When you think of God, what does he look like? Does he have a long beard? Does he have a domineering stature? Is he cloaked in an ethereal white robe? Does he exude the commanding authority of a father? Is he even a he in the first place? Do transcendent beings like God have gendered bodies?
The prevailing conception of God as a man represents a critical juncture in history when patriarchal religious institutions started to emerge. Unbeknownst to many, the masculine portrayal of God was not a constant theme in all the historical periods of human civilization. According to Riane Eisler, in her book, The Chalice and the Blade, the earliest evidence of the masculinization of God only started among pastoral-nomadic communities during the Bronze Age. In addition, major religious institutions like Judeo-Christianity and Islam were just recent forces that strengthened these patriarchal conceptions into modernity. Hence, the construction of God as a man is a recent invention of patriarchal imagination that dominates society.
Historical evidence proves that there was a point in time when God assumed the form of a woman. During this lost era, the divine feminine was venerated by society. God was not depicted as a spiteful paternal figure that exacted unflinching obedience from his subjects, but rather, closely resembled our mothers. In stark contrast to the contemporary male god, god during this epoch was perceived to be nurturing and benevolent that were attributes closely associated to femininity. She was not a wrathful supernatural being that promised eternal damnation for those who disobeyed her; the woman God celebrated life and happiness rather than violence.
God as a woman was a recurrent universal theme that prevailed in the religious systems of prehistoric people. The rationale for this apparent cultural pattern was the intimacy of our ancestors to their natural environment. Due to their inextricable reliance to nature, the logic of prehistoric people compelled them to construct God in the image of the closest figure that symbolized life — women. The body of the woman closely mirrored the wonders and mysteries of nature. Just like the earth, life ebbed and flowed through the woman. The blood that surged from her body was reminiscent of the cyclical seasons that promised the abundance of harvest. Furthermore, woman was capable of one thing that men cannot; the ability to give birth. Hence, life emanated from the body of woman and paralleled the power of nature to renew and regenerate. However, the goddess was banished to the oblivion of our historical consciousness. The peaceful and loving primeval goddess was supplanted by the ferocious male god of warring societies.
According to Eisler, the goddesses of prehistory started to vanish when agrarian communities such as of Old Europe that worshipped the divine feminine were conquered by the Kurgans of the Bronze Age. The Kurgans were pastoral-nomadic people that conquered other societies to acquire resources and territory. This form of violent lifestyle placed eminence on the subjugation of Others that equated power to violence. Contrary to prehistoric people who valued life and creation, the Kurgans valued destruction and war. Men who engaged in combat and vanquished their enemies were perceived to be powerful and ideal. Hence, the Kurgans imagined God as a warrior-king who had dominion and authority over his creation. After this point in time, violent male gods have overthrown the reign of the goddess that once blessed humanity.
So what does it mean if God was a woman before? Does it have any profound implications on our human affairs?
The gender of God does not only concern theological discourse but extends to the way we organize society. By reclaiming the narrative of the goddess, we are able to reassess our politics, social relations, and even our responsibility to the environment. Firstly, the gender of God is inherently political. God, as the highest supreme being, is said to be omnipotent- all powerful. Portraying God as a man implies that men possess divine authority by virtue of their gender. By reframing the gender of God, we are able to challenge the notion that men are inherently superior to women (and other gender minorities) because of a natural order designed by a male god. This urges us to contest the power structures that exalt masculinity and denigrate femininity.
On the other hand, reviving the goddess allows us to restructure our social relationships that are premised on domination and masculinity. Major religious institutions such as Judeo-Christianity depict God and humanity in a hierarchical nature. The relationship of humanity to God is often likened to that of a king and his subject where one is dominant while the other is subjugated. This hierarchical and masculinist paradigm places emphasis on domination where one must always be lesser. Contrary to this logic, the goddess does not subscribe to a hierarchical conception of the world. Rather than being a supreme ruler like the modern male gods, the goddess is conceived to be like a mother. Her power does not arise from domination but the responsibility to care for her children- where both men and women stand equal before her.
Furthermore, this paradigm of domination of male gods has severed our relationship to the natural environment. In the hierarchy of things, the material and physical world are treated as mere creations of God for men to exploit. The world is external to the male God, a separate existence from his being. Nonetheless, the goddess in prehistory did not regard the environment as a creation separate from her, but an integral aspect of a vast interconnected system. This idea of holism was present in prehistoric art that celebrated life and nature that were inextricably linked to the goddess. In the age of patriarchy and capitalism where the environment is viewed as a commodity and property of man, the goddess becomes a salient icon for environmental justice.
God is a woman. She may have been defeated by the male gods of modern men, but just like the cycles of nature, she will rise from history. The divine feminine will be reclaimed.
Eisler, R. (1998). The chalice and the blade. Thorsons.
Jomer Malonosan is a 21 year old queer student of politics at the University of the Philippines Visayas. They spend their time reading, sleeping, or violently dancing to Ariana Grande.