Goddess In contemporary Witchcraft, the Goddess embodies the very essence of the Craft: she is the Great mother, whose limitless fertility brings forth all life; she is mother Nature, the living biosphere of the planet and the forces of the elements; she is both creator and destroyer; she is the Queen of Heaven; she is the moon, the source of magical power; she is emotion, intuition and the psychic faculty. The Divine Force is genderless but is manifest in the universe in a polarity of the male and female principles. most traditions of Witchcraft emphasize the Goddess aspect of the Divine Force, some almost to the exclusion of the Horned God, the male principle. The Goddess is called by many names, each one representing a different facet or aspect. The Goddess also is recognized in Pagan traditions.
Worship of the Goddess, or at least the female principle, dates back to Paleolithic times. It has been suggested by some anthropologists that the first “God” was a female, who, according to the earliest creation myths, self-fertilized and created the universe from herself and reigned alone; that early agricultural religions were dominated by Goddess worship; that gods prospered only when graced with a beneficence and wisdom of the Goddess; and that early societies may have been matriarchal. “From me come all gods and goddesses who exist,” says Isis in Apuleius’s The Golden Ass. Robert Graves, in The White Goddess (1948), made a case for a widespread earth and moon Goddess cult, especially among the Celts, but his theory is not supported by evidence.
Other scholars argue that existing evidence does not support those claims. While women have at times held status equal to men, there is no evidence that they have ever held superior status in a matriarchy. Goddess worship has been balanced by God worship and the worship of both male and female Supreme Deities. The sacred marriage of a Sky God and Earth mother is a common theme in societies around the world.
Among the first human images found to date are the “Venus figures,” naked female forms with exaggerated sexual parts, which date to the Cromagnons of the Upper Paleolithic period between 35,000 and 10,000 b.C.e. The Venus of Laussel, carved in basrelief on a rock shelter in southern France that apparently was once a hunting shrine, dates to ca. 19,000 b.C.e. She is painted in red ochre—perhaps suggesting blood—and is holding a bison horn in one hand. Cromagnon cave paintings also depict women giving birth. A naked Goddess appeared to be patroness of the hunt to mammoth hunters in the Pyrenees and was also protectress of the hearth and lady of the wild things. Female figurines also have been found from the proto-Neolithic period of 7000–9000 b.C.e. In the middle Neolithic period, ca. 6000–5000 b.C.e., figures of a mother holding a child appear. In the High Neolithic period, ca. 4500–3500 b.C.e., decorated female figurines presumably were objects of worship. In Africa, cave images of the Horned Goddess (later Isis) date to 7000–6000 b.C.e. The Black Goddess was bisexual and self-fertilizing. In predynastic Egypt, prior to 3110 b.C.e., the Goddess was known as Ta-Urt (“Great One”) and was portrayed as a pregnant hippopotamus standing on hind legs. In the Halaf culture on the Tigris river ca. 5000 b.C.e., Goddess figurines were associated with the cow, serpent, humped ox, sheep, goat, pig, bull, dove and double ax, symbols often connected to the Goddess in later historical periods. In the Sumerian civilization ca. 4000 b.C.e., the princess, or queen of a city was associated with the Goddess, and the king with the God.
The Goddess took on many aspects with the advance of civilization. She acquired a husband, lover or son who died or was sacrificed in an annual birth-death-rebirth rite of the seasons. She became creator, mother, virgin, destroyer, warrior, huntress, homemaker, wife, artist, queen, jurist, healer, sorcerer. She acquired a thousand faces and a thousand names. She has been associated with both the Sun and moon, and Earth and sky.
The end of the Golden Age of the Goddess occurred between 1800 and 1500 b.C.e., when Abraham, the first prophet of the Hebrew God, Yahweh, is said to have lived in Canaan.
Many contemporary Witches feel the Goddess has been ignored and suppressed for too long by patriarchies. The powerful desire to worship the Goddess may be seen in the veneration accorded the Virgin Mary. Although officially the Virgin Mary is the human mother of the incarnate God, she is virtually deified by her many worshipers, who petition her in prayer.
Despite suppression by the Church, pagan Goddess cults, particularly of Diana, flourished in Europe into and beyond the middle Ages. The Church associated them, and all pagan deities, with evil and the Devil. Diana was said to be the Goddess of witches (see the canon episcopi). As late as the 19th century, American folklorist Charles Godfrey Leland claimed to have discovered material relating to a Diana/Aradia cult of Tuscany.
In contemporary Witchcraft, the emphasis on the Goddess evolved out of the Witchcraft tradition developed by Gerald B. Gardner, which he began publicly promoting in the 1950s, claiming an unbroken heritage along the lines of mArgAret murrAy’s unfounded theories. He said traditional and hereditary covens in Britain had emphasized the Horned God, and he himself seemed to prefer that. His earliest published writing, a novel of Witchcraft called High Magic’s Aid (1949), makes no mention of the Goddess. In 1953, Gardner initiated Doreen Valiente, who rewrote much of Gardner’s rituals in his Book of Shadows, and who gave more emphasis to the Goddess. Valiente maintained that both Goddess and God elements, interwoven, were present when she joined Gardner’s coven. As for Gardner, he believed that the Horned God should have dominance and that women in the Craft should be subservient to men. He may have recognized, however, that a central figure of the Goddess would ultimately be more popular.
When Murray’s witchcraft theory was shattered and some of the fallacies about Gardner’s “ancient, unbroken religion” were exposed, Witchcraft was forced to look for a past. It grafted itself more firmly onto a reconstruction of Paganism and Goddess spirituality. This it did successfully with momentum from the growing feminist and environmental movements.
The Goddess in contemporary Witchcraft and Paganism is a mystery tradition. The Goddess represents Gaia, the living consciousness of the Earth; the Divine Feminine; the inner woman. The Goddess validates woman’s power—her intuition, emotions, will, creativity, sexuality, body, desires and heritage. She is the cycle of life, death and rebirth, and the eternal spark in all of creation. Both men and women can find both the transcendent Goddess as cocreator of the universe and the immanent Goddess force within—the highest expression of anima, or the Great mother archetype residing deep in the unconscious.
The Goddess is “She of a Thousand Names” who can be worshiped and petitioned in any of her numberless guises. In the Craft, her most common name is Aradia, and she is most frequently recognized in a trinity, the Triple Goddess, a personification of her three faces as Virgin, mother and Crone. Trinities of goddesses (and gods) have been worshiped since antiquity in various cultures. The morrigan of Ireland is personified by Ana, the virgin; Babd, the mother; and macha, the crone.
The Triple Goddess of the modern Craft is personified by three Greek goddesses of the moon: Artemis (usually called by her roman name, dIAnA), selene and Hecate. They are the new/waxing, full and waning/dark phases of the moon, respectively. Diana, the Virgin and huntress, is associated with the new and waxing moon, and rules the earth. She represents independence. Selene, the mother, is associated with the full moon and rules the sky. She represents nurturing and creation. Hecate, the Crone, is associated with the waning and dark of the moon, and rules the underworld. She represents wisdom. Hecate herself was said to have three death aspects—Hecate, Circe and Persephone (kore)—and also was part of a Greek mother Goddess trinity that included Hebe as virgin, Hera as mother and Hecate as crone.
A Witch’s magical powers are used to serve the Goddess. As her representatives on Earth, Witches must use magic for the greater good of humanity. The use of magic to harm is proscribed. The Wiccan Rede, a Witch’s version of the Golden rule, states, “An’ it harm none, do what ye will.”
The Goddess offers a source of wholeness and strength and an identification with the Divine that is missing from monotheism and that appeals to many women and men alike.
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- Sjoo, monica, and Barbara mor. The Great Cosmic Mother. San Francisco: Harper & row, 1987.