I am currently reading a book called Goddesses in Everywoman, written by Jean Shinoda Bolen. It has taught me that:
‘Dating back at least 5000 years (perhaps even 25,000 years) before the rise of male religions, “Old Europe” (Europe’s first civilisation) was a matrifocal, sedentary, peaceful, art-loving, earth- and sea-bound culture that worshiped the Great Goddess.’
So, in some parts of the world, the ancients (and more recently, some indigenous peoples) worshiped and understood the Divine to be feminine in nature instead of masculine. And in regards to the Great Goddess of Old Europe, it is interesting to note that:
‘The snake, the dove, the tree and the moon were her sacred symbols.’
And, what were Her defining characteristics?
‘The Great Goddess, known by many names … was worshiped as the feminine life force deeply connected to life and fertility, responsible both for creating life and destroying life … was regarded as immortal, changeless and omnipotent.’
Nowadays, in most countries of the world that embrace a monotheistic understanding of the Divine, these three attributes are ascribed almost entirely to a masculine God. Judaism, Christianity and Islam use male language exclusively when referring to their one true god. Patriarchal language is embedded in the Jewish and Christian traditions where God is referred to often as being ‘like a father’ or more directly as being ‘our Father’. In contrast, when (and where) the Great Goddess was worshipped:
‘Fatherhood had not yet been introduced into religious thought, and there were no (male) gods.’
So, how did this change occur? Bolen describes this shift as it:
‘ … reflects the encounter and subjugation, of people’s that had mother-based religions, by invaders who had warrior gods and father-based theologies.’
Who were these peoples and where is the evidence for such encounters?
‘Evidence gleaned from burial sites show that Old Europe was an unstratified, egalitarian society that was destroyed by an infiltration of semi nomadic, horse-riding Indo-European peoples from the distant north and east. These invaders were patri-focal, mobile, warlike, ideologically sky-orientated, and indifferent to art. The invaders viewed themselves as superior people because of their ability to conquer the more culturally developed earlier settlers, who worshiped the Great Goddess.’
And haven’t we seen this happen over and over again in human history? Indeed colonialism is marked by this pattern; only the invaders saw themselves as the more culturally developed! (Our indigenous Aboriginal people were treated with the same disrespect here on Australian land.)
When did this subjugation occur?
‘Successive waves of invasions by the Indo-Europeans began the dethronement of the Great Goddess. The dates when these waves began are given by various authorities as between 4500 B.C. and 2400 B.C. The goddesses were not completely suppressed, but were incorporated into the religion of the invaders.’
So, what followed was a shift in theology from a monotheistic belief in a feminine deity to a patriarchal, polytheistic theology in which gods were bestowed with greater powers than goddesses.
‘The invaders imposed their patriarchal culture and their warrior religion on the conquered people. The Great Goddess became the subservient consort of the invaders’ gods, and attributes or power that originally belonged to a female divinity were expropriated and given to a male deity.’
‘ … myths arose in which the male heroes slew serpents – symbols of the Great Goddess. And, as reflected in Greek mythology, the attributes, symbols, and power that once were invested in one Great Goddess were divided among many goddesses. Mythologist Jane Harrison notes that the Great Mother goddess became fragmented into many lesser goddesses, each receiving attributes that once belonged to her: Hera got the ritual of the sacred marriage, Demeter her mysteries, Athena her snakes, Aphrodite her doves, and Artemis her function as “Lady of the Wild Things” (wildlife).’
Why is this significant for those of us who are interested in theology? How can this history of the understanding of deity be helpful for determining who God/dess is? And, can this storyline contribute to the discussion of evolving theology in the Christian context of today?
At first glance, it would appear that Christianity has contributed to the subjugation of feminine deity and, in doing so, the suppression of human rights. Bolen writes:
‘According to Merlin Stone, author of “When God was a Woman”, the disenthronement of the Great Goddess, begun by the Indo-European invaders, was finally accomplished by the Hebrew, Christian and Moslim religions that arose later. The male deity took the prominent place. The female goddesses faded into the background, and women in society followed suit. Stone notes, “We may find ourselves wondering to what degree the suppression of women’s rites has actually been the suppression of women’s rights.”‘
So, what are we to do?
During 2018, I have been following prophecies (and yes, I do believe the gift of prophecy is current) spoken, and written, in Australia throughout the year. Many of these ‘words’ have spoken of a major shift occurring in the Christian world and, one recent prophecy, suggests ‘We are not entering a new season, in fact, we are entering a new era.’ Of course, prophecy must be tested for its accuracy before heeding it. However, it has got me thinking. Maybe it is time we merged the Great Goddess with the Empathetic God of Christianity?