Imagine you are living in ancient times. Life is good, the crops are growing well, there is plenty of food and water, and you have been at peace for many years with the other people around you. Of course, you have the gods to thanks for this good fortune, but not just the gods. The goddesses are just as important and you must thank the mother for these wonderful things. In the little shrine you have you leave her offerings to thank her for benevolence and make sure her statue is always looked after to ensure she remains happy.
When I took this ancient Goddess statue to show the children, they were most intrigued. For most of the children, religion is something they don’t think a lot about, but they do know that there is usually just one God, who is represented as a man. Yet in ancient times, and in some other religions of today, female divinities or Goddesses were just as important. They thought this was fascinating and were intrigued to discover what sort of Goddess this statue represented. The thing which intrigued them most though was that by looking at the statue closely, they could almost work out what sort of Goddess she was. ‘She’s showing off her assets’ as one older child pointed out, so she’s probably either a goddess of love, or one of motherhood. Not such a bad guess – she’s a Mother Goddess.
Mother Goddesses have a long and important history, appearing in all of the ancient cultures in one form or another. Several small, feminine figurines have been found in excavations around the world which date from the Paeolithic era (up to 26000 years ago!) We don’t know for sure that these figures were Goddesses, but many believe this is a likely explanation for them. More figures of women appear in the Neolithic period which many also interpret to be goddesses. By the time of ancient civilisations which we know a lot about though, we know that were definitely being worshipped. The Egyptians, Romans, Greeks, AZTECS, Celtic, Germanic, Sumerian and various civilisations in the Middle East all worshipped Goddesses, some of whom were mother Goddesses. So why were mother Goddesses so popular? Motherhood is something which is common across all civilisations and in the ancient world, womens ability to give birth was mysterious, important and divine. Giving birth was also dangerous, it could lead to new life, but it could also cause death. Thus motherhood was tied with new life, death and the divine representations of mothers (mother Goddesses) were extremely powerful.
Most mother Goddess figures are represented as having exaggerated womanly features which were important to mothers (big hips and breasts for example). The statue I showed the children does not have the exaggerated hips, but is cradling her breasts, a position which is seen in the mother goddess statues of many cultures. With so many Goddesses to choose from, I cannot be sure which Goddess this statue represents, but she has some similarities to statues of Asherah, the Canaanite Mother of Gods and humans. Asherah is the most important Goddess in the ancient Canaanite religion and also appears in other cultures, but most intriguingly, is also occasionally referred to in ancient artefacts and inscriptions as the consort of Yahweh, the God of Israel and the God referred to in the Christian Old Testament.