Revisiting the Goddess's Domain: Moon Goddess or Sun Goddess?
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Author: She of Air and Gryphons
Posted: January 13th. 2008
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Bull, Horse, Lion and Moon? Earth and Moon Goddess Archetype Revisited
A White Mare Sun Goddess
Few Stallions would dare mount.
We invoke the Sun Mare Goddess;
Our Crow, our Cow, our Serpent
Our Brigit, our Morrigan, our Macha.
Come oh never forgotten Goddess
Come oh Fiery Sun,
Giver of heat and of health
Chantress of our Sacred Earth.
Breathe your life into the earth,
In Winter's Cold Dark we call You,
Come oh Mare from the Night bring Day,
We your people call.
-- (Farrell-Robert 1)
This excerpt from a poem celebrating Macha, the Irish goddess of bards commonly represented as a horse, illustrates the original association of goddesses and the sun that is not commonly found in most New Age Religions such as Wicca or NeoPaganism.
Macha, for example, was uncontrolled and undefined by men, life-giving to her people, and a ruler of the skies. Even though men did their best to suppress her she is remembered.
Many goddesses were demoted to their current positions as moon goddesses due to patriarchal tendencies and poor translations of oral tales recorded in later times by Christian monks. These goddesses of limited power and frequently of negative connotations are not the common kind of goddess found in Indo-European mythology, where women are rulers of the sun and wielders of the sun’s life-giving, and life-taking, powers.
Indo-Europe includes land from Ireland to India. After the dispersion of the Indo-Europeans, from their unknown homeland around 3300-3100 BCE, their culture evolved into several dissimilar cultures that did manage to retain a few similarities. The one similarity being focused on is the similarity in their religious beliefs.
The Indo-European polytheistic belief systems usually had three classes of deities, the ruling sky class, the warrior class, and the agricultural or fertility class (McGrath 10-13). In the Indo-European culture religion was central to the people’s lives, goddess worship playing the largest role.
In the current New Age religions, such as Wicca and NeoPaganism where the Goddess is also a central figure, the Goddess is linked to the moon and earth. She is depicted in her three moon aspects: the innocent and joyous maiden, the loving and all forgiving mother, and the haggard and wise crone (Cunningham 11-12).
These aspects do not hold true to the mythology of the Indo-Europeans who believed that women are strong, decisive and logical in their relation to the sun. These goddesses were capable of making good decisions and following through with those decisions without needing a god’s support or being weepy and eternally forgiving.
In the different New Age religions the main goal is to remain true to old religious practices of the pre-Christian world and to find spiritual truths by doing so. Due to mistranslation and patriarchal resistance however, the true image of the Goddess has been skewed and should be set to rights to allow all goddess worshippers to remain true to the old traditions as they were first conceived.
The sun and moon have correspondences common in both eastern and western cultures. The sun is usually associated with the traits of heat, summer, hardness, semen, males, strength, and motion.
The moon is usually associated with the traits of coolness, softness, females, weakness, and stillness. The sun representing all that is male and powerful, strong and unforgiving, truthful and honorable.
The moon on the other hand is all that is feminine and conniving, weak and forgiving, deceitful and ignoble. For by nature the sun and moon are opposites though the sun unfairly receives all positive traits leaving the moon with the negative.
The associations reverse when adhering to the idea of goddesses as rulers of the sun and gods as rulers of the moon. In that case the sun is linked with red, females, yin, heat, blood, fire, summer, healing, strength, and fertility. Some of its symbols are the lion, deer, bull, cow, labyrinth, and spiral.
The moon becomes linked with white, males, yang, cool, semen, water, winter, growth, stamina and virility (McGrath 179). Some of its symbols are the owl, spider, hare, willow, scythe, and cauldron. These associations are fairer to both sexes, neither sex having an advantage over the other with both planets and their qualities needed to ensure life.
What's more neither the sun nor the moon are associated with entirely negative or entirely positive qualities. Just as the sun has always had certain qualities associated with it, the sun also has had certain symbols a few of which were listed above.
All those animal symbols focused on are commonly linked with males and their ego issues. Yet despite their current connotations those same animal symbols frequently show up associated with goddesses and very rarely are associated with men unless the myth has been altered, as the Greeks frequently altered other cultures myths and beliefs to closer fit their own patriarchal society. The central animal symbols associated with the sun are the lion, the bull, and the horse (McGrath 154-156).
While all cats are associated with the sun as well as the moon lions in particular carry a special resonance with the sun. In fact most large cats are linked with the sun while domesticated cats are linked with the moon. In astrology the lion is considered noble, powerful and authoritative.
The sun, being potent enough to heat the whole earth as well as being dominant enough to compel the rest of the solar system to revolve around its grandeur, must be considered powerful and authoritative. These are qualities supposedly inherent in men and therefore in their gods but how then are so many goddesses allied with or served by lions or some type of large cat?
The Egyptian goddess Sekhmet, the Indian goddess Durga, and the Sumerian goddess Lilith are a few examples of such goddesses who are, interestingly enough, allied with the sun as well (Blair).
The bull has long been a symbol of the sun’s fertility aspect. It represents the slow surety of spring’s coming again with gradual warmth with all the power of the sun.
The bull has also always been considered a creature of unwavering brute strength representing male virility (Goldsmith). Interestingly enough bull symbols taken from Neolithic cave paintings closely resemble the shape of a women’s reproductive organs. The uterus forms the head of the bull while the fallopian tubes form the horns of the bull.
Some images of the bull include bulls with flowers on the end of their horns. This even more closely resembles the reproductive organs of a woman, the flowers representing the ovaries. Some uncommon associations of the bull include its relation to the symbols of eggs, water, and plants as part of the process of the creation of life.
Something women are intimately familiar with, every time a women becomes pregnant she must go through the process of creating life within herself, within the bull as it were (Gimbutas 265-266).
The horse is another symbol of the sun. Horses represent cooperation within groups, speed, endurance, friendship, strength, independence, freedom, and compassion (Miller).
In Greek legend horses pull the chariot of Apollo the sun god whose sister Artemis is the goddess of the sun. Her chariot is pulled by stags, which the Greeks claimed were lunar symbols though they are in fact solar symbols (McGrath 154). Artemis was in actuality a sun and moon goddess whose horses pulled the chariot that drew the sun while her stags pulled the moon around the earth to rest the horses, hence her current mythology.
In Irish mythology Epona is the goddess of horses and fertility. She also has a dual personality, like Bast and Sekhmet are two halves of a whole, of the less well-known warrior goddess aspect and the well-known mother goddess aspect.
In some parts of the world; namely Assyria, Egypt, and Japan, goddesses did not entirely lose their associations with the sun. These goddesses were so revered that they did not lose their place in the heavens to male usurpers. Their continued existence proves that there were goddesses of the sun though they are few in number now once there were probably quite a few of them.
In Assyria there is Ishtar. Believed to have been the goddess of the evening star, Ishtar was actually the goddess of the rising and setting sun as well as the goddess of fertility, war, love and sex. She was one of the most powerful goddesses in ancient Assyria, having powers over all aspects of life, including death eventually. She had three sacred animals, the lion, the bull and the dragon. Two of these symbolic animals, the lion and the bull, which are sacred to her, are also animals commonly associated with the sun (Mervin and Prunhuber 14-15).
In Egypt there is the powerful duo of Bast and Sekhmet. Bast was a goddess who originally controlled the sun as a servant of Ra, who is the sun, but later she came to rule the moon as well. Bast and Sekhmet is basically the same goddess whose human characteristics have been split between them into a motherly aspect and a warrior aspect.
Bast is usually associated with, “domesticity, pleasure, fertility, and healing. She also has nurturing, motherly qualities” (Almond 134). Sekhmet, on the other hand, is a raging lion goddess who controlled the plagues of ancient Egypt. She was also the goddess of healing however. She was the goddess called upon in battle to lend her powers of the sun’s raging heat to destroy Egypt’s enemies (Almond 129-133).
Originally Bast and Sekhmet may have been the same goddess that was split in two to separate her motherly nature with her warrior nature for the benefit of the patriarchal Greeks. Since both of these goddesses are a type of cat, one a domestic, the other a lion, their link to the sun is clear and not surprising given that they also both rule over the sun.
Another reigning sun goddess is Amaterasu. Amaterasu, the sun goddess in Japan, is the direct ancestor to the emperor in Japan according to Shinto spirituality (Mervin and Prunhuber 22-23). Additionally Amaterasu is the ruler of the High Celestial Plain, which, in Japanese mythology, is the home of all eight hundred Japanese deities with the exception of underworld deities.
Amaterasu is considered similar to the Egyptian lion goddess Sekhmet, as they both are warriors, although Amaterasu is more closely identifies with the rooster, which is another sun animal. Amaterasu, when her violent and impulsive brother Susanoo was coming for a visit, prepared to fight him off with her bow and arrows believing Susanoo’s purpose for visiting her was an evil one.
All of those goddesses are still revered in their native countries as strong sun goddesses though not by many people as most people have turned to more mainstream religions like Christianity, Catholicism or Judaism. There are quite a few more goddesses than those I have named that have been made goddesses of the moon though they originally were rulers of the sun and the heavens.
An easy way to identify these altered deities is to look at their symbols.
If a goddess’s symbols include lions, tigers, bulls, cows, horses, deer, swans, roosters, or reindeer the goddess may truly be a sun goddess. If a goddess is associated with wheels, eyes, rosettes, circles, discs, spirals, labyrinths, crosses, gold, ships, or feet she may truly be a sun goddess (McGrath 150-157).
Some goddess truly do rule the moon and must to represent the much too expected soft side of the feminine nature but the harder fiery side should not be ignored and should be used and accepted by goddess worshippers around the world as it is a vital part of human nature.
She is the one who made the world.
She was the moon when she did that.
I will never forget her.
She is the one who sustains the world.
She is the sun as she does that.
I will never forget her.
She is the one who gives happiness.
She is the cosmos when she does that.
I will never forget her.
She is the one who will destroy the world.
She will be the goddess when she does that.
I will never forget her.
Almond, Jocelyn and Keith Seddon. “Sekhmet and Bast.” Egyptian Paganism for Beginners. United States of America: Llewellyn Publications, 2004.
Blair, Nancy. The Book of Goddesses. Wales, Great Britain: Chrysalis Books, 2002.
Cunningham, Scott. “The Deities.” Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner. United States of America: Llewellyn Publications, 2004.
Farrell-Roberts, Jani. Goddess Fires at Candlemas-Poem. 1997. January 7, 2007. [ http://inquirer.gn.apc.org/macha-frame.html]
Gimbutas, Marija. “Bull, Bee, and Butterfly.” The Language of the Goddess. San Francisco: Harper and Row Publishers, 1989.
Goldsmith, Elisabeth. “Ancient Pagan Symbols.” About Incorporated. The New York Times Company. January 19, 2007. [ http://altreligion.about.com/library/texts/bl_2ancientpagan40.htm]
Hall, Manly P. “Fishes, Insects, Animals, Reptiles, and Birds.” The Secret Teachings of All Ages. January 17, 2007. [ http://www.sacred-texts.com/eso/sta/sta21.htm]
McGrath, Sheena. The Sun Goddess: Myth, Legend and History. Great Britain: Blandford Books, 1997.
Mervin, Sabrina and Carol Prunhuber. Women: Around the World and Through the Ages. United States of America: Atomium Books Inc., 1990.
Miller, Tina. “Land Animals.” Animal Symbology. January 22, 2007. [ http://rampant-griffon.net/paganplace/animal/listland.html]
Monaghan, Patricia. The Goddess Companion: Daily Meditations on the Feminine Spirit. The United States of America: Llewellyn Publications, 1999.
Zimmerman, Denise and Katherine A. Gleason. The Complete Idiots Guide to Wicca and Witchcraft. The United States of America: Penguin Group Inc., 2003.
Copyright: This paper was a research paper I wrote in the winter of '06 for my senior English class but has never before been published.
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