The feminine aspect has played a huge role in many religions. Typically, they tend to represent the creative, empathic and regenerative aspects of our existence. They are concerned with higher thought and the purity of love. However, as history has unfolded, these figures have tended to be overshadowed by their male counterparts and there are very few mainstream religions that focus on a goddess rather than a god.
Despite this, there is a growing resurgence in interest in the cult of the Mother Goddess and the feminine aspect of spirituality. This is one of the earliest faith systems in the world and where the majority of subsequent goddesses appear to have been drawn from. Through looking at the Mother Goddess, we can hope to understand more about the role of the divine feminine aspect in spirituality.
The bringer of life
Prehistoric sculptures represent the Mother or Earth Goddess as an obese, but smiling woman. Often, she was typified as having large breasts. Rather than simply being physical representations of how worshippers thought the goddess might look, they are carefully thought-out psychological depictions of the qualities that make her so important within the divine pantheon. Her size is thought to represent the idea that she is somehow the Earth itself; that we are all children of the Mother Goddess. In addition, she is the bringer of life in all its forms; fertility and creation were vastly important aspects to primitive spirituality.
Long before men worked out the link between menstruation and fertility, women were viewed as almost supernatural beings; they had the ability to lose copious amounts of blood and yet not die. This was at a time when medicine was at its most basic and a wound tended to mean injury, infection or death. Women were able to supersede the laws that seemed to apply to everything else.
In addition, there was a time when the link between sex and childbirth wasn’t understood. All the men folk knew was that women would occasionally swell up and produce a child; a sacred and, again, almost supernatural ability. What was known was that there was a link to the cycles of the moon and the times when women would bleed. Consequently, many cultures saw the moon as an aspect of the Mother Goddess and this icon is used in many early religious pictures and sculptures.
Nurture and care
The exaggerated size of the Goddess’ breasts represented her ability to feed and nurture. Because these ancient cultures were so dependent and in tune with nature, it was often the Mother Goddess who was thanked for the provision of food; she provided the plants and animals that they fed on. The Mother Goddess was seen to be taking care of her children, caring for them in every possible way. Often, while the men would most certainly be the ones to go out and hunt, much of the decision-making was left to the women. They were the backbones of many early cultures and civilisations because of their divine ability to create and nurture life. By comparison, the male aspects of spirituality tended to focus on death and destruction.
A psychological perspective
The psychoanalyst Carl Jung believed that the Mother Goddess was a representation of the ‘mother archetype’; a psychological structure we all possess. While that archetype is most commonly associated with fertility and productivity, Jung also argued that the Mother Goddess represented protection. Certainly, early sculptors and artists recognised that, in order to create life, a mother must protect it and, as a consequence, the Mother Goddess was often represented through hollow objects, such as ovens and cooking vessels, representing the protection and nurture of the womb.
A student of Jung, the analytical psychologist Erich Neumann wrote that: “The Feminine occupies so central a position in human symbolism and from the very beginning bears the character of ‘greatness’. The Feminine appears as great because that which is contained, sheltered, nourished, is dependent on it and utterly at its mercy. Nowhere is it more evident that a human being must be experienced as ‘great’ as in the case of the Mother. At a glance the infant or child confirms her position as Great Mother.”
The Mother of all life
Neumann’s analogy, comparing the mother to a vessel has spiritual significance. Women and the earth both give forth life and, for that reason, both were seen as sacred. Women were mystically linked with the Earth itself, both vessels for creation and transformation. In many mainstream faith systems this is the pivotal role served by goddesses; they are concerned with the alchemical process of turning one thing into another. Given that these early cultures depended on the Earth for life, it’s easy to understand why they worshipped a divine and all-powerful Mother Goddess; she was the Mother of all life.
The Mother Goddess of the 21st Century
It’s also possible to understand just why there is a resurgence of interest in the Mother Goddess in the 21st Century. The ancient representation speaks of a time when women were venerated and, in addition to being treated as equals, were seen as conduits for supernatural energies; they were channels for the Earth Goddess. In addition, Nature itself was worshipped – again as another aspect of this divine being. However, today the Earth is being ecologically repressed. Its ecosystems are teetering on the brink as mankind mines deeper, fracks harder and cuts down more forests. Similarly, women are no longer venerated and, in some parts of the world, are being equally repressed. According to Jung, what you repress or surpress always finds a way of being expressed and more and more people – men and women – concerned with the way we are exploiting the Earth and mistreating women, are turning to the Mother Goddess to answer the spiritual questions that come with it.
The Mother Goddess religion may be one of the oldest faith systems in the world, but the values it represents are timeless. Primarily, the Mother Goddess is being reborn to a new generation of followers through a wave of artistic forms, such as paintings, sculpture and even in literature. The Patriarchal archetypes of mainstream religion are doing what they know how to: destroying and killing. It might be time to prove the old maxim true; that ‘Mother knows best.’