Ancient Goddesses: the myth
and the evidence.
I would like to add to Asphodel’s review (added 2005 — her review originally appeared in Wood and Water immediately preceding this review) by conjecturing why the archaeologists misinterpret the Goddess movement.
In the first place it seems that they perceive ‘the goddess’ and ‘goddesses’ as being opposing notions. They do not see the dance that occurs, with the same person referring to ‘the goddess’ in one sentence and ‘goddesses’ in the next. Textual scholars are more flexible in this. For instance, Hilda Ellis Davidson, in Roles of the Northern Goddess, has no problem using both phrases in adjacent paragraphs, and nor does David Kinsley in his book Hindu Goddesses. And (even if the titles were chosen by publishers, the authors accepted this) The Book of the Goddess (edited by Olson), The Concept of the Goddess (edited by Billington and Green) and The Faces of the Goddess by Motz all have titles mentioning ‘the Goddess’ with text devoted to many goddesses.
It is always useful to have material centred on the particularity of individual goddesses, and in many cases it may well be that the deities of an ancient pantheon were only considered separately, not as a unity. But that need not prevent us from also seeing them as facets of one (though we are not required to). Long before the current Goddess movement, Dion Fortune, a follower of the Western Mystery Tradition, said “All the gods are one God, and all the goddesses one Goddess.” Indeed, much the same idea occurs in the great speech of Isis in Apuleius’s The Golden Ass nearly two thousand years earlier.
I also find the archaeologists frequently referring to ‘the Great Mother’ or ‘the Mother Goddess’, much more often than people in the Goddess movement. So where do these ideas of one universal goddess who is the Great Mother come from?
I suggest that these notions are most often found in the writings of archaeologists of an earlier generation, from (approximately) the 1930s to the 1960s. Modern archaeologists are entitled to object if people follow these earlier views without taking into account current views. But it seems to me that, to a large extent, they are projecting their disagreements with their earlier colleagues onto a movement whose understanding of goddesses is much subtler and less rigid than they make it out to be.
Wood and Water 65, Winter