A goddess, a female deity, contrasts with male deities, known as "gods". A great many cultures have their own goddesses, sometimes alone, but more often as part of a larger pantheon that includes both of the conventional genders and in some cases even hermaphroditic deities. The Goddess can provide a female version of or analogue to God; sometimes, the relationship is more rooted in monism, as opposed to a straight-cut monotheism or polytheism, and the Goddess and God are seen as part of one transcendental monad.
Hinduism admits a complex belief system that sees many gods and goddesses as being representative of and/or emanative from a single source, either a formless, infinite, impersonal monad known as Brahman, or a single God seen by some sects as Vishnu, others Shiva, or still others Devi, the mother goddess, providing a large range of belief system with Vedic scripture. Thus, many analogues between passive male ground and dynamic female energy have lead to the personification of such energies as male and female pairs, often envisioned as male gods and their wives. The transcendent monad, Brahman, transcends categories but its representation through the existential duality that is limited by time, space and causation, simply put the universe as we know it, occurs through the categories of male God and female energy, working as a pair. Brahma pairs with Sarasvati, Vishnu with Lakshmi, and Shiva with Uma, Parvati, or Durga. Kali is a form of Parvati. A further step was taken by the idea of the shaktas, or Hindu worshippers of the Goddess. Their, and much of Hindu tantra's, ideology sees Shakti as the principle of energy through which all divinity functions, thus showing the masculine to be dependent on the feminine. Indeed, in the great shakta scripture known as the Devi Mahatmya, all the goddesses are shown to be aspects of one presiding female force, one in truth and many in expression, giving the world and the cosmos the galvanic energy for motion. It is expressed through both philosophical tracts and metaphor that the potentiality of masculine being is given actuation by the feminine divine. The strong monist bent in Hinduism defies polytheist or monotheist categorization and for this reason local deities of different village regions in India are easily seen by outsiders as their own Goddess in different form.
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Wiccan and Neopagan practice includes veneration of the Great Goddess along with the Horned God. While not all Pagans make the God an important part of their religion, none would deny the Goddess as a central Pagan tradition in general (it is important to recall the diversity of both Goddess and Pagan movements).
The standard founder quoted for Wicca is Gerald Gardner whose books still read well and defend a fairly feminist ideal of priestess authority in service to Goddess and God; but it was arguably Doreen Valiente (the 'Mother of the Craft') -- his early convert and priestess -- whose books became far more widespread and influential. It was certainly Valiente who critiqued Gardner's more sexist notions, such as a desire to retire older priestesses in favour of young pretty ones. Gardner also collaborated with a woman he called 'Dafo', who later dropped out of sight, and thus the extent of her contribution is unknown. It is also important to acknowledge Western Paganism as following 19th-century occultism and romantic nature movements, where the female sacred is more valued in contrast to and perhaps in reaction to mainstream Christian spirituality.
Perhaps the most influential priestess in the Goddess movement has been Starhawk, author of the international best seller "The Spiral Dance" 1979 (and other works since) whose clarity, imagination, insight and love of political magic has done so much to spark the growth of Goddess spirituality. The book still stands as a classic of modern paganism. Starhawk is the most famous student of Zsuzsanna Budapest (Zee) who twinned witchcraft, from her Hungarian background, with USA feminism, to create the women-only Dianic Craft. Separatism (women living for short or longer periods without male contacts) was, in the 1980s, an influence on Pagan ideas of gender: since women needed to learn independence, it was argued, separatism is useful medicine, as well as a inspiration of lost wholeness. Separatism, in a world where gender misunderstanding is common, is sometimes considered as dangerous as it is divisive, though it is most unlikely to become a dominant trend. Zee is still considered the honoured Mother of Dianic Craft, although as many criticise her as love her, or do both.
Starhawk's Paganism drew on the polarity of Wicca, and blended this with Dianic separatism, in the context of a women's movement exploding internationally. Her followers consider her a prophetess, an expert ritualist, and later a thealogian, whose work spans both Pagan and non-Pagan Goddess cultures in a seamless whole, looking especially to include separatist, straight/ gay, women, men, and most recently children, in a utopian agenda of hope across many societies.
Recently strong associations have arisen of the Goddess with Mother Earth (or Mother Nature), and with the Moon. These metaphors have very wide currency, to the point of becoming assumed as dogma, but some Pagans affectionately criticise them. Many cultures -- the Celts and the Egyptians, for example -- do not figure the Moon or the Earth (see Geb) as female, although the popular Western model certainly lent itself to phallic imagery at the time of the Moon landings in the 1960s and 1970s.
The Mother Earth motif usefully joins deep emotional loyalties to our mothers and to the ecological needs of the planet. Since mothering can become targeted so easily as a key resource for supposed 'female inferiority', a thealogy that unambiguously views childbirth and childcare as sacred meets with a warm welcome. Provocatively, Monica Sjoo's painting of 'God giving birth' -- a cartoon of a female outline with a globe/head emerging in soothing blue-greys -- came under a ban from exhibition imposed by her local council on grounds of "obscenity". However, the Mother Earth mythos can also backfire in the case of those whose mothering remained less than wonderful, and some feminists question the over-emphasis on (biological) mothering at a time when increasing numbers of women either refuse, limit, or feel great ambivalence about it. Goddess culture therefore makes much of spiritual mothering (i.e. creativity), mothering the vulnerable, and mothering the planet.
A note on the Hindu view of the mother goddess is that while they are seen as individuals the larger mother goddess worship often sees them subsumed into a larger feminine divine as well. The Hindu liturgy of 108, or even 1008, names is common and the Divine Mother is seen in this multifaceted light as well. Aspects of symbolic mandala (circular meditative designs) and yoni (vagina) reverence are central to certain left-hand forms of Hindu tantra, and the intricate figures drawn (known as yantras) are parallels to other similar signs such as are found in the West to represent the feminine divine.
Some Wiccans perceive the goddess Aradia as a kind of messianic Daughter deity. They revere the yoni or vulva as a symbol of the Goddess, together with the cowrie shell, the (Moon) Crescent, the Earth, the Serpent, the Tree, the five pointed pentagram and the Eight Pointed Star, the Quartered Circle (compare Celtic Cross), and many animals and birds.
Considerable variation in the precise conceptions of these figures exists, as typically occurs in Neopaganism and indeed in pagan religions in general. Some choose to interpret them as three stages in a woman's life, separated by menarche and menopause. Others find this too biologically based and rigid, and prefer a freer interpretation, with the Maiden as birth (independent, self-centred, seeking), the Mother as giving birth (interrelated, compassionate nurturing, creating), and the Crone as death and renewal (wholistic, remote, unknowable_ — and all three erotic and wise. Often three of the four phases of the moon (waxing, full, waning) symbolise the three aspects of the Triple Goddess: put together they appear in a single symbol comprising a circle flanked by two mirrored crescents.
Some, however, find the triple incomplete, and prefer to add a fourth aspect. This might be a Dark Goddess or Wisewoman, perhaps as suggested by the missing dark of the moon in the symbolism above, or it might be a specifically erotic goddess standing for a phase of life between Maiden (Virgin) and Mother.
The Triple Goddess as Maiden, Mother and Crone has also reached modern popular culture, such as Neil Gaiman's own conception of the Furies in The Sandman, and elsewhere.
Of all sectors of Goddess Spirituality, Paganism has the most well developed culture of a divine polarity of gender, which has strong parallels with Tantra. The God is a powerful inspiration to a "third way" for men, neither wimp nor bully but "everything the male can be". While the search for Goddess has involved an unearthing of the hidden to fill emptiness, the search for the God beside her, which usually comes afterwards, needs a transformation of ugly, unworkable models of the masculine. Goddessing is an embodied thealogy, and Pagan men find interesting beds, but have to meet the challenge of women of power in order to be invited into them. Paradoxically this means sharing power, and relaxing away from the burden of being eternal fixers and in charge. In almost all ways the divine couple can mirror each other's attributes, as in the Horned Huntress, and Old Horny/ the Hunter. Both represent the Divine Lover found in all mystical traditions. While the priestess is often (though not always) held as slightly pre-eminent, the priest is deeply respected in his own right.
While some Wiccan groups can, in insisting on the sacred polarity, exclude a positive role for homosexuals and lesbians unless they act as ceremonial heterosexuals, others actively welcome a variety of sexual orientation and explore mythos that can reflect it.
The Goddess, the Great Goddess, or Goddess (capital G) refers to a deity who spans many cultures and places, and many powers. Goddess may be so all encompassing as to be apparently contradictory (eg Kali-ma, originally of Bengal, India, Terrible Mother of the destructive forces of Time, and yet Benevolent Mother who protects her children.) Goddess may sometimes be used strategically to dislodge an unwelcome dominance by monotheist male Deity, and her greatness and complexity tends to invoke the skills of thealogy. Although Goddess appears to mirror monotheism, the term is frequently used for an inclusive spirituality that may embrace the God, gods, goddesses, ancestral spirits, faerie etc. When Goddess is spoken of as a personal guardian, as in 'my Goddess' it means 'my worldview in Goddess spirituality.' The Goddess is also followed by Wiccans and Discordants.
God/dess, God/ess, Godde: methods of trying to include both female and male divinity in one word.
Goddessing is a recent (unattributed) contribution to Goddess vocabulary, following on from Mary Daly's suggestion that Deity is too dynamic, too much in process, changing continually, to be a noun, and should better be spoken as a Verb (following Buckminster Fuller's "God is a verb"). We can refer to goddessing meaning Goddess culture, Goddess way of life, Goddess practice, or 'my goddessing' as in my individual interpretation and experience of Goddess.
Thealogy is 'reflection on the divine in feminine or feminist terms' Caron 1992. It was first proposed by Naomi Goldenberg 1976. Frequently used to mean analysis of Goddess thought and mysticism, it can also be used more liberally to mean any kind of divine, not just deity divine, as in meditation, ethics, ritual pragmatics.
Attempts to create more inclusive ways of describing Deity by using both genders in grammar and imagery can seem awkward to some, or plain unnecessary to those whose spirituality has little sense of gender. As a monotheist project, inclusive language can seem competitive, because monotheism has space for only one deity. Some types of Goddess thealogy have worked as Goddess monotheism, without any parallel God or attendant God consort; this may or may not include hostility towards masculinity. However many devotees who prefer to focus only on their Goddess are not anti-male, but pro-female in their inspirations.
Inclusive spirituality in the West has gained ground since the 19th century, when Matilda Joslyn Gage introduced living female Deity to American feminists, while her contemporary, the Swiss Joseph Jakob Bachofen, increased the attention given in Europe to prehistoric matriarchal goddess cultures. Communist countries accepted this version of history via Engels, and Western prehistory conventionally prefaced the history of male acts with a note on primitive goddess cultures. Since 1970 a rapidly growing Western movement of Goddess Spirituality has emerged as an international, well networked and richly documented culture, now transmitting its values to a younger generation.
But many involved in more traditional cultural paths find the attitude hegemonising and appropriative when applied to their own gods and goddesses. When Isis, Astarte, Diana and Hecate, four quite different deities from different cultures and with only one thing in common, become identified as one figure, one may reasonably ask what one has lost. One might even regard this sort of Goddess Spirituality as an alternative form of monotheism, engulfing and consuming other deities instead of denying and destroying them. Unfortunately, monotheism does not capture the true idea that lies behind the idea of singular being with many expressions. Hindus, who most naturally accept this idea, do not see it as destruction but an admission of oneness that has always underlied the faith in all of its sects. Admittedly, the new-age trend of reviving goddesses from old faiths can be a theologically complex issue, especially when the faiths from which they are drawn were truly polytheistic in that they did not admit an overarching singularity to the beings and saw them as completely stratified.
Moreover, this attitude may inappropriately emphasise gender at the expense of other aspects of divinity. For some deities, gender seems a relatively unimportant attribute, or else fluid. For instance, the Yamato sun-goddess Ama-terasu-opo-mi-kami may once have been a male deity (Tsuda, referenced in Philippi's note on Kojiki 14:4). And in Norse mythology, Freya and Frey are said to be twins, suggesting they can be interpreted as two aspects of one being, and the same may be true of Nerthus and Njord (and possibly other Vanir), or alternatively, Njord may have derived from Nerthus. Those who have a personal or cultural religious relationship with these deities often consider it inappropriate to decontextualise them from Source | Copyright