Divine Roles Across Cultures

Powerful Essays
CHAPTER 3

The Female Divine

THE GREAT GODDESS
Was There a Great Goddess?
During the last century and a half, numerous and seemingly related prehistoric artifacts depicting female figures have been found in a wide range from France to
Siberia and as far south as Greece. Among these ancient objects are engravings, statuettes, and relief carvings, dating anywhere from 30,000 to 5,000 bce, some of which are adorned with designs such as crescents, spirals, triangles, meanders, egg shapes, and lozenges. Among the statuettes, a significant number are abstract representations of the female form, featuring exaggerated buttocks, breasts, vulvas, and bellies. The heads, legs, and arms of these statuettes tend to taper off into stumps and knobs without characteristic details such as fingers, toes, or even mouths and eyes. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, archaeologists and other prehistorians understood these images to be fertility objects or pornographic toys. But over the last 30 years, a growing number of archaeologists and anthropologists and other scholars, including historians, theologians, literary critics, and social theorists, have seen in these artifacts proof that human societies worshiped an all-powerful Great
Goddess from whom the many goddesses of the historical period are descended.
Led by Marija Gimbutas, whose The Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe (1982) connected the discourses of archaeology and the women’s movement, a diverse group of Great Goddess proponents began to argue that early European cultures were, if not matriarchal (woman-dominated), matrifocal (woman-centered), and therefore they enjoyed greater gender equality, freedom from violence, and harmony with nature than currently experienced under the world’s patriarchal (maledominated) system.
In the decades following Gimbutas’s theories of goddess religion and matrifocal society, the presumed existence of a kinder, gentler past gave rise to a wide variety of social



Cited: Gimbutas, Marija. The Civilization of the Goddess: The World of Old Europe. Joan Marler, ed. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991a. ———. The Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe, 6500 –3500 BC: Myths and Cult Images. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982. ———. The Language of the Goddess: Unearthing the Hidden Symbols of Western Civilization. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1989. San Francisco: Harper, 1991b. Goodison, Lacy, and Christine Morris., eds. Ancient Goddesses: The Myths and the Evidence. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1998. Graves, Robert. Greek Myths. 2 vols. 1955; Harmondsworth, England: Penguin, 1990. ———. The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of a Poetic Myth. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1966. Hesiod. Theogony: Works and Days: Shield. Ed. Apostolos N. Athanassakis. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983. James, Edwin Oliver. The Cult of the Mother-Goddess: An Archaeological and Documentary Study. New York, Barnes & Noble, 1961. Kerènyi, Carl. Eleusis: Archetypal Image of Mother and Daughter. New York: Schocken Books, 1977. Jung, Carl G. Symbols of Transformation: An Analysis of the Prelude to a Case of Schizophrenia. Trans. R. F. C. Hull. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1967. Lovecock, James E. Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. Grand Rapids, MI: Phanes, 1989. Meskell, Lynn. “Goddesses, Gimbutas, and ‘New Age’ Archaeology.” Antiquity 69 (1995): 74 – 86. Monaghan, Patricia. The Book of Goddesses and Heroines. New York: Dutton, 1981. Sarah M. Nelson and Alice B. Kehoe, eds. Washington, DC: American Anthropological Association, 1990. Neumann, Erich. The Great Mother: An Analysis of the Archetype. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1963. Nhat Hanh, Thich. A Taste of Earth and Other Legends of Vietnam. Berkeley, CA: Parallax, 1993. Olson, Carl. The Book of the Goddess, Past and Present: An Introduction to Her Religion. New York: Crossroads, 1992. ———. The Gnostic Gospels. 1979; New York: Vintage, 1989. ———. The Gnostic Paul: Gnostic Exegesis of the Pauline Letters. 1975; Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1992. Patai, Raphael. The Hebrew Goddess. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 1990. Perera, Sylvia Brinton. Descent to the Goddess: A Way of Initiation for Women. Toronto: Inner City Books, 1981. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1992. Rice, Julian. Before the Great Spirit: The Many Faces of Sioux Spirituality. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1998. Robinson, James M., ed. The Nag Hamadi Library. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1990. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1979. 2 vols. New York: New Sibylline Books, 1979. ———. When God Was a Woman. New York: Dial, 1976. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1998. London: A. Szmidla, 1968. ———. “Mother, Are You There?” Cambridge Archaeological Journal 6, no. 2 (1996): 300 –304. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987. Whitmont, Edward C. Return of the Goddess. New York: Crossroads, 1990. Wolkstein, Diane, and Samuel Noah Kramer. Inanna: Queen of Heaven and Earth. New York: Harper & Row, 1983. Yourcenar, Marguerite. “Kali Beheaded.” In Oriental Tales. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1983

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