The Great Mother is an umbrella concept referring to the idea of “The Goddess” and different major goddesses around the world, usually but not necessarily related to vegetation, and by implication, fertility.
The celebrated archeologist Marija Gimbutas (1921-1994) argued that behind all representations of prehistoric goddesses lies a single, Great Goddess.
Gimbutas identified diverse Paleolithic and Neolithic female representations that she believed depicted a single universal Great Goddess. She also recognized that these complex representations stood for a range of female deities (e.g. snake goddess, bee goddess, bird goddess, mountain goddess, Mistress of the Animals) that were not necessarily ubiquitous throughout Europe.¹
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.
The term was also used in the ancient world to refer to nurturing, life-affirming female deities worshipped in public places.
While in prison awaiting his execution, Boethius (circa 480-525) wrote Consolation of Philosophy, in which he’s visited by a female apparition called Philosophy. Boethius’ “eternal feminine” comforter and guide conforms to Jung’s idea of the anima, as does James Lovelock‘s choice of the name Gaia (Greek Mother Goddess) to depict his view that the earth behaves as if it were a self-contained living organism.
In the contemporary and ancient sense, the Great Mother has a terrible side, wreaking vengeance and punishment on the sinful. In India, the bloodthirsty goddesses Kali and the bellicose Durga are regarded by many as manifestations of the Great Mother.
The Virgin Mary is often wrongly placed in this category, described by non-Catholics as a goddess. But representations of Kali and Mary, for instance, reveal clear differences. Kali, mouth dripping with blood, wears a garland of human heads which she has decapitated, whereas Mary stands serenely on top of creation (and the serpent), disseminating God’s graces from her hands. And there are still regular animal sacrifices at the Kali temple in Kolkata (where the distasteful odor of animal blood certainly did not elevate this author’s mind and soul to high places).
Other differences between Mary and non-Christian goddesses are more subtle. Mary and the goddess Isis, for instance, are both represented suckling their sons, and the Chinese bodhisattva, Kwan-Yin, also holds an infant. But, despite their representational similarities, the religious beliefs and metaphysical implications behind these female deities differ significantly.
In the simplest terms, Mary is a venerated saint who intercedes for God, while The Goddess is the source of all creation—that is, God or a manifestation of God.
¹ The first citation is a paraphrase of a passage at Wikipedia that could have been written more clearly. The second, a direct quote: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marija_Gimbutas
- Goddess vs. goddess (earthpages.wordpress.com)
- Earliest image of Mother Goddess found (thehindu.com)
- Mother Worship -Tantra Goddess Worship (soundhealingifc.com)
- Mary, the virginal mother of God, and feminist theology (insightscoop.typepad.com)
- The Goddess of the Western World… Where is she? (divinaturism.com)
- Durga Devotional Mantra (prophet666.com)
- Angelic Words to connect with Mother Earth | Angelic Words from RenamixTech (angelicwords.wordpress.com)