This essay is the third part in a series of edited excerpts from chapter 3 of the author’s book, PaGaian Cosmology: Re-inventing Earth-based Goddess Religion.
Before She appeared in human form, there were stones, trees, pools,
fruits and animals that She either lived in or were identified with Her or parts of Her. For many peoples the stones and rocks were Her bones, the vegetation Her hair. Poppies and pomegranates and other such many-seeded flora identified Her fertility and abundance. Grain/food could represent Her. The earth itself was understood as Her belly, the mountains as places of refuge, caves providing shelter for the unborn and the dead. Primal peoples everywhere at some time understood Earth Herself as Divine One, Deity – Mother. They languaged this in different ways. The pre-Celtic indigenous Europeans named Her – the Land – as Lady Sovereignty. In South-East Asia, where She has been known as Mago, Earth is Her Stronghold, the primordial home. In Greece and in the West, She has been known as Gaia.
Central to understanding the Female Metaphor, is understanding the sacredness of vessels, pots, containers. These objects were understood as representations of Her. Pots, urns, pitchers “made possible the long term storage of oils and grains; the transforming of raw food into cooked; … also sometimes used to store the bones and ashes of the dead.” The vessel was felt as an extension of the female body that shaped life, carried the unborn, and provided nourishment. Kettle, oven, cauldron have to do with warmth and transformation; bowl, chalice and goblet are vessels of nourishment and their openness is suggestive of gift. The making and decorating of pottery was among the primordial functions of woman, often with taboos imposed on men to prevent them from going near. In later periods of human culture, in Eleusis, Rome and Peru and elsewhere the sacred vessels were supervised by the priestesses. The chalice was the holy Cup, felt as Her power to give life. Riane Eisler, in The Chalice and the Blade, compares the chalice’s power to give life with that of the blade, which is the power to take life, and develops how this was borne out culturally. In Christianity, woman was denied the right to handle the vessel as chalice – a ritual metaphor for the huge transition that had taken place in the human understanding; it was as if the female body no longer belonged to the female.
Water was a central Goddess abode, as it nourished and transformed, and also contained. She was identified with the water birds and ducks. As Bird Goddess She was the life giving force, nurturing the world with moisture, giving rain, the divine food – the very milk of Her breasts. So our ancestors frequently featured breasts set in rain torrents on the jars that they made.
The tree as container and shelter, and also sometimes bearer of nourishment as in the fruit-bearing tree, was a central vegetative presence of Goddess. The figuring of such a tree in a negative context in later religious stories of humanity was not an arbitrary matter – this tree, particularly a fruit tree, was understood by the people of that time to be bearer of the Female Metaphor – Dea. The story was clearly a political statement, as many researchers now suggest.
Some animals were identified as particularly potent with Her; the deer with its fast growing antlers speaking of Her regenerative power, the toad with its pubic shape, the bull with its crescent shaped horns, the butterfly that emerged from its dark transformative space, the bear that so powerfully protected the young, the pig with its fast growing body and soft fats. The pig’s identification with Goddess, with the Old Religion of the Land, had a lot to do with its later denigration, and to taboos on its flesh. Similarly, animals with which women have been “insulted” – cow, duck, hen – are animals once sacred to the Female. The snake was especially significant as symbolic of immortality, vitality and rejuvenation because of its shedding skin. The snake’s intimacy with the earth, its knowledge of the darkness of the earth’s womb as well as the light of the upper world, made it a symbol of power and wisdom. It was a Mother-power and wisdom that the later patriarchs rejected, as evidenced in their artwork and literature. The treatment of the snake’s knowledge in the Genesis myth may be understood as a direct reference to the Old Religion. In Christian art, Mary as Goddess is often depicted standing on the snake crushing it.
As the humans developed symbols, one of the earliest representations of Goddess was the downward pointing triangle, the pubic triangle. This was a recognition of the Source of life, the Gateway. Sometimes Goddess was depicted displaying her breasts, belly, genitalia, or entire naked body as a form of divine epiphany. Today, Western science has come to understand that the Universe is still rushing away from its birthplace, still expanding. The Mystery is still birthing. The Gateway still pours Itself forth. All of manifestation is divine epiphany – Her ecstatic irrepressible expression. This ancient Goddess symbol has been renewed empirically.
Central to the spirituality and understanding of Great Goddess is the recurrent cycle of birth and death, the immortal/never-ending-renewal process of creation and destruction. It is a cycle seen most clearly in the moon, with its waxing, fullness and waning; which also corresponds to the body cycle of menstruation. The constant flux of things is manifest everywhere, in the seasons, in breathing, in eating. This is the nature of Goddess, Her manifestation, Her play. Anthropomorphized, this cycle is Virgin/Young One, Mother/Creator, and Crone/Old One. In Her most ancient and powerful depictions, Great Goddess embodies all three aspects – not just one; for example, Artemis is not only depicted as Virgin, in some images She clearly represents Mother and Crone too. These three aspects of the cycle, of Goddess, belong together, and together they constitute a wholeness. In actuality they cannot be separated; one phase cannot “be” on its own: that is, a moon cannot always be full, the leaves cannot fall off the tree unless they grew there first, a new breath cannot be taken unless the old one is expired. The cycle has these aspects but it is One. And so Goddess of old was known, a union of three faces, complete and whole, yet ever in flux and dynamic. This triple aspect metaphor was later used to describe the triune nature of the patriarchal God, in both the East and the West, though in the Western teachings of the trinitarian Deity, its relationship to the cycle of Life was most often more abstract.
Ultimately the Female Metaphor, Dea, Goddess, is about the celebration of Life, its eruption, its flux, its sustenance, with all that life demands and gives. She is an affirmation of the power symbolised by the chalice, the power to give life: initiate it, sustain it, pour it out. This is the power to Be, that all beings must have; not the power to Rule, that only a few might take. The popular Jungian understanding of the “Feminine” is not sufficient to contain Her, shuffled off as She usually is to a portion of reality. And frequently that portion in the popular mind consists of passive receptive and ‘user-friendly’ qualities. These qualities are only part of the whole picture. As Virgin, Mother and Crone – understood as a Cosmic Triplicity of Creativity, She is eagle, bear, lioness, snake, as well as deer, gentle breeze, flower, rabbit. She is not manifesting “masculinity” when she hunts for food, and neither is the human female when she operates in the world analytically or assertively. She is Herself.
© Glenys Livingstone 2016.
 See Claire French, The Celtic Goddess.
 See Helen Hye-Sook Hwang Ph.D., The Mago Way.
 Adrienne Rich, Of Woman Born, p.85.
 See for example Marija Gimbutas, The Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe, pp.113-121.
 Barbara G. Walker, The Woman’s Encyclopaedia of Myths and Secrets, p.112, referring to Salomon Reinach, Orpheus, pp. 19-20.
 A notable exception is where Jesus was characterised as the Green God, and this image portrayed on churches. See William Anderson, Green Man: The Archetype of our Oneness with the Earth.
 See Marija Gimbutas, The Language of the Goddess, pp.316-317 for a description of the wholeness by which “Great Goddess” was understood.
Anderson, William. Green Man: The Archetype of our Oneness with the Earth. Helhoughton FAKENHAM: COMPASS Books, 1998.
Durdin-Robertson, Lawrence. The Year of the Goddess. Wellingborough: Aquarian Press, 1990.
Eisler, Riane. The Chalice and the Blade. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1987.
French, Claire. The Celtic Goddess: Great Queen or Demon Witch? Edinburgh: Floris Books, 2001.
Gimbutas, Marija. The Language of the Goddess. NY: HarperCollins, 1991.
Gimbutas, Marija. The Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1982.
Hwang, Helen Hye-Sook. The Mago Way: Rediscovering Mago, the Great Goddess from East Asia (Volume 1). Mago Books, 2015.
Iglehart Austen, Hallie. The Heart of the Goddess. Berkeley: Wingbow Press, 1990.
Livingstone, Glenys. PaGaian Cosmology: Re-inventing Earth-based Goddess Religion. NE: iUniverse, 2005.
Reinach, Salomon. Orpheus. NY: Horace Liveright, Inc., 1930.
Rich, Adrienne. Of Woman Born. NY: Bantam, 1977.
Walker, Barbara. The Woman’s Encyclopaedia of Myths and Secrets. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1983.