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Complications and Confusions in Discussions of the Goddess

By Carol P. Christ

Although writing in patriarchal Greece from a patriarchal perspective, Hesiod said in his Theogony or Birth of the Gods that Gaia or Earth alone was the mother of the Mountains, Sky, and Sea. With the male Sky she gave birth to the next generation of deities known as the “Titans,” who were overthrown by Zeus. Hesiod’s was a “tale with a point of view” in which “it was necessary” for the “forces of civilization”–for him represented by warrior God and rapist Zeus–to violently overthrow and replace earlier conceptions of the origin life on earth and presumably also to overthrow and replace the people and societies that created them.

With the triumph of Christianity in the age of Constantine in the 4th century AD, Christus Victor replaced Zeus in the cities, while the religion of Mother Earth continued to be practiced in the countryside. Over time, many of the attributes of Mother Earth were assimilated into the image of Mary, and priests began to perform rituals earlier dedicated to Mother Earth, such as blessing the fields and the seeds before planting. In the Middle Ages “the Goddess” re-emerged within Western Christianity in devotion to the Virgin Mary, the female saints, and figures such as Lady Wisdom, at the same time that the history of the Goddess was being erased.

In the middle of the 19th century, in Das Mutterrecht (The Mother Right), J. J. Bachofen stunned the scholarly world with his theory that matrilineal kinship, matrilineal inheritance, and reverence for the Great Mother were to be found at the origins of civilization. Bachofen challenged the view that patriarchy and the worship of male Gods had existed “from the beginning .”

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