Skip to main content

Mother Goddess in Comparative Mythology

Mythology is a wonderful world that Phyllis can escape to when her mind needs a break from daily life.

Venus von Willendorf, estimated to have been carved between 24,000 and 22,000 BCE, during the Upper Paleolithic.

Venus von Willendorf, estimated to have been carved between 24,000 and 22,000 BCE, during the Upper Paleolithic.

Supreme Goddesses

Throughout time, many cultures have worshiped the image and concept of a mother goddess. She has been looked to and relied upon for the bounty of the harvest, for blessings of marriage and family, for seasons of good weather, and good fortune.

She was seen as the symbol of fertility and was asked for blessings of birth for all plantings, animals, and women.

Goddess of All Creation

The earliest archaeological finds of the mother goddess image have exaggerated breasts and abdomens, for that is representative of birth, nourishment, and motherhood. It was believed that the mother goddess gave birth to all creation. The goddesses are usually associated with highly sexual prowess.

Paleolithic (2.5 million Years Ago to 10,000 BCE)

The Paleolithic period (prehistoric era) is humanity's longest recorded time on Earth. Archaeological excavations have uncovered figures of what they believe are representations of the mother goddess and fertility.

The most famous figure is that of Venus of Willendorf, which is believed to have been carved around 24,000—22,000 BCE.


Figures believed to be those of the mother goddess dating from 10,000 BCE have been uncovered in archaeological excavations. This is the era when farming began and the figures could very likely represent fertility and the bounty of Earth (harvest).

Egyptian Goddesses

The Nagada culture of ancient Egypt had some of the earliest paintings of a female deity standing between two lionesses. The lioness, as well as other animals, were representative of a good mother. The primordial waters, the sun, the heavenly bodies of the night sky, and Earth are also associated with the ancient goddesses and motherhood.

Isis and Hathor are two of the many goddesses who were looked to for guidance by Egyptian rulers. This tradition then spread to other ancient cultures.

Isis: Egyptian Goddess of Motherhood, Magic, and Fertility

Isis depicted with outstretched wings. Wall painting in the tomb of Seti.

Isis depicted with outstretched wings. Wall painting in the tomb of Seti.

Anatolia: Catalhoyuk

Anatolia is a Neolithic settlement from 7500 BC. Excavations in the 1960s uncovered figurines that were thought to be evidence of mother goddess worship. These were found in what is believed to be shrines. The female figures far outnumbered the male figures found. Eighteen levels were excavated and after the sixth level on down, there were only female figures found.

Further excavation from the mid-1990s dispute a matriarchal society and believe that there was a balance of power and social status.

Greek Mythology

In ancient Greek mythology, Gaia is referred to as "Mother Goddess" or "Great Goddess". She was the primordial Earth goddess and considered the great mother of all. Gaia came from the Void and through parthenogenesis brought forth Uranus. In union with Uranus, their twelve children, the Titans, were born. It is believed that she also gave birth to the sea gods and the giants and that mortal creatures sprung from her earthy flesh.

In classical Greek mythology, the Olympians defeated the Titans and Demeter became the Mother Goddess with the same attributes as Gaia.

Gaia: Greek Primordial Goddess, Creator, and Giver of Birth to the Earth and All the Universe

Gaia - ceiling painting by Anselm Feuerbach, 1875

Gaia - ceiling painting by Anselm Feuerbach, 1875

Scroll to Continue

Read More From Exemplore

Roman Mythology

In Roman mythology, Terra Mater is the equivalent of the Greek Gaia. Ceres, goddess of grain, agriculture and fertility became the equivalent of the Greek goddess Demeter.

Venus was the equivalent of the Greek Aphrodite. Venus was an ancestor of Romulus, the mythical founder of Rome. Julius Caesar and other famous Romans considered her to be the Mother of Rome.

Terra Mater: Roman Mother Goddess

Terra Mater, Italian relief panel of the Ara Pacis, an altar in Rome dedicated to Pax, the Roman goddess of Peace.

Terra Mater, Italian relief panel of the Ara Pacis, an altar in Rome dedicated to Pax, the Roman goddess of Peace.

Celtic Goddesses

Danu is the mother goddess of the Tuatha de' Danaan (People of Danu), a race of people that invaded Ireland in the 11th century. The Tuatha de' Danaan were descendants of the goddess Danu. When they were defeated by the Milesians, the Tuatha de Danaan went underground and lived in mounds. They went back to their ancestral roots of the Faery folk—Danu was then referred to as the Mother Goddess of the Faery.

As the mother of the gods, Danu has strong parallels with the Welsh literary figure (or goddess) Don, who is the mother figure of the medieval tales in the Mabinogion.


In comparative mythology, the Germanic history of the mother goddess is one of the most complex, for it is closely related to Norse mythology—and much of the information about the two cultures and their goddess worship comes from Publius Cornelius Tacitus (AD 56—AD 117), a senator and historian of the Roman Empire.

In De Origine et situ Germanorum, Concerning the Origin and Situation of the Germanics, his ethnographic works, Tacitus wrote about the Germanic tribes, which includes a description of the lands, laws, and customs of the Germanic people. He then transitions directly into descriptions of individual tribes.

Tacitus documented rites amongst the Germanic tribes who worshiped their goddess Nerthus, whom he calls Terra Mater, Mother Earth. The eight tribes who worshiped Nerthus would take her statue throughout the countryside upon a wheeled vehicle for all to see and honor her.

Nerthus is associated with fertility and the harvest. Records of the tenth century mention a "charm" called the AEcerbot. This was performed by the people of the tribes—it was a procession through the fields to invoke Eorpan Modor, Earth Mother, to receive her blessings for a good harvest. She was also referred to as folde, fira modor, Earth, mother of men.

In his Germania history, Tacitus writes about the tribes who worship Nerthus:

There is nothing especially noteworthy about these states individually, but they are distinguished by a common worship of Nerthus, that is, Mother Earth, and believes that she intervenes in human affairs and rides through their peoples. There is a sacred grove on an island in the Ocean, in which there is a consecrated chariot, draped with cloth, where the priest alone may touch.

— Tacitus

Processional Wagon of the Germanic Goddess, Nerthus

 Nerthus by Emil Doepler, 1905.

Nerthus by Emil Doepler, 1905.

Freyja: Norse Goddess of Love

Freyja is the Norse goddess of love. She is associated with beauty, fertility, gold, witchcraft, war, and death. Freyja's family are members of the Vanir. Her father, Njoror, married his sister and they had two children, Freyja and her brother, Freyr. The Vanir is one of the Nine Worlds and the home of the Vanir. These gods of Vanir are all associated with fertility and wisdom, and have the ability to see the future.

The Heimskringla, one of the Old Norse kings' sagas, was written by Snorri Sturluson about 1230. The book provides an account of the origin of the gods, including Freyja. In chapter 4, Freyja is introduced as a member of the Vanir, the sister of Freyr, and the daughter of Odin and his sister. After the Aesir and the Vanir War ends in a stalemate, Odin appoints Freyr and Freyja as priests over sacrifices.

Freyja becomes the priestess of sacrificial offerings and it was she who introduced the practice of witchcraft to the AEsir, which previously was only practiced by the Vanir.

Some scholars have seen a connection between Freyja and the Germanic goddess, Nerthus. In 13th century Icelandic writings it has been proposed that the Norse god Njoror, who is Freyja's father, was the consort of Nerthus. The Poetic Edda poem, Lokasenna , the mother of Freyja, listed as Njoror's sister, remains unnamed. Nerthus is often identified with Njoror who is attested in various 13th century Old Norse works and in numerous Scandinavian place names.

Freyja: Norse Goddess of Love, Sexuality, Beauty, Fertility, Gold, War, and Death

Freyja by Nils Blomm

Freyja by Nils Blomm

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2012 Phyllis Doyle Burns


Jeci Hall on June 12, 2019:

I liked your article. But, as a scholar of ancient history, please spread the word that no, Greek and Roman gods and goddesses aren't "equivalent" in any way. This gross misconception has been propogated far too long. Zeus does not equal Jupiter, Ares does not equal Mars, Hera does not equal Juno. They were not worshiped the same way, they were not considered "in charge of" the exact same things, they did not have the same personalities, nor even the same mythologies. The Greek and Roman cultures were actually quite different, and their religions were quite different. It is even a further stretch than if were were to say that Jesus and Yhwh and Allah are equivalent. They are not. Otherwise, I like your article quite a bit. Thank you for bringing in the lesser-known prehistoric goddesses.

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on May 07, 2019:

Hi Beth. Thank you for reading and commenting. Did you find the story you were looking for?

Beth on April 21, 2019:

Really enjoyed this article I am looking for a mythological story about a mother who sacrificed everything for an undeserving child including hervlife

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on June 05, 2018:

Hi Nevedita. That is very interesting to know. Thank you for sharing the information, and thank you for the visit.

Nivedita on June 05, 2018:

Interesting to know about the universality in the worship of the mother Goddess.Roman goddess Terra mater so similar to Goddess Tara mata worshipped by Hindus and buddhists at present.The temple town of Tarapith in Bengal, India. is dedicated to the worship of tara devi.

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on January 02, 2016:

Thank you very much, Raymond.

Raymond on January 02, 2016:

I really enjoyed reading this article, and it was most informative.

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on May 12, 2014:

Thank you very much, Sage. I love your comment about "just how long She's been with us and how significant her presence is." So true. 2012 was the year of Return of the Goddess, the Divine Feminine, the Enlightened Feminine and I believe it just keeps getting better. :)

Mackenzie Sage Wright on May 12, 2014:

Hi Phyllis, this was fascinating and was a joy to read. It's amazing comparing the Mother Goddess concepts through history and time like that; it's so easy to forget in this day and age after such a long dominance of patriarchal religions just how long She's been with us and how significant her presence is. Well done, great hub.

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on May 11, 2014:

Hi Carolyn. Thank you for the votes and shares. I will hop over and read your hub.

Carolyn Emerick on May 11, 2014:

I just wrote a hub on Mother Goddesses and then Hubpages directed me to yours! I love it! Different than mine in that yours covers more cultures and mine focuses only on four European goddesses. I gave it an upvote and I will share it here on HP and on a FB page for Mythology and Folklore I admin on ;-)

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on January 14, 2013:

What a nice morning you are having, Colin. My morning is cozy and warm, too, and even more cheerful to find your comments to go with my morning coffee.

I wish you all the best of all you need for this wonderful 2013. Hugs and peace to you, dear friend.

epigramman on January 14, 2013:

Good morning Phyllis and I so do love your hub presentation here.

It is a tantalizing mix of history, culture and religion and your images, text and research was so well presented on a world class level.

I sit here this mornng with some nice romantic classical piano music, a cup of coffee, two well fed pussycats and the furnace blowing its heat and I am wishing you continued good health, happiness and prosperity in 2013.

Also please say hello and give a big hug to your talented son Daniel for me - I really admire his gift for music - lake erie time ontario canada 10:09am

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on February 02, 2012:

Seeker 7, thank you so much for stopping by. I am so glad you like the hub. I will be writing more on comparative mythologies, focusing on goddesses, especially the Mother goddess.

Helen Murphy Howell from Fife, Scotland on February 02, 2012:

Hello Phyllis, this is a fascinating hub and a lot of new information for me. I didn't realise that figures such as the Venus of Willendorf were as old as 22-24000 BCE? I find this stunning that the mythology and belief of the mother goddesses go back this far. I think what really fascinated me most of all was the strong vein of similarity between cultures that the mother goddesses take - in relation to fertility and protection in particular.

I know you said in one of your comments that you hesitated to write this hub - and for very good reasons -

but I'm glad you did. This was fascinating and informative and very, very enjoyable! Have voted up awesome + bookmarked as a favourite!

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on January 25, 2012:

Epi, thank you so much for stopping by. It is always good to hear from you. Thank you also so much for the comments and for sharing on Facebook. You are a sweetheart!!!

You are most welcome -- Congrats and big hugs on your 1,000 milestone. You are a wonderful part of the HubPages community and I am honored to know you and follow you.

epigramman on January 25, 2012:

...well this just may be the mother of all hubs - lol - and it's so well put together on a world class level that I must post your fascinating topic to my Facebook page with a direct link so more people can view it.

lake erie time ontario canada 7:43pm thank you so very much for your warmth, support and valued friendship here at the Hub - it's people/colleagues like you who make it all worthwhile .....

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on January 21, 2012:

Vellur, thank you for reading and for the comment/vote. Very nice of you -- I always enjoy your visits.

Nithya Venkat from Dubai on January 20, 2012:

Great hub. Very well presented and full of interesting information. Enjoyed reading it. Voted up.

Alastar Packer from North Carolina on January 16, 2012:

Awesome Phyllis! Look forward to them!

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on January 15, 2012:

Thank you, Alastar ! I did check Amazon and it is still available.

Celtic legends? You got it, my friend.

Alastar Packer from North Carolina on January 15, 2012:

Phyllis I read part of it way back when and as best remembered it was Graves creative take on mythology and rituals concerning the White Goddess and her son. You can check Amazon but it may be out of print which if so is kind of surprising. Please write some more on the Celtic legends and such Phyllis, you got one fan here for sure.;)

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on January 15, 2012:

Alastar, I just checked with Amazon and they do have the book. I ordered it for myself -- it really looks interesting. Thank you for bringing that up, I appreciate it. I added the capsule above with The White Goddess.

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on January 15, 2012:

Alastar, thank you for reading and the comments. I have great fun researching, studying and writing about the Mother Goddess. I am a huge fan of Celtic legends, mythologies, and folklore. I have heard of "The White Goddess", but have not read much about it yet. That may just be my next research project. Have you read it? Is it available through Amazon, maybe?

Alastar Packer from North Carolina on January 15, 2012:

Phyllis this an awesome write on the Mother Goddess. From the Paleolithic to the Middle Ages you've got some great info here. I especially liked reading about Catal Hoyuk and the Celtic. Are you by chance familiar with Robert Graves "The White Goddess" which is surprisingly out of print according to wiki. Thank you Phyllis!

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on January 10, 2012:

Hi Kj. Thanks for stopping by and for the comments. Glad you liked the hub.

kjforce from Florida on January 10, 2012:

Phyllis..awesome article..great Women are depicted with such power..and yet we are still considered with less importance in so many cultures.ironic ?

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on January 09, 2012:

Thanks, Gerry. I hesitated for several months about getting into comparative mythology for it is very complex and takes deep focus and heavy research


sligobay from east of the equator on January 09, 2012:

Great research and presentation of the history of the mother goddess. The huge volume of subject matter will require a sequel. Hugs.

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on January 09, 2012:

Thank you for stopping by, Vinaya and for your comment. I apologize for not including more mention of the Mother Goddess in other religions/beliefs. I do have more to write on this subject and could not find a way to put it all in this hub without drastically reducing interesting details and histories.

Thank you for bringing up the Hindu and Buddhist Mythologies. I will certainly include them in hubs to follow.

Vinaya Ghimire from Nepal on January 09, 2012:

This is well researched and well written article. I enjoyed reading the comparative study. It is generally believed, religion evolved when people began worshiping the divine power in feminine power. But I'm little disappointed that you have not included the Mother Goddess of Hindu and Buddhist Mythologies.

Related Articles