Dark Goddesses: List and Descriptions
What Is a Dark Goddess?
Often people find themselves torn between the concept of "light" and "dark" when it comes to pagan paths. Light and dark are subjective. This means that every person might have a differing opinion of what each of these things mean. Light could be considered any belief, tradition, or in this case goddess, that is associated with anything of good, wholesome value—motherhood, abundance, the Hearth, medicine, etc. Dark could be considered any belief, tradition, or goddess associated with anything of a more dangerous, less lovey-dovey nature which could include fertility rites, death, war, revenge, etc.
While this article states these goddesses are on the "dark" side, this in no way means they are "bad" or "evil" in any way. This means these deities are often associated with concepts in life that are a little more taboo or less likely to bring a smile to someone's face. Life is both good and bad at times, there is both light and dark. Day and night. Male and female. There is a balance between these things in order for life to go on. If there was more of one than the other, there would be no balance and it would be chaos. That being said, let's take a look at some of the more well-known Dark Goddesses from the pages of history.
Baba Yaga: Slavic Hag-Goddess
Baba Yaga is an infamous figure in Slavic folklore. She is typically depicted as an ugly, old hag who lives in a shack situated on a large pair of chicken legs and who uses a large mortar and pestle as her flying vehicle. Though she's been reduced to a mere witch-figure in folklore, many people believe she was once a powerful Goddess of the forest.
The most well-known tale featuring Baba Yaga was the tale of Vassalissa the Wise. In this tale, a young woman goes out into the forest seeking fire for her family. She runs into Baba Yaga and the old hag tells her she will give her the fire she seeks, if she will do the chores that Baba Yaga asks her to do. What Baba Yaga doesn't know is that Vassalissa has her ancestors on her side, as well as her intuition. Vassalissa accomplishes each task Baba Yaga asks of her, and in the end Baba Yaga gives Vassalissa a torch of fire to take home. This fire is a representation of Vassalissa's inner power and ancestral guidance. Baba Yaga knows this, and is wise herself. She is Vassalissa's teacher.
While Baba Yaga may seem off-putting and ugly with iron teeth and wrinkled face, she is the crone and the elder. She brings us wisdom if we are open to learning. She is the light of our ancestors burning from generations and generations ago. Baba Yaga is the Slavic goddess of regeneration, and therefore also rules over death and rebirth. Because she is also a goddess of the harvest, she is associated with modern day Samhain or All Hallows Eve and the seasons of Fall and Winter. She is a death goddess, guarding bones of those who have passed, and ushers us to let the old die away to allow for the new.
Circe: Greek Goddess of Sorcery
She is the Goddess of Sorcery, Transformation, and Witchcraft. She knows her helpful and baneful herbs. She uses them to heal and harm. She teaches valuable, foreboding lessons. She is Circe, the Greek Goddess of Aeaea.
Most accounts of Circe's story say her father was Helios, a Greek Sun God, and her mother was Perse, a nymph of the ocean. She is often associated with two other dark Greek Goddesses—Hecate and Medea (both of which we will discuss in this article). There is more than one story featuring Circe, including Homer's Odyssey in which the men of Odysseus' ship drank of her wine and were turned into swine. Circe is said to turn people into their true nature, and her palace on the island of Aeaea was said to be guarded or surrounded by creatures that are part-men part-animal. Odysseus himself was able to escape Circe's sorcery. Before he left his boat he was met by the Greek messenger-god Hermes and told to partake of the holy herb (moly) to guard himself from any enchantment.
Circe may be a dark goddess and feared by men, but she has much to teach us. She can see right through the façade and see to the person's true form. The men she turned into pigs were just that—pigs. They over-indulged and drank more than what they needed. We can learn from this lesson. Only take what we need, no more. She is also a goddess who teaches powerful and toxic herbs and their uses to those practitioners who have a close connection with the plant-world. Look for her in your dreams and she will come bearing herbal lessons. Mandrake is said to be her plant, as it is also called the Drug of Circe.
Look for Circe in your dreams, and she will come bearing herbal lessons.— Nicole Canfield
Hecate: Goddess of the Crossroads
Hecate is known as one of the most ancient Greek goddesses. It is theorized that the belief in Hecate supersedes even the most-ancient Greek civilizations. She was present before the cult of the Olympians, possibly during the time of the ancient goddess Cybele. She is possibly Proto-Indo-European dating back to prehistoric times.
Hecate is the goddess of the crossroads, which means she is the force present during any major life changing event. Namely this means birth, death, and rebirth. Most often people see her as a dark goddess because she is a psychopomp (one that guides souls to the other side), but often we forget she is also a goddess of childbirth and maternity (which is her light aspect). She is both darkness and light—birth and death.
Hecate is also said to be the goddess of witchcraft, ruling over and aiding in the practice of witches from the past as well as the present. She is thought to be a necromancer, but also a healer. Again, we see her light and dark aspects in this association. When depicted at the crossroads, Hecate often has three heads (pulling into play a triple goddess aspect that also confirms her birth-death-rebirth powers), and she is often guarded by three white canines.
Kali: Hindu Goddess of Death
Kali is a Hindu Goddess of death and destruction. She is seen as a fierce and terrifying warrior goddess. She is the dark aspect of the goddess Durga. She is mostly depicted and illustrated as a blue woman with four to ten arms, carrying severed heads and/or swords in each hand. While this is a frightening and disturbing image to many, Kali's job was to destroy evil. She was the force that rid the land of filth, therefore providing a cleansing energy. She is the one who purges the world of evil.
Kali is not merely a dark goddess, she is also a goddess of empowerment and of fierce determination. She is the energy that slays the demonic entities. In addition, she is thought of as the Mother of the Universe, so therefore is also a creator-goddess. When people want protection from evil forces, they ask Kali for aid. She has her dark side but she also has her loving side. One cannot know the light without knowing the dark. There would be no life if there wasn't death. Kali teaches us these profound and unsettling lessons.
Lilith: Goddess of Wild Freedom
To many, Lilith is considered a demon. A woman of the darkness who denied God's rules and was cast out of the Garden of Eden because of it. She then became a mother to demons and to some it is believed she was the first vampire. But is any of this the true story behind the goddess Lilith?
Lilith was said to have refused to allow Adam to dominate her (in more ways than one), and therefore was kicked out of the Garden of Eden. To old school religious folks, this may have been a big no-no for a woman to disobey her husband, but in today's age? Most women see it as a liberating story...one in which the first woman (before Eve) decided she was her own person and could make her own decisions and wasn't ruled by a man's will. Because of this, Lilith is now a Goddess of Liberation, Wild Freedom, Equality, and also of passion and pleasure. Are any of these things necessarily dark? It all depends on how you look at it.
Lilith is a Goddess of Liberation, Wild Freedom, and Equality.— Nicole Canfield
Medb (Maeve): Goddess of Intoxication
Maeve, also known as Madb or Medb, is an Irish-Celtic Goddess of Intoxication, War, and indulgence. Her tale is told in Irish mythology, particularly the Ulster Cycle, where she rules as queen of Connacht. Her envy of another's possessions led to great war and she was known to have a temper and a lustful appetite unparalleled by any other woman of the time. Her name Medb literally means mead and "one who intoxicates". She is said to be buried in a tomb at Knocknarea in such a way that she may face her enemies at Ulster.
Queen Maeve is the quintessential warrior queen, and because of this she is an Irish-Celtic Goddess of destruction and death. There is no real light aspect of Maeve; however, she teaches us to indulge in our own desires and also to remain fierce in the eye of the enemy. She is featured in some Arthurian tales in equivalence to Morgan le Fay. It is thought she is one of the faery people or the sidhe, but she could also be a goddess descended from the Tuatha de Dannan. She is said to wear a red cape and hood and is also associated with fertility as she had at least seven sons during her reign as Queen of Connacht.
Medea: Priestess of Hecate
Medea was a figure in Greek mythology, specifically mentioned in the Argonautica. In the story she is mostly depicted as a human woman with supernatural abilities, but in other stories she is thought to be a goddess incarnate. She is the niece and a priestess of Hecate, Goddess of the Witches, and she knows the ways of her aunt. She is well-skilled in herbalism and uses her knowledge of herbs to help her husband Jason defeat his enemies. He marries her because of this.
Why is she considered a dark goddess? The myths tell of Medea losing her husband to another woman, and because of her rage she takes revenge and kills many people. This includes the majority of her own children. We can see why Medea would have a shroud of darkness around her when viewed in this light. There have been theories that Medea is a lesson of balancing the inner feminine and masculine. I see it as a means of learning when to seek revenge and who to take revenge upon.
The Morrigan: Irish-Celtic Goddess of War
A popular dark goddess is the Irish Celtic Goddess of War and Shapeshifting—The Morrigan. She is often depicted as a goddess accompanied by crows, and she is very often depicted on a battlefield. The Morrigan was a Goddess of War, Destruction, Death, and Transformation. She is called The Phantom Queen. She was known to have the ability to shift into the form of various animals at will—the crow, the bull, the eel, the wolf, and more. She uses her shifting powers and magic in order to win battles.
The Morrigan is thought to have been a Triple Goddess...or perhaps three goddesses in one, similar to the Trinity. Her three aspects are Macha, Badb, and Nemain. She is the daughter of one of the Tuatha de Dannan (the first divine gods of Ireland). She foresees warriors' death before they happen, and is also considered a goddess that protects the king. She is a goddess of sovereignty and many believe she is an ancient earth goddess because of her association with the cow, crow, and wolf. Her war aspect is somewhat dark, in that we can see The Morrigan as the crow that eats the remaining dead off of the battlefield. But out of destruction and chaos comes new life. And let us not forget her other associations with the earth and protection of her people!
Sekhmet: Egyptian Goddess of Wrath
Every ancient culture had their Goddess of War (or multiple goddesses). Ancient Egypt was no different than the rest. Sekhmet was their Goddess of War. She was thought to protect the pharaohs from enemies, and she is also seen as Bast's more fierce side. Sekhmet is depicted mostly as a woman with the head of a lion, therefore making her a ferocious, take-no-crap kind of goddess. Red, like the color of blood, was her color. She was also said to be the daughter of Ra, the Egyptian sun-god, and was feared at times of war. Some sources say she would ravage the battlefield and tear apart anyone in her path. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Sekhmet was also a goddess of healing. Her cult was widespread in the twelfth dynasty and when the capital of Egypt was moved, so was her temple.
© 2017 Nicole Canfield