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
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.
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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