Nechey nechey ai Ma Shyama/ Ami je tore shonge jaboe/
Tui khabi Ma panthar muroe/ Ami je tore prasad paboe !
Roughly translated, it reads Mother Kali, come dancing on, I will follow you/ you will munch the sacrificed goat’s head/ I will have the leftovers.
Not quite an appetizing meal, but the Bengali singing unsteadily on his feet was dripping piety. Probably, it was the country liquor with which he filled up himself, but his devotion and religiousity was unmistakable. In that, at least, he was different from Gunter Grass, who excoriated Ma Kali in his book, Show Me Your Tongue. Ma Kali, anyway, had her turn of excoriating Grass. It became known that Gras had enrolled in the Nazi air force at 16.
Since paleolithic times humankind have been worshipping goddesses, and anthropologists think (without firm evidence) that the first god or the entity for worship conjured up by those of our .distant ancestors was female. This belief is somewhat supported by the ancient myth of creation by self- fertilisation, very common in the vegetable kingdom and in parthenogenetic insects, mollusces and snails. Probably, this had given rise to the belief that the Mother Goddess created not only herself , but also the universe all by herself, alone.
And that accounted for the growth of agricultural religions, belief systems narrating that the benevolence, happiness and prosperity the gods shower on us are all due to the Mother Goddess (MG for short). No wonder, that nearly all such early religions, societies and tribes were matriarchal. Be that as it may, there is no evidence that the female members of such societies considered themselves superior to their male constituents. Usually, a balance was achieved by equally honouring the female and male gods. This could be the origin of that charming myth of the marriage between Earth Mother and Sky God in many early cultures and societies. A line from a poem by Mao Ze Dong stating that women hold up the sky reflects that belief.
The first images (excavated) which the Cro-Magnons of the Upper Paleolithic Period had made are all unmistakably female figures going back to as early as 35,000 BCE. Naturally, they are all called Venus, after Botticelli’s masterpiece renaissance painting, The Birth of Venus. There is a Venus of Vestonice (Czechoslovakia - circa 35,000 – 25,000 BCE); of Willendorf (Germany – ca 22,000 BCE); and one in Laussel, southern France chiselled out as a bas-relief in a rock shelter, ca 19,000 BCE. There is also the doubtful Venus of Morocco (ca 400,000 BCE) because experts are not sure how it was made – shaped by the actions of rain and wind or by human hands. They are, however, unanimous in their opinion that it was used as a figurine. The Laussale Venus is painted in red, perhaps suggesting blood . This and the detail showing a bison horn held in one hand suuggests that the rock shelter was probably a hunting shrine. There are Cro-Magnon paintings in caves showing women during during child birth. An interesting painting in the Pyrennes depicted a naked woman apparently as a mascot of mammoth hunters , the guardian of wild things and the defender of the cave shelter.
Proto-Neolithic (circa 9,000 – 7,000 BCE); Middle Neolithic (ca 6,000 – 5,000 BCE); and Higher Neolithic (ca 4,500 – 3,500 BCE) Periods also yielded female figurines, some of which were decorated and appeared to have been objects of worship. Isis or the Horned Goddess was depicted in cave paintings (ca 7,000 BCE) in Africa, interestingly as a bisexual woman. MG was called Ta – Urt (Great One) in predynastic Egypt before ca 3100 BCE, and was shown as a pregnant hippopotamus standing on her hind legs. MG figurines associated with cow, sheep, goat, dove, humped ox, snake, pig and double axe were the characteristics of the Halaf culture flourishing in the Tigris basin, ca 5,000 – 4,000 BCE. The Sumerian culture (ca 4,000 BCE) associated princesses and queens of the cities with the MG, while the kings were regarded as gods.
In the millennia gone, MG asumed and played many roles — mother, wife, creator, destroyer, homemaker, huntress, healer, sorcerer…and so on, her roles depending on the state of development of the culture she was a part of. She could be a queen with a royal consort; she could be a mother whose son had died or sacrificed to represent the birth and rebirth of the seasons; she was called by a myriad of names and had many faces, but always unfailingly she represented nature, and was identified with the sun and the moon; with the earth and the sky. Her devotees, whatever they called themselves, were nature worshippers as well. She was the Supreme Being, while the gods were described in anthropomorphic terms.
It is generally believed that the Black Madonna icons were created from the descriptions of ancient goddesses, particularly the Egyptian Goddess Isis holding on her lap her son, Horus. Spirits of the benevolent or malevolent kinds are described in many languages (for example Syriac) in the feminine gender. So it was in early Christianity upto circa 400 CE, after which the practice was discontinued. Even at present, the Latter – day Saints or the Mormons (followers of a tangential Christian doctrine) subtly accept the existence of a Heavenly Mother, but chastise the members who openly declare their adherence to this goddess instead of praying to God the Father. The Mother Goddess was the central figure, the very essence of the craft and practice of Neo – pagan Witchcraft. As the Great Mother, she represented fertility bringing forth all life; as Mother Nature, she embodied the world of the living and the world of the planets. She herself was the elemental force: the creator and the destroyer. She was the Queen of Heaven; and she was the moon. Emotion, intuition, magical powers and psychic faculty were her attributes. A genderles Divine Force was the power behind her, but in the universe it was manifested as male and female principles. Though both the principles were accepted, the Goddess or the female principle was given importance by excluding the Horned God or the male principle. Many aspects, facets and names characterised the Goddess; but in Neo – paganism and Witchcraft, She was worshipped in her three Goddess forms : Virgin, Mother and Crone.
Mother Goddesses elsewhere
In ancient cultures Mother Goddesses were worshipped in different forms with varying names. She was known as Tiamat in Sumerian mythology; Ishtar or Inana and Ninsun were her names in Mesopotamia; Asherah in Canaan; Ashtart in Syria; and Aphrodite in Greece. The Mother Goddess of the Celts or the ancient Irish, Anu or sometimes called Danu lend her name to Irish literature, and Tuatha de Dannan meaning people of Danu came to be known as the last and most favoured generation of gods. The Nordic Bronze Age was the time when probably a Mother Goddess was worshipped by the Germanic tribes as a part of their religious practice, known as the Nerthus of Germanic mythology. She lived on in the Norse mythology as Frevia, and was worshipped by that name. Njord, interestingly, was her male counterpart in Scandinavia, the only male deity in an otherwise female pantheon, which included Yggdrasil or World Ash. It is said that the image of Grendel’s mother in the poem Beowulf was based on a Mother Goddess from Norse mythology.
Ancient Near Eastern culture zones surrounding the Aegean Sea worshipped the MG known as Cybele. Her other forms, revered in Rome were known as Magna Mater, Great Mother, Rhea and Gaia. Classical Greece had twelve Olympian Mother Goddesses like Hera, Demeter and so on with many special powers. Potnia Theron, the MG of the Minoans was the Mistress of the Animals besides many other qualities. Apparently, all her powers were later appropriated by Artemis born of Zeus and Leto. Apollo, the very good-looking Greek God was her twin brother. She was beautiful and energetic; wore a short dress leaving her legs bare; and looked young all the tme. She was also the MG of the place known as Ephesus where she wore a peculiar dress representing honeycombs, breasts, fruits and the like. Experts are divided over the purposes of her outfit, but the general opinion is that it represents a lactating woman capable of feeding many babies. A bow is her symbol, her hunting weapon; and she often wears a crescent on her brow. Her strength lies in her ability to defend herself, and naturally she is a defender of women and animals. She provides comfort to women during child birth. She dislikes men, an example of misandry perhaps, and hates marriage for the bondage it imposes on women.
Greek and Roman (Italian) Mother Goddesses
Quite a number of Mother Goddesses are common in Greek and Roman mythologies, among whom perhaps the most revered is Cybele. She is a Near Eastern MG with her domain spreading from Phrygia to Greece, Rome amd other places. The Agora in Athens, a sort of gathering and commercial centre once, has a temple known as Metroon dedicated to her. Sacred prostitution, castration and fertility rites were the forms in which she was paid tributes. Her cult followers raised monuments in her honour from circa 6,000 BCE to the end of the Roman Empire. Recent archaeological finds have established that she was venerated even in Thrace. Rhea is her other name in Greece, and Agdos is what she is called when she takes the form of a rock. In an interesting observation, Ean Begg in his work on Christian Black Virgins speaks of a link Cybele has with the Ka’bah : “Her name is etymologically linked with the words for crypt, cave, head and dome and is distantly related to the Ka’aba, the cube-shaped Holy of Holies in Mecca that contains the feminine black stone venerated by Islam” Begg, p.57. Though famously known as The Great Mother, she was also called Mater Kubile; while her Roman Ceremonial name name was Mater Deum Magna Idaea (Great Idaean Mother of the Gods). She was one of the various nature deities worshipped in Asia Minor, and Phrygia in west – central Turkey was the original place of her cult – followers. The Greeks saw her resmblance to their own MG, Rhea and unhesitatingly combined the two. In 204 BCE, when Hannibal was marching to conquer Rome, there was a prophecy stated to be from her that the enemy would be defeated and expelled if the “Idaean Mother” was brought to Rome, together with her sacred symbol, a small stone reputed to have fallen from the heavens. Though emphasis was placed on her maternal instincts and attributes, her worship was orgiastic in nature. Apparently, only castrated males could become her priests, so as to honour her lover the agricultural god Attis who self – mutilated himself that way and died bleeding under a pine tree.
Aurora or Eos is the Greek Goddess of Dawn, daughter of the Titan, Hyperion; the Sun God, Helios is her brother and the Moon Goddess, Selene is her sister. Homer described her in his works as the Rosy – Fingered one. Her lover is the hunter Orion as also Cephalus, who is the father of her child, Phaethon. Artistically, she is depicted as rising from the sea in a chariot drawn by winged horses, and morning dews falling from the two pitchers held in her hands.
The Furies are so called because they are the Goddesses of anger, jealousy and revenge. The Greeks (probably not to provoke them) called them euphemistically Eumenides (meaning “The Kind Ones), and Romans (not so tactful) addressed them as Furiae. Older than the Olympian Pantheon, this trio or triune were the punishing force of the Mother Goddess disciplining Her law – breakers. It is speculated that they were personification of curses and rose from ghosts or the victims of murder. The Greek poet Hesiod believed them to be the daughters of the Earth Mother, Gaia and to come out of the mutilated body of Her spouse, Uranus. Aeschylus in his plays called them the daughters of Nyx; Sophocles in his works described them as daughters of Darkness and Gaia; and it was Euripides who spoke of them as three in number. Subsequent authors named them Alecto (Unceasing in Anger); Tisiphone (Avenger of Murder); and Megaera (Jealous). They lived in the underworld, due to which they were associated with the fertility of the soil, and came out often to chase and punish the wicked. The Greeks were afraid even to utter their name, Erinyes, and in addition to the appeasing title of “The Kind Ones” called them Semnam Theai meaning The Venerable Goddesses.
Quite a contrast to The Furies was the Italian or Roman Goddess of the hearth, Vesta; her Greek counterpart was called Hestia. Her priestesses were required to protect a continuously burning fire symbolising the hearth, and to remain virgins. The Vestal cult was one of the oldest in Rome, and in ancient republican times state functions began with a prayer to the god Janus and concluded by invoking Vesta. As opposed to this, the Hestia cult was not that important in Greece; nor was her image (unlike Vesta) kept for worhip in housealtars. The state worship of Vesta was quite elaborate, carried out in a circular building similar to the early Italian huts and to the hearth in a home. There was a Temple of Vesta in the Roman Forum, restored and renovated many times during the ancient Roman Imperial and Republican phases. Inside that temple burned perpetually the fire of the public/state hearth attended by the Vestal Virgins. On March 1, the first day of the ancient Roman New Year, the fire was put out once only to be rekindled again. If it went out accidentally or otherwise, the event was regarded as the omen for an impending disaster. The inner sanctuary was not open to the public; only during the 9 days of Vestalia in June 7 to 15, barefoot matrons were allowed to go inside. Those days were considered unlucky, and the temple was kind of sanitised by ceremonial sweeping and dumping the refuse in a particular spot along the Clivus Capitolinus or by throwing them in the Tiber river. Atrium Vestae was the name of the sacred area and consisted of the Temple of Vesta, a sacred grove, Regia or the chamber of the chief priestess (pontiflex maximus) and the House of the Vestals. Vesta was portrayed as a fully draped woman with an ass, her favourite animal. As she was the patroness of bakers and an ass was used to turn the millstone grinding the grain, the animal accompanied her. Fornax or the spirit of the baker’s oven was also associated with her.
The New Year festivities of both the Greeks and the Romans were held around 15 March, the time of Spring Equinox when the Sun had completed its annual journey according to their belief, and was called Anna Perenna. As the Sun was the giver of Life and Food, this festival was also considerd a homage to the Mother Goddess. Incidentally, it sounds nearly the same as Anna Purna, the name of a Hindu Mother Goddess.
The Greek Goddess Aphrodite’s counterpart in Roman mythology was Venus. As she was the mother of Rome’s founder Aeneas, she was considered a Mother Goddess and ancestor of all the subsequent Roman rulers. During the rule of Julius Caeser, she was called Venus Genetrix. The legend of the founding of Rome, however, has it that the city was founded by Romus and Romulus, sons of a vestal virgin.
Buddhist Mother Goddess
The origins of the female Bodhisattva, Kuan Yin (also called Kwan Yin and Quan Shi Yin) are still a matter of debate among Buddhist scholars. Etymologically, her name means someone attending to the cries of the distressed, a definitive maternal quality placing her in the Pantheon of Mother Goddesses. She is considered to be the female form of Avalokiteswara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, whose worship in China began in the early years of the Common Era. Apparently, the first reference to this MG is in the Lotus Sutra of 405 CE; but, by the tenth crntury she was also thougt of as a male. During the reign of the Chang Dynasty, Tantric Buddhism conceptualised her as a beautiful white-robed female Bodhisattva in the eigth century CE. In the next century, there were statues of Kuan Yin in all the Chinese Buddhist monasteries.
Imagining Bodhisattva as a female was not inconsistent to Buddhist belief because the Bodhisattva could assume any form, wearing it like a garb to bring salvation to the people. There are references to such acts of redemption by “a variety of shapes” in the Lotus Sutra. Some are of the opinion that Kuan Yin was the title conferred on Miao Shan, a Chinese Princess of circa 700 BCE. It is believed that she was in Pu-To-Shan, the sacred island – mountain in the Chusan Archipelago for nine years bringing rescue and relief to ship – wrecked sailors. Tales of her acts of mercy spread all over northern China in no time.
Kuan Yin assumes various forms representing different aspects of her attributes. A slender woman in a flowing white robe, carrying in her left hand a white lotus is the manner in which she symbolises purity. She may be without any ornament as a sign of her humility; or, she may be wearing some, as appropriate for a Bodhisattva. It is, however, as a companion and friend of children, she is portrayed in homes and temples. She is normally seen sitting on a lotus with a great white veil entirely covering her, and holding a child in her arms. Or, the child is sitting on her lap; or, standing holding on to her knees; or, there may be several children playing around her. In this form of Bodhisattva, she is known as the “White – robed Honoured One”. In her thousand - eyes, thousand – hands Bodhisattva form, she has a multitude of arms, eyes and heads. in this form she is the Mother Goddess, observing, sensing and reaching out to help humanity with her infinite compassion and tenderness.
Kuan Yin is associated with a willow branch with which she sprinkles compassion and wisdom drawn from a precious vase containing the nectar of life. She holds a scroll of prayers in her hand (like her predecessor Miao Shan did) to recite Sutras or Teachings or The Buddha and wears a rosary on her neck to receive help and succour fromThe Avalokitesvara. The beads in the rosary are a manifestation of all living things while the action of rotating them sgnifies The Buddha guiding them through unending cycles of birth and rebirth to Nirvana.
Mahayana Buddhists along with Taoists of China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan worship the Bodhisattva Kuan Yin as the patroness of craftsmen, men under unlawful detention, sailors, women, children, and particularly those women desiring to have a child. It is believed that her healing powers and saving grace are so profound that a mere recitation of the Kuan Yin Sutras in the twenty-fifth chapter of the Holy Text Lotus Sutra would bring relief from troubles like shipwreck, fire, imprisonment, robbers, demons, fatal poisons and karmic woes, in which the devotee is immersed.
HA HAI – I WUHTI : Hopi (American – Indian) Mother Goddess
Ha Hai – I Wuhti means “pour water woman”, an imagery similar to Deities in many faiths shown pouring the water of life on the world. The Hopis believe that their Divine Mother does so from a hollowed – out gourd held in one hand, while a sheaf of corn is held in the other hand. She is considered to be the Mother of all things, sentient or otherwise. Kachinas or dolls with magical powers are a central feature of the Hopi beliefs, and Ha Hai – I Wuhti is their mother and her husband Eototo is their chief. Unlike the kachinas, she is quite vocal, and speaks during Hopi festivals like Powamu, Water Serpent and Hopi Shalako through some intermediary. A flat image of her made by the doll carver is the first present a baby receives. Such images are also given to captive eagles adopted by the tribe. Dolls carved in full relief are given to girls.
SGROL – MA : Tibetan Mother Goddess
Her more popular name is Tara, and her numerous forms are worshipped in Mongolia, Nepal and Tibet. Regarded as the feminine counterpart of Bodhisattva, she is said to have developed from a teardrop of Avalokitesvara which fell on the ground and formed a lake. The legend mentions that a lotus came out of the water in full bloom revealing Tara. She comes to the aid of those who are crossing waters or going on tour. Like wise, she helps those who are on their paths to enlightenment.
Srong-brtsan-sgam-po, the first Buddhist king of Tibet had two wives, princesses of Chinese and Nepali origins. Like every pious Tibetan woman, they were considered as reincarnation of Tara. The Chinese princess was incarnated as The White Tara, signifying purity. In the legend, White Tara is the consort of The Avalokitesvara and in scrolls shown as standing to His right, or seated alone with her legs crossed holding a lotus in full bloom in her hand. Normally, she has a third eye in the middle of her brows. In Mongolia she is called “Tara of the Seven Eyes”, as the scrolls there show her with four more eyes, two on her palms and two more on the soles of her feet.
The Nepali princess was regarded as the original Tara or “Green Tara”. Her scrolls also portray her as a consort of The Avalokitesvara and show her sitting on a lotus throne with the right leg hanging down. She wears the ornaments of a Bodhisattva and holds a lotus bud (utpala) in her hand. The full – blown and the unopened lotuses in the hands of the two Taras represent the unceasing efforts they make all the time to relieve humanity from the worldly woes. Like the 108 traditional “Avatars” in Hinduism, Tibetan Lamaism also invest the two Taras with 108 forms. The pennants fluttering on top of Tibetan temples normally show 21 different Taras coloured red, white and yellow surrounding a green Tara. Her headgear or scarf often depict the self – born Buddha or Amitabha because she like Avalokitesvara is also regarded as an emanation of Amitabha. The blue form is her fearsome incarnation Ugra – Tara or Ekajata, and like the Greco – Roman Furies destroys the wicked; the red form known as Kurukulla is the Goddess of Love and also provides antidote to snake – bite when she is calle Janguli. Bhrukuti is the name of her yellow form, and shows her anger and displeasure in arched and raised frowning brows. There is also a Hindu Tara, a reincarnation of the goddess Ma Kali or Kali Mata.
Turkic Siberian Mother Goddess
She is called Umai, Ymai or Mai, and is shown as having sixty golden tresses, like the radiating rays of the sun. Much earlier, in antiquity, she was identified with the Mother Goddess of the Mongols known as Ot. Interestingly, the Hindu god Shiva’s consort is also known as Uma and Mai is the vernacular form of addressing one’s mother in quite a few Indian languages.
Hindu Mother Goddesses
In the pantheon of Hindu Mother Goddesses, a very special position is held by Lakshmi because she holds the purse – strings, is the goddess of prosperity and wealth. In the home – altars, she necessarily have a spsce, and thursdays are set aside for her weekly puja in addition to the annual festivities honouring her on a full – moon night in the autumn. . Seated on a lotus, her portrait is that of a full – bodied woman with a smiling face and being annointed by two elephants one on each side. It is believed that she rose from the sea when it was churned by deities and demons, and after a controversy she went to the side of the deities. She became the wife of Vishnu, and changed her name for each of his incarnations. For example, when Vishnu took the form of a dwarf, she came to be known as Padma or Kamala. A white owl is her pet animal, and in her four hands she holds a conch, a lotus, a treasure chest and makes a gesture of assurance to the devotee in the fourth.
Sarasvati is the Mother Goddess for all the finer things in life. Music, painting, sculpture, dance…are the spheres in which one can not excel without her blessings. Besides, it is her, the legend goes, who taught humankind how to write so as to compose songs to be sung praising the deities. She is a four – armed goddess shown riding on the back of a white swan, holding a book and a lotus in two hands and playing the veena with the fingers of the other two. She has a mellifluous voice and sings charmingly. With all these attributes, she has one shortcoming : she is terribly jealous of her sister, Lakshmi, and vvithdraw all her gifts bestowed earlier on someone shifting loyalty to Lakshmi. She need not be, because Lakshmi by nature is fickle and often go away for no reason.
Ma Kali, Kali Mata or Kalka Mata derives her name from Kaal in Sanskrit meaning time. Besides being a destroyer of the wicked Asuras, She also helps in banishing the self – importance one acquires from time to time, and in that sense appears to be ageless. It is not entirely correct to associate her with death, the exclusive preserve of the god, Yama. She and her consort , the god Shiva are said to inhabit the cremation grounds, and devotees often used to go there to meditate. Their intention, apparently, was to think of the evanescence of things by looking at the bodies consigned to flames nearby, decidedly a scary procedure to the uninitiated. Eventually, however, the idea of impermanence takes hold, and the Mother Goddess and her consort help one in attaining that. The idea is somewhat similar to the Biblical injunction that proclaims one as dust to which one ultimately returns, but the process there is a bit long.
Of all the Hindu MGs, Ma Kali is the most compassionate because she (it is believed) helps the devotee to attain Moksha, yet another name for Nirvana, Salvation and so on. Her outfit, a skirt of severed hands and a neckless of skulls is fearful enough, and the effect is further heightened by a severed head dripping blood and a chopper in the two hands on her left. Some reflection would, however, reveal that the severed head was on the shoulders of an oppressor and that the severed hands belonged to his gang members. And, then, her two right hands (she is four – armed) are in gestures of assurance to the innocent. Finally, in that killing spree, she still retains her sense of proportion by sticking out her tongue as a gesture of abashment, when she steps on to the chest of Shiva who (on finding that things are getting out of control) lies down on her path to stop her. An incrrect idea of Tantric worship associates Ma Kali with orgiastic violence, providing an excuse for organised debauchery. According to legends, she is very motherly, a celibate and helps her devotees to attain renunciation. This is evident from the songs of Ramaprasad (circa 17th century CE) in Bengali suffused with Bhakti or devotional attachment. One roughly translated song goes like this :
Who says my Mother Shyama is black?
She is definitely not; and is of many hues
She could be white; and she could be yellow;
Often, she is aquamarine:
It is this many – splendoured aspect of her,
Thinking of which Ramaprasad lives on…
The Hindu Goddess of Primal Energy or Shakti is also associated with Ma Kali. Pure awareness, as stated in scriptures, is transcendent, unchanging and kind of inert (though not a bad thing in itself). As opposed to this, Shakti is dynamic, energetic and vibrant, and is a manifestation of the female principle. It is, as though, the will and energy components of a resolve, without which nothing comes to a successful conclusion. It is said that this primal energy resides within awareness, and goes through periodic cycles of motion and immobility.
Fall from pedestal
The MG’s state of glory (at least in parts of Eurasia) had ended apparently with the beginning of the Hebrew religion when the god Yahweh became the ruling deity in circa 1800 – 1500 BCE, and the prophet Abraham was living in Canaan. Her enemy number one was the Christian Church, especially the Roman Catholic Church, which identified the MG with all the pagan deities and with the evil without offering any logical proof. The term ex cathedra perhaps describes the situation accurately, but the attempts to suppress MG worship were not entirely successful. MG continued to remain within the hearts of the people. This was demonstrated forcefully in the sacred city of Ephesus, where the MG known as the Divine Mother, as also the Mother of Animals, was worshipped by “all Asia and the world” according to the Bible before it was Christianized. Her most famous Ephesus image was that of a lactating woman capable of nurturing and feeding the whole world. In 432 Common or Christian Era (CE), the Church Council held a conclave of bishops in Ephesus, when people took to the streets and rioted demanding that the worship of the Mother Goddess be restored, and the first name they put forward was Virgin Mary, the Mother of Christ. The bishops had to give in to the people’s demand and allowed Mary to be called the Mother of God, but there was strict injunction against calling her the Mother Goddess or Goddess. It is ironic that even to this day many Christians wonder why do the Catholics show such extraordinary devotion to the Virgin Mary, little realising that by this the Catholics are celebrating and continuing their early ancestors’ worship of the Mother Goddess.
A controversial but decidedly feminist point of view is that the peace – loving, matriarchal and agricultural religions worshipping various Mother Goddesses were annihilated or subjected to a strict regimen of a different kind when nomadic patriarchal warrior tribes appeared on the scene. In that scenario, the early Hebrews with their male God dispossessed the Mother Goddess of her throne and established a male – dominated society where women were brutalised, degraded and oppressed.
Anyway, in a theological sense, Christians usually regard Mary, the Mother of Jesus Christ as a “spiritual mother” because she not only was cast in a maternal role, but also served as a protector of the humanity and as the intermediary between the divine and the people in general. The Catholics take her to be “the woman” described in Revelation 12 of the Bible, who stated to have given “birth to a son, a male child, destined to rule all the nations with an iron rod” in verse 5. That male child is Jesus Christ. Subsequently, in verse 17, “the rest of her offspring” was described as “those who keep God’s commandment and bear witness to Jesus”. The Catholics regard them as belonging to the rest of Mary’s offsprings, and their commitment to Jesus and the God’s commandment invest them with the right to call Mary their mother. As a further back-up for their claim, they cite John 19 : 26 – 27 where Christ tells the Apostle John to take care of His mother as the evidence that Mary is the Mother of all Christians. They contend that when Christ was asking his “beloved disciple” John to “behold your Mother”, He was addressing all Christians. In addition, many titles are conferred upon Virgin Mary in Catholicism, like Star of the Sea (Stella Maris), Queen of Heaven and so on, which are in line with the traditions of Near East. Then, Hagia Sophia or the concept of Heavenly Wisdom is taken to be a feminine entity, a noticeable departure from the Catholic understanding of God as subsuming and transcending both masculinity and femininity. Omnipotence and creative force constitute the masculine aspect of God; all – encompassing love and heavenly wisdom represent his femininity. Christ or The Son of God is the personification of this wisdom. Likewise in Orthodoxy, reverence to Mary is on the same basis as it is in Catholicism. Mother of God and Birth – giver of God are the two honorifics bestowed on her, and she is taken to be the greatest of all human beings. But she can not be worshipped, though she holds the positions of the supreme saint and the patroness of the humankind.
The opposing view is offered by examining the “real female deities of early human culture”.
Lotte Motz says that she found no sign of the MG there in her book, The Faces of the Goddess :-
” From the Eskimos of the arctic wasteland, whose harsh life even today most closely mirrors the earliest hunter gatherers, to the rich cultures of the sunny Fertile Crescent and the islands of Japan, Motz looks at a wide range of goddesses who are called Mother, or who give birth in their myths. She finds that these goddesses have varying origins as ancestor deities, animal protectors, and other divinities, rather than stemming from a common Mother Goddess archetype. For instance, Sedna, the powerful goddess whose chopped-off fingers became the seals and fish that were the Eskimos’ chief source of food, had nothing to do with human fertility. Indeed, human motherhood was held in such low esteem that Eskimo women were forced to give birth completely alone, with no human companionship and no helpful deities of childbirth. Likewise, while various Mexican goddesses ruled over healing, women’s crafts, motherhood and childbirth, and functioned as tribal protectors or divine ancestors, none of them either embodied the earth itself or granted fertility to the crops: for that the Mexicans looked to the male gods of maize and of rain. Nor were the rituals of these goddesses nurturing or peaceful. The goddess Cihuacoatl, who nurtured the creator god Quetzalcoatl and helped him create humanity, was worshipped with human sacrifices who were pushed into a fire, removed while still alive, and their hearts were cut out. And Motz closely examines the Anatolian goddess Cybele, the “Magna Mater” most often cited as an example of a powerful mother goddess. Hers were the last of the great pagan mysteries of the Mediterranean civilizations to fall before Christianity. But Cybele herself never gives birth, nor does she concern herself with aiding women in childbirth or childrearing. She is not herself a mother, and the male character figuring most prominently in her myths is Attis, her chaste companion. Tellingly, Cybele’s priests dedicate themselves to her by castrating themselves, thus mimicking Attis’s death–a very odd way to venerate a goddess of fertility.”
“To depict these earlier goddesses as peaceful and nurturing mothers, as is often done, is to deny them their own complex and sophisticated nature as beings who were often violent and vengeful, delighting in sacrifice, or who reveled in their eroticism and were worshipped as harlots….”
( taken from the Oxford University Press webpage - http://www.us.oup.com/us/catalog/general/subject/ReligionTheology/Ancient/?view=usa&ci=9780195089677)
Source: Wikipedia and others