I’m concerned about the growing interest in and glorification of "warrior goddesses." I worry that if we continue down this road we’ll end up with the patriarchal God-in-a-skirt. Turning towards Goddess is more than a change of gender in deity – it is a change in understanding of the sacred that is related to a change in social structure. Yet here are just a few examples of what’s out there advocating for the "warrior goddess":
– "The Goddess Speaks...Feeling Overwhelmed? Engage Your Inner Warrior Goddess," a Feb. 2005 column by Christine Thomas on the ezine Weed Wanderings
– "Goddess Anat: Warrior Virgin of the Ancient Levant," an article by scholar Johanna H. Stuckey in the ezine, Matrifocus, Samhain 2003.
– a book about fighting breast cancer called, Waking the Warrior Goddess
– "Warrior Goddess" workouts and bellydances
– a Jan. 29, 2007 post on the writing blog, "Affairs of the Pen," called "Warrior Goddess," about how She inspires the author.
I want to make clear I’m not criticizing these publications or writers. In fact, that several of them are fine publications and writers is part of what makes this so disconcerting. I’m seeing a trend here and asking, what’s going on?!
A few weeks ago, I left a comment on a post on Radical GoddessThealogy, in which Athana wrote: "Big Daddy War God aka ’The-Lord-Is-a-Warrior’* isn’t cutting it. We need Mother Goddess to sweep back and calm us down." In my comment, I expressed my concern that
"affection for ‘warrior goddesses....calling some goddesses "warrior" goddesses may be related to the political reglorification (in the US) of war, soldiers, etc.Athana replied (excerpted):
...war goddesses....sprang up when the War Gods did. Formerly peaceful goddesses were turned into backers of war. Examples: Athena, Astarte, Andraste among the Celts, Neith and Sekhmet in Egypt, Bellona and Minerva in Rome, Inanna in Sumer, Freyja among the Norse -- all were invented or transformed by the new War God peoples who swept over the world around 3000 BC....Athana’s right. Here is more on what happened with specific Goddesses often referred to as "warrior goddesses":
An excerpt from Patricia Monaghan’s book, Goddesses & Heroines tells how the identity of Athena was changed from its original, in which she was a Minoan or Mycedaen household goddess symbolizing "family bond" and connected to "the mild serpent." The Greeks adopted her and adapted her mythology and identity to make her, among other things, a war goddess. For the excerpt from Monaghan’s book, go here.
Brigid Brigit, Brighid (Celtic)
You can find the language claiming She is a warrior goddess on this site. (it’s repeated almost word for word on a number of other sites, so it must be true, right?). Ah, but here is a more accurate account of Brigit as protector rather than warrior.
Well known today as a "warrior goddess," she also was transformed from her original persona. Originally she was a mountain Goddess associated with the Himalyas and or/the Vindhyas. By the 4th Century BCE she was shown killing an buffalo and then she becomes a warrior goddess The Goddess Kali is a mythological offshoot of Durga’s anger. But according to Patricia Monaghan in Goddesses & Heroines, even in war, Durga is not an aggressor, but rather a defender against evil.
This quote is from "Celtic Woman: Myth and Symbol" . No author is given but it appears to be a university student group project completed in 1998:
....The story of Macha is an instructive example of the "fall" of the Celtic goddess and in some sense the fall of the Celtic woman....The king...in this story, violated the promises he made [to Macha and to women] and instead of being overthrown, is permitted to continue his reign with no apparent resistance from his constituents. This portrayal of Macha is actually the last of three major cycles. In the first she is a brilliant, strong mother-goddess. In the second she is a helpless (but wise) wife, and the third she is relegated to an existence of shame and forced to abandon her life-giving gifts, adapting to the new warrior ethos.... the war-goddess appears to develop as a result of the change in Celtic society to one of violence....As far as I know the first publication showing how Goddesses were "transformed" to fit in with patriarchal paradigms, including being war-like, is the 1987 Crossing Press pamphlet Matriarchal Mythology in Former Times and Today by Heide Gottner-Abendroth (published first in the Journal Trivia, #7, 1985.) If you can somehow get a hold of this, look especially at Table 2: Transformations of Matriarchal Mythology. I believe Gottner-Abendroth is working on a multi-volume work (some volumes now available in German) so maybe there will be more from her on this. (If anyone knows more about this, please leave a comment.) A well-known work on the early characteristics of goddesses (and gods) is Marija Gimbutas’ The Language of the Goddess. And Riane Eisler’s The Chalice and the Blade details the change of both society and deities from being cooperative, peaceful, and matrifocal to being war-like, authoritarian, and woman-oppressive.
Macha evolves into a warrior-goddess...simultaneously the status of women decline in societies...where emphasis is placed on death and bloodlust rather than on life and respect for death....Goddesses were becoming as violent as the society that "created" them. They were raped, murdered and often died in child birth....
But, I can just hear some of you saying or thinking, goddesses are not only nurturing fertility figures, goddesses are strong. Their strength is sometimes shown in their ability to fight and protect. Yes, I agree. What I have a problem with is using the term "war" or "warrior" to describe these traits and abilities.
Commenting on an article in August 2002 article in The Beltane Papers, "Walking the Warrior’s Path," in which Dr. Galina Krasskova refers to meanings in other languages to justify using "warrior goddess" in English, Suzette Haden Elgin, Ph. D. (linquistics) in Religious Language Newsletter writes:
"Warrior" is not just a metaphor that has grown dim with centuries of use; it's not like "breakfast." We don't say "break" and then "fast," we say "BREHKfust"; the word "fast" meaning to refrain from eating is uncommon in ordinary English; there's another word "fast" meaning "quick," and so on. "Warrior" is very different -- it's just plain "war," said as we always say "war," plus the "do-er/maker" morpheme, and there's no way to remove that semantic content from the word. Which means that using it activates the whole English semantic domain of battlefield combat telling you that your responsibility is to get out there and WIN, never mind what you have to do to accomplish the victory, as long as the war is just. The Christian soldier marching as to war has that semantic content to deal with, no matter how noble the "path of the warrior" may be in non-English-speaking cultures and languages. For speakers of English to choose The Warrior as their spiritual metaphor is, in my opinion, a serious error.I agree with Elgin. Yes, we want to envision goddess(es) as full personalities, not limited to being ‘fertility symbols’. Yes, Goddesses are strong and assertive. They are definitely protectors, defenders, and guardians. But they are not belligerent and bellicose. They aren’t initial aggressors; they don’t authorize first strikes. My concern is that we are jumping on the war bandwagon, even though many of us are also involved in peace groups. I’d like us to be sensitive to the difference between being war-like (or liking war) and being able to defend ourselves and those close to us by being strong. Also, I think we need to be picky about which version of which Goddess in which era we venerate and emulate. (I’m suspicious of any imagery that originated after 3000 BCE–this definitely includes the classic Greek and Roman pantheons). Both the images and the words we use have power. Or as I think has been said elsewhere, you become what you love.
So let's call them what they are: goddesses of strength, protector goddesses, guardian goddesses, and even in some cases, healing goddesses. But you won't hear (or see) me invoking a Goddess because she's a "warrior." That word comes with too much negative baggage, is often based on patriarchal re-imaging, and really, it's just not what we mean.
TAGS:life warrior goddess spiritual feminism Pagan Goddess women and religion