Goddess Worship Background
The primordial images that exist depicting our forebears’ concept of Deity and the Creator are all female. Veneration of male deities came later, and for a long time these were depicted in a dependent relationship to the Goddess as son/lover/consort. The usurpation of the Goddess came in some parts of the world with invasion, and in other areas by a slower process whereby people came to experience the Goddess primarily in Her relationship to the Sky-Father, King of the Gods. With this came a general undermining of the role of women in society and their loss of rights.
While the pantheistic religions did retain the Goddess in a subjected form, the monotheistic religions which arose from the Middle east, although originally themselves worshippers of the Great Mother, began to identify the Goddess as their greatest spiritual enemy equating Her worship with idolatry and evil. The pages of the Old Testament are filled with the battles against the followers of the Goddess.
Despite this there is little doubt that the ancient mysteries of the Goddess have had a formative effect upon the philosophical heritage of our Western culture. The Eleusinian Mysteries venerated the Greek Goddesses Demeter and Persephone and the mysteries of the cycle of life, death and rebirth. It is believed they were founded in about 1400 BC and managed to survive until around AD 400 when they were suppressed by Theodosius in his campaign to destroy all who did not accept the Christian faith. The mysteries of the Egyptian Goddess Isis also extended far beyond the bounds of ancient Egypt and flourished in the Greco-Roman world.
Although recent years have seen a great resurgence of interest in the Great Goddess it is not true that in the intervening time She has been ‘lost’. Her veneration and the teachings associated with Her mysteries went ‘underground’ and have continued even within the patriarchal religions as secret traditions.
It is also important to keep in mind that the Goddess exists in Her own terms and is not an anthropomorphic projection of human consciousness, matriarchal or otherwise, that has been overthrown with the coming of patriarchal consciousness. Deity is ultimately beyond gender and, as it has been said, ‘God is God, not man; Goddess is Goddess, not woman.’ This means that, although we may clothe the Goddess in the form of a woman or the Earth, Moon or Sun, she is not these things. As Caitlin Matthews states in Elements of the Goddess, ‘the Goddess is primarily a spiritual channel reaching down into our soul.
The Qabalah, the mystical tradition of the Judaic religion, offers a structure for knowing the unknowable by formulating the concept that although the Creator is beyond our awareness, the process of creation can be likened to a series of emanations which culminate in the physical universe we perceive about us. The polarity of Deity into the relative forms of God and Goddess occurs at a very abstract level of this process, yet it can be approached through these forms allowing that which lies behind form to be glimpsed. This is a controversial subject, and I do appreciate that there are many readers who will have their own concepts of deity which may be radically different from mine. But I hope that we still can meet on the common ground of veneration of the Divine Feminine.
Certainly the Goddess in Her many forms is undergoing a resurgence in the West. I use the term ‘West’ very deliberately as this phenomenon is taking place primarily in Western Europe, North America, and Australia. In much of the world, the worship of the Goddess has continued for the most part unhindered by Christianity or the advent of scientific materialism. The Hindu and Buddhist pantheons are rich in Goddesses and those religions allow for Her worship. The native tradition of Africa is also rich in Goddesses and in South and Central America (and areas of the Southern United States with a large Latin-American population) religions such as Voodoo, Santeria and Macumba give veneration to various Goddesses. These latter religions, although their mythology and pantheons are for the most part derived from African sources, have freely attributed their Goddesses to various popular Catholic saints.
A variety of factors have attributed to the ‘rediscovery’ of the religion of the Goddess in the West. One can not doubt the part played in this by the feminist movement as women began to seek to reconnect with their spirituality outside the framework of the male dominated Judeo-Christian/ Islamic religions. Women began to form study groups to investigate the religion of the Goddess and then began to express this connection by establishing women’s mystery groups. Books began to appear written both from the historical and the experiential perspective, enabling women to connect to the Goddess as a symbol of women’s emerging consciousness.
Many of these groups utilized some of the symbols and rituals of European witchcraft which itself had only recently re-emerged with the repeal of the Witchcraft Act in England in the early 1950s. These feminist covens differ from the mainstream Wiccan movement by their tendency to distance themselves from the Divine Masculine in any aspect. However, in a movement with as much energy as the Women’s Spirituality Movement, little is static and many women, after gaining a sense of their own strength and relationship to the Goddess, are discovering that not all aspects of ‘the God’ are anti-Goddess or anti-woman.
Another important factor in the process of the Goddess’s re-emergence is the ecology movement and the growing awareness of the plight of the Earth. This reverence for the Earth has also stirred the sleeping consciousness within humankind of the Earth as Mother. Here, with the appreciation of Earth as a living organism, a route back to the ancient reverence of the Earth as Goddess has been made.
Also, although Sigmund Freud may seem an odd champion of the Goddess, there is little doubt that the development of psychoanalysis with its emphasis upon the ‘unconscious’ as the repository of all that is repressed/ dark/ unknown once more gave voice to dreams which have always been a vehicle of the Goddess’s mysteries. Following on from Freud are the works of Carl Jung and his successors which explored in depth many traditional symbols including the Divine Feminine principle. However, the shortcomings of the psychological world view are many, not least their tendency to reduce spiritual philosophy and Deity to a creation of the human collective conscious in the form of ‘archetypes.’
An interesting development emerging from the humanistic and transpersonal schools of psychology in recent years has been an awareness of the great value for both the individual and the collective of the use of ‘sacred drama.’ These are enacted as rites of passage and a way of healing the psyche which harks back to the mysteries of ancient Egypt and Greece for inspiration.
The foregoing passage is quoted from The Pillar of Isis, by Vivienne O’Reagan, Aquarian/Thorsons, London, 1992. Highly recommended reading for all.