The Goddess: When the Queen of Heaven and Earth Prevailed
By: J. Marlando
This is a challenging subject to tackle as it changes our view of the past and of religion itself. After all, we are all but exclusively raised to believe in our so-called civilized human history as being based on the unfolding of its warring societies, serving warring gods. Ares was the Olympian god of war, said to be the son of Zeus and Hera. He became Ancient Rome’s war god but given the name of Mars. Between the two the one almighty god emerged as Jehovah who would, among his other masculine qualities, be a warlord too.
Both ancient and modern history is packed with accounts of one society attempting to dominate another society; of one people desiring to conquer another. In 1962 the entire planet came within virtue seconds of a nuclear war. By 330 BC, Alexander had conquered most of the known world leaving pools of blood and suffering behind him. In 1939 The Second World War was seeded by the Nazi invasion of Poland. In 2001, the twin towers of the World Trade Center were destroyed by religious zealots, killing thousands…in the name of God. In 1096 the first Crusade began, the insanity and ignorance of a so-called Holy Wars would follow.And the warring mentioned here are only a sketch of the wars, big and small, known and unknown, that have occurred since our species has become, in a term…civilized.
This rather gruesome history of our kind suggests that we have always been a warring species, so a species where greed takes precedence over empathy and callousness over compassion. From the Bible we learn that Moses, under the rule of his god, fought for goats, sheep, donkeys, cattle and virgins for which his “holy” warriors murdered men, women and children in the taking of the city of Midian (Numbers 31:13-18). War has always been about expansionism and booty. Today the big wars are fought for market controls (booty) and strategic military and commerce locations such as seaports (expansionism). All that has changed are the uniforms and the weaponry, man’s inhumanity to man has prevailed for at least 5,000 years.
In seems, however, the dim view of our humanism is not based on some innate evil weaved into the human condition but rather only as a response to our indoctrinations. For a simple example, children of different races embrace each other until the adults in their world begin teaching them prejudices. In regard to this, I was born and raised in a poor, mixed neighborhood and had black friends that I played with, ate with and so forth. I might have been curious about the different shades of our skin but I certainly made no value judgments based on skin color. Then slowly, I began learning that I was superior—not because of anything that I merited but only because of my whiteness. It took me years to leave such ignorant indoctrinations by the wayside. The point I am attempting to make is that none of us are born loathing or resenting anyone else; the ignorant men who ran jets into the Twin Towers were born as innocent and open as the infant in your own crib but, like Kamikaze pilots, were victims of their religious/socio indoctrinations starting in the earliest of their childhood. For another example, the suicide bomber is both a fool and a fanatic who, beyond all else, believes that he is a patriotic servant of his god.
The question is can we ever create a cooperative, peaceful world; a loving creative world. The answer, it appears, reveals itself in our ancient past. The rest of this article will strive to explore that past in order to reveal new hope for our tomorrows to come.
The Old Stone Age
The Paleolithic refers to the Old Stone Age starting around 75,000 years ago and ending around 15,000 years ago when it began evolving into the Neolithic (New Stone Age). We do not know a lot about the Old Stone Age but we do know that Cro-Magnon, our prehistoric cousins of at least 30,000 years ago were far more sophisticated than once believed. They wore pelts as clothing, had superior hunting and fishing skills and made jewlery to wear. These were the indigenous roots of civilization itself! And, we also know that by this prehistoric time that those ancient relatives of ours were capable of subjective thinking, an endowment, I believe, that is an asset in all mammals but most highly developed in our kind.
It was once thought that the creative, cave drawings made in the Old Stone Age were a form of “sympathetic magic” and so, in essence, accomplished in the hope that by drawing a successful hunt a successful hunt would occur outside the cave in real life. There seems to be too much evidence today pointing to far deeper and more spiritual content of the cave paintings. We know also that rituals were held in those caves and this leads me to believe that the “tribes” of those ancient communities already had established shamans working as intermediaries between the physical and the spiritual worlds. In this regard it is probably safe to say that ALL indigenous cultures believe in supernatural aspects of Nature.
This, however, is where we hit a bump on the prehistoric road: While we can safely assume that Cro-Magnon peoples of 30,000 years ago were animists (Most basically believing that all things in Nature possess a soul or spirit) a small figurine emerges not just in “old” Europe but in places such as Siberia to the Lake Baikal area that would one day be called “Nature Lake” by the Mongolians and the “North Sea” by the Chinese.
And so from Europe to these remote places in Russia, prehistoric statuettes of a woman are found that greatly resemble this 35,000 year old figurine named Venus by modern archaeologists in reference to the Roman Goddess of beauty so we will stay with the same label.
While there has been hundreds found this Venus is carbon dated to at least 35,000 years ago. She is the first indication that our kind’s first deity was a woman.
The New Stone Age
The Neolithic refers to the New Stone Age starting around 8,000 years ago.
We do not want to meander too long in prehistoric times so we are skipping to a time of the earliest aspects of civilization as we know it. One of the most impressive finds is the discovery of a Neolithic town near the central part of Turkey. The site of Catal Huyuk!
It is thought that around 7,000 people lived in this community that thrived for well over a thousand years. It is from around this same period that this “Venus” seems to represent a queenly presence clearly sitting on a throne.
Since this period of ancient architecture does not yet reveal city/state structures or temples, we can only assume that this throne is…heavenly or, in other words, thought of as a physical manifestation much like statues of the Mother Mary are seen today. In any case, back then, it appears that people were living in great harmony, building their houses extremely close together which created their cultural life; a cultural life that I believe was both friendly and harmonious based on the worship of the goddess and appreciation of the divine feminine.
As modernists we are indoctrinated to believe that cultures are either matriarchal or patriarchal but as we will see, it appears when, if you will, “God was a Woman” this was not always the case. There was instead a social principle of equality or, as the Taoists would say, a Yin/Yang harmony in the goddess focused communities.
The Venus figurines improved artistically since very ancient times:
Venus over 35,000 years old Venus around 11,000 years old
The basic structure, however, remains the same most fundamentally with all the thousands figurines that have been discovered. She has exaggerated breasts and vulva; wide-set thighs and swollen belly; absolutely not a Playboy center fold but clearly a symbol of life-giving powers in a spiritual presence.
That the inhabitants of Catal Huyuk were a “religious” community of people also becomes apparent since the houses displayed shrines and paintings depicting a deeply-rooted religiosity.
In fact, the art of the Neolithic period seems to cleaarly symbolize and focus on the worship of the goddess.
This focus travels all the way to Malta where only the bottom portion of a large, stone female statue remains. This statue was built some 5,000 years ago and is perhaps amidst the first “bigger than life” temple statues. This statue, showing the bottom half on the skirt and lower legs, is obvious female and no doubt centered as a goddess for worshipping and prayers. Another signal of a Neolithic female deity!
Why A Female Deity and Her Dethroning
First of all, the ancient people had no idea how babies were born—I remember reading somewhere that Cro-Magnon imagined that females sitting too close to a camp fire were somehow made pregnant. (If this sounds far-fetched to the modern mind, I recall living in mining camps when I was a boy and knowing women who had no real idea how they ended up with so many children or, for that matter, children at all). The point for this narrative is simply that childbirth would have seemed quite magical to the early mind. And, it would have been observed that females of every species were the ones that delivered “new” life. Another “magical” observation would be that females could bleed without dying and did on a routine basis.
Along with this, females support life from their own bodies, something males cannot do which gives females even greater importance to the survival of the community. With all this in mind it is not difficult to imagine how such “magic” would create mythologies and such mythologies would become mystical. Indeed, as early as Catal Huyuk, mentioned in the above, where offerings of grains were made to the goddess and this ritual continued even into Classical Greek times when the same offerings were made to the goddesses Demeter and Hara.
I am only guessing here when I suggest that real knowledge of male participation in pregnancy arrived somewhere around 5,000 BC. This is around the time that male dominated, warring societies became most prevalent in their trek into the future. Indeed, by around 2,500 BC the temple builders and peaceful societies simply disappeared into the past as the followers of the new, male deity emerged into the present with all its brute force.
There had indeed been a cultural change when the male (dominate) role was discovered making it known that it was the man who impregnated the woman. This immediately cast the female into a secondary social posture and, in some instances, recreated the once all-powerful, life-giving female to little more than a birthing industry for men. While I am uncertain of the date that all this came about but that these changes took place are certain. Biblically, this change seems to have occurred in the ancient city of UR, the birthplace of Abraham.
Historically, the old Sumerian culture maintained some goddesses but had numerous male gods—Enki of Eridu was lord of the waters, and the god of wisdom who invented handcrafts and the art of writing. Enlil was the lord of rain and wind, Nabu of vegetation. There was Ishtar, the goddess of love and Nin-khursag of childbirth but the supreme god seems to have changed in each province until, finally, Babylon’s army took over and placed Marduk as the lead in heaven for all.
Some of this very early history becomes merged in the Genesis story and is far too complex to get into here but the point remains that when the male deity became the center of those ancient cultures, the goddesses of old were placed in secondary positions most often postured as the wives of the gods. Soon enough the temples of the all-powerful goddess were destroyed or put under male rule for the worship of the male deity.
As a quick aside, it was Abraham they say that first proclaimed the one-god-universe who would become the future God of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. This introduction is from the story of God testing Abraham by asking for the life of his son on the sacrificial altar. When God saw that Abraham will make this sacrifice, he stops him from slaughtering the boy. There is nothing magical about the metaphor. After all, the story is really about—the one god’s demand for absolute obedience and blind faith. The future church and state would be built upon these same aspects of Abraham’s world.
War and Peace
We know that where the goddess ruled there was generally a worshipping of wisdom as opposed to war. As the historian Riane Eisler points out, long after Crete entered the Bronze Age—2900-2000 BC—the goddess was still the deity and women were equal to the males of the society; the culture was free from warfare and actually Crete enjoyed superb art, crafts and trade. As Eisler also says, there was generally a “peaceful and harmonious spirit predominant in Cretan life.”
Crete was probably the last goddess-centered society to abound in the ancient world. (When Sir Arthur Evans began excavating the island he noticed that even the Cretan art portrayed female confidence but lacked portraits of warlords and/or great battles. Remember, by the Bronze Age male dominated societies were just about everywhere in the known world so wars raged, if you will, from one front to another in a virtually endless string of bloody battles. Minoan Crete it is almost certain managed to avoid conflict for a very long time. Its major trade was with Egypt, Asia Minor and Syria where they bargained for copper, tin, ivory and gold.
As another quick aside, what amazes me about the Minoan Crete society is that archeological evidence points to a “decentralized culture” with no centralized authority; it was, it seems, the freest place to live out one’s life in peace and harmony for both males and females; perhaps the last center of the ancient world that clung to the worship of the life-giving goddess as opposed to the life-taking followers of the warrior god.
Minoan Crete would eventually fall around 3,000 years ago from attacks of barbarian armies and with that fall came the ending of an era; the mother/goddess was destined to once and for all, be subordinated in a male dominated world. Indeed females would be reduced, in some instances, to sub-human status; these subordinations, incidentally, would not (truly) begin to change until the modern 1920s at least in most parts of the world.
By and large the goddess was known to be life giving, life loving and wise. And, even when the warrior god was hailed king of the heavens and earth, the goddess was still greatly honored in many societies. Ma’at was the ancient goddess of justice and later on, even after the “subordination” of goddesses Egypt’s Isis and Greece’s Demeter remained sages that taught righteous wisdom while standing for justice. The Celts had Cerridwen as their goddess of intelligence and knowledge and of course Sophia was Classical Greece’s goddess of wisdom—In fact, the term philosophy means, lover of Sophia.
The goddess once dominated spirituality and with little doubt was the first deity of human worship. A goddess even existed in the ancient Jewish tradition called Asherah Later she was named “consort of Jehovah” but soon enough vanished into recent mythology in a kind of religious-socio denial.
While goddess worship was destined to virtually disappear, we are compelled to go back to Minoan Crete and give thought to their snake goddess. The snake played a major role in goddess worshipping and it will serve us to grasp why. After all, in Genesis, it is the serpent that serves to begin Eve’s descent from purity that eventuates in her eviction from Eden.
The Final Betrayal of the Supreme Goddess
It can probably be said that in ancient cultures the snake represented wisdom, healing and immortality. Indeed even today the snake symbolizes health. The staff of Asclepius is still used in medicine just as the Caducceus of Hermesone with the double snakes and the other with the single snake but both symbolizing powerful medicine and healing powers.
For one thing snakes shed their skin so this came to symbolize renewal of life and so eternal life to ancient people; the universal dance of life, death and rebirth. Snakes in ancient times were also associated with wisdom, the very attribute that goddesses were said to be endowed with. Here we see the serpent mother Goddess that appeared in the Neolithic era at least 5000 years ago We can assume that the association between snakes and goddesses goes much further back, even into prehistory. In the Sumerian city of Ur the supposed birthplace of Abraham, two extremely old images of the mother Goddess and her child were found—both had the heads of snakes. As late as the 3rd century a Greek cult recognized the cosmos as a living entity and symbolized its power before creation by wrapping a serpent around an egg.
Snake goddesses were not limited to one area of the world or one time period—the reader will remember the early figurines of the Earth-Mother I believe we can safely assume that the snake goddess arrived as an aspect of Earth Mother’s nature or perhaps as Earth-Mother’s daughter. In India, for example, she is Nageshwari while the Minoan snake-goddess of Crete arrives in this image (You will note she wears the women’s fashion of the day: A lovely tight bodice leaving the breasts bare; a long feminine skirt and apron).
For at least 10,000 years (probably more) the snake always symbolized the positive--ultimate wisdom, healing and the renewal of life, was almost always associated with the goddess. And so, the obvious question is how, did the image of the serpent become negative and finally…evil?
According to the Bible when the Israelites entered the Land of Canaan they found a land of farmers. Recall that Egypt’s goddess Iris is most commonly referred to as the “inventor” of agriculture. Anyway, it is said that the farm land was plentiful and beautiful for which the Canaanites gave credit to Baal, their God.
This caused conflict of religious beliefs and a competitiveness emerged—who would be worshipped, Yahweh or Baal?
It wasn’t only the god Baal that attracted many of the Israelites but the many Canaanite goddesses as well—this would have included Astarte, seen here with a serpent wrapped around her neck and according to the Book Of Judges, the Israelites in vast numbers began worshipping the “pagan” gods of Canaan.
Enter Genesis and the story of Adam and Eve.
While the story of Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden probably originated with the early Sumerians, the Israelites probably gave their own version to the creation tale and the fall of Adam and Eve.
Eve is clearly made the culprit in the story with her communicating with the wicked serpent who informs her that she will not die, as God had said, if she eats from the tree of knowledge. It is possible that the tree the serpent is in is indeed the tree spoken of and not some other fruit bearing tree in the garden. In any case, as it turns out, she doesn’t die after eating ‘the fruit” so the wise old snake was telling the truth. In fact, she now “tempts” Adam to disobey God and eat of the fruit himself. Adam does and quite suddenly all their purity goes away even becoming aware of their nakedness so god angers upon seeing all this and casts them out of Eden.
The aim is no doubt to encourage Israelites worshipping Baal and participating in the Goddess cults of Canaan to return to the worship of Israel’s one omniscient and omnipotent God…Yahweh.
That the “war” between Canaan’s goddess cults and the one god deity of the Hebrew goes on is revealed, for example, in Job where Jehovah kills the serpent the Pagan god of the seaIncidentally, the snake symbol, belonging to the Goddess Asherah was not taken out of the Temple of Jerusalem until 700 BC so the struggle between the gods Baal and the goddesses of his cult and the one God Yahweh lasted millenniums. And, the goddess was finally defeated by the God that would rise above all other gods in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. But even in the so-called Pagan religions, long before 700 BC, the goddess had been turned into the consorts, wives, sisters and lovers of the male population of Gods. And, by the time 1600 AD rolled around the goddess had been left by the wayside of unfolding modernism and most virtually forgotten in a sea of mythology.
Eve had been condemned as the fall of mankind since the penning of the ancient Bible. The Church of Rome (Catholics), however, would add to her evil by making her the reason that original sin came into the world; the reason why we all must die. All this while Adam, in a term is merely seen as her yoyo on a string; a kind of innocent dumb and dumber who was tempted by the awful, calculating Eve.
In the Genesis myth, it was Eve who befriends the serpent, that ancient symbol of wisdom and so of knowing. The truth of course is even after the Hebrew’s invasion of the people of Canaan, they continued to worship the goddess for a great many centuries if not millenniums. Indeed, the Hebrew profits such as Hosea and Jeremiah are constantly outraged by those who were still worshipping the Queen of Heaven.
What is most interesting is that in those places, such as Crete, where the Goddess ruled peace and justice seems to have prevailed, the opposite of those living under a male deity. In fact, once the male’s role in procreation was discovered, the explosion of male domination began. Both church and state became a place of male elitism. This was not quite as true in Rome as in classical Athens where women were treated more like chattel than human beings; even their sexuality were considered somewhat of a necessary evil. In ancient times the Hebrew men, by and large, held this same view. This same view stayed persistent down through the ages to one level or another until changes began to be made in the mid-1800s and has continued changing into our own times. Yet, the world still runs on a male-dominated system. And, in the times of the historic Jesus women were so under the thumb of men that they were condemned to death by stoning for losing their virginity before marriage. This tradition still remains in certain cultures where women are regarded as soulless and far below the status of those born male.
There is just so much to think about when we are reminded of those times and places where the Goddess ruled and justice for all prevailed. I am fully aware that I have only scratched the surface of the history I’ve attempted to share in this narrative. I hope the reader is stirred to do his or her own exploring of that incredible past when God was a woman.
References and Recommended reading
Armstraong, Karen * A History of God * Knopf
Eisler, Riane * The Challace & The Blade * Harper & Row
Freke, Timothy & Gandy, Peter* Jesus and the Lost Goddess *Three Rivers Press
Mead, G.R.S., * Pistis Sophia, A Gnostic Gospel * The Book Tree
Pennick, Nigel * The Sacred World of the Celts * Inner Traditions International
Rudgkey, Richard* The Lost Civilization of the Stone Age *Free Press
Wolf, Fred Alan * The Spiritual Universe * Simon and Schuster
The Chalice & the Blade
Our History, Our Future
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