What are the Ancient Roots of Goddess Culture in which our modern Goddess Spirituality is based?
by Sue Hawksley
It is my belief and understanding that the indigenous tribes of this Earth that hold the key to ancient roots of Goddess culture that our modern Goddess Spirituality is based. For thousands of years, through the Ages from the beginning of the human race, people lived, loved and honoured the land they were blessed with living upon. The Earth was held as sacred and honoured and revered as the feminine aspect of nature. Communities would settle around springs for pure water, good soil and farm land for sustenance. Shamans used medicine and knowledge of the magical qualities what Mother Nature provided. Their kinship with the Earth was their pure essence and their sacred land was recognised and accepted as the feminine principle in nature. Mother Earth was acknowledged as a living and breathing entity and the human life forms never failed to know this. They saw Gaia the Great Mother Goddess as a self regulating body of knowledge and wisdom.
Agriculture evolved and communities became so in tune with their land that they could predict the seasons. More elaborate tools were being made for farming and hunting. Horses became great assets as they were used as a mode of travel, making it possible to visit other villages. This brought about the opportunity for hunters to steal from the smaller and less equipped villages, rather than hunt for themselves. Travel across seas followed expanding horizons and possibilities to explore. The holiness of their land began to become less important. Populations grew and tribes were taking over one another based on conquer, domination, and the patriarchal era of civilisation was born. Land became a commodity, and ownership.
Indigenous Tribes of these times would name their own localised belief system, for example, Danu. A Celtic Mother Goddess with her children Tuatha De Danaan. She represents spiritual aspects of the tribes. Stone circles all over Ireland depict stories of her tribe, evidence of her presence. Domnu, her counterpart Goddess of the Deep Sea represented the material aspects of existence.
The infinite knowledge indigenous peoples help about their environment lead and their prediction of the seasons, the weather, the moon, sun and stars brought about stories and festivals around these events. Mythical stories that depicted the behaviour of the seasons and Goddess & God were the focus of many of them. Festivals such as solstices, equinox, and other festivals were celebrated. The Celts celebrated these and placed them at specific times of the year, Imbolc, Ostara, Beltane to name a few. These festivals are celebrated in England and in other countries still today. There are the traditional Pagan, Wiccan Druid ceremony and rituals that date back to these early times which are a direct link to the ancient times. When Christianity was introduced to Britain, many of these festivals were immersed into it and interpreted differently. It is easy to notice the similarities. Ostara became the Christian’s Easter, Winter Solstice focus was shifted to what we now know as Christmas.
Stone circles such as Stonehenge were positioned so that the horizon crossed the sun and moon for the purpose of the view and energies on solstice and equinox times. All stone circles have myth and legendary stories and all are in specific locations sacred to the Goddess landscape. The circle in itself is powerful as it symbolises inclusion and a sense of all who are within it are equal to one another. This is why ceremony is always performed in circle, from where people stand and altars are set up, a circle is cast.
I visited Long Meg and her daughters in Penrith (Cumbria). It is quite a size is the circle, the third largest in the country. She is a tall column of red stone standing slightly out of the circle of granite stone that are her daughters. She held a coven at this location and one night as she gathered in ceremony, a wizard from Scotland came upon them and turned them all to stone. Long Meg is associated with fertility and when I visited there was evidence of ceremony and ritual having taken place. Offerings and prayers left on the ground in front of her. Many times, have local people wanted to move her, even local authorities, but daren’t because the legend has it, that those who tried to would find blood would run through her, and thunderstorms would rule their land until she was replaced.
Cup and ring markings were present which are basic in form of the earliest times when tools weren’t so complex, there were spirals on Long Meg that were quite large. As tools became more sophisticated, more intricate symbols such as labyrinths were drawn and these can be found in other parts of the world.
Ancient shrines, temples and altars to the Goddess can be found all over the world and many are quite well preserved. Barrows and burial caves were used as womblike spaces that were visited at festival times to honour the dead. Sculptured statues and figurines are all over depicting the feminine divine. Mostly they are made of ivory or bone shaped into the female form exaggerating hips, breasts, buttocks and sexual organs. Many are stained with iron, peroxide and red ocre. Such statues are prehistoric and symbolise the mysteries around birth, fertility and regeneration. All of these beautiful aspects of Goddess came before the reign of Christianity and patriarchy.
The ancient peoples beliefs and stories have somewhat stood the test of time through the work of the Shamans. Their culture reflected their environment and spiritual needs. Paying respects for the land they stand on, the air they breathe. The storytelling was their responsibility as it was preserving their truths and a legacy to be passed on through generations of elders. Using the power of journeying, vision quest and ritual to connect with the earth and instil it into hearts and souls. Indigenous tribes people existing today in many parts of the world hold the key to what we know to be true about Goddess as they attempt to stay true to their land, as those of us try to follow their lead against the modern day living walks all over their beliefs and traditions. Today’s Shamanic teachings and practices are popular still because they resonate with all of us who are prepared to learn. Modern day processes such as NLP are based here.
There are many myths told of journeys to the underworld. The most ancient one is that Inanna’s descent to the underworld to visit her sister Ereshkigal. Finding tests along the way that she had to endure before she could go on, eventually facing death itself. Reflecting journeys we face in life, with deep messages of what we are all about. Modern stories often reflect these ancient ones, such as Alice in Wonderland where she falls down a rabbit hole (or is it the underworld) whereby she had to shape shift throughout her journey and face almost impossible obstacles before she could return. Many fairytales have fearful monsters, wicked witches, animal wisdom and magical adventures that mirror stories of Goddess.
Story telling was originally a great undertaking and was often done in ritual for the storyteller and the listener had to take this deep into their being as there was no written word to fall back on. This was a huge responsibility to pass this on correctly. Many caves and places where the stories were told have artwork on them. I visited Australia and saw some Aborigine artwork on Uluru that were pretty amazing to see, they use dreamtime to journey between the worlds and their drawings depict what messages they came back with. The Celtic churches of Christianised England turned the storytelling into bible stories. Certain Goddesses became saints and often other imagery and representations of Her were often discarded or destroyed.
Druids (People of trees) were at the heart of original British ritual and honouring of this land with reverence. They come from a line of Priestesses and Priests that go back to prehistory. They were the Spiritual leaders that Christians modelled themselves upon the Druid constitution. They carry the knowledge throughout time that Pagans and the Goddess Movement use today; often called the ‘old religion’. Christianity suppressed Goddess/Feminine celebrations of any kind. The wicked witch described anything that they saw as bad or ‘evil’. Women, from all over the world, who healed, could use their intuition, created ‘cures’, were also witches and many lost lives through this fear driven inequality that was put upon them, and is still present in some form or other today.
Goddess has become archetypes, built up over the ages until the present day. Stories, fairytales, legends and symbols can be found everywhere that resemble those told from the early existence of us humans. Carl Jung believed in the collective consciousness which holds these archetypes of Goddess firmly in our spirituality and that’s why many of us resonate with Her on many levels. Indeed, he stated that to deny God or Goddess is to deny an aspect of our self. Today Goddess Spirituality is thriving because of this, the threads of ancient memory, monuments and symbols of Her is everywhere, within and around us. When nothing is going right and nothing makes sense; Goddess brings us back to our truest Nature that is within our souls and could never be separate.