In Wicca “the Goddess” is a deity of prime importance, along with her consort the Horned God. In the earliest Wiccan publications she is described as a tribal goddess of the witch community, neither omnipotent nor universal, and it was recognized that there was a greater “Prime Mover“, although the witches did not concern themselves much with this being.
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 popularized 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.
Robert Graves popularized 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.
Some, but not all, participants in the Goddess movement self-identify as witches, Wiccans or Wiccens. (Likewise, some, but not all, Wiccans and witches consider themselves to be part of “the Goddess movement.”) Other participants in the Goddess movement call themselves Goddessians (Laura 2002). Still others use “pagan” as a generic label for their spiritual worldview, or no identifying label at all.
Some witches, especially Dianics, believe in a witch-cult hypothesis. This theory attempts to trace the historical origins of their beliefs to Neolithic pre-Christian cultures, believing that Wiccanism is a distillation of a religion found at the beginning of most, if not all, cultures. They consider wise women and midwives to be the first witches. Dianic witchcraft first became visible in the 1970s, with Z. Budapest’s writings.
Her feminist version of witchcraft followed a few decades after the founding (or discovery) of Wicca by Gerald Gardner in the 1940s. In its original and traditional forms, Wicca is a duotheistic pagan religion that honors a God and a Goddess equally. Gerald Gardner (1884–1964) who, with Doreen Valiente (1922–1999) founded Gardnerian Wicca in Britain, claimed to be initiated in the 1940s into a surviving coven of traditional witches, who worshipped both a male Horned God and a female Goddess.
For their time, Gardner and Valiente advocated a fairly feminist ideal of priestess authority in service to the Wiccan God and Goddess. Covens in ‘traditional’ Wicca (i.e., those run along the lines described by Gardner and Valiente) were and still are led pretty much equally by both a priest and a priestess; but the priestess is often considered “prima inter pares” (first among equals); according to the book A Witches’ Bible, by Stewart and Janet Farrar. (Other early authors on Wicca and witchcraft, such as Paul Huson in his book Mastering Witchcraft, and Charles Cardell of the Coven of Atho, and Robert Cochrane of the Clan of Tubal Cain, generally saw the male priest or magister as being of more importance.)
While virtually all Wiccans honor the Goddess as one of their two main deities, they may or may not consider themselves to be feminists. For this reason, they may or may not identify with the label “Goddess worshipper” when it is construed as connoting a feminist ideological position, or when it is regarded as an ideology that aims at elevating the Goddess to a position of more importance than the God. Thus, the worship of a goddess or even a Great Goddess should not necessarily be construed as a feminist position per se. (For example, the worship of feminine deities by both men and women in India was historically very widespread, as it was in ancient Greece; even though both of those cultures can be considered more patriarchal than most.)
Doreen Valiente became known in Britain as the ‘Mother of the Craft’ and contributed extensively to Wicca’s written tradition. She is the author of The Witches’ Creed, which lays out the basics of Wiccan religious belief and philosophy; including the polarity of the God and the Goddess as the two great “powers of Nature” and the two “mystical pillars” of the religion. One way to characterize the central male-female divine dyad in Wicca is to say that it’s a duotheistic religion with a theology based on the divine gender polarity of male and female. Valiente also wrote both the Invocation to the Horned God and the Charge of the Goddess, the latter of which now exists in a number of variations, and is one of the most famous texts of the Neopagan movement.
The existence of witchcraft as the remnants of an old pagan religion as late as the early Modern Age was first suggested to a wide readership by Margaret Murray‘s books, The Witch Cult in Western Europe, The God of the Witches (1933) and The Divine King in England. Margaret Murray’s books were focused mainly on the worship of a male Horned God, but she saw witches themselves as being either male or female. Murray’s theories were widely discredited by experts at the time, and have been thoroughly debunked now, despite still having mass appeal. Gardner’s publications on Wicca followed her theories and argued that witchcraft had survived longer than even she had guessed. Gardner’s claimed history of Wicca is similarly discredited. See History of Wicca.
In formulating an outline of Wiccan theology and liturgy, Gardner drew not only upon the writings of Margaret Murray and her ideas about the worship of an ancient Horned God, but also upon the writings of Charles Godfrey Leland, author of Aradia, the Gospel of the Witches – who speculated that witchcraft involved the worship of a moon goddess. In combining ideas from these two authors, Gardner arrived at Wicca as a duotheistic religion that honored both the male and female deities, and that saw them as divine lovers, in a polar male-female dyad.
Wicca and Neopaganism, and to some extent the Goddess movement, were influenced by 19th-century occultism, such as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (Greer 1995), and romantic nature movements in which both male and female were valued and honored as sacred, in contrast to and perhaps in reaction to mainstream Christian spirituality. Such views are described, for example, in the work of Robert Graves, especially The White Goddess (the origin of the neopagan ‘Triple Goddess’ concept) and Mammon and the Black Goddess.
Wicca was also heavily influenced by the ideas of alchemic symbolism, which emphasized the essential complementary polarity of male and female, and that characterized that basic duality or gender polarity as a partnership of the solar (male) and the lunar (female). In Wicca the moon is the symbol of the Goddess and the sun is the symbol of the God; and the central liturgical mystery and ritual act is “The Great Rite” or Hieros Gamos, which is a symbolic union of the God and the Goddess, as the primal male and female powers of the cosmos. In alchemy this was known as “the alchemical wedding” of the sun and the moon. In a parallel vein, traditional Wicca also draws heavily upon the Western Hermetic Tradition and its roots in the kabbalistic Tree of Life; where the twin pillars of masculine and feminine divine forces are joined by a Middle Pillar that encompasses and transcends both male and female. These “twin pillars” as they are shown in tarot decks are analogous to Valiente’s depiction of the God and the Goddess as the two “mystical pillars.” In this emphasis on the feminine as the equal and complementary polar opposite of the masculine, Wicca echoes not only kabalistic sources but also the polarity of yin and yang—feminine and masculine—in Taoism.
The main forums for the movement during the 70s and 80s were independently produced magazines and journals such as Green Egg in America and Wood and Water in the UK, among many others. These periodicals attempted to represent the diversity of thought and belief. Mention should also be made of the work of UK feminist groups such as the London-based Matriarchy Study Group which produced the Goddess issue of the feminist periodical Shrew (this was an occasional publication, produced by a different collective each issue) as well as the pamphlets Menstrual Taboos and The Politics of Matriarchy; these featured the early writings of Asphodel (Pauline) Long and the artist Monica Sjoo among others. Internal newsletters of the Matriarchy Study Group and the later Matriarchy Research and Reclaim Network contained much discussion of goddesses and their significance to modern and ancient women, and some of their members produced the periodical Arachne, which brought similar material to the public.
One of the founders of modern American Goddess religions is Zsuzsanna Budapest, (Zee or “Z”), who started a women-only Dianic Craft or Dianic Tradition version of witchcraft; this was in the mid-1970s, a few decades after Gerald Gardner. She was a prolific author, and who twinned Tarot and witchcraft from her Hungarian background, with feminism. Z challenged laws in California against Tarot reading and won.
The Dianic view is that separatism, in a world where gender roles were once strictly defined, is sometimes considered dangerous because it challenges what they see as patriarchal assumptions of Western culture (Budapest 1980). Zee is considered by her sect to be the honoured Mother of the American Dianic Craft and a primary proponent of modern separtist Goddess theology.
Later, in America came Starhawk, activist and author of numerous books, is an influential author/priestess in the American Goddess movement. Her 1979 book, The Spiral Dance, played a large role in popularizing the Goddess movement as well as modern Witchcraft among committed feminists, and is considered a classic of modern Paganism.
Many non-Dianics, as well as Starhawk (herself considered to be one of Z Budapest’s students), who also reject monotheistic patriarchal culture, do not agree with Z’s justification for separatism. Starhawk’s paganism was more broadly based and also drew on the Feri tradition of Witchcraft which, itself, incorporated Hawaiian, European, and Middle Eastern elements. She was initiated into the Feri tradition in California by Victor and Cora Anderson. Starhawk is one of the founders of the Reclaiming Tradition of Witchcraft, which includes both women and men, and which honors both the God and the Goddess.
With love Solmaz Hafezi
- Wicca and the Department of Veterans Affairs (ronzturn.com)
- Coming Into This, Part I (witchsjourney.wordpress.com)
- The Wiccan Deity (freethoughtblogs.com)
- Introduction to Wicca (stumbledownunder.com)
- The God and the Goddess (freethoughtblogs.com)
- The Atheism and Wicca Series So Far (freethoughtblogs.com)
- Wiccan Theology and Sexual Equality (freethoughtblogs.com)
- Atheism and Wicca: The Discussion So Far (freethoughtblogs.com)
- The Top 5 Things Your Local Witch Wants You to Know (witchesofthecraft.com)