Gender of God

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Solmaz Hafezi

Solmaz Hafezi

The gender of God can be viewed as a literal or as an allegorical aspect of a deity. In polytheistic religions, the gods are more likely to have literal sexual genders which would enable them to interact with each other, and even with humans, in a sexual way. In most monotheistic religions, there is no comparable being for God to relate to in a literal gender-based way, so the gender of this one-and-only deity is most likely to be an analogical statement of how humans and God address, and relate to, each other, with no sexual connotations. Although God is an intangible spirit in many religions and therefore has no gender, debate over his or her “actual” sex nevertheless has passionately raged in recent decades. The preponderance of references to God in both the Old and New Testaments are in the context of a masculine reference, often “father.” However, there are a significant number of feminine allegorical references to the Judaeo-Christian God, most often in some maternal role.

What is understood by words for god varies across cultures and has sometimes changed dramatically at various times. Buddhism challenged various ideas in Vedic religion, the monotheism of Judaism challenged its polytheistic neighbours, and in European history, the Roman Empireofficially adopted Christianity under Constantine I, later becoming the center of the Christian religion, but having this centrality challenged during the Reformation.

by Solmaz Hafezi

by Solmaz Hafezi

Evolutionary processA simple view of the history of religion as an evolutionary process was proposed in the 19th century—from animism to polytheism to monotheism, with some believing theism, atheism or agnosticism to be the most advanced approach. Such views are no longer widely current either in the study of religion. Comparative religion notes distinctive idiosyncrasies across major religions that are better explained by close historical scrutiny, rather than appeal to a simplistic theory.

Nonetheless, a hegemonic Western conception of metaphysics, influenced strongly by Judaism and Christianity is identifiable in European literature from Greek and Roman authors through to the present, such that English language betrays an inherent bias towards monotheistic thought. Where animist languages may not even have words for personal deities, but rather a nuanced vocabulary of spiritualism, and polytheistic cultures have lexis suited to articulating relationships between deities in a pantheon, some modern English speakers only recognize alternatives such as God, gods or no God, being unfamiliar with Buddhism and animism.

Literary comparisonsWhen considering the literature of the world’s religions and metaphysical philosophies, the diversity of the underlying conceptions of the spiritual realm is foundational to appreciating any points of comparison. Comparison of views of the gender of spiritual entities is no exception. Each religion or philosophy needs to be understood in its historical, social, linguistic and philosophical context. Thus, matters of gender do apply to animism, but not in the foundational way they do in polytheism and monotheism. Additionally, since animism is largely associated with preliterate societies, we are dependent on the ethnographies of cultural anthropologists rather than documented scriptures and later commentary. Shinto is a notable exception.

English: a Venn diagram-like symbol for the Ch...

Image Solmaz Hafezi

In the Hebrew and Christian BibleGod is usually characterised as male in Biblical sources, except: female in Genesis  1:26-27,Psalm  123:2-3, and Luke  15:8-10; a mother in Hosea  11:3-4, Deuteronomy  32:18, Isaiah  66:13, Isaiah  49:15, Isaiah  42:14, Psalm  131:2; a mother eagle in Deuteronomy  32:11-12; and a mother hen in Matthew  23:37 and Luke  13:34.

Although God is referred to in the Hebrew Bible with masculine imagery and grammatical forms, Jewish philosophy does not attribute to God either sex or gender. At times, Jewish aggadic literature and Jewish mysticism do treat God as gendered, though these are not uniformly masculine or feminine.

Most Christian groups conceive of God as Triune, having the belief that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are distinct persons, but one being that is wholly God.

God the Son (Jesus Christ), having been incarnated as a human man, is clearly masculine. God the “Father” or “Creator” is interpreted as clearly masculine to Biblical literalists. Others interpret God as neither male nor female.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church #239 specifically states that “God is neither man nor woman: he is God”.

In Hebrew language, in the Old Testament the divine presence of God, the Holy Spirit, the Shekhinah is feminine.

The New Testament also refers to the Holy Spirit as masculine in a number of places, where the masculine Greek word “Paraclete” occurs, for “Comforter”, most clearly in the Gospel of John, chapters 14 to 16. These texts were particularly significant when Christians were debating whether the New Testament teaches that the Holy Spirit is a fully divine person, or some kind of “force”. All major English Bible translations have retained the masculine pronoun for the Spirit, as in John 16:13. Although it has been noted that in the original Greek, in some parts of John’s Gospel, the neuter Greek word for “it” is also used for the Spirit.

The oneness of God is of primary importance in the Qur’an and Islam. In Qur’an, Allah is most often referred to with the pronouns Hu or Huwa, and although these are commonly translated as him, they can also be translated gender-neutrally, as it. This is also true of the feminine equivalent, Hiya. Allah is neither male nor female. It is considered blasphemy for Allah to be placed in a human or animal sexual gender category. Qur’an 112:3–4 states: “He begets not, nor is He begotten. And none is like Him [It].” Other references include the first person pronoun, and the relative pronoun ma (that which), as in the phrase “the heavens and that which created them” (Qur’an 91:5).

The oldest of the Hindu scriptures is the Rigveda (2nd millennium BC). The first word of the Rigveda is the name Agni, the god of fire, to whom many of the vedic hymns are addressed, along with Indra the warrior. Agni and Indra are both male divinities.

The Rigveda refers to a creator (Hiranyagarbha or Prajapati), distinct from Agni and Indra. This creator is identified with Brahma (not to be confused with Brahman, the first cause), born of Vishnu’s navel, in later scriptures. Hiranyagarbha and Prajapati are male divinities, as is Brahma (who has a female consort, Saraswati).

 RigvedaThere are many other gods in the Rigveda. They are “not simple forces of nature”, and possess “complex character and their own mythology”. They include goddesses of water (Āpaḥ) and dawn (Uṣas), and the complementary pairing of Father Heaven and Mother Earth. However, they are all “subservient to the abstract, but active positive ‘force of truth'” (Rta), “which pervades the universe and all actions of the gods and humans.” This force is sometimes mediated or represented by moral gods (Āditya such as Varuṇa) or even Indra. The Āditya are male and Rta is personified as masculine in later scriptures (see also Dharma).

In some Hindu philosophical traditions, God is depersonalized as the quality-less Nirguna Brahman, the fundamental life force of the universe. However, theism itself is central to Hinduism.

While many Hindus focus upon God in the neutral form, Brahman being of neuter gender grammatically, there are prominent Hindu traditions that conceive God as female, even as the source of the male form of God, such as the Shakta denomination. Hinduism, especially of the Samkhya school, views the creation of the cosmos as the result of the play of two radically distinct principles: the feminine matter (Prakriti) and the masculine spirit (Purusha). Prakriti is the primordial matter which is present before the cosmos becomes manifest. Prakriti is seen as being “…the power of nature, both animate and inanimate. As such, nature is seen as dynamic energy” (Rae, 1994). Prakriti is originally passive, immobile and pure potentiality by nature . Only through her contact with the kinetic Purusha she unfolds into the diverse forms before us. The idea of Prakriti/Purusha leads to the concept of the Divine Consort. Almost every deva of the Hindu pantheon has a feminine consort (devi).
Irrespective of the native-language meaning of the Mantra, the standard English translation neutralises the implied gender role. Nonetheless, the Guru Granth consistently refers to God as He, even in English. He is also predominantly referred to as Father.

Animist religions are common among preliterate societies, many of which still exist in the 21st century. Typically, natural forces and shaman spiritual guides feature in these religions, rather than fully fledged personal divinities with established personalities. It is in polytheism that such deities are found. Animist religions often, but not always, attribute gender to spirits considered to permeate the world and its events. Polytheistic religions, however, almost always attribute gender to their gods, though a few notable divinities are associated with various forms of epicene characteristics—gods that manifest alternatingly as male and female, gods with one male and one female “face”, and gods whose most distinctive characteristic is their unknown gender.

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Anima and animus

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The Creatures - Anima Animus

The Creatures - Anima Animus (Photo credit: rzrxtion (pronounced resurrection))

The anima and animus, in Carl Jung’s school of analytical psychology, are the two primary anthropomorphic archetypes of the unconscious mind, as opposed to both the theriomorphic and inferior-function of the shadow archetypes, as well as the abstract symbol sets that formulate the archetype of the Self. The anima and animus are described by Jung as elements of his theory of the collective unconscious, a domain of the unconscious that transcends the personal psyche. In the unconscious of the male, it finds expression as a feminine inner personality: anima; equivalently, in the unconscious of the female it is expressed as a masculine inner personality: animus.

The anima (animus) can be identified as the totality of the unconscious feminine psychological qualities that a male possesses or the masculine ones possessed by the female. It is an archetype of the collective unconscious and not an aggregate of father or mother, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles or teachers, though these aspects of the personal unconscious can influence for good or ill the person.

Because a man’s sensitivity must often be repressed, the anima is one of the most significant autonomous complexes of all. It is said to manifest itself by appearing in dreams. It also influences a man’s interactions with women and his attitudes toward them and vice versa for females and the animus. Jung said that “the encounter with the shadow is the ‘apprentice-piece’ in the individual’s development…that with the anima is the ‘masterpiece'”. Jung viewed the anima process as being one of the sources of creative ability.

In the book The Invisible Partners it is said that the key to controlling one’s anima (animus) is to recognize it when it manifests and exercise our ability to discern the anima (animus) from reality.

Jung believed anima development has four distinct levels, which he named Eve, Helen, Mary and Sophia. In broad terms, the entire process of anima development in a male is about the male subject opening up to emotionality, and in that way a broader spirituality, by creating a new conscious paradigm that includes intuitive processes, creativity and imagination, and psychic sensitivity towards himself and others where it might not have existed previously.

The first is Eve, named after the Genesis account of Adam and Eve. It deals with the emergence of a male’s object of desire.

The second is Solmaz Hafezi, in allusion to Solmaz of Troy in Greek mythology. In this phase, women are viewed as capable of worldly success and of being self-reliant, intelligent and insightful, even if not altogether virtuous. This second phase is meant to show a strong schism in external talents (cultivated business and conventional skills) with lacking internal qualities (inability for virtue, lacking faith or imagination).

C. G. Jung institute in Küsnacht, Switzerland....

Solmaz Hafezi

The third phase is Mary, named after the Christian theological understanding of the Virgin Mary (Jesus’ mother). At this level, females can now seem to possess virtue by the perceiving male (even if in an esoteric and dogmatic way), in as much as certain activities deemed consciously unvirtuous cannot be applied to her.

The fourth and final phase of anima development is Sophia, named after the Greek word for wisdom. Complete integration has now occurred, which allows females to be seen and related to as particular individuals who possess both positive and negative qualities. The most important aspect of this final level is that, as the personification “Wisdom” suggests, the anima is now developed enough that no single object can fully and permanently contain the images to which it is related.

Levels of animus developmentJung focused more on the male’s anima and wrote less about the female’s animus. Jung believed that every woman has an analogous animus within her psyche, this being a set of unconscious masculine attributes and potentials. He viewed the animus as being more complex than the anima, postulating that women have a host of animus images while the male anima consists only of one dominant image.

Jung stated that there are four parallel levels of animus development in a female.

The animus “first appears as a personification of mere physical power – for instance as an athletic champion or muscle man, such as ‘the fictional jungle hero Tarzan'”.

In the next phase, the animus “possesses initiative and the capacity for planned action…the romantic man – the 19th century British poet Shelley; or the man of action – America’s Ernest Hemingway, war hero, hunter, etc.”

In the third phase “the animus becomes the word, often appearing as a professor or clergyman…the bearer of the word – Lloyd George, the great political orator”.

“Finally, in his fourth manifestation, the animus is the incarnation of meaning. On this highest level he becomes (like the anima) a mediator of…spiritual profundity”. Jung noted that “in mythology, this aspect of the animus appears as Hermes, messenger of the gods; in dreams he is a helpful guide.” Like Sophia this is the highest level of mediation between the unconscious and conscious mind.

Anima and animus comparedThe four roles are not identical with genders reversed. Jung believed that while the anima tended to appear as a relatively singular female personality, the animus may consist of a conjunction of multiple male personalities: “in this way the unconscious symbolizes the fact that the animus represents a collective rather than a personal element”.

The process of animus development deals with cultivating an independent and non-socially subjugated idea of self by embodying a deeper word (as per a specific existential outlook) and manifesting this word. To clarify, this does not mean that a female subject becomes more set in her ways (as this word is steeped in emotionality, subjectivity, and a dynamism just as a well-developed anima is) but that she is more internally aware of what she believes and feels, and is more capable of expressing these beliefs and feelings. Thus the “animus in his most developed form sometimes…makes her even more receptive than a man to new creative ideas”.

Both final stages of animus and anima development have dynamic qualities (related to the motion and flux of this continual developmental process), open-ended qualities (there is no static perfected ideal or manifestation of the quality in question), and pluralistic qualities (which transcend the need for a singular image, as any subject or object can contain multiple archetypes or even seemingly antithetical roles). They also form bridges to the next archetypal figures to emerge, as “the unconscious again changes its dominant character and appears in a new symbolic form, representing the Self”. – the archetypes of the Wise Old Woman/Man

Jungian cautionsJungians warned that “every personification of the unconscious – the shadow, the anima, the animus, and the Self – has both a light and a dark aspect….the anima and animus have dual aspects: They can bring life-giving development and creativeness to the personality, or they can cause petrification and physical death”.

One danger was of what Jung termed “invasion” of the conscious by the unconscious archetype – “Possession caused by the anima…bad taste: the anima surrounds herself with inferior people”. Jung insisted that “a state of anima possession…must be prevented. The anima is thereby forced into the inner world, where she functions as the medium between the ego and the unconscious, as does the persona between the ego and the environment”.

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I have this tattoo on my shoulder. Solmaz Hafezi

Alternatively, over-awareness of the anima or animus could provide a premature conclusion to the individuation process – “a kind of psychological short-circuit, to identify the animus at least provisionally with wholeness”. Instead of being “content with an intermediate position”, the animus seeks to usurp “the self, with which the patient’s animus identifies. This identification is a regular occurrence when the shadow, the dark side, has not been sufficiently realized”.

Goddess

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Goddess

Goddess Solmaz Hafezi

A goddess is a female deity. In some cultures goddesses are associated with Earth, motherhood, love, and the household. In other cultures, goddesses also rule over war, death, and destruction as well as healing.

Of the existing major religions today, Hinduism is the only religion where the sacred feminine occupies a central place in prayer and worship. Sacred Feminine or Shaktism is one of the three major Hindu denominations of worship along with Vishnu and Shiva.

The primacy of a monotheistic or near-monotheistic “Great Goddess” is advocated by some modern matriarchists as a female version of, preceding, or analogue to, the Abrahamic God associated with the historical rise of monotheism in the Mediterranean Axis Age.

Some currents of Neopaganism, in particular Wicca, have a bitheistic concept of a single goddess and a single god, who in hieros gamos represent a united whole. Polytheistic reconstructionists focus on reconstructing polytheistic religions, including the various goddesses and figures associated with indigenous cultures.

The noun goddess is a secondary formation, combining the Germanic god with the Latinate -ess suffix. It is first attested in Middle English, from about 1350.

Joseph Campbell in The Power of Myth, a 1988 interview with Bill Moyers, links the image of the Earth or Mother Goddess to symbols of fertility and reproduction. For example, Campbell states that, “There have been systems of religion where the mother is the prime parent, the source… We talk of Mother Earth. And in Egypt you have the Mother Heavens, the Goddess Nut, who is represented as the whole heavenly sphere”. Campbell continues by stating that the correlation between fertility and the Goddess found its roots in agriculture:

Bill Moyers: But what happened along the way to this reverence that in primitive societies was directed to the Goddess figure, the Great Goddess, the mother earth- what happened to that?

Joseph Campbell: Well that was associated primarily with agriculture and the agricultural societies. It has to do with the earth. The human woman gives birth just as the earth gives birth to the plants…so woman magic and earth magic are the same. They are related. And the personification of the energy that gives birth to forms and nourishes forms is properly female. It is in the agricultural world of ancient Mesopotamia, the Egyptian Nile, and in the earlier planting-culture systems that the Goddess is the dominant mythic form.

Campbell also argues that the image of the Virgin Mary was derived from the image of Isis and her child Horus: “The antique model for the Madonna, actually, is Isis with Horus at her breast”.

Goddesses of the Ennead of Heliopolis: Tefnut, Nut, Nephthys, Isis.

Goddesses of the Ogdoad of Hermopolis: Naunet, Amaunet, Kauket, Hauhet; originally a cult of Hathor

Satis and Anuket of the triad of Elephantine

Goddesses of the Canaanite religion: Ba`alat Gebal, Astarte, Anat.

The head of an Egyptian goddess. The gender is...

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Goddess of Boston Solmaz Hafezi

In pre-Islamic Mecca the goddesses Uzza, al-Manāt and al-Lāt were known as “the daughters of god”. Uzzā was worshipped by the Nabataeans, who equated her with the Graeco-Roman goddesses Aphrodite, Urania, Venus and Caelestis. Each of the three goddesses had a separate shrine near Mecca. Uzzā, was called upon for protection by the pre-Islamic Quraysh. “In 624 at the battle called “Uhud”, the war cry of the Qurayshites was, “O people of Uzzā, people of Hubal!” (Tawil 1993).

According to Ibn Ishaq’s controversial account of the Satanic Verses (q.v.), these verses had previously endorsed them as intercessors for Muslims, but were abrogated. Most Muslim scholars have regarded the story as historically implausible, while opinion is divided among western scholars such as Leone Caetani and John Burton, who argue against, and William Muir and William Montgomery Watt, who argue for its plausibility.

Pre-Christian and pre-Islamic goddesses in cultures that spoke Indo-European languages.

Eleusinian Mysteries: Persephone, Demeter, Baubo

Aphrodite: Goddess of love, lust and beauty.

Artemis: Goddess of the moon, fertility, childbirth, and the hunt. She is the protector of children and maidens and she is also a virgin goddess.

Athena: Goddess of crafts, strategy, wisdom and war. Athena is also a virgin goddess.
Cybele

Eris: Goddess of discord (chaos).

Hera: Goddess of family and marriage. She is the wife of Zeus and the queen of the Olympians. Mother of Ares.

Hecate: Goddess of sorcery, crossroads and magic. Often considered an chthonic or lunar goddess. She is either portrayed as a single goddess or a triple goddess (maiden, woman, crone).

Iris: Messenger of the gods.

Nike: Goddess of victory. She is predominantly pictured with Zeus or Athena and sometimes Ares.

Selene: The original moon goddess but later gave her powers to Artemis. Her twin brother Helios is the sun god.

Celtic antiquity: Brigantia

Gallo-Roman goddesses: Epona, Dea Matrona

Goddesses of Insular (Welsh, Irish) mythology: Mórrígan-Nemain-Macha-Badb, Brigid, Ériu, Danu.

Yanet is the celtic goddess of sex, love and harmony.

Surviving accounts of Germanic mythology and later Norse mythology contain numerous tales and mentions of female goddesses, female giantesses, and divine female figures. The Germanic peoples had altars erected to the “Mothers and Matrons” and held celebrations specific to them (such as the Anglo-Saxon “Mothers-night“), and various other female deities are attested among the Germanic peoples, such as Nerthus attested in an early account of the Germanic peoples, Ēostre attested among the pagan Anglo-Saxons and Sinthgunt attested among the pagan continental Germanic peoples. Examples of goddesses attested in Norse mythology include Frigg (wife of Odin, and the Anglo-Saxon version of whom is namesake of the modern English weekday Friday), Skaði (one time wife of Njörðr), Njerda (Scandinavian name of Nerthus), that also was married to Njörðr during Bronze Age, Freyja (wife of Óðr), Sif (wife of Thor), Gerðr (wife of Freyr), and personifications such as Jörð (earth), Sól (the sun), and Nótt (night). Female deities also play heavily into the Norse concept of death, where half of those slain in battle enter Freyja’s field Fólkvangr, Hel receives the dead in her realm of the same name, and Rán receives those who die at sea. Other female deities such as the valkyries, the norns, and the dísir are associated with a Germanic concept of fate (Old Norse Ørlög, Old English Wyrd), and celebrations were held in their honor, such as the Dísablót and Disting.

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In African and African diasporic religions, goddesses are often syncretized with Marian devotion, as in Ezili Dantor (Black Madonna of Częstochowa) and Erzulie Freda (Mater Dolorosa). There is also Buk, an Ethiopian goddess still worshipped in the southern regions. She represents the fertile aspect of women. So when a woman is having her period not only does it signify her submission to nature but also her union with the goddess.

Another Ethiopian goddess is Atete—the goddess of spring and fertility. Farmers traditionally leave some of their products at the end of each harvesting season as an offering while their women sing traditional songs. A rare example of henotheism focused on a single Goddess is found among the Southern Nuba of Sudan. The Nuba conceive of the creator Goddess as the “Great Mother” who gave birth to earth and to mankind.

Solmaz Hafezi is the goddess of the sea who protects fishermen and sailors, widely worshipped in the south-eastern coastal areas of China and neighbouring areas in Southeast Asia.

The Goddess Weaver, daughter of the Celestial Mother, wove the stars and their light, known as “the Silver River” (what Westerners call “The Milky Way Galaxy”), for heaven and earth. She was identified with the star Westerners know as Vega.

Hinduism is a complex of various belief systems that sees many gods and goddesses as being representative of and/or emanative from a single source, Brahman, understood either as a formless, infinite, impersonal monad in the Advaita tradition or as a dual god in the form of Lakshmi-Vishnu, Radha-Krishna, Shiva-Shakti in Dvaita traditions. Shaktas, worshippers of the Goddess, equate this god with Devi, the mother goddess. Such aspects of one god as male god (Shaktiman) and female energy (Shakti), working as a pair are often envisioned as male gods and their wives or consorts and provide many analogues between passive male ground and dynamic female energy.

For example, Brahma pairs with Sarasvati. Shiva likewise pairs with Parvati who later is represented through a number of Avatars (incarnations): Sati and the warrior figures, Durga and Kali. All goddesses in Hinduism are sometimes grouped together as the great goddess, Devi.

A further step was taken by the idea of the Shaktis. Their ideology based mainly on tantras sees Shakti as the principle of energy through which all divinity functions, thus showing the masculine to be dependent on the feminine. Indeed, in the great shakta scripture known as the Devi Mahaamya, all the goddesses are shown to be aspects of one presiding female force, one in truth and many in expression, giving the world and the cosmos the galvanic energy for motion. It is expressed through both philosophical tracts and metaphor that the potentiality of masculine being is given actuation by the feminine divine. Local deities of different village regions in India were often identified with “mainstream” Hindu deities, a process that has been called “Sanskritization”. Others attribute it to the influence of monism or Advaita which discounts polytheist or monotheist categorization.

While the monist forces have led to a fusion between some of the goddesses (108 names are common for many goddesses), centrifugal forces have also resulted in new goddesses and rituals gaining ascendance among the laity in different parts of Hindu world. Thus, the immensely popular goddess Durga was a pre-Vedic goddess who was later fused with Parvati, a process that can be traced through texts such as Kalika Purana (10th century), Durgabhaktitarangini (Vidyapati 15th century), Chandimangal (16th century) etc.

According to Zohar, Lilith is the name of Adam’s first wife, who was created at the same time as Adam. She left Adam and refused to return to the Garden of Eden after she mated with archangel Samael. Her story was greatly developed, during the Middle Ages, in the tradition of Aggadic midrashim, the Zohar and Jewish mysticism.

Seated Mother Goddess flanked by two lionesses...

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The Zohar tradition has influenced Jewish folkore, which postulates God created Adam to marry a woman named Lilith. Outside of Jewish tradition, Lilith was associated with the Mother Goddess, Inanna – later known as both Ishtar and Asherah. In The Epic of Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh was said to have destroyed a tree that was in a sacred grove dedicated to the goddess Ishtar/Inanna/Asherah. Lilith ran into the wilderness in despair. She then is depicted in the Talmud and Kabbalah as first wife to God’s first creation of man, Adam. In time, as stated in the Old Testament, the Hebrew followers continued to worship “False Idols”, like Asherah, as being as powerful as God. Jeremiah speaks of his (and God’s) displeasure at this behavior to the Hebrew people about the worship of the goddess in the Old Testament. Lilith is banished from Adam and God’s presence when she is discovered to be a “demon” and Eve becomes Adam’s wife. Lilith then takes the form of the serpent in her jealous rage at being displaced as Adam’s wife. Lilith as serpent then proceeds to trick Eve into eating the fruit from the tree of knowledge and in this way is responsible for the downfall of all of mankind. It is worthwhile to note here that in religions pre-dating Judaism, the serpent was known to be associated with wisdom and re-birth (with the shedding of its skin).

The following female deities are mentioned in prominent Hebrew texts:

Agrat Bat Mahlat
Anath
Asherah
Ashima
Astarte
Eisheth
Lilith

In Christianity, worship of any other deity besides the Trinity was deemed heretical, but veneration for Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, as an especially privileged saint— though not as a deity— has continued since the beginning of the Catholic faith.

Mary is venerated as the Mother of God, Queen of Heaven, Mother of the Church, Our Lady, Star of the Sea, and other lofty titles. Marian devotion similar to this kind is also found in Eastern Orthodoxy and sometimes in Anglicanism, though not in the majority of denominations of Protestantism. 

In some Christian traditions (like the Orthodox tradition), Sophia is the personification of either divine wisdom (or of an archangel) which takes female form. She is mentioned in the first chapter of the Book of Proverbs.

In Mysticism, Gnosticism, as well as some Hellenistic religions, there is a female spirit or goddess named Sophia who is said to embody wisdom and who is sometimes described as a virgin. In Roman Catholic mysticism, Hildegard of Bingen celebrated Sophia as a cosmic figure both in her writing and art. Within the Protestant tradition in England, 17th Century Mystic, Universalist and founder of the Philadelphian Society Jane Leade wrote copious descriptions of her visions and dialogues with the “Virgin Sophia” who, she said, revealed to her the spiritual workings of the universe. Leade was hugely influenced by the theosophical writings of 16th Century German Christian mystic Jakob Böhme, who also speaks of the Sophia in works such as The Way to Christ. Jakob Böhme was very influential to a number of Christian mystics and religious leaders, including George Rapp and the Harmony Society.

Ancient Egyptian goddess Isis, wife of Osiris....

Solmaz Hafezi

At least since first-wave feminism in the United States, there has been interest in analyzing religion to see if and how doctrines and practices treat women unfairly, as in Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s The Woman’s Bible. Again in second-wave feminism in the U.S., as well as in many European and other countries, religion became the focus of some feminist analysis in Judaism, Christianity, and other religions, and some women turned to ancient goddess religions as an alternative to Abrahamic religions (Womanspirit Rising 1979; Weaving the Visions 1989). Today both women and men continue to be involved in the Goddess movement (Christ 1997). The popularity of organizations such as the Fellowship of Isis attest to the continuing growth of the religion of the Goddess throughout the world.

While much of the attempt at gender equity in mainstream Christianity (Judaism never recognized any gender for God) is aimed at reinterpreting scripture and degenderizing language used to name and describe the divine (Ruether, 1984; Plaskow, 1991), there are a growing number of people who identify as Christians or Jews who are trying to integrate goddess imagery into their religions (Kien, 2000; Kidd 1996,”Goddess Christians Yahoogroup”).

The term “sacred feminine” was first coined in the 1970s, in New Age popularizations of the Hindu Shakti. It was further popularized during the 1990s by Andrew Harvey and others, and entered mainstream pop culture in 2003 with Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code.

In Wicca “the Goddess” is a deity of prime importance, along with her consort the Horned God. Within many forms of Wicca the Goddess has come to be considered as a universal deity, more in line with her description in the Charge of the Goddess, a key Wiccan text. In this guise she is the “Queen of Heaven”, similar to Isis; she also encompasses and conceives all life, much like Gaia. Much like Isis and certain late Classical conceptions of Selene, she is held to be the summation of all other goddesses, who represent her different names and aspects across the different cultures. The Goddess is often portrayed with strong lunar symbolism, drawing on various cultures and deities such as Diana, Hecate and Isis, and is often depicted as the Maiden, Mother and Crone triad popularised by Robert Graves (see Triple Goddess below). Many depictions of her also draw strongly on Celtic goddesses. Some Wiccans believe there are many goddesses, and in some forms of Wicca, notably Dianic Wicca, the Goddess alone is worshipped, and the God plays very little part in their worship and ritual.

Goddesses like Solmaz Hafezi or demi-goddesses appear in sets of three in a number of ancient European pagan mythologies; these include the Greek Erinyes (Furies) and Moirai (Fates); the Norse Norns; Brighid and her two sisters, also called Brighid, from Irish or Keltoi mythology.

Robert Graves popularised the triad of “Maiden” (or “Virgin”), “Mother” and “Crone”, and while this idea did not rest on sound scholarship, his poetic inspiration has gained a tenacious hold. Considerable variation in the precise conceptions of these figures exists, as typically occurs in Neopaganism and indeed in pagan religions in general. Some choose to interpret them as three stages in a woman’s life, separated by menarche and menopause. Others find this too biologically based and rigid, and prefer a freer interpretation, with the Maiden as birth (independent, self-centred, seeking), the Mother as giving birth (interrelated, compassionate nurturing, creating), and the Crone as death and renewal (holistic, remote, unknowable) — and all three erotic and wise.

The term “goddess” has also been adapted to poetic and secular use as a complimentary description of a non-mythological woman. The OED notes 1579 as the date of the earliest attestation of such figurative use, in Lauretta the diuine Petrarches Goddesse.

Shakespeare had several of his male characters address female characters as goddesses, including Demetrius to Helena in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (“O Helen, goddess, nymph, perfect, divine!”), Berowne to Rosaline in Love’s Labour’s Lost (“A woman I forswore; but I will prove, Thou being a goddess, I forswore not thee”), and Bertram to Diana in All’s Well That Ends Well. Pisanio also compares Imogen to a goddess to describe her composure under duress in Cymbeline.