A WORLD OF GODDESSES
She’s the loving Venus, the bold Brigit, the fiery Pele, the wise Athena, the nurturing Madonna, the furious Kali. She is the goddess, a presence of feminine divinity who has been the focus of spiritual seekers, feminists, anthropologists and historians around the world.
And she may be just what you need if you feel disconnected from the traditional gods of some religious belief systems.
In their spiritual and personal growth search, women especially find that honoring a goddess is fulfilling because she nourishes our feminine side. “We’re raised in a culture where the highest form of godhood is male, so women have developed a sense of being diminished psychologically and spiritually,” says Kathleen Jenks, Ph.D., who teaches in the Mythological Studies department of Pacifica Graduate Institute in Carpinteria, Calif. “It’s as if we can’t find our own voice or spiritual maturity until we can find within us the call of the divine feminine. Turning to the goddess honors us in a way the father-god of the Judeo-Christian tradition just doesn’t do. In that system, we’re always second best; we’re daughters of Eve made from some fellow’s rib.”
Reaching out to goddess energy helps us shed the past’s old, oppressive, shaming mindsets and explore spirituality that honors and expresses the divine as a lively, creative force. “We never hear of Moses or Jesus or the Holy Spirit laughing,” muses Jenks. “Goddesses laugh. They sing songs and dance. I think both men and women really need that — and many men are also strongly drawn to the goddess movement.”
In Search of the Divine Creative
Goddesses can be creative and nurturing like good mothers, but they can also invent a plow or wield a spear,” warns Jenks. “A goddess may be a nice warm mommy figure when that’s needed, but she’s really about honoring the full, mature depth of what it is to be human.”
And goddess honoring certainly isn’t limited to women. Last year during a visit to Singapore, a young man named Desmond brought me to the Kuan Yin temple on the eve of the Chinese New Year. At midnight, throngs of devoted worshippers crowd their way into the temple — the first 10 to enter receive a special blessing from the goddess, who is famous for her mercy and compassion.
There the gold-covered goddess sits, perched on her lotus throne, surrounded by the four Gods of Heaven and sacred dragons. At her feet are offerings of marigolds, walnuts, pussy willows and pomelos; her eight arms are draped with beads that people have brought her in thanks for her blessing. Desmond, my guide, whispers to me of his special relationship with Kuan Yin. “Every time I pray to her, she answers my prayers,” he says. “Once I was in a bit of trouble and came specifically to this temple to ask for help. Later, when the trouble passed, I came back specially to give thanks.”
A goddess, Jenks continues, also knows when to push the fledgling from the nest.
Along with wisdom, goddesses embody all forms of creativity — from motherhood to the arts. “Almost every goddess is involved with the gift of language, healing and creating things like sand-paintings, music, dance, pottery, metal-crafts,” Jenks points out. “She offers a space within which all forms of creativity are safe. I think the reason people are interested in goddesses today is because the Judeo-Christian god doesn’t seem to welcome our creativity as much as our obedience.”
The Goddess: Not Just for the Ancients
Though some people consider goddesses long-gone symbols of an ancient civilization, they’re worshipped and revered by many people in the present day. “Among the Navajo, Changing Woman and Grandmother Spider Woman are as present now as they were 2,000 years ago to their ancestors,” says Jenks. “Likewise, I might study Athena as the patron of art in ancient Greece because I’m a religious historian, but a Greek goddess worshipper might have an entirely different relationship with a very real Athena who’s a strong, divine feminine in life today.”
Sometimes Anglo-Americans feel drawn to goddesses because they don’t have access to the goddess tradition in their own culture, Jenks says. Or, some people find a goddess connection as they explore their ethnic roots. “Someone of Irish heritage might discover the Celtic goddess Brigit,” she points out. “Though goddesses often date historically from an early time, it’s not uncommon for a modern person to be attracted to what Brigit stands for in the Celtic tradition. The energy of the Divine is still viable; it just needs to be activated by a human ‘receiver.'”
A World of Goddesses
Most cultures have goddesses in their pantheon. A few of the better known examples of Feminine Divinity:
Lakshmi: The Hindu goddess of good fortune and material wealth ensures human well-being and prosperity and luck. Worshippers lavish her altars with gifts of oil, milk and flowers.
Kali: This fierce, black goddess is depicted with her tongue lolling from her mouth, dripping blood. She wears a necklace of skulls, brandishes a sword, and wears the corpses of infants as earrings. She is the bringer of death and the giver of ultimate truth.
Isis: According to myth, Isis, the faithful wife of Osiris, diligently searched for his body after he was murdered, returned him to Egypt and impregnated herself with his dead body. She is the Goddess of Water, Earth, Corn, Stars and the Underworld, and she possesses healing powers. She created the Nile from her tears.
Ancient Grecian and Roman
Aphrodite (Venus): The goddess of love is associated with sexuality (eros)and fertility but also embodies the qualities of mother love, love between friends (agape), and spiritual love.
Athena (Minerva): The goddess of war and wisdom. She gave the world agriculture, the arts and is also a warrior.
Gaia: Born of Chaos, Gaia is the goddess embodiment of the earth. She gave birth to the sky and the ocean as well as the Titans, among them Chronos, father of the Olympian gods.
Kuan Yin: The goddess of mercy is popular throughout Asia. She helps childless couples conceive, heals the sick, is a patron of travelers and farmers, and protects souls in the times of travail.
Epona: This Celtic goddess is portrayed with a horse and worshipped as a warrior, guardian of the dead, a healer and the Earth Mother.
Brigit: The goddess of language and metalsmithing. She creates shields and spears. After the Roman conquest of the British Isles, Brigit became associated with Minerva, the Roman artist/warrior goddess.
Spider Woman: She is the creator and weaver of life; the sacred guardian and teacher to peoples of many Southwest Native American cultures. She appears as both a spider and an old woman.
Inanna: The Queen of Heaven, she descends into the underworld to experience her own death and regeneration. There her sister Ereshkigal hangs Inanna’s denuded and dead carcass on a hook for three days. To return to life, Inanna must appoint a sacrifice in her place — her husband Dumuzi.