Earth Mother

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A Cucuteni culture statuette, 4th millennium BC.

A mother goddess is a goddess, often portrayed as the Earth Mother, who serves as a general fertility deity, the bountiful embodiment of the earth. As such, not all goddesses should be viewed as manifestations of the mother goddess.

This goddess is depicted in Western traditions in many variations, from the rock-cut images of Cybele to Dione ("the Goddess") who was invoked at Dodona, along with Zeus, until late Classical times. In the Homeric Hymns (7-6 century BC) there is a beautiful hymn to the mother goddess called "Hymn to Gaia, Mother of All". The Sumerians wrote many erotic poems about their mother goddess Ninhursaga (Sex & Eroticism in Mesopotamian Literature, G, Leick, Routledge, 2003). An example of the erotic goddess in the Western and Eastern traditions is seen in the poem The Mother Goddess


Deities fitting the modern conception of the "Mother Goddesses" as a type have clearly been revered in many societies through to modern times. James Frazer (author of The Golden Bough) and those he influenced (like Robert Graves and Marija Gimbutas) advanced the theory that all worship in Europe and the Aegean that involved any kind of mother goddess had originated in Pre-Indo-European neolithic matriarchies, and that their different goddesses were equivalent.

Although the type has been well accepted as a useful category for mythography, the idea that all such goddesses were believed in ancient times to be interchangeable has been discounted by modern scholars, most notably by Peter Ucko [1].

Paleolithic figures

Several small, corpulent figures have been found during archaeological excavations of the Upper Paleolithic, the Venus of Willendorf being perhaps the most famous. Many archaeologists believe they were intended to represent goddesses, while others believe that they could have served some other purpose. These figurines predate the available records of the goddesses listed below as examples by many thousands of years, so although they seem to conform to the same generic type, it is not clear if they were indeed representations of a goddess or that there was any continuity of religion that connects them with Middle Eastern and Classical deities.

Examples of the mother goddess type

There is no dispute that many ancient cultures worshipped female deities which match the modern conception of a "mother goddess" as part of their pantheons. The following are examples:

Sumerian, Mesopotamian and Greek goddesses

Tiamat in Sumerian mythology, Ishtar (Inanna) and Ninsun in Mesopotamia, Asherah in Canaan, `Ashtart in Syria, and Aphrodite in Greece, for example.

Celtic goddesses

The Irish goddess Anu, sometimes known as Danu, has an impact as a mother goddess, judging from the Dá Chích Anann near Killarney, County Kerry. Irish literature names the last and most favored generation of gods as "the people of Danu" (Tuatha de Dannan).

Norse goddesses

Amongst the Germanic tribes a female goddess was probably worshipped in the Nordic Bronze Age religion, which was later known as the Nerthus of Germanic mythology, and possibly living on in the Norse mythology worship of Freya. Her counterpart in Scandinavia was the male deity Njord. Other female goddesses in different pantheons may also be considered mother goddesses. Also Yggdrasil, the World Ash, is often understood to be a mother goddess. Some scholars also argue that the figure of Grendel's mother, from the poem Beowulf, may have been based upon a goddess from Norse mythology.

Greek goddesses

In the Aegean, Anatolian, and ancient Near Eastern culture zones, a mother goddess was worshipped in the forms of Cybele (revered in Rome as Magna Mater, the 'Great Mother'), of Gaia, and of Rhea.

The Olympian goddesses of classical Greece had many characters with mother goddess attributes, including Hera and Demeter.[1] The Minoan goddess represented in seals and other remains, whom Greeks called Potnia theron, "Mistress of the Animals", many of whose attributes were later also absorbed by Artemis, seems to have been a mother goddess type, for in some representations she suckles the animals that she holds. The archaic local goddess worshiped at Ephesus, whose cult statue was adorned with necklaces and stomachers hung with rounded protuberances[2] who was later also identified by Hellenes with Artemis, was probably also a mother goddess.

The Anna Perenna Festival of the Greeks and Romans for the New Year, around March 15, near the Vernal Equinox, may have been a mother goddess festival. Since the Sun is considered the source of life and food, this festival was also equated with the Mother Goddess.

Roman goddesses

Aphrodite's counterpart in Roman mythology, Venus, was eventually adopted as a Mother Goddess figure. She was seen as the mother of the Roman people, being the mother of Rome's ancestor, Aeneas, and the ancestress of all subsequent Roman rulers, and by the time of Julius Caesar's era, she was dubbed "Venus Genetrix" (Mother Venus).

Magna Dea is Latin for "Great Goddess" and can refer to any major goddess worshipped during the Roman Republic or Roman Empire. Magna Dea could be applied to a goddess at the head of a pantheon, such as Juno or Minerva, or a goddess worshipped monotheistically. The term "Great Goddess" itself can refer to a mother goddess in contemporary Neopagan and Wiccan religions

Turkic Siberians Mother Goddesses

Umai, also known as Ymai or Mai, is the mother goddess of the Turkic Siberians. She is depicted as having sixty golden tresses, that look like the rays of the sun. She is thought to have once been identical with Ot of the Mongols.

It is interesting to note that Shiva's consort is called Parvati and also Uma. And in India the mother worship is also called Devi Maa or Maya.

Mother goddess concepts in Hinduism

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Goddess Durga is seen as the supreme mother goddess by some Hindus.
In the Hindu context, the worship of the Mother entity can be traced back to early Vedic culture, and perhaps even before. The Rigveda calls the divine female power Mahimata (R.V. 1.164.33), a term which literally means Mother Earth. At places, the Vedic literature alludes to her as Viraj, the universal mother, as Aditi, the mother of gods, and as Ambhrini, the one born of Primeval Ocean. Durga represents the empowering and protective nature of motherhood. An incarnation of Durga is Kali, who came from her forehead during war (as a means of defeating Durga's enemy, Mahishasura). Durga and her incarnations are particularly worshipped in Bengal.

Today, Devi is seen in manifold forms, all representing the creative force in the world, as Maya and prakriti, the force that galvanizes the divine ground of existence into self-projection as the cosmos. She is not merely the Earth, though even this perspective is covered by Parvati (Durga's previous incarnation). All the various Hindu female entities are seen as forming many faces of the same female Divinity.


This form of Hinduism, known as Shaktism, is strongly associated with Vedanta, Samkhya and Tantra Hindu philosophies and is ultimately monist, though there is a rich tradition of Bhakti yoga associated with it. The feminine energy (Shakti) is considered to be the motive force behind all action and existence in the phenomenal cosmos in Hinduism. The cosmos itself is Brahman, the concept of the unchanging, infinite, immanent and transcendent reality that is the Divine Ground of all being, the "world soul". Masculine potentiality is actualized by feminine dynamism, embodied in multitudinous goddesses who are ultimately reconciled in one.

The keystone text is the Devi Mahatmya which combines earlier Vedic theologies, emergent Upanishadic philosophies and developing tantric cultures in a laudatory exegesis of Shakti religion. Demons of ego, ignorance and desire bind the soul in maya (illusion) (also alternately ethereal or embodied) and it is Mother Maya, shakti, herself, who can free the bonded individual. The immanent Mother, Devi, is for this reason focused on with intensity, love, and self-dissolving concentration in an effort to focus the shakta (as a Shakti worshipper is sometimes known) on the true reality underlying time, space and causation, thus freeing one from karmic cyclism.

Mother goddess concepts in Christianity

Most Christians regard Mary, the Theotokos, as a "spiritual mother", since she not only fulfills a maternal role but is often viewed as a protective force and divine intercessory for humanity, but she is not worshiped as a divine "mother goddess." The Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches identify "the woman" described in Revelation 12 as the Virgin Mary because in verse 5 this woman is said to have given "birth to a son, a male child, destined to rule all the nations with an iron rod" whom Catholics identify as Jesus Christ. Then, in verse 17 of Revelation 12, the Bible describes "the rest of her offspring" as "those who keep God's commandments and bear witness to Jesus." These Christians believe themselves to be the other "offspring" because they try to "keep God's commandments and bear witness to Jesus," and thus they embrace Mary as their mother. They also cite John 19:26-27 where Jesus entrusts his mother to the Apostle John as evidence that Mary is the mother of all Christians, taking the command "behold your mother" to apply generally.

The Virgin Mary receives many titles in Catholicism, like Queen of Heaven and Star of the Sea, that are familiar from earlier Near Eastern traditions. Due to this correlation, Protestants often accuse Catholics of viewing Mary as a goddess, but the Catholic Church has always condemned worship of the Virgin Mary. Part of this accusation is due to the Catholic practice of prayer as a means of communication rather than as a means of worship. Catholics believe that the dead who followed God have eternal life, and can hear prayers in heaven from people here on earth.

The Bible refers to the personified Heavenly Wisdom (Hagia Sophia) in feminine terms. Most Christians are Catholic and believe that God the Father is masculine and that Jesus was a man. The Church is the female counterpart of God and is the Bride of Jesus. Some Christians do not agree on this teaching and assert that God subsumes and transcends both masculinity and femininity. From their point of view the grammatical gender used to address him is a mere convention, and the masculine designations for the persons of the Trinity characterize a relationship and not actual gender. However, this is a relatively recent phenomenah, and as such would have constituted heresy for most of the history of Christianity.

Some of the Black Madonna icons are believed by some to derive from depictions of ancient goddesses, in particular the Egyptian Goddess Isis with her child Horus sitting on her lap.

In many languages such as Syriac the word for "spirit" takes the feminine gender. In early Christian literature in these languages, the Holy Spirit is therefore discussed in feminine terms, especially before c.400.[3] Some scholars argue that it was based upon an original goddess figure that was minimized in later traditions .

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) believe in, but do not worship, a Heavenly Mother, the wife and female counterpart and equal of the Heavenly Father [4]. This belief is not emphasized, and some members have been chastened for praying to this goddess rather than to God the Father.


The Mother Goddess, amalgamated and combined with various feminine figures from world cultures of both the past and present, is worshipped by modern Wiccans and others (see Triple Goddess). The mother goddess is usually viewed as Mother Earth by these groups.

Wiccans and other Neo-Pagans worship the Mother Goddess. Most commonly she is worshiped as a Triple Goddess; usually envisioned as the Maiden, Mother, and Crone archetypes. She is associated with the full moon and with Earth. Many ancient Pagan religions had mother goddesses; it has been argued that the figure of Mary the mother of Jesus is patterned on these. Even among those who are not Pagan, expressions such as Mother Earth and Mother Nature are in common usage, personifying the Earth's ecology as a fertile and sustaining mother.

Earth Mother

The Earth Mother is a motif that appears in many mythologies. The Earth Mother is a fertile goddess embodying the fertile earth itself and typically the mother of other deities, and so are also seen as patronesses of motherhood. This is generally thought of as being because the earth was seen as being the mother from which all life sprang.

The Rigveda calls the Female power Mahimata (R.V. 1.164.33), a term which literally means Mother Earth.

In Fiction

In Gore Vidal's ironic dystopia "Messiah", a new death-woshipping religion sweeps the world and wipes out Christianity. Yet at the conclusion of the book, a woman names Iris who was among the new religion's founders starts to be worshipped as a new manifestation of the Mother Goddess, though there was no such concept when the religion was founded. Vidal's point was clearly to show that worship of the Mother Goddess is an immemorial institute and would find a manifestation within whatever religion emerges.

See also




1. ^ "The goddesses of Greek polytheism, so different and complementary," Walter Burkert has observed, in Homo Necans (1972) 1983:79f, "are nonetheless, consistently similar at an earlier stage, with one or the other simply becoming dominant in a sanctuary or city. Each is the Great Goddess presiding over a male society; each is depicted in her attire as Mistress of the Beasts, and Mistress of the Sacrifice, even Hera and Demeter."
2. ^ The description of them as multiple breasts or bull testicles seem mistaken: see Temple of Artemis.
3. ^ Women in the Syrian Tradition: Part 2 - Holy Images. The Syriac Orthodox Christian Digest Volume 2, Issue 9 (August , 2006). Retrieved on 2007-03-15.
4. ^ Smith, Joseph F. (1909). Man: Origin and Destiny, pp. 348-355. 

Further reading

  • Neumann, Erich. (1991). The Great Mother. Bollingen; Repr/7th edition. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ. ISBN 0-691-01780-8.
  • J.F. del Giorgio. The Oldest Europeans. A.J. Place (2006). ISBN 980-6898-00-1
  • Goldin, Paul R. (2002) "On the Meaning of the Name Xi wangmu, Spirit-Mother of the West." Paul R. Goldin. Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 122, No. 1/January-March 2002, pp. 83-85.
  • Knauer, Elfried R.(2006)"The Queen Mother of the West: A Study of the Influence of Western Prototypes on the Iconography of the Taoist Deity." In: Contact and Exchange in the Ancient World. Ed. Victor H. Mair. University of Hawai'i Press. Pp. 62-115. ISBN-13: ISBN 978-0-8248-2884-4; ISBN-10: ISBN 0-8248-2884-4

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goddess is a female deity. Many cultures have goddesses. Most often these goddesses are part of a polytheistic system that includes multiple deities. Pantheons in various cultures can include both goddesses and gods, and in some cases also intersex deities.
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Fertility is the natural capability of giving life. As a measure, "Fertility Rate" is the number of children born per couple, person or population. This is different to fecundity, which is defined as the potential
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Cybele (Greek: Κυβέλη) was a deification of the Earth Mother who was worshipped in Anatolia from Neolithic times. Like Gaia (the "Earth") or her Minoan equivalent Rhea, Cybele embodies the fertile earth, a goddess of caverns and mountains, walls and
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Dione is the name of a mother goddess in Greek religion. Her importance is clearly attested at several cult sites of great antiquity. Dione's appearances in Greek mythology are few, but important.
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Dodona (Greek: Δωδώνη Dodoni) in Epirus in northwestern Greece, was a prehistoric oracle devoted to the Greek god Zeus and to the Mother Goddess identified at other sites with Rhea or Gaia, but here called Dione.
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James George Frazer (January 1, 1854, Glasgow, Scotland – May 7, 1941), was a Scottish social anthropologist influential in the early stages of the modern studies of mythology and comparative religion.
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The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion is a wide-ranging comparative study of mythology and religion, written by Scottish anthropologist Sir James George Frazer (1854–1941).
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Robert Graves

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Born: 24 July 1895
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Marija Gimbutas (Lithuanian: Marija Gimbutienė, born Marija Birutė Alseikaitė) (Vilnius, Lithuania, January 23, 1921 – Los Angeles, United States February 2, 1994), was a Lithuanian-American archeologist known
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Old Europe is a term coined by archaeologist Marija Gimbutas to describe what she perceives as a relatively homogeneous and widespread pre-Indo-European Neolithic culture in Europe. In her major work, The Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe: 6500–3500 B.C.
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A mythographer, or a mythologist, according to a strict dictionary definition, is a compiler of myths. Mythography is then the rendering of myths in the arts.
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Peter J. Ucko FRAI FSA (27th July 1938- 14th June 2007) was Professor Emeritus of Comparative Archaeology, former Executive Director of University College London's Institute of Archaeology, and most notable for his organisation of the first World Archaeological Congress in 1986.
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Venus of Willendorf, also known as the Woman of Willendorf, is an 11.1 cm (4 3/8 inches) high statuette of a female figure. It was discovered in 1908 by archaeologist Josef Szombathy at a paleolithic site near Willendorf, a village in Lower Austria near the
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