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Who on Earth is the Goddess?

Subject: Who on Earth is the Goddess?
by Otter and Morning Glory Zell

        "Well, for instance, who is this All-Mother you're always talking
        "Why, you are, Edward. . . The All-Mother.  You're the All-Mother,
I'm the All-Mother, that little bird singing out there, it's the
All-Mother.  The All-Mother is everything.  The All-Mother is life...""1

        The primal and supreme deity of the ancient world, the oldest and
most universally worshiped, was the Great Mother, Mother Earth, Mother
Nature.  Images of Her date back to Aurignacian Cro-Magnon peoples, from
27,000 years ago, and are found all over the Eurasian continent from Spain
to Siberia.  For thousands of years before there were any male gods, there
was The Goddess, and Her worship continued unabated clear up until its
violent suppression by Iron Age patrism.  When and where worship of the
Mother prevailed women and Nature were held in esteem.  The Chinese called
Her Kwan Yin; the Egyptians knew Her as Isis; the Navajo call Her Changing
Woman.  To the Greeks She was Gaia, and to many black peoples She is
Yemanja.  She is Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love, and She says:  "All acts
of love and pleasure are my rituals."  She is also the ancient Crone
Hecate,who gives us both wisdom and death.
        The Goddess is diversity.  She represents both darkness and Light
and Her worship is the reconciliation of opposites.  There can be no such
thing as a "Good Goddess" or an "Evil Goddess."  Death is part of the
natural cycle as night follows day and we accept it with grace as Her
final gift.  The search for Balance is the goal of Her people, and it is
achieved by the acceptance of multiple paths and truths.  Dion Fortune
once commented that all goddesses are manifestations of the One Great
Goddess whose identity is as the universal feminine spirit of Nature.
        The eldest and greatest aspect of the Goddess is as Great Mother
Nature, the all-encompassing energy of Universal Life.  Her womb is the
Quasar, the white hole through which all energy pours into creation, and
Her all-devouring mouth is the Black hole itself through which all matter
is consumed to be reborn once again as between Her thighs the universe is
squeezed from spirit.  Her energy then coalesces into Matter-Mater the
Mother of all forms. She ignites, becoming the Star Goddess Nuit, whose
galactic breast is our Milky way.  Of Her are born star systems and
planets including, of course, our very own Earth Mother, Gaia.
        Because of the diversity of the Goddess, She is seen as manifesting
in many different aspects.
 She is often called The Triple Goddess, which refers to Her link in the
fertility cycle where She appears as Maiden, Mother and Crone.  Some
ancient cultures personified this Triplicity as the waxing, full, and
waning Moon, and other three-faced Goddess aspects are familiar to us as
the Fates, the Graces, the Furies, the Muses, or even as Faith, Hope and
Charity.  Another familiar division of Her aspects is into Mother and
Daughter (Demeter and Persephone), or as Sisters/Lovers (Fauna and Flora).
Such polarities are also important in Her worship.  Sometimes the polarity
can exist with two different aspects of the Goddess representing both
poles, but more commonly it is the great gender polarity, for the Goddess
is a deity of sexual loving.
        She is Ishtar or Aphrodite, the eternal Lover who awaits with eager
arms the mortal man brave enough to risk Her immortal favor.  Many men
have worshiped Her as a lover, but she may never be possessed, for She
belongs only to Herself.  She is Parthenos, the eternal Virgin (in the
prepatriarchal meaning "of her own household").  She represents the Strong
Woman not dominant, but independent.  Her lovers are not truly human but
divine.  She has been the Beloved of many gods, and though jealous male
gods eventually suppressed Her worship, She shared the co-rulership of
Heaven and Earth for thousands of years of marital bliss.  She is the
inescapable Yin necessary for the cosmic balance of Yang/Yin.  Symbols
associated with Her (the Tree of Life, the Sacred Serpent, the Labyrinth)
are found in all parts of the globe, at the heart of all the Mysteries,
and underlying all the later accretions of successive religions.  The
search for Her is the search for our deepest ancestral roots.

I am the star that rises from the twilight sea.
I bring men dreams to rule their destiny.
I am the eternal Woman; I am She!
The tides of all souls belong to me-
Touch of my hand confers polarity-
These are the moontides, these belong to me.2

Honor Thy Mother
        In all the cultures where She is still worshiped, there is no
confusion over Her identity.  She is Nature, and She is the Earth.  She is
not an atavistic abstraction, not a mystical metaphor, not a construct of
consciousness.  Her body is of substance as material as our own, and we
tread upon Her breast and are formed of Her flesh.  "Walk lightly on the
bosom of the Earth Mother," says Sun Bear, and traditional Native
Americans agree.  Cherokee shaman Rolling Thunder emphasizes that "It's
very important for people to realize this:  the Earth is a living
organism, the body of a higher individual who has a will and wants to be
well, who is at times less healthy or more healthy, physically and
mentally."3 Frank Waters, author of Masked Gods and Book of the Hopi,
makes the same point::

. . . To Indians the Earth is not inanimate.  It is a living entity, the
mother of all life, our Mother Earth.  All Her children, everything in
nature, is alive:  the living stone, the great breathing mountains, trees
and plants, as well as birds and animals and man.  All are united in one
harmonious whole.4

        Renowned historian Arnold Toynbee, writing on "The Religious
Background of the Present Environmental Crisis," also observed that:

For pre-monotheistic man, nature was not just a treasure-trove of "natural
resources".  Nature was, for him, a goddess, "Mother Earth," and the
vegetation that sprang from the Earth, the animals that roamed, like man
himself, over the Earth's surface, and the minerals hiding in the Earth's
bowels, all partook of Nature's divinity.5

        Before ever land was, before ever the sea,
        Or soft hair of the grass, or fair limbs of the tree,
        Or flesh-coloured fruit of my branches, I was ¾
                And thy soul was in me.6

The Gaia Thesis
        In order to understand the nature of the Earth Mother, we must first
understand our own origins.  Biologically, unisexual organisms are always
considered to be female, since only the female brings forth life from her
own body; in the act of reproduction single cells are referred to as
mothers and their offspring as daughters. Each of us began our individual
life as a single fertilized cell, or zygote.  In the process of its
innumerable divisions and multiplications, that cell kept dividing up and
redistributing the very same protoplasm.  That protoplasm which now
courses through all of the several trillion cells of your adult body is
the very same substance which once coursed through the body of that
original zygote.  For when a cell reproduces, the mother cell does not
remain intact, but actually becomes the two new daughter cells.  And this
is why, no matter how many times a cell fissions in the process of
embryological development, all the daughter cells collectively continue to
comprise but one single organism.
        We may imagine that, should our cells have consciousness akin to
our own, they may very well fancy themselves to be independent entities
living and dying in a world that to them would seem to be merely an
inanimate environment.  Blood cells race along our arterial highways, but
we know them to be in fact minute components of the far vaster living
beings that we ourselves are.
        Over three billion years ago, life on Earth began, as do we all,
with a single living cell containing a replicating molecule of DNA.  From
that point on, that original cell, the first to develop the awesome
capacity for reproduction, divided and redivided and subdivided its
protoplasm into the myriads of plants and animals, including ourselves,
which now inhabit this third planet from the Sun.
        But no matter how many times a cell fissions in the process of
embryological development, all the daughter cells collectively continue to
comprise but one single organism.  All life on Earth comprises the body of
a single vast living being Mother Earth Herself.  The Moon is Her radiant
heart, and in the tides beats the pulse of Her blood.  The protoplasm
which coursed through the body of that first primeval ancestral cell is
the very protoplasm which now courses through every cell of every living
organism, plant or animal, of our planet.  And as in our own bodies,
Earthly life was biologically female for the first three billion years,
before sexual reproduction, complete with males, evolved around 600
million years ago.  In evolutionary theory we say "ontogeny recapitulates
phylogeny" (the development of the individual repeats the development of
the ancestry);  ancient people anticipated such scientific ideas when they
intuitively conceptualized our planetary Divinity, like that first single
cell, as feminine:  our Mother Earth.  The soul of our planetary biosphere
is She whom we call Goddess.7

        First life on my sources first drifted and swam.
        Out of me are the forces which save it or damn.
        Out of me man and woman, and wild-beast and bird.
                Before God was, I am.6

". . . Be the terror and the dread of all the wild beasts and all the
birds of heaven, of everything that crawls on the ground and all the fish
of the sea: they are handed over to you."  (Gen. 9:2-3)

         Since the time of the Exodus, 3,500 years ago, Western Civilization
has been pursuing a course that has taken it farther and farther from the
Mother.  The three great monotheistic religions of the West, Judaism,
Christianity and Islam, have from their beginning activity suppressed the
worship of the Goddess, and have tortured and brutally murdered millions
of Her people.  Today, she is all but forgotten in the hearts of Her
children, and Her body lies raped and ravished in the wake of human
progress.  The Goddess is the concept of feminine divinity incarnate.  The
denial of feminine divinity results in the oppression of all women,
including Mother Nature.  As Toynbee says:

        The thesis of the present essay is that some of the major maladies
of the present-day world for instance the recklessly extravagant
consumption of nature's irreplaceable treasures, and the pollution of
those of them that man has not already devoured¾can be traced back in the
last analysis to a religious cause, and that this cause is the rise of
monotheism. 5

        This is not to say that all non-monotheistic religions have a
perfect track record for the treatment of women in those societies.
Certainly Hindu cultures revere various goddesses and yet are among the
more sexist and female-suppressive societies in the modern world.
Nevertheless, there is abundant archeological evidence to indicate that
things were not always as they are now, especially in truly ancient
societies like India.  Before the Aryan Indo-European invasion around
1,500 BCE many Neolithic and Bronze Age cultures, including the Harrapan
culture of the Indus Valley and the Minoan people of Crete, had societies
that appeared remarkably egalitarian.  These societies were universally
characterized by the worship of a powerful Great Mother whom the Hindu
people still call Maha Devi Ma.  She was later broken into a multiplicity
of minor goddesses which were demoted to the position of wives or
concubines of the gods.
         By the time sacred writings were codified in the Vedas, the Primal
Goddess Maha Devi in India had been divided into a triplicity of goddesses
characterized as Creator, Preserver and Destroyer:  Saraswati, Laksmi and
Kali; respectively the consorts of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.  In Greece, a
similar process led to Kore, Demeter and Persephone (or Hecate) created
from the original Cretan Rhea.
        Once the Great Mother had been married off She became easier to
control and the way was paved for Her dowry of natural wealth to be handed
over to the financial control of Her divine consorts.  Whether this new
mythical development was a simple mirror of the social diminishment of
women's rights or whether it preceded it and was invoked as a
justification is really a moot point.  But the land, formerly tied to
matrilineal territorial clans, passed into the hands of patriarchal kings
and princes who began to treat it as their private property and to lay
waste to the forests in order to build vast temples and palaces to house
their harems and other slaves.  The Goddess of Nature went from the
position of being the body and soul of all that lives to that of a wife,
mother and household servant.  Many traditions have given lip service to
the so-called "Female Principle," either in the form of a divided identity
like the Hindu Shakti or as a semi-divine emanation.  But the power of the
Goddess of Nature has gradually lost its ability to inspire the necessary
respect and reverence once accorded to the Source and Bearer of Life.

        Where are You, then, Mother, whose strength was before
        All other powers?  Your name is the only freedom.8

     Pantheism is the view that everything in Nature is alive, and that
all living is Divine.  In that context, then, the simplest explanation of
Divinity is as "an energy field created by all living things.  It
surrounds us, it penetrates us, it binds the galaxy together." (Star Wars:
"The Force") Thus a pantheistic theology of Immanent Divinity ("Thou Art
God/dess") contrasts sharply with the theology of Transcendent Divinity
("God is Out There") presented by most of "The World's Great Religions."
Unlike the God worshiped by Christians, Moslems and Jews, the Goddess is
not an all-powerful, indestructible, non-physical being who created the
world and exists apart from it.  Though Mother Nature is Life on the
universal scale, Gaia, the Earth Mother is the very soul of this living
planet, and she lives or dies as all life on this planet lives or dies. .

        Mother, not maker; born, and not made.
        Though her children forsake her, allured or afraid,
        Praying prayers to the God of their fashion,
             She stirs not for all who have prayed.

        O my children, too dutiful towards Gods not of me,
        Was not I enough beautiful?  Was it hard to be free?
        For, behold, I am with you, am in you, and of you
                Look forth now and see!6

"Earth Mother, Your Children Are Here!"
        Current environmental crises are legion.  Chlorofluorocarbon
chemicals are destroying the ozone layer in the atmosphere; industrial
pollution is creating the greenhouse effect which will melt the polar
icecaps, drowning the coastal regions; and the destruction of the
rainforests and the pollution of phytoplankton in the seas is causing
worldwide droughts.  The problems are so vast and the politics of greed
and corruption are so complex that it will truly take a miracle to reverse
such global destruction.  The only thing that can save us is a total and
electrifying change of consciousness.  Nothing short of a worldwide
realization of our planetary awareness will bring home the desperation of
our plight.  We must activate our Gaian identification so that we regain
our shattered empathy with the Spirit of Nature.  We must become one with
the Earth Mother in order to feel Her pain/our pain and make it stop
before the cancer we have become reaches the terminal phase.
        The word religion derives from the Latin re-ligio; "relinking."
The very purpose of true religion, then, is to heal the rifts and
alienations which have caused us to become separated from the divine
Source of Being:  the rifts between humanity and Nature; between matter
and spirit; between mind and body; between man and woman; between our own
egos and the Soul of Nature.  Recent books analyzing the trends of our
wayward world have, with increasing frequency, been calling for a return
to the worship of the Mother.  So many wistful comments made by writers
such as Merlin Stone, Mary Daly, James Lovelock, Judy Chicago, Dolores
LaChapelle, Rene Dubos, Daniela Gioseffi, Paolo Soleri, Elizabeth Gould
Davis, Arnold Toynbee, Joseph Campbell, Marija Gimbutas and Riane Eisler
reflect a craving for such a religious revival.  The truth is that such a
revival has been going on for some time now since the early 1960's in the
form of what we call the Neo-Pagan movement (from Latin"paganus" "peasant"
or country dweller Paganism now refers to all nature religions).
        To the several hundred thousand Neo-Pagans who have been actively
practicing and publishing for more than a quarter of a century, the
greatest mystery of this religion is its continuing obscurity and
invisibility to those such as the above-named writers, who continue to
publish books advocating such a movement as this, while remaining ignorant
that it is already in effect.  The new Paganism encompasses many
Nature-oriented groups such as Feraferia, Church of All Worlds, Madrakara,
Bear Tribe, Fellowship of Isis, Venusian Church, Pagan Way, Church of the
Eternal Source, Odinic Fellowship, Reformed Druids, Earth Church of
Amargi, Sabaean Society and Children of the Earth Mother.
        The largest contingent of modern Goddess-worshippers, however, is
found in Witchcraft, or Wicca.  Wicca is a pre-Christian European Pagan
magical tradition; European Shamanism.  The violent suppression to the
point of eradication of the followers of Wicca by the Inquisition can only
be compared to the Jewish Holocaust of Nazi Germany (estimates of the
number of martyrs run into the millions!), but today the Craft is making a
powerful comeback on the wings of the re-emergent Goddess.
        The Neo-Pagan movement, and especially Feminist Witchcraft, has
recently been joined by increasing numbers from the Women's Spirituality
movement and lately also by many thinkers from the Deep Ecology movement
and even such radical environmental activists as Earth First!.  These are
some of the forces which form the core of the movement to restore the
Earth Goddess to Her rightful place; a movement which has its roots in the
combined studies of feminism and ecology and is the logical spiritual
application of such studies.  If Witches can be priestesses of feminism,
then Neo-Pagans are the chaplains of the ecology movement. The overall
movement, though variously called Eco-feminism and Ecosophy, is truly an
attempt at expressing Gaian Spirituality.
        These three streams of spirituality Deep Ecology, Goddess
Spirituality, and Neo-Paganism have met and mingled with Native American,
Hindu, Tibetan, Hawaiian and other ancient spiritual teachings and fused
somewhat with the more nebulous New Age Movement.  What is struggling to
be born from this blending of pathways is a truly planetary religious
metaphor that will transcend all the tradition-specific patterns in the
same way the idea of Neo-Paganism absorbed and united a multiplicity of
wildly differing but basically polytheistic religious groups in the
1970's.  Perhaps what we are looking for could be called Gaian religion,
because at the heart of our Unity is our identity as children of the same
Mother¾Gaia Herself; Mother Earth.  It is said that it's a wise child who
knows its own Mother!

The Gaian Conspiracy
        A brief digression on etymology here:  Who is Gaia, that we would
name a movement after Her?  Gaia (or Gaea) is the Greek name for the Earth
Mother Goddess, She who was created by Light and by Love from the primal
cosmic chaos. Pierced by the arrows of Eros, Gaia gave birth to all the
plants, animals, gods and goddesses, and of course the human race.  So
Gaia is the Mother of us all according to ancient Greek mythology.
        From the moment that the people of Earth achieved the ability to
observe the image of our planet spinning in all Her radiant blue-and-white
splendor through the black velvet night, we have been impelled towards
planetary identification.  We must inevitably begin to think of ourselves
as one planet, one people, one organism.  The power of that image alone
unites us, not to mention the concept that the past three-and-a-half
billion years of terrestrial evolution resembles one vast embryogenesis.
Something is developing, hatching, unfolding as a self-reflexive mind
capable of contemplating its own existence.  Gaia developed increasingly
complex eyes and extensions of Her eyes/our eyes in order to contemplate
Her own image.  And now, having seen Herself through our satellite eyes,
She is awakening to consciousness.  She has a face, an identity and now
even a name, and so we inevitably come to identify ourselves through Her
as Gaian.
         A Gaian movement would be deeply committed to communication and
education.  Many tribal people and many of the old nature-based folk
religions such as native Australians, Hawaiians, Siberians, Tibetans and
Americans have come to the brink of extinction rather than to allow the
mysteries of their sacred rites to pass outside their tribes.  Others have
realized the need to become more eclectic if they are to survive.
        The Gaian movement is presently small and largely unrecognized,
since it is anarchic and not evangelical, but it has tremendous potential
in having no single head and presenting a genuine answer to so many of the
world's problems.  Its vision is, in fact, an idea whose time has come.
Yet there are still many obstacles, and revolutions in consciousness
rarely happen overnight.  The greatest forces operating against a new
Gaian renaissance are inertia and apathy the watchwords of the '70s and
'80s.  But winds of change are blowing, and by the time the century turns
we will see that once again Goddess is Alive and Magick is Afoot!

And you who think to seek for me -
Know that your seeking and yearning will avail you naught
Unless you know the Mystery:
That if that which you seek you find not within you,
You shall never find it without.
For behold: I have been with you from the beginning,
And I am that which is attained at the end of desire.9

1. Mack Reynolds, Of Godlike Power, 1966, pp. 146-147
2. Dion Fortune, "Charge of the Moon Goddess"
3. Doug Boyd, Rolling Thunder, 1974, p. 51
4. Frank Waters, "Lessons From the Indian Soul," Psychology Today, May 1973
5. Arnold Toynbee, "The Religious Background of the Present Environmental
Crisis," International Journal of Environmental Studies, 1972, Vol. III
6. Algernon Charles Swinburne, "Hertha"
7. Tim Zell, "The Gods of Nature; The Nature of Gods," Gnostica #15, 1973
8. Ramprasad Sen, Grace and Mercy in Her Wild Hair; 18th Century Bengal
9. Doreen Valiente, "Charge of the Star Goddess"
(This article was first written in 1978; revised and updated in 1990.)

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