(Essay Part 1) Restoring Dea – Female Metaphor for Deity by Glenys Livingstone Ph.D.

This essay is the first part in a series of edited excerpts from chapter 3 of the author’s book, PaGaian Cosmology: Re-inventing Earth-based Goddess Religion.

Ref: Hallie Iglehart Austen, The Heart of the Goddess, p. 131

Almost every ancient culture’s creation myth begins with Her.[1] In the beginning was the Matrix, and the Matrix was all there was. “Before creation a presence existed …(which)… pervaded itself with unending motherhood.”[2] This Matrix was not “feminine”, in any stereotypical way, which would limit Her to a certain mode of being. She was beyond all pairs of opposites. As the beginning and end of all things, She contained it all – she was yin and yang, right and left, dark and light, linear and cyclic, immanent and transcendent. There was not an either/or. She was not carved up into bits, apportioned a certain fragment of being – She was a totality. She bore within herself all of the polarities.

Ancient Mesopotamian texts praise Ishtar of Babylon for her strong, exalted, perfect decrees as Lawgiver, and for her passionate, lifegiving sexuality, all in the one paragraph.[3] As Vajravarahi, Goddess has been known as Mistress of all knowledge, which included her physical being – quite a deal more expansive than more recent academic understandings of “Master of Arts”. One of Ishtar’s titles has been translated as “Great Whore”, but this falls far short of the original understanding. As Merlin Stone has pointed out, the use of words like “prostitute” or “harlot” or “whore” as a translation for “qadishtu” negates the sanctity of this priestly role and reveals an ethnocentric subjectivity on the part of the writer;[4] (the term Hierodule is suggested as more accurate by Anne Baring and Jules Cashford).[5] The patriarchal bias in the minds of the writers disabled their comprehension of a holy woman who was sexual. The use of the word “Whore” to label One who embodied the Mystery of the Universe has enabled patriarchal religions to denigrate the Female Metaphor[6] for deity – sometimes out of ignorance, sometimes with conscious intent.

As Isis of Egypt, the Great Goddess was “Mother of the Universe”. This did not mean that there was a Father of whom she was partner, as most human minds of our time assume. This title meant that she was the One from whom all becoming arose. It meant that she was the Creator. Many minds get caught up with a perceived need to affirm the male role in reproduction; however, there has never been the same affirmation in the West at least, of the female role in reproduction when the God has been Creator. To comprehend Mother as Creator does not need to negate the integrity of male being, it simply re-instates the integrity of the female and her Creative capacity.

As Mut of Egypt, She possibly preceded Isis. Mut is described as existing when there was nothing, the oldest deity, She Who Gives Birth, But Was Herself Not Born of Any. Her title meaning “Mother” was understood to hold within it the complete cycle that supported life – an original trinity – beginning, fullness, and ending; Mut’s hieroglyphic sign was “a design of three cauldrons, representing the Triple Womb.”[7] “Mother” was not a mere passive vessel, nor was she limited to birthing and feeding aspects that later cultures allowed her; “Mother” was an wholistic title incorporating the beginning and the end. She was “Om”, the letter of creation and “Omega”, the letter of destruction,[8] long before Jesus was said to have described himself this way.

As Neith, She was described as the “Great Cow who gave birth to Ra” – the Sun itself; Her parthenogenetic nature recognised. She was the primal abyss out of whom all being arose. In later times, Neith’s story was greatly diminished and She was assigned a father god, as were many Great Goddesses around the globe – Brahma became the father of Sarasvati, Chenrezig the father of Tara.

As Inanna of Sumeria, She was “primary one” for three thousand five hundred years. Her story of descent and return, death and resurrection, is the oldest story humans have of this heroic journey, and it influences the later stories of redeemer/wisdom figures such as Persephone, Orpheus, and Jesus. Inanna was known as Queen of Heaven.

Inanna. Ref: Hallie Iglehart Austen, The Heart of the Goddess, p. 75.
Inanna. Ref: Hallie Iglehart Austen, The Heart of the Goddess, p. 75

In one image, Her power was expressed with a crown of horns on Her head, Her foot on a lion, wings and thunderbolts sprouting from Her shoulders.[9] Inanna’s priestess Encheduanna of the second millennium B.C.E. (and first known poet in Western cultural story) celebrated and wrote erotically of the sacred marriage[10] – that of Inanna and her lover Dumuzi. It is one of the oldest surviving written records of the Sacred Marriage myth cycle;[11] and although Her sexuality is celebrated, Inanna’s story never included pregnancy, as Starhawk notes.

In Greece, perhaps as early as the Paleolithic era, the Divine Female was known as Nyx, Black Mother Night, “the primordial foundation of all manifested forms”, who laid the Egg of creation.[12] She was the full Emptiness, the empty Fullness. Aristophanes later sang of Her, “Black-winged Night … laid a wind-born egg, and as the seasons rolled, Forth sprang Love, the longed-for, shining with wings of gold.”[13] Her Darkness was understood as “a depth of love”, not a source of evil as later humans named Her.

Aphrodite. Ref: Erich Neumann, The Great Mother, pl.137
Aphrodite as the “Lady of the Beasts”, on a Goose. Ref: Erich Neumann, The Great Mother, p.137

As Aphrodite, She was said to be older than time. Aphrodite as humans once knew Her, was no mere sex goddess and She was not only Greek; She was associated with the most ancient Dea Syria. Aphrodite was indistinguishable from the Fates and their power – perhaps more powerful. She was “multivalent”, had many names. This was characteristic of most Goddesses because the religion of the time was oral, and the stories of the diverse manifestations of the Ultimate Principle linked and were embellished upon as humans told them and travelled. Aphrodite was associated with the sea and dolphins, childbirth and the energy that opens seeds, sexuality and the longing that draws creatures together. The Love that She embodied as it was once understood was a Love deep down in things; it could be expressed as an “allurement” intrinsic to the nature of the Universe.[14] The Orphics sang of Her:

For all things are from You

Who unites the cosmos.

You will the three-fold fates

You bring forth all things

Whatever is in the heavens

And in the much fruitful earth

And in the deep sea.[15]

Surely She who represented such a power could be said to represent a fundamental cosmic dynamic. Scientists in the last few centuries have spoken of a basic dynamism of attraction in the universe that is primal, using the word “gravity” to point to it, but it remains fundamentally mysterious.[16] And what difference Hymns of this kind to the Psalms, which have been understood to praise the Divine – surely One who unites the cosmos and brings forth all things deserves the dignity of ultimate divine praise.

Her many names have always been spoken

We restore Her form and her shape to our Atlas

Her visceral impulse is recognised again.


© Glenys Livingstone 2016



[1] There are many references for this statement, and complete referencing can be found in Chapter 3 of my doctoral dissertation, The Female Metaphor – Virgin, Mother, Crone – of the Dynamic Cosmological Unfolding. The particular combined threads as I weave them are influenced by so many at this point in time; thus specific references may be arbitrary. Also, objectivity and subjectivity are hard to separate (true for any text though not usually admitted): some of the story as I have come to tell it has arisen organically over the years of my own reflection and then later found affirmation from published academic researchers. There are also “objective” sources for the storying that I do: that is, sources whose information is based in archaeological and mythological research and reflection, and is able to be checked. Those references have met academic requirements. The prominent influences and sources for the story of Her that I tell at this point in time have been Marija Gimbutas, Hallie Iglehart Austen, Merlin Stone, Mary Daly, Joseph Campbell, Erich Neumann, Anne Baring and Jules Cashford, Charlene Spretnak, Barbara Walker, Geoffrey Ashe, Marina Warner, Esther M. Harding, Lawrence Durdin-Robertson, Patricia Monaghan and Miriam Robbins Dexter.

[2] Lao Tzu, The Way of Life translated by Witter Bynner, p.40.

[3] Hallie Iglehart Austen, The Heart of the Goddess, p.130.

[4] Merlin Stone, When God Was a Woman, p.157.

[5] Anne Baring and Jules Cashford, The Myth of the Goddess, p.197.

[6] I will capitalise this term to signify it as referring to a sacred and original entity.

[7] Barbara G. Walker, The Woman’s Encyclopaedia of Myths and Secrets, p.702.

[8] See Barbara G. Walker, The Woman’s Encyclopaedia of Myths and Secrets, p.546.

[9] See Hallie Iglehart Austen, The Heart of the Goddess, p.74.

[10] Judy Chicago, The Dinner Party, p.31.

[11] Starhawk. Truth or Dare, p.40.

[12] Demetra George, Mysteries of the Dark Moon, pp.115-119.

[13] Demetra George, Mysteries of the Dark Moon, p.115, quoting Aristophanes in The Birds.

[14] This description of Aphrodite is the coalition of the work of Brian Swimme and Charlene Spretnak, as described by Charlene Spretnak in Lost Goddesses of Early Greece, p.xvi.

[15] Referred to as “Orphic Hymn” in the 1994 calendar Celebrating Women’s Spirituality, Crossing Press, Freedom California, week April 4 – 10.

[16] Brian Swimme, The Universe is a Green Dragon, p.43.


Baring, Anne, and Cashford, Jules. The Myth of the Goddess. Penguin Group, 1993.

Chicago, Judy. The Dinner Party. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1996.

Hays, H.R.. In the Beginnings: Early Man and His Gods. NY: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1963.

Iglehart Austen, Hallie. The Heart of the Goddess. Berkeley: Wingbow Press, 1990.

George, Demetra. Mysteries of the Dark Moon. SF: HarperCollins, 1992.

Gross, Rita. “The Feminine Principle in Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism.” The Journal of Transpersonal PsychologyVol.16 No.2, 1984, pp.179-182.

Lao Tzu. The Way of Life. (trans by Witter Bynner). NY: Capricorn Books, 1962.

Livingstone, Glenys. PaGaian Cosmology: Re-inventing Earth-based Goddess Religion, NE: iUniverse, 2005.

Livingstone, Glenys. The Female Metaphor – Virgin, Mother, Crone – of the Dynamic Cosmological Unfolding: Her Embodiment in Seasonal Ritual as a Catalyst for Personal and Cultural Change. Ph.D. thesis, University of Western Sydney, 2002.

Neumann, Erich. The Great Mother. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1974.

Spretnak, Charlene. Lost Goddesses of Early Greece. Boston: Beacon Press, 1992.

Starhawk. Truth or Dare. SF: Harper and Row, 1990.

Stone, Merlin. When God was a Woman. London: Harvest/HBJ, 1978.

Swimme, Brian. The Universe is a Green Dragon. Santa Fe: Bear & Co., 1984.

Walker, Barbara. The Woman’s Encyclopaedia of Myths and Secrets. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1983.

Read Meet Mago Contributor Glenys Livingstone.

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2 Comments on "(Essay Part 1) Restoring Dea – Female Metaphor for Deity by Glenys Livingstone Ph.D."

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Absolutely wonderful scholarship, thank you!!!! Definitely buying the book.

Reading this I was excited by all the information about human stories from the past. This sort of knowledge is obscured and erased as a form of oppression, of all sorts of people.

I’ve studies as much as I’m able of astronomy and cosmology as presented by scientists. The information in this essay continually invoked the understanding and sense of love and connection that I have from my studies of science, as viewed in part from my lense of paganism/animism. Thank you for your part in renewing good culture <3

Glenys D. Livingstone

thank you for your comments and appreciation <3