A European muses on goddesses

I have a significant birthday coming up soon, so I’ve been thinking about awarding myself an extra middle name. In the UK this is easily done. All you need to do is organise a deed poll and send certified copies to the places that require your full legal identity.

I may not go ahead with it. I’m put off by the thought of adding an extra layer of paperwork to my life for the sake of a name few people would ever see.

My legal names are all very conventionally Christian European. I could celebrate four saints days if I really wanted to. So I fancied adding something different, such as a colour or nature word. I love names like Bear, Tiger, and Indigo.

Then, I don’t know where this idea came from, I started looking at goddess names. I thought what better statement of female independence could there be than that? Like many women in early middle age I recognise that I was far too meek and mild in my younger days. I deserve a fierce goddess name. (We’ll forget that Louise means warrior. I already have a strong name.)

The first goddess name I looked at was Astarte. She was major league rocking awesome Middle Eastern deity. The Jewish Women’s Archive provides a summary of all the times Astarte is mentioned in Jewish Holy Scripture. It says that some Israelites were attracted to worshipping her, and that this was firmly condemned by those loyal to the God of Abraham.

In the end Astarte seemed too risky to me. I didn’t want to pick something that expressed such defiance towards the Church.

A friend suggested Minerva, the goddess of wisdom. The sound of the name is less attractive to me than Astarte. And, as Minerva is better known, her name is found on an awful lot of hotels and spas and pearl wearing little old ladies.

But, I felt I should look into Minerva in more depth. It didn’t take much googling before I learnt that Minerva is a far more culturally adaptable figure than Astarte. In Europe she has been associated with God’s Holy Wisdom, she’s been a popular personification of art and learning, and she’s been blended with other local goddesses. In Roman Britain she was syncretised with Sulis, Senuna, and Brigantia.

I have no difficulty thinking of Minerva as a spiritual expression of God’s Holy Wisdom. I quite like doing so. I wonder if there is something in my spiritual makeup that needs female representations of the Divine.

The Jewish Women’s Archive suggests that the Israelites were drawn to Astarte because their religion was overwhelmingly male. Christianity is the same. Unless you feel a particular devotion to Mary, the Mother of God, the female element in the faith is underwhelming. And even then, Mary isn’t the Divine, she’s the girl who said yes to God.

I went to a Hindu Temple devoted to the Mother Goddess once and felt a sense of rightness that I’d not picked up on in the Church. I blathered about it to a Hindu man who probably had no idea what I was going on about.

There’s a lot to admire in Hinduism.

Some forms of Hinduism are monotheist and treat the many gods and goddesses as expressions of the one God. I wonder how many of the gods and goddesses of old Europe could be interpreted in the same way. Is a specifically European multi-deity but monotheistic form of worship possible?

As far as I know, there is more than one approach to polytheistic religion. You may believe that the gods and goddesses are individual fully fledged deities with human characteristics such as gender, blood relatives, and personality flaws. Or you may see their stories as a kind of language that expresses the singular Divine in a way that people can access at different levels. (By different levels I mean we all access religious stories in ways that are appropriate for how we are. I tend to see religious stories as very human responses to the Divine. Another person might see them as esoteric codes or literal accounts.)

I’m wondering about this because there are many Europeans who are attached to monotheism and ancient stories but who struggle to belong in the Abrahamic faiths.

It would be nice if they could have access to a monotheism that is both reassuringly old and culturally “local” (therefore avoiding cultural appropriation and ransacking indigenous people’s spiritualities) and defined by the Golden Rule. Many people want God but dislike organised religion. They can still have stories.

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