Where’d She Start?

October 9, 2021

Tiamat with her constant companion Mumu.

There is difference of opinion between the academic and the popular conception of the term Mother Goddess. The popular view is mainly driven by the Goddess movement and reads that primitive societies initially were matriarchal, worshipping a sovereign, nurturing, motherly earth goddess. This was based upon the nineteenth-century ideas of unilineal evolution of Johann Jakob Baclofen. According to the academic view, however, both Baclofen and the modern Goddess theories are a projection of contemporary worldviews on ancient myths, rather than attempting to understand the mentality of that time. Often this is accompanied by a desire for a lost civilization from a bygone era that would have been just, peaceful, and wise however, it is highly unlikely that such a civilization ever existed. For a long time, feminist authors claimed that these peaceful, matriarchal agrarian societies were exterminated or subjugated by nomadic, patriarchal warrior tribes. An important contribution to this was that of archaeologist Marija Gimbutas. Her work in this field has been questioned among feminist archaeologists this vision is nowadays also considered highly controversial.

Since the 1960s, especially in popular culture, the alleged worship of the mother goddess and the social position that women in prehistoric societies supposedly assumed, were linked. This made the debate a political one. According to the goddess movement, the current male-dominated society should return to the egalitarian matriarchy of earlier times. That this form of society ever existed was supposedly supported by many figurines that were found.

In academic circles, this prehistoric matriarchy is considered unlikely. Firstly, worshiping a mother goddess does not necessarily mean that women ruled society. In addition, the figurines can also portray ordinary women or goddesses, and it is unclear whether there really ever was a mother goddess.

List of mother goddesses

Asherah

The female energy is crucial to the balance and awareness of the collective, and to the growth and the transcendence of the individual. The retrieval of the sacred feminine energy is something essential for both women and men. The loss of feminine energy is a serious problem for men. The absence or repression of the feminine aspects in a man reduces his emotional depth and is a source of discontent, loneliness, and a feeling of meaninglessness. Losing touch with feminine aspects is also, of course, a serious problem for women. This affects their natural way of being and the search for their identity.

  1. The idea of the Mother Goddess, also called the Great Mother or Great Goddess, has dominated the imaginations of modern scholars in several fields. The image of the Mother Goddess with which we are familiar today has its modern genesis in the writings of Johann Jakob Baclofen. In 1861 Baclofen published his famous study Das Mutterrecht in which he developed his theory that human society progressed from hetaerism, characterized by unrestricted sexual relations, to matriarchy, in which women ruled society, and finally to the most advanced stage, patriarchy. Baclofen conceived of religious practice as progressing in a parallel manner from a belief in a mother goddess to a more advanced belief in a father god. Associating belief in a mother deity with a primitive stage in the development of human society: “Wherever we encounter matriarchy, it is bound up with the mystery of the chthonian religion, whether it invokes Demeter or is embodied by an equivalent goddess” (Baclofen, 88). Baclofen believed that the matriarchal form of social organization derived from the maternal mystery religions (88-9). 
    As we see with Baclofen, modern theories of the Mother Goddess have inevitably been shaped by modern cultural presuppositions about gender. Lynn Roller believes that “[m]any discussions of the Mother Goddess rely on modern projections ought to be, rather than on ancient evidence defining what she was” (Roller, 9). William Ramsay, the late nineteenth-century archaeologist, who was the first researcher to demonstrate that the principal deity of Phrygia was a mother goddess, drew heavily on Baclofen’s theory (Roller, 12). Like Baclofen’s, Ramsay’s understanding of the national character of matriarchal pre-Phrygian society is based on contestable evidence and relies on stereotypically feminine characteristics; he describes matriarchal pre-Phrygian society as “receptive and passive, not self-assertive and active” (12). For Ramsay, this “feminine” character explains why this culture was conquered by the masculine, warlike Phrygians with their male deities. Thus, constructions of ancient matriarchal societies, which are inseparable from “a glorification of the female element in human life” (12), are suspiciously similar to modern stereotypes of the feminine that are not necessarily native to pre-Phrygian culture. Given these observations, Baclofen’s repeated emphasis on the necessity of freeing oneself from the cultural prejudices of one’s own time if one is to truly understand these ancient cultures takes on an ironic tone. It is not only Baclofen and Ramsay, but also many others after them, who assume the stereotypical femininity of the Mother Goddess. Many of these conceptions of what a mother goddess ought to be stem from “the Judeo-Christian image of the loving, nurturing mother subservient to her husband and closely bonded with her children” (Roller, 9). – Smith (2007)
  2. ^ At one time, scholars tended to use the ‘Mother Goddess’ label for all female figurines found at sites. This was largely because of the belief that the worship of fertility goddesses was an important part of agricultural societies all over the world, and also due to a tendency to look at ancient remains through the lens of later-day Hinduism, in which goddess worship had an important place. However, scholars are now increasingly aware of the stylistic and technical differences among assemblages of female figurines. Further, all goddesses need not have been part of a single goddess cult, and not all ancient goddesses were necessarily associated with maternity.
    In the light of such problems, the term ‘Mother Goddess’ should be replaced by the longer but more neutral phrase— ‘female figurines with likely cultic significance.’ This does not mean that none of these figurines might have had a religious or cultic significance. It is indeed possible that some were either images that were worshipped or votive offerings that were part of some domestic cult or ritual. However, not all female figurines necessarily had such a function. Whether we are looking at human or animal figurines, in all cases, their possible significance or function has to be assessed, and cannot be assumed. Apart from their form, the context in which they were found is crucial.
     – Singh (2008) p. 130

As we go forward we shall discover just how little is understood by mainstream academia when it comes to the Sacred Feminine.

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