Believe me, this is not a common thing. It took me HOURS to find each religion and to gather enough research about them… So here it is! Today, I’ve compiled a list of five matriarchal religions – religions which either worship solely goddesses or have a goddess as their top-dog deity!
(I apologise in advance for the horrid formatting.
I’m learning how to use HTML the hard way.)
Trigger warning for nudity later on. Apparently Minoan ladies were allergic to shirts.
1. Shaktism/Shaktidharma: Goddess worship is an ancient practice in India. Shaktism is a branch of Hinduism that focuses worship upon an omnipotent mother goddess called Shakti (or sometimes Devi). She is the Divine Mother, playing an active and dynamic role, whereas Shiva (one of the five main aspects of God in mainstream Hinduism) is regarded as transcendent but passive. The goddess is approached in a number of ways – for example, Lakshmi, Parvati, Saraswati and Kali, among others, are seen as her forms – but all her forms are understood to be aspects of a single supreme deity. Shaktism is thought to be derived from the religion of the Indus Valley Civilisation, dating back to 3300BCE. Its use of chants, rituals and traditional magic result in it being dismissed by many scholars and other denominations of Hinduism as simply “black magic” and superstition. It’s interesting to note that the late Shaiva leader Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami stated that “worship of feminine manifest is merely a vehicle for reaching the masculine unmanifest” – essentially, the worship of a goddess is only a way of accessing God, rather than a true and independent religion of its own. Thanks for that, mate.
2. Basque Paganism: The main figure in Basque mythology was the goddess Mari, the supreme mother and goddess of the moon. She is also referred to as Anbotoko Mari (“The lady of Anboto”) or Murumendiko Mari (“The lady of Murumendi”). She was associated with thunder and wind, and was believed to live underground in a mountain cave. On the night of the Akelarre – the meeting of witches – she either conceived a shower of rain to bring fertility or she created devastating storms. She was served by a court of sorginak (witches). In several myths, she is said to have a husband – sometimes Sugaar/Maju, with whom she controlled storms, or occasionally historical figures such as Diego López I de Haro, the Lord of Biscay. Due to the Christianisation of the Basque Country, very little of their ancestral religion survives beyond oral history and traditions, but the recognition of Mari remains part of Basque culture after she was syncretised with the Virgin Mary, in order to ease the transition from paganism to Christianity. Let’s face it – the Basques are just cooler than us in every conceivable way. Mysterious language? Check. (x) Historical sexual equality? Check. (x) Kickass poetry/song competitions? Double-freakin’-check. (x)
3. Minoan Religion: The Minoan civilisation was located in Crete and flourished from circa 2000BCE to 1450BCE. It is thought that a natural disaster, such as an earthquake or volcanic eruption, brought an end to the civilisation. According to the evidence available, the Minoans worshipped primarily goddesses – women are prevalent in art and sculpture, although historians are unable to translate religious documents. These goddesses appear to be protectors of the household, cities, harvests and the underworld. The most well-known examples of possible Minoan goddess art are the “Snake Goddesses”, two figurines dating to 1600BCE, each holding snakes and dressed in traditional Minoan robes. They are thought to be goddesses of the household, as the snake was seen as a protective symbol in Minoan culture. It is also believed that Ariadne, daughter of King Minos and half-sister to the Minotaur in Greek mythology, was worshipped as the Mistress of the Labyrinth in Crete.
4. Dianic Wicca: Dianic Wicca is a neopagan religion and a branch of Wicca, popularised by Zsuzsanna Budapest. Budapest founded the first women’s-only witches’ coven in the USA. It combines traditional Wicca, folk magic and feminist values. Dianic Wiccans may attend sabbats and honour Wiccan festivals, but it differs from most Wiccan traditions in that only goddesses are worshipped, whereas Wicca generally encourages the worship of a male and female partnership. It is named after the Roman goddess of the moon and hunting, Diana, but Dianic Wiccans may worship a goddess/goddesses from a variety of religions. They see all goddesses as “aspects” of a single deity. From The Holy Book of Women’s Mysteries by Zsuzsanna Budapest: “We believe that feminist witches are women who search within themselves for the female principle of the universe and who relate as daughters to the Creatrix… we believe that in order to fight and win a revolution that will stretch for generations into the future, we must find reliable ways to replenish our energies. We believe that without a secure grounding in women’s spiritual strength there will be no victory for us.” I’m not going to lie – magic feminism sounds great to me! The image below is of the Wiccan Law/Wiccan Rede.
5. The Goddess Movement: This emerged in the 1970s, amid second-wave feminism. It takes its inspiration from the concept of matriarchal religion in prehistoric times, an idea which had been presented by the Swiss anthropologist Johann Jakob Bachofen in 1861. He theorised that there had once been a primarily female-focused religion, evolving in stages until it was finally overcome by the patriarchal religions of classical antiquity. It began with hetaerism, characterised by polyamory and a communistic lifestyle. The goddess at this stage was a proto-Aphrodite, goddess of love, beauty and fertility. Then came Das Mutterecht, presided over by a goddess similar to Demeter, goddess of agriculture. The Dionysian and Apollonian stages followed, in which the matriarchal lunar religion was abandoned in favour of the patriarchal solar religion. Bachofen’s theories have their opponents – they are a controversial set of hypotheses – but historians and anthropologists have been inspired to pursue and investigate the field due to his theory. For example, Robert Graves, author of I, Claudius wrote an essay (The White Goddess) exploring the possibility of a lunar goddess having influenced the majority of European goddesses and continued to investigate these themes in his novel Seven Days in New Crete.
Thanks, as always, for reading! If I’ve made any factual errors, let me know – I’ve tried to remain unbiased, but I haven’t studied religion/philosophy in any great detail. I’d like to offer my apologies for the looooong paragraphs; it’s a lot of scrolling and your poor little fingers must be tired! But, if your hands are still functioning, please consider liking and sharing this on Facebook/Twitter/Google+.