Goddess vs. goddess

Goddess by junibears via Flickr

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.

Marija Gimbutas

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

English: A mother goddess statuette from Canha...
A mother goddess statuette from Canhasan, which is an archaeological site in Turkey. This figurine, along with other mother goddess figurines found in Canhasan, is thought to be an evidence of a continual matriarchal society in central Anatolia during the Chalcolithic age - via Noumenon at Wikipedia

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.

Goddesses by Leslie "LC" Cowger via Flickr

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

Many writers say the Virgin Mary is a goddess not unlike the Egyptian Isis or the Hindu Kali.

Intercession of Charles Borromeo supported by ...
Intercession of Charles Borromeo supported by the Virgin Mary (1714), Ceiling paintings made by Johann Michael Rottmayr (1654-1730) for the Karlskirche, Vienna via Wikipedia

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.

¹ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marija_Gimbutas

² Contemporary Paganism: Listening People Speaking Earth. New York: New York University Press, 2000, p. 82.

³ Cited in Contemporary Paganism, p. 83.

Related Posts » History, Great Mother



  1. Not to sound like a black and white lesbian feminist(I’m male) but I believe gender dominance is a sliding scale that switches between male and female extremes. At the current time in my country it would seem that this scale is more balanced then ever. I’m not sure if gender neutrality is a good thing or not. Don’t get me wrong, women having rights is a good thing but I wounder if not having a dominating force is going to increase rapes, homosexuality, among other things. On another note, it does seam that the feminine aspect of religion was washed over by the perspective of male writers but it would appear that a new age is within eyesight. It will be interesting to watch the future unfold in relation to my comments and the views of your article.


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