When God was a Woman: The Herstory of Goddess Worship

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This was a Sermon I gave in July of 2008 at Northwoods Unitarian Universalist Church. A friend was asking me about it yesterday so I thought I would post it here.

 

 

From an Egyptian Hymn in the 14th Century BC; “In the beginning there was Isis: Oldest of the Old, She was the Goddess from whom all Becoming Arose. She was the Great Lady, Mistress of the two Lands of Egypt, Mistress of Shelter, Mistress of Heaven, Mistress of the House of Life, Mistress of the word of God. She was the Unique. In all Her great and wonderful works She was a wiser magician and more excellent than any other God.” (pg x)
Merlin Stone, sculpture, and professor of art and art history writes in her book “When God Was A Woman”, “In the beginning, people prayed to the Creatress of Life, the Mistress of Heaven. At the very dawn of religion, God was a woman. Do you remember?” (pg 1)

As I typed these words into my computer I notice two things. The word “Her” capitalized in the middle of the sentence has a green line under it, an indication by my spell checker that it’s recognized as incorrect grammar. The other thing I note is that the word

Cover of "When God Was a Woman"

Cover of When God Was a Woman

Creatress has a red line under it, indicating a spelling error. As an experiment, I substitute His for Her, no green line appears. Just to make sure, I check the online dictionary for the spelling of Creatress. There is no error. I right click on it to add it to the program. Unfortunately for the word Her I have to right click “ignore” every time it appears. Even pagans today often refer to Her as “The Goddess” and often think of Her primarily as the Mother Earth and the heavens are associated with the masculine God. There was a time however, when Goddess did not need a qualifier. There was no “The” when She was spoken of. She was regarded the same way “The” God is spoken of and thought of today. For about 30,000 years She was the omnipotent, encompassing “All”.
In India the Goddess Sarasvati was honored as the inventor of the Alphabet, in Ireland Brigid is revered as the goddess of learning and the deity of language, in Sumer, known as the “cradle of civilization” it is the Goddess Nidaba who is credited with the invention of writing on clay tablets. What was life like in these matriarchal societies? Research based on artwork of the Neolithic period indicates that these matrilineal, Goddess centered cultures were based on what Raine Eisler calls in her book, “The Chalice and the Blade”, a “partnership” model of social system rather than an “authoritarian, hierarchical social structure. Cultures were horticulturally  based with no distinction between religion and secular life. Grave sites indicate no hierarchical difference based on race or gender. Life was peaceful and any new innovations were used for the common good. Metals at the time were used for body decoration and art and not for the production of weapons. Minoan culture on the isle of Crete is known to archeologists as the last of the Goddess centered civilizations. Cretan towns have been found without military fortification, and their art lacks an idealized portrayal of warfare and hunting which is common in other areas of the time period.
Anthropologists and archeologists are developing a new theory on what was previously considered the “fertility cults” of the Neolithic period.  To view the various Goddess related art finds such as “The Willendorf Venus” for example, as symbols of the “local fertility cult” is to oversimplify a very complex religious and social structure. Such thinking is becoming outdated and considered culturally biased from a patriarchal point of view.

 
While each territory had its own name for “Her” the aspects of each Goddess were remarkably similar and all encompassing. Not only known today as “Mother Earth”, Goddess held such titles as the Celtic Britain’s Arianrhod, and Egypt’s Isis, both held the title “Great Queen” Hera of the Greeks was not only wife to Zeus but a much older deity known to the people as “The Great Goddess”. Her myths recount the rebellion of the Goddess peoples against the invading God culture. Cretan Goddess Ariadne is known as “The Very Holy One”, In Babylon she is known as “She who Holds the Reins of Kings”. Mythical images in Cretan art depict Goddess images as the “Mother of the Universe, and human, animals, plants, water and sky.” Merlin Stone, reports “In 1952 Charles Seltmanof the University of Cambridge described the situation in this way. “The Great Goddess was always supreme and the many names by which she was called were but a variety of titles given to her in diverse places.”

A neolithic Cucuteni–Trypillian Mother Goddess...

A neolithic Cucuteni–Trypillian Mother Goddess statuette, from the 4th millennium BC (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So what happened? What caused the fall of so many seemingly idyllic, peaceful, cultures. For the answer to this question I believe all you need do is pick up a Bible. The herstory of the fall of the Goddess culture is right at your fingertips. Many of the Mythologies of the Old Testament are accounts of the gradual but very deliberate obliteration of the Goddess worshipping peoples. Many years before I’d even heard of Riane Eisler and Merlin Stone’s work, I tried to be a “good Christian” and I attempted to read the Bible. I started many times and was never able to get through the Old Testament as I was so disturbed by the violence and obvious genocidal acts being not only permitted but glorified in this text. Now having studied mythology not only the obvious stories of war at the behest of an angry patriarchal god are clarified, but the more subtle stories become clear.
Sue Monk Kidd, author of “The Secret Life of Bees”, and the “Mermaid Chair”, writes in her book “The Dissident Daughter” about the negative effect of growing up in a culture which is permeated by a creation myth that both subjugates and “evilizes” women. The snake, once known as a Goddess symbol, is demonized in what mythologist Joseph Campbell calls “The influence of conspicuously contrived, counterfeited mythologies”. These are not “true” mythologies, but stories invented for the sole purpose of subjugating one culture’s set of beliefs with the conquering cultures own belief system. The Garden of Eden itself is a mythological reference to the Neolithic ages of agriculture, and the story of Cain and Able describes in mythical format the distinction between the Goddess culture of the agriculturally based peoples vs the culture of the nomadic, patriarchal culture whose main source of nutrition was hunting, and primary occupation was warfare. First, Goddess as the “All” was reduced to the role of consort to the patriarchal father gods, then, Goddess was demonized, and eventually she was eliminated from the picture all together.
These nomadic cultures came from the inhospitable areas of both the frozen north and the deserts of the south. The northern peoples, known as the Kurgans /indo-Europeans / Aryans, (although they were neither from India, nor the original Europeans as touted by Hitler in Nazi Germany), invaded the areas of Italy, Greece, made their way into the Middle East, and eventually even overtook Crete. The Hittite peoples coming from the deserts of the south, with their warlike, jealous God also invaded Middle East. (Merlin Stone in “When God Was a Woman” gives a detailed description of these peoples which because of time restraints I will not elaborate on in this discussion.) Although this process of eventual total subjugation happened over centuries, the effects were devastating, resulting in a change in ideology which of course our own culture is based upon today.

Sha'ar Hagolan Mother Goddess clay figurine

Sha'ar Hagolan Mother Goddess clay figurine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Invasion of these nomadic tribes resulted in a long period of “dark ages” long before what we consider now to be the “dark ages”. Previous to this time period, there were indications of script, possibly with phonetic value, metals such as gold were being mined and used for jewelry, and the artwork found on pottery for example was of a much more sophisticated type than pottery found in the ages after invasion. This is what Eisler calls “one of the best kept historical secrets”. Evidence suggests that earlier, Goddess worshiping people of the Neolithic times already employed what is considered sophisticated elements of civilization such as law, government, use of natural resources in manufacturing, prayer, dance, drama, priesthood, trade by sea, and written language all existed in Sumer and other areas PRIOR TO what we are taught is the time period of “The Cradle of Civilization”. What is celebrated in schools as the beginnings of civilization is actually what is left of civilization after the three waves of invasion of the patriarchal, hierarchically based tribes.

 
After reviewing the background of Pre dominated early Europe, it is not for me to say that it was utopian, but it looks pretty darn good. What I put to you here is that a different model of social structure is possible. Society does not have to be hierarchal, it does not have to be a given that “human beings are warlike in nature”, true equality can exist.

 
Do we not all know the old saying “history repeats itself?” This is because all things are cyclical in nature. What rises must fall and what falls also rises again. I propose that we never really left the “Dark Ages”. We are still living in an authoritarian, hierarchical, social structure that glorifies war and violence and is based on subjugating others with a “power over” philosophy. Eisler states “religion supports and perpetuates the social organization it reflects.”  Under the current paradigm, the hierarchy still exists but when we study the peaceful cultures of our Neolithic ancestors we realize that it is not necessarily the “Natural order of things”.
As all things go in cycles, I believe that Goddess Herself is revolving through her cycle. I believe she has taken her time of introspection, her time of darkness, her cave time, and is now beginning to emerge once again into the light.
Her descent into the underworld occurred over a period of thousands of years, and her emergence will again take thousands of years. We are some of the lucky generations to witness her reemergence. The Bill of Rights, the abolishment of slavery, the suffragette movement leading to the women’s rights movement,  the Statue of Liberty and the creation of our own church, (Unitarian Universalist)  are some of the indicators that we are on the cusp of the big “dominator model / partnership model changeover”. When I think about it, I wonder if Jesus Himself was not the initiator of this change with his radical ideas of equality, heaven within, and his focus on love. It was not long ago that statements of that sort about “The God” could get me hanged IN THIS COUNTRY. In other countries it still happens. (At least in Texas I might only lose my job.)

 
According to the Website “Religioustolerance.org” Paganism, and the Goddess centered Neopagan religion of Wicca is the fastest

Pachamama or Mama Pacha "Mother Earth&quo...

Pachamama or Mama Pacha "Mother Earth" in Inca mythology. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

growing religion in the United States and Canada with adherents doubling every thirty months. The God has been without his consort for too long. It has come to the point that Humanity’s very survival depends upon a return to balance. We must again recognize the divinity inherent in all creatures, the divinity within Nature and the Divinity of Earth herself.  To paraphrase Sue Monk Kidd, “This new feminine spiritual consciousness will help us recognize that humans, having special abilities, are responsible to the rest of the earth, not superior to it. We will realize that everything here has a purpose all its own, that its value lies in its own “Beingness,” not in its usefulness or how well it benefits humankind. This means something dramatically new that the rest of creation is here to be related to, not dominated…. The Goddess is a symbol of ecological wisdom and when it comes to saving the planet, the return of the feminine is the most important thing happening. We may have no habitable future without her”.

 
Some have wondered where the spirituality of the Unitarian Universalist Church resides. Is it a religious movement or is it a social movement? “Respect for the interdependent web of all life”. This is the principal in which lies the spiritual nature of our church.

 

Blessed Be

 

6 responses »

  1. Pingback: new myth, old god (and the origin of heaven and hell on earth) « JRFibonacci's blog: partnering with reality

  2. Pingback: the symbolic language of God’s way of heavenly peace « JRFibonacci's blog: partnering with reality

  3. Pingback: The Bee As Symbol Of The Divine Mother « Romancing the Bee

  4. Are you familiar with the work of Margaret Barker? I’ve been to a couple of conferences lately in the Netherlands, where she spoke, one was entitled “The come-back of God with the Breasts”.
    She shows how the scriptures have been mistranslated (on purpose or not is the question), to remove the presence of the God as The Lady. God is of course male as well as female, or maybe male nor female, nevertheless… SHE has been obliterated. Mrs. Barker shows by using the Hebrew characters how e.g. by small changes in the characters, the Lady (God) is being changed into a prostitute or demon. Fascinating.
    Not being brought up in any religion, this was quite exciting to me, and I wonder how the “Holy Bible” and other Holy Books would have been WITH the presence of the Lady, and if that would have led to a world without male domination, which is full of war and competition.

    • Hi there, thanks for posting. Sorry it has taken so long to get back to you. Been busy with summer vacation. No, I haven’t heard of her but she certainly sounds fascinating! I think I will look her up!

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