Since way back in prehistorical times humans have left behind evidence of a deep emotional, psychological and spiritual relationship with a feminine mother spirit which is noticeably lacking in the mainstream cultures and among the mass of the population around the planet today. For the majority of people in the confused and conflicted, frightened world, the Mother Goddess is Missing: from our relationships, our thoughts and our sacred practice, if we have even have one. The Mother is absent from the world’s collective story and most people’s inner worlds – and this matters, because it is through the feminine that we feel, experience and know our connection to the planet, to wholeness and interdependent unity, to what some call God. The Divine Mother is not just a concept in philosophy, she is a lived experience that most people no longer know about.
Life began in the Oceans. The waters are the womb of life, it was only once life was adapting to living on the land that the penis evolved. The first creatures that emerged from the ocean bore their offspring in eggs – they recreated the ocean inside themselves. The womb evolved on the same principle. The Mother gave birth to life, and ancient archaeology, mythology and religion all affirm that this is how the people once understood it, and that they made great efforts to maintain an active, vibrant, passionate relationship with her.
The earliest art made by humans, both cave paintings and statuettes, come from the Upper Paleolithic period, 25000 – 10000 BCE, and it almost exclusively features images of women. Some caves appear to have been used as sanctuaries, and the style seems to represent abundant fertility, the famous Venus of Willendorf is one of many examples of items found. The Venus of Laussel, from the Dordogne in France, holds a bison horn at head’s height pointing upwards – an ancient precursor perhaps to the Greek Artemis and Roman Diana, Goddesses of the Moon and the hunt. It is possible that way before the Paleolithic early humans also felt this mother aspect of creation: Neanderthals buried their dead curled in fetal position, likely to represent re-entering the earth (the tomb as the womb) to be reborn again.
From 5000 BCE we have a sudden surge in evidence of a structured and evolved spiritual culture emerging across Europe. Humans shifted from nomadic to a more settled lifestyle, building megalithic stone monuments, elaborate tombs and stone circles, especially along the Atlantic edge of Europe and part of the Mediterranean. The Goddess is represented in the art and architecture of these sacred places, some of which were also aligned to the solar seasonal shifts.
In time the Goddess came out of the caves and into the light via mythology and creation stories. Many Indo-European cultures considered the Sun to be the life-giving Goddess, from the Celts and Germans of northern Europe (in German the Sun is still feminine, die Sonne, and the moon masculine, der Mond, and English still remembers the ‘man in the moon’), to the ancient Scythians, whose formidable Sun Goddess Artemis of Tauris had a big influence on the Greeks. Greek civilisation was developing at the same time as the Hebrew culture in the Middle East, and in both we can observe the transition to male-dominated religion during the first millennium BCE. Artemis became associated with the Moon, though she remained a supremely powerful and respected being, and Apollo took over the Sun crown. The Old Testament records the efforts, over centuries, put in by Hebrew kings (though not all of them) to eradicate worship of Goddess Asherah among their people.
Around the world the Mother appears in Creation stories and myths: In Japan it was a Goddess presiding over the course of the Sun; the Navajo of north America see the universe as spun into being by Great Spider Woman; the three Norns of Scandinavia also sat spinning the web of life, destiny and fate at the roots of the cosmic world tree, Ygg-drasill; In Egypt the Sky goddess Nut nourished the earth with her rain. The world now names the highest mountain in the world after a British explorer, but to the Tibetans it has always been Chomo-Lungma, Mother Mountain of the Universe. In South America veneration of the Goddess as Pachamama (Mother of Space and Time) has survived centuries of Christianity.
The oldest known recorded story in the world is that of Gilgamesh, from the 3rd millennium BCE, a story of a passionate love between two men and a quest for immortality, in which the Goddess plays a major role. As Ishtar then Inanna in Mesopotamia she was a Goddess of both Love and War, and also gender-transformation, with tales of transgendered people being created to serve her. There are also legends that point to her being usurped by her male son/lover, and her queer priests being outcasts in the world until her eventual triumphant return. The Genesis story of the Old Testament, if regarded in the context of the many creation stories from those times, can be seen as a consciously designed attempt to put women in second place. In this story woman is made from man, the opposite to the biological reality, and told from the start she is there to serve. The Bible compilers chose not to include the other Jewish myth, that of Adam’s first wife Lilith, who considered herself his equal and was exiled by Father God into the wilderness as a result.
Cybele, the Mother Goddess of Anatolia, the Asian part of Turkey, was regarded by the Greeks and Romans as so ancient and venerable that the Greeks identified her with their Goddess Rhea, older than all other deities and called the Mother of the Gods, while the Romans brought a meteorite stone from her homeland, along with her loud, queer, gender-bending priests, the Gallae, to Rome in 200 BCE and installed her with great ceremony in a temple as the Magna Mater, the Great Mother patron of the empire guiding and protecting the advance of civilisation. For the next 600 years the Goddess reigned supreme across the Mediterranean, not only as Cybele, but in her forms as Isis, Diana, Venus, Minerva and more. Her rituals were often lively, ecstatic, erotic and liberating, and her worship was led by women, transsexuals and feminine ‘gay’ men.
Myths represented the male God as the Son and/or Lover of the Goddess, such as Attis, the lover of Cybele whom she drove to an insane frenzy while jealous because he was to marry a human princess – he castrated himself to avoid the wedding, the bride cut off her breasts in the mania that hit the wedding. Then the Goddess had remorse, took her lover’s testicles and buried them, violets then grew from them. By the second century CE this myth, and the Cybeline Spring ceremonies, were increasingly focussed on the resurrection of Attis, with a ‘holy week’ of ecstatic and also bloody ceremonies, during which new priests would self-castrate in a heightened, ecstatic euphoria, followed by a month of joyful Goddess celebrations, known as the Hilaria.
Led by a queer and very sexual priesthood, the Cybele cult was hated by the rising Christian church more than any other. Many of the Church Fathers tirades against sex come from their efforts to stop people going on to Cybelline orgies after Christian mass. Once Christianity became the official religion of Rome it was not long before all other practices were banned, and the last records of Cybele worship are from 5th century France. In 411 a Council of Church leaders at Ephesus declared that Mary was to be known as Theotokos, the Mother of God, which led to the Roman Catholic veneration of the Virgin, the divine title given to her in the city where Artemis had been venerated for thousands of years, where her chaste priestesses were powerful, respected Virgins. The Theotokos gave the Bishops a way to channel the intense devotion that people everywhere felt for the Mother away from the old goddess and into the Church.
From Mother of the Gods to Mother of God, from Virgin priestess to the Virgin Mother. The feminine aspect of the Divine remained with the people, it was she who moved their hearts and souls. The Church would have preferred this devotion to be directed at Jesus and the Father, and over time, this is what it worked to achieve. During the Middle Ages those who resisted the authority of the Church, or who remained more committed to pagan ways, continued to venerate the Goddess in ways of their own choosing. Diana was particularly present in people’s awareness, as Goddess of the Moon, and tales abounded of women flying off on journeys in the night with her. The persecution of witches in the late Middle Ages and early Modern times often included the use of torture to extract confessions in which the accused women (and also sometimes men) would deny the reality of the Goddess and state that their deity was actually the Devil.
Note the similarity of Devil and Devi – the Sanskrit word for the Goddess. The Hindu culture did not send its goddesses into oblivion, they have always been celebrated and still inspire devotional worship in people today. But in the west the monotheistic religions poured all that was not suitable for their schemes into the concept of the Devil. When Protestantism arrived in the early 16th century the new form of Christianity considered the Catholic love of the Virgin to be almost pagan, along with the cult of saints. The icons of spirit that inspired people to feelings and acts of devotion and compassion were pushed out of the picture and just as early Catholics went round destroying the statues and temples of the pagan Goddesses, the Protestants set out destroying the cult of the Virgin. For the last few centuries we have been encouraged to put our natural devotional emotions into work, into patriotism, war, into sport, marriage, and of course escapist entertainment.
Yet some people also put them into the Goddess. Since the Renaissance of the 15-16th century the holistic pagan sensibility has tried to push its way back into our lives, hit each time by an authoritarian backlash. The Romantic poets of the 18-19th century dreamed of an Arcadian return of a simpler life in tune with nature and the gods. Oscar Wilde invoked the same thing. Since the repeal of the Witchcraft and similar acts in the UK in the 1950s, European paganism has launched itself into the world and, despite familiar, conservative backswings, continues to grow in western cultures, especially north America. This is in part a movement of white people who were colonised by Christianity over a thousand years ago, rediscovering our own native practices that were denied and debased. The return of European paganism is reflected also by the rapid growth of interest in spiritual and shamanic cultures from around the world, as we recognise that the traditional nature-based cultures were in touch with something deep that the modern world has mostly lost.
What is missing is the presence of the Mother. Zulu Sangoma and High Sanusi Credo Mutwa explains the African wisdom that we each have inside us a warrior mind (which is the male god, the rational individualised sense of self), and the mother mind (which we all share as the portal to collective consciousness, which reveals our oneness with all life). He expresses in this video the simplicity of how we can know the Mother, saying “We must awaken the mother mind within us. We must feel what is going on in the world. We mustn’t just listen to newspapers. We must ourselves, feel.”
Historians and archaeologists, alongside feminists, pagans and modern mystics in the West have gradually prepared the groundwork during the 20th century for a mass revival of the divine feminine that is now underway, but has yet to have impact on the awareness of people glued into the mainstream belief systems. Robert Briffault‘s work ‘The Mothers’ (1927) presented evidence that a matrifocal society had preceded patriarchy, in 1921 Margaret Murray’s ‘The Witch-cult in Western Europe’, described the late medieval/early modern witches as remnants of an ancient pagan religion, which set off fierce controversies. Psychologist Erich Neumann published ‘The Great Mother: An Analysis of the Archetype’ in the 1950s, Welsh poet Robert Graves explored the evolution of the Mother in Europe in ‘The White Goddess’ and demonstrated the major theme of Greek mythology is the gradual reduction of women from sacred beings to slaves (in ‘The Greek Myths’ published 1955).
In the 1970s American-Lithuanian archaeologist Maria Gimbutas presented controversial ideas about ancient Europe, saying that until the Bronze Age and the arrival of Indo-European invaders from the east, cultures were matriarchal and peaceful. Feminist writers in the 1980s such as Merlin Stone ‘When God was A Woman’ and Monica Sjoo and Barbara Mor ‘The Great Cosmic Mother’continued the work of bringing to a wider audience knowledge of the centrality of the Goddess, and women, in the traditional cultures of the past. More recently Randy P. Connor‘s 5 volume masterpiece ‘The Pagan Heart of the West’ has given us a thorough study of the ancient and ongoing appreciation of the divine feminine through the medieval and modern periods, despite the determined and bloody efforts of Christianity.
During the past few decades a new Goddess movement has been emerging in the world. The Great Mother is returning to her place in human hearts and minds, gradually. Modern mystics such as Andrew Harvey spread teachings about her return. His book ‘The Return of the Mother’ (1995) traces how the divine feminine was hidden in the world’s male-led religions, and he presents the case for how a radical embrace of her all-encompassing transformative love will change humanity. Harvey says, “Coming to know the hidden and forgotten Mother and the marvellous wisdom of the sacred feminine as revealed from every side and angle by the different mystical traditions is not luxury; it is, I believe, a necessity for our survival as a species.”
Modern pagans in the West chant
“We all come from the Goddess and to Her we shall return…”
African, and also Hindu and other traditional wisdom, can remind us left-brained westerners that the Mother is accessed through the feeling body. She is speaking to us through – as – our body all the time, and through the land, weather, the plants and the animals. Hinduism says that the Father Shiva is outside creation but the Mother Shakti is right here present and incarnate in everything, we meet her spiritually and emotionally – we can train all our senses to perceive her. Mother worshipping peoples have always respected the human body as well as the Earth and its animals, recognising the divine presence in the flesh, in sexuality, and in ecstatic/intoxicated states of being. The Mother religions were sex-positive, which is why, in the eyes of the patriarchal Christians, seeking to control people’s lives, lusts and ecstatic behaviours they had to go.
And yet the Christian holy book contains the Saviour Jesus giving prophecies of the coming of the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, to help the world in the end times. In the original texts the Holy Spirit is presented as feminine, but from Greek translations onwards it became male. Jesus is referring to the Mother Goddess, but could not say too much in the patriarchal Jewish environment he was born into. It is in the concept of the Holy Spirit that Christianity has hidden most of the powers of the Divine Feminine for the past 2000 years. Note that Jesus calls her the Comforter, because the presence of the Holy Spirit is experienced through the senses, which is in line with the Indian description of the immanence of Shakti. And pagans get it too – the Mother is not just a psychological or mythological concept, She is a lived experience, a loving presence and a source of strength, support and comfort. For most of human history most people would have just taken this for granted. Even the atomists of ancient Greece, who first proposed that matter is made up of atomic particles and everything else is just our projection, still went to the temple to sacrifice to the Goddess.
Monica Sjoo in the Great Cosmic Mother says “True religion is the original umbilical cord that binds our individual selves back to our larger, universal source. That source… is the Great Mother, who is the great cosmic weaver, the divine potter, the carrier of the heavenly water jar; we participate in her substance, her nature, her processes, her play and her work….
“The reality implicit in the Universe – in each one of us, in the self at the heart of being – is her way. It is very ancient, and has no time. …. Ecstasy is the only way through which the soul can lose itself in union with her…. Some male mystics have also understood this…
“Ecstasy is the dance of the individual with the All.”
Louis Lagana of the University of Malta wrote in ‘The Re-Emergence of the Great Mother Goddess‘: “In Jungian parlance the Mother Archetype resides in every
human psyche and is a symbol of protection and fertility and regeneration. This concept
also belongs to the field of comparative religion and embraces widely varying types of
the mother-goddess. The discussion of ‘Feminist Archetypal Psychology’ shows that the
Great Mother Goddess archetype is activated and is returning to consciousness. The Great Mother Goddess archetype was very important in the Western world from the
dawn of prehistory throughout the pre-Indo-European time periods, as it still is in many
traditional cultures today.”
Elinor Gadin wrote these words back in 1989, they badly need to be heard and understood across the world: “there is a growing awareness that we are doomed as a species and planet unless we have a radical change of consciousness. The reemergence of the Goddess is becoming the symbol and metaphor for this transformation of culture. With the return of the Goddess, the new power of the feminine is being expressed in all areas of life. There is a re-evaluation of the female principle in religion, in psychology, in the arts, and in the quality and relationship of humanity to the planet we live on. We are in the midst of a social evolution that will ultimately change how we see everything, as radically transformative as the smashing of the atom.”
Goddess worship does not involve sitting quietly in rows listening to preachers telling you what is right and what is wrong. To worship the Goddess, to know her inside ourselves and see her in others, we might embrace altered states of perception through, passing gates opened by love, music, dance, ecstasy, sexuality, the body, sacred medicine plants. All these things can connect us to the oneness of life, make us feel safe and at home in the universe, but without these things, without the Mother, humanity is a frightened child being used and abused, told to what to do, and punished for not obeying the rules by a cruel patriarchy that tried to run the world without her presence. The planet is in transformation, Nature itself is now in crisis and so are we. But missing from psyches and our spirituality is a sense of the unifying love of the very tangible presence of the the Mother. Her return can unite and bring healing to our world.