Origins of Namelessness in Women
The Story of the Goddess
Based on When God Was a Woman and Ancient Mirrors of Womanhood
By Merlin Stone

She was revered as Ashtart (Ashtoreth, Astarte), Atargatis, Asherah, Anat and Shapash in the Levantine areas; in northern and central Mesopotamia and Anatolia she was known as the goddess Mami, Aruru or Ishtar; she was also known as Innin, Inanna, Nana, Nut, Anahita, Isis, Au Set, Ishara, Attoret, Attar and Hathor: from Egypt to Canaan the Goddess was known as Queen of Heaven, Mother of Deities, and Guardian of the Land. In prehistoric and early historic periods of human development religions existed in which people revered their supreme creator as female. The Great Goddess, the Divine Ancestress, had been worshiped from the Neolithic periods of 7000BC to the closing of the last Goddess temples at about 500AD. Along the great rivers of the Tigris and Euphrates and across the northern sands of Syria to the lands that lie along the Mediterranean’s eastern waters, Semitic people called upon the Creator of Life as She who descended from Venus, yet emerged from the waters upon the shore at Ascalon. For thousands of years these religions lived simultaneously with events of the Bible, which detailed the experiences of the early Hebrew-Christian god, Yahweh.

The statues of Catal Hüyük, evidence of a culture that existed for over 1000 years dating back to 6500BC, reveal evidence of a principle deity that was a goddess who was shown in her three aspects: as a young woman, a mother giving birth or as an old woman. Much of the evidence of goddess worship that has been discovered, was associated with the earliest emergence of agriculture, pointing to the theory that the development of agriculture must have grown up around the shrines of the Mother Goddess. This showed that it was a culture that held women supreme: they were not only the bearers of children but also the chief producers of food.

For thousands of years in Sumer, Babylon and Canaan, and even during Biblical times, it was customary for many women to live within the temple complex, which in earliest times was seen as the very core of the community. The temples owned much of the arable land and herds of domesticated animals, kept the cultural and economic records and appeared to have been the central controlling office of the society. Women who resided within the sacred confines of the temple took their lovers from the men of the community who came to pay homage to the Goddess. Sex was considered to be a sacred act of creation, the Goddess’s gift to humanity and was sacred and holy. Married women were free to live for periods of time within the temple complex whenever they pleased and follow the ancient sexual customs of the Goddess. The Goddess was revered as the patron deity of sexual love and procreation.

As evidenced in most forms of the Goddess worship, there was a point in time where She acquired a son or brother (depending on the geographic location) who was also her lover and consort. He is known through the symbolism of the earliest historic periods and is generally assumed to have been a part of the female religion in much earlier times. The Goddess had precedence over this young god who was symbolized by the male role in the sacred annual sexual union with the Goddess. He was known in various languages as Damuzi, Tammuz, Attis, Adonis, Osiris or Baal and was generally believed to have died in his youth, causing an annual period of grief and mourning.

She is the ancient goddess that no one wants to believe in for to acknowledge her is to open up concepts that are in direct opposition to everything we have been taught to believe, every idea and belief that supports the patriarchal society that has ruled us for millennia in every portion of our lives. Our culture is constructed on such a basis, and anything that is alien to it, any custom that discounts the idea of a dominant male deity is regarded as a heathen or pagan practice, defined as other than Christian, Jew or Mohammedan. As such, this is how we are taught to perceive the religious beliefs of those whose sacred accounts are classified as mythology. How did this happen?

Many people today consider Goddess reverence as having existed only in pre-historic times, as well as those who condemn it as myth to be discounted because they refuse to acknowledge the evidence that such worship did exist. There is also an attitude among historians that anything that occurred before the classical periods of Greece and Rome is regarded as pre-history, and therefore is judged a myth and not worthy of being considered as an influence on Western culture. However, archaeological evidence does exist attesting to the fact that at the initial period of the development of writing (about 3200BC) and for at least thirty-five centuries after that development of written history, the Goddess was not only revered, but also honoured in written tablets and papyri. There are written prayers, written descriptions of rituals, written titles and epithets and religious scripture, which combine to give concrete evidence of an organized and successful culture of Goddess worship.

During the second millennium BC there was a series of invasions from the North of taller, lighter skinned warriors known as Indo-Europeans, Indo-Iranians, Indo-Aryans or Aryans. They are described as aggressive warriors, riding two abreast in horse-drawn carriages accompanied by a priestly caste of high standing and were in continual conflict not only with the people of the lands they invaded, but with each other. They regarded themselves as superior beings who initially invaded, conquered and then ruled the indigenous population for each land they entered. There followed an intricate interlacing of the two religions, where the male deity originally took the place of the son/lover of the Goddess, and then refused to die, gradually asserting his prominence over all.

The areas where the northern invaders made the heaviest settlements were in the central and south-central sections of Anatolia. Some of them conquered the land of Hatti, and both the invaders and the original inhabitants came to be known as Hittites.

The Indo-Europeans also established the concepts of the duality of light (representing good) and dark (representing evil). Their male deity was most often portrayed as a storm god, high on a mountain blazing with the light of fire, while the female deity (most often representing the Goddess religion) was symbolized as a dragon, associated with dark and evil.

The images of the god on the mountaintop blazing with light, the duality of light and dark symbolized as good and evil, the myth of the male deity’s defeat of the serpent as well as the leadership of the supreme ruling class were found to be concepts that were shared by the Indo-Europeans and Hebrew religious and political beliefs. The Indo-European opinion of women was reflected in the following quote from the Rg Veda (India): “The mind of a woman brooks not discipline. Her intellect has little weight.”

The Hebrew people themselves have never been considered to be Indo-European, however the tribe of the priestly Levites shows signs of the northern influence. Evidence from the Book of Genesis describes interactions with the Hittites even within the familial relationships of Abraham.

Evidence gleaned from the early Books of the Bible has shown connections between the Luvites (the priestly caste of the Indo-Europeans) and the Levites of the Hebrews. The Books of the Old Testament , Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy describe the Levites as a very exclusive group, the only ones who were acceptable to be included as members of the priesthood of Yahweh. A Levite high priest was forbidden to marry any woman who was not of his tribe, and only a woman who had never had sexual relations with a man. The Hebrews, being led by the Levites into battle considered themselves the Sons of Light while the enemy was classed as the Sons of Darkness.

The sexual customs of women within the Sacred Temple seemed to have been tolerated by the Indo-Europeans for they continued to be practiced for thousands of years after the invasions. However, the Levite laws of the Hebrews were deliberately designed to quash the sexual freedom of women. From the time of Moses these laws demanded virginity until marriage for all women, upon threat of death by stoning or burning, and once married, total fidelity on the part of the wife, also under threat of death. In this way the sacred sexual customs of the Temple were outlawed. Over time, the women who resided in temples became known as temple prostitutes.

Because the original kinship customs of the temple were matrilineal, with the children being born inheriting the names, titles and property of their mother, there was little concern for the paternity of a child. In order to secure total control over the paternity of a child, the Levite priests devised the concept of sexual morality which included pre-marital virginity for women and marital fidelity for women only. Underlying this moral stance was the political maneuvering for power over land and property accessible to them only upon the institution of a patrilineal system.

The commitment of the Old Testament to the written word was accomplished long after the Indo-European invaders had insinuated themselves and their customs in the lands they had conquered. There is evidence that the Old Testament as it was handed down in the Jewish canon was only a small part of Israel’s national literature, a part that has had many passages exposed to censorship and removal if they were inimical to the teachings of the Levites.

The myth of Adam and Eve and their expulsion from the Garden of Eden is a symbolic attempt by the Levites to enforce their power over the Goddess religion and subsequently reduce Eve to the status of a creation of the male. The ancient Goddess religions all described the Mother Goddess as the source of creation, and regarded men and women as having being created simultaneously in pairs from clay. To the worshipers of Yahweh, a thousand years later, it was important that the male was created first in the image of his maker. It was asserted that the female came from the male, a denial of the biological fact that man was born of woman, and then presented to man as a gift. Therefore the sole and divine purpose of woman was to help and serve men.

The portrayal of the serpent as a source of evil that influenced Eve to eat from the tree of knowledge was a reference to the oracular priestess to whose advice woman had followed for millennia. Women as the advisor, the wise counselor and human interpreter of the divine will of the Goddess was no longer to be respected, but to be hated and feared, doubted and ignored. Because woman’s judgment had led to disaster for the human species, she was to be silenced.

The change in the status of a Hebrew woman was reflected in the following passage made by Roland de Vaux and quoted by Merlin Stone:

The social and legal position of an Israelite wife was inferior to the position a wife occupied in the great countries round about … all the texts show that Israelites wanted mainly sons, to perpetuate the family line and fortune, and to preserve the ancestral inheritance … a husband could divorce his wife … women on the other hand could not ask for divorce … the wife called her husband Ba’al or master; she also called him adon or lord; she addressed him in fact as a slave addressed his master or a subject, his king. The Decalogue includes a man’s wife among his possessions … all her life she remains a minor. The wife does not inherit from her husband, nor daughters from their father, except when there is no male heir. A vow made by a girl or married woman needs, to be valid, the consent of the father or husband and if this consent is withheld, the vow is null and void. A man had the right to sell his daughter. Women were excluded from the succession.
Without virginity for the unmarried female and strict sexual restraints upon married women, male ownership of name and property and male control of the divine right to the throne could not exist.

Through varying degrees over thousands of years the invaders enforced their patriarchal lifestyle upon the nations they conquered. Extending from Sumer, Babylon and Canaan to Egypt the invaders came, destroying families and taking young girls as their wives, girls who were threatened with the punishment of death if they did not recognize the power of the male deity. The worship of the Goddess was reduced to the myth of the serpent, a myth that symbolized evil. The feminine practices of worship were termed sinful under the new morality imposed by the ruling priestly class of Ludites. The laws of the male deity became reflected in the culture and language of an imposed patriarchal society, and there came a time when women did not know of their former glory and power. The voice of women became silenced.

The Goddess did not die quietly. A song called Thunder: Perfect Mind echoing Her voice was found in a Coptic manuscript at Nag Hammadi and translated by Ann McGuire. This is a song of anger and grief, a song that echoes dimly in the myths of ancient thought, a song that today can still be heard as a whisper.

The Journey
Women of Ancient Greece
Women of Rome
Women of the Early Christian Era
The Story of the Goddess
Journey's End
Works Consulted