A Look at the Great Goddesses
(Image: "The Creation of Summer" by Josephine Wall)
“May the Goddess bless you…” It’s a phrase commonly heard in Wiccan and New Age practice. But when you hear the word ‘Goddess’, who - or what - are you thinking of? What does the concept of the Goddess mean to you?
Wiccan and Neo-Pagan practices are largely derived from polytheistic religions, such as Ancient Greek, Roman, Norse, Celtic, Indigenous and more. Unlike religions like Christianity and Islam, these belief systems aren't focused on one all-empowering god, but rather multiple gods, goddesses, spirits, creatures and deities. So it’s no wonder that it’s hard to pin down who exactly the ‘Goddess’ is.
We’re not going to attempt to do that in this post. The Goddess means so many different things to different people. She is Mother Earth, she is the Great Witch, she is the moon, she is femininity, she is love, she is the Maiden, the Mother, the Crone...She is a multitude of concepts and energies, each of them personal and powerful.
Instead, we’re going to take a look at some of the well-known Goddess figures from a variety of cultures and belief systems. Depending on your personal practice, you might choose to focus on one of these deities, multiple, or combine them into one central concept to guide your practice. Either way, their origins make for interesting reading and inspiration.
The Triple Goddess
The Triple Goddess is more a concept than an individual figure. She is believed to represent many of the mysterious three-fold aspects of life. For example, she embodies the three stages of the female life cycle - the Maiden (youth), the Mother (middle age) and the Crone (old age). She can also personify the three different layers of the world - the underworld, earth and the heavens - as well as the three main phases of the moon - waxing, full and waning. Looking inwards, the Triple Goddess can bring together the three components of the human psyche - the ego, the id and the super-ego. One of the most commonly worshipped figures in Neo-Pagan religions, the Triple Goddess is a figure of empowerment, transformation and wholeness.
Hecate is the Goddess of magick and witchcraft from the time of the Ancient Greeks. In some stories, she appears with animal familiars, like the dog and the polecat, which has inspired the concept of animal familiars in modern-day witchcraft. Hecate is also associated with the moon, the night, the wilderness, and the world of the dead. She is sometimes considered a necromancer, able to communicate with and raise the spirits of the afterlife. If you’re interested in the world of Wicca, the chances that you’ll come across Hecate are very likely.
Morrigan - also known as The Morrigan or Morrigu - is a fierce figure from Irish mythology. Considered a shape-shifter, she’s often depicted in the form of a crow, or having the ability to transform into a crow. She’s commonly associated with war and battle, with the old legends telling that she would fly over battlefields in her crow form, deciding who would live and who would die. Other stories depict Morrigan as a trio of three sisters or goddesses, as opposed to one entity...linking to the concept of the Triple Goddess.
Isis is a well-known Goddess from the Ancient Egyptian era. Partnered with her husband Osiris, she was one of the most commonly worshipped deities of the time. Like many Goddesses, she is considered a divine Mother and maternal figure, even protecting and nurturing the great kings and Pharoahs of the ancient kingdom. Isis is also linked to the underworld, helping to transport the souls of the dead to the next realm. Her connection to magic and healing make her a commonly called upon figure in modern magical practices.
Diana is the Roman Goddess of animals and the hunt, the counterpart of the Greek Artemis. She’s also strongly associated with nature and wilderness, in both primitive and domestic senses. Some stories give Diana the ability to speak with, and even control, animals. Like many Goddesses, Diana is also associated with the moon and nighttime. ‘Dianic Witchcraft’ is a branch of modern witchcraft that’s focused on womanhood and feminine spirituality.
Gaia is the personification of Mother Earth in Greek religion. She is considered the great Mother of all life and the world itself. She personifies motherhood in its ultimate form, as well as nurturing, fertility and nature. Gaia can also be considered a ‘creator’ deity, a type of deity that's commonly found in a number of religions from Judaism and Christianity to the animistic religions of Indigenous cultures. She’s a powerful figure, with a legend that stretches back to the dawn of time.
Kali is the Hindu Goddess of time, transformation and death. While she’s a formidable figure commonly associated with destruction, she’s in fact a destroyer of evil and a liberator of souls. Kali helps her worshippers come to terms with the passage of time, from birth to death and the turmoil in between. In her darkest depiction, Kali is a fearsome violent conqueror; while in her lightest, she’s a strong mother figure. To many, she’s a symbol of active female empowerment
Freya is the Norse Goddess of love, beauty and fertility. In the Norse legends, Freya was a pursuer of passion and pleasure, with an affinity for the finer things in life. But Freya’s love of beauty is more than simply materialistic - she embodies the beauty in all things, from nature to the internal self. Despite her soft romantic associations, Freya is far from dainty. She also rules over Fólkvangr, the meadow of the afterlife that works in conjunction with Odin's famed hall Valhalla to house soldiers who have fallen in battle.
These are just a few of the many powerful Goddess figures from cultures around the world and throughout time. Many of them have certain traits in common, particularly their connection to magic, motherhood, the moon, the afterlife and wilderness. Is it possible that some of these Goddesses are one and the same, interpreted with different names and stories depending on the culture? Is there one Goddess that you feel a particularly strong connection to, or do you draw from each of their energies in different ways? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below, and keep an eye out for a follow-up post in future where we take a look at more fascinating Goddesses from around the world.
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