A goddess, a female deity, contrasts with male deities, known as "gods". A great many cultures have their own goddesses, sometimes alone, but more often as part of a larger pantheon that includes both of the conventional genders and in some cases even hermaphroditic deities. The Goddess can provide a female version of or analogue to God; sometimes, the relationship is more rooted in monism, as opposed to a straight-cut monotheism or polytheism, and the Goddess and God are seen as part of one transcendental monad.
Hinduism admits a complex belief system that sees many gods and goddesses as being representative of and/or emanative from a single source, either a formless, infinite, impersonal monad known as Brahman, or a single God seen by some sects as Vishnu, others Shiva, or still others Devi, the mother goddess, providing a large range of belief system with Vedic scripture. Thus, many analogues between passive male ground and dynamic female energy have led to the personification of such energies as male and female pairs, often envisioned as male gods and their wives. The transcendent monad, Brahman, transcends categories but its representation through the existential duality that is limited by time, space and causation, simply put the universe as we know it, occurs through the categories of male God and female energy, working as a pair. Brahma pairs with Sarasvati, Vishnu with Lakshmi, and Shiva with Uma, Parvati, or Durga. Kali is a form of Parvati. A further step was taken by the idea of the shaktas, or Hindu worshippers of the Goddess. Their, and much of Hindu tantra's, ideology sees Shakti as the principle of energy through which all divinity functions, thus showing the masculine to be dependent on the feminine. Indeed, in the great shakta scripture known as the Devi Mahatmya , all the goddesses are shown to be aspects of one presiding female force, one in truth and many in expression, giving the world and the cosmos the galvanic energy for motion. It is expressed through both philosophical tracts and metaphor that the potentiality of masculine being is given actuation by the feminine divine.
The strong monist or Advaita bent in Hinduism defies polytheist or monotheist categorization and for this reason local deities of different village regions in India are easily seen by outsiders as their own Goddess in different form, a process that has been called Sanskritization. While the monist forces have led to a fusion between some of the goddesses (108 names are common for many goddesses), centrifugal forces have also resulted in new goddesses and rituals gaining ascendance among the laity in different parts of Hindu world. Thus, the immensely popular goddess Durga was a pre-Vedic goddess who was later fused with Parvati, a process that can be traced through texts such as Kalikapurana (10th century), Durgabhaktitarangini (Vidyapati 15th century), Chandimangal (16th century) etc.
Judaism & Christianity
Post Neolithic Monotheist cultures, which recognise only one central deity, generally do not recognise Goddess; recent history has overwhelmingly presented the single Deity in masculine terms, constantly using the masculine pronoun "he", and images like "Father", "Son", and "Lord". This trend has almost entirely excluded the feminine pronoun "she" as sacred, and images such as "Mother", "Daughter", and "Lady" as divine. (Although mainstream Judaism uses masculine words to describe G-d, Judaism maintains that G-d has no gender.)
While some mystics within the monotheist religions have used these feminine forms, such as the early Christian Collyridians, who viewed Mary as a Goddess; the medieval visionary Julian of Norwich; the Judaic Shekinah and the Gnostic Sophia traditions; and discreetly expressed Sufi texts in Islam, belief in feminine deity under Christianity was usually deemed heretical, and characteristic of heresy. Since the 1980s Christian feminists have challenged this view; some such as Mary Daly no longer consider themselves Christian but others continue to seek room within their traditions for the Divine Feminine and for female spiritual leadership. (See thealogy.)
In the pagan religion prevalent before Prophet Hazrat Muhammad, a number of goddesses were worshipped, including the three daughters of Hubal (another form of a pre-Islamic god also called Allah): Al-Lat, Al-Uzza and Manat. In the 1990s, Salman Rushdie and his fatwa have brought this issue in the limelight. At the core of the argument is the following apocryphal verse which appears as a quotation in The Satanic Verses (novel):
- tilk-al-gharaniq al-'ula wa inna shafa'ata-hunna la-turtaja - p.340 Viking, New York
- [These are the exalted females whose intercession is to be desired.]
These lines are an antithesis of the strong monotheism that is Islam, and attributing it to the Prophet is blasphemy. The lines however, are part of a historical debate - they appear in the work of two early Arab historians (al-Waqidi, 747-823, and at-Tabari, 839-923), but repudiated by later Islamic scholars. The controversial sentence, known as Satanic Verses in the debate, was well known to Rushdie who wrote a paper on Muhammad for his Cambridge tripos in history. The story is that these lines were inserted into the Qur'an by Muhammad so as to alleviate the persecution of the faithful by those who believed strongly in these goddesses. However, later these lines were recanted:
- He stands in front of the statues of the Three and announces the abrogation of the verses which Shaitan [Satan] whispered in his ear. These verses are banished from the true recitation, al qur'an. New verses are thundered in their place. 'Shall He have daughters and you sons?' Mahound recites. 'That would be a fine division! These are but names you have dreamed of, and your fathers. Allah vests no authority on them.' - p.124
Other traditional religions
Religions which recognise many deities as forms of the divine, in other words most ancestral religions, have no difficulty in including female deities. In "women's religions", a Goddess is surprisingly not typical, although such religions certainly never centre on a monotheist God (Sered Goddess, Mother, Sacred Sister 1996) and often lack deities as Westerners understand them.
Wicca and neopaganism
Wiccan practice generally includes veneration of the Great Goddess along with the Horned God, though Dianic Wiccans celebrate only the Goddess or goddesses. Wiccan mythology mostly draws on ancient European mythology, which informs other kinds of neopaganism, and other neopagans are interested in reconstructing various ancient pagan religions directly.
Goddesses associated with the Earth (often in the context of agriculture) are found in many ancient pagan cultures in Europe and elsewhere. For instance, the Norse had Erda, the Greeks Gaia and Demeter, the Romans Ceres and the Indians Prithivi Mata. These frequently have a maternal aspect.
Many pagans today draw a connection between a Mother Earth goddess and ecological concerns.
10,000 Names & Symbols
The Goddess can appear as the "Lady of the Ten Thousand Names", as did Isis. Adherents refer to her as 'Queen of Heaven', 'Lady of the Beasts', 'Creatrix' and just 'the Lady.' (She should not be confused with Elaine, The Lady of Shallott). Worshippers sometimes approach her through her different aspects, represented by individual goddesses like Sarasvati, Lakshmi, Uma, Kali (of the Hindu tradition) Isis, Guan Yin, Pele or Athena.
A note on the Hindu view of the mother goddess is that while they are seen as individuals the larger mother goddess worship often sees them subsumed into a larger feminine divine as well. The Hindu liturgy of 108, or even 1008, names is common and the Divine Mother is seen in this multifaceted light as well. Aspects of symbolic mandala (circular meditative designs) and yoni (vagina) reverence are central to certain left-hand forms of Hindu tantra, and the intricate figures drawn (known as yantras) are parallels to other similar signs such as are found in the West to represent the feminine divine.
Some Wiccans perceive the goddess Aradia as a kind of messianic Daughter deity. They revere the yoni or vulva as a symbol of the Goddess, together with the cowrie shell, the (Moon) Crescent, the Earth, the Serpent, the Tree, the five pointed pentagram and the Eight Pointed Star, the Quartered Circle (compare Celtic Cross), and many animals and birds.
Goddesses or demi-goddesses appear in sets of three in a number of ancient European pagan mythologies; these include the Greek Erinyes (Furies) and Moirae (Fates); the Norse Norns (Fates); Brighid and her two sisters, also called Brighid, from Irish or Keltoi mythology, and so on. One might also see the three witches in Shakespeare's Macbeth as following this pattern. Robert Graves popularised the triad of "Maiden" (or "Virgin"), "Mother" and "Crone", and while this idea did not rest on sound scholarship, his poetic inspiration has gained a tenacious hold.
Considerable variation in the precise conceptions of these figures exists, as typically occurs in Neopaganism and indeed in pagan religions in general. Some choose to interpret them as three stages in a woman's life, separated by menarche and menopause. Others find this too biologically based and rigid, and prefer a freer interpretation, with the Maiden as birth (independent, self-centred, seeking), the Mother as giving birth (interrelated, compassionate nurturing, creating), and the Crone as death and renewal (wholistic, remote, unknowable) — and all three erotic and wise. Often three of the four phases of the moon (waxing, full, waning) symbolise the three aspects of the Triple Goddess: put together they appear in a single symbol comprising a circle flanked by two mirrored crescents.
Some, however, find the triple incomplete, and prefer to add a fourth aspect. This might be a Dark Goddess or Wisewoman, perhaps as suggested by the missing dark of the moon in the symbolism above, or it might be a specifically erotic goddess standing for a phase of life between Maiden (Virgin) and Mother, or the Warrior between Mother and Crone. There is a male counterpart of this in the English poem "The Parlement of the Thre Ages".
The Triple Goddess as Maiden, Mother and Crone has also reached modern popular culture, such as Neil Gaiman's own conception of the Furies in The Sandman, and elsewhere.
- Main article: Goddess movement
In Aristasia - an all-female "alternative reality" movement - the term "Goddess" is not used, as it implies the feminine form of a male "god". Aristasians normally refer to the Divinity as "Dea" or "Dia", or else simply as God, regarded automatically as feminine, as in "God the Mother". Aristasia is not a religious movement, but many of its members are religiously inclined, and their God is necessarily feminine.
In the Discordian religion, Eris is considered the one true goddess, although many times the Principia Discordia mentions other deities, and in fact it quotes multiple stories about Eris, none of which necessarily agree with each other. But most Discordians don't seem to have a problem with that, as Discordians are forbidden from believing anything they read. This is posed by a series of contradictory statments, nonsenseical stories and empty metaphores to create a deconstructve view of the world.
The term "goddess" has recently found an ever more popular and secular use to describe female sex appeal the males succumb to. Young single ladies (see Bridget Jones) want to feel like a goddess. Extremely desirable actresses, singers, sportswomen and other lady celebrities are often described by Sunday press as sex goddesses (see Elle MacPherson, Kylie Minogue, Anna Kournikova, etc.) Several TV advertisements promptly took advantage of this trend (e.g. Gilette Venus ladies' razors).
Last updated: 10-15-2005 00:31:54