THE GREAT GODDESS AND THE GODDESSES: THE DIVINE WOMAN IN
Feminist scholars and archaeologists have demonstrated that from the Paleolithic
through the Bronze Age there is evidence of Goddess worship.
The fact that Goddess worship was widespread in early Mediterranean and
European societies does not indicate that the human societies were matriarchal.
The Great Goddess occurs in myth systems worldwide. Greek myths: Gaea and
Demeter; Roman myths: Ceres and Terra Mater; Egyptian myths: Isis;
Sumerian myths: Inanna; Babylonian myths: Ishtar; Norse myths: Nerthus.
Before the male’s role in procreation was understood, the creative powers of the
female were attributes of the Great Goddess, who is associated with three
functions—as the source of life, of death, and of rebirth.
The Great Goddess’s triple nature is repeated in the patterns of heaven-earth-
Underworld and maiden-mother-old woman.
When agriculture was developed, the Goddess was identified as a grain or earth
goddess, responsible for the annual agricultural cycle.
One of the Goddess’s symbols is the serpent, associated with the Underworld
and with rebirth through the shedding of its skin. A related symbol is the
World Tree, often depicted with a serpent twined around the trunk.
The moon appears, swells from crescent-shaped to full, disappears for several
nights, and then reappears. In many myth systems, a moon goddess who
mourns for a dead lover or child descends to try to reclaim the lost (or for some
other purpose) and then returns to the upper world. The lunar symbol links life,
death, and rebirth and associates the physical and spiritual worlds over which
the Goddess presides.
The vessel in its various forms (jar, vase, chalice, grail, even cave), containing
the secrets and waters of life, also often symbolizes the Goddess. The cow,
sow, and birds may also function as Goddess symbols.
10. The division of the three aspects of the Goddess into separate functions may in
part reflect the invasion of Europe by martial, patriarchal Indo-European
cultures worshiping sky gods. The Goddess is absorbed into forms not
threatening to the sky gods, such as virgin-wife-mistress.
11. The original Great Goddess may have been relegated to the background in favor