One of the most significant religious trends of the past century has been the return to Goddess based Earth-centred religions. Many are based on ancient European societies that we are only beginning to understand, while others draw from Native American and South American Indian shamanism. New initiates, however, often do not have indigenous American roots, nor are they all bohemian free spirits who live on the fringes of society. In fact, modern Wiccan’s (devotees of the Goddess religion – some call themselves witches) may be business people, educated professionals, homemakers, or even blue-collar workers.
In studying the phenomenon of Goddess centred religions, Feminist scholars suggest a number of reasons why women today are drawn to these ancient beliefs.
Women today have grown up hearing that patriarchy has been the norm since the dawn of humankind. Given this, it is difficult for modern women to believe that full equality and autonomy is possible, as these would require a shift in the fundamental ways of human thought toward women since the beginning of time. By illuminating the evidence of ancient matrilineal and egalitarian societies, we debunk the myth that patriarchy is the natural state of human society, and give strength and purpose to women of today who may be bolstered by the knowledge that ancient women were highly respected and valued members of human society.
Women in past centuries gained strength and self-knowledge from the worship of the mother goddess. Modern religions have left women feeling alienated and separate from their own spirituality. Because many modern churches do not permit women to become priests or ministers, there is a perception that women are somehow not qualified to speak authoritatively about matters of faith or morality. By exploring the roots of women’s spirituality and the past worship of the female deity, modern women may find new ways to explore their own, unique spirituality.
Another benefit to the study of goddess worship is to relieve women of the religious burden of original sin, a concept that belittles women and supports the notion that women cannot be trusted to behave prudently without male supervision. This view supports the control of women by their fathers and husbands, and has contributed to many cases of physical and emotional abuse against women in our culture, and especially the more stridently patriarchal cultures of the Middle East. A sound understanding of our heritage of goddess worship gives us a new path toward spirituality, free of blame, guilt, and gender inequality.
Also in support of the study of goddess mythology is that it illuminates the problem of all historical exploration – namely that no matter how certain we are about history, we can always be wrong, and other interpretations will always exist. Goddess mythology, at first, may seem to be contradictory of our beliefs about how ancient peoples lived. These facts, however, are only the opinion of past researchers, and as they are often based on limited evidence, they are entirely subjective. If we can find sufficient evidence to make a convincing case for a history of goddess worship, then we call into question the conclusions of historians who have determined that early man was warlike, patriarchal, and god-fearing. It is not necessary that we are entirely convinced of the evidence of goddess worship in order to reap the benefits of this study. It is enough that we find enough evidence to call into question past assumptions, and remind us that historical data is subjective, and should interpreted cautiously.
It is also important to understand that Goddess worship does not simply replace a male deity with a female mother figure. Goddess religions are also strongly Earth-centred, and teach a deep reverence for both the planet and its inhabitants. Respect for all living things is paramount. Not all goddess worshippers are vegetarians, but those who eat meat emphasize humane treatment for our food animals.
Despite the fears of many that Goddess worship is a form of Satanism, or dangerous cult worship, Wicca and other earth-based religions are winning over more converts every year. This is due, in part, to the times we live in. Our lack of respect for the earth has led to dangerous realties like global warming and massive water pollution. Likewise, our tendency to breed, raise and process food animals in crowded, dirty, factory settings has resulted in the contamination of our food supply with bacteria like salmonella, E-coli, and organisms that cause mad cow and foot-and-mouth disease. We are quickly running out of safe meat. Given this, the return to earth based worship is hardly surprising, and signifies that many people are beginning to understand that humans cannot possibly survive without realising that despite our best technological advances, the Earth must provide all of us our food, water, and shelter.
Science cannot yet shield us from floods, hurricanes, fires or drought. This thought is frightening to many, but seeking to avoid this reality only makes it worse. Those who return to Earth-centred religions are facing the realities of our sick planet head-on. It is alarming, then, that so many people treat Wiccans and other Goddess worshippers like Pariahs. Their mode of worship may not be for everyone, but we should understand that a reverence for the earth is both natural and sensible, and should be viewed as supportive of human life, rather than dangerous.