In this blog post, I would like to take the opportunity to promote my new book, entitled: Goddess Lost: How the Downfall of Female Deities Degraded Women’s Status in World Cultures. This book makes the assertion that women must be educated about the history of goddess worship around the world in order to adopt a comprehensive spirituality that fits what it means to be a woman.
I wrote this book because I am the mother of two children, a son and a daughter, and during the wonderful process of raising them, I often found myself feeling bewildered, and sometimes angry, that mainstream society rarely, if ever, mentioned the long and vibrant history of goddess worship around the world, or the history of extraordinary women who often shaped many civilizations. I have taught world mythology for over twenty years, so it is clear to me that many cultures revered powerful, even supreme, goddesses for millennium. As I was exposed to mythic and historic texts throughout my years of teaching and research, I also began to see that these cultures that worshipped formidable goddesses often showed evidence of supporting powerful social roles for women. This became an illuminating experience for me. I realized that I felt angry that my children were not introduced in school or mainstream settings to much of anything that showed them evidence of women in the most powerful roles humanity can imagine—roles of divinity and/or heightened spirituality. I began to feel compelled to document the extensive history of the worship of divine women around the world in order to show a direct link between the imagining of sacred power in the hands of a goddess and the subsequent allowance for women to hold high social roles within religious and political settings.
Therefore, this book, which is broken down by the global regions of Europe, the Middle East, the Mediterranean, India, Asia, Africa, and the Americas and Oceania, looks at belief systems that revered goddesses in powerful and sometimes supreme roles, showing that when powerful goddesses were worshipped within many communities throughout history, women were often permitted to hold high-standing social positions, such as priestesses, warriors, or leaders. When these communities demoted or lost their reverence for formidable goddesses in place of a heightened worship of male deities and/or male spirituality, through moments of conquest, diffusion, colonization, etc., many women likewise lost elevated social and religious positions.
This book outlines the tactics that were historically used in civilizations around the world to restrict the power of once-revered goddesses. Mythology offers a plethora of material that shows goddesses purposefully being demoted into lesser positions of authority. Many myths articulate why once formidable goddesses lost their power, sometimes through violence. The Mesopotamian myth of Marduk and Tiamet, for example, shows the supreme Tiamet being slaughtered by her grandson Marduk, so that he can lead the pantheon. Other myths present stories of new goddesses who appear as remnants of once more powerful female divinities. For instance, in Greek and Indian mythology, once dominant earth mothers are separated into many lesser goddesses who hold subordinate positions to male deities. These lesser goddesses, like Hera, Aphrodite, Hestia, Lakshmi, Saraswati, Parvati, etc., possess qualities in line with patriarchal definitions of suitable feminine roles. Many religions and philosophies that still dominate the world today: Taoism, Confucianism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all historically incorporated the value of male divinity or spiritual authority as superior. For example, Semitic, Islamic, and Christian ideology revised goddess worship throughout much of the world, especially in times of conquest and colonization, as the strict ordinance that only one male divinity should be worshipped outright eliminated the reverence of primary and secondary goddesses in the belief systems of many cultures. In eradicating the worship of goddesses, or delineating the reverence of female sacrality to minor roles, these religions and philosophies subsequently often ostracized women from serving in sacred roles or envisioning themselves as heightened spiritual beings, and often led to innumerable social restrictions that kept women as subservient beings in many global cultures.
When “the realm to what is sacred and divine—what is often humanity’s highest and most important conceptions about life—is envisioned as the domain of men, women miss the ability to fully nurture their own spiritual growth…. Without examples of females in divine or sacred roles, women exist without sufficient role models for their spiritual and social potential” (McCoppin, Goddess Lost, 6). Thus, Goddess Lost: How the Downfall of Female Deities Degraded Women’s Status in World Cultures, this book argues that “Patriarchy, in part, continues to exist in contemporary cultures because of the lack of knowledge women hold about their once powerful role within many global belief systems. Looking at historical and mythological examples when goddesses were worshipped as supreme beings and when women served as social and religious leaders in their communities, can educate people about an alternative history than what is often perpetuated by patriarchal principles. This book, therefore, strives to teach women about their long history of sacred importance as shamans, priestesses, warriors, administrators, regents, queens, pharaohs, and even goddesses” (McCoppin, Goddess Lost, 7).
In documenting the formidable past of divine and human women in this book, I hope that I have done what I can to help my children, and future generations who may come across this book, believe that envisioning of divinity and spirituality must include femininity, so that no limits are conceptualized on what women can achieve.
Available to purchase on Amazon or McFarland Publishing
BIO: Rachel McCoppin, Ph.D. is a Professor of literature at the University of Minnesota Crookston. She has published the books: Goddess Lost: How the Downfall of Female Deities Degraded Women’s Status in World Cultures (McFarland 2023), The Ecological Heroes of Amerindian Mythology (Kendall-Hunt 2019), The Lessons of Nature in Mythology (McFarland 2015), and The Hero’s Journey and the Cycles of Nature (McFarland 2016). She has also published many scholarly articles in the areas of mythology and comparative literature. Her work has appeared in journals including: Symbiosis, Studies in American Humor, Studies in the Novel, World Literary Review, etc.and in many scholarly books published by Palgrave Macmillan, McFarland, Atlantic, Greenwood Press, etc.
13 thoughts on “Goddess Lost: How the Downfall of Female Deities Degraded Women’s Status in World Cultures by Rachel McCoppin, Ph.D”
Re-instating the Sacred Feminine as equal to her masculine counterpart would be the first step to restoring harmony and balance in our troubled world. We need to keep blending our voices toward achieving this. Thank you, Rachel.
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Agreed! Thanks for the thoughtful response and the call for further action!
Thank you for your scholarship on behalf of ourselves and all our children. More and more I’m noticing the great gap in scholarship and acceptance of women’s divinity and sovereignty for- let’s say, 30,000 years? This knowledge is missing most of all to me from the pulpit. Why isn’t this the stuff of divinity school? Recently I heard a hopeful young person say, “Some day women will be equal- for the first time.” Sorry, no, not for the first time. But maybe as a longed-for reclamation of the ancient past that many of us recall with all our very being.
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Anneline, thank you for the insightful response! I completely agree with everything you say here. It is remarkable to me that the history of divine women, and their spiritual authorities, is most often kept hidden, especially because it benefits us all to remember this sacred past.
Thank you also from me, for being a voice to call this feminine power back into our collective awareness!!!!
Thank you Eline!
“I have taught world mythology for over twenty years, so it is clear to me that many cultures revered powerful, even supreme, goddesses for millennium. As I was exposed to mythic and historic texts throughout my years of teaching and research….”
Like you I have a solid background in world mythology ( one gift that Jungians provide us with) and I have believed for many many years that until mythology is taught in schools we are going to miss the ‘big picture’ not just in relationship to women but in regard to how we reached the Earth crisis that we live now… these stories provide us with models for behavior – educate us about what divinity means and women’s roles in other cultures – can’t even imagine how knowing this might have affected me as a young woman. Myth science and art are all facts of the same whole… thanks for articulating the importance of the goddess in our lives.
Thanks for your comment here Sara! I actually love what you wrote about the need to teach world mythology, so that mythology can become a means to protect the environment. I believe that this is so true. So many world myths, as you indicated here, have one basic message that is connected to humanity’s need to revere the earth. If we do not share the myths that we as humans have embraced for thousands of years, we risk losing the essential wisdom they teach. I often feel the most important thing I can do as a teacher is just tell, or assign, a myth to a group of students. The myths always seem to impart their messages if they are just passed along.
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When I taught at university I used myths every time I could find a way to get one in.
Thank you, I just ordered your book, it seems quite relevant. There are numerous matriarchal societies living and thriving, in spite of patriarchy. I consider them remnants of the ancient pervasive matriarchy (goddess-worshiping, egalitarian, women-centered cultures).
Thank you so much for purchasing my book! I agree completely with what you wrote here. I do believe that many matriarchal societies that exist today are remnants of ancient communities that worshipped formidable, even supreme, goddesses. I even think that many of these existing communities show us a glimpse into the past when many communities such of these thrived.