In the early 1900s a statue of a round, curvy woman, known as the Goddess of Willendorf, or the Venus of Willendorf, was discovered in Austria. It was found that this figurine was created between 23,000 and 26,000 years ago.
The figurine is an acknowledgment that once upon a time, women were greatly honored for their ability to not only give life but to nurture and care for others.
Most cultures have rich folklore associated with Mother Goddesses, and in fact, there is evidence that the mother goddess was honored long before any organized patriarchal based religion came into being.
In fact, the pull toward the Great Mother is so strong, that it is believed that the modern day admiration of the mother of Jesus is a carry over from Isis worship, when this mother goddess was depicted as a woman breastfeeding a baby.
Most modern day women, whose lives are filled with work, stress and difficulties, may find it difficult to imagine that their female counterparts in another time were honored for simply being women. But even these ancient goddesses had to persevere through their own difficulties.
This Welsh goddess was courted for a year and a day by Pwyll, the lord of the land of Dyfed. Pwyll, in his great love for Rhiannon, goes through several trials to win her hand, after which, they are married. However, his love is tested when Rhiannon later gives birth to their son.
She gave birth on May eve, and after a long, difficult delivery, falls asleep. Her hand maids also fall asleep, and when they awaken the next morning they see the child is gone. Fearful of the wrath of Rhiannon, they kill a dog, smear the blood on Rhiannon and claim she killed the child in the night.
Lord Pwyll, who loves his wife, is torn between Rhiannon’s testimony that she did not kill their child, and the evidence of the blood and stories of the hand maids.
Finally, he agrees to punish her (rather than have her put to death) by having her carry every visitor to the castle on her back like horse for a period of seven years. In her loneliness and despair, Rhiannon submits, and dutifully and patiently carries out her sentence.
After a couple of years, a farmer comes to Dyfed, with a young boy who looks just like Pwyll. He tells Rhiannon that a couple of years ago, on May eve, he’d been chasing a demon who was trying to steal his horse, and stumbled across the baby. The child, now returned to Pwyll, restored Rhiannon to her rightful place at Pwyll’s side.
Inanna was the Sumerian goddess who descended into the Underworld to attend the funeral of her sister’s husband. Her sister, Erishkegal, however, did not believe that Inanna’s motives were pure, and condemned her to death, and then hung her lifeless body on a hook.
At the gate of the Underworld, however, stood Inanna’s friend, Ninshubur, who had been instructed to get help if Inanna did not return in three days time. Ninshubur turned to the god Enki for help. He created two creatures to go into the Underworld to fetch Inanna, but they first had to get past the angry Erishkegal, who was in labor.
As Erishkegal lay writhing on the floor, crying out in pain, the two creatures reflected her, and with each cry of “Oh, my womb is tearing open,” they would respond “Oh, your womb is tearing open!” Erishkegal was so moved by their attention to her (it is very lonely being an Underworld goddess) that she granted them a favor. They asked for the return of Inanna, but were told that Inanna must send someone to replace her in the Underworld.
Inanna returned home to find her two sons grieving for her. Then she found her husband, Dumuzi, laughing it up and partying even though his wife had been dead.
Guess who took her place in the Underworld!
Rhiannon’s story is a reminder of the inner power and fortitude that resides inside everyone, and that to endure through difficulties is to gain humility and strength.
Inanna’s story is a reminder that sometimes you cannot do it on your own, and must ask for help when you need it. It’s as important to receive as it is to give.
The ancient goddesses dealt with far more than any person should ever have to, and you may find that you have much more in common with them than you thought. Honor your own inner goddess by seeing the Great Mother in all things and everyone.
short or tall,
the Mother lives
within us all.