The Goddess

   Among the earliest explicit images we have of the Goddess are the so-called Venuses, female figurines from the Magdelenian period at the end of the Stone Age, scattered all the way from the west of France across to Lake Baikal on the borders of China.  The accent in these figurines is on the procreative mystery of the loins and the mystery of the breasts, the reproductive and nourishing aspect of the woman.  Nature has given to woman this power so she becomes, as it were, a manifestation, the signification of the mystery of nature itself.  Woman is then the first worshipped being in the human world.   G8

   When the Semites moved in as conquerors, then, they dislodged deities to make way for their own, and the Hebrews are the most extreme in turning against the Goddess, who represents the powers of the Earth.  In the Old Testament, the local goddesses of Canaan are called the Abomination, and this hangs on in our Christian tradition.  G 16

   The powers that we’re talking about when we’re talking about the Goddess are the powers that live in every woman in the world.  I remember that when I was in India, I learned that all women are divinities.  The three great crimes in India are killing a cow, killing a Brahmin, and killing a woman, because they all represent the sacred powers.  Of course when you go to India you realize you can be very, very sacred and yet be in a rather inferior social position, but that’s the incongruity of life – a mystery.   G17

   The earliest form of the Goddess, we will see, is simply as the goddess Mother Earth, but when we come to Egypt, the great goddess Nut represents the overarching heavens.  In the civilized traditions that are devoted not simply to the soil and the Earth but to the planets that sail through the constellations in regular rhythmic or mathematically controlled movements, the Goddess becomes the whole sphere within which we dwell.  We are as it were within the womb of the Goddess, and within that womb dwell all beings that have from and that have names, and this includes the gods.  So when Mary is called the Mother of God, she’s promoted, and in the old tradition it means not only the mother of the incarnation but the Mother of the Universe, and of all the powers that operate within the universe and are given names and forms, whether they are concrete or mythological.  In these traditions, the gods exist within the field of the Goddess; they are all merely manifestation of aspects of Her. 

   On the simplest level, then, the Goddess is the Earth.  On the next, archaic, level she is the surrounding sky.  On the philosophical level, she is Maya, the forms of sensibility, the limitations of the senses that enclose us so that all of our thinking takes place within Her bounds – she is IT.  The Goddess is the ultimate boundary of consciousness in the world of time and space.  G 19

   The recorded history of the Goddess belongs primarily to the planting cultures that derived their primary sustenance from the plant world.  There the female is associated with the Goddess Earth, who gives forth the fruits of Earth, and gives life and nourishment to the world.  According to that thinking the powers of women in that biological sense give them a magical power that makes it particularly possible for them to activate and to be in accord with these powers.  And so we find that wherever the planting world has become the main source for the sustenance of people, the Goddess and the female are dominant.  There are three main centers in the world of the origins of planting cultures: Southeast Asia at about 10,000 B.C. or perhaps earlier; southeast Europe and the Near East, also about 10,000 B.C.; and Middle America.  G 21

In the Roman Empire, during the golden era of Apuleius in the second century A.D., the Goddess was celebrated as the Goddess of Many Names.  In Classical myths, she appears as Aphrodite, Artemis, Demeter, Persephone, Athena, Hera, Hecate, the Three Graces, the Nine Muses, the Furies, and so on.  In Egypt she appears as Isis, in old Babylon as Ishtar, in Sumer as Inanna; among the western Semites she’s Astarte.  It’s the same goddess, and the first thing to realize is that she is a total goddess and as such has associations over the whole field of the culture system.  In later periods these different associations became specified and separated off into various specialized goddesses.    G 22

Çatal Hüyük became tremendously important when Mellaart discovered the earliest ceramic pottery in this part of the world, from 6000 B.C.  Where you have ceramic ware you immediately have images of the Goddess.  G24

   People often think of the Goddess as a fertility deity only.  Not at all – she’s the muse.  She’s the inspirer of poetry.  She’s the inspirer of the spirit.  So, she has three functions: one, to give us life; two, to be the one who receives us in death; and three, to inspire our spiritual poetic realization.  G 36   (Vishnu Krishna Siva???)

Goddess as Transformer

From Çatal Hüyük (c. 5800 B.C.) comes a green schist stone (pic on page 24) with the image of the Goddess in her two roles.  She is presented back-to-back with herself, on the left embracing an adult male, and on the right holding a child in her arms.  It’s the key to the whole mythology of the Goddess-as-transformer.  She is the transforming medium that transforms semen into life.  She receives the seed of the past and, through the miracle of her body, transmutes it into the life of the future.  She is woman as the transformer, while the male is that which is transformed; she is the intermediator between child and father.  G 25

Our earliest images of the Great Goddess of the planting-culture mythologies are not from the Southeast Asian matrix but from Europe and the Near East, and they are of a period from about 7000 to 5000 B.C. Among them is a little figure in a stone from a village site known as Catal Hüyük, in Anatolia (southern Turkey, as it is known today), which perfectly illustrates the mythic role of the female in this context.  She is shown back-to-back with herself, in one aspect embracing an adult male and in the other, holding a child.  She is the transformer.  She receives the seed of the past and through the magic of her body transmutes it into the future, the male representing the energy so transformed.  A male child thus carries forward the life – or as India would say, the dharma, the duty and law – of his father.  And the mother is the vessel through which the miracle comes to pass.   G xviii

The Goddess as Nature

In most mythologies, whether primal or from the high civilizations, deities are personifications of the energies of nature.  The energies are primary, while the deities are secondary. 

   Now, the energies of nature are present in the outer world, but also inside ourselves, because we are particles of nature.  So when you are meditating on a deity, you are meditating on powers of your own spirit and psyche, and on power that are also out there.  One finds in practically all the religious traditions of the world (with a few exceptions) that the aim is for the individual to put himself into accord with nature, with his nature, and that’s both physical and psychological health.  These are what in our traditions are called the nature religions, and the deities are not final terms; they are references to spiritual energies.  So when mythology is properly understood, the object that is revered and venerated is not a final term; the object venerated is a personification of an energy that dwells within the individual, and the reference of mythology has two modes – that of consciousness and that of the spiritual potentials within the individual.  

   If a mythology doesn’t have that accent, what’s it all about?  The way to misunderstand mythology is to think that the image is the final term.  And of course this is one of the problems in what we call the monotheistic systems.  God is not transparent – he’s a final term.  And when the deity is a final term and is not transparent to transcendence, then the worshipper is the final term also and is not transparent to transcendence, and what you have then is a religion of a relationship of the individual to the god.  But as soon as you open the god and realize that he’s a personification of a power, then you yourself open as another personification and vehicle of that power.  In such a system, you can have such a saying as comes from the Chāndogya Upanisad: Tat tvam asi (Thou art that).   That is hereby when the god is closed. 

The Goddess-centered art with its striking absence of images of warfare and male domination, reflects a social order in which women as heads of clans or queen-priestesses played a central part.  Old Europe and Anatolia, as well as Minoan Crete, were a gylany.  A balanced, non-patriarchal and non-matriarchal social system is reflected by religion, mythologies, and folklore, by studies of the social structure of Old European and Minoan cultures, and is supported by the continuity of the elements of a matrilineal system in ancient Greece, Rome, Basque and other countries of Europe.  G37

Goddess – as Death

(In another Çatal Hüyük shrine) three bull’s heads are breasts and within them, covered in plaster, are boar’s jaws.  Within these breasts where the nipple is open Mellaart found the skulls of vultures, so that the beak was positioned where the nipple would have been.  “She who feeds, eats back,” the image says.  Here, the death totem is not the head of a vulture but the lower jaw of a boar – the pig eats back too and is the agent of the Goddess through this aspect of consuming.  

   The pig is associated with the goddess of death in all the mythologies of Southeast Asia.  In the myths from the Malekula in the New Hebrides, on Ceram just north of New Guinea, we find the boar’s tusk as the lunar crescent and the boar’s head as the dark night.  G 32


   Now, I want to introduce you – or reintroduce you – to the Lion Goddess.  In this Sumerian frieze (G77) from the Temple of the Bulls in Uruk, you see a rehearsal of the old theme: the solar lion-eagle consumes the moon-bull.  The lion and the eagle are equivalent symbols of the solar power.  That is the Goddess.  This bull is a mythological bull – from the joints of its legs there emanate energies, and the right forefront is down on a crescent that is on the top of a cosmic mountain.  He is generating the energy of the Earth as though the bull were fecundating the Goddess Earth.  And does he mind being consumed?  No, he’s smiling.  This bull represents that mystery of the energy that pours into the world and is continually torn apart and revived, as may be seen with the death and resurrection of the moon each month.   G78

The Goddess – Early (Neolithic / Paleolithic)

   In the very early forms of the female from the old Paleolithic and Neolithic periods, we saw the accent on the breasts and the loins, on the woman as birth and fertility goddess.  Here is another kind of fertility that the Goddess represents, and that’s the fertility of the spirit.  Just as the past is converted into the future by the Goddess, so is the material life translated into the spiritual.  This is woman not as the generator of physical life, but as the muse, as the transformer of the spirit. 

   The virgin birth, the birth of our spiritual life – that is what is represented here.  Other representations of the Goddess in this aspect lack the delicacy of this one, but they do tell us something of what is happening.   G79

What is a hero, essentially?  The hero isn’t someone who has hit six hundred home runs in his lifetime.  The hero is someone who has given his life for a cause or for others.  And this giving of life is here represented in the female role as the wife who goes into the underworld for her husband because she is one with him, and brings him back to eternal life.  We find this in the great story of the underworld journey of Ishtar to bring the god, her spouse, Tammuz, back to life.  This is the great myth of the Goddess, how She descends to the underworld to bring immortal life to her spouse and herself.  This image of the woman’s role not only as creator of the cosmos but as rescuer within the cosmos is the basis of the old traditions.   G82