Maxine Moe Rasmussen:
Years ago I had a split-second vision of a large (not large as in heavy, large as the mountains around her) woman rising from a nap in a valley among the mountains. The message received was that She was awake and things would be different now. Ever since that vision I've noticed how the feminine face of God is becoming more and more apparent.The broad scope of religious history demonstrates an irrepressible need for a divine Mother. Extremely ancient myths and materials from archeological digs tell us that the Goddess was supreme and Her worship widespread, if not universal, in human societies around the globe for thousands of years before the male deities took over.
Among the oldest art objects found are forms of the female body—thighs, buttocks, genitals, breasts, and pregnant bellies depicting Woman as the Source of Life. Goddess figurines numbering in the tens of thousands have been unearthed from Ireland to India by archaeologists, who find relatively few male forms.
Scholars molded by male-centered thinking did not know what to do with these astonishing finds. Some arrived at the opinion that the so-called Venus figures were Paleolithic erotica. But Charlene Spretnak in The Politics of Women's Spirituality points to
the difference between the powerful Paleolithic figures and current pornographic portrayals of women as coy, vulnerable toys.The figures were found in shrines and clearly meant to be venerated. Joseph Campbell in The Masks of God commented sardonically,
"[It is] not unusual for extremely well-trained archaeologists to pretend that they cannot imagine what services the numerous female figurines might have rendered.He volunteered the answer that they provided the same services our male deity provides: receive our prayers, initiate "meditations on the mystery of being," aid women in childbirth, guard children, protect farmers, sailors, merchants, and all workers in the tasks of life.
Stone comments that debating whether ancient Goddess worship existed is akin to debating whether World War II actually occurred. She points to,
evidence of seven thousand years of artifacts and the three thousand years of historica (i.e., written) material, as discovered, deciphered, and described by archaeologists and historians.Archaeological digs also indicate that women played a central role in early societies. They led ceremonies in honor of the Great Mother, as shown by the same unearthed ritual vessels, altars, temples and paintings that show reverence for the female as Creator. Art historian Merlin Stone, who traveled the world in search of information about the Goddess, writes in When God Was a Woman,
[Female religion] flourished for thousands of years before the advent of Judaism, Christianity, and the Classical Age of Greece. Some female figurines date back to 25,000 BCE, indicating that the Mother-centered years far outnumber the Father-centered years.Myths add a striking piece to the history of Goddess transmuted to God. Comparing the most ancient with less ancient myths, mythologists see a shift—from perceiving woman as powerful to perceiving woman as mere helpmate and sex object. Hera, like all the great Goddesses, was Virgin, Mother, and Queen of Heaven. In later myths She became merely the jealous wife of Zeus, angry at his many sexual conquests. In a similar demotion, the Bible's second creation story, Genesis 3, tells woman, “He shall be your master.”
It is indisputable fact that our earliest human ancestors worshipped the Great Holy Mother, and Goddess worship has never been completely repressed by the campaigns of male religions against Her.
Male Gods even took the role of producing offspring. How well we Christians know THAT with our Father/Son myth!
Jennifer and Roger Woolger continue the story in The Goddess Within:
As the various northern and Aryan tribes imposed their more patriarchal gods upon the older Mother religions, the Great Goddess and her powers were split up. This process led to the retention of the goddess, but in a weakened form.She still played a prominent role in Hellenistic religions when Jesus of Nazareth entered history, and in some regions Her preeminence had a remarkably long life. In the third-century Danube region, lead plaques feature the Great Mother as the principle figure with lesser gods surrounding Her. One in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art has the sons of Jupiter and Helios attending Her (Thomas Mathews, The Clash of Gods).
Not until the Christian emperors of Rome and Byzantium shut down the last Goddess temples, about 500 CE, was Goddess worship totally suppressed.
Then the archetype found expression in Mary.
Our Goddess Mary 2
Mary has exactly the same role in the lives of many Christians as the Goddess played in pre-Christian times, a conclusion unanimous among scholars familiar with archetypal manifestations. The most direct forerunner of our Goddess Mary is Isis, the Egyptian Goddess who bears Horus in a virgin birth. Titles in honor of Isis were transferred to Mary: Mother of God, Virgin-Mother, Queen of Heaven, Star of the Sea, Seat of Wisdom.
To avoid misunderstanding, I will be clear. Goddess and God are equally appropriate God-images. Either one can warm and guide humans who relate to Spirit as to a humanlike person. I no longer do but recognize the need. Christians willing to grow in spiritual awareness must shed the prejudice that Ultimate Reality may only be imaged as male, because the way we image Spirit makes all the difference in the way we relate to others. More about that later in this “Our Goddess Mary” series.
Now back to history. Like Mary, the cosmic Goddess of early myth was virgin and mother, which "was indeed the way in which all the Mother goddesses of the high matriarchal era were regarded " (Woolger).
But the myths teach us a concept of virginity radically different from the sexless Christian virgin. Edward Whitmont in Return of the Goddess, writes that “virgin” had nothing to do with sexual abstinence; it merely meant an independent woman not beholden to a man. The great lover Aphrodite was a virgin. Therapist Roger Horrocks in The Absent Mother expands on the concept:
Virginity, which has been taken usually in its literal physical sense, and used to denigrate sexuality, can be seen at the psychic level as denoting completeness, wholeness, self-sufficiency, the marriage of human and divine. The virgin is like the virgin forest or virgin territory—untouched by human hand, but fertile, fruitful, perfect.This idea of virgin gains weight when we recall the role of woman and Goddess in prehistoric times. Myths from Sumer, Babylon, Egypt, Africa, Europe, Australia, and China image Woman as Creator of the universe, a natural image for primal cultures who saw how new life comes. They saw that the powerful female could produce a monthly flow of blood without harming her body, she could grow babies in her body and give birth to them, and she could produce food out of her own body.
If the link between sex and babies was unknown, wrote Joseph Campbell, males must have seemed,
within one jot of being completely superfluous . . .A common misunderstanding about Goddess cultures needs to be corrected. They were not matriarchies. Patriarchy or male domination did not replace female domination—women had not been dominant. The early cultures imaging Woman as Creator organized society in what anthropologists today call matriliny or descent traced through the female line. The bloodlines of children are traced through their mother, and the husband dwells with his wife’s family and wife’s possessions. Children inherit their names and wealth from their mother.
The female body was experienced as a focus of divine force, and a system of rites was dedicated to its mystery.
Christopher L. C. E. Witcombe gives examples:
In the well-known story of Helen, when Menelaos first marries her, he travels to live with her in Sparta where he rules as king, even though Helen has two worthy brothers, Kastor and Polydeukes (Castor and Pollux). Menelaos attains the kingship of Sparta through his marriage to Helen who carries the bloodline of the Lakedaimonian throne.My research also led me to this fascinating fact: In Jewish tradition you are technically Jewish only if your mother is. Apparently, the ancestors of Jews lived in matrilineal societies.
When Helen is abducted by Paris and taken off to Troy, Menelaos, his position as king thereby made insecure, makes every effort to get her back, enlisting the help of all Greece. When during the course of the siege of Troy Paris and Menelaos agree to fight in single combat, the prize is not only Helen but "all her possessions." Later, after Helen's death, it is her daughter, Hermione, and not one of Menelaos' sons, who becomes the next ruler of Sparta.
Helen was the daughter of Leda who was ostensibly married to Tyndareus. Tyndareus, however, was not the father of Helen. Later tellers of the story, no doubt uncomfortable with Leda's evident promiscuousness and lack of adherence to patriarchal laws of male inheritance, interpolated the myth of Leda's seduction by Zeus as a more satisfactory explanation of her behaviour.
Leda's case is by no means unique. Bronze Age myths and legends are filled with important children whose mother is named but not their father. These children obviously had a human father, and one who wasn't necessarily the husband of their mother, but when the stories were retold this affront to patriarchal sensibilities was softened with the explanation that each child was in fact fathered by a god.
Vestiges of the ancient reverence for the female body appear in the Bible despite its fulminations against Goddess worship. In fact, those very denunciations of it provide evidence that Goddess worship existed. I invite readers to my posts collected under Goddess in the Bible giving special attention to the work of Phyllis Trible.
In her book, God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality, Trible offers linguistic evidence that the Hebrew word for womb saturates the Bible, most especially in passages singing praise of divine mercy and compassion. In spite of their heavily male emphasis, the Hebrew Scriptures (what Christians call the Old Testament) refer in many passages to the comforting divine womb and breasts, indicating that people imaged Divinity as feminine.
In our time, Catholics turn to Mother Mary for divine comfort and security, asking Her to intercede for them, like children asking Mother to soften up Father so that he will be likelier to grant their requests. Mary is today’s Goddess. This explains the science-defying doctrines of the Virgin Birth and the Immaculate Conception. It is pressure from the people, from the collective psyche, that keeps these odd beliefs alive, beliefs that embarrass Catholic theologians, as does her title “Mother of God” (Theotokos) given her at the Council of Ephesus in 431. Mythologists know it was no coincidence that Mary received the title in Ephesus, the site of a renowned Goddess temple. The Christian Church responded to pressure from the people; it responded to the felt need for a Divine Mother.
Shrines to Mary dot the Catholic region where I live, and periodically our national media report that our Goddess Mary has again been sighted. I take these as signs that the Divine Feminine is rising.
To be continued . . .
September 27, 2011
I’ll be clear. I’m not preaching that Mary is God as I link Mary with Magna Mater, the Great Mother.
“Mary” is today’s name for the Great Divine Mother (Magna Mater) that humanity revered in prehistoric times and subconsciously reveres in the present. Therapist Roger Horrocks expands on this in The Absent Mother: Restoring the Goddess to Judaism and Christianity.
He was educated in Protestant theology but was alerted to Mary’s significance by his clients—both men and women. They were "indifferent or hostile to Christianity" but were having dreams or visions of Mary, and these "were life-transforming symbols." The emotional response to Mary, writes Horrocks,
has been quite at odds with the rational delineation of her role in theology. . . . Although theologically she is not a deity, existentially, psychologically, symbolically, she is a Goddess.How better to explain the extraordinary devotion to her? Books about Mary and present-day visions of Mary along with the media attention they stir signal that something’s up.
Horrocks thinks the visions are surely
some kind of warning about the present threat to the natural world . . . significant of our rupture with nature and the need for healing of that split. . . .Mary was not always the submissive figure described in male theology. There are more appealing Mary’s in the Christian tradition. Our Lady of Guadalupe is confident of her authority and submissive to no one. Statues of the Black Virgin in France and other European sites, found Roger Horrocks,
Mary usually appears in rural surrounds, often near trees, points out streams which become places of healing, and is often associated with plants, or with the earth in some way.
were totally unlike the rather sacccharine, simpering statues of Mary I had seen in England. Here was no symbol of feminine submissiveness and piety. They were stripped down, archaic, fierce. In places like Chartres and Rocamadour, I was also amazed at the popular devotion to the Black Virgin. There was a tremendous aura round the statue—people knelt, prayed, contemplated.Most Catholics have never encountered this strong, fierce, and authoritative Mary who was the Goddess before She was washed out by patriarchy.
Horrocks quotes this splendid piece from an eighth-century liturgy of the Ethiopic Church:
O Mary, immensity of heaven,Here Mary is the all powerful Goddess, source of all that is. Her worship flowered again in the Middle Ages when about five hundred churches were raised in her honor, those in France named Notre Dame (Our Lady). In the 1950s we prayed a litany to Mary that must have been the "Litany of Loreto" that Joseph Campbell quotes:
foundation of the earth,
depth of the seas, light of the sun,
beauty of the moon,
splendour of the stars in heaven.
Holy Mother of GodI remember as a child wondering how such exalted titles could be given to Mary, sensing already at that age the discrepancy between official theology and popular devotion.
Mother of Divine Grace
Mother of Good Counsel
Virgin most renowned
Virgin most powerful
Virgin most merciful
Virgin most faithful
Mirror of Justice
Seat of Wisdom
Cause of our Joy
Gate of Heaven
Health of the Sick
Refuge of Sinners
Comforter of the Afflicted
Queen of Peace
Tower of David
Tower of Ivory
House of Gold
In 1990 I was writing a local history book. One of my senior informants bemoaned the changes of Vatican II because it demoted devotions to Mary, effectively eradicating them. "She was my favorite," mourned the septuagenarian.
Again, Mary is not God. Imagining the SOURCE of ALL THAT IS to be a humanlike individual is one of the great shortcomings of Western religion, which pounds into minds and hearts the male God-image with its relentless “HeHimHis.” A feminine image of Divinity could disrupt this; it could propel us out of the childish habit of praying to a deity and begin to appreciate the nature of Transcendence. This is how Great Mother Mary can inform our Church.