Warrior Princess: Eve's Progeny
Womanism and the Goddess in Ancient Mythology
Woman is the creator of the universe,
the universe is her form;
woman is the foundation of the world,
she is the true form of the body.
Whatever form she takes,
Whether the form of a man or a woman,
is the superior form.
In woman is the form of all things,
of all that lives and moves in the world.
There is no jewel rarer than a woman,
no condition superior to that of a woman.
There is not, nor has been, nor will be
any destiny to equal that of a woman;
there is no kingdom, no wealth
to be compared with a woman;
there is not, nor has been, nor will be
any holy place like unto a woman.
There is no prayer to equal a woman.
There is not, nor has been, nor will be
any yoga to compare with a woman,
no mystical formula nor ascetism
to match a woman.
There are not, nor have been, nor will be
any riches more valuable than woman.
-- Saktisangama Tantra1
Myths are symbols. They tell stories, but their purpose is not solely entertainment, or even education. They are representations of human desires, fears, hopes, and beliefs, and as such wield extreme power. One of the most important functions of myths as symbols is the creation and cultivation of archetypes. Mythology speaks to us, and through it are revealed patterns and paragons by which humans have endeavored to live for thousands of years. This paper will treat those aspects of mythological archetypes which may be viewed as womanistic, specifically, the idea of woman as Goddess throughout mythology. In order to better comprehend the Goddess motif, the concept of womanism should first be examined.
Womanism may be easily confused with feminism, because it sounds as though the two terms should refer to the same idea. However, whereas feminism has traditionally been espoused by white, middle- to upper-class Western women, womanism was coined by the writer Alice Walker to include women of color; womanism is more inclusive than traditional feminism. A womanist can be defined as
A woman who loves other women, sexually and/or nonsexually. Appreciates and prefers women's culture, women's emotional flexibility (values tears as natural counterbalance of laughter), and women's strength. Sometimes loves individual men, sexually and/or nonsexually. Committed to survival and wholeness of entire people, male and female. Loves music. Loves dance. Loves the moon. Loves the spirit. Loves love and food and roundness. Loves struggle. Loves the Folk. Loves herself. Regardless.2
Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender.3
In contrast to the racism and classism of feminism, womanism is an all-inclusive celebration of the power of women, without regard for age, class, race, or status. With this framework of the womanist concept in place, one can turn to mythology, including Judeo-Christian Genesis myths, Greek and Roman myths, and other Eastern myths to look for ideals of the Goddess, symbolic representations of woman as Earth Mother and life giver.
For hundreds of thousands of years, woman has been worshipped at certain points in every culture for her powers. Woman can create life and bring it forth into the world. She is closely connected with the cycles of the moon. She is a lover, a mother, a virgin, a priestess, a seductress, a muse, a creator and a destroyer. Before the dawn of Greek civilization, primitive Mesopotamic civilizations worshipped the Goddess as Mother; they were aware of the power of the female and closely identified with the earth, the moon, and the associations of the female with the natural world.4
With the advent of Grecian society, the Goddess was forced to make way for the patriarchal social infrastructure which incorporated male gods, and a supreme masculine deity. There was no longer a single powerful Earth Goddess, but numerous goddesses who represented specific aspects of the primordial Goddess. There were the lover/seductress goddesses of Eve (Judaic Genesis myth), Aphrodite, and Hera; virgin goddesses, Artemis and Athena; the creator/destroyer archetypes of Kali (of Hindu myth), Circe, and Medea; the mother figure, in Demeter, Isis (Egyptian legend), and the Virgin Mary (Christian belief); the priestess/wise woman such as Vesta (Roman myth); and the muse/inspirer found in the classic Muses, nymphs, and ideal of the Triple Goddess.5 The constraints of a short paper such as this one make it impossible to study all of these archetypes in great detail; however, the relationship between them can be explored, and an examination can be made of some of the more significant female characters in mythology.
The final two archetypes, those of the priestess/wise woman and the muse/inspirer serve to further illuminate the powerful aspects of the Goddess. However, it would be impossible to do these ideas justice within the confines of only a few paragraphs. Suffice it to say, each of them, or any of the other Goddess attributes for that matter, could easily comprise a single, lengthy paper in and of themselves. The four archetypes presented herein serve as a limited examination of the creative and loving power of the Goddess and her daughters, and the effect of the concept of woman on the beautiful stories and powerful myths passed down by various peoples over thousands of years.
Long before the Romans built up their massive empire, before the Greeks began writing stories and plays and philosophical treatises, before the Egyptians erected their awesome pyramids, the Upper Paleolithic world may have worshipped a single Goddess. There were no written records 25,000 years ago, so information on the existence of this worship is speculative.6 Humans did not yet realize the connection between sex and conception, and therefore were unaware of the concept of biological paternity. Thus women were regarded as life givers, the only ones able to produce their own kind.7 In contrast to the Western patriarchy that has existed for the past several thousand years, the social structure of these tribes was matrilineal, and the status of women was much higher.8
Evidence suggests that these peoples practiced ancestor worship; certain tribes made small figurines known as dzuli, which were female and represented the womanly connection to life and the origins of people.9 Furthermore, other female statues made of stone or bone or wood, known as Venus figures have been discovered around remains of dwellings from this period, and are believed to have been idols of the Goddess.10
The most significant event in the transition from Goddess worship to patriarchal theology was the appearance of Abraham in the Old Testament of the Bible. Abraham first pushed for belief in one (male) god, the god of the Hebrews, Yahweh. It was Yahweh who, according to Jewish and Christian beliefs, created the world, its creatures, Adam, the first man, and from him, Eve, the first woman. This is traditionally accepted as one of the true Genesis stories in Judeo-Christian theology. However, there are forerunners and offshoots of this story that, had they prevailed instead, would undoubtedly have changed the course of religious evolution in the world. According to Gnostic scriptures, it was Eve who created Adam, not God. It was common for those worshipping the Goddess to make a man out of clay in representation of the Goddess' power to create.11 This practice reflected the belief that the Goddess was the Supreme Creator, and that it was She who created woman, and woman who in turn created man. It is apparent that this precursor to Christianity was actually inverted to become the patriarchal creation myth espoused by a majority of the world.
Eve has long been viewed as a temptress, the first sinner, and the sole holder of responsibility for man's fall from Paradise. Women are seen as "the inferior sex," weaker than men physically, intellectually, and morally, and because of Eve, women have been cursed with pain in childbirth. In actuality, Eve was the enlightened mother of the world, even if she was "stripped of her power of creation, and was transformed by patriarchy into a vessel for pregnancy and birth."12 She was aware of the possibility of gaining the divine knowledge which had been forbidden by God, and risked everything, essentially for love: for the love of her husband/creation Adam, and for the love of the children who would descend from her and ultimately fill the earth. Thus the archetype of Eve is lover, and it is espoused by every woman when she moves, speaks, cares, and creates.13
The second Goddess attribute is found in the virgin. An important point to understand about the virgin archetype is that when applied to women, it does not necessarily mean literal sexual/physical chastity or virginity.
The archetype of the virgin represents that part of woman which is "untouched" by worldly bonds, which has remained pure and uncorrupted. ... She speaks and lives only her own truth and is straightforward in her actions, following only her own instincts.14
A virgin woman often chooses not to fulfill "traditional" roles, such as marrying and raising children; she is often more daring, and has a childlike fervor and passion for the things she undertakes. No one is her master but herself.
Artemis, as she was known to the Greeks (called Diana by the Romans) was the paramount example of the virgin woman. She was the daughter of Zeus and Leto, and twin sister to Apollo. Her attributes included a silver bow and arrows, a knee-length dress with a red hem, and ocean nymphs who attended her. She was perfectly chaste, as were her companions; she was a goddess who brought light, and who presided over the hunt and over women in childbirth.15
The third Goddess archetype is that of the creator/destroyer. The Goddess of the ancient world was worshipped for her dual nature; she had the ability to both create and destroy. This aspect of her was connected to women through the monthly cycle of menstruation, which remained mysterious for thousands of years, until science revoked much of its seemingly magical power and explained it through medicine.
In each month of a woman's cycle, there are two points when she is most closely connected to the Goddess, ovulation and menstruation. A woman is most fertile during the former; she is most able to conceive and create life at this time, and hormonal changes within her may cause marked differences in attitude, including increased sexuality.16 At the end of the month, the woman's body sheds its unused uterine lining to begin the process again. This was viewed by men as a "river of death," a destructive force which was also accompanied by more violent moods. Because they could not comprehend this destructive force, men imposed strict boundaries on menstruating women for centuries.17
The creator/destroyer motif can be found in many goddesses; perhaps the most dynamic example of the archetype is the Hindu divinity Kali. Kali is a mighty expression of primal energy. She has been viewed as bloodthirsty, fierce, savage, and crude. These ideas may indeed describe her destructive nature, but they also complement her other half, her divine ability to create life. Her nature is cyclistic: she creates life, then absorbs it, then creates it again in a continuous cycle. She is both warrior and mother.18
The mother figure is more simplistic in nature; unlike the creator/destroyer, the mother archetype derives her power from complex psychological and mythological concepts. The mother is a teacher, a caregiver, a provider, a protector, and to her children, an all-powerful goddess. Although patriarchal society has continually repressed women and relegated them to the dual role of mother and wife, some comfort may still be derived from the knowledge that women, and women alone, are able to be mothers and participate in the miracle of giving life.
For the Greeks, Demeter was the archetype of the mother goddess. Her connection to her daughter Persephone caused the change in seasons, but she was also connected to mortals as a mother because she nourished them with grain. The Romans later adopted her and renamed her Ceres (from which we derive the word "cereal") because of this. This image of a goddess as mother is a woman who is nurturing, caring, and bound to her children.19
Mother, daughter, lover, virgin, creator, destroyer, priestess, muse ... the Goddess is the embodiment of all that is female. She was worshipped by women and men alike before recorded history, and although she has been pushed aside to make way for the dominant male social order, she still exists. She exists within the earth and within its creatures, and has deeply influenced myth and religion for thousands of years. She is the strength of women, their protector, their friend, and she resides within each of us who knows enough to discover and celebrate the goddess within herself.
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Harris, Stephen L. and Gloria Platzner. Classical Mythology: Images and Insights. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing Company, 1998.
Lubell, Winifred Milius. The Metamorphosis of Baubo: Myths of Woman's Sexual Energy. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 1994.
Mascetti, Manuela Dunn. The Song of Eve: Mythology and Symbols of the Goddess. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1990.
Mookerjee, Ajit. Kali. The Feminine Force. New York: Destiny Books, 1988.
Polster, Miriam F. Eve's Daughters: The Forbidden Heroism of Women. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1992.
Roheim, Geza. The Panic of the Gods and Other Essays. ed. Werner Muensterberger. New York: Harper and Row, 1972.
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Spretnak, Charlene, ed. The Politics of Women's Spirituality. Garden City, NY: Anchor Press/ Doubleday, 1982.
Mookerjee, Ajit. Kali. The Feminine Force
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DeVincentis, Amanda. "Womanist." Internet. No pub. date. http://www.georgetown.edu/mitchell/515/devincen/womanist.htm Walker, Alice. In Search of Our Mother's Gardens
. Orlando: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1967.
Mascetti, Manuela Dunn. The Song of Eve: Mythology and Symbols of the Goddess
. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1990.
Stone, Merlin. "The Great Goddess: Who Was She?" from The Politics of Women's Spirituality
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. p. 144.
. p. 65.
Harris, Stephen L. and Gloria Platzner. Classical Mythology: Images and Insights
. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing Company, 1998.
Mascetti. p. 80.
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