Gods of Light’ by demoting, demonizing, and all but eradicating, Her – their strongest tool (albeit, only one of many) was to reduce Her to no more than ‘mere matter’ (i.e. the ‘stuff’ that true power acts upon), the mere ‘vessel’ of the God’s seminal power, and thereby, passive1.
But, ‘gatheredness’ is not simply a passive or static state. It is the result of the active power of ‘drawing in’ (magnetism and gravity – gathering, integrating, unifying, etc. – or in other words, ‘whole-izing’). It parallels, and is the polaric ‘other’ of, ‘separation’ and ‘thrusting out’ (the primary quality of the God, and absolute necessary for any ‘thing’ to exist). It is then not only active, and an equal force within the Universe, but has to be considered the primal matrix from which all else comes into being and becomes ‘light/matter-abled’, and to which, all must return2 – the T/Womb.
All other concepts of the Goddess derive from this aspect of ‘gatheredness’/‘drawing-in’ power, despite the multiple and progressively distinctive forms/faces She is eventually represented by. In general, Her development moves through primal matrix/mother, creator mother, distinct goddess/deity (of differing qualities), and finally, to the mortal womyn (priestess or humyn mother of a Divine Child)3.
IN AND OUT OF THE ‘PICTURE’
Patriarchal/monotheistic religions ‘appeared’ to have excluded the concept of the Goddess, but they only managed to do so by first of all demonizing Her, and then attempting to absorb all of Her ‘positive’ qualities into their God. Neither really worked, and throughout the history of patriarchal religions, the Goddess has repeatedly re-emerged in a number of dis-guises. For example, the Hebraic goddess, Ashtoreth or Asherah (in the bible, translated as ‘grove’) was repeatedly ‘kicked out of’, and then ‘brought back into’, the Holy of Holy’s: Sophia (in the bible, translated as ‘wisdom’) took over from Ashtoreth/Asherah in the later Judaic times, and continues in the modern age within traditions such as Kabbala and Gnosticism. In some traditions, such as in India (and particularly the Tantric and Saktism traditions), She never disappeared, and/or was re-vitalized long before the modern age. In some Christian traditions, the worship of (or appeal to) the Virgin Mary (Mariology) has almost completely overshadowed the direct worship of the ‘Father/Lord God’ and even Jesus.
Some modern pagan traditions – particularly Goddess monotheists (yes, there is such a thing!) – attempt to totally exclude any concept of a God, and/or weaken His power to that of a mere (breeding) consort, which is only a reversal of the ‘Mother’ as mere ‘vessel for the sperm of the Father’. In my opinion, they have done so by the same techniques by which the patriarchy presumed to have rid itself of the Goddess – by first demonizing Him (particularly the monotheistic ‘Lord God’), and then attempting to absorb all of His qualities into the Goddess. In either demonization-appropriation, this attempt to absorb ALL into a single ‘genderized’ One is, in fact, very dualistic, and ultimately weakens and distorts the validity of BOTH genderized representations of the Divine.
EXPLORING THE DIVINE FEMININE – FOR WYMYN AND MEN
It is my personal opinion that the Goddess and God are not separate beings (‘deities’), nor even fully separate-abled concepts/principles, but rather, a wholistic and necessary polarity4 (most familiar in the Taoist polarity symbol of ‘yin/yang’) within humyn concepts/archetypes of the (one) Divine. On the other hand, to understand the Goddess, it is necessary to re-explore Her and Her qualities in enough depth (and to some degree, isolation from ‘God’ or the God) to ‘dig Her out’ from patriarchal concepts of the Divine and its persistent demonization of Her. Only by doing so, can modern humynity be truly freed to explore what a modern concept of Her might be, what wisdom She may bring to the new cosmology5 and the (re)emerging paradigms of wholism in our lives (spiritual and otherwise), and then, truly begin to comprehend, as a culture, the infinite depth of the Divine (as female, male, AND beyond either).
Feminist theaologians insist that wymyn need to be able to attune to a concept of the Divine that they can identify with (like them, as female) – to be able to experience themselves as ‘made in the likeness’ of the Divine (as men, have throughout the ages of patriarchy), and to ‘know’ themselves as more than ‘mere vessels’ for a male god’s ‘seed’ (be that of ‘child’ or ‘idea’). This would be true even if male Supreme-Father gods had not dominated religion and culture over the past several millennium. However, we need to also consider the left brain-hemisphere dominance that accompanied that of the ‘Supreme Father’. The right brain hemisphere is more aligned to concepts of the Goddess and (what has been deemed for millennium) ‘wymyn’s wisdom’ – intuition, integration, the rich mystery of the ‘dark’, wholism, etc. As such, exploration and incorporation of the Goddess is also important in supporting a developed, mature re-balancing of right and left brain hemisphere modalities – a truly integrated psyche.
Men also benefit from incorporating a sense of the Divine Feminine into their world/cosmic spiritual view. Not only does it support a re-balancing of their brain hemispheres (left brain dominance is both enforced by, and on, men in particular), but they are given permission to explore aspects of themselves that had been hitherto, even more discounted and discouraged in them, than in wymyn6. In my tradition, every person is considered ‘a daughter of the Goddess AND a son of the God’.
GENDERIZING THE DIVINE
One of the most common questions that arises over the re-emergence of the Goddess is ‘why genderize the Divine at all?’. Unfortunately, this question usually is accompanied by an insistence that we can, by choice, consider ‘God’ un-gendered, and therefore, continue to use ‘God’-terminology. While such is theoretically possible, it is not psyche-ically realistic. The assumption that ‘God’ is ‘male (like)’ is embedded in our psyches, in depths far beyond the conscious mind. Furthermore, we are not yet, as a species, fully capable of being ‘in relationship with’ that which we do not identify as ‘like us’. Since gender is the most fundamental and unavoidable distinction of ‘like, or not like’ that humyns make, it is not possible, as yet, to be fully spiritually ‘engaged’ in a relationship with the Divine, without genderizing It to some degree.
It is also important to remember that everything that supports those sub/un-conscious assumptions – and particularly our language (I am referring specifically to the English language here) – is also entrenched in left-hemisphere domination. Our ability to conceive and think, and then build upon those conceptions and thoughts, is intrinsically linked to the tools used – language. If we don’t have words that adequately represent what we intuit, we are not able to process that intuition further into a concrete thought or perspective. If the words that we do have, have a distinct bias, that predilection will eventually surface (though in various subtle dis-guises), in our thoughts and perspectives. No matter how consciously we attempt to un-genderize ‘God’, this embedded bias will continue to twist/shift or limit such a concept unconsciously, and in the end, lead us away from our chosen direction of a wholistic paradigm.
Although we ARE presently moving towards the concept of an ‘un-genderized’ Divine, this process can only happen if both genderized representations of the Divine are re-explored, accepted, and integrated into a ‘whole that is more than the sum of its parts’ (i.e. both female, male, and beyond either)7. Genderized concepts of the Divine are not a condition that we need to ‘over-come’ (i.e. jump over), so much as ‘come through’ (transformation to ‘beyond’). As such, the re-integration of the Divine Feminine is a necessary element of the maturation of the humyn species’ concept of the Divine, as truly wholistic, including all forms of polarity (‘gender’ being only one of many kinds) and/yet beyond them.
THROUGH THE GODDESS TO WHOLISM
In fact, the very concept of the Goddess is critical to this process for three major reasons, beyond the general issues of gender integration. First of all, the fundamental power of the Divine Feminine is ‘gatheredness’ (integration, wholism, etc): as such, She represents the means/process by which we can begin to conceive of the Divine as ultimately gathered/one, integrated and wholistic. She is then, Panenthea (i.e. the ultimate representation of panentheism) – the ultimate and infinite8 ‘Many with/in One’. Secondly, She is recognized throughout world history and religious traditions as representing the ‘infinite mystical Dark, beyond any form’ – often demonized as such, but also equally acknowledged as that which (naturally) gives birth to light, form, and existence (the pre-existing causal ‘womb’). As such, She provides a beginning conceptualization of the Divine as not only beyond all gender, but ultimately, ‘beyond all form’.
Finally, the re-integration of the concept of the Goddess also enables us to re-explore the concept of the God, the Divine Masculine. Freed from its patriarchal entrenchment and an inadequate attempt to account for ‘All’ (which it has never been able to do), the concept of the Divine Masculine can be honoured for what it really is. In the normal (but mostly unacknowledged) polaric nature of the humyn psyche, the more distinct the ‘Supreme Father’ became, the more distinct and powerful His rival (and significantly, scapegoat), the Devil, also became: when the ultimate concept of the principle of ‘separation’, the God, became supreme, it could only result in a ultimately critical separation within Himself. In order for the ‘God’ to be ‘re-gathered’ unto Himself, He requires the particular power of the ‘Goddess’: by re-integrating Her then, we also allow for the ‘God’ to become whole again, and to be known and honoured as such.
A shift from patriarchy to matriarchy9 would only put a new ‘face’ on the problematic limited-ness of our present concepts of the Divine – it denies the very essence of the Divine Feminine as ‘gatheredness’. A wholistic Goddess-concept and wholistic God-concept are BOTH required, in order for humynity to evolve beyond (the limitations of) either representation, and into a wholistic Divine-concept10. The Goddess and the God are representations of our essential intuition that we ARE ‘children of the Universe/Divine’ (natural children, not adopted or magically invented) ― it is only when They are both healthy and whole individually, AND united (i.e. in symbolic-sexual, parental pro-creation), that Life and its Evolutions/transformations can be engendered. As we allow Them to become whole and united within ourselves, we become the ‘womb/seed’ of the next generation of spiritual evolution.
1. The concept of ‘mere matter’, and its equation with passivity, is now being critically challenged by modern science.
2. From the Wiccan Charge of the Goddess “…for I am the soul of Nature, which gives life to the Universe. From Me, all things proceed, and unto Me, they must return.”
3. See ‘The Faces of the Goddess’ resource paper, for more details.
4. ‘Polarity’, while usually looking identical to ‘duality’ (and in fact, including it), is actually its opposite. Duality presumes two distinctly separate ‘sides’ – totally ‘other’ to each other, mutually exclusive, and creating a situation in which one, or the other, MUST eventually ‘win over the other’ (the Abrahamic ‘war in heaven’ is a typical example). Polarity, on the other hand, presumes that both sides are ‘two sides of the same coin’ – stretched into tension/opposition (a state which is necessary for any’ ‘thing’ to ex-IS-t and move, therefore, BE) rather like an elastic, mutually inter-dependent, and MUST eventually re-unite into a Whole (or ‘re-solution’ – or using a term that one modern spiritual community invented, ‘re-soul-ution’).
5. See resources paper Echoes of the Dark Mother.
6. In fact, it is more likely to be men that insist upon an anthropomorphic form of the Goddess, than wymyn – in part, perhaps because of sexual objectification; in part because a left-hemisphere dominance requires a completed distinction (i.e. no vagueness). There is little evidence that wymyn ever understood the Goddess Herself (or the God, Himself, for that matter) as fully anthropomorphic, but rather as poetically/symbolically ‘like them’.
7. See resources paper A Herstory of the Goddess through the Development of Morphism, which addresses the progression from pre-anthropomorphism, through full anthropomorphism, to post-anthropomorphism.
8. The term ‘infinite’ assumes the ultimate ‘lack of separation’, and therefore, ‘gatheredness’ – time/space is not separated from non/beyond time/space.
9. Although some theorists use the term ‘matriarchy’ for the ages of the Goddess (pre-patriarchy), others insist that this is an inappropriate term – that any form of ‘archy’ applied to an age where the Goddess was central (rather than ‘supreme’), is an anachronistic imposition from a patriarchal modality.
10. The only real option to ‘either-or’ is both/and.
Anne Baring & Jules Cashford. The Myth of the Goddess (Arkana, Penguin, 1993).
Caitlin Matthews. Sophia: Goddess of Wisdom (Mandala, 1991).
Carol Christ. Rebirth of the Goddess (Addison-Wesley, 1997).
Carol P. Christ and Judith Plaskow (ed.) Womanspirit Rising (Harper & Row 979).
Edward C. Whitmont. Return of the Goddess (Crossroad, 1982).
Erich Neumann. The Great Mother: an Analysis of the Archetype (Princeton University Press, 1963).
Janet and Stewart Farrar. The Witches’ Goddess (Phoenix Publishing, 1987).
Jenny Kien. Reinstating the Divine Woman in Judaism (Universal, 2000).
Judith Plaskow. Standing Again at Sinai (HarperCollins, 1991).
Judith Plaskow and Carol P. Christ (ed.) Weaving the Visions Harper & Row 1989).
Marija Gimbutas. The Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe (Thames & Hudson, 1982).
Marija Gimbutas. The Living Goddesses (University of California Press 1999).
Merlin Stone. When God was a Woman (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978).
Monica Sjoo and Barbara Mor. The Great Cosmic Mother: Rediscovering the Religion of the Earth
(Harper and Row, 1987).
Peter Knight. Thirteen Moons – Conversations with the Goddess, (Stone Seeker, 2007).
Starhawk. The Spiral Dance (Harper and Row, 1979).
Sue Monk Kidd. The Dance of the Dissident Daughter (HarperSanFrancisco, 1996).
Robert Graves. The White Goddess (Faber & Faber, 1988).
Rosemary Radford Ruether. Woman-Church (Harper & Row, 1984).