Goddess vs. goddess
Goddess vs. goddess
Some popular writers like Barbara G. Walker argue that the ancient view of the Goddess differs from contemporary male interpretations. Not to be confused with goddesses, Walker says the Goddess was seen by the ancients as a Great Creative Source of All Being.
Nicole Loraux in Duby and Perrot’s A History of Women, Vol. I points out that, with the exception of Sappho, there’s a dearth of women writers in the ancient world, making our view of the ancient understanding of The Goddess come from mostly male accounts.
Walker says that contemporary spirituality would more correctly depict the Deity with female instead of male terms and images.
Along these lines, some feminist writers believe that the idea of the Goddess emerged before and is more authentic than male God imagery. Other feminists look back to cultures where the Goddess or women were apparently dominant (e.g. Samos, Amazonia) to promote alternatives to male-influenced God images.
The celebrated archeologist Marija Gimbutas (1921-1994) argued that behind all representations of prehistoric goddesses lies a single, Great Goddess.
Gimbutas did identify the diverse and complex Paleolithic and Neolithic female representations she recognized as depicting a single universal Great Goddess, but also as manifesting a range of female deities: snake goddess, bee goddess, bird goddess, mountain goddess, Mistress of the Animals, etc., which were not necessarily ubiquitous throughout Europe.
In a tape entitled “The Age of the Great Goddess,” Gimbutas discusses the various manifestations of the Goddess which occur, and stresses the ultimate unity behind them all of the Earth as feminine.¹
Gimbutas also believed that excavations from Neolithics sites in Europe and Lithuania suggest a society were women were dominant, in both the worldly and spiritual sense. Her views, although still debated among scholars, gave great impetus to aspects of the feminist movement, mostly among woman scholars, academics and intellectuals who shared her point of view.
Jung and beyond
The Jungian Erich Neumann sees The Goddess as an archetype of the Great Mother.
Meanwhile, Naomi Goldenberg rejects Jung’s entire idea of the archetype, especially archetypes pertaining to an “eternal feminine.” Goldenberg says they constructs are overly generalized, unduly metaphysical and sexist.
In The End of God (1982) Goldenberg suggests the need for depth psychology to develop perspectives about the imaginal (symbolic, inspirational) and literal (physical, social and political) realities of women who find traditional goddess imagery to be an outdated patriarchal legacy.
Apart from the idea of ‘The Goddess’ we also find the minor, small-‘g’ goddess—that is, a female god. Contemporary archaeology points to a tremendous diversity of attributes for a plethora of goddess statues and images discovered around the world. And, to some, attributing all of these different manifestations to a single “Goddess” seems questionable.
Most scholars – male and female – agree that a good number of goddesses are localized, individual deities that emerged from other forms, while other goddesses are, indeed, more universal.
Perhaps most interesting, some goddesses are vindictive, petty, lustful and cruel, just like many of their male counterparts. Meanwhile, others goddesses and gods, alike, are nurturing, loving, chaste and compassionate. So the gender issue arguably could take the form of equality being the right for women to be just as kindly or nasty as men have always been (but this still doesn’t make being nasty right—for women or for men).
The Goddess is also understood as major small-‘g’ goddesses. These major goddesses are often associated with fertility deities in agrarian societies. Some suggest that small-’g’ goddesses are prominent in matriarchal rather than patriarchal cultures.
Graham Harvey conveniently outlines several different attitudes toward the idea of the Goddess. First, it refers to a spiritual unity (Goddess) in plurality (Goddesses), where the plurality is encountered more often than the unity.
Second, Harvey notes that some contemporary women advocate traditional notions of “femininity” in contrast to the idea of “empowerment” as found within much Goddess theology.
Third, Harvey says Cynthia Eller implies that Feminist Goddess discourse dislocates women from ordinary time and traps them in an obsession with a comforting Golden Age.”²
Harvey also refers to Emily Erwin Culpepper, who is critical of glossing over diversity into some kind of mythic unity:
[With] any monotheism of ‘The Goddess’…She tends to become ‘The Great Mother’ and sweep diverse realities into one cosmically large stereotype.”³
The Virgin Mary
Catholic teaching, however, clearly states that Mary is not a goddess, but a “mediatrix” (mediator) between God and mankind. While Catholic rosary devotions are directed to Mary, these emphasize her humility and “fullness of Grace.”
Unlike Isis, Mary is a saint and cannot bestow boons from her own power. Indeed, Catholicism clearly indicates that all honor, power and glory belongs to God.
² Contemporary Paganism: Listening People Speaking Earth. New York: New York University Press, 2000, p. 82.
³ Cited in Contemporary Paganism, p. 83.
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