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The Great Goddess, or White Goddess

Compiled by The Wayfinder

 


 

The Celtic Goddess, was but one manifestation of the

Great Goddess, or White Goddess, who dominated myths over

a vast region of Europe and Asia for millennia starting before the

Neolithic began. When the Indo-Europeans began to emerge from

their homeland in southwestern Russia c.4,000 and migrate to both

the west and east, their myths of the male sky god

collided with those of the White Goddess. In many instances, the

Great Goddess was mortally wounded and driven underground in

dozens of disconnected pieces. The Indo-Europeans were an

aggressive nomadic people who had domesticated the horse and were

adept at conducting mobile warfare with chariots. This

technology allowed them to quickly dominate in many regions; we

can side step the debate over the degree of pacifism inherent in

Goddess culture.

 

However at the margin of their migrations, particularly in

India and the Celtic realms of Europe, a much more complex

interaction took place than simple warfare with clear-cut victory

and defeat. The Indo-European invaders and the indigenous

peoples fused into cultures that were hybrid on all levels from

the mytho-poetic to the societal forms and rituals that are given

structure by the myths. The White Goddess acquired new power and

attributes, most notably in her manifestation as the Mare Goddess

(horses were only food animals before the Indo-Europeans). The

newly evolved Great Goddess possessed enormous strength which

enabled her to resist the onslaught of Christianity for many

Centuries.

 

The White Goddess was never completely extinguished,

although brutalized and maimed almost beyond recognition. By the

late Middle Ages fragments of her ritual were preserved in the

underground of peasant culture by women who came to be known as

"witches". Sound scholarship has confirmed that they had little

conscious knowledge of the ancient myths but especially

in the realm of healing, they preserved a portion of the timeless

ritual. In the second half of this century, Western Culture is

experiencing a New Age Movement, part of which is an attempt to

rediscover the Goddess as an ante dote to the spiritual sterility,

chauvinism, aggression and ecological imperialism of the

mainstream Christian Church. One of the timeless themes of

history is the nostalgia for a "golden age" of the past, when

life was simpler and better. In many hands, our contemporary

revival of the Goddess begins with this dream then mixes in a

little historical knowledge, personal anger and existentialism,

and concludes by adding a heavy dose of feminist

politics and stirs well. The result is a "reinvention" of

tradition in a fashion that has become typically American and

typical of New Age Movements in general. Much of our fantasy

literature and role-playing game design draws heavily upon an

imagined Celtic realm that bears little relationship to what

actually existed; their validity must lie in an assessment of

their contribution to the imagination which is often

Considerable.

 

The problem thus created is enormous and my perception of

this problem is a major motivation for an in-depth exploration of

the archetypal Goddess, as opposed to the cartoon version

available for sale in countless bookstores, retreat centers and

weekend workshops. "Reinventing the wheel" has become a phrase

to refer to either a project that is unnecessary because a well

working "wheel" already exists, or an endeavor that might prove

impossibly difficult within the context at hand. Unless,

ignorance of history and the mythic archetypes that structure

society is acceptable, reinvention of the Goddess is hardly

necessary and indeed almost laughable in conception. She is, and

always will be, there! Our job, if we wish to contact her, is to

discover her; she is objectively real. Indeed the best of New Age

Movements use the verb "discover" rather than "reinvent". Putting

the Goddess into the clothes of contemporary pyscho-babble and

New Age cultism insults her deeply and renders the profound

trivial. The timeless truth that myths cannot be

divorced from context is no mere abstraction. The Goddess and

Indo- European mythology, are the products of particular cultures

evolving in very specific times and places. Everything nurtures

everything else and all input is essential. In order to

understand either system, which persisted in a strong and vital

condition for millennia, it is necessary to explore the myths and

cultures of those times in detail.

Only then can an informed judgement be made as to whether

some or all of an ancient mytho-poetic might be applicable to our

times, and if so, how such application might proceed. This

approach recognizes and respects the cultural gulf between the

creators of those mythic systems and ourselves. The gap between

our society and tribal agriculturists living in villages, towns

and small cities (Goddess culture) or nomadic pastoralists

forever on the move for land and adventure (Indo-Europeans) is

enormous. To assume, without thinking, that the myths of

the Goddess can be applied to ourselves is simplistic, to say the

least, for there is no similarity in cultural context. My

objective in attempting to present an accurate historical record

is not to set the stage for a conclusion of irrelevancy; I firmly

believe that the Goddess is very relevant to our age. But that

relevance will require modification and adaptation and should not

be attempted in a vacuum of historical ignorance. If we

understand where we were than we can better understand where we

are and we thereby respect the Goddess. She won't help you if

you do not understand her and cannot respect her.

 

The Neolithic Great Goddess

 

The Neolithic Great Goddess of Old Europe.

 

Before we start, a word about her name. The name 'Great

Goddess' is synonymous in my usage with 'White Goddess' (cf.

Graves 1966) and I shall use the terms interchangeably. One of

the primary epiphanies of the Great Goddess was the White Goddess

of Death and Regeneration, which held a particular fascination for

Robert Graves as he attempted to trace her survival in the

Medieval and Renaissance Celtic world.

 

This text was written with a several goals in mind. When

Marija Gimbutas (1989) published The Language of the Goddess in

1989, a landmark work of scholarship was made available to the

public. This study is not only unique, it carries the stamp of

authenticity and quality. It is the first in-depth overview of

the Neolithic Great Goddess that draws upon the wealth of

archeological and mytho-poetic evidence from Old Europe. Old

Europe was a cultural area in what is now Eastern and Central

Europe that was unified by virtue of its myths. Each

culture had a social and religious structure determined by the

myths of the Great Goddess and this unity lasted for

several thousand years. Specifically, the evidence from

Yugoslavia, Thessaly, the Balkans, Transylvania, Moldavia and the

Ukraine is sifted, interpreted and then intergrated with that

from Iberia, France, Italy, Sardinia, Malta, and NW Europe. The

result of this magnificent synthesis is the first comprehensive

look at the Great Goddess in all of her complex manifestations,

metaphors and ritual.

 

Given the success of Gimbutas' work, one may ask why write

about it? I would not have done so, if I felt there was not

something I could contribute that is not present. For all of its

brilliance, her writing at times is quite disorganized and the

chronology often falls apart as folk tales are told and commented

upon. Also, much of the important information in the book is

contained in captions to illustrations. This forces a

disjointed, back and forth reading process and, indeed, almost

guarantees that several readings are necessary to gain a complete

understanding of the material. My first objective was to compile

a detailed outline of the Goddess' iconography and derived

metaphor according to the scheme presented by Gimbutas, but

paying stricter adherence to the historical chronology.

Gimbutas' tripartite division of the Goddess' myths into

Life Giving, Death and Regeneration and Energy Unfolding is

brilliant and I have no wish to modify it. This outline is of

great use to me as I search for the Great Goddess elsewhere and

contemplate her specific metaphors in other times and places

(Blumenberg 1992a, 1992b). The White Goddess was not restricted

to Old Europe and the nearby regions; Gimbutas does not journey

to India, Tibet, China or Japan and her exploration into Celtic

realms and ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia and the

Mediterranean is incomplete. Perhaps this 'field guide' to the

Great Goddess will be of interest and value to you .

 

The Great Goddess in India and Tibet

 

The Great Goddess as she lived, and still lives, in India and Tibet.

In this region, she is still very much alive, and with the spread of

Tibetan Buddhism to the West forced by the Chinese Communist

invasion of Tibet 40 years ago, the religion of this Great Goddess

has actively spread to the West. Although the Great Goddess can

be found in one other literature, Celtic mythology written down during

the Middle Ages, the wealth of texts and living cult practice is

unparalleled in India and Tibet.

 

The complexity that appears is almost overwhelming. A

serious academic controversy continues as to whether or not a

single Great Goddess exists/existed in South and Central Asia;

the number of apparently distinct goddesses, both 'major' and

'minor' that can be tabulated is striking. I proceed from the

assumption that the Great Goddess was/is a global phenomenon,

although it is easy to loose the 'single preeminent deity' when

looking at her numerous epiphanies and manifestations. I

sympathize with those who cannot see see the unity behind the

apparent 'ten thousand things'. In any case, this presentation

lacks a single skeleton upon which to hang the discussion. The

complexity of these myths will not allow for that and no

overriding theme will be forced on this study. Let us revel in

the complexity for its own sake and for the extraordinary

diversity of human behavior that is accepted under its umbrella.

Hinduism and Buddhism are, perhaps, the most tolerant religions

yet to appear on this planet. They are an extraordinary

achievement of the human mind. Indian and Tibetan myths

have long impressed scholars with their complex, multilayered

metaphors. In all of history, they may represent the most

impressive cultural achievement in this realm for these societies

valued intellectual pursuits very, very highly. Ultimate

'knowledge' was experiential, forever beyond intellectual study

and accomplishment. Nonetheless, the development of a first rate

intellectual mind and the commitment to in-depth, difficult study

was always viewed as the essential beginning steps on the road to

enlightenment. Such a view is rarely held in the West, where we

have such a passion for what is quick, ego-centered, emotional

and expressive. We do not have a deep cultural commitment to

that which requires a major commitment to deep information

gathering and tight, logical philosophy. Integration of such

experiences into a life requires, above all, maturity of thought

and discipline and the ability to make serious choices for the

long-run gain. In our adolescent, ego-riented culture forever

obsessed with only today, we spin out accolades for those coming

to meet us from Hindu or Buddhist realms. However, we rarely

understand them because their message cannot be reduced to

cartoon level, easily assimilated, self-help cleverness, however

much we try to do just that.

 

The other barrier in confronting these myths is sex,

something all Westerners are convinced they know a great deal

about. As a culture, we are entirely unfamiliar with sexual

practice integrated into religion. Within the context of Judao-

Christian thought, such ideas were never acceptable to he

mainstream and early in the history of both religions were

branded heresy and totally sinful, to be persecuted wherever

found. The mainstream theology of the West has been puritanical

and moralistic since the early Middle Ages. Nonetheless, for

several centuries, Gnosticism contained sects which practiced

sexual rites within the context of a philosophy that drew heavily

upon the New Testament. These Gnostic sects are discussed at

some length in the beginning of this study in order to introduce

rituals that were practiced in the West that bear some

relationship to the integration of sexual rites within the

Goddess cults of both Hindus and Buddhism. These practices are

spectacular and extreme and their description will challenge many

of your basic assumptions about public and private ethics and

Morality.

 

I have chosen not to avoid these issues, because without

them a study of the Great Goddess in India and Tibet would have

no meaning. Sexual rites, tantric and otherwise, were central to

much cult practice because of the Goddess' intimate association

with fertility and life-giving in both the human sphere and the

ecological environment at large. (The historical record of sexual

ritual in the West has yet go be explored fully and discussed

thoughtfully.) The historical record in South and Central Asia

is clear, from both written evidence and first hand observation.

This is not to say all Goddess ritual was sexual, far from it.

More than half of this study is concerned with other matters as

the table of contents makes clear. However, when we enter the

realm of the Goddess as Giver of Sovereignty and Tantrism, sexual

ritual appears in a context loaded with complex metaphysical

Philosophy.

 

My commitment is, above all, to historical reality. What

was, or is, must be witnessed and understood. Understand, that I

am a researcher only, not a closet cultist who practices strange

rituals, sexual or otherwise. In presenting this material, I am

not advocating that myself or anyone should, necessarily,

experiment with such practices. Context is everything and by

that I mean traditions with deep mytho-poetic meaning that

support daily life, secular and ritualistic. The cultural

context for these practices, except for some Tantric rites, is

forever gone and cannot be recreated. In any case, they were

only intended for royalty under special circumstances as

explained in the text, or for those of unusual psychological

strength who were naturally inclined and thoroughly prepared to

explore psychic realms that for most people were very dangerous

and carried with them the possibility of madness. The potential

benefits to the few who entered these realms are discussed in the

study. The potential benefits to simply reading about this facet

of religious history is that we might broaden our understanding

of human nature and see a more complete, complex picture than

before. If such an exploration is offensive to you, please do

not undertake it. No benefits will accrue; there would be no

point in simply getting angry at me or feeling morally superior. I

strongly recommend that this material not be read by young

people, who will not have the maturity or educational background

to properly consider it, or anyone simply after sexual

titillation. In either case, the time spent would simply be

Wasted.

 

The Goddess in China and Japan

 

The Great Goddess in China and Japan; a difficult

subject to approach at best. It is often assumed that

the Great Goddess of the Neolithic, as known from

Europe, is not to be found in East Asia. Discerning the

mythological elements in the earliest Chinese texts is very

difficult; the Chinese talent for abstraction and brilliant, but

secular oriented, philosophy dominates the earliest examples from

their written records. From the first millennium BC onwards,

the ethics and morality of the family, clan, village and the

society at large became the dominant metaphor for expressing the

highest of spiritual ideals and conducting the deepest of

philosophical journeys. Confucius did not write and teach in a

vacuum. Only Taoism proceeded from different premises and it is

there that our search begins for the mythological underpinnings

of early Chinese religion (Giradot 1983). The female bodhisatvas

of Buddhism are not manifestations of the Great Goddess as the

philosophy of the Buddha made clear from the outset.

Japan did not begin to emerge from a country dominated by

village organized agricultural peoples, until the seventh century

AD and therefore clan-shamanic deities were at the core of all

ritual life. Furthermore, Shinto, Tao and Zen were not intent on

virtually obliterating the gods as Confucianism did in China;

that change was forced by a medieval, patriarchal feudalism .

Nonetheless, what the various Japanese goddesses might actually

represent is a question that is only just beginning to be

considered. As Giradot (1983) represents a breakthrough study

for perceiving early Chinese mythology, Nakamura (1989) is one of

the few publications in English that recognizes the Goddess in

Japan and is concerned with more than cataloguing the detail of

local deities or discussing the survival of female shamans.

This study is quite incomplete, a beginning only, to the

recognition of the White Goddess in East Asia. Notice how recent

many of the references are that accompany the text and how

tentative the interpretations. Nonetheless, her existence is

beyond doubt. Unlike in Europe, the complete chronicle of her

presence, relationships on earth and eventual demise has yet to

be written. Brilliant members of the Christian clergy in Europe

recognized the goddess as a pagan enemy of major proportions and

made the chronicle of her mortal wounding a major priority. In

East Asia, there was no such militancy in the confrontation and

the story was not deemed worthy of official recording in such a

deliberate manner. Nonetheless, the history may be reconstructed

from a variety of evidence and the work has begun.


References

Basham, A.L. 1954. The Wonder That Was India. New York:

Grove Press.

Campbell, J. 1988. The Way of Animal Powers. Vo.1. Historical

Atlas of World Mythology. New York: Alfred Knopf.

Doan, J. 1987. "Women and Goddesses in Early Celtic History, Myth

and Legend." Working Papers in Irish Studies No. 87-4/5.

Boston: Northeastern Univ.

Gimbutas, M. 1989. The Language of the Goddess. New York: Harper

& Row.

Giradot, N.J. 1983. Myth and Meaning in Early Taoism. Berkeley,

Ca: Univ. California Press.

Graves, R. 1966 rev. The White Goddess. New York: Farrar, Straus,

Giroux.

Jaynes. J. 1976. The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of

the Bicameral Mind. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Nakamura, K.M. 1989. "The Significance of Amaterasu in Japanese

Religious History." in C. Olsen ed. The Book of the Goddess:

Past and Present. Lexington, Mass.: Crossroad, pp. 176-189.

O'Flaherty, W.D. 1980. Women, Androgynes and Other Mythical

Beasts. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago.

Shakabpa, T.W.D. 1967. Tibet: A Political History. New Haven:

Yale Univ. Press.

Snellgrove, D. and H. Richardson. 1968. A Cultural History of

Tibet. Boston: Shambala.

Wolpert, S. 1991. India. Berkeley, CA.: Univ. of California

Press.

Yeshe Do Project. 1986. Ancient Tibet. Berkeley, CA: Dharma

Publ.

 



 

To be a Divine Goddess

    By Tempress

 


Copyrighted 2002 by The Wayfinder for and on behalf of The Temple of the Way. All rights reserved.