Our First Gods Were Female
Early civilization worshipped a Great Goddess who represented fertility and the earth.
The earliest depiction of a human is a woman's pelvic area. Two upright legs support a woman's pubic triangle. The charcoal drawing is over 30,000 years old, one of the oldest paintings in Chauvet Cave. The bull was painted over it at a later time. At this early time in humankind's religious development, the Great Goddess was equated with the earth. Early peoples observed that the Earth, like women, gave birth, nurtured, and finally “took back” life into some mysterious underground realm (Womb/Tomb) to return again in the springtime. That's why caves were so important. However, as agriculture developed humans realized that by looking at the sky the year could be divided into repeatable seasons. That's when the Earth Goddess morphed into a sky deity. The planet Venus was particularly attractive to these early farmers. In ancient Mesopotamia Inanna was the Queen of Heaven and goddess of fertility and war, and her known period of worship was circa 3500 BC to 1750 BC, with cult centres at from Uruk to Nineveh.
Here is Inanna, the earth goddess of the ancient Sumerians, the ancient people living in the Cradle of Western Civilization between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. She was known as the "Queen of Heaven." Identified with Venus, Inanna was a snake goddess and originally a vegetation goddess. She was patron of the vine, of flocks, herds, with an associated snake iconography. Inanna’s prime concern was with the fertility of the earth and, in conjunction with the shepherd-god Dumuzi she was the source of universal life. All life in ancient Mesopotamia was conceived as the result of the union between earth, water and air as the personified goddess. Innana was the Sumerian Queen of the Land and source of the blood of the earth. Also Queen Moon, Great Goddess of the Bronze Age, ruler of stars, planets and rain clouds, accompanied by winged lions. She was the great Sumerian Mother goddess and later identified with the Babylonian Ishtar.
Marriage evolved as an institution following the introduction of the sacred marriage to the goddess Innana around 2350 B.C.
Inanna’s cult of the earth was synchronised with seasonal cycles in both myth and ritual where the goddess as Inanna/Ishtar “…represented the source of all generative power in nature and in mankind as the Universal Mother.
Before the idea of marriage between gods developed, families consisted of loosely organized groups of as many as 30 people, with several male leaders, multiple women shared by them, and children. As hunter-gatherers settled down into agrarian civilizations, society had a need for more stable arrangements. Once better farming methods developed, people began to grow more organized and build cities. Leadership and military might became more valued than agriculture. Patriarchy came to dominate.
In Mesopotamia the goddess was the first cause and thus the dominant figure.The symbolism of the sacred marriage between the goddess and the god, who was her husband/brother.
The ritual and symbolism reached its climax at the seasonal spring sacred marriage, which is represented visually in Akkadian seals. In these seals the Mother-goddess is shown with tree branches, the sacred tree the symbol of the goddess.
Inanna promised herself to the King every spring. The holiday was celebrated in the city-states to secure fruitfulness to the crops, the people, their flocks and herds and the whole land.
The Tree of Life
During the transition from food gathering to production of food during the Neolithic, the female principle continued to exert its prominence in the feminine cultus. With regard to the female principle and the Tree of Life the imagery of fecundity and birth mystery harks back to the Palaeolithic.
In Mesopotamia, Syria, Anatolia, Greece and other locations, the Sacred Tree symbolized the generative principle in nature personified in the Mother Goddess called Ninhursaga, Inanna, Ishtar. Throughout the ceremonial and ritual process it was the goddess who was regarded as the incarnation of the reproductive forces in nature and the Mother of the gods and of mankind; the sacred tree was the embodiment of the goddess, often in association with her young virile partner, husband, son, or paramour.
Two of my books touch on the early earth goddesses; Chapter 6, Cave of Forgotten Dreams in The First Altar and Chapter 29: René’s Night Out in The Inconvenient Goddess.
Listen to Mary narrate Rene's night out: