A mother goddess is a goddess who represents, or is a personification of nature, motherhood, fertility, creation, destruction or who embodies the bounty of the Earth. When equated with the Earth or the natural world, such goddesses are sometimes referred to as Mother Earth or as the Earth Mother.
There is difference of opinion between the academic and the popular conception of the term. The popular view is mainly driven by the Goddess movement and reads that primitive societies initially were matriarchal, worshipping a sovereign, nurturing, motherly earth goddess. This was based upon the nineteenth-century ideas of unilineal evolution of Johann Jakob Bachofen. According to the academic view however, both Bachofen and the modern Goddess theories are a projection of contemporary world views on ancient myths, rather then attempting to understand the mentalité of that time. Often this is accompanied by a desire for a lost civilization from a bygone era that would have been just, peaceful and wise. However, it is highly unlikely that such a civilization ever existed.
For a long time, feminist authors advocated that these peaceful, matriarchal agrarian societies were exterminated or subjugated by nomadic, patriarchal warrior tribes. An important contribution to this was that of archaeologist Marija Gimbutas. Her work in this field is now however largely rejected. Also with feminist archaeologists this vision is nowadays considered highly controversial.
Since the sixties of the twentieth century, especially in popular culture, the alleged worship of the mother goddess and the social position that women in prehistoric societies supposedly assumed, were linked. This made the debate a political one. According to the goddess movement, the current male-dominated society should return to the egalitarian matriarchy of earlier times. That this form of society ever existed was supposedly supported by many figurines that were found.
In academic circles, this prehistoric matriarchy is considered unlikely. Firstly, worshiping a mother goddess does not necessarily mean that women ruled society. In addition, the figurines can also portray ordinary women or goddesses, and it is unclear whether there really ever was a mother goddess.
Between 1961 and 1965 James Mellaart led a series of excavations at Çatalhöyük, north of the Taurus Mountains in a fertile agricultural region of South-Anatolia. Striking were the many statues found here, which Mellaart suggested represented a Great goddess, who headed the pantheon of an essentially matriarchal culture. A seated female figure, flanked by what Mellaart describes as lionesses, was found in a grain-bin; she may have intended to protect the harvest and grain. He considered the sites as shrines, with especially the Seated Woman of Çatalhöyük capturing the imagination. There was also a large number of sexless figurines, which Mellaart regarded as typical for a society dominated by women: emphasis on sex in art is invariably connected with male impulse and desire. The idea that there could have been a matriarchy and a cult of the mother goddess was supported by archaeologist Marija Gimbutas. This gave rise to a modern cult of the Mother Goddess with annual pilgrimages being organized at Çatalhöyük.
Since 1993, excavations were resumed, now headed by Ian Hodder with Lynn Meskell as head of the Stanford Figurines Project that examined the figurines of Çatalhöyük. This team came to different conclusions than Gimbutas and Mellaart. Only a few of the figurines were identified as female and these figurines were found not so much in sacred spaces, but seemed to have been discarded randomly, sometimes in garbage heaps. This rendered a cult of the mother goddess in this location as unlikely.
In Hinduism, Durga represents the empowering and protective nature of motherhood. From her forehead sprang Kali, who defeated Durga's enemy, Mahishasura. Kali (the feminine form of Kaala" i.e. "time") is the primordial energy as power of Time, literally, the "creator or doer of time"—her first manifestation. After time, she manifests as "space", as Tara, from which point further creation of the material universe progresses. The divine Mother, Devi Adi parashakti, manifests herself in various forms, representing the universal creative force. She becomes Mother Nature (Mula Prakriti), who gives birth to all life forms as plants, animals, and such from Herself, and she sustains and nourishes them through her body, that is the earth with its animal life, vegetation, and minerals. Ultimately she re-absorbs all life forms back into herself, or "devours" them to sustain herself as the power of death feeding on life to produce new life. She also gives rise to Maya (the illusory world) and to prakriti, the force that galvanizes the divine ground of existence into self-projection as the cosmos. The Earth itself is manifested by Adi parashakti. Hindu worship of the divine Mother can be traced back to pre-vedic, prehistoric India.
The form of Hinduism known as Shaktism is strongly associated with Samkhya, and Tantra Hindu philosophies and ultimately, is monist. The primordial feminine creative-preservative-destructive energy, Shakti, is considered to be the motive force behind all action and existence in the phenomenal cosmos. The cosmos itself is purusha, the unchanging, infinite, immanent, and transcendent reality that is the Divine Ground of all being, the "world soul". This masculine potential is actualized by feminine dynamism, embodied in multitudinous goddesses who are ultimately all manifestations of the One Great Mother. Mother Maya or Shakti, herself, can free the individual from demons of ego, ignorance, and desire that bind the soul in maya (illusion). Practitioners of the Tantric tradition focus on Shakti to free themselves from the cycle of karma.
Some members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) believe in, but do not worship, a Heavenly Mother, or heavenly mothers, the wife and female counterpart of the Heavenly Father. This belief is not emphasized, however, and typically, adherents pray to the "Father in Heaven."
In Theosophy, the Earth goddess is called the "Planetary Logos of Earth".
The Mother Goddess, or Great Goddess, is a composite of various feminine deities from past and present world cultures, worshiped by modern Wicca and others broadly known as Neopagans. She is considered sometimes identified as a Triple Goddess, who takes the form of Maiden, Mother, and Crone archetypes. She is described as Mother Earth, Mother Nature, or the Creatress of all life. She is associated with the full moon and stars, the Earth, and the sea. In Wicca, the Earth Goddess is sometimes called Gaia. The name of the mother goddess varies depending on the Wiccan tradition.
Carl Gustav Jung suggested that the archetypal mother was a part of the collective unconscious of all humans, and various Jungian students, e.g. Erich Neumann and Ernst Whitmont, have argued that such mother imagery underpins many mythologies, and precedes the image of the paternal "father", in such religious systems. Such speculations help explain the universality of such mother goddess imagery around the world.
The Upper Paleolithic Venus figurines have been sometimes explained as depictions of an Earth Goddess similar to Gaia.
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