The 9th International Conference Buddhism & Australia
Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia Illustrations
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A Goddess is a feminine or female Deity. In some cultures Goddesses are associated with Earth, motherhood, Love, and the household. In other cultures, Goddesses also rule over War, Death, and destruction as well as Healing. They can be figureheads of religions and can be accessed in modern times by religious statues.
In some religions, a sacred feminine archetype can occupy a very central place in prayer and worship. In Hinduism, Sacred Feminine or Shaktism is one of the three major Hindu denominations of worship along with Vishnu and Shiva. In Tibetan Buddhism, the highest achievement any person can achieve is to become like the "great" female Buddhas (e.g. Arya Tara) who are depicted as being supreme Protectors, fearless and filled with Compassion for all beings.
The primacy of a monotheistic or near-monotheistic "Great Goddess" is advocated by some modern matriarchists as a female version of, preceding, or analogue to, the Abrahamic God associated with the historical rise of monotheism in the Mediterranean Axis Age.
Some currents of Neopaganism, in particular Wicca, have a bitheistic concept of a single Goddess and a single God, who in hieros gamos represent a united whole. Polytheistic reconstructionists focus on reconstructing polytheistic religions, including the various Goddesses and figures associated with indigenous cultures.
Chinese folk Religion
- Mazu is the goddess of the sea who protects fishermen and sailors, widely worshipped in the south-eastern coastal areas of China and neighbouring areas in Southeast Asia.
- The Goddess Weaver, daughter of the Celestial Mother, wove the stars and their Light, known as "the Silver River" (what Westerners call "The Milky Way Galaxy"), for Heaven and Earth. She was identified with the star Westerners know as Vega.
Hinduism is a complex of various belief systems that sees many Gods and Goddesses as being representative of and/or emanative from a single source, Brahman, understood either as a formless, infinite, impersonal monad in the Advaita tradition or as a dual God in the Form of Lakshmi-Vishnu, Radha-Krishna, Shiva-Shakti in Dvaita traditions. Shaktas, worshippers of the Goddess, equate this God with Devi, the mother goddess. Such aspects of one God as male God (Shaktiman) and female energy (Shakti), working as a pair are often envisioned as male Gods and their wives or consorts and provide many analogues between passive male ground and dynamic female energy. For example, Brahma pairs with Sarasvati. Shiva likewise pairs with Parvati who later is represented through a number of Avatars (incarnations): Sati and the warrior figures, Durga and Kali. All Goddesses in Hinduism are sometimes grouped together as the great goddess, Devi.
A further step was taken by the idea of the Shaktis. Their ideology based mainly on Tantras sees Shakti as the principle of energy through which all divinity functions, thus showing the masculine to be dependent on the feminine. Indeed, in the great shakta scripture known as the Devi Mahatmya, all the Goddesses are shown to be aspects of one presiding female force, one in Truth and many in expression, giving the World and the cosmos the galvanic energy for motion. It is expressed through both philosophical tracts and metaphor that the potentiality of masculine being is given actuation by the feminine divine. Local Deities of different village regions in India were often identified with "mainstream" Hindu Deities, a process that has been called "Sanskritization". Others attribute it to the influence of monism or Advaita which discounts polytheist or monotheist categorization.
While the monist forces have led to a fusion between some of the Goddesses (108 names are common for many Goddesses), centrifugal forces have also resulted in new Goddesses and Rituals gaining ascendance among the laity in different parts of Hindu World. Thus, the immensely popular goddess Durga was a pre-Vedic goddess who was later fused with Parvati, a process that can be traced through texts such as Kalika Purana (10th century), Durgabhaktitarangini (Vidyapati 15th century), Chandimangal (16th century) etc.
Feminism and neopaganism
At least since first-wave feminism in the United States, there has been interest in analyzing religion to see if and how doctrines and practices treat women unfairly, as in Elizabeth Cady Stanton's The Woman's Bible. Again in second-wave feminism in the U.S., as well as in many European and other countries, Religion became the focus of some feminist analysis in Judaism, Christianity, and other religions, and some women turned to ancient goddess religions as an alternative to Abrahamic religions (Womanspirit Rising 1979; Weaving the Visions 1989). Today both women and men continue to be involved in the Goddess movement (Christ 1997). The popularity of organizations such as the Fellowship of Isis attest to the continuing growth of the Religion of the Goddess throughout the World.
While much of the attempt at gender equity in mainstream Christianity (Judaism never recognized any gender for God) is aimed at reinterpreting scripture and degenderizing Language used to name and describe the divine (Ruether, 1984; Plaskow, 1991), there are a growing number of people who identify as Christians or Jews who are trying to integrate goddess imagery into their religions (Kien, 2000; Kidd 1996,"Goddess Christians Yahoogroup").
The term "sacred feminine" was first coined in the 1970s, in New Age popularizations of the Hindu Shakti. It was further popularized during the 1990s by Andrew Harvey and others, and entered mainstream pop culture in 2003 with Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code.
In Wicca "the Goddess" is a Deity of prime importance, along with her consort the Horned God. Within many forms of Wicca the Goddess has come to be considered as a universal Deity, more in line with her description in the Charge of the Goddess, a key Wiccan text. In this guise she is the "Queen of Heaven", similar to Isis; she also encompasses and conceives all Life, much like Gaia. Much like Isis and certain late Classical conceptions of Selene, she is held to be the summation of all other Goddesses, who represent her different names and aspects across the different cultures. The Goddess is often portrayed with strong lunar symbolism, drawing on various cultures and Deities such as Diana, Hecate, and Isis, and is often depicted as the Maiden, Mother and Crone triad popularised by Robert Graves (see Triple Goddess below). Many depictions of her also draw strongly on Celtic Goddesses. Some Wiccans believe there are many Goddesses, and in some forms of Wicca, notably Dianic Wicca, the Goddess alone is worshipped, and the God plays very little part in their worship and Ritual.
Goddesses or demi-Goddesses appear in sets of three in a number of ancient European pagan mythologies; these include the Greek Erinyes (Furies) and Moirai (Fates); the Norse Norns; Brighid and her two sisters, also called Brighid, from Irish or Keltoi mythology.
Robert Graves popularised the triad of "Maiden" (or "Virgin"), "Mother" and "Crone", and while this idea did not rest on Sound scholarship, his poetic inspiration has gained a tenacious hold. Considerable variation in the precise conceptions of these figures exists, as typically occurs in Neopaganism and indeed in pagan religions in general. Some choose to interpret them as three stages in a woman's Life, separated by menarche and menopause. Others find this too biologically based and rigid, and prefer a freer interpretation, with the Maiden as birth (independent, self-centred, seeking), the Mother as giving birth (interrelated, compassionate nurturing, creating), and the Crone as Death and renewal (holistic, remote, unknowable) — and all three erotic and wise.
The term "goddess" has also been adapted to poetic and secular use as a complimentary description of a non-mythological woman. The OED notes 1579 as the date of the earliest attestation of such figurative use, in Lauretta the diuine Petrarches Goddesse.
Shakespeare had several of his male characters address female characters as Goddesses, including Demetrius to Helena in A Midsummer Night's Dream ("O Helen, goddess, nymph, perfect, divine!"), Berowne to Rosaline in Love's Labour's Lost ("A woman I forswore; but I will prove, Thou being a goddess, I forswore not thee"), and Bertram to Diana in All's Well That Ends Well. Pisanio also compares Imogen to a goddess to describe her composure under duress in Cymbeline.