35,000 BCE saw the emergence of the Cro-Magnon people, the first recognizable humans. Within a few thousand years, worship of the Great Goddess or Great Mother developed. For these people, deity was female. The importance of fertility in crops, in domesticated animals, in wild animals and in the tribe itself were of paramount importance to their survival. Thus, the Female life-giving principle was considered divine and a great mystery.

This "old European" culture lasted for tens of thousands of years in what is now Europe. They generally lived in peace. Males and females were treated equally. Their society was matrilineal; children took their mothers' names. Life was based on lunar (not solar) calendar; time was experienced as a repetitive cycle, not linearly as we think of it.

A few thousand years BCE, the Indo-Europeans invaded Europe from the east. They brought with them some of the "refinements" of modern civilization: the horse, war, belief in male Gods, exploitation of nature, knowledge of the male role in procreation, etc. Goddess worship was gradually combined with worship of male Gods to produce a variety of Pagan religions, among the Greeks, Romans, Celts, etc

Goddess Worship during the Christian Era

Further south, as Judaism, Christianity & eventually Islam evolved. The Pagan religions were suppressed and the female principle was gradually driven out of religion, and women reduced to a level inferior to men. The God, King, Priest & Father replaced the Goddess, Queen, Priestess & Mother. A woman's testimony was not considered significant in Jewish courts; women were not allowed to speak in Christian churches; positions of authority in the church were limited to men.

A feminine presence was added to Christianity by the Council of Ephesus in 431 CE when the Virgin Mary was named Theotokos (Mother of God). But her role was heavily restricted and included none of the fertility component present in Pagan religions. A low point in the fortunes of women was reached during the Renaissance, when hundreds of thousands of suspected female witches were exterminated by burning and hanging.

Modern Goddess Worship

A renaissance of Paganism, with its worship of Goddesses and Gods occurred in the middle of this century with the re-emergence of Wicca (popularly called White Witchcraft, the benign religion of the ancient Celts). With the rise of feminism, new traditions within Wicca were created in which the Goddess grew in importance, and the role of the God shrank into obscurity. One such tradition is Dianic Wicca.

The Goddess in both Goddess Worship and Neo-Paganism is often visualized in three aspects: Maiden, Mother and Crone. Her aspects are mirrored in the phases of the moon: waxing, full and waning.

The Maiden represents youth, emerging sexuality, the huntress running with her hounds. The Mother symbolizes feminine power, fertility, and nurturing. The Crone is wisdom, the compassion which comes from experience, and the one who guides us through the death experience.

She has been given many names by different cultures and ages: Anat, Aphrodite, Aradia, Arianrhod, Artemis, Brighid, Ceres, Demeter, Diana, Freya, Gaia, Hera, Ishtar, Isis, Juno, Kali, Lilith, Ma'at, Mary, Minerva, Persephone, Venus, Vesta, etc.

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