Great Mother of the Gods, in ancient Middle Eastern religion (and later in Greece, Rome, and Southwest Asia), mother goddess, the great symbol of the earth’s fertility.
As the creative force in nature she was worshiped under many names, including Ishtar (Babylon), Isis (Egypt), Astarte (Syria), Cybele (Phrygia), Demeter (Greece) and Ceres (Rome).
The later forms of her cult involved the worship of a male deity (her son or lover, e.g., Adonis, Osiris), whose death and resurrection symbolized the regenerative power of the earth. Syrian Adonis is Gauas or Aos, akin to Egyptian Osiris, the Semitic Tammuz and Baal Hadad, the Etruscan Atunis and the Phrygian Attis, all of whom are deities of rebirth and vegetation.
In comparative mythology, the related motifs of a dying god and of a dying-and-rising god (also known as a death-rebirth-deity) have appeared in diverse cultures. The concept of resurrection is found in the writings of some ancient non-Abrahamic religions in the Middle East. A few extant Egyptian and Canaanite writings allude to dying and rising gods such as Osiris and Baal.
In the more commonly accepted motif of a dying god, the deity goes away and does not return. The less than widely accepted motif of a dying-and-rising god refers to a deity which returns, is resurrected or is reborn, in either a literal or symbolic sense.
Beginning in the 19th century, a number of gods who would fit these motifs were proposed. Male examples include the ancient Near Eastern, Greek, and Norse deities Baal, Melqart, Adonis, Eshmun, Tammuz, Ra the Sun god with its fusion with Osiris/Orion, Jesus, and Dionysus. Female examples include Inanna/Ishtar, Persephone, and Bari.
The methods of death can be diverse, the Norse Baldr mistakenly dies by the arrow of his blind brother, the Aztec Quetzalcoatl sets himself on fire after over-drinking, and the Japanese Izanami dies of a fever. Some gods who die are also seen as either returning or bringing about life in some other form, in many cases associated with a vegetation deity related to a staple.
The very existence of the category “dying-and-rising-god” was debated throughout the 20th century, and the soundness of the category was widely questioned, given that many of the proposed gods did not return in a permanent sense as the same deity.
By the end of the 20th century, scholarly consensus had formed against the reasoning used to suggest the category, and it was generally considered inappropriate from a historical perspective.
Adonis, in Greek mythology, is the god of beauty and desire, and is a central figure in various mystery religions. His religion belonged to women: the dying of Adonis was fully developed in the circle of young girls around the poet Sappho from the island of Lesbos, about 600 BC, as revealed in a fragment of Sappho’s surviving poetry.
Adonis has had multiple roles, and there has been much scholarship over the centuries concerning his meaning and purpose in Greek religious beliefs. He is an annually-renewed, ever-youthful vegetation god, a life-death-rebirth deity whose nature is tied to the calendar.
The Greek Adōnis was a borrowing from the Semitic word adon, meaning “lord”, which is related to Adonai, one of the names used to refer to the god of the Hebrew Bible and still used in Judaism to the present day. His name is often applied in modern times to handsome youths, of whom he is the archetype. Adonis is often referred to as the mortal god of Beauty.
Adonis, in Greek mythology, beautiful youth loved by Aphrodite and Persephone. When he was killed by a boar, both goddesses claimed him. Zeus decreed that he spend half the year above the ground with Aphrodite, the other half in the underworld with Persephone. His death and resurrection, symbolic of the seasonal cycle, were celebrated at the festival Adonia.
Attis was the consort of Cybele in Phrygian and Greek mythology. His priests were eunuchs, the Galli, as explained by origin myths pertaining to Attis and castration. Attis was also a Phrygian god of vegetation, and in his self-mutilation, death, and resurrection he represents the fruits of the earth, which die in winter only to rise again in the spring.
Aramazd (Zeus) – The father of all gods and goddesses, the creator of heaven and earth. The first two letters in his name, “AR” is the Indo-European root for sun, light, and life. Aramazd was the source of earth’s fertility, making it fruitful and bountiful. The celebration in his honor was called Am’nor, or New Year, which was celebrated on March 21 in the old Armenian calendar (also the Spring equinox).
Ara the Beautiful
Ara represents the heavenly Altar created by the gods of Mount Olympus to celebrate the defeat of the titans where the gods swore their allegiance to the supreme god Zeus (Jupiter). The smoke from the altar was said to pour out to create the Milky Way.
According to another account Ara was the altar on which the Centaur (Centaurus) offered his sacrifice of Lupus. Centaurus is traditionally depicted as carrying Lupus, the Wolf, to sacrifice on Ara, the altar. Ara was also known as the altar that Noah built after the great flood when his ark rested on Mt. Ararat.
Ara the Beautiful (also Ara the Handsome or Ara the Fair, Ara Geghetsik in Armenian), the god of spring, flora, agriculture, sowing and water, associated with Isis, Vishnu and Dionysus, as the symbol of new life, is a legendary Armenian hero notable in Armenian literature for the popular legend in which he was so handsome that the Assyrian queen Semiramis waged war against Armenia just to get him.
The battle began when Semiramis arrived in the region called Ararat. She ordered her commanders to capture Ara alive, but he was vanquished and killed by one of her sons. His body was found on the battlefield among the other slain soldiers.
BaHiyya means “beautiful” in Arabic.
Osiris (the Egyptian language name is variously transliterated Asar, Asari, Aser, Ausar, Ausir, Wesir, Usir, Usire or Ausare) is an Egyptian god, usually identified as the god of the afterlife, the underworld and the dead.
Osiris was classically depicted as a green-skinned man with a pharaoh’s beard, partially mummy-wrapped at the legs, wearing a distinctive crown with two large ostrich feathers at either side, and holding a symbolic crook and flail.
Osiris was at times considered the oldest son of the Earth god Geb, and the sky goddess Nut, as well as being brother and husband of Isis, with Horus being considered his posthumously begotten son.
He was also associated with the epithet Khenti-Amentiu, which means “Foremost of the Westerners” — a reference to his kingship in the land of the dead. As ruler of the dead, Osiris was also sometimes called “king of the living”, since the Ancient Egyptians considered the blessed dead “the living ones”.
Osiris is first attested in the middle of the Fifth dynasty of Egypt, although it is likely that he was worshipped much earlier; the term Khenti-Amentiu dates to at least the first dynasty, also as a pharaonic title.
Osiris was considered not only a merciful judge of the dead in the afterlife, but also the underworld agency that granted all life, including sprouting vegetation and the fertile flooding of the Nile River. He was described as the “Lord of love”, “He Who is Permanently Benign and Youthful” and the “Lord of Silence”.
The Kings of Egypt were associated with Osiris in death — as Osiris rose from the dead they would, in union with him, inherit eternal life through a process of imitative magic. By the New Kingdom all people, not just pharaohs, were believed to be associated with Osiris at death, if they incurred the costs of the assimilation rituals.
Through the hope of new life after death, Osiris began to be associated with the cycles observed in nature, in particular vegetation and the annual flooding of the Nile, through his links with Orion and Sirius at the start of the new year.
Osiris was widely worshipped as Lord of the Dead until the suppression of the Egyptian religion during the Christian era.
Tammuz (Akkadian: Duʾzu, Dūzu; Sumerian: Dumuzid (DUMU.ZI(D), “faithful or true son”) was the name of a Sumerian god of food and vegetation, also worshiped in the later Mesopotamian states of Akkad, Assyria and Babylonia.
In Babylonia, the month Tammuz was established in honor of the eponymous god Tammuz, who originated as a Sumerian shepherd-god, Dumuzid or Dumuzi, the consort of Inanna and, in his Akkadian form, the parallel consort of Ishtar.
The Aramaic name “Tammuz” seems to have been derived from the Akkadian form Tammuzi, based on early Sumerian Damu-zid. The later standard Sumerian form, Dumu-zid, in turn became Dumuzi in Akkadian. Tamuzi also is Dumuzid or Dumuzi.
Beginning with the summer solstice came a time of mourning in the Ancient Near East, as in the Aegean: the Babylonians marked the decline in daylight hours and the onset of killing summer heat and drought with a six-day “funeral” for the god.
Recent discoveries reconfirm him as an annual life-death-rebirth deity: tablets discovered in 1963 show that Dumuzi was in fact consigned to the Underworld himself, in order to secure Inanna’s release, though the recovered final line reveals that he is to revive for six months of each year.
Enki and Gilgamesh
Enki (EN.KI(G)) is a god in Sumerian mythology, later known as Ea in Akkadian and Babylonian mythology. Considered the master shaper of the world, god of wisdom and of all magic, Enki was characterized as the lord of the Abzu (Apsu in Akkadian), the freshwater sea or groundwater located within the earth.
The exact meaning of his name is uncertain: the common translation is “Lord of the Earth”: the Sumerian en is translated as a title equivalent to “lord”; it was originally a title given to the High Priest; ki means “earth”; but there are theories that ki in this name has another origin, possibly kig of unknown meaning, or kur meaning “mound”.
The name Ea is allegedly Hurrian in origin while others claim that his name ‘Ea’ is possibly of Semitic origin and may be a derivation from the West-Semitic root hyy meaning “life” in this case used for “spring”, “running water.”
In Sumerian E-A means “the house of water”, and it has been suggested that this was originally the name for the shrine to the god at the city of Eridu, where he was the patron god. His influence of his cult later spread throughout Mesopotamia and to the Canaanites, Hittites and Hurrians.
The main temple to Enki is called E-abzu, meaning “abzu temple” (also E-en-gur-a, meaning “house of the subterranean waters”), a ziggurat temple surrounded by Euphratean marshlands near the ancient Persian Gulf coastline at Eridu.
He was the keeper of the divine powers called Me, the gifts of civilization. His image is a double-helix snake, or the Caduceus, very similar to the Rod of Asclepius used to symbolize medicine. He is often shown with the horned crown of divinity dressed in the skin of a carp.
Considered the master shaper of the world, god of wisdom and of all magic, Enki was characterized as the lord of the Abzu (Apsu in Akkadian), the freshwater sea or groundwater located within the earth.
In the later Babylonian epic Enûma Eliš, Abzu, the “begetter of the gods”, is inert and sleepy but finds his peace disturbed by the younger gods, so sets out to destroy them. His grandson Enki, chosen to represent the younger gods, puts a spell on Abzu “casting him into a deep sleep”, thereby confining him deep underground.
Enki subsequently sets up his home “in the depths of the Abzu.” Enki thus takes on all of the functions of the Abzu, including his fertilising powers as lord of the waters and lord of semen.
With Enki it is an interesting change of gender symbolism, the fertilising agent is also water, Sumerian “a” or “Ab” which also means “semen”. In one evocative passage in a Sumerian hymn, Enki stands at the empty riverbeds and fills them with his ‘water’. This may be a reference to Enki’s hieros gamos or sacred marriage with Ki/Ninhursag (the Earth).
The cosmogenic myth common in Sumer was that of the hieros gamos, a sacred marriage where divine principles in the form of dualistic opposites came together as male and female to give birth to the cosmos.
The Mother goddess
Mother goddess is a term used to refer to a goddess who represents and/or is a personification of nature, motherhood, fertility, creation, destruction or who embodies the bounty of the Earth. When equated with the Earth or the natural world, such goddesses are sometimes referred to as Mother Earth or as the Earth Mother.
The Earth Mother is a motif that appears in many mythologies. The Earth Mother is a fertile goddess embodying the fertile earth and typically, the mother of other deities, and so, also are seen as patronesses of motherhood. This is generally thought of as being because the earth was seen as being the mother from whom all life sprang.
The idea that the fertile earth is female and nurtures humans, was not limited to the Greco-Roman world. These traditions were greatly influenced by earlier cultures in the ancient Middle East.
Figurines of fertility goddesses, both individually sculpted and mass-produced, have been found at nearly all Near Eastern sites. The earliest such figurines date back to the Neolithic era (7th and 6th millennia BCE) and they continue to be made throughout Near Eastern history. Very little is known about the goddess or her cult as so little concerning them was written down in ancient times.
Many different goddesses have represented motherhood in one way or another, and some have been associated with the birth of humanity as a whole, along with the universe and everything in it. Others have represented the fertility of the earth.
Several small, voluptuous figures have been found during archaeological excavations of the Upper Paleolithic, the Venus of Willendorf, perhaps, being the most famous. This sculpture is estimated to have been carved 24,000–22,000 BCE. Some archaeologists believe they were intended to represent goddesses, while others believe that they could have served some other purpose.
These figurines predate, by many thousands of years, the available records of the goddesses listed below as examples of mother goddesses, so although they seem to conform to the same generic type, it is not clear whether they, indeed, were representations of a goddess or whether, if they are, there was any continuity of religion that connects them with Middle Eastern and Classical deities.
The Paleolithic period extends from 2.5 million years ago to the introduction of agriculture around 10,000 BCE. Archaeological evidence indicates that humans migrated to the Western Hemisphere before the end of the Paleolithic; so cultures around the world share its characteristics. It is the prehistoric era distinguished by the development of stone tools, and covers the greatest portion of humanity’s time on Earth.
While most Paleolithic figurines are from the Upper Paleolithic period, the Venus of Berekhat Ram found at Berekhat Ram on the Golan Heights is a Middle Paleolithic artefact of the later Acheulian period and possibly was made by individuals identified as, Homo erectus.
Diverse images of what are believed to be Mother Goddesses have been discovered that also date from the Neolithic period, the New Stone Age, which ranges from approximately 10,000 BCE, when the use of wild cereals led to the beginning of farming and, eventually, to agriculture.
The end of this Neolithic period is characterized by the introduction of metal tools as the skill appeared to spread from one culture to another, or arise independently as a new phase in an existing tool culture, and eventually, became widespread among humans.
Regional differences in the development of this stage of tool development are quite varied. In other parts of the world, such as Africa, South Asia, and Southeast Asia, independent domestication events led to their own patterns of development, while distinctive Neolithic cultures arose independently in Europe and Southwest Asia.
During this time, native cultures appear in the Western Hemisphere, arising out of older Paleolithic traditions that were carried during migration. Regular seasonal occupation or permanent settlements begin to be seen in excavations.
Herding and keeping of cattle, goats, sheep, and pigs is evidenced along with the presence of dogs. Almost without exception, images of what Marija Gimbutas interpreted as Mother Goddesses have been discovered in all of these cultures.
James Frazer (author of The Golden Bough) and others (such as Jane Ellen Harrison, Robert Graves and Marija Gimbutas) advance the idea that goddess worship in ancient Europe and the Aegean was descended from Pre-Indo-European neolithic matriarchies.
Gimbutas argued that the thousands of female images from Old Europe (archaeology) represented a number of different groups of goddess symbolism, notably a “bird and snake” group associated with water, an “earth mother” group associated with birth, and a “stiff nude” group associated with death, as well as other groups.
Gimbutas maintained that the “earth mother” group continues the paleolithic figural tradition discussed above, and that traces of these figural traditions may be found in goddesses of the historical period. According to Gimbutas’ Kurgan Hypothesis, Old European cultures were disrupted by expansion of Indo-European speakers from southern Siberia.
In 1968 the archaeologist Peter Ucko proposed that the many images found in graves and archaeological sites of Neolithic cultures were toys. The graves he was describing dated from Predynastic Egypt and Neolithic Crete, and mostly, contained adults, however.
Anatolian Mother Goddes, Çatal höyük, the Konya region, Turkey (6000 BC)
The Seated Woman of Çatal Hüyük (also Çatalhöyük) is a baked-clay, nude female form, seated between feline-headed arm-rests. It is generally thought to depict a corpulent and fertile Mother Goddess in the process of giving birth while seated on her throne, which has two hand rests in the form of feline (leopard or panther) heads.
The statuette, one of several iconographically similar ones found at the site, is associated to other corpulent Neolithic goddess figures, of which the most famous is the Venus of Willendorf. The similarity to later iconography of the Anatolian Mother Goddess Cybele in the first millennium BC is striking.
It is a neolithic sculpture shaped by an unknown artist. It was unearthed by archeologist James Mellaart in 1961. When it was found, its head and hand rest of the right side was missing. The current head and the hand rest are modern replacements. The sculpture is at the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara, Turkey.
Cybele was an originally Anatolian mother goddess; she has a possible precursor in the earliest neolithic at Çatal höyük where the statue of a pregnant goddess seated on a lion throne was found in a granary. She is Phrygia’s only known goddess, and was probably its state deity. Her Phrygian cult was adopted and adapted by Greek colonists of Asia Minor and spread from there to mainland Greece and its more distant western colonies from around the 6th century BC.
Numerous female figurines from Neolithic Çatalhöyük in Anatolia have been interpreted as evidence of a mother-goddess cult, c.7500 BC. James Mellaart, who led excavation at the site in the 1960s, suggests that the figures represent a Great goddess, who headed the pantheon of an essentially matriarchal culture.
A seated female figure, flanked by what Mellart describes as lionesses, was found in a grain-bin; she may have intended to protect the harvest and grain.
Reports of more recent excavations at Çatalhöyük conclude that overall, the site offers no unequivocal evidence of matriarchal culture or a dominant Great Goddess; the balance of male and female power appears to have been equal. The seated or enthroned goddess-like figure flanked by lionesses, has been suggested as a prototype Cybele, a leading deity and Mother Goddess of later Anatolian states.
Mother Goddes, Samarra, Iraq (6000 BC)
Many modern scholars believe that many of the Sumerian goddesses known from later myths and hymns were originally local aspects of the indigenous mother goddess. Prominent among such goddesses were Ninhursaga, Ninmah, Damgalnunna, Ninmah, Nintu and Nammu.
In Sumerian mythology Ki is the earth goddess. In Akkadian orthography she has the syllabic values gi,ge,qi,qe (for toponyms). Some scholars identify her with Ninhursag (lady of the mountains), the earth and fertility Mother Goddess, who had the surnames Nintu (lady of birth), Mamma, and Aruru.
Many of these goddesses were married off to the gods in the Old Babylonian period, after which they became increasingly regarded as taking a mediating and intercessionary role.
Due to being mother of Gilgamesh, Ninsun is also regarded as a Mother Goddess in general Mesopotamian mythology. She is Asherah in Canaan and `Ashtart in Syria. The Sumerians wrote erotic poetry about their mother goddess Ninhursag.
The title “The mother of life” later was given to the Akkadian Goddess Kubau, and hence to Hurrian Hepa, emerging in Hebrew as Eve (Heva) and Phygian Kubala (Cybele).
From 5500 to 2750 BC the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture flourished in the region of modern-day Romania, Moldova, and southwestern Ukraine, leaving behind ruins of settlements of as many as 15,000 residents who practiced agriculture and domesticated livestock. They also left behind many ceramic remains of pottery and clay figurines. Some of these figurines appear to represent the mother goddess (see images in this article).