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Death Of A Goddess

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The role of a female in mythology and religion changed considerably throughout human history. The concept of a female deity varied greatly between different cultures and civilizations over the millennia of human development. To understand the evolving concept of female deity, I will trace the image of a female god from the origins of human civilizations through the ancient cultures of Egypt and Greece to the contemporary period of Judaism and Christianity. A representative goddess will be used to illustrate each. Based on the information from my review, I will demonstrate the steady decline of the role of the female deity from revered goddess to a mere blessed mortal, and prove that in the contemporary system of values and beliefs, the goddess is dead.

Paleolithic Era (30,000 - 8,000 BC)

There is little documentation pertaining to goddess worship from the prehistoric era. The first evidence of fertility cult of "Mother Goddess" appeared in the upper Paleolithic era. Miniature female sculptures were found all over Europe from France to Siberia, from northern Italy to mid Rhine. The most famous artifact was "Venus of Willendorf," (Figure 1) a 4Ð... inch limestone carving. The statues of the idols, carved from bone or ivory, always depicted the nude female form, sometimes with ornaments. The sexual features were exaggerated with large breasts, hips and belly, emphasizing the fertility and motherhood aspects.

Large reliefs of nude females were found in Laussel cave in Dordogne. One relief depicts the act of childbirth, focusing on the concept of mother as creator. Geometric engravings of the female form representing early symbolism were found in Ukraine and other eastern European regions. The appearance of men in prehistoric artwork is rare.

The carvings and engravings are thought to be of religious and symbolic nature and thus regarded as images of mother goddess or fertility idols.

An important fact to note is the general shape and location of these carved figurines. It is interesting also that the feet of the figures often are tapered and contain perforations, suggesting that they could have been attached to a base. A majority of them are found in excavations of early human dwellings. The walls of these dwellings showed presence of small niches or depressions, designed to hold the statues. This confirms the importance of these idols as permanent fixtures in the daily lives of primitive man.

Neolithic Era (3,500 - 2,000 BC)

People of the Neolithic era were completely different from their predecessors. While the Paleolithic people focused on survival through hunting, Neolithic man developed an agricultural society.

Fertility cults in Eastern Europe and Asia are evident throughout the Neolithic era. The most widely recognized and worshiped goddess in the Babylonian and Assyrian religion was Ishtar. Known as a "mother goddess," Ishtar was revered as a source of all generative powers in nature and mankind. Her temple of Ashur in modern day Iraq housed a number of distinctive statuettes. They included carvings of clothed men, which are believed to represent donors or priests, and the clay figurines of standing female nudes, with their hands covering their breasts and genitals. These figures have a far less realistic appearance than the male statuettes, which is a possible indication that they were worshipped as idols, probably images of the fertility goddess Ishtar. A multitude of moulds have been discovered scattered around the temple site: this evidence suggests that Ishtar statues were mass-produced and sold to visitors, to bring them family and crop welfare. Evidence of mass-production and symbolic exaggerated quality of the carvings show the importance of Ishtar as the "great mother," creator of all man.

In the Paleolithic and Neolithic period, deity worship focused on the cult of the "Mother Goddess," shown by the plethora of female idols and other art forms that stressed the physical attributes of fertility and motherhood. Relative absence of male idols, evidence of mass-production, and presence of alter-like arrangement for fertility statuettes in each human dwelling proves that worship was focused on female goddess and on fertility1.

Ancient Egypt (3100 - 2686 BC)

In ancient Egypt, all questions about the origins of human life were answered with myth related to a deity. Atum, the creator sun god, emerged from an ancient hill, the "primeval mould." According to the myth, Atum fathered two children, the deities Tefnut and Shu, by masturbating. This suggests that Atum was hermaphrodite, a theory supported by his name 'Atum,' meaning completeness2.

Another important deity in Egyptian mythology was Hathor, the "great goddess," who represents many different and diverse areas, ranging from love, music, beauty, women, fertility, children, and childbirth to destruction, drunkenness, and death. Hathor was addressed by various titles, such as: "Celestial goddess," "The Mother of Mothers" and "the Celestial Nurse." This abundance of titles suggests that she was an ancient character: the older she was, the more names she was given. This is confirmed by archeological evidence: Hathor appears in the Narmer palette, a significant Egyptian artifact that contains hieroglyphic inscriptions dating back to 3200 BC. The goddess, always pictured wearing a cow-horn headdress, is represented in the palette as two bovines with human faces (Figure 2)3.

Hathor was particularly important as a symbol used by Egyptian royalty. Wives of pharaohs would wear attributes of Hathor, and the queen was regarded as being the embodiment of this goddess4. Hatshepsut, the female king, sculpted herself with cow's ears, the symbol of feminine divine powers5.

Hathor's granddaughter, the goddess Isis ruled over Egypt with her brother-husband Osiris as dual entity co-regency. The two deities bestowed various gifts upon their people, who loved and respected them in return6.

According to mythology, Osiris was killed and dismembered by his jealous brother, and his remains were scattered throughout the land of Egypt. Isis searched for her husband's relics and eventually succeeded in finding and reassembling his body. The myth tells that when she set eyes upon her husband's remains, Isis and Osiris spiritually conceived a child, Horus, heir and avenger7.

Isis became a universal goddess. She was known as "Mistress of the Cosmos," "Almighty Lady of Wisdom," "Greatest of the Gods and Goddesses," "Queen of all Gods," "the God-Mother," "the Lady of Life," "Maker of Kings."



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