In our quest to understand the incomprehensible, driven by the urges and inspirations of the god sense, we imagine the divine in many different forms. That-which-Is is neither this nor that: neither male nor female (or both at once); both human and non-human; it has no personality and yet contains all personalities; it is not a living thing and yet in it are the roots of all trees and the eggs of all creatures; it is at once Many and One, All and None.
As we make the transition from a male-dominated world into one of gender equality, it’s only to be expected that our imagination of the sacred would spark a return of the Goddess.
Hear now my call, beloved Mother, from whom all things proceed, and embrace my heart, that I may move beyond the boundaries of myself into oneness with you.
The Goddess has had a troubled history. Female visions of the holy first emerged in the late paleolithic or neolithic period, as people began to imagine the gods in their own image and naturally some of those images were female: the Great Mother, the Passionate One, the Lady of the Mysteries. By the time the paradigm of agrarian civilization with its full patriarchal structure came into existence, the Goddess was firmly enshrined in our ancestors’ worship and could not easily be dislodged. Religion can be a very conservative thing. The Goddess could be demoted to a subordinate role (compared to the gods, that is, not to mere men); she could be re-mythed as the wife of a god rather than the independent authority she had originally been (as was done with Hera and Aphrodite, Lakshmi and Sarasvati); male deities could be promoted over her to dominion of the pantheon, but she was still loved, still worshiped, still cherished and could not simply be done away with. A religious revolution and the emergence of faiths with no roots in pre-civilized life allowed the assertion of a male god with no female counterparts — even though thinking theologians recognized that God has no gender or encompasses both — but even so, the Goddess was never entirely lost, pushing her way into consciousness in the Hebrew propensity to worship Astarte, in the emergence of Sophia and the Virgin Mary within Christianity, in the many goddesses worshiped by Mahayana Buddhists. Still, the agrarian age was not a good time for the Goddess, as it was not a good time for women.
These days are better.
Sing to my soul and awaken my spirit to your desire and your rapture. Open my ears to the sacred song of life, that I may remember the source of my being.
The idea of the Goddess will of course be familiar to all of my Neopagan and Wiccan readers, but mainly in this post I want to explore how she is manifesting outside that religious structure in other religious imagining and practice, and also — as always — in fantasy fiction.
A search for “goddess in Christianity” reveals the existence of Christian movements to assert the bi-gender nature of God (as Mother, too, not just Father), and (naturally enough) diatribes by some against this movement. One may find articulation of the concept of the Shekinah, a Jewish feminine mystical conception that, in this thinking, morphed into the Holy Spirit of Christianity, and hence we find the Holy Spirit asserted to be a form of the Goddess. (Not orthodox Christian doctrine, obviously, but that’s beside the point.) Sophia, the Gnostic Goddess, has been revived by some Christians and merged in identity with the Holy Spirit as well.
A search for “goddess in Islam” reveals similar online currents. The Goddess in some Muslim thought that is gaining increasing prominence (particularly in the West, as one might expect) rises in the myths of Allah’s daughters (a pre-Muslim myth concerning the moon god of Arabic paganism who morphed into the universal deity of Islam), as well as worship of Mary (mother of Jesus), and of a feminine conception of God that is particularly powerful among the Sufi. It’s reasonable to expect that any Goddess manifestation possible in Christianity or Judaism could also spring up in Islam, but Islam seems to have its own versions that are not so pertinent to the other Abrahamic religions.
Are these Goddess manifestations orthodox and canonical according to the authorities within these faiths? Certainly not, but that’s all part of the revolutionary change happening in religion today. The Goddess emerges again both within and outside the established religions and there is no way to bar her path.
Let my face be the mask you wear to dance with your lovers. Let my words speak your wisdom and my voice resonate with your praise and the deeds of my body be offered in your worship.
In fantasy, the appearance of the Goddess, both literally as part of a pantheon and in the form of great (especially immortal) sorceresses, is too ubiquitous for anything approaching a complete list. Even Tolkien, who was in some ways quite misogynistic, felt compelled by his muse to slip goddesses into his pantheon and to present goddess-like characters along the lines of Galadriel. The Goddess was prominently on display in Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon. She was dealt with delightfully in Diane Duane’s Door Into Fire series. A browse through recently-published works reveals The Goddess Chronicles by Tracy Falbe, The Goddess Prophecies by D.R. Whitney, The Goddess Test by Aimee Carter, and enormous number of other titles with or without the word “goddess” in the title. It’s a growing theme on all levels of myth-making.
The return of the Goddess fills a hole in us that has been empty for a long time. It means the return of the sacred feminine: mythos itself, intuition, sensuality and loving passion, and a restoration of spirituality to its rightful place alongside and complementary to the rational and the linear. The thousands of years of agrarian civilization have been a dark, dark night and we are finally seeing the light of dawn. It remains to be seen what we will make of it, but among all the dangerous and frightening portents that face us, the return of the Goddess offers hope.
You are the Mother of all the universe. From you I proceed, to you I return, as a flame to the heavens or a raindrop to the sea, one with all in the embrace of your love, now and forever.
Image credit: katalinks / 123RF Stock Photo