In Paganism we like to say that we have reclaimed the Goddess. But have we really? Truly reclaiming the Goddess doesn't simply mean acknowledging the existence of the divine feminine, it also requires us to explore all of Her archetypes, and to reevaluate our concepts of femininity.
What comes to mind when you think of the Goddess? What words or images does the word "Goddess" conjure? As the epitome of femininity, most likely the first thing that comes to mind are the roles and concepts we consider to be inherently feminine. Motherhood, the gentle nurturer, intuitiveness. We think of mother goddesses. Goddesses like Danu or Gaia, who are mothers of pantheons of deities. Aphrodite and Oshun, whose hearts overflow with mirth and passion. Images of goddesses like Selene and the huntress Artemis perhaps come to mind. And, of course, the moon; after all, the moon is one of the most predominant symbols of the Goddess in modern Paganism. But is the watery lunar realm exclusively that of the Goddess, or is this just our perception of Her? Is this the true extent of femininity?
To some extent the association between the moon and femininity comes from the Greek and Roman mythology, where the sun is always male and the moon female. In the Victorian era classical mythology became immensely popular; Greek and Roman myths became considered the norm to which all other mythology was measured. Later, Carl Jung would use these same mythological models for his animus and anima, the concept that within all humans exist both a feminine side (anima) and a masculine side (animus). Jung connected traits such as vanity, helplessness, the realm of emotions, and the moon to the anima, and to be inherently feminine, while the animus he connected to the sun, rational thought, and assertiveness.
Arguably Jung and his concepts of gender roles are products of his time and culture, but to some extent these attitudes still color our thoughts on gender roles and traits today. In our spirituality we sometimes have difficultly relating to goddesses that don't fit our perceived ideas of femininity. We have forgotten that the Goddess does not always fit the gentle image of womanhood our culture has embraced for so long. She can be war-like at times, a force of destruction that brings change and rebirth in her wake. And although we think of the Goddess and the moon going hand in hand, quite often in world mythology she is not the passive moon, but the active radiant sun.
If the Goddess represents all the is feminine, then we must learn to explore all of Her aspects. To reclaim the Goddess we must see Her in Her totality—not just the gentle moon, but the fiery sun. Perhaps one of the best examples of a divinity that both embodies the gentler and fiercer side of the divine feminine is the Egyptian goddess Hathor. In her we find both the nurturing and destructive force of the divine femininity, as well as the sun. She was a goddess of creation, of dance and sensuality. At times she took the form of a sacred cow, holding the solar disc in her horns. She was hailed as the Mistress of Jubilation, the Golden One, and the Mistress of Life, and her radiance was so bright that the Gods were said to have to turn their heads away in order to see her better (perhaps an allusion to her shining like the sun).
Hathor was also a popular goddess to be called upon in matters of love, and was also thought to assist women in childbirth. In her incarnation as the seven Hathors she was believed to be present at the birth of a child and measured out their fate in life. Her festivals involved ritual inebriation and ecstatic dance. So far she appears to be what we would expect from a goddess that represents all the is feminine, but this is only one side of Hathor.
Yet when the enemies of Ra, the king of the gods, conspired against him, it is Hathor that he turns to. She seems like an unlikely figure, this goddess of dance and sensuality, for Ra to ask for aid in a battle. But like the sun—which can be beneficial, making our crops grow, or destructive, creating the Sahara—Hathor's personality is dualistic. When angered Hathor transformed into the lioness Sekhmet, who drank blood like wine. In this form her breath was said to create the deserts. She could just as likely bring pestilence or heal illnesses.
As the raging lioness Sekhmet she soon destroyed the enemies of the gods. But, her blood lust was not satisfied, and she continued to slaughter the rest of mankind. Ra began to regret his actions, taking pity on humanity. He tricked her into drinking vats of beer that had been dyed red to resemble blood. Sekhmet began drinking it eagerly, and soon became drunk and fell asleep. When she awoke she felt content, and Sekhmet once again transformed in the gentle Hathor.
Interestingly, in the Egyptian pantheon there are several solar gods and goddesses, while the moon is for the most part relegated to the masculine realm via the gods Khonsu and Thoth. While gods like Ra represented the masculine sun, goddesses like Hathor, Sekhmet, and Bast were all connected to the sun as well. Bast shares similarities to Hathor/Sekhmet, also being connected to joy and sensuality as well as having a warrior aspect.
The Egyptian solar goddesses show us a multifaceted concept of femininity. She can be the gentle benefactor to mankind, yet when the situation demands it she is also fierce and raging warrioress. Although our culture prefers to see women just as the gentle mother, in Hathor we find a figure that moves easily between all aspects of the feminine. She is a complete figure, showing us that womanhood embodies many traits, and reminding us not to limit our ideas about how the goddess and femininity can be expressed.
You can find out more about the solar feminine and goddesses like Hathor in my book Drawing Down the Sun: Rekindle the Magick of the Solar Goddesses.
Stephanie Woodfield (Orlando, FL) has been a practicing Pagan for the past twenty years. A devotional polytheist, teacher, and Priestess of the Morrigan, she is one of the founding members of Morrigu's Daughters and is an ...