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Spider Woman is the goddess of creation to Native Americans and the Cherokee worship the Corn Mother, Selu, and the Corn Sisters, squash and beans. Many tribes all over the world had Corn Mothers. Toothed Vagina was another goddess! SHAMANESSES (healers) were common. Sistutl is the Canadian double headed serpent of the sea totem.

In West Africa Sande and Yassi societies of Shamanesses are the only ones with tribal masks and take turns with the men in tribal affairs. In Nigeria Oya is the Mother Goddess, Ala, the corn goddess and Oshun, the healing river.The Ashanti believe that divinities reside in objects like stones and images called fetishes. Many religions have names for the gods residing in specific trees and plants.

In Norse/Scandinavian mythology the Norn were the three goddesses of fate - Urd, past; Verdandi, present and Skuld, future. Hela/Hel was death and Freya/Vanadis/Frigga/Freija/Var and her daughter Hnossa, represented married love and the hearth, nature and the passage of the dead. Volva were serpent sibyls or oracles, and the Valkyries, including Svava, led by Brunhild, conducted warriors to Valhalla.

Hariela was German goddess of war and Hulda German goddess of marriage,and Sroya was Slavic goddess of war.

Celtic goddesses were BRIGIT/BRIGANTIA/BRIDE/ST BRIDGET (Bright One) of craft, poetry, fertility, healing, divination (Vesta), sometimes a triple goddess (poetry/healing/smithcraft); EPONA of horses and stables, associated with the white horses carved in chalk hills, and with Welsh moon goddess RHIANNON/REGINA/RIGANTONA, wife of the King of Dyfed who rode a white horse, and later became the Arthurian Nimue/Vivian, Lady of the Lake; ROSEMERTA of fertility, with a caduceus; MORRIGAN/ANDRASTE of war/death. associated with Morgan le Fay, the Morrigan were one or three goddesses, virgin/mother/crone, Tres Matres, Fates, 3 seasons, new/full/waning moon, creator/protector/destroyer, earth/sky/underworld.

CAILLEACH was goddess of the earth and nature but so was DRUANTIA symbolised by the fir tree,and KERIDWEN was goddess of wisdom. Welsh BRANWEN (White Breasted One - her totem animal the white crow) was goddess of love, OLWEN was goddess of the sun and day, and the goddess of war was AERON.

Anglo-Saxon EOSTRE was goddess of spring, hence Easter eggs. SUL was British goddess of wisdom. (BOADICEA/BOUDICA was Queen of the Iceni, leading tough, blue eyed women into battle, who terrified Roman soldiers. Women in Ancient Britain often fought beside the men.) In Ireland MEDHBA (Maeve/Mab), the Intoxicator was a goddess and Queen of Connaught. BADB was goddess of war and BUAN of the hazel.

THE NAG HAMMADI CODICES found near Qumran (like the Dead Sea scrolls), ancient centre of the Essenes, thought to have been written by Valentinus from Christian and Coptic texts, were a reflection of Platonism and Eastern dualism religion, Zoroastrianism. They have brought additional Gospels to the fore including that of Mary Magdalen - her true importance is said to have been excluded from the Bible by Peter (and the Roman Catholic Church) who denied Christ and detested women, especially educated ones, seeing them as the gateway to the Devil, even denying they had souls.

According to Gnostic tradition Mary Magdalen was associated with wisdom (Sophia) represented by the sun, moon and halo of stars, becoming Athena to the Greeks. The female gnosis of Sophia (mother of Zoe (Life, thought to be EVE and Pandora), one of the AEONS, gnostic creators of all things, daughters of Barbello) was deemed to be the Holy Spirit, represented on Earth by Mary Magdalen.

GNOSTICISM (knowledge opposite of agnostic) was the esoteric cult of divine knowledge, a synthesis of Christianity, Greek philosophy, Hinduism, Buddhism and Mystery cults of the Mediterranean - elements found in philosophies from early asceticism to modern existentialism. The essence was that the inner spirit of humanity must be liberated from a world that is basically deceptive, oppressive and evil. The red cloaked priestesses such as Mary Magdalen, of early Judaeo-Christianity, the HIERODULAI, became defamed as harlots, whores or scarlet women, by end of the 6th century. She is often portrayed in a red cloak over a green dress of fertility. Jesus called her Apostle of the Apostles. As a head sister Mary was entitled to wear black, like the priests of Isis, and there are many statues of BLACK MADONNAS with black hands and faces in France, in churches on pagan sites dedicated to Isis and Athena, and some cults are also associated with LILITH. Wisdom (Sophia) is black having existed in the darkness of Chaos before creation.

The BLACK VIRGIN or Earth Goddess, Erzulie (her avatar a water snake) is worshipped in Voodoo, a mixture of Roman Catholicism and West African tribal religions (their priestesses are called Mambo/Manbo. Ogu, a warrior, is St James the Great.) Black Virgins are found on every continent including the Indian AMARI DE and SARA-KALI, the Indian goddess worshipped by gypsies in France as the Black Virgin Mary. Mary the mother of Jesus, the token woman in the Roman and Orthodox church, was therefore only permitted to be portrayed wearing blue (heaven) and white (purity)! Earlier she wore a red dress - her mother St Anne wore a red dress (love) and green cloak (rebirth). Protestant religions ignored her completely.

Many of the learned women who led the groups that were formally described as heretical, promoted teaching based on the instruction from the ancient Judaeo-Christian Therapeutate (hence THERAPY) at Qumran, to which Jesus belonged. The Therapeutate formed the early basis for the Knights Templar, Hospitalers, St John, Rosicrutians, Red Cross… and were persecuted (with wise women, Jews, Cabalists (and Sufis), dualist Cathars persecuted in the Albigensian Crusades, hermetics (from Hermes Trismegistus), Masons who originally included women, Rosicrutions and alchemists who practiced sacred sex similar to Tantrism) as witches by the Catholic Inquisition and Puritan WITCHFINDERS, oddly united. Women known to take part in a religious service were denounced as whores and sorceresses by both extremes.

The Marys (with her brother and sister Lazarus and Martha), fled into exile in France, after they had supported Jesus during the crucifixion and resurrection (the men were not present), arriving at Les Saintes Maries de la Mer, (Three Marys of the sea, Tres Matres) Mary Magdalen bearing the child of Jesus, his daughter Tamar. Said to have been the Gnostic wife of Jesus she later bore him a son, Jesus. To early Jews celibacy was an anathema and Magdalen is the only woman not descibed as 'mother of', or 'wife of', indicating a woman of substance, and entitled to annoint with precious oils.

They were accompanied by their servant Sarah the Egyptian, the black goddess of gypsies. An association between Mary and the sea grew up, as well as with the HOLY GRAIL which they brought with them - the chalice (and horseshoes) also represented to the cultists the uterus, the wine the menstrual Star Fire/Gold of the Gods/Vehicle of Light of alchemy and Kundalini (hence vampirism), and MATRILINEAL inheritance. Both the Jews and the Catholics considered women a threat to patrilineal inheritance, however, many churches dedicated to ‘Notre Dame’ were built in France in the Middle Ages (often on sites dedicated to pagan goddesses like Isis, Diana and Athena like St Sulpice in Paris). The Gothic arches with rose window at the apex depicted the much feared female sexuality. Matriarchs have always been influential in Jewish and Catholic families. (Matrilineal societies have existed in Assam, parts of Africa (a continent where female circumcision is practiced), North America, the South Pacific and Australia.)

Some of the most distinguished Christian Mystics have been women, such as St Hildegard, St Catherine of Siena (patron saint of young girls) and St Theresa of Avila.

In addition to the connection to the sea there was a connection to water - la Dompna del Aquae, Mistress of the Waters. To the Gnostics and Celts, venerated females were associated with lakes, wells, fountains and springs. Mary Magdalen was buried at Aix (Acqs - water) en Provence, and royal descendants in Grail lore became known as Fisher Kings, the Merovingians. In Arthurian legend the Lady of the Lake is translated into Britain and the gallant knights of the Age of Chivalry idealised women with courtly love and troubadors. (The Lady of the Lake, Vivian/Nimue was originally the Welsh goddess Rhiannon/Rigantona.) The masculine symbol of a unicorn submitting to a maiden featured in paintings, and more recently similar themes of romantic legend have been sensually painted by the PRE-RAPHAELITES.

Tarot cards also held significant emblems.(*Pope Joan featured on Tarot cards, was an Englishwoman who ruled as Pope John VIII in the 6th c, and was unmasked when she gave birth.)

Joseph of Arimathea, the founder of Christianity in Britain at Glastonbury, was said to be St James the Just, brother of Jesus, and in Arthurian legend brought the Holy Grail to Britain.

The term Merrie England is presumed to come from ‘Mary’ (as with the Merry Men of Robin Hood, who like Robin Goodfellow, John Barleycorn, Johnny Appleseed, Sir Gawain's Green Knight are manifestations of the Green Man) and Maid Marion herself is said to be a representation, as is the mermaid (she’s sometimes shown with a fish tail as Marina - see Siren), plus the word marry! Maudlin from Magdalene, has become a term for miserable from her tears beneath the cross.

Along with the cult of the Magdalen (Hebrew Magdala/migdal - tower) is the cult of Mary the Gypsy, sacred harlot and love cultess, identified with Aphrodite, born from the foam, her emblem the aphrodisiac scallop shell as depicted in Botticelli’s Birth of Venus. She was portrayed by Anglo-Saxons as the May Queen (with the Maypole fertility symbol) and her dancers as Morris Men (Moorish Men often with blackened faces) and the Hobby Horse, celebrations having pagan associations (Maia), as Christmas with the winter solstice # (e.g. Druids, from the Greek for oak, held mistletoe and oak sacred; Yule logs and decorating trees with offerings). The patron saint of hairdressers, perfumers, gardeners and prostitutes, Mary is often shown with a jar of ointment (spikenard was usually used for anointing), long, loose hair, a crown of thorns and a mirror.

is thus, an emblem of sexual ambiguity. Traditionally, women were regarded as lesser versions of men, with abbreviated sex organs, but the mermaid preceded even that image, being a female whose development was arrested at an early stage of evolution. She is erotic but passionless, a culturally charged gender model whose seductive capacity is valued over her reproductive capacity. In her double-tailed version she may call to mind the old Celtic sheila-na-gig, or the Indian Kali, aggressively squatting and displaying her yoni. In her far more familiar single-tailed version, though, she is closer to an Eve figure overlaid with the cult of the Virgin, a sealed vessel enclosing either sexual temptation or sexual virtue, or some paradoxical and potent mixture of the two." CAROL SHIELDS (The Republic of Love).

In recent years considerable attention has been paid to earlier forms of goddess worship. Some scholars claim that prior to the rise of the main faiths, all worship was of the goddess; others say that both the male and female were venerated equally. These scholars argue that the rise of patriarchy in religion has made the worship of the goddess either frightening to the men in control or has led to a debased form of goddess worship, as in the Cult of the Virgin Mary. ‘Virgin’ is translated from the Semitic word ‘almah’ = YOUNG WOMAN (without sexual connotation).

*Joan was one of a parade of women - saints, abbesses, cross-dressers, intellectuals - Abbess Tetta of Wimborne, Saint Cuthberga, her sister Cwenburga, Saint Uncumber (the bearded patron saint in England of women who want to get rid of their husbands - unencumber). Hatshepsut ruled as a female Pharoah. The cross-dressers include 17th c women going off to war adorned with silver dildos and the Portuguese Saint Wilgefortis who sprouted a moustache in order not to sleep with her husband. The later rules and regulations of the Roman Catholic Church produced its near-Islamic attitude to women, whilst it tolerated with ease the 10th c House of Theophylact, whose papal impregnations, murders, fornications and general skulduggery reduced the Papacy to a cross between a brothel and a charnel house.

Polly Toynbee: Saturnalia in Rome was celebrated from December 17-24, covering the solstice. December 25 was Natalis Solis Invicti, the Birth of the Unconquered Sun. Since no one knew anything about Christ's birth, it wasn't celebrated in the early church. Superimposing Christmas on existing festivals on December 25 only became official in the fourth century.

But it was not just the date they stole, it was the whole Christmas story which had been around for centuries in earlier religions. Mithras, the Persian sun god worshipped in the late empire, came from heaven and was born as a man to redeem humanity from its sins. He was also born of a virgin on December 25 and it was shepherds who first learnt of his birth. (He too had a last supper with his disciples and ascended into heaven.)

The Egyptian god Horus, whose worshippers filled Rome at the same time, was another saviour of mankind, born to a virgin. Temples were filled with cribs with the infant Horus watched over by his virgin mother Isis; 1,700 years before Christ, Isis had an annunciation when a spirit descended and she conceived when an "ankh" - symbol of life - was put to her lips. Isis was worshipped with familiar names: Queen of Heaven, Star of the Sea, Our Lady and Immaculate Virgin. What's more Isis and Horus had a flight into lower Egypt from a persecutor called Herrut soon after birth, also protected by a kindly stepfather. Virgin mothers of gods are found in China and Mexico, among Etruscans and Scandinavians. In Greece, January 6 (later taken as Epiphany by the Christians) was the date the virgin goddess Kore gave birth to Dionysus, whose name was sometimes Ies and sometimes Jesus. Krishna was born of a virgin.

Even the birth of Caesar Augustus was described by sycophants of his day (writing at the time of Christ's birth) in words almost identical to that used in the bible: "saviour of the whole human race", destined to bring "peace on earth", his arrival bringing "glad tidings to the world". As for the star, the birth of Buddha was heralded by one, and wise men were told of his coming. The massacre of innocents, trying to find the newborn child dangerous to a leader, crops up in many religions. Thus endeth the lesson of the secularists.

The universality of the myth makes sense. Rebirth in the dead of winter is a universal (northern hemisphere) cause to celebrate. Whatever stories and romances are woven around mythical infants, the wonder of human birth remains a humanist sentiment. If, in the great religious melting pot of Rome, the Christian story eventually won out over the rest, it was St Paul's marketing skill in adding sophisticated populist elements: the child is poor, rich and poor alike bow down to it, worldly wealth not his domain, unlike the royal virgin births of earlier religions. Christianity was nothing if not opportunist.

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