History of religion

The cult of the great mother

(Published in GW 46/2007)

Was there a religious cult around the “great mother”, a supreme female deity, long before patriarchal monotheism (belief in one god)? And did the culture that developed under it guarantee a harmonious, peaceful coexistence in a "golden age"? Here we summarize the research on this question and also describe the importance of female figures in the Christian tradition.

In today's dominant monotheistic religions, the idea of a "male" god dominates, next to whom, or rather under whom, all other higher beings fade or disappear. The once so important pagan gods and goddesses have been relegated by these religions to the realm of fable, or they are accommodated in the wake of the "adversary", evil. This was long regarded as an expression of religious progress, in the course of which spiritual knowledge is said to have progressed from primitive, demonic rituals via animism, pantheism and polytheism to monotheism.

That the highest, only, sole God of the monotheists is endowed with male attributes is taken for granted by readers of the Bible or the Koran out of habit. Because rule is synonymous with patriarchy. In sociology, too, matriarchal social structures are mostly an expression of a more primitive level of civilization. Today there are only seldom communities organized according to maternal rights and in very small groups, for example among the Chinese Mosu.

In the 21st century, feminists question the "male" God and, for example, rewrite the Bible in such a way that God appears female (4).
For all their understanding of their attacks on our still rather patriarchal society, these feminists have missed the idea that the Creator of heaven and earth could be neither man nor woman, but must be far above and beyond this "species divide".

The feminine element in monotheism
With all their concentration on the one God, the (male) priests of monotheistic religions could not completely suppress the feminine element from their theology.

In Judaism, the Shechinah (Shekina) was sometimes given a female divine dimension. A cult tree or an image of the fertility goddess Asherah (Judges 6:25 and 30) - whose worship is repeatedly castigated in the Bible, but who was at times regarded as the wife of Yahweh in Israel - stood in the Jerusalem temple until 586 BC. (5). Lilith, perhaps originally a deity (Adam's first wife according to ancient Jewish tradition and Goethe), became a night phantom. (Is. 23,14). Prophetesses and heroines (such as Deborah, Ruth and Judith) are still worshipped today.

In the Christian faith, Mary of Nazareth, little noticed in the first centuries, received a divine rank: Interestingly, in Ephesus - in pre-Christian antiquity the center of a famous Diana cult - the Third Ecumenical Council declared Mary the "Theotokos" in 421. . The ascent of the mother of Jesus to become queen of heaven and most important female saint, immediately after the Trinity, was sealed by canon law. Little by little, many attributes of the former mother-goddess, the great mother, Inanna, Isis, Ishtar, Astarte, Cybele, Diana (Artemis) etc. merged with her image.

In Christian mysticism, the image of male and female virtues developed over the centuries: Sophia (wisdom), the great goddess, unites three daughters or three virtues that are infused into the soul through revelations: faith, love, hope.
The (male) cardinal virtues, which are self-acquired, are different: Fortitude, Prudence, Justice and Temperance (3, p. 308).

The female element was most consistently suppressed in Islam, but female deities have even crept into the Koran *). As in the Old Testament, according to the Koran, the man was created first, the woman is only the man's companion, and the men are responsible for women. (Sura 4, 34).

30,000 year old women's sculptures
In the second half of the 20th century, feminists created a new picture of cultural and religious history, especially on the basis of research by the archaeologist Marija Gimbutas (1921-1994).
Accordingly, the oldest sculptures include female figures that are 20,000 to 30,000 years old and in which depictions of the life giver are suspected. This goddess of the Paleolithic (Paleolithic), the Neolithic (Neolithic), or the Bronze Age is supposedly parthenogenetic, that is, she creates life out of herself. She is the original, virgin goddess, the "great mother", who has survived in various forms through ancient times to the present day.

The interpretation of the archaeological finds suggests that the goddess appears in many varieties: life-giving and child-bearing mother, mistress of animals and plants, mother earth (for arable farmers), ambivalent bird goddess, snake goddess (the snake that can shed its skin was the symbol for the continuity of life), goddess of death and life renewal, etc.

When yin was not yet ruled by yang
“We all know the legends of a bygone era of harmony and peace. The Bible tells of a garden in which women and men lived in harmony with themselves and with nature - until a male god decreed that from then on the woman had to be subject to the man. The Chinese Tao-te-ching describes a time when yin, the female principle, was not yet mastered by male yang, a time when the mother's wisdom was still respected and, above all, followed. The ancient Greek poet Hesiod speaks of a 'golden race' who plowed the earth 'peacefully and serenely' before a 'lesser race' introduced their god of war. But although scholars agree that the works mentioned are based in many details on actual events, there is a long tradition of dismissing all references to a time when women and men lived in partnership as mere fantasy. "
Riane Eisler. (From: "Chalice and Sword", Goldmann, Munich, 1987, p. 17).

A golden age under the "Great Mother"?
If one follows this view of history, then there was a developed culture under the rule of the goddess:

“The numerous sanctuaries of Çatalhöyük are evidence of a highly developed religion, including the associated symbolism and complete mythology; the buildings represent the cradle of architecture and conscious urban planning; the economy reveals a high level of development in agriculture and animal husbandry, and the numerous imported goods prove a flourishing trade in raw materials ”. (6, S. 47).

This "civilization of ancient Europe" spread between 7,000 and 5,000 BC. From today's Turkey, the Aegean and Adriatic Sea (including the islands) to southern Poland and the Ukraine. An often mentioned center of the cult of the Great Mother is Crete. The well-known temples on Malta and Gozo, which are among the oldest sacred buildings in the Mediterranean, were supposedly dedicated to the “Magna Mater” (Great Mother).
These old European cultures were therefore organized according to maternal law without disadvantaging men. Most of all, they were peaceful. There were no great class differences, fortifications could be dispensed with and the settlements built in scenic locations.
At present, it is difficult to prove conclusively to what extent this ideal image of a golden age, in which people united in the worship of the Great Mother lived together harmoniously and peacefully, is true.
Of course, there are also reservations: For example, there are said to have been human sacrifices to the goddess and other cruelties. The question remains why this so harmoniously depicted primeval civilization perished.

Ovid's golden age
"First age was the golden age. Without law and Atonement of his own instinct kept it true and right. Far away was punishment and fear, one did not read from iron tablets threatening words lined up, it did not fear their judge Mouth the pleading crowd, no advocate had to protect them. The pine was still felled to see the strange world, not descending from the heights of their mountains into the waters; apart from their own, mortals knew no shore. A steep ditch did not yet enclose the cities, Tuba and horns stretched out of brass and weighed, and helmets, There weren't any swords; and needing no warriors lived the peoples there, in gentle, safe calm. "
Naso Publius Ovidius. (From: "Metamorphosen", DTV-Artemis, Munich, 1990, p. 29 f.).

A revolution through the use of metals
The use of metals began in the 4th millennium BC; a decisive technical development that determines our lives to this day. First came copper, then the harder bronze (an alloy of copper and tin), and finally iron. The Stone Age villages lost their self-sufficiency. Until then, they could produce everything they needed except salt, or at least obtain it not too far from where they lived. There were imports of ceramics, hard stones, gemstones, gold and amber, but these were not decisive for the survival of the settlements.

With the introduction of metals, people became dependent on tools that they could no longer make themselves. The material usually came from far away, and specialists were needed to process it, presumably itinerant craftsmen. In addition, warriors now needed better and more expensive weapons made of metal, which were superior to those made of wood and stone. In order to pay for the imported metals, metal tools and weapons, agricultural production had to be expanded, to the detriment of the environment. These increasing demands on the economy possibly gave rise to new social structures - with influential chieftains at the top who wanted to expand their sphere of power (3). However, the decisive overthrow was probably forced by militarily superior conquerors.

The oppressors come on horseback
Towards the end of the 6th millennium BC, a historical turning point began, the consequences of which are still felt today: with the domestication of the horse.
Shepherd peoples in the vast southern Russian steppes between the Dnieper, Don and Volga (today about eastern Ukraine and northern Kazakhstan) learned to tame wild horses, to use them as pack animals and to pull carts and chariots, and later also to ride them. An unprecedented mobility seduced these nomads, from the middle of the 5th millennium BC onwards, to ever more extensive raids, which triggered the first known mass migration.

In a series of invasions, Kurgan peoples invaded Eastern Europe, Archaeans and later Dorians in Greece, and Semitic tribes in Palestine. These Indo-European warrior peoples overran the settlements of the long-established tribes.
Two different forms of society, most clearly visible in religions and mythologies, clashed:
Ancient Europe paid homage to the Great Mother, had a balanced social structure without major class antagonisms, and was peaceful.
The warlike conquerors were patriarchally organized, had clear class distinctions and their supreme deity was a male, strict god who demanded absolute obedience. A typical tribal god who - similar to the Yahweh depicted in the Old Testament be People prefer all others and even legitimizes murder, robbery and oppression.
The two groups also had different systems of symbols that live on to this day in European mythology and folklore. As an example the interpretation of the colors:
* Black:
Old European: color of fertility and mother earth; was transferred to its successor, the "Black Madonna".
Indo-European: color of death and the underworld (color of mourning clothing still today).
* White:
Old European: color of the bones, stands for death.
Indo-European: color of the god of the radiant sky. (7, S. 130).

Does war really have to be the "father of all things"?
As is usually the case in history, with the conquerors their gods also triumphed, and the gods of the conquered were pushed into the underground, from which they only occasionally emerge as pale memories, ghosts, demons, witches, devils.
The peaceful life of peasants with equal rights was also over. From now on there were, in addition to the modest grave of the common man, splendid princely graves with rich gifts, including sacrificed people.

A ruler's residence is now on a hill that can be defended well and is being fortified. Then city-states emerge that war against one another. Centuries of war and destruction were followed by the first advanced civilizations. It is the societies that are celebrated in the history books as the cradles of civilization. According to most historians, the prerequisite for their development were strictly hierarchically organized, patriarchal systems of rule with well-armed, well-trained, disciplined troops.

However, after six or seven millennia of war, feminists in particular are now beginning to ask whether "war as the father of all things" (Heraclitus) is really the engine of civilization, or whether peaceful ways, without murder and destruction, would be more conducive to cultural progress. In this current reflection two systems of rule compared:

The one that has dominated for thousands of years Patriarchy with hierarchical structure - ready to use violence, disciplined, belligerent. His God is the God of vengeance in the Old Testament.

It is different to the more feminine organization that aims to balance "gylanic" civilization (matriarchy). She is peaceful, and her goddess is the "Great Mother".

And how about that Christianity?
Even in antiquity, Marcion **) , for example, firmly pointed out that the God of the Old Testament and the loving Father preached by Jesus appear to be two different gods. If we follow the work "In the Light of Truth - Grail Message" (1) , then Jesus, who addressed his heavenly Father as "abba" (Papa), was aware that the insubstantial Creator, as the origin of all that exists, stands far above the masculine and feminine in creation.
The peaceful teaching of Christ, which is directed towards harmony, is therefore compatible with the veneration of a "primordial queen" or "primordial mother".
This is described in the Grail Message as belonging to the divine kingdom, as the "The very first divine-substantial emanation embodiment, which was the only one to take on the most ideal feminine form. It is therefore the original form of the emanation of God's love, which is the first to take shape in it." (1, Volume 3, Lecture 32, Paragraph 41). However, the “Queen of Heaven”, who is of great importance for the coming into being, has nothing to do with Mary of Nazareth.

Peaceful relationships instead of conquest
“The idea of the 'divine feminine' aroused great interest because it could be used to redefine the position of women in modern forms of society. Many feminists in the western world welcomed the thesis that there once existed a society based on a goddess religion whose goal, according to modern goddess movements, was not conquest or domination; rather, she concentrated her energies on a feminine-centered organizational model with an emphasis on peaceful relationships. These theses seem to be confirmed by the discovery of the culture of Catal Hüyük (6250-5400 BC), which Mellaart described as a 'supernova in the rather gloomy galaxy of contemporary peasant cultures'. Sculpture, painting, weaving, and pottery flourished, and buildings and shrines - many of which were evidently dedicated to a supreme goddess - were built to sophisticated architectural designs. There were no defenses and the 150 or so paintings discovered in the area do not depict scenes of violence. The preserved mythologies of the region confirm the impression of a peaceful agrarian way of life. "
Husain Shahrukh (from: "The Goddess", Taschen, Cologne, 2001, p. 16).

Female figures in the Christian tradition
Women played important roles in the early Christian communities. Even in the theologically trimmed New Testament, Mary Magdalene remains a prominent figure - regardless of whether Jesus may or may not have been married to her, as modern historians sometimes suggest. (Cf. "The Mystery of Mary Magdalene". under "History of religion"). Other women led Christian churches in Paul's time.

It was unfortunate for the Christian religion that authoritarian priests found it more convenient to discipline with the threat of hell and damnation than to exemplify the Word of the Savior. So the finer, the nobler disappeared for the most part from Christian doctrine. Threat replaced spiritual advancement. The fact that women played important roles in early Christianity was suppressed and the male dominance that is still valid today was established.

Today's feminists can claim with a certain right that the deeper content of the faith of the early Christians - as far as the actual teaching of Jesus can be reconstructed - was closer to the religious core of the cult of the Great Mother than to the teachings of the jealous and vengeful God of the Old Testament .

A socio-political program for the world
Regardless of the currently unanswerable question of whether the age of the goddess ever existed in its ideal form, in our time the ancient cult of the Great Mother has given rise to social and political goals:
The god, who has dominated, threatened and avenged for thousands of years, who promotes racism, war, oppression, fanaticism, even calls for murder and destruction, has had its day. Even if religious fanaticism is still rampant in many parts of the world.

Now, according to the wish of many feminists, the goddess should become a symbol for a modern religion of peace. Like the doctrine of the loving father proclaimed by Jesus, the religion of the All-Mother also wants balance instead of quarrel, cooperation instead of confrontation. It despises fanaticism in every form and wants to offer true peace in the spirit of the Christmas message.

*) In the Satanic Verses “53. Sura, 18 to 25.
**) See. "Religions of Antiquity VIII"

You can also read about this under book reviews "The enigma of the Danube civilization" and in "Kurz, knapp, Kurios", page 228, "Die Vertreibung aus dem Paradies".

(1) Abd-ru-shin "In the Light of Truth", published by the Grail Message Foundation, Stuttgart.
(2) Baumer Franz, Der Kult der großen Mutter, Langen Müller, Munich 1995.
(3) Bergmann Joseph, Die metallzeitliche Revolution, Dietrich Reimer, Berlin, 1987.
(4) Der Spiegel, 44/2006, October 30, 2006, p. 190 f.
(5) Der Spiegel, 52/2006, 22. 12. 2006, p. 116.
(6) Eisler Riane, Kelch und Schwert, Goldmann, Munich, 1987.
(7) Gimbutas Marija, Das Ende Alteuropas, University of Innsbruck, 1994.
(8) Gimbutas Marija, Die Sprache der Göttin, Zweitausendeins, Frankfurt, 1996.
(9) Gimbutas Marija, The Civilization of the Goddess, Zweitausendeins, Frankfurt 1996.
(10) Husain Shahrukh, The Goddess, Taschen, Cologne, 2001
(11) Naso Publius Ovidius, Metamorphoses, DTV-Artemis, Munich 1990.
(12) Scarre Chris, World Atlas of Archaeology, Southwest, Munich, 1990.
(13) Steinbart Hiltrud, In the beginning was the woman, R. G. Fischer, Frankfurt 1983.