Once upon a time, humans roamed the earth and lived in harmony with its energies. They hunted what was needed and used every part of the sacred being who had sacrificed itself to them in full awareness of the honor. They gathered wild grain and plants and thanked the earth for its bounty. Places where energy pooled (caves and springs in particular) became sacred, neutral ground for any tribe to meet. There they traded for mates, foodstuffs, and skills. It became convenient to agree to meet at these places on specific days of the year, and the cycles of the seasons were easy to agree upon.
Throughout all of this our earliest ancestors believed the Deity was with them at all times. From the first moment of awareness at birth, until the last breath of death, God/dess was with them.
Some of what I have just written is flagrantly romantic (its nice to think humans once co-existed with little or no strife, for example, but there is no proof we were ever anything but savages who lived together uneasily.) What is true is that they shared a close connection with the Divine and worshiped it throughout their lives.
What is Deity, and what is our relationship to it? This depends on the Deity, as different ones prefer *very* different relationships with their chosen followers. A few options include: humans were created by Deity in some direct or indirect fashion, humans offer Deity respect and thanks for the world and for good fortune in their lives, Deity offers humans comfort and assistance in times of trouble, Deity helps souls into and out of their mortal incarnations, humans help Deity achieve such objectives as making the world a better place, Deity assists humans in the process of personal evolution, and so forth.
In general, Divinity is a creative force which permeates and empowers all things. In particular, individual Deities are entities who oversee certain spheres of influence and help make sure the world works the way it should. Some pantheons allow promotion of human souls to Deity status, others don't. Like all of existence, Deity may be subdivided or viewed as a whole -- just as we may focus on individual humans or humanity as a whole -- for all things are connected at some level, yet at other levels many distinctions are useful. Therefore, the level at which one chooses to address Deity and the manner of relationship selected are matters of personal taste.
For me, the Deity is a being, older than I can imagine, able to see Time (past, present, future) as one moment. The Deity has a great deal of power, and an overwhelming capacity to love.
My personal relationship to Him/Her/It is one of adoration, friendship and a deep and abiding love for one another. Deity is my greatest teacher. In the end I am a piece of It, so my adoration and worship are not done kneeling on the ground, but standing up looking It in the face. I see the One God as neutral aspect, but have a particular affinity for Diana and Mercury and so consider them my 'personal' Deities.
This part of the Book of Light & Shadows explores some of the views of the deity. It is by no means exhaustive; but will provide a beginning point for further research.
The primal and supreme deity of the ancient world, the oldest and most universally worshiped, was the Great Mother, Mother Earth. Images of Her date back to Aurignacian Cro-Magnon peoples, from 27,000 years ago, and are found all over the Eurasian continent from Spain to Siberia. For thousands of years before there were any male gods, there was The Goddess, and Her worship continued unabated clear up until its violent suppression by Iron Age patrism. When and where worship of the Mother prevailed women and Nature were held in esteem. The Chinese called Her Kwan Yin; the Egyptians knew Her as Isis; the Navajo call Her Changing Woman. To the Greeks She was Gaia, and to many black peoples She is Yemanja. She is Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love, and She says: "All acts of love and pleasure are my rituals." She is also the ancient Crone Hecate, who gives us both wisdom and death.
The Goddess is diversity. She represents both darkness and Light and Her worship is the reconciliation of opposites. There can be no such thing as a "Good Goddess" or an "Evil Goddess." Death is part of the natural cycle as night follows day and we accept it with grace as Her final gift. The search for balance is the goal of Her people, achieved by the acceptance of multiple paths and truths. Dion Fortune once commented that all goddesses are manifestations of the One Great Goddess whose identity is as the universal feminine spirit of Nature.
Because of the diversity of the Goddess, She is seen as manifesting in many different aspects. She is often called The Triple Goddess, which refers to Her link in the fertility cycle where She appears as Maiden, Mother and Crone. Some ancient cultures personified this Triplicity as the waxing, full, and waning Moon, and other three-faced Goddess aspects are familiar to us as the Fates, the Graces, the Furies, the Muses, or even as Faith, Hope and Charity. Another familiar division of Her aspects is into Mother and Daughter (Demeter and Persephone), or as Sisters/Lovers (Fauna and Flora). Such polarities are also important in Her worship. Sometimes the polarity can exist with two different aspects of the Goddess representing both poles, but more commonly it is the great gender polarity, for the Goddess is a deity of sexual loving.
She is Ishtar or Aphrodite, the eternal Lover who awaits with eager arms the mortal man brave enough to risk Her immortal favor. Many men have worshiped Her as a lover, but she may never be possessed, for She belongs only to Herself. She is Parthenos, the eternal Virgin (in the pre-patriarchal meaning "of her own household"). She represents the Strong Woman : not dominant, but independent. Her lovers are not truly human but divine. She has been the Beloved of many gods, and though jealous male gods eventually suppressed Her worship, She shared the co-rulership of Heaven and Earth for thousands of years of marital bliss. She is the inescapable Yin necessary for the cosmic balance of Yang/Yin. Symbols associated with Her (the Tree of Life, the Sacred Serpent, the Labryrinth) are found in all parts of the globe, at the heart of all the Mysteries, and underlying all the later accretions of successive religions. The search for Her is the search for our deepest ancestral roots.
I am the star that rises from the twilight sea.
I bring men dreams to rule their destiny.
I am the eternal Woman; I am She!
The tides of all souls belong to me
Touch of my hand confers polarity
These are the moontides, these belong to me.
Honor Thy Mother.
In all the cultures where She is still worshiped, there is no confusion over Her identity : She is Nature, and She is the Earth. She is not an atavistic abstraction, not a mystical metaphor, not a construct of consciousness. Her body is of substance as material as our own, and we tread upon Her breast and are formed of Her flesh. "Walk lightly on the bosom of the Earth Mother," says Sun Bear, and traditional Native Americans agree. Cherokee shaman Rolling Thunder emphasizes that "It's very important for people to realize this: the Earth is a living organism, the body of a higher individual who has a will and wants to be well, who is at times less healthy or more healthy, physically and mentally."
Frank Waters, author of Masked Gods and Book of the Hopi, makes the same point:. . . To Indians the Earth is not inanimate. It is a living entity, the mother of all life, our Mother Earth. All Her children, everything in nature, is alive: the living stone, the great breathing mountains, trees and plants, as well as birds and animals and man.
All are united in one harmonious whole.
Renowned historian Arnold Toynbee, writing on "The Religious Background of the Present Environmental Crisis," also observed that : For pre-monotheistic man, nature was not just a treasure-trove of "natural resources." Nature was, for him, a goddess, "Mother Earth," and the vegetation that sprang from the Earth, the animals that roamed, like man himself, over the Earth's surface, and the minerals hiding in the Earth's bowels, all partook of Nature's divinity.
Before ever land was, before ever the sea,
Or soft hair of the grass, or fair limbs of the tree,
Or flesh-coloured fruit of my branches,
I was : And thy soul was in me.
The Triple Goddess
For many of us, the Goddess is truly seen as a Triple Goddess.
To help you explore, here is a lecture on the Threefold Goddess from Eileen (from my Book of Shadows, who Eileen is, I do not know – too much has been forgotten in 20+ years!). As well, a poem from Kaliope.
For more specific meanderings, please see our pages on the Maiden, Mother, and/or Crone.
"Come with bows bent and with emptying of quivers,
Maiden most perfect, lady of light,
With a noise of winds and many rivers,
With a clamour of waters and with might,
Bind on thy sandals, O thou most fleet;
For the faint east quickens, the wan west shivers
Round the feet of the day and the feet of the night."
The most common image of the Maiden is that of Diana/Artemis, with her drawn bow and hunting dogs at her side. But she is not the only Virgin Goddess, and indeed, we would do Her a dis-service should we limit Her images to only one. Doreen Valiente (An ABC of Witchcraft, p.18) says her name may mean 'High Source of Water' - the moon being regarded as the source and ruler of all waters, and of the oceanic, psychic and menstrual tides. 'Hence the moon goddess, by whatever name she was known, was the mistress of magic, enchantment and sorcery' (ibid). Other names for her were Callisto, Cynthia, Delia, Phoebe, Pythia and Parthenos -- unmarried virgin in the sense of 'her own woman', subject to no male; not celibate, because she often appears in myths enshrining dying-god rituals. In fact, although She is identified as a Maiden Goddess, as the representative of the crescent moon, she is the beginner -- the initiator of the Hunt, the one who helps women make their own choices. The Maiden is the Virgin - but not *a* virgin. Instead of a definition in which she is without sexual knowledge, we look to one in which she retains her own independence, beholden to no other (male or female). She is comfortable in her independence and enjoys the occasional companionship of a lover. She oversees the chase to make sure the hunt is fair both the hunter and to the hunted, since she feels responsibility for the souls of both and maintains an intense interest in maintaining the natural balance of the food chain. She defends the rights of women to make their own choices, often facilitating an escape from unwelcome suitors for young maidens and when these women made the choice to bear a child, she is there to ease the inevitable labor pains - and to assist the women in their transition from maidens to mothers.
Hail the Great and Mighty Mother!
Your Womb is the Cradle of Heaven,
Your eggs are cast across countless worlds within.
Hail the Mother of the Earth, Grandmother of all!
Hail Earth, Daughter of Heaven!
Earth, whose life-blood is the salty sea,
Whose bones are the mighty mountains,
Whose belly is pregnant with Life!
Earth we hallow You! And your many children,
Those that swim in the sea, that fly in the air,
Those who run on the ground, and whose leaves wax green.
So great has your family grown, no one can tally its count!
Hail Earth, Mother of all Living!
Dwell among us on this Full Moon night!
We are in celebration of your Continuous Gifts!
Great One, make yourself known to us!
Hail and Welcome!
~ Maat's Book of Shadows
The eldest and greatest aspect of the Goddess is as Great Mother Nature, the all-encompassing energy of Universal Life. Her womb is the Quasar, the white hole through which all energy pours into creation, and Her all-devouring mouth is the Black hole itself through which all matter is consumed to be reborn once again as between Her thighs the universe is squeezed from spirit. Her energy then coalesces into Matter-Mater : the Mother of all forms. She ignites, becoming the Star Goddess Nuit, whose galactic breast is our Milky way. Of Her are born star systems and planets including, of course, our very own Earth Mother, Gaia.
"But if any far-off state there be
Dearer to life than mortality
The hand of the Dark hath hold thereof,
And mist is under the mist above;
So we are sick for life, and cling
On earth to this nameless and shining thing,
For other life is a fountain sealed,
And the deeps below are unrevealed,
And we drift on legends forever."
~Euripedes, quoted in The Mystery Religions, S. Angus.
The Crone is the aspect of the Lady who waits at the end of life. She is Atropos, who cuts the threads of our lives and ends this incarnation, who knows all that has been and will be....she is the keeper of ancient knoweldge, and the Lady of Wisdom. She is a mystery, but one which we all attain, though it may take us a lifetime to know her. She is Death, but also the gateway to Rebirth. I do not necessarily fear her, but I certainly respect her. When I think about the Crone, I see a very old woman with deep wrinkles and leathery skin like she's been out in the sun a lot. She has long gray hair in one single braid down her back. Her eyes shine with love, compassion, and something deeper. Even though she's old, she is still strong and very capable. Unlike the picture of the elderly that our culture has come to project. I see her as a loving, wise woman. The one to go to when you're at the end of your rope and need guidance. I also see her as the one in whose arms you can rest from your trials and tribulations both everyday and at the end of your life cycle. If I do call on the Crone aspect for some specific reason, I simply call her Grandmother or Mother. I only know of Her in a peripheral fashion. That is to say, I know OF Her more than I know Her. She is important to me in the sense that She is an aspect I will grow into as the years roll on, and Her strength is immense. She is the Bringer of Death, of Change, of Cleansing. I do not fear Her, but I fear the work She does, sometimes.
The God of the Witches is as similar to the one found in the Old or New Testament of the Bible as I am to my mother's aunt's grandmother five times removed. In other words, they are both male and they might have some similar characteristics. But there it ends. God is not just Father, he is Mate, Consort, Lover, Friend, Brother, Hunter, Husband, Law-giver, and Partner.
Grokking The Golden One: An essay about Aphrodite
The Dark Goddess
The Dark Goddess inspires a feeling of dread among many. She is, indeed, a terribly frightening Deity, one who doesn't play many games when it comes to Death and its aspects. I hope in the following bits of information I have captured the power and depth of darkness that surround this awesome Goddess.
There isn't much written about this aspect of the Goddess, probably because most people associate the word 'warrior' with a man, and images of Arnold Schwarzenagger or perhaps Bruce Lee. The Warrior aspect of the Goddess is often called the "Hidden Face," if you can find a reference to it at all, as it is not typical for a woman to be a "warrior" as society generally sees the term Warrior.
However, what does a mother do when any of her children are threatened? Does she not fight for them, doing whatever she must to protect them? Those of use who use our knowledge to fight for the good of the community in general via letters to the Editor, or participating in political rallies, etc., are also showing the Warrior side of our nature. Starhawk and her Reclaiming Collective are warriors as well as witches.
The terminology "Warrior" does not necessarily mean "one taken to violence" but rather one who fights for what they believe to be right. Some of us are activists more than others, but that side of our being will still come up when something we believe in is challenged. The Warrior shows Her face regardless of whether the Maiden, Mother, or Crone, or combinations of the three exist at the time.
The Maiden's warrior side can be seen in the myth of Artemis in which a hunter views her bathing and she turns him into a stag, then watches as his own dogs kill him; the Mother's aspect in the stories of Hera (She loved her family and fought mightily with Zeus over his ever-roving eye for human women. She hated the offspring of those women as they represented a threat to her "God" children ... hence, her ever raging battle with Hercules); and the Crone's Warrior side emerges when we invoke Justice -- which She dispenses with a terribly even hand.
A fabulous site is The Amazon Connection (http://heim.ifi.uio.no/~thomas/lists/amazon-connection.html). Here you will find a comprehensive list of links to Websites covering every meaning of the word "Amazon."