I see the ancient roots of Goddess culture as being based in the Neolithic times. Obviously this was a time before microscope and knowledge of things such as sperm cells and so men of that time saw women getting pregnant and had no idea how this was happening and the part that they played in the process so they saw it as something magical. This led Neolithic men to perceive women as sacred. Women were life-bringers; men could death but only women could create life. Also, I believe, that is was women who invented farming and the raising of crops because in most indigenous tribes that exist nowadays it is the men who hunt but the women who forage for berries and roots and grains. With the women’s knowledge of grains they could easily have figured out how to harvest the seeds and plant them. Therefore, I believe that women helped early civilizations to prosper and grow and may have prevented starvation.
When I did my degree in history I studied the history of the Native Americans and they were a people who held women to be sacred so much so that George Armstrong Custer once escaped encirclement by Native American warriors by holding their women captive for he knew the warriors would never endanger their women.
In the nineteenth century there was a commonly held belief that early societies were barbaric and with the arrival of Christianity they became civilized. Obviously I don’t agree with that and most historians would take a dim view of that theory now. I think that Neolithic society was very complex and civilized. I believe they had writing and education and temples for Goddess worship. Their raising of crops and living close to the land would have kept them in touch with the seasons and the many faces of Goddess at different times of the year.
I also see the roots of Goddess culture in the lives of elephants because they are an entirely matriarchal society. The oldest female elephant is the matriarch of the tribe and the others follow her lead. The male elephants have to stay away; they only come around the main herd for breeding purposes and then they get kicked out again. The only males in the main herd are the little babies still being cared for by their mothers. Sometimes I can’t help thinking (particularly when Gary is getting on my nerves!) that this would be a great way for us to organise our own society.
Gary and I went on holiday to Athens in February and I went to the Acropolis and other sacred sites. In the museums there were lots of statues of Athena and Demeter and Persephone and Aphrodite. I see these Goddesses as all being different faces of the Mother Goddess of the World. We also took a day trip to Delphi which was a beautiful place. The scenery alone was incredible. It was one of those places that had an aura about it of other-worldliness. I found it interesting that even in an extremely patriarchal society like Ancient Greece the visionaries and scryers were all women. This speaks to me of the idea that only women were/are sacred enough vessels to embody a deity. Of course, the priests interpreted what the Pythoness said but the fact that this sacred task was reserved for women says to me that this was a vestige of Goddess worship which the men did not feel confident enough to throw out.
With other religions like Christianity, Judaism and Islam I think they are quite scholarly religions based around books and thoughts but I see Goddess worship as being more natural and more in tune with nature. Again, the idea that as civilisation progresses things move away from nature and in to the realms of thought has influenced society a lot in the past but now I think that people are realising that in many ways nature is smarter and wiser than people and that is one of the things that is drawing people back to Goddess.
I also believe that feminism has lead many people back to Goddess because feminism questions old patriarchal beliefs including religious belief and why does God have to be an old man with a beard anyway? Give him a sack and he could pass for Santa. The deities people believe in are linked to their views about power and control and when society was defined by patriarchal beliefs then all deities had to be male. But as we now, it is nonsense that only men are or can be spiritual beings. Now more and more women are taking control of their own lives the Goddess is returning. In Neolithic times I believe women were more powerful than they are now and that society then was a lot fairer. As a historian I do not believe in the concept of ‘the good old days’ and we have to be careful about mythologizing the past but in a society where men and women were equals and Goddess worshipping people it’s hard not to wish that society was like that now.
But if you look carefully you can see the roots of Goddess culture all over the world. It is quite obvious in Greece with museums full of statues of Goddesses but in places like New Grange in Ireland it is also evident with people who have eyes to see it. The cave is shaped like a womb. My mother is Irish and when I was little she used to tell me stories of fairies and heroes and giants that were part of the Irish mythology. I abandoned that sort of thing when I got older because it felt silly to still believe in fairies but now I see it was part of my heritage as a Goddess loving woman. The ancient songs and stories often speak of Goddess even if She has been disguised because most of the stories were written down by monks. I feel like Goddess exists just below the surface of real life. In the past I think She was much closer to people’s day to day existence. She may have been pushed back but She has never gone away.
And the roots of Goddess culture exist in the land itself; in the way it has been shaped and formed with standing stones amongst other things. And in the names that places have been given such as Bride’s mound which they tell us is named after a saint but we know it is Goddess.
I remember just after I signed up to do spiral one that I had a row with my sister, who is a church going Christian, because she was unhappy about the choice I had made and she warned that the Goddess Temple in Glastonbury was probably a cult that was after my money but what offended me most of all was when she said “You know that your religion was just made up in the nineteenth century.” My sister and I are both historians and I knew what she was referring to. Of course, she meant Gerald Gardner and the Golden Dawn and Dion Fortune and Crowley and all of that, which was early twentieth century, not the nineteenth as she had said. But I thought she was ignoring the century’s old tradition of the wise woman and healer who lived in the village that treated everybody’s wounds and doled out sensible advice to all who needed it. It wasn’t until the seventeenth/eighteenth century that doctors became all male and patriarchy took over the healing arts. And I knew that the Goddess tradition was much older than she (my sister) knew. I had studied it; she hadn’t. It wasn’t just what she said but the dismissive tone she had used that really annoyed me and I didn’t speak to her or phone her for about three weeks until she apologised.
But in conclusion I would say that I see the ancient roots of the Goddess culture in the miracle of birth, the magic of the wise woman and healer, the elderly matriarch who gives out the best advice speaking exactly the right words at exactly the right time. I see Goddess in what I call ordinary magic where you drive into the car park just as a space becomes available or you walk up to the checkout just as they open another till right in front of you; things that seem so ordinary most people take them for granted. This is the sort of magic that priestesses have been doing since the dawn of time. The serendipities of life, the coincidences where everything falls into place at exactly the right moment. This is divine feminine magic and it always will be.