A goddess is a female deity. Many cultures have goddesses. Often deities are part of a polytheistic system that includes several deities in a pantheon. The historical records from Ancient Egypt, among the earliest known, designate a deity with special hieroglyphs that preced the name. The earliest Egyptian hieroglyph for a goddess is shown to the right.
Pantheons, those deities worshiped in one culture, may include goddesses, gods, and in some cases, abstract concepts. An abstract concept as a deity may indicate a principle or entity that is not seen as in any way resembling a human or an animal, although it may be believed to be capable of some sort of cognitive activity affecting the lives of humans that may be benevolent or malicious. In both ancient and modern cultures, the symbolism of deities assigned a gender may be open to a wide variety of interpretations.
The primacy of a monotheistic or near-monotheistic goddess is advocated by some modern matriarchists and pantheists as a female version of, preceding, or analogue to, the Abrahamic god thought to be the first monotheistic religion among those of historical record. In some feminist circles the Abrahamic god is perceived as being rooted in the patriarchal concept of dominance — to the exclusion of feminine concepts.
Among some duotheists, such as Wiccans, the primary deities are one goddess and one god, who are seen as together making up a larger whole that is both the transcendent divine and the substance of all creation.
Among the earliest of historically documented goddesses are those of Ancient Egypt. The earliest deities of the two cultures that became the united country of Egypt had religions that seem to have begun with goddess worship and evolved to paired deities and abstract concepts as well.
Many goddesses are documented in the Nubian historical records. Some of their religious practices were imported into Ancient Egypt, however, the Nubians had an ancient tradition that preceded its contact with Egypt, and that reflected closer ties to the cultures around the Sahara desert.
Many goddesses wielded extensive power among the deities of the cultural groups who lived south and west of the Sahara Desert in Africa.
The goddesses of southern Africa often were represented as a triad and many carvings.
Hinduism is a complex of various belief systems that sees many gods and goddesses as being representative of and/or emanative from a single source, Brahman, understood either as a formless, infinite, impersonal monad in the Advaita tradition or as a dual god in the form of Lakshmi-Vishnu, Radha-Krishna, Shiva-Shakti in Dvaita traditions. Shaktas, worshippers of the Goddess, equate this god with Devi, the mother goddess. Such aspects of one god as male god (Shaktiman) and female energy (Shakti), working as a pair are often envisioned as male gods and their wives or consorts and provide many analogues between passive male ground and dynamic female energy.
For example, Brahma pairs with Sarasvati. Shiva likewise pairs with Parvati who later is represented through a number of avatars (incarnations): Sati and the warrior figures, Durga and Kali. All goddesses in Hinduism are sometimes grouped together as the great goddess, Devi.
A further step was taken by the idea of the Shaktis. Their ideology based mainly on tantras sees Shakti as the principle of energy through which all divinity functions, thus showing the masculine to be dependent on the feminine. Indeed, in the great shakta scripture known as the Devi Mahatmya, all the goddesses are shown to be aspects of one presiding female force, one in truth and many in expression, giving the world and the cosmos the galvanic energy for motion. It is expressed through both philosophical tracts and metaphor that the potentiality of masculine being is given actuation by the feminine divine. Local deities of different village regions in India were often identified with "mainstream" Hindu deities, a process that has been called "Sanskritization". Others attribute it to the influence of monism or Advaita which discounts polytheist or monotheist categorization.
While the monist forces have led to a fusion between some of the goddesses (108 names are common for many goddesses), centrifugal forces have also resulted in new goddesses and rituals gaining ascendance among the laity in different parts of Hindu world. Thus, the immensely popular goddess Durga was a pre-Vedic goddess who was later fused with Parvati, a process that can be traced through texts such as Kalika Purana (10th century), Durgabhaktitarangini (Vidyapati 15th century), Chandimangal (16th century) etc.
So the concept of a goddess, although not normally referred to by Sikhs, is in keeping with the holy text of the religion and adheres to the overall concept of God.
Judaism is a Patriarchal religion, with emphasis being placed on God (Yahweh) as having creating Adam is his own image. Eve is a secondary addition to creation, having been created from Adam's rib. Yahweh is referred to as "He" and family lines through Abraham are followed in a Patrilinear fashion. The concept of a Goddess seems to be absent from all but the original Creation myth which some scholars say appears have roots in the nearby Babylonian creation myth, Enuma Elis.
Since the 1980s Christian feminists have challenged this traditional view; some such as Mary Daly no longer consider themselves Christian, but others continue to seek room within their traditions for the Divine Feminine and to press for female spiritual leadership. (See thealogy.)
However, while the term "goddess" was rejected in what is usually considered orthodox Christianity, some Christians believe that God transcends sex, whether masculine or feminine.
Some people believe that the example of Jesus and the tradition of centuries has Christians refer to and address God as "Father", not "Mother". However, this is not the real meaning of the words Jesus used to describe the deity. The original words have a meaning of both mother and father. They believe that in Jesus, who was male, God became incarnate. Pronouns that grammatically are of feminine gender (not pronouns that refer to the female sex, such as the English "she") are used to refer to the Holy Spirit in languages, such as Hebrew, where the word for "spirit" is of feminine grammatical gender. In Greek, where the word for "spirit" is of neuter grammatical gender, the pronoun that refers to it is of neuter gender. In Latin, the pronoun is of masculine gender, referring to the grammatically masculine word "spiritus". However, while in English, a language without grammatical gender, the normal pronoun to refer to a spirit would be "it", the Holy Spirit is customarily referred to as "he", perhaps partly due to the influence of Latin and of the other Germanic languages, in which the word for spirit is of masculine grammatical gender.
Professedly Christian members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) believe in, but do not worship, a Heavenly Mother, the wife and female counterpart and equal of the Heavenly Father.
Sarah, also known as Sarai, is sometimes translated (incorrectly) as 'goddess'. It actually means Princess.
In some Christian traditions (like the Orthodox tradition), Sophia is the personification of either divine wisdom (or of an archangel) which takes female form. She is mentioned in the first chapter of the Book of Proverbs.
In Christian mysticism, Gnosticism, as well as some Hellenistic religions, there is a female spirit or Goddess named Sophia that is said to embody wisdom and whom is sometimes described as a virgin. In Roman Catholic mysticism, Hildegard of Bingen celebrated Sophia as a cosmic figure both in her writing and art. Within the Protestant tradition in England, 17th Century Christian Mystic, Universalist and founder of the Philadelphian Society Jane Leade wrote copious descriptions of her visions and dialogues with the "Virgin Sophia" who, she said, revealed to her the spiritual workings of the Universe. Leade was hugely influenced by the theosophical writings of 16th Century German Christian mystic Jakob Böhme, who also speaks of the Sophia in works such as The Way to Christ. Jakob Böhme was very influential to a number of Christian mystics and religious leaders, including George Rapp and the Harmony Society.
According to Ibn Ishaq's controversial account of the Satanic Verses (q.v.), these verses had previously endorsed them as intercessors for Muslims, but were abrogated. Most Muslim scholars have regarded the story as historically implausible, while opinion is divided among western scholars such as Leone Caetani and John Burton, who argue against, and William Muir and William Montgomery Watt, who for its plausibility.
While much of the attempt at gender equity in mainstream Christianity (Judaism never recognized any gender for God) is aimed at reinterpreting scripture and degenderizing language used to name and describe the divine (Ruether, 1984; Plaskow, 1991), there are a growing number of people who identify as Christians or Jews who are trying to integrate Goddess imagery into their religions (Kien, 2000; Kidd 1996, "Goddess Christians Yahoogroup").
In Wicca "the Goddess" is a deity of prime importance, along with her consort the Horned God. In the earliest Wiccan publications she is described as a tribal goddess of the witch community, neither omnipotent nor universal, and it was recognised that there was a greater "Prime Mover", although the witches did not concern themselves much with this being. Within many forms of Wicca the Goddess has come to be considered as a universal deity, more in line with her description in the Charge of the Goddess, a key Wiccan text. In this guise she is the "Queen of Heaven", similar to Isis; she also encompasses and conceives all life, much like Gaia. Much like Isis and certain late Classical conceptions of Selene, she is held to be the summation of all other goddesses, who represent her different names and aspects across the different cultures.
The Goddess is often portrayed with strong lunar symbolism, drawing on various cultures and deities such as Diana, Hecate and Isis, and is often depicted as the Maiden, Mother and Crone triad popularised by Robert Graves (see Triple Goddess below). Many depictions of her also draw strongly on Celtic goddesses.
Goddesses or demi-goddesses appear in sets of three in a number of ancient European pagan mythologies; these include the Greek Erinyes (Furies) and Moirae (Fates); the Norse Norns; Brighid and her two sisters, also called Brighid, from Irish or Keltoi mythology.
Robert Graves popularised the triad of "Maiden" (or "Virgin"), "Mother" and "Crone", and while this idea did not rest on sound scholarship, his poetic inspiration has gained a tenacious hold. Considerable variation in the precise conceptions of these figures exists, as typically occurs in Neopaganism and indeed in pagan religions in general. Some choose to interpret them as three stages in a woman's life, separated by menarche and menopause. Others find this too biologically based and rigid, and prefer a freer interpretation, with the Maiden as birth (independent, self-centred, seeking), the Mother as giving birth (interrelated, compassionate nurturing, creating), and the Crone as death and renewal (holistic, remote, unknowable) — and all three erotic and wise.
In dominantly Hellenic derived religions and in subsequent New Age and Wiccan religions, often three of the four phases of the moon (waxing, full, waning) symbolise the three aspects of the Triple Goddess: put together they appear in a single symbol comprising a circle flanked by two mirrored crescents. Some, however, find the triple incomplete, and prefer to add a fourth aspect. This might be a "Dark Goddess" or "Wisewoman", perhaps as suggested by the missing dark of the moon in the symbolism above, or it might be a specifically erotic goddess standing for a phase of life between Maiden (Virgin) and Mother, or a Warrior between Mother and Crone. There is a male counterpart of this in the English poem "The Parliament of the Thre Ages".