by Sarah Jay
Religion strongly influences our lives, even the lives of those of us who do not call ourselves religious. The ideals, images, messages, and stories of the Judeo Christian tradition permeate our (Western) culture, and form our outlook on life though we may never have set foot in a church or synagogue. (Laws, thought, education, art, literature, etc.) Religion is so powerful because the basic writings and theories behind it--Judaism and Christianity included--are entertaining, cautionary myths, like the tales of Zeus, Poseidon, and Athena of the ancient Greek world. The morals and value system set down in the Bible and Torah are so influential and so accepted because they imbedded in a form of mythology. The "stories" of religion guide us in the worshipping of our God (or many gods), and they also entertain us and give us a system of symbols and metaphors which influence our thoughts and opinions and are incorporated into our writing, speaking, and art.
The position of women in Western society has been adversely effected by the dominant religions of Judaism and Christianity, because these patriarchal religions have founded and supported the image of woman as the permanent helper or decorative subordinant of man. But this image of Eve, sinful and subordinant, is not our idea of who woman is. What we need to break the oppressive patriarchal thought of Western society is acknowledgement of the wonderful qualities of woman and veneration of the so-called "female" characteristics of humankind and the world in general. These disrespected "feminine" characteristics, as outlined in the Donna Wilshire article, "The Uses of Myth, Image, and the Female Body in Re-Visioning Knowledge," include characteristics such as "body," "materiality," "sensitivity," and "maternity."
My proposal is that through recognition of the veneration of the Mother Goddess--the once widespread worship of the Creatoress--we can "cut through the many oppressive and falsely founded patriarchal images, stereotypes, customs, and laws" created by male-worshipping religions that serve as the foundation of Western culture and thought. To a great extent, these misogynist ideals/laws/customs were created by the male-worshipping religions in response to the veneration of the Mother Goddess as a means to crush her worship. The idea that God created the pain and suffering of child birth as a punishment for all women just because they are women and that He declared that husbands shall rule over wives is no longer to be tolerated. There is proof that the women of ancient, goddess-worshipping societies were free and possessed many rights, such as the right to hold property and conduct business. It is my hope that with recognition of the wonder of woman and her existence as a valuable human being, through the veneration of "women's" traits, more rights and freedoms will be bestowed upon modern women.
The Mother Goddess was revered all over the world, from the native peoples of Australia to the Eskimos to the Japanese and Celts. In the West, her worship began in the Neolithic period, at about 7000 BC, and lasted until the closing of the Goddess temples by the patriarchs in 500 AD. Here her worship spread from Syria to Africa to Mesopostamia, ancient Sumer and Bablyon to ancient Egypt, Rome, and Greece. She was known by many names:
Astarte, Innin, Inanna, Nana, Nut, Anat, Anahita Istar, Isis, Au Set, Ishara, Asherah, Ashtart, Attoret, Attar, Hathorbecause the Great Goddess was formed from a myriad of titles for a similar deity. What she was called depended on where her worshippers lived.
Worship of the Goddess began in matriarchal prehistoric societies in which the people did not possess the conscious understanding of the relationship between sex and conception, and believed that women had the power to create life, in which men had no part. In these societies, names, titles, possessions, and territorial rights passed along female lines. In the Ancient Near East, Southeastern and Central Europe, Egypt and Crete, women, like the land, were seen as the primary source of life. These early agriculturalists envisioned a female deity, the Earth Mother Goddess, as the creative power behind all animal and plant fertility.
The Mother Goddess controlled the changing seasons, was sovereign over the underworld, and was patron of birth, regeneration (sex), and plant and animal fertility. In the stories of all Goddess-worshipping cultures she reigned alone, but acquired a son or brother (depending on the location) who was also her lover and consort. This youth was symbolized by the male role in the annual sexual union with the Goddess that brought plant and animal life. This consort died in his youth, and the Goddess worshippers annually lamented his death.
Sex was one of the Mother Goddess's gifts to humanity, and she was revered as the patron of sexual love. Sex was considered holy, and was performed by the Goddess's priestesses within her temples with men from the community. Even unmarried mothers were worshipped.
The symbols of the Goddess remain fairly constant throughout the Western world; she is depicted with large breasts, belly and navel in statues, either splendidly dressed or with her torso exposed, she always is shown with an abundance of flesh and is frequently shown as being pregnant, emphasizing her ability to procreate and sustain and nurture life (womb of woman=fertility of land). The relationship of the son/lover who dies and is annually mourned, eunuch priests, the sacred annual sexual union and sexual customs of the temple were present throughout the large territory of Goddess worship, as were her symbols: the serpent, which means wisdom or regeneration (sloughing of skin), the cow, which means fecundity, the dove, and the double axe, symbol of the cutting and death of vegetation.
The women of the ancient Goddess-worshipping religion had many more rights and received much more respect than those of the male-worshipping religions. In Ethiopia, women carried arms, practiced communal marriage, and raised their children communally. In Libya, all authority was vested in the woman, and she discharged every kind of public duty. The children were handed over immediately after birth to the men, who reared them. Of Egypt, where Isis was revered as the inventor of agriculture, as a great healer and physician, and as the one who first established the laws of justice in the land, Herodotus of Greece said that "Women go in the marketplace, transact affairs and occupy themselves with business, while the husbands stay home and weave." As late as the 4th century BC, along with the patriarchal form of marriage there existed one in which the woman chose the man and could divorce him on payment of compensation. In ancient Babylon, priestesses of the Goddess Istar acted as oracular prophetesses, providing military and political advise to kings and leaders, and women were allowed to divorce, and they could acquire property, take legal action, be a party to contracts, and they had a certain share in their husband's inheritance. The list goes on and on; in Crete matriarchy was the way of life, and women had sexual freedom, in Greece matriarchy was widely spread, and in ancient Sumer there was no punishment for women's adultery and marital consent had to be asked of both the father and the mother of the bride.
Women were involved in the worshipping of the Mother Goddess--not only were they priestesses, but they took part in her festivals/veneration. For example, in Greece, where the Mother Goddess was transformed into the goddesses Themis, Hera, and Demeter, the Thesmophoria, a festival of Demeter the grain goddess, that occurred annually in October and November, was a woman's festival. Men were not allowed to participate. Slaughtered piglets were thrown into a chasm along with pine cones and wheat cakes in the shape of male genitals. Three days later, purified women went down into the chasm and carried back the offerings to lay on the alter of Demeter and Kore. The flesh of the piglets and the cones and cakes (symbols of fertility) were then mixed with the seeds to ensure a good harvest. Women were seen as possessing a magic to promote fertility.
The end of the worship of the Mother Goddess, and the subsequent devaluation of women in society, came with the invasion of the northern Indo-European tribes from 2300 BC until the laws of the Hebrews, written down between 1250 and 1000 BC. At this time, the Mother Goddess either became the wife of the more powerful male god, was thought to be murdered by the more powerful male god, as was the case in Babylon where the male Marduk murdered the Goddess to gain his supreme position, or she was simply replaced by the chief god, Yahweh. Canaan, the biblical homeland, was surrounded by matriarchal societies, but it became influenced by the northern male-worshipping societies the most. This early acceptance of the male god has lead to centuries of oppressing women in Western culture....
The Israelites attacked the veneration of the Mother Goddess: the word asherah, the name of the most widely known Syro-Palestinian version of the Mother Goddess, appears often in the Old Testament. Bible scholars believe it refers to a wooden statue or pillar erected to worship Asherah. Whenever an asherah was set up by the Israelites in veneration of the old goddess, they upset the Lord Yahweh (precursor to Jehovah). Moses advised the Israelites to cut down or destroy all asherahs and to embrace the worship of Yahweh. (Artifacts, statues of Asherah, have been found in many ancient temples/churches showing that before they were Christian or Jewish places of worship, Asherah was venerated there. Many statuettes of Asherah show signs of purposeful defacement.)
The Hebrew laws were harsh; in Babylonia, before the major incursions of the Indo Europeans, if a woman was involved sexually with a man other than her husband, she was expected to take an oath at the temple and return home to her husband, but the Hebrew laws give the husband the right to murder both the wife and the lover. The Levite laws of the Israelites, from Moses onward, demand stoning for women who engage in pre-marital sex, marriage of a single woman who was raped to her rapist, and stoning of married or betrothed woman for having been raped. All the shame and sin associated with sex today has its origins in the anti-sex political manouverings of the male-worshipping Near Eastern peoples. They changed Lilith, the Sumerian sub goddess who brought men to the temple for the sacred sex acts of the Mother Goddess, into Adam's first wife, who, because she was not sexually submissive, was thrust out of the Garden of Eden only to become a demon who hovered, waiting to find spilled sperm to make into demon
--Negative translations; "temple woman"= qadushtu translated as "prostitute".
The real misogynistic views, however, are to be found in the myth of Adam and Eve. It can be viewed as one big political attempt to devalue women and destroy the Goddess worship. The serpent has long been the symbol of female wisdom and prophetic council; in ancient times it was associated with the female Mother Goddesses who assumed serpent form or surrounded themselves with serpents. The Egyptian goddesses Isis and Hathor wore cobras on their foreheads as symbol of their mystic insight and wisdom, and often Egyptian royalty are portrayed with an open cobra on their foreheads as a symbol of the all-knowing Eye. The Greek goddess of wisdom Athena was associated with snakes, their was a snake pit in the Parthenon to keep her sacred serpents. The Prophetesses at Delphi were known as "pytha" and pythons were thought to curl around their stools as they sat and prophesied. Snake tubes, tubular artifacts shaped like snakes, were found in temples of Astoreth under her many titles throughout the Near East and Northern Africa. Serpents are symbols of magic in many cultures (Irish, Native American Souix)- gave women prophetesses their power to see. Cassandra of Troy gained her power by having her ears licked by serpents.
--Hebrew word "zonah" is at times defined as "prostitute" and at other times as "prophetess" --shows connection between priestesses of Mother Goddess and their sacred sexual acts and prophecies.
--People immune to snake bites--venom acts like a hallucinogenic drug, people feel like their minds have extraordinary powers and they see visions, are in touch with the world on a higher level.
The tree of knowledge of good and evil was not the first sacred tree. Hera had a tree of golden apples in the mythology of ancient Greece that was said to hold the knowledge of the world. In the worship of the Mother Goddess, the sycamore, fig, and mulberry trees are often mentioned as being sacred. In reality, this was one tree, the Near Eastern ficus sicomorus--the sycamore fig, sometimes known as the black mulberry. In ancient Egypt, the goddess Hathor, known as the Serpent Lady, Eye of Wisdom, and Lady of the Sycamore, was worshipped by eating the sycamore fig's fruit, as the flesh and fluid of the goddess. The tree is mentioned in the Bible, when Adam and Eve adorn themselves in fig leaves, and when Ezekiel rails against pagan idols.
TO REVIEW: The Goddess was known and revered as the prophetess of great wisdom, closely identified with the serpent, as the original Creatress, and the patroness of sexual pleasures and reproduction. Hathor was credited with having taught people how to procreate. Ishtar, Ashtoreth and Inanna were each esteemed ass the tutelary deity of sexuality and new life. The sacred women celebrated this aspect of her being by making love in the temples.
To the patriarchal Levites (Hebrews) the worship of the Mother Goddess was threatening, for freedom of sexual behavior in women brought paternity and divine right succession into doubt. In order to erase the veneration of the Mother Goddess and replace it with the worship of the male god Yahweh, the priests of the male deity had to convince themselves and their congregations that sex was immoral, the "original sin." In each sentence of the biblical creation myth as written by the Levite priests, the tenets of the Goddess religion are attacked. Every kind of reference to man being from woman is erased; a male god created the universe and he created se male humans' rib female was created. Woman presented as a gift to man, she will help or serve him an any way.
Adam and Eve were forbidden to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, which, to the ancient Hebrews, was probably understood to represent the sacred sycamore fig of the Goddess, the asherah. Ancient Egyptian texts say that to eat of this fruit is to eat the flesh and fluid of the Goddess, the patroness of sexual pleasure and reproduction, but the Bible story says that the forbidden fruit caused the couple's consciousness of sexuality...which embarrasses them and makes them sinners.
THE BIBLE MAKES IT CLEAR THAT THE WOMAN EVE ATE OF THE FRUIT FIRST--UPON THE ADVICE AND COUNSEL OF THE SERPENT--the ancient peoples would know that the serpent was the symbol of the Goddess. A WOMAN'S JUDGEMENT HAD LED TO THE TO DISASTER FOR THE WHOLE HUMAN SPECIES. Symbols of the Mother Goddess are now negatively portrayed, and the council of the prophetesses of the Mother Goddess were to be feared and hated. Woman as sage and advisor or councilor could be no longer respected, and the priestesses of the Goddess lost their power.
Furthermore, the image of Eve as the sexually tempting, God-defying seductress was intended as a warning to all hebrew men to stay away from the sacred women of the temples, for if they participate in the sacred sexual acts, they accept the female deity. This also prevents the resulting matrilineal identity for any children who might be conceived by the priestesses.
Proof of Eve as cunning and contriving arouser of the physical desires of men was given in the form of pain during childbirth--the eternal punishment for teaching men bad habits. This was further compounded by God's decry that women's desire will be only for their husbands, and that the husbands will rule over the wives.
So--all images are desecrated: snake, tree, sex, and wisdom.
Proven through the change in the Mother Goddess's portrayal in art."...Nursing snakes in the Greco-Roman artistic tradition were meant to allude to the nourishment provided by the earth for all creatures, but by the 12th century the snake was firmly equated with the demon; and the semi-nude figure suckling snakes was ...reinterpreted as lust personified."
Luxuria = Terra Mater (Mother Goddess) transformed. A monk from Saint Victor interpreted the image," The courtesan dies like all the rest. She who divides her long tresses with golden combs, who colors her forehead and face, she decorates her fingers with rings...look at her so herself became the victim of worms and the food of the snake. The snake twists around her neck and the viper crushes her breasts." Stories have power, people believe them--subversion of symbols turned people against the Goddess. Example of modern literature that substitutes own, new interpretations.
---Not suggesting that all should be heterosexual and not defending binaries, just suggesting new traits/strains of thought be incorporated into existing ones.
Sarah's email address is: