The Creative Goddess
Updated: Mar 22
As we have just celebrated Mother's Day, I feel drawn to share a thought about a related subject – one of my favourites, the Ancient Great Mother, Triple Moon Goddess - like the Christian God a ‘three-in-one’ deity - which was imagined and worshipped by our ancestors, long before the advent of male gods.
Goddess culture once flourished all over Old Europe*, and beyond, up to about 2,000BC, and a prime example of Goddess culture at its most evolved, technologically advanced and influential can be seen in Ancient Crete.
This was a culture which preceded that of Classical Athens and endured for thousands of years. It boasted such technological advancements as hygienic plumbing (by which I means flushing loos), three storey buildings, written records, a calendar based upon patient astronomical observation, a central system of weights and measures, the game of Chess, registered trademarks, incredible art, design and high fashion, all of which was exported and copied far and wide. Most importantly of all this was an overwhelmingly peaceful and egalitarian society.
How do we know this? Well, there is not a single depiction of war or battle among its considerable artworks, and no investment in the technology of war. There are no fortified walls and no inaccessible locations chosen for defence. Burials show no hierarchy of men over women, or vice versa and no high-status chieftain burials. Dwellings are comfortable and of a standard.
This culture developed from Neolithic times on until it was finally destroyed with a combination of earthquakes and the coming of the Iron Age – a very different Age from the peaceful agrarian Goddess peoples. one which capitalised on fear, domination and violence, which was brought in in waves of invasions from peoples from the tough, desert steppes, who literally worshipped the sword. They brought with them a tough, judgemental, masculine god to ensure their victory. It is the age that we are arguably still in today.
If you find yourself sceptical that a Goddess society such as I have described on Crete really existed, or that it could have coincided with such a golden age of prosperity, pay attention to your scepticism It comes from our Iron Age paradigm of today.
There was still death and hardship, obviously, but something in the way these people operated was highly creative and peaceable, like the other agrarian Goddess cultures all around it at the time.
Nicholas Platon, writing in 1966, puts it like this:
“The fear of death was almost obliterated by the ubiquitous joy of living. The whole of life was pervaded by an ardent faith in the goddess Nature, the source of all creation and harmony. This led to a love of peace, a horror of tyranny and a respect for the law. Even among the ruling classes personal ambition seems to have been unknown; nowhere do we find the name of an author attached to a work of art nor a record of the deeds of a ruler.”
He also notes that “the important part played by women is discernible in every sphere.”
Of course, I am not relying solely on Platon’s words, but they represent someone speaking as they find, even though the idea of such a peaceable, creative society, full of high-status women, still has little traction in the mainstream view of history today. At the end of this article, I have put a brief bibliography of the most accessible works I have read on this subject.
Unfortunately, mainstream narratives can be relied upon to be slow to catch on to any evidence which challenges the paradigm we live in. This was a successful culture – one which Robert Graves points out in his book ‘The Greek Myths’ was ‘exported wholesale to Athens' - but for the strange changes and inversions to the stories told and the status of women as the masculine hero gained ascendancy with the hero Theseus, and the feminine became monstrous, a beast to be slayed. If you know anything about Ancient Athens you will know about the newly established patriarchy's overreaction to the millennnia of power women had hitherto held: respectable women were barely permitted to leave the house! The new order was clearly shaky enough to warrant such draconioan treatment!
The early chapters of Graves book are dedicated to illustration of the changing mythology of this time. Graves writes as a man also of his time – describing “women being the dominant sex and man her frightened victim” a clear example of dualistic thinking which came in later – the either or thinking we ascribe to today, but which did not exist when all was one in the Goddess, and for which we find no evidence in Ancient Crete.
There is likewise a narrative of human sacrifice in these early societies – yet the only actual evidence for this is confined to a single site, from very late in the culture, when already invasions and earthquakes were well under way. Our bloodthirsty culture likes to seek itself in the past, but this was a culture which worshipped life and creativity, not death, dominance and fear. Which culture is human sacrifice more likely to have come from and flourished in?
So, this is a fascinating subject – and I was excited when the Ashmolean in Oxford advertised their exhibition ‘Labyrinth’ which looks back to our Cretan forebears. Only it doesn’t really do this very effectively, in my opinion.
It offers some reproductions, some 3d printing, some actual artefacts, lots of maps and models and some computer games, but not a word on the extraordinary peaceable, equalitarian, creative society that it was, or what we can learn from it today. You’d be forgiven for missing the role women played in this society and its relevance on the world stage of the time. It offers a computerised imagining of the fearsome Minotaur, but not a lot of deep thought into what lay behind the myth. The exhibition is instead a product of our own culture, with a modishly heavy emphasis judging the evils of empire – although Crete was never part of the British empire – and adding no real meat to what a deeper understanding of what this culture could in fact mean for us today. It ignored, as far as I could tell, any of the research offered by those in the bibliography of this article.
I have to admit I was disappointed. Having travelled to places like the Delphi in recent years, and been unsurprised to see no reference to the Cretan Goddess culture that founded it, but only to Apollo and the Greeks who usurped it, I was hopeful that now, at least, in Oxford, we might be at last ready to turn a corner and start to really explore and honour this older, all but lost, society.
But this culture did exist. It is in us somewhere, buried in the cells of our deepest substrata. We once did do things differently, and it seems there really was a Golden Age as recorded by Hesiod, and it had to with cultures that worshipped a female deity. So as we move past mothers days for another year, let’s just remember that.
“The Chalice and The Blade”, Riane Eisler
“The Myth of the Goddess”, Baring and Cashford
“The Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe” Marija Gimbutas
“Crete” Nicolas Platon
“The Greek Myths” Robert Graves