The Goddess of Democracy, Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China. Photo by Tsao Hsingyuan, 1989
The Goddess of Democracy, Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China. Photo by Tsao Hsingyuan, 1989

The Goddess and Sacred Feminine, embodiment and reassurance of the possibility of a beneficent universe, are reawakening in the hearts and minds of peoples throughout the world. This re-emergence coincides with the growth of other movements which affirm the interconnectedness and sanctity of life. Members of the peace, environmental, feminist, human rights and earth religion movements find guidance and inspiration in contemplating the images, traditions and values of Gaia, Spider Grandmother, Tara, Ochun, Kali and Guanyin, to name only a few aspects of the worldwide Goddess.

The impetus for this book comes from my great love for the Sacred Feminine and for these images in particular. As I see it, the knowledge and direct experience of the Great Goddess, once revered throughout the world, has been lost, obscured by patriarchal repression and distortion. Different aspects of the original Great Goddess have survived in various cultures and deities. We must look to all of them in order to find out who the Goddess really is. My hope is that the images, background material and meditations of this book will help readers contribute to rediscovering the true nature of the Sacred Feminine.

For many years, I began my classes on women’s spirituality by showing slides of both ancient and contemporary Goddess art. Seeing these images served to ground my students in the prehistorical and historical reality of societies in which women and women’s wisdom were central to everyday life. I found myself and others profoundly moved and healed by looking at these pictures. No matter what my previous mood, I always felt stronger and more peaceful after seeing the Goddesses.


Images have an enormous influence on us, as evidenced by the mass of visual media and advertising in our culture. In order to free our psyches, we must carefully chose our images and the messages they convey. Pictures speak to our hearts and our guts, as well as to our minds. In addition, it is harder to obscure the message of an image. As we have seen in feminist and other contemporary analyses of history and religion, words can be mistranslated, either deliberately or as a result of cultural prejudice or political manipulation. Pictures, however, speak directly to us.

In preparing this book I had two primary criteria for choosing images: visual impact and cross-cultural perspective. Of course, limitations of time, money and accessibility have also been determining factors. For example, I have found hardly any Goddess art from South America, as little archeological research has been done there. However, we have many riches from the famous Machu Picchu complex in Peru which was a temple for priestesses.

There are many important Goddesses and revealing works of Goddess art which I have not included, as I sought, among the images available to me, those best able to convey the broad range of the Goddess’s beauty, power and sensuality. The sensuality of these images is important, for the Goddess is life-affirming and life-celebrating. It would be safe to say that almost all of these works were created by people whose senses were far more developed than ours generally are. Imagine the heightened sensuality associated with this art: What might be the colors, smells, tastes and sounds surrounding each image? What ceremonies and celebrations?

Each one of the images in this book is a treasure, a piece of sacred art. Thousands of devotees have stood before each of these works. Most are from cultures where what we call the spiritual is not separate from the everyday. This is not art as we know it, only to be looked at, studied or examined, and these images are not just abstract symbols. This is art that has been lived with, danced with, sung to, caressed, had earth and colors and fluids rubbed into it.

That so many of the ancient works have survived the centuries and millennia is a miracle. Think of how easy it is to break a piece of pottery or how awed we are by a piece of china that might have belonged to one of our grandmothers. Imagine how many more of these Goddesses there must have been, even in populations much smaller than today’s. Consider that each of these images represents hundreds, perhaps thousands of other such figures which have been destroyed or are buried in museum vaults.

It is even more remarkable that these works and the reverence for the Goddess they embody have remained intact throughout generations of patriarchy. Only recently has the art of primal cultures—that is, of most of the world—been accepted into Euro-Western museums. These cultures, living closely to the Earth, generally honor the Sacred Feminine more than do industrialized societies. In North America, Native American peoples and cultures were destroyed so quickly and thoroughly that much of their art has been lost. In Africa, female power and pre-patriarchal African culture were eroded by the onslaughts of Christianity, Islam, colonialism and slavery.

Some of the more blatant examples of sexism occur in mislabeling images. Here I think of the many complex Great Goddesses, honored for millennia, now labeled simply “fertility figures.” Or the figure, most likely a priestess dressed in a magnificent headdress and a short kilt, with bells on her ankles, a staff in one hand, a tambourine in another and a whistle in her mouth, who is described in a major text as “a dancer wearing gaudy clothes.” Given that we are dependent on the personal and institutionalized biases of collectors, museums, scholars and publishers, the fact that female figures predominate in many old European, African and precolumbian American collections reflects the importance of women and the Goddess throughout human existence.

In the text, I have sought to bring alive the historical, anthropological, mythological, psychological and spiritual background of each piece. The historical and anthropological material serves to ground each image: It is important to realize that these works come from real people in real cultures who have lived and thrived on this planet. However, I have found that, in some cases, scholars disagree about some of the most basic facts. In the face of this, it has been important to me to be as factual as possible, while at the same time including my own intuitive understanding of each piece, which is based on long years of study and association.


Pre-Columbian priestess, Remojadas, 200-500 c.e.
Pre-Columbian priestess, Remojadas, 200-500 c.e.

In addition to showing powerful images, it was equally important to me to show the breadth of Goddess art. The number of similar images which reappear in cultures separated by thousands of miles as well as thousands of years is remarkable.

Most of the excellent current Goddess research has focused on Europe and the Near East. And yet all of us, no matter what our racial or spiritual heritage (for some of us, in an effort to find a sustainable spirituality, have adopted new paths), have spiritual and blood ancestors who revered the Goddess. She is an important part of the heritage of every person on the planet. In our search for roots and connection to the past, these images from our ancestors can impart stability and wisdom to us.

Research from every continent indicates that, from roughly 30,000 to 3000 b.c.e., women and the Goddess were honored. Most of these cultures were highly developed technologically and artistically, and some existed in peace for at least one thousand years. Women and men lived in partnership rather than domination.* Much of this art was made by peoples who honored women as the creators of life, primary providers of food, builders, artisans, healers, priestesses and leaders.

In most gathering and hunting cultures, women provide eighty percent (and the more stable portion) of the food supply. Many authorities now believe that women discovered agriculture and the healing power of herbs in their gathering activities. In Europe, it is likely that women also created many of the beautiful cave paintings, for the implements used for the paintings, as well as the hand imprints which appear on the cave walls, are the right size for the skeletons of the women and children of the time. Women, as the inventors of pottery, weaving and many other arts, are often the creators of the sacred art included here.

This passage from Heinrich Loth’s Woman In Ancient Africa describes a representative example of the change in status that both the Goddess and women have undergone around the world:

When the transition from the original, primitive [sic] religions to belief in several gods took place the “Great Mother” lost her throne, but women as givers of life retained for a long time an important position of equal privilege which was supported by the collective consciousness of the peoples. . .even in places where matrilinearity had been replaced by patrilinearity the original matrilinear organization was still discernable in myths, religious beliefs, customs and traditions (e.g., in the myths about Creation, sagas about the origins of the tribes, the Ultimate Mother, and even in the myths concerning kings.)

Although there are many valuable theories, no one knows why such a great shift occurred on our planet from peaceful, earth-loving cultures to those of the dominator, exploitative mode. Yet here we are, and we must change our course or we will destroy ourselves and the rest of earthly life with us. Throughout the past five thousand years of patriarchy, dedicated, visionary and brave souls have kept the Goddess, her traditions and her values alive. At this point in time, the Sacred Feminine in both women and men is the peacemaking impetus on the planet, the protector of life. The world is more ready for her than it has been for millennia and more in need of her than it has been for all of human existence.

This book represents peoples of the world who respect the Sacred Feminine, especially those who still honor the cycles of life and the planet. None of the cultures represented here is perfect and virtually all from 3000 b.c.e. to the present have overlays of patriarchy and its attendant ills: sexism, racism, colonialism, classism and homophobia. Yet all of these societies, as far as I have been able to determine—and here I am joined by many scholars—have their roots in matristic, Goddess-honoring cultures and retain some invaluable traditions. **


When I speak of the Goddess or the Sacred Feminine, I speak of a very simple yet complex concept. Ultimately, I see the Goddess as incorporating the full spectrum of existence, not just what we call “the feminine.” The latter is actually a construct of a culture that divides existence into compartments, and in particular into the dualities with which we are so familiar: light/dark, female/male, mind/body. earth/spirit and so on.

Sarvabuddha Dakini. Nepal. c. 18th century c.e.
Sarvabuddha Dakini. Nepal. c. 18th century c.e.

The true nature of existence, including true human nature, I believe, is not so split. Acting and living from the integration of all these components is what I call spirituality. Thus, the Goddess us, all of existence, are the Divine. In order to complete this whole by bringing back that which has been denied, I name the Divine the Goddess.

Paradoxically, we must use the limited language of our culture in order to free ourselves from its confines. Thus, the Goddesses included here often do represent what we call “the feminine,” those parts of the whole which are missing in our dominant culture: nurturance, cooperation, compassion, sensuality, peacemaking and egalitarianism. What is different about the Goddess is that these qualities do not preclude others, such as power, fierceness or rationality—attributes which our dualistic worldview relegates to “the masculine” but which are also part of these Goddesses.

The Goddess also contains within her qualities which, along with the power of women, our patriarchal societies have denied and suppressed: emotions, particularly passionate ones, the body, and the earthly cycles of death and rebirth. These aspects of life have been attributed to the Dark Goddesses, and—along with the Earth, women and people of color—have been feared by the dominant Euro-Western culture. Yet the Dark Goddesses represent vital energies which we must reclaim if we are to live full and harmonious lives. When we honor these Goddesses, great benefits come to us, for they embody long-neglected riches.

Sometimes people ask me if these cultures have God images and myths as well. The answer is yes. While I feel strongly that life-affirming male images and myths are essential for our well-being, I have chosen to emphasize the Goddess because she and the values she represents have been so neglected in our culture, in both women and men. This choice is sometimes labeled “reverse sexism,” and yet it really is a matter of just completing the picture. We are so unbalanced that my guess is we could all focus exclusively on the Goddess for the next few centuries, and maybe by then we would have come back into balance.

What does the Goddess represent to us at this point in time? She is love combined with power, creating the potential for a more powerful love and a more loving power. She is honesty and compassion. She is also joy and love of life, particularly life as we experience it through the Earth and her cycles. We live in a beautiful physical world, and in order to survive in it and fulfill our birthright of enjoying ourselves here, we must reclaim the Goddesses and myths which celebrate life and its cycles.

What does the Goddess represent to us at this point in time? She is love combined with power, creating the potential for a more powerful love and a more loving power. She is honesty and compassion. She is also joy and love of life, particularly life as we experience it through the Earth and her cycles. We live in a beautiful physical world, and in order to survive in it and fulfill our birthright of enjoying ourselves here, we must reclaim the Goddesses and myths which celebrate life and its cycles.

As I worked with the images I had collected for my classes, I saw that they fell into three categories: creation, including birth, nurturance, and the abundance of the natural world; transformation, meaning physical death and rebirth as well as the metaphorical deaths and rebirths of trance and descent to the underworld; and celebration, encompassing sexuality, sensuality and creativity. The unity of birth, growth, death and rebirth are the basis of the Goddess’s teachings. We see them daily in the cycles of night and day, waking and sleeping, creating and letting go.

The Goddess is she who gives life and, when the form is no longer viable, transforms it through death. And then, through the exquisite pleasures of creativity and sexuality, she brings forth new life. All of us experience these cycles. They are what unite us in our human existence, and yet our ability to accept and work with them has been severely restricted in most patriarchal cultures, in which power means power-over, or coercion. In its place, we call for a power which expresses the innate lifeforce of co-creation.


Myths are transmitted by story, art and ritual. They provide us with a cosmology and a value system. They are also a form of condensed history, summarizing centuries of social, political and economic change in one story. Because they are alive, there are many versions of these stories, and they may vary from person to person. However, they are always important teaching devices which transmit the values of a culture, changing to meet the needs of the people.

Native American writer Jamake Highwater cites the Jungian philosopher Edward F. Edinger on the relationship between Western mythology and our survival: “. . .because Western culture no longer has viable, functioning myth, [it] therefore has no basis to affirm life.” If one considers the traditional and popular mythology of Euro-Western culture, one can see that it is focused on unnatural destruction, including the denigration of women, who are the source of life.

Myths and rituals evolve from a particular time, place and people. They cannot be transposed from one culture to another. However, we can learn from one another’s example. We must explore life-supporting world myths as well as create new ones, if we are to survive. In evoking a viable mythology for our times, it is important that we look to the past and to other cultures with respect, honor that which may be healing for our particular time and situation, and create new myths and deities to teach us how to ensure our physical and spiritual survival.

As I pointed out in my first book, Womanspirit, temporal power and spiritual power are inextricably intertwined. Spirituality is that state in which all of our actions and beliefs are integrated with one another, and this relationship recognized. The values we hold directly influence our behavior and how we structure our institutions. Time and again, myths associate women’s loss of temporal power with their loss of sacred art and spiritual power.

In stories from the Kono of Guinea and the Kalabari of Nigeria, for example, women originally held the power through possession of ceremonial masks, which they lost to the men. It is the same in the Djanggawo creation myth of the Australian Aborigines, in which the two sisters are the most prominent figures until they leave their sacred objects unguarded and their brother and his companions steal them. Both the Africans known as Pygmies and peoples of the Amazon region in South America say that women used to own the sacred musical instruments, which were given to them by the deities. In each case, the men stole the instruments and thereby subjected the women; now women are threatened with death if they so much as look at these objects. By meditating on the art of the Goddess, singing her songs and saying her prayers, we can begin to reclaim her mythic power.


Goddess with Sky Bar, Chiapas, classic Maya, 7th century c.e.
Goddess with Sky Bar, Chiapas, classic Maya, 7th century c.e.

I feel it is essential that we learn from one another’s art and traditions if we are to live peacefullyand prosperously together and cooperate in healing the planet’s environmental crisis. In the process
of doing this book, I have become aware on a far deeper level of how much we share with one another and with other forms of life on Earth. Yet we humans are now threatening not only our own existence, but that of the millions of other species on the planet.

In fact, at the current rate of destruction, which is attributable directly to human actions, approximately forty-five species a day become extinct. If we do not make drastic changes in our lifestyles, within the next decade we will lose such animals as the African elephant, and within fifty years, all of the Earth’s remaining tropical rainforests will be gone. These figures are hard to believe and yet we must believe them, because they reflect the truth about the effects of patriarchal cultures on the planet.

Women have long been associated with—and controlled along with—the body and the rest of the natural world. Our desecration of the body of the Goddess is a direct result of our separation from Nature and the teachings of the Goddess that all of life is interrelated and sacred. One of the most popular environmental concepts is that of the Earth as a living organism, named Gaia after the Greek Earth Goddess. Many people are awakening to something primal peoples have always known, which is that we cannot drain Gaia’s resources without destroying ourselves and other forms of life. Significantly, a key element in the Earth’s survival, the Amazon rainforest, is named after the Mediterranean women warriors who were the last holdouts against the patriarchal Indo-European culture. Indeed, the tales of the Amazon River basin itself, as well as of other parts of the world, speak of tribes of strong women who lived independently from men. At this point, Gaia and the Amazon, and thus all life on our planet, are threatened. It is clear that in order to save ourselves—not to mention fulfill our true potential—we must honor Nature, the Goddess and women.

My hope is that this book will help us find ways to respect our diversity as we learn from and are enriched by all our traditions and symbols of the Sacred Feminine. Certainly the Goddess, who represents earthly life, unites us all.


As I have mentioned, we are faced with the problem of using the language of a patriarchal tradition which has destroyed or distorted all the cultures represented in this book. We must use this same language to describe the values and practices of these peoples and their Goddesses. The English language is quite rich in technical terms, yet poor in spiritual ones. Any translation can only be an approximation of the true meaning and power of the original language, especially when spoken in a ceremonial context as part of the life cycles of a whole culture. I have done my best to be respectful of each tradition, yet I recognize there is an inherent problem. My prayer is that this work will help heal the wounds.

The term “Goddess” is not used by all of the cultures represented here. Some of these images represent Ancestors, Spirits or other beings who are revered as greatly as Goddesses are in other cultures. I have chosen to use the word Goddess because it is the term which conveys the most power in the English language. By “Goddess” I mean the life force, both physical and non-physical; in other words, “all that is.” As I have said earlier, I use a female word because we have suppressed the Sacred Feminine to such a degree that we have lost touch with the true nature of existence.

I avoid the use of the terms “worship” or “Goddess-worshiping,” as I feel they perpetuate the idea of a divinity who exists only outside ourselves. I have used the words “honor,” “revere” and “respect” instead.

Because these Goddesses and their images and myths are alive as long as they are thought about, looked at and spoken of, I use the present tense in describing them. Instead of the exclusively Christian orientation of dating, I use the terms b.c.e. (before common era) and c.e. (common era) in place of b.c. and a.d.

I have written this book for both women and men. In the rare instances that I use the third person singular pronoun, I have chosen to say “she” and “her.”

I am indebted to Jamake Highwater for the use of the term “primal” rather than “primitive,” which has negative connotations inapplicable to the dignity and wealth of the cultures comprising most of human existence. It was Native American scholar Carol Lee Sanchez’s writing which introduced me to the term “Euro-Western,” which points out the ethnocentricity of the more commonly used term “Western.” Many peoples of the Western Hemisphere are not primarily of European descent and have worldviews and practices which are very different from what is generally implied by the term “Western.”

At times I speak of African, European, Native American, Oceanic, Arctic or Asian cultures or Goddesses. Of course, these are large areas and I try to be specific both geographically and culturally whenever my sources permit. From a worldwide perspective, sometimes important themes of a particular continent or broad region appear; focusing on this larger context is not meant to diminish in any way the rich variety of cultures within each area.


To me, and I hope to you, these images are alive and have much to teach us about living healthfully and in balance. For those who wish to bring the Goddess into their daily lives, I have included excerpts from traditional materials and created original prayers and meditations which are designed to evoke the qualities of a particular Goddess. It is important that we not just learn about the Goddesses, but that we invoke them and learn directly from them. These meditations and prayers are simply suggestions, and I urge you to adapt them to fit your own situation and needs. It will probably be easiest to read through a meditation before doing it. You might want to tape your favorites so that you can be more free to follow them.

With each image, imagine living in a culture in which these Goddesses are a part of everyday life. Picture them in public places or in your living room, or that you make offerings to them daily, as peoples have done throughout time.

One of art’s most potent teachings can be gained by assuming the posture of a figure. I call this “somatic research.” Often our minds, conditioned and indoctrinated as they have been, can prevent us from perceiving the truth; sometimes our bodies can tell us more.

I encourage you to take the pose of a Goddess in order to find out more about her and the qualities she conveys. If this is physically difficult for you, do as much as you can, or use your imagination instead. Try moving as she might move, speaking what she might say. This posture might be as simple as the hand gesture of Diana of Ephesus or as complex as the pose of Vajravarahi. Let yourself become her, and let her become you.

It is especially powerful to do the above exercise in front of a mirror, for seeing yourself in the pose of the Goddess usually adds a new dimension to your awareness of your body’s potential. We are all part of the Divine, and the art in this book embodies this knowledge. As you begin to assume the poses of these images and notice how you feel, move, act and speak from that place, you will remember parts of your true nature which have been lost. You will receive a direct transmission from the Sacred Feminine.

I suggest choosing one Goddess and working with her for a full week or season, spending time every day looking at her image, reading her story and/or doing a meditation on her. These creations have special meanings for each one of us and each of us will have a particular relationship to them. You will develop your own way of deepening your connection with these many aspects of the Sacred Feminine. You can work with different Goddesses at different times, or choose a sequence other than the one presented here. Your favorites will change as you change, depending on what energy is foremost in your life.

Here is a suggested program for a week’s Goddess work. You could also choose to do this all in one session or as part of a group practice. I have used as an example my own work with the Great Goddess of Laussel, which I did at a time of great loss in my life.

Day 1: Contemplate the image and read the accompanying text.

Day 2: Set up a sacred place for this Goddess’s image. Surround her with symbols of her qualities that are important to you. (For the Great Goddess of Laussel, I arrange around her image a moonstone for the lunar cycles and a pumpkin to represent the fullness of her harvest.)

Day 3: Do the meditation, take the pose of the Goddess and/or make up an affirmation for yourself that relates to her teachings for you. (I place my hands on my belly and spend ten minutes focusing on my center. I affirm that I will honor my cycles of rest and activity, emptiness and fullness.)

Day 4: Draw or mold this image. Let yourself be inspired by the Goddess so that you can create without judging your work.

Day 5: Imagine actually being in the presence of this sacred art. Interact with her through words and/or actions. (I imagine that I curl up in the Great Goddess of Laussel’s lap. I feel her abundance. She tells me that her waxing and waning are part of the cosmic flow and that it is fruitless to resist them. I find myself focusing on the abundance in my life and not just my loss.)

Day 6: Make up a prayer to her, asking that she come into your life. (“Great Goddess of Laussel, keeper of the mysteries, help me to learn how to be patient with the ebb and flow of life. Come to me to remind me of the turning of the cycles, that I will not despair in the hard times.”)

Day 7: Create a ritual to activate this Goddess’s energy in your life. (I walk through my house, stopping to acknowledge symbols of the different aspects of my life, remembering the richness of my life, naming my blessings and giving thanks.)

Certainly just looking at these images and allowing them to become part of your life will be extremely beneficial. They will heal you, inspire you and impart to you their wisdom and saving grace. The more you work with them, the more the Goddess will grow in your life. To facilitate this process, I have listed those who have influenced my thinking as references for further study of each Goddess.

I have also listed organizations in the Resources section which you can contact to help protect the rights of indigenous peoples and support the survival of the Earth herself. Give to them in your prayers and in your actions—time, money and energy. For instance, if you receive great inspiration from the Goddess Tara, send aid to Tibetan refugees and/or write letters to world leaders in support of human rights in Tibet. If you experience Spider Grandmother guiding you, work for Native Americans’ rights to regain and keep their lands. We are privileged to share in the works of so many peoples from different parts of the world. The essence of the Goddess’s teachings is that we are all interconnected. Please remember the cultures and the places that have given us these precious works.


If you focus enough on the Goddess, it is almost as if she begins to notice you and takes you under her wing. She gradually begins to reveal herself in all her complexity, and sometimes in unexpected ways. This is an ongoing process, spiraling to deeper and deeper levels, always continuing.

As you spend time with these Goddesses and allow them to become part of your daily life, you will come more and more to embody the Sacred Feminine and complete your whole self. Let the Goddesses come into your meditations, your dreams, your work and the faces of people around you. You will begin to recognize and acknowledge the Goddess in your life and become fertile soil for her to grow in. Give her plenty of water, light and food and you will find yourself transformed by what grows inside you. You will have become the Goddess.

* Examples of these long-lasting peaceful cultures are Old Europe, Minoan Crete, Catal Huyuk and the Cycladic culture.

** For further background, see the bibliography. For a general overview, see Riane Eisler’s The Chalice and the Blade, Merlin Stone’s When God Was A Woman and Ancient Mirrors of Womanhood, and Monica Sjoo and Barbara Mor’s The Great Cosmic Mother. For Native America, Paula Gunn Allen’s The Sacred Hoop; for Africa, Henri Loth’s Woman in Ancient Africa; for Hinduism, Ajit Mookerjee’s Kali: The Feminine Force; for Buddhism, Tsultrim Alliones Women of Wisdom; for Europe, Marija Gimbutas’s Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe and The Language of the Goddess. For practical ways of implementing some of these traditions in your daily life, see the exercises in my book, Womanspirit: A Guide to Women’s Wisdom.


The ancient Akkadians wrote that the Goddess known as Mami pinched off fourteen pieces of clay, and making seven of them into women and seven of them into men, She placed life upon the earth. The Dahomeans said that the Goddess known as Mawu built the mountains and the valleys, put the sun in the sky, and placed life upon the earth She had made. Chinese texts record that the Goddess known as Nu Kwa patched the earth and the heavens, when they had been shattered, and thus restored harmony and balance to the universe. In Mexico the Goddess known as Coatlicue lived high upon a mountain, in a misty cloud, and there She gave birth to the moon, the sun, and all other deities. Hesiod wrote that the Goddess known as Gaia gave birth to heaven, and mating with heaven, She brought forth the other deities. Sumerian texts tell us that the Goddess known as Nammu was called upon as the mother who gave birth to heaven and earth, and that She supervised the creation of all life by Her daughter Ninmah. In Egyptian hieroglyphics, it was written that the Goddess known as Au Sept was the oldest of the old, She from whom all becoming came forth. Indian records say that if the Goddess known as Devi were to close Her eyes even for a second, the entire universe would disappear.
—The Birth Symbol by Max Allen

Art, Myth and Meditations of the World's Sacred Feminine