Goddess

Goddess

[god-is]

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.

African religions

Ancient Egypt

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.

Nubia

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.

Saharan area

Many goddesses wielded extensive power among the deities of the cultural groups who lived south and west of the Sahara Desert in Africa.

Southern Africa

The goddesses of southern Africa often were represented as a triad and many carvings.

Asian religions

Australian native religions

Indo-European religions

Dharmic religions

Hinduism

See also: Hindu views on God and gender, Hindu goddesses, Mahavidya, Ashta Lakshmi, Navadurga

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.

Sikhism

The fundamental belief of Sikhism is that God exists as a real entity, but does not have gender. The Sikh Scriptures refer to God as Father and Mother thus:

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.

Graeco-Roman religion

Celtic religion

Germanic paganism

Surviving accounts of Germanic mythology and later Norse mythology contain numerous tales and mentions of female goddesses, female giantesses, and divine female figures.

Pacific Ocean island religions

Abrahamic religions

Monotheist cultures, which recognise only one central deity, generally do characterize that deity as male, implicitly already grammatically by using masculine gender, but also explicitly by terms such as "Father" or "Lord". In all monotheist religions, however, there are mystic undercurrents which emphasize the feminine aspects of the godhead, e.g. the Collyridians in the time of early Christianity, who viewed Mary as a Goddess, the medieval visionary Julian of Norwich, the Judaic Shekinah and the Gnostic Sophia traditions.

Judaism

The Hebrew cosmogony originally told a story of Yahweh creating Adam to marry a local Goddess-associated figure named Lilith. Lilith was a follower of the Great Mother Goddess, Inanna- later known as both Ishtar and Asherah. In The Epic of Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh was said to have destroyed a tree that was in a sacred grove dedicated to the Goddess Ishtar/Inanna/Asherah. Lilith ran into the wilderness in despair. She then is depicted in the Talmud and Kabbalah as first wife to Yahwehs's first creation of man, Adam. In time, as stated in the Old testament, the Hebrew followers continued to worship "False Idols", like Asherah, as being as powerful as Yahweh. Jeremiah speaks of his (and Yahweh's) displeasure at this behavior to the Hebrew people about the worship of the Goddess in the Old Testament. Lilith is banished from Adam and Yahweh's presence when she is discovered to be a "demon" and Eve becomes Adam's wife. Lilith then took the form of the serpent in her jealous rage at being displaced as Adam's wife. Lilith as serpent then proceeds to trick Eve into eating the fruit from the tree of knowledge and in this way is responsible for the downfall of all of mankind. It is worthwhile to note here that in religions pre-dating Judaism, the serpent was known to be associated with wisdom and re-birth (with the shedding of its skin).

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.

Christianity

In Christianity, belief in a feminine deity was deemed characteristic of heresy, but veneration for Mary, the mother of Jesus, as an especially privileged human being, though not as a deity, has continued since the beginning of the Christian faith.

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.

Some Christians worship a male and female god, believing that the Holy Spirit, pneuma, or Shekinah, is the female part of the One God.

Pre-Islamic Arabia and Islam

In pre-Islamic Mecca the goddesses Uzza, al-Manāt and al-Lāt were known as "the daughters of god". Uzzā was worshipped by the Nabataeans, who equated her with the Graeco-Roman goddesses Aphrodite, Urania, Venus and Caelestis. Each of the three goddesses had a separate shrine near Mecca. Uzzā, was called upon for protection by the pre-Islamic Quraysh. "In 624 at the battle called "Uhud", the war cry of the Qurayshites was, "O people of Uzzā, people of Hubal!" (Tawil 1993).

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.

In Islam, God (Allah), although referred to with masculine pronouns, is specifically identified in the Koran as genderless.

New religious movements

Religious feminism

At least since first-wave feminism in the United States, there has been interest in analyzing religion to see if and how doctrines and practices treat women unfairly, as in Elizabeth Cady Stanton's The Woman's Bible Again in second-wave feminism in the U.S., as well as in many European and other countries, religion became the focus of some feminist analysis in Judaism, Christianity, and other religions, and some women turned to ancient goddess religions as an alternative to Abrahamic religions (Womanspirit Rising 1979; Weaving the Visions 1989). Today both women and men continue to be involved in the Goddess movement (Christ 1997). The popularity of organizations such as the Fellowship of Isis attest to the continuing growth of the religion of the Goddess throughout the world.

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").

New Age and Wicca

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.

Some Wiccans believe there are many goddesses, and in some forms of Wicca, notably Dianic Wicca, the Goddess alone is worshipped, and the God plays very little part in their worship and ritual.

Triple Goddess

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".

Discordianism

In Discordianism, Eris or Discordia, is generally venerated as Goddess, as illustrated in the first clause of the Pentabarf:
"There is no Goddess but Goddess and She is Your Goddess. There is no Erisian Movement but The Erisian Movement and it is The Erisian Movement. And every Golden Apple Corps is the beloved home of a Golden Worm."
She is generally described as a quick-tempered woman who spreads chaos and discord, which are fundamental to life and creativity. However, due to the nature of the religion, this is open to individual interpretation.

Many people liken Eris to a concept or idea, though this may be considered blasphemy by some.

Reconstructionism

Polytheistic reconstructionists focus on reconstructing polytheistic religions, including the various goddesses and figures associated with indigenous cultures.

Metaphorical reference

The term "goddess" has also been adapted to poetic and secular use as a complimentary description of a non-mythological woman. For example, Shakespeare had several of his male characters address female characters as goddesses, including Demetrius to Helena in A Midsummer Night's Dream ("O Helen, goddess, nymph, perfect, divine!"), Berowne to Rosaline in Love's Labour's Lost ("A woman I forswore; but I will prove, Thou being a goddess, I forswore not thee"), and Bertram to Diana in All's Well That Ends Well. Pisanio also compares Imogen to a goddess to describe her composure under duress in Cymbeline.

See also

References

Bibliography

  • Knight, Peter, Thirteen Moons - Conversations with the Goddess, Stone Seeker, 2007.
  • Christ, Carol P., Rebirth of the Goddess, Addison-Wesley 1997.
  • Kidd, Sue Monk, The Dance of the Dissident Daughter, HarperSanFrancisco 1996.
  • Jenny Kien, Reinstating the Divine Woman in Judaism, Universal 2000.
  • David Kinsley, Hindu Goddesses: Vision of the Divine Feminine in the Hindu Religious Traditions, ISBN 81-208-0379-5.
  • Plaskow, Judith, Standing Again at Sinai, HarperCollins 1991.
  • Ruether, Rosemary Radford, Woman-Church, Harper & Row 1984.
  • Womanspirit Rising, ed. Carol P. Christ and Judith Plaskow, Harper & Row 1979.
  • Weaving the Visions, ed. Judith Plaskow and Carol P. Christ, Harper & Row 1989.
  • Jackson, Jared, "The Rise of Kristy", New Deity Publications 2006.
  • Ternes, Jacqueline, "Goddess Vision", Harper & Row 1987

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