There were goddesses in the beginning. In the Bronze Age, however, the goddesses were defeated against gods, and the goddesses handed over power to the gods. How did the goddesses fade in the myths?
In the beginning of history, there were goddesses. Whether western or eastern, the belief that a goddess created this world descended from parents to children. For instance, many people remember that Gaea, Mother Earth, was a great goddess in early Greece. Hesiod, author of Theogony, regard Gaea as the first god. Also, in eastern mythology, there were great goddesses such as Xi wang mu in China, Samsin halmeoni and Mago halmeoni in Korea and Cheonjodaesin in Japan. Not only Greece and Eastern countries, but also many countries over the world, the goddess was the first and great god of early times. However, most goddesses were put in subordinate position to gods in the story. This time, The Sookmyung Times (SMT) looks for the worship of goddess as Mother Goddess in the ancient and the aspect about the position change of goddesses.
The World of the Goddesses
What does it mean that antiquity worshiped the goddess? People have heard the Venus of Willendorf. Even if you are not familiar with the exact name, you have might seen a woman sculpture that have very big breasts, pot belly and big thighs. There were many statuettes like the Venus of Willendorf in ancient times. The ancient relics which are like sculptures, statuettes and pictures have similar features. The genital organs, breasts, hips and a pregnant belly were exaggerated on the relics. Someone might believe that those features were conditions of beauty in the ancient world.
However, it is not only a condition of beauty. Riane Eisler said in her work, The Chalice and The Blade, “Goddesses were worshiped as a mother, a creator and a chaste maiden in several areas. Surprisingly, a lot of symbols or shapes of goddesses were similar to each other.”
Marija Gimbutas, a Lithuanian-American archeologist, guessed that there was a continued religion from the Old Stone Age to the New Stone Age. Because of that, sculptures have similarities between the Old Stone Age and the New Stone Age.
Gimbutas regarded areas that had these traditions as the Old Europe; the Aegean Sea, the Balkan Peninsula, the central part of Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean, and Western Europe. The worship of goddesses that spread from Old Europe was widely introduced into Crete. According to Shahrukh Husain, author of The Goddess, the ancients worshiped the goddess of fertility with Minoan civilization in Crete. Then, any relics of gods were not found in historic scenes. The relics of gods were just described as infant or children close to the relics of mother goddesses. The evidenc of worship of goddesses were not only relics. In the 1960s, James Mellart, a famous British archeologist, found Catalhuyuk that had been the Neolithic town in Anatolia (Turkey) in the New Stone Age.
Mellart believed many chambers on several buildings waere rooms for worship of goddesses. Some critics disagreed with him. After excavation, they learned that many of the buildings were temples. On the murals were painted only goddesses. Eisler wrote that there were temples for various goddesses in the Stone Age in Europe. Moreover, there were holy places with altars for sacrifice and offerings in ancient houses. Gimbutas pointed out in The Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe, that there were many and various temples. Due to that, not only palace but also houses seemed to build for special purposes.
Now, let’s focus on the east. Have you ever thought about the heroes of the ancient times? Most heroes were men. But, these heroes did not have fathers in several cases. These heroes were born of only mother. These myths indicate that the progenitor of the human was the mother. Similar myths were numerous in Chinese history. For example, a woman saw the Great Bear and then gave birth to an Emperor. A woman had a child under the big star. A woman was delivered a child after stepping on the footprints of a giant.
Also, you can find similar myths in Korea. You may learn about Jumong who was the father of Goguryeo. Yuhwa-buin (Mrs. Yuhwa) was the mother of Jumong. She sympathized with the Sun, and she had an egg, Jumong. Bakhyeokgeose, the progenitor of Silla, was hatched from an egg. These myths show a fact that the ancient world was a matrilineal society. The woman with a lot of experience became leaders and priests in a matrilineal society. Moreover, mothers had great power. Therefore, the woman head was the worship.
Killing the Goddesses
The position of great goddesses was downgraded in the Bronze Age. One important and strong change was the advent of a patriarchal system. Not only did this happen in the real world, but also with the myths of countries over the world; patriarchy appeared. Generally, downgrading in the east tended to resemble that in the west. The SMT classifies four ways that goddesses’ power diminished in mythology.
To Subordinate Goddesses
At first, several goddesses had innate roles and features. But later, these goddesses became subordinate through marriage to gods. Hera is the perfect example of this. Although Hera had all the features of a great mother-goddess, many people remember that Hera is the goddess who had strong jealousy. Hera became the wife of Zeus and her prestige and role was sharply reduced by marrying Zeus. In this way, goddesses were absorbed into gods in Greece myth. Those goddesses had only limited power. Some goddesses were even just symbolic goddesses.
To Reduce or Change their Position
Gaea was the great goddess in Greece. Zeus, the son of Gaea, fought Titan first, and the Giants next. When Zeus fought against Titan, Gaea gave countenance to Zeus. However, when Zeus fought with Giants, Gaea came out on the side of Giants. Giants were defeated by Zeus, and were killed off. Gaea was not killed. Instead, Gaea had her role limited to only the goddess of the earth.
Xi wang mu was a dreadful therianthropic goddess, and managed the life and death of humans and their punishment. However, Xi wang mu changed to a public goddess who grant wish of people. Moreover, she grieved for love with King Jumok.
To Deny the Goddess
Chang E was the goddess of the moon in Chinese mythology. But the Gods got angry because Ye—who was a husband of Chang E—dropped the sun by shooting an arrow. The Gods debased Ye from god to human form. Ye had to go to the world, but Chang E also became human. Ye asked Xi wang mu for the elixir of life to live eternally. Chang E stole it, took the elixir, and escaped from the world back to the moon. Someone revealed Chang E’s story, and she was made into a toad.
At first, Chang E was a goddess. She was reduced to the status of human, and got eternal life in a very short time. Finally, she became a hateful toad. The image of a dignified goddess was out of favor and denied. You can very easily find these kinds of myths from the east to the west. Thus, the influence of goddesses was reduced with patriarchy. At the end, the goddesses turned to negative feature like witch or monster.
Many myths recorded that there were goddesses in the beginning. These aspects showed up not only Greece or Europe, but also Asian in the Old and New Stone Age. The ancients believed and worshiped goddesses as the Earth, mother, creator, and multifarious symbols. Several relics show that fact, and scholars have strongly agreed. The history of goddess and gods changed with the changing of the social system.
The advent of a patriarchal system affected mythology. The goddesses lost their power, the gods got influence. The deaths of goddesses show the defeat of women in the world. Friedrich Engels said that, “To downgrade the position of women with growth of productivity is a defeat of women in the history of the world. And this is one of the serious revolutions.”