Goddesses and the Divine Feminine: A Western Religious History

Goddesses and the Divine Feminine: A Western Religious History

Goddesses and the Divine Feminine: A Western Religious History

Goddesses and the Divine Feminine: A Western Religious History

Synopsis

This landmark work presents the most illuminating portrait we have to date of goddesses and sacred female imagery in Western culture--from prehistory to contemporary goddess movements. Beautifully written, lucidly conceived, and far-ranging in its implications, this work will help readers gain a better appreciation of the complexity of the social forces-- mostly androcentric--that have shaped the symbolism of the sacred feminine. At the same time, it charts a new direction for finding a truly egalitarian vision of God and human relations through a feminist-ecological spirituality.

Rosemary Radford Ruether begins her exploration of the divine feminine with an analysis of prehistoric archaeology that challenges the popular idea that, until their overthrow by male-dominated monotheism, many ancient societies were matriarchal in structure, governed by a feminine divinity and existing in harmony with nature. For Ruether, the historical evidence suggests the reality about these societies is much more complex. She goes on to consider key myths and rituals from Sumerian, Babylonian, Egyptian, and Anatolian cultures; to examine the relationships among gender, deity, and nature in the Hebrew religion; and to discuss the development of Mariology and female mysticism in medieval Catholicism, and the continuation of Wisdom mysticism in Protestanism. She also gives a provocative analysis of the meeting of Aztec and Christian female symbols in Mexico and of today's neo-pagan movements in the United States.

Excerpt

My interest in goddesses of the ancient Near East and Greece goes back to 1954, when I began studying the religious worldviews of these societies. In a course on Greek tragedy with Robert Palmer (translator of Walter Otto’s work on Dionysus), I read writers such as Jane Harrison and was introduced to the theory that a matriarchal society had preceded the rise of patriarchy in ancient Greek and Mediterranean societies. As I continued to pursue these interests at Scripps College and the Claremont Graduate School, I focused on the classics and early Christianity. In particular, I studied the Greek and Near Eastern background of Hebrew and early Christian thought, Platonism and Neoplatonism, and various religious movements, such as the mystery religions of the Hellenistic and Greco-Roman worlds, in which Cybele, Isis, and other goddesses were central. It became evident to me that the Hebrew religion and Christianity, far from simply repressing and leaving behind these “pagan” religious worldviews, had appropriated and reinterpreted them. The Christianity that emerged in the first to fourth century was, in many ways, a reinterpreted synthesis of the religious worldviews of the ancient Mediterranean world.

In studying the Hebrew Bible and early Christianity side by side with ancient paganism, I found myself attracted to the prophetic traditions that sided with the poor and oppressed and denounced the rich and powerful. As I became involved in the civil rights and antiwar movements of the 1960s, this spiritual lineage undergirded my commitment to justice. Although the ancient pagan religions that I had been studying seemed to lack this prophetic social justice tradition, I nevertheless con-

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