In Neo-Pagan 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 Neo-Pagan 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 Neo-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; 1966), made a case for a widespread earth and moon Goddess cult, especially among the Celts, but his theory has been disputed by some scholars.
Other experts 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 Cro-Magnons of the Upper Paleolithic period between 35,000 and 10,000 B.C. 'The Venus of Laussel', carved in bas-relief on a rock shelter in southern France that apparently was once a hunting shrine, dates to ca. 19,000 B.C. She is painted in red ochre-perhaps suggesting blood - and is holding a bison horn in one hand.
Cro-Magnon 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. In the Middle Neolithic period, ca. 6000-5000 B.C., figures of a mother holding a child appear.
In the High Neolithic period, ca. 4500-3500 B.C., decorated female figurines presumably were objects of worship. In black Africa, cave images of the Horned Goddess (later Isis) date to 7000-6000 B.C.
The Black Goddess was bisexual and self-fertilizing.
In pre-Dynastic Egypt, prior to 3110 B.C., 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., 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., 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 becames 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 beginning of the end of the so-called 'Golden Age' of the Goddess occurred between 1800 and 1500 B.C., when Abraham, the first prophet of the Hebrew God, Yahweh, is said to have lived in Canaan.
Many modern Witches feel the Goddess has been ignored and suppressed for too long in the Judeo-Christian tradition. The powerful desire to worship the Goddess, they claim, 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 worshippers, 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 Satan. Diana was said to be the Goddess of witches. 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 modern Witchcraft the emphasis on the Goddess appears to date to the 1950s, through the efforts of Gerald B Gardner. Traditional and Hereditary covens in Britain emphasized the Horned God. Gardner's earliest published writing, a novel about Witchcraft (High Magic's Aid, 1949), makes no mention of the Goddess. Some Witches say the Goddess has always been part of the Craft, but her role seems to have blossomed after Gardner formed his own Coven in 1951.
The feminist movement has given added impetus to the importance of the Goddess. Most Witches worship both the Goddess and the Horned God, who are represented by the High Priestess and High Priest in a Coven. The union of Goddess and God in Sacred Marriage is one of the fundamentals of the Craft (see GREAT RITE, The). Some Witches worship the Goddess exclusively.
In the modern Craft, the Goddess frequently is 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 worshipped since antiquity in various cultures. A virgin-mother-crone goddess was worshipped in parts of Anatolia in the 7th millenium B.C.
The Morrigan of Ireland is personified by Ana, the virgin; Babd, the mother; and Macha, the crone or Hag. The three aspects most common in Wicca and other forms of Neo-Pagan Witchcraft are three Greek goddesses of the moon: Artemis (usually called by her Roman name, Diana), Selene and Hecate, who are represented by 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; Selene, the mother, is associated with the full moon and rules the sky; Hecate, the crone or Hag, is associated with the waning and dark of the moon, and rules the Underworld.
Hecate herself has 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.
Modern Witches feel worship of the Goddess restores the power of women. The American Feminist Witch Miriam Starhawk, in The Spiral Dance (1979), observes that for women, the Goddess "is the symbol of the innermost self, and the beneficent, nurturing, liberating power within woman." For a man, "the Goddess, as well as being the universal life force, is his own, hidden, female self."
In 1984 American psychiatrist Jean Shinoda Bolen put forth the theory that the Great Goddess, represented by the Archetypes of various Greek goddesses, continues to play a major role in the unconscious of women. The Archetypes are patterns of female personalities. Each has positive and negative traits and possesses more power and diversity in personality than women have been able to exercise throughout history.
see also: TRIPLE GODDESS; TRIFORMIS; CHARGE OF THE GODDESS; HAG; DARK GODDESS; ARADIA; ARTEMIS; ASERAH; ASHTORETH; ASTARTE; ATHENA; BADB CATHA; BAST; BAU; BENDIS; BRIDE; BRIGIT; CERIDWEN; CYBELE; DARK GODDESS; DARKAT; DIANA; FLORA; FREYJA; GABIJA; GAIA; HATHOR; HEKATE (aka Hecate); HESTIA; HOLDA; INANNA; ISHTAR; ISIS; KALI; KORE; KYBELE; LILITH; LOSNA; MINERVA; NEMAIN; PERSEPHONE; RHIANON; SELENE; THOUERIS; TIAMAT; TLAZOLTEOTL; TSUN-KYANSKE; TZINTEOTL
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One of the major problems with 'defining' Paganism and/or its beliefs and practices is that it is an 'organic' movement, in that it is undergoing constant change and re-evaluation from within, and as such any 'one-size-fits-all' approach to understanding Paganism will be found wanting.
Due to the very 'organic' nature of Paganism, and the many differing Paths and Traditions within it, in many cases no one definition may be universally accepted by all Pagans. Therefore, where such cases of possible conflicting and/or contradictory meanings of certain terms occur I have endevoured to give not only the generally accepted meaning, but also any major 'variations' in belief and/or practice.
Christians who believe this difference in meaning of certain key terms, beliefs and practices to be unique to Paganism need to remember that such conflicts also arise within the Body of Christ - the Church. Take for instance the differing practices amongst Christians concerning Baptism and the different attitudes towards women in the clergy.
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