by Dr. Rev. Karen Tate
A plethora of sacred sites of Goddess can be found on almost every continent, ranging from archaeological sites and churches to museums, industrial parks and natural landscapes. The variety of these sites depicts the diversity of her worship across the globe from living traditions thousands of years old to contemporary temples founded and blossoming during the last decade. With each of these locales one discovers the treasure trove that is the herstory of the Sacred Feminine.
These destinations reveal the many faces and aspects of She of Ten Thousand Names and her profound age, coming alive in the human psyche over 36,000 years ago, long before worship of any male gods. We know this because her devotees have left their mark on herstory from standing temple stones and textiles to ancient texts, artifacts and the traditions that thrive today. These holy sites are fast becoming recognized pilgrimage sites for women and men as they incorporate the Divine Feminine into their spiritual repertoire. The Sites are particularly important to women’s psychological and religious identities, since they can see in all these strong archetypal feminine images of Goddess traditions where women were heroines, queens and divine, that they too were also created in the image of deity. The sites substantiate a time of egalitarian societies, when women held power and influence and were not relegated to second class status as with the advent of the Abrahamic religions.
Some sacred sites of Goddess reflect an intersection of religions and earlier cultures, such as the holy places of the Saint named Brigid blending with Goddess Brigid in Ireland and Our Lady of Guadalupe mixing with the Aztec Goddess, Tonantzin, in Mexico City. In both these destinations we discover the pagan Goddess intermingled with Christianity, just as we find, over and over again, churches which have been built atop ancient pagan holy places, co-opting the previous religion of the people of the land, since churches for Guadalupe were built atop the sacred sites for Tonantzin. We also discover the pagan Goddess’ aspects, symbols and titles were passed along much like a baton to the new face of the Sacred Feminine, usually Mary, the mother of Jesus, because the people refused to give up their ancient Great Mother. One example of this was with the Goddess Artemis in Ephesus, whose temple was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. We also find with some sleuthing, sites or artifacts sacred to Goddess which would greatly surprise most people, particularly the Kabaa stone of Mecca, which was once worshiped as Goddess, according to early Muslim scholars. We learn that Jerusalem, thought to be the holy site of Jews, Christians and Muslims, was and is a holy site of Goddess advocates. And we discover the many names and holy sites of the Goddesses in the Middle East from pre-Islamic times.
Traveling to sacred sites from our armchairs or with boots on the ground allows us to delve into the early Goddesses of India before their domestication and similarly, learn that the Goddesses of pre-patriarchal Greece were quite different than most might realize. Yes, the destinations of Goddess not only open a new window into ancient times and cultures unknown to many, but it can also be a hot button of controversy as it challenges gender-inequality and the status quo of patriarchy or male dominated religion and societal structure. And as we discover the landscape of Goddess, Her very body as the sacred land, it also provides a counter-balance to beliefs that humankind was intended to dominate Nature and entitled to rape and exploit all the natural resources of Mother Earth. Yes, looking through the lens of Goddess destinations suggests new ideals for what we value, the way we live our lives, and how we structure our society.
The Celtic Goddess Brigid and Christian Saint Brigid live side by side in the hearts and minds of the people of Ireland. Here survives a living tradition of the people visiting her various sacred wells thought to be healing waters and tying strips of cloth with their prayers written on them to prayer trees, called clootie trees, at her sacred sites or near her wells. Just outside Kildare, Ireland, at Tobar Bride, we see a statue of St. Brigid in the garb of a nun placed alongside the sacred waters of Brigid. The Pagan symbol of Brigid, the Cross of Brigid, is painted on the brick arch that spans her sacred stream there. What Christianity failed to eradicate of the Pagan Goddess they assimilated, so here in Ireland Brigid is known as the nun who founded a convent in Kildare. Not unlike the Goddess, known to provide sustenance for the survival of humankind, it was said that the convent was heralded for its abundance and fertility. Additionally, it was believed that Brigid was none other than the Queen of Heaven herself, thus identifying her with Mary, Mother of Jesus. One can easily see how the Sacred Feminine embodies many things to many people as she is held close to their heart, no matter her name or religious affiliation.
In Mexico City, on the hill of Tepeyac, we find the Basilica of Guadalupe built atop the holy site of the Aztec Goddesses Tonantzin and Coatlique, considered the Earth Goddess of the heavens and underworld. It is here that a female apparition appeared to the Aztec Indian named Juan Diego in 1531 with the message for the bishop that she wanted a temple built on this spot. Of course the bishop did not believe Juan Diego until proof of her appearance manifested on the tilma, or shawl, belonging to Juan. The evidence, the image of the Lady, referred to as Our Lady of Guadalupe, that miraculously appeared on the tilma is prominently displayed behind glass above the altar of the basilica to this day. The ancient Mother is not suppressed; she is barely concealed within Mary. Here again, we see spiritualties and cultures blend amicably in the face of the Divine Feminine at this, the holiest shrine in Mexico and it begs further question. What about all those other apparitions of Our Lady sighted across the world? Might they too be faces of the Sacred Feminine? Or is her identity in the eye of the beholder? For instance it was said of the apparition in Zeitun, Egypt, an apparition caught on video tape, that Muslims saw Fatima, Christians saw Mary and Pagans saw Isis.
In Jerusalem, on the Temple Mount, one of the holiest places on Earth to the three major religions of Islam, Judaism and Christianity, we have a site also sacred to Goddess. Remember, wherever the Romans occupied they brought their Goddesses and here at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where it is believed Jesus was buried, a wall still remains from the Temple of Aphrodite. To many, Aphrodite was considered just a “boudoir babe”, the Greek Goddess of love, beauty and sexuality, yet she was so much more. In her oldest and most varied aspects she was also associated with the star Venus, with chastity, war and maritime affairs. As one of her symbols was the fishing net, it is believed she was also a Sea Goddess. More than likely, she was a universal Mother Goddess of pre-history, with roots in the Near East, possibly with non-Indo-European origins. Some of her earliest temples were in Syria and one of her most important temples is in Palaepaphos, Cyprus. One can see from her statue from Aphrodiasias, Turkey, with the many animals depicted on her torso, she was the Mistress of the Animals, much like Magna Mater of that region, and the polos crown atop her head, reminiscent of a tower or city wall, indicated her role as protectress of the people of the land. She was also thought to represent the cycles of life and the seasons and as such the renewal of Earth and all life. So much more than a mere boudoir babe! She was often identified with Isis in title and trait, and her son, Eros, compared to Isis’ son, Horus. Again, the widespread archetypal Goddess, sleeping behind images in contemporary religions, is now being awakened, available to the souls of women believers.
One of the Egyptian Goddess Isis’ temples, beautifully surrounded by water on the Island of Philae near Aswan in Egypt, is reached by a calming ride aboard an Egyptian boat called a felucca. To many, Isis was She of Ten Thousand Names. Her worship spread through the ancient world, along the Silk Road to China and throughout the Roman Empire. Isis was a hard mistress to dethrone and was quite a challenge to fledgling patriarchal Christianity, which adopted many of the aspects, philosophy and ritual of the religion of Isis and her consort, Osiris. In fact, one only has to look at images of Isis with her son, Horus to see what inspired depictions of Mary with Jesus on her lap. With her symbol of the throne, Isis bestowed kingship to pharaohs with all the responsibility that entailed. On temple walls one can see Isis handing the pharaoh the Goddess Maat, the embodiment of justice, truth and order, so not only was male kingship bestowed by this Divine Female, but she demanded the king rule his kingdom and people justly - quite a different paradigm than we have in our patriarchal world! In fact, many images show the pharaoh seated upon the lap of Isis as she metaphorically suckles him, providing him with her divine milk, instilling within him the ability to rule the land. Isis’ temple in Philae, an outpost of ancient Egypt, was one of the last bastions of Paganism to close under the pressure of the rise of Christianity. One wonders if the first printed book had not been the Bible, but texts of the mysteries of Isis or if Cleopatra, who believed herself the living embodiment of Isis, and her consort, Marc Antony had won the battle of Actium, what a different world we might live in today.
Speaking of justice, truth and order, we find that the Romans deified certain virtues, such as liberty resulting in a temple dedicated to Lady Libertas on the Palatine Hill of ancient Rome. Today many contemporary Goddess Advocates borrow from that idea and have adopted the Statue of Liberty, or Lady Liberty in New York harbor as the archetypal political Goddess of the masses, embodying their yearning for justice, freedom and hope.
To conclude, this has been just a small representation of the numerous sacred locales of the Divine Feminine across continents and cultures. These are not “dead rocks” or irrelevant empty vessels of a by-gone age, but instead a rich tapestry and wealth of ancient archetypal wisdom that can help women and men re-vision anew spiritual and psychological images of gender relations, perhaps even adopted for a more liberating and sustainable society of justice, equality and balance.
Karen is a speaker, social justice activist, sacred tour leader, workshop presenter and host of the long running radio show, Voices of the Sacred Feminine Radio. She can be reached at www.karentate.com or on Facebook and Twitter and can be seen in the documentary, Femme: Women Healing the World. She resides in Venice, CA with Roy, her husband of thirty years who she describes as the wind beneath her wings.
Karen tells us that Goddess Calling should be out in April and is available to pre-order now. We hope to review the book in the Summer issue of Goddess Pages.
Latest posts by Dr Rev Karen Tate (see all)
- “Femme: Women Healing the World”, Produced by Sharon Stone - 15th April 2015
- Goddess Destinations - 13th April 2012
- “Bloodtime Moontime Dreamtime: Women Bringing Forth Change”, by Roberta Cantow - 28th November 2009