God the Mother:
The Creatress and Giver of Life
By: Lawrence Durdin-Robertson
This page includes the introduction to Part II, The Generation of the Great Mother , as well as an excerpt from the Egyptian section.
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THE GENERATION OF THE GREAT MOTHER
The original Female Source has her place in the beginning, before the process of Creation ever begins.
In the first stage of Cosmogenesis this Source, according to most matriarchal cosmologies, proliferates herself into many other female entities. Each of these, in her own particular way, undertakes some specialized creative activity.
Various methods by which the Source reproduces herself are described.
By one method, the Mother is seen as simply dividing herself into two or more parts. This process is found in some of the ancient cosmogonies. According to Massey, ''The earliest Myth-makers .. observed phenomena and represented objective manifestations. Their beginning was simply the Oneness that opened in giving birth and in bifurcating; hence the type of the female first, the one Great Mother of all''. (Nat. Gen. I. 465). The resultant parts sometimes become two similar female beings, known as the Mother and Daughter, or the two Sisters, as in ancient Egypt. A threefold division results in a triad or trinity of female beings, as in the Hindu and Celtic traditions. Sometimes the resultant parts of this division are unlike or complimentary, as in the Babylonian Creation Narrative, where the original Goddess becomes divided to form Heaven and Earth.
Another way in which the Original Mother reproduces herself is by the process of parturition or giving birth. Here she separates off a minute amount of her own substance and forms it, within her womb, into an independent embryo. Reproduction by birth is assumed to take place in most of the theologies as, for instance, in that of Hesiod.
Another method of reproduction, adopted by the original greatness is described in detail in Gnostic literature. Here the Mother emanates from out of herself certain vital essences or elemental substances. These are at first of an ethereal nature but subsequently consolidate into denser matter, from which a new entity is formed. The relationship between this new being to its parent, is that of a child to its mother. But whereas the development of the child produced by birth takes place partly within the womb and partly outside, that of the child produced by emanation is wholly extra-uterine, as described in the formation of Sophia Achamoth.
But while there are various ways in which the female reproduces herself, these have all one thing in common; each originates in the female genitalia. While this is not always explicitly stated in the cosmogonies, it is nearly always implied by the symbolic language used. Cosmogenesis is, in fact, a product of female sexuality.
It was thought a sexual act, as the Gnostics saw, that the whole process of Creation first began. According to the Valentinian doctrine, a certain female Cosmic Being or Aeon, Sophia, had the desire to stimulate herself sexually on her own. In the ensuing orgasm the vital etheric substances which she emitted into space consolidated and developed into a separate female entity, Sophia Achamoth. The daughter, adopting her mother's method, proliferated her vital substances throughout space, and thereby caused the creation of the denser matter of the cosmos. At the same time she created male cosmic beings, the Archons, male Elohim or gods to help her in organizing this primordial substance.
The male orgasm, by contrast, being incapable of transmitting life, cannot create. Having only limited resources, the innate gift of the ''power of the Mother", on which to draw, it can produce nothing more than soulless elemental entities; these can only be animated and humanized by the life-giving Spirit of the Mother.
Many traditions refer to the repeated attempts of man to create on his own, and to the consequences of these abortive efforts.
In the Babylonian tradition, Kramer records of the primeval god Enki: "After Ninmah had created these six types of man, Enki decides to do some creating on his own. The manner in which he goes about it is not clear, but whatsoever it is that he does, the resulting creature is a failure; it is weak and feeble in body and spirit, Enki is now anxious that Ninmah help this forlorn creature; he then addresses her .. Ninmah tries to be good to the creature but to no avail. She talks to him but he fails to answer. She gives him bread to eat, but he does not reach out for it. He can neither sit nor stand, nor bend the knees. Following a long but as yet unintelligible conversation between Enki and Ninmah, the latter utters a curse against Enki, because of the sick, lifeless creature he produced, a curse which Enki seems to accept as his due". (M.A.W. 104).
Greek and Roman tradition mentions ''the creatures of Prometheus". The early accounts state that they were simply artifacts of a skilled craftsman; but the later version by Horace suggest they were produced organically. (Odes, I. 16). But, however made, they had no life of their own; it was the goddess who animated them. In a representation of the scene, described by Montfaucon: ''This Image, besides, is very singular: Minerva there appears, because, according to Lucian, it was she that animated the Work of Prometheus.'' (Davidson, Ovid. Metam. p.10).
The Gnostics give more detailed accounts of these abortive attempts by the male to create on his own. The first male beings, the seven sons of Sophia Achamoth, were the seven Archons or male Elohim, of whom the first-born was Ildabaoth or Samael, known as, ''the blind god", ''the Archbegetter'' or ''the Demiurge''. (Gn. Rel. 304). ''In the Apocryphon of John, Sophia's distress arises over the creative doings of the demiurge, her son". (Gn. Rel. 301). ''[Ildabaoth] became haughty and said: 'I am God, and there is no other beside me .. His thoughts were blind. He bethought himself to create sons to himself' .. Zoe, daughter of Pistis Sophia, has Ialdabaoth bound and cast into Tartarus at the bottom of the Deep, by a fiery angel emanating from her". (Hypostasis of Archons, 143: 5-13, cit. Gn. Rel. 303). King, in his Gnostics, says: ''but he failed utterly in his work .. proving a vast, soulless monster, crawling upon the earth". (cit. S.D. III, 246). Another account states: ''Ilda-Baoth .. ambitious and proud .. set himself to create a world of his own. Aided by his sons, the six planetary genii, he fabricated man, but this one proved a failure. It was a monster; soulless, ignorant. and crawling on all fours on the ground like a material beast. Ilda Baoth was forced to implore the help of his spiritual Mother [Sophia Achamoth]. She communicated to him a ray of her divine light, and so animated man and endowed him with a soul". (I.U. II, 184). According to the Ophites, the Archangels' attempts to create man resulted in a creature ''prone and crawling on the earth as a- worm. But the heavenly mother, Prunnikos .. infused into man a celestial spark - the spirit. Immediately man rose upon his feet, soared in mind beyond the limits of the seven spheres ..'' (I.U. II, 187).
The Valentinians, just as in the Divine Pymander, state that the desire to create arose from seeing a reflection in the water. Seeing an image, in the shape of 'a man'. This inspired Ialdabaoth with a creative ambition to which all the seven archons consented. 'They saw in the water the appearance of the image and said to each other, ''Let us make a man after the image and appearance of God'' ' .. The imitation, illicit and blundering .. is a widespread Gnostic idea .. The tale continues: 'Out of themselves (note by Jonas: ''Out of their substance, which is 'soul' not matter") and all their powers they created and formed a formation. And each one created from [his] power and soul .. But a long the creature remained immobile and the powers could not make it rise.
Now, the presumption and the bungling of the archons' work played into the hands of the Mother ''..with the result that she sent'' 'life'. (fem.) who hid herself within him .. 'It is she who works at the creature, exerts herself on him .. and shows him his [way of] ascent'. Adam shone from the light within him". (Gn. Rel. 202-4).
Indian tradition, also, compares the parts played by the sexes. Colonel Wilford writes: ''Many Pundits insist that the Yanavas were so named from their obstinate assertion of a superior influence in the female over the linga or male nature, in producing a perfect offspring .. There is a legend in the Servarasa of which the figurative meaning is more obvious. When Sati .. in the character of Parvati, was reunited in marriage to Mahadeva (Shiva). This divine pair had once a dispute on the comparative influences of the sexes in producing animate beings, and each resolved .. to create apart a new race of men. The race produced by Mahadeva was very numerous and devoted themselves exclusively to the worship of the male deity, but their intellects were dull, their bodies feeble, their limbs distorted, and their complexions of many different hues. Parvati, had at the same time, created a multitude of human beings, who adored the female power only, and were well shaped, with sweet aspects and fine complexions. A furious conflict ensued between the two races, and the Lingajas were defeated .. But Mahadeva, enraged against the Yonijas, would have destroyed them .. if Parvati had not interposed and spared them. She 'made use of the same artifice the old woman, called Baabo, did to put Ceres in good humour, and showed him the prototype of the Lotos. Mahadeva smiled and relented; but on condition that they should instantly leave the country' .. and from the Yoni, which they adored as the sole cause of their existence, they were named Yanavas". (cit. O'Brien, Round Towers of Ireland, 260).
According to Graves, an African ''Father-god, Odomankoma .. claimed to have made the universe single-handedly .. Ngame is now said to have vitalized Odomankoma's lifeless creation". (Greek Myths, I, 23).
In Medieval and later times, the male orgasm, produced apart from the female, was seen to give rise to soulless psychic entities known variously as homunculi, mannikins, humanoid elementaries and artificial elementals.
This accumulation of male psychic debris was seen as a pollution to the dense etheric cosmos; and by smothering life, it obstructed the normal development of nature. Something of this is hinted at by Goethe, in Faust. Here the unnaturally produced Homunculus is irresistibly drawn - in fact is the guide to the onlookers as well - to the only remedy for its abnormal condition, - absorption in the female; only here could it be vivified and become part of the stream of human evolution. As Goethe put it: "Homunculus .. Who to the Mothers found his way, Has nothing more to undergo. (Part II, Act II, Scene 3).
Though the male incursion into the creative process has consequences of its own, the basic pattern of reproduction remains the same. As cosmogenesis proceeds each new generation of Deities is allotted its own particular functions in the developing cosmos.
The female Elohim, the Goddesses, each further extend the bounds of their creative activity into their own specialized areas, the same process continuing with their progeny. But each succeeding goddess, however far removed she may be genealogically from the Original Source, has the full potential of the first Great Mother. Thus, for instance, Eve, the distant descendant of Sophia, still possesses ''the great creative power from which all things originate." (Valentinus, cit.Gn. Gosp. p. 54) And in the Egyptian Pantheon, lsis, genealogically the grand-daughter of Tefnut, can at the same time, as Dr. Witt describes: ''Manifest as the One Supreme Deity", without in any way derogating from the earlier goddesses. And the same principle may be applied to every subsequent female being. Each takes on a specialized creative role, but each has the full potential of the original Deity, the Great Mother; each, like Eve is ''the mother of all living". Matriarchal religion, is therefore, as has been stated, essentially polytheistic.
The male Elohim, the Archons or gods, are likewise given the task of organizing and developing those new specialized fields of creation produced by the goddesses. Similarly, all subsequent male beings have a corresponding part to play in the development of the cosmos.
The division and sub-division of the Female Source is seen in Egyptian traditions. Certain of the primeval goddesses, as described above, Part I, are shown as ''proceeding from themselves."
The suggestion that Neith reproduces herself into several persons is given in the Book of that which is the Underworld. Describing the illustrations in the 11th Hour, Budge writes: ''Next we have figures of the four forms of the goddess Neith .. they are called Neith the fecundator, in allusion to the belief that this goddess begat herself, Neith of the red crown (i.e. The North), Neith of the white crown (i.e. The South), and Neith the child". (Gods. I. 252).
Another method of differentiation is seen in the case of the goddess Tefnut, mother of Nut. Massey describes this in detail: ''One name of the most ancient genetrix who divided into two sisters was Tef (Eg.), identical with the Abyss of the beginning. She was continued as Tefn or Tefnut under the lioness-type, and from her name and nature it is now
proposed to derive the Dawn. The word is common for opening and to dawn is to open out .. But the name of Dawn or Tefn includes more than the dawn in heaven. The dawn with which primitive mythologists were first concerned was the dawn of womanhood, and the day of procreation. This was the dawn that broke in blood. We speak of the rose of dawn, but they drew their simile from blood; and blood first manifested through a breaking open, as it did in the human dawn. In Egyptian, Tef means to shed, evacuate, spit, menstruate, drip, and drop, with the flower-sign of bleeding .. The mother opened in the first of two phases in the red dawn that broke in blood. The first mother divides and assumes the forms of the two sisters, as she did in sociology". (I. 531). The dawn as a female physiological process is sometimes also associated with Nut. As Veronica Ions describes it: ''The rosy colour of the sky at dawn was supposed to be the blood which Nut shed in giving birth to the sun. (p. 53).
Nut herself manifests also in a divided form, similar to that of the Babylonian Tiamat. As Neumann writes: ''Nut is water above and below, vault above and below''. (p. 222). Each part, resulting from the division still remains a goddess. ''To Nut as the upper vault corresponds Naunet as the lower vault, the counterheaven lying 'under' the disc of the earth, the two together forming the Great Round of the feminine vessel. But Naunet, the counterheaven is identical to Nut'' (loc. cit). The cosmic sovereignity of Nut is described in the Pyramid Texts Pepi II in the Hymn to Nut:
"O perfect Daughter mighty One of thy Mother ..
The whole earth is under thee, thou hast taken possession of it.
Thou hast encompassed the earth, everything is in thy two hands".
(cit. Elissa Sharpley, Anth. Egy. Poems, 29. trans. Budge)
Egyptian geography is shown by Kenneth Grant to be linked physiologically with Nut. ''The most ancient form of 'physical geography' was founded on the female form; the woman below, being the earth; the woman aloft (i.e. the celestial Nuit) being heaven; and whether as the woman below, with feet pointing towards the Great Bear constellation - the Goddess of the Seven Stars - or as the Great Bear itself, Inner Africa was the womb of the world, Egypt the vulva or outlet to the north, the Nile itself forming the vulva of the woman 'below'. '' (Mag. Rev. 16).
The division of the primordial Egyptian Goddess into two hemispheres is enlarged upon by Massey: ''Hor Apollo points out that the Egyptians thought it absurd to designate Heaven in the masculine, ton ouranon, but represented it in the feminine, ten ouranon, inasmuch as the generation of the Sun, Moon, and the rest of the planets is perfected in it, which is the peculiar property of the female. (B. I. ii). The Heaven, whether Upper or Lower, was the bringer-forth, therefore feminine. The Two Heavens, or Heaven and Earth, were represented by the Two Divine Sisters as Neith and Seti (or Nephthys), or Isis and Nupe, who were the two forms of the first One, the Mother and Sister in the earliest sociology". (N.G. I. 467).
The division of the goddess into two different and complimentary parts has been shown above in the case of Neith, who differentiates into Neith of the Northern Crown and Neith of the Southern Crown. In the same way, among the daughters of Nut are ''Isis, a spirit of dawn, and Nephthys, a spirit of twilight". (Budge B.D. xcvi).
A quarternary division of the goddess is mentioned by Neumann: ''Only now are we in a position to understand the significance of the Goddess Hathor's identification with the four cardinal points and four quarters of the world characterized by the goddesses Nekhbet, Uadjet, Bast and Neith (Budge, Gods, I. 451). Since, as Jung has repeatedly shown, the quarternary is the archetypal symbol of wholeness, this quarternary of Hathor (Kees, p. 220) is the symbol of the Archetypal Feminine as the world-governing totality in all its aspects". (Great Mother, 221). This female quarternary is shown iconographically in Tutankhamun's tomb. Mme. Desroches-Noblecourt describes how at each corner of the Canopic Shrine stood the image of a winged goddess, "Isis at the north-west; Nephthys at the south-west; Neith at the north-east; and Serket at the south-east". (Tutankhamun, 243). A celestial quarternary is also depicted in the Dendera Zodiac. As Eisler describes it: ''Note the four goddesses holding the planisphere and supposed to turn it round with their hands. They are the goddesses of the four columns of the sky". (Royal Art of Astrol. 266).
The production of certain geographical features are seen as a result of the emanations of Isis. The Greek writer Pausanias records how: ''At this time the Nile begins to rise and it is a saying among many of the natives that what makes the river rise and water their fields is the tears of Isis". (X. xxiii, 18). ''Sometimes Isis is seen as the bed of the river Nile, the river itself representing the parturient waters of the goddess". (Gdss. Chald. 290).
The creation of vegetation is often attributed to Isis. As Frazer writes: ''Amongst the epithets by which Isis is designated in the inscriptions are 'Creatress of green things'; 'Green Goddess, whose green colour is like unto the greenness of the earth', 'Lady of Bread', 'Lady of Beer', 'Lady of Abundance'. According to Brugsch she is 'not only the greatness of the fresh verdure of vegetation which covers the earth, but is actually the green corn-field itself, which is personified as a goddess'. This is confirmed by her epithet Sochit or Sochet, meaning 'a corn-field' .. The Greeks conceived of Isis as a corn-goddess, for they identified her with Demeter. In a Greek epigram she is described as 'she who has given birth to the fruits of the earth' and 'the mother of the ears of corn'; and in a hymn composed in her honour she speaks of herself as 'queen of the wheat-field', and is described as 'charged with the care of the fruitful furrow's wheat-rich path'. Accordingly, Greek or Roman artists often represented her with ears of corn on her head or in her hand". (Golden Bough, abdg. 382).
In the Classical period of Egyptian history, when Isis assumed the dominant position in the Pantheon, she is seen as ''Thiouis'', the One; and cosmogenesis was in general attributed to her. Isidorus in his first hymn to her praises her in these terms:
"O wealth-giver, Queen of the Gods; Hermouthis, Lady,
Omnipotent Agathe Tyche, greatly renowned Isis,
..Because of You heaven and the whole earth have their being,
And the gusts of the wind and the sun with its sweet light.
By your power the channels of the Nile are filled, every one, ..'' (p. 21).
In her introduction Vera Vanderlip writes: ''The early aretalogies emphasize Isis' power, omnipotent and creative". Isidorus, in his second Hymn addresses her as:
''Creator of both earth and the starry heaven,
and of all rivers, and many swift streams ..'' (p. 36).
In a resume of Isis' position in this period, Dr. Witt states: ''The most important aspect, however, is the omnipotence of Isis on a cosmic scale. She has separated earth and heaven. She has revealed the paths of the stars .. All things bow to her .. She is indeed Almighty". (p. 106).
Isis is seen as cosmic nature by Apuleius; in his address to her he uses the words: ''You set the orb of heaven spinning around the poles, you give light to the sun, you govern the universe .. At your voice the stars move, the seasons recur, the spirits of earth rejoice, the elements obey. At your nod the winds blow, clouds drop wholesome rain upon the earth, seeds quicken, buds swell". (Metam. xix).
Another Egyptian-Greek goddess of origin is Sopdet, the star Sothis or Sirius whose heliacal rising began the Sothic year. Porphyry writes: ''And for them, the ascendancy of Sothis, which makes a beginning of genesis to the Cosmos, is the New Year". (Cave of Nymphs, p. 25).
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