Beyond Mother Goddess Monotheism, Part 2: Debunking Common Myths

I mentioned in my first post on this topic that one of my big complaints regarding the Goddess movement was the poor scholarship that is often repeated ad nauseam by authors who don’t check their sources before adding things to their books. I’m not going to start with the “Golden Age Matriarchy” theory, as I don’t really possess the background to go into that in detail (and many authors have already soundly critiqued it). Instead, I’d like to tackle a few of my favourite myths, in no particular order:

Having Children Does Not a Mother Goddess Make

There is a definite tendency in Goddess-focused traditions to assume that a) all goddesses are aspects of a single Great Mother, and/or b) to call a deity a “mother goddess” even when she really has no interest in raising children.

That’s right, ladies and gentlemen and those of indeterminate sex, there are goddesses who are mothers who *gasp* don’t make their offspring the center of their lives. Some of these goddesses include Athena, Aphrodite, Freyja, and Inanna. All of these goddesses have children, but they are, at best, peripheral to their stories. In the case of Inanna, Lulal and Shara are mentioned only once in one of her most famous myths.  If you said: “Lulal and Shara who?” and you know anything about Sumerian mythology, you’ve just proved my point.

My point is that it makes no sense to call these deities “mother goddesses” on the basis that they have children. None of them seem particularly interested in childbirth or even raising their own offspring. They seem more concerned with sex, battle, love, handicrafts (in Athena’s case) and the fertility of the land (Freya) rather than human fertility.

Goddesses Like Artemis are “Women’s Goddesses”, and Should Not be Worshiped by Men

Some goddess-worshipers are under the impression that Artemis is the goddess of Amazonian womyn who eats men for breakfast if they so much as attempt to look at her, and while it is true that she does punish Actaeon for spying on her while bathing, what these goddess-worshipers seem to forget that one of Artemis’ spheres of influence was HUNTING.

Hunting was, almost without exception, a man’s activity.

The Theoi website has an excellent compilation of mentions of Artemis as goddess of the hunt, but here are a few choice excerpts:

Homer, Iliad 5. 51 ff :
“Skamandrios, the fine huntsman of beasts [was killed by Menelaus]. Artemis herself had taught him to strike down every wild thing that grows in the mountain forest. Yet Artemis of the showering arrows (iokheaira) could not now help him, no, nor the long spearcasts in which he had been pre-eminent [for hunting-skill was of no use on the battlefield].”

Philostratus the Elder, Imagines 1. 28 (trans. Fairbanks) (Greek rhetorician C3rd A.D.) :
“[From a description of a painting depicting hunters :] Hunters as they advance will hymn Artemis Agrotera (Goddess of the Hunt); for yonder is a temple to her, and a statue worn smooth with age, and heads of boars and bears; and wild animals sacred to her graze there, fawns and wolves and hares, all tame and without fear of man. After a prayer the hunters continue the hunt.”

It makes no sense for male hunters to not participate in her cult when hunting is one of her most notable spheres of influence. Perhaps her cult was female-dominated, but the cult clearly had a place for men.

Dismissal of Certain Cultures for Being “Too Patriarchal”

I’ve read a lot of books on Goddess spirituality, and one thing I noticed was that although the movement tends to look at a variety of goddesses from many cultures (which has its own set of issues) there was little material on goddesses from Northern Europe. I often found that there was an assumption that Northern European cultures (particularly the Norse) were dismissed as “too warrior-focused”, “too male-dominated”. Some of you may secretly celebrate the fact that there isn’t as much bad scholarship on Heathen deities, but I think it’s a shame because there is some very proto-feminist material in the lore and you don’t really have to look that hard to find it. Not to mention that some cultures, like Sumer, were in some ways far worse than the Norse. Let’s face it, the vast majority of cultures treated women like crap, so is there really a compelling reason to dismiss one mythology out of hand while praising another that is equally problematic?

A related issue to this is  focusing on mytho-historical matriarchal societies than actual ones. Many feminist goddess-worshipers like to associate themselves with the mythical Amazons or speculate at length over the position of women in Minoan Crete, but how many have heard of the Greek colony of Locri? Where women, though not equal to men, were believed to have a certain spiritual power (men could only access this power by marrying them) and the cults of Demeter, Persephone, and Aphrodite were strong in that area. Some current day matriarchal (more accurately matrilineal) societies are the Mosuo tribe in Yunnan Province, China (who are best known for their ‘walking marriages’) and Meghalaya, India, where a matrilineal system is so ingrained into that culture that men are now campaigning for a kind of suffrage, just take a look at this quote from the article:

‘”If you want to know how much the Khasis favour women just take a trip to the labour ward at the hospital,”‘ he says.

‘”If it’s a girl, there will be great cheers from the family outside. If it’s a boy, you will hear them mutter politely that, ‘Whatever God gives us is quite all right.'”‘

Does this scenario sound familiar? That’s because the same sentiment is echoed in delivery rooms all over the world with the genders reversed (and although I would like to see a world where everyone is equal, it *is* kind of nice to see someone doing the opposite, for once).

My point is that these cultures are actual living cultures existing today, and yet I’ve never heard of any book that touts the Golden Age Matriarchy theory even mention them. Granted, many of this books probably came out before serious research was being done on these cultures, but it just seems like the books that are out today only seek to regurgitate the same old information (and to perpetuate a myth that largely only appeals to white, middle class women).

This is kind of an aside, but this is exactly why I’m waiting for the Pistis Sophia tarot to come out, because the authors have promised to use actual academic works in their research (with references and everything) and I would like to buy it to see if they deliver on that promise. See? I’m not the only one who cares about bad scholarship!

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4 thoughts on “Beyond Mother Goddess Monotheism, Part 2: Debunking Common Myths

    1. Well, I suppose technically he is Gaia’s son, but Athena raised him. Here’s a close-up image of Gaia giving him to Athena: http://www.goddess-athena.org/Museum/Paintings/Erichthonius/Birth_Erichthonius_Codrus_detail.jpg There’s a version of the story where she decides to raise him in secret so she sticks him in a box and tells these three princesses not to look in it, they do and the sight of the kid (he’s half snake, apparently) drives them crazy and they throw themselves off a cliff.

      Even if he isn’t technically her son, I still cringe when I see a goddess like her her referred to as a “mother goddess” because it doesn’t make any sense!

  1. Okay — I have a pretty basic understanding of Greek mythology, so I was a bit confused since every source I’ve ever seen says Athena is a virgin goddess. Thanks for the explanation! And yeah, calling Her a “mother goddess” is overlooking a lot of glaringly obvious things about Her…

  2. Thanks for this. I always have to suppress slight frustration when feminist pagans start about ancient matriarchal societies, great all-encompassing mother goddesses, etc. I consider myself pagan and feminist, but I would like to see this sloppy ‘history’ (well, it’s not really history, is it?) gone already.

    Also: the maiden-mother-crone triad. There were a lot of triads among ancient divinities, but it’s not as simple as that.

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