7 Goddess Archetypes of Empowerment
The Goddess was worshiped for thousands of years, long before patriarchal monotheistic religions displaced her with a wrathful male god. In virtually every ancient spiritual tradition it is the Goddess who gives birth to the world.
The Feminine always emerges first: just like every fetus starts out as a female, our world emerged out of the female essence that personifies life itself.
Her names, faces and moods are many. In the end, she cannot be understood with reason or summoned up with a force of will - like every woman, she is a Mystery. Instead, let us praise the Great Goddess by knowing and honoring her Archetypes (or aspects) that are within each of us, in the anticipation of her long-awaited return.
Isis, the queen of the sky, the earth and the moon, is one of the most enigmatic goddesses in history (whether or not you consider mythology historical is irrelevant; she is part of our collective psyche and has been for thousands of years).
Like any female deity she was associated with motherhood and fertility, but her primary domains were magic and healing.
As one myth tells us, in ancient times Ra ruled Egypt with an iron fist. So Isis, using her magical powers, creates a poisonous snake that bites Ra. Ra becomes gravely ill; in fact, he is on his deathbed. Isis tells him that she can heal him - she just needs to know his true name. Ra's secret name is the source of his power over life and death, but he has no other choice but to give it to her. When Isis says his name during her healing ritual, Ra is magically restored to health, and Isis acquires his great knowledge and powers. And that's how Isis became the supreme (and deeply revered) ruler of Egypt.
Another important story is the myth of the death and resurrection of Osiris. Osiris, beloved husband (and brother) of Isis is killed by jealous Set. To make sure that Isis won't resurrect Osiris with her magic (like she did before), Set cuts the body into 14 pieces and scatters it across Egypt. Grief-stricken Isis searches and collects all the pieces, except for the most important one (no, not the head...keep guessing). Osiris' phallus is nowhere to be found, so Isis fashions him a new one out of wax and gold, and reassembles the body. When Osiris comes back to life, she makes love to him and conceives a child, Horus, who later becomes the sun god.
Isis possesses remarkable determination and competence as a sorceress, but more importantly, it's her ability to turn a situation around, to transmute bad circumstances into good ones, to use an opportunity to her advantage, is what makes her one of the most important archetypes of empowered femininity.
More than any other ancient Egyptian goddess, Isis became a template for female deities all over the world. At the dawn of Christianity the worship of Virgin Mary was largely based on the ancient cult of Isis (not to mention the multiple similarities between Osiris/Horus and Jesus, but that's another story).
Isis embodies the power of alchemical transformation. As the Goddess of Magic she teaches how to use our gifts to create the life we desire, how to be an agent of change in any situation, how to be persuasive and influential, how to give life to what is dead and forgotten. Knowing the universal laws of nature and using some magic (and sometimes a little trickery...wink) we can transform our dreams into reality.
Kali, the Hindu goddess of time, is sometimes misunderstood as the evil bloodthirsty goddess of death and destruction. At one time she was even worshiped by gangs of professional Indian assassins, thuggee (this is how the English word "thug" originated).
However, that's an overly simplistic view of "Black Mother Time". In India, all goddesses are essentially One: Devi. Kali is one of the forms of Devi that can be most accurately described as the goddess of time, change and transformation. Death simply represents a transformation into a different form, that's why Kali is often depicted dancing the dance of death.
Kali is not the bringer of blind fury, slaughter and sorrow. In fact, she is one of the most beloved goddesses in India. Kali destroys only what needs to be destroyed - be it a powerful demon, sin, fear or ignorance. Once it's all destroyed, the new creation can begin. So Kali is the goddess of creation as much as she is the goddess of destruction.
Kali is the consort of the Lord Shiva. It is believed that Shiva is actually the destroyer; Kali is the energy (Shakti) with which he destroys. Without Kali Shiva would be powerless. And if the whole world ceased to exist, the only thing remaining would be Kali - timeless, formless black void of immense potential, similar to what we would call a black hole in space.
Kali's courage and ferocity when slaying demons is unmatched by any other god or goddess. She can destroy anything in the world, including the world itself. That is why her worshipers believe that when Kali is honored and understood, she can destroy all their fears and illusions. As such, Kali is associated with Kundalini energy that frees the soul from worldly attachments.
Fear is our worst enemy. Fear engulfs you, paralyzes you; it's that sick feeling in the back of your throat. So many of our dreams are left to rot in the gutter because of fear. When dealing with particularly detrimental persistent fears, call on Kali to give you the courage to defeat them. Ask to be able to see fear for what it really is - an illusion. Kali is a very powerful goddess; just repeating her name will give you the strength to take that next step.
Hathor is one of the most ancient goddesses in the world. She personifies love, joy, music, dance, motherhood and fertility. Later on Hathor became identified with other ancient Egyptian goddesses of motherhood and fertility - Bat and Isis.
Hathor was worshiped by priests of both sexes who were also dancers, musicians and other entertainers. Her cult was centered in the Temple of Hathor in Dendera, Upper Egypt, and it pre-dates recorded history. The temple is still one of the best preserved temples in Egypt.
Although Hathor has many roles, she primarily personifies the archetype of the Mother. The Mother archetype is particularly old since mothers are ubiquitous to every culture. In Western culture we have many symbols of the Mother - from Mary the mother of Christ to the church, the state, the ocean, and nature, "Earth Mother". Jung said that those who didn't get to experience that unconditional mother love often seek comfort in patriotism or religiosity.
The Mother is a very powerful figure. Without that nurturing patient loving force life would be impossible. But the Mother can also be abusive, controlling, overprotective and punishing. So keep your inner Mother in check! Give your children the freedom to make their own choices and offer them support when they need it. Call on Hathor when it is you who needs the loving support of a mother, or allow other people to care for you without feeling dis-empowered.
You don't have to be a mother to have the Mother archetype in you. Nurture your inner child as you would the most precious beautiful baby. Nurture your dreams, your aspirations, your creative projects. Give the gift of forgiveness or unconditional love to someone who needs it.
ARTEMIS (DIANA): Independence
Artemis is one of the three Greek virgin Goddesses (the other two are Hestia and Athena). The word "virgin" in this context means a "young maiden," "unmarried woman" or “beholden to no man.”
This is a perfect description of an independent Artemis - “beholden to no man”. You can say she was the first feminist. Artemis rules over the moon, the hunt, wilderness and childbirth. She is fearless, strong, athletic, adventurous, youthful and quick-tempered. In one myth a man saw her naked, so she had him torn to pieces by her hunting dogs.
Artemis is your typical "tomboy". As the most androgynous Goddess archetype, she is fiercely competitive and is not exactly the "marriage material". Artemis is anything but docile. She may have lovers, but she can never belong to any man. Her other personas include the Artist, the "Bad Girl", the Amazon Warrior Woman, the Free Spirit and the Nature Lover.
If you've recognized Artemis in yourself, you must be a firecracker! You also have strong protective instincts; that's why modern Artemises are drawn to environmentalism, animal and human rights, and especially women's rights. They are passionately concerned with the victimization of women and girls, and they can be rather merciless when bringing justice upon the abusers.
If you are in an abusive relationship yourself, call on Artemis for strength and courage to stand up for yourself.
And if you feel you might just be the new incarnation of this Greek Goddess, remember: one of the most important lessons of your life is to develop compassion for all beings and to be able to relate to others in a deeper way. I know all you need is your bow and arrows to roam free in the wilderness of life, but don't dismiss inter-dependence (not co-dependence!) as a weakness: connecting to others makes us stronger, not weaker.
INANNA (ISHTAR, ASTARTE): Sensuality
Known as Inanna to Sumerians, Ishtar to Babylonians and Astarte to Phoenicians, this goddess ruled over love, fertility and war. At the Sumerian New Year couples performed rites to ask Inanna to bless them with children.
As an archetype, Inanna or Ishtar symbolizes a powerful seductress who uses her considerable female persuasion to her advantage. In some interpretations (Caroline Myss), Inanna is an archetype of a Prostitute, and historically acts of sacred prostitution were performed in her honor. In Jewish mythology, she is referred to as Ashtoreth, a female demon of lust.
But it would be a mistake to define Ishtar as a one-dimensional character. As the Queen of Heaven and Earth, she embodies the Divine Feminine in all its splendor: a sensuous courtesan and a timid virgin, a life-giving mother and an eternal child, merciful and wicked, wild, passionate, untamed. In other words, everything (with the exception of the mother, perhaps) patriarchy aimed to demonize and destroy.
Sensuality is a gift; but it can also be a powerful weapon. When we trade on it or use it to control others, we give away a part of ourselves. On another level, it's a symptom of deep self esteem issues and subconscious fears. Let this goddess show you the way to find the power, the beauty and the love within. Invoke Ishtar to initiate a personal transformation that unlocks your inner reservoirs of creativity (it's a form of fertility!), uninhibited sensuality and healthy self esteem.
PERSEPHONE (KORE): Introspection
Persephone is the Greek goddess of the Underworld, the abode of the dead. Although she didn't take on that role willingly (as a young girl she was abducted by her uncle Hades, the ruler of the Underworld, who raped her and made her his wife), she became a magnificent and powerful queen who acted as a guide to the souls who entered the world of the dead.
Persephone represents a female archetype of a medium, a mystic, a shamaness. She is intense, imaginative, poetic, sensitive, keenly perceptive and often psychic. She is very attached to her mother (Demeter) and only maintains a few significant relationships. Like any introvert, she shuns crowds and superficiality; her kingdom is the inner world of the psyche - the "Underworld" representing the subconscious.
As the maiden aspect of the Goddess archetype (the Maiden, the Mother, the Crone), Persephone personifies someone inherently pure and incorruptible, someone who can live amidst darkness but not absorb it. Her light shines wherever she is, her connection to the world of spirit is unshakeable. Yet her task is recognizing her own darkness and maturing into the Mother, and then the Crone.
Like no other goddess described here, Persephone represents the importance of introspection and knowing thyself. The challenges associated with this archetype have to do with overcoming the effects of past trauma (abuse, victimhood), taking responsibility for your life and acknowledging your own inner Underworld - the dark side that contains repressed thoughts and emotions like anger, rage, guilt, self-pity, sexual fears, powerlessness etc.
Everyone has a dark side, without exception. Only by uniting the light and the dark aspects of herself can the Goddess become truly empowered.
KWAN YIN (QUAN YIN, TARA, AVALOKITESHVARA): Compassion
Kwan Yin is a Buddhist Goddess of mercy, compassion, and healing.
According to some sources, she was born a man, but her essence was so pure, gentle and filled with compassion that with time her male gender disappeared, and people started thinking of her as a female deity.
Another variation of the story tells that she was born a man in her previous lifetime in India, where she was known as Avalokiteshvara, "the lord who looks upon the world with compassion". Some people believe she was both male and female, but in the end, it doesn't really matter.
The legend has it that in a her next life in China, Kwan Yin is a daughter of a rich evil man. When it's time for her to get married, her father chooses her a husband - another rich evil man. But all Kwan Yin wants is to be a nun. Reluctantly her father lets her go live in a monastery but makes sure the monks give her the hardest chores, hoping that eventually she will change her mind. When that plan fails, he decides that the next best thing is to have her killed.
It is said that when Kwan Yin's spirit left her lifeless body and was about to go to heaven, she heard the cries of all the suffering souls on earth. Kwan Yin's compassion was so great that she chose to give up nirvana and vowed to devote her whole existence to alleviating human suffering. She's been incarnating in different forms all around the world ever since, comforting people in their darkest hour.
According to Buddhist scriptures, anyone can invoke Kwan Yin by simply calling her name. She is one of the most approachable goddesses. If you feel you are in the most hopeless situation, she can relieve your suffering through her divine mercy. Another way to invoke Kwan Yin is by using the mantra "Om Mani Padme Hum".
Kwan Yin can also help you to cultivate compassion in yourself, balance your karma and project loving kindness onto the world. When you feel anger rising up and those unkind words are about to come out of your mouth, ask Kwan Yin to send you some love, then pass it on. Perhaps, the best way to feel empowered is to be kind to others, and to always always always be kind to yourself.
Which Goddess Are You?
© 2013 Lana Adler