De moedergodin of Almoeder verwijst naar een verscheidenheid van vrouwelijke godheden en moederlijke symbolen van schepping, creativiteit, geboorte, vruchtbaarheid, seksuele vereniging, verzorging, en de levenscyclus.
Er bestaat een verschil tussen de academische en de populaire opvatting over het begrip. De populaire opvatting wordt vooral gedragen door de godinnenbeweging en luidt dat primitieve samenlevingen eerst matriarchaal geweest zijn waarbij een soevereine, verzorgende, moederlijke aardegodin aanbeden werd. Zij bouwden daarbij voort op de negentiende-eeuwse ideeën van een unilineaire evolutie van Johann Jakob Bachofen. Zowel bij Bachofen als bij modernere theorieën is eerder sprake van een projectie van de huidige ideeën op oude mythes, dan dat er geprobeerd wordt de mentalité van die tijd te begrijpen. Veelal gaat dit gepaard met een verlangen naar een verloren beschaving uit vervlogen tijden die rechtvaardig, vredevol en wijs zou zijn geweest. Het is echter zeer onwaarschijnlijk dat een dergelijke beschaving heeft bestaan.
Lange tijd werd door feministische auteurs uitgedragen dat deze vredige, matriarchale agrarische samenlevingen werden uitgeroeid of onderworpen door nomadische, patriarchale krijgerstammen. Een belangrijke bijdrage hier was die van archeologe Marija Gimbutas. Haar werk op dit vlak wordt tegenwoordig echter grotendeels afgewezen. Ook bij feministische archeologen is deze visie tegenwoordig zeer omstreden.
Sinds de jaren zestig van de twintigste eeuw werd vooral in de populaire literatuur een link gelegd tussen de vermeende verering van de moedergodin en de sociale positie die vrouwen in prehistorische samenlevingen zouden hebben ingenomen. Daarmee kreeg de discussie een politiek karakter. Vanuit de huidige door mannen gedomineerde maatschappij zou volgens de godinnenbeweging moeten worden teruggekeerd naar het egalitaire matriarchaat van vroeger tijden. Dat deze maatschappijvorm zou hebben bestaan, zou worden ondersteund door de vele Venusbeeldjes die terug zijn gevonden.
In academische kringen wordt dit prehistorische matriarchaat onwaarschijnlijk geacht. Allereerst betekent het aanbidden van een moedergodin niet noodzakelijk dat vrouwen de dienst uitmaakten. Daarnaast kunnen de venusbeeldjes ook gewone vrouwen voorstellen of gewone godinnen en is het onduidelijk of er werkelijk ooit sprake is geweest van een moedergodin.
Dit alles heeft zijn effect op archeologen die zich richten op mythologie en religie die niet geassocieerd willen worden met Gimbutas en de godinnenbeweging.
- Balter, M., (2005): The Goddess and the Bull, Free Press
- Feder, K.L. (2010): Encyclopedia of Dubious Archaeology. From Atlantis to the Walam Olum, Greenwood
- Gimbutas, M. (1989): The Language of the Goddess, Thames & Hudson
- Gimbutas, M. (1991): The Civilization of the Goddess
- Hodder, I. (2010): Religion in the Emergence of Civilization. Çatalhöyük as a Case Study, Cambridge University Press
- James, S.L.; Dillon, S. (ed.), (2012): A Companion to Women in the Ancient World, Wiley-Blackwell
- Mellaart, J., (1967): Catal Huyuk. A Neolithic Town in Anatolia, McGraw-Hill
- Monaghan, P. (2014): Encyclopedia of Goddesses and Heroines, New World Library
- Motz, L. (1997): The Faces of the Goddess, Oxford University Press
- Singh, U. (2008): A History of Ancient and Early Medieval India. From the Stone Age to the 12th Century, Pearson Education India
- Smith, A.C. (2007): Powerful Mysteries. Myth and Politics in Virginia Woolf, ProQuest
- Wesler, K.W. (2012): An Archaeology of Religion, University Press of America
- The idea of the Mother Goddess, also called the Great Mother or Great Goddess, has dominated the imaginations of modern scholars in several fields. The image of the Mother Goddess with which we are familiar today has its modern genesis in the writings of Johann Jakob Bachofen. In 1861 Bachofen published his famous study Das Mutterrecht in which he developed his theory that human society progressed from hetaerism, characterized by unrestricted sexual relations, to matriarchy, in which women ruled society, and finally to the most advanced stage, patriarchy. Bachofen conceived of religious practice as progressing in a parallel manner from a belief in a mother goddess to a more advanced belief in a father god, associating belief in a mother deity with a primitive stage in the development of human society: “Wherever we encounter matriarchy, it is bound up with the mystery of the chthonian religion, whether it invokes Demeter or is embodied by an equivalent goddess” (Bachofen, 88). Bachofen believed that the matriarchal form of social organization derived from the maternal mystery religions (88-9).
As we see with Bachofen, modern theories of the Mother Goddess have inevitably been shaped by modern cultural presuppositions about gender. Lynn Roller believes that “[m]any discussions of the Mother Goddess rely on modern projections ought to be, rather than on ancient evidence defining what she was” (Roller, 9). William Ramsay, the late nineteenth-century archaeologist, who was the first researcher to demonstrate that the principal deity of Phrygia was a mother goddess, drew heavily on Bachofen's theory (Roller, 12). Like Bachofen's, Ramsay's understanding of the national character of matriarchal pre-Phrygian society is based on contestable evidence and relies on stereotypically feminine characteristics; he describes matriarchal pre-Phrygian society as “receptive and passive, not self-assertive and active” (12). For Ramsay, this “feminine” character explains why this culture was conquered by the masculine, warlike Phrygians with their male deities. Thus, constructions of ancient matriarchal societies, which are inseparable from “a glorification of the female element in human life” (12), are suspiciously similar to modern stereotypes of the feminine that are not necessarily native to pre-Phrygian culture. Given these observations, Bachofen's repeated emphasis on the necessity of freeing oneself from the cultural prejudices of one's own time if one is to truly understand these ancient cultures takes on an ironic tone. It is not only Bachofen and Ramsay, but many others after them, who assume the stereotypical femininity of the Mother Goddess. Many of these conceptions of what a mother goddess ought to be stem from “the Judaeo-Christian image of the loving, nurturing mother subservient to her husband and closely bonded with her children” (Roller, 9). Smith (2007)
- At one time, scholars tended to use the 'Mother Goddess' label for all female figurines found at sites. This was largely because of the belief that the worship of fertility goddesses was an important part of agricultural societies all over the world, and also due to a tendency to look at ancient remains through the lens of later-day Hinduism, in which goddess worship had an important place. However, scholars are now increasingly aware of the stylistic and technical differences among assemblages of female figurines. Further, all goddesses need not have been part of a single goddess cult, and not all ancient goddesses were necessarily associated with maternity.
In the light of such problems, the term 'Mother Goddess' should be replaced by the longer but more neutral phrase— 'female figurines with likely cultic significance.' This does not mean that none of these figurines might have had a religious or cultic significance. It is indeed possible that some were either images that were worshipped or votive offerings that were part of some domestic cult or ritual. However, not all female figurines necessarily had such a function. Whether we are looking at human or animal figurines, in all cases, their possible significance or function has to be assessed, and cannot be assumed. Apart from their form, the context in which they were found is crucial. Singh (2008) p. 130
- A popular undercurrent in fringe archaeology concerns the ostensible presence of a lost civilization hidden somewhere in the proverbial dim mists of time. This lost civilization is usually portrayed as having been amazingly and precociously advanced, possessing technological skills as yet still not developed even by our modern civilization and paranormal capacities of which we are not even aware. This lost civilization (or civilizations) is usually presented as the mother culture of all subsequent, historically known civilizations, having passed down their knowledge to them. The lost civilization was, tragically, destroyed, through either a natural cataclysm or some catastrophic technological mishap, and has been somehow hidden from us. Feder (2010)
- There isn't a scintilla of physical evidence that anything of the kind occurred. There is no archaeological evidence of a supersophisticated civilization 10000 years ago—no gleaming cities, no factories powered by Earth energies [...] Feder (2010)
- There is another popular view of figurines, which may be summed up as the “Mother Goddess” issue. The idea of the ascendancy of the Mother Goddess as the primeval deity can be traced back to nineteenth century culture theory, endorsed by Freud and Jung (Parker Pearson 1999:99-100; Talalay 1991), if not before. The modern manifestation was given a huge impetus in the work of Marija Gimbutas (1974, 1989, 1991). To reduce Gimbutas's argument to simplicity, she viewed early Neolithic society as egalitarian, matrifocal, matrilineal, and focused on worshipping a Mother Goddess (Tringham 1993), as evidenced by females figurines found in Neolithic sites in the Near East and eastern Mediterranean region.
Few archaeologists support her notion for a number of reasons (Meskell 1995; Tringham 1993, for example). They maintain that the Mother Goddess is an assumption, not a theory, and certainly not a demonstrated thesis. The critics argue that Gimbutas is blending modern myth, feminist ideology, and psychological theory unsupported by clinical research to impose the Mother Goddess archetype on past societies. [...]
Gimbutas's own work included excavations at Achilleion (Thessaly). Reviewers of that work (McPherron 1991; Runnels 1990) find problems with the sample size (four 5 x 5 m test units on the slope of a tell), use of dating methods, lack of explanation of field methodology, recording systems or lack thereof, omission of clear criteria for discerning interior versus exterior contexts, typology, statistics---it is hard to find a part of this work not negatively critiqued. Wesler (2012)
- Zo ontkracht Lotte Motz in haar boek The Faces of the Goddess uit 1997 de populaire theorie van een archetypische vruchtbaarheidscultus van de Moedergodin van vóór de opkomst van het patriarchaat en de onderdrukking van vrouwen.
- We begin with an issue that is foundational to the modern study of women in the ancient world, namely the Mother Goddess. As Lauren Talalay demonstrates in Case Study I (“The Mother Goddess in Prehistory: Debates and Perspectives”), there was a desire among scholars, particularly in the 1960s and 1970s, to locate a period in the distant past in which women were not secondary, when female power was celebrated, and when an overarching Mother Goddess was the primary divinity. This myth continues to have great appeal, as witnessed in “goddess-tourism” in the Mediterranean even today. While it is no longer an active scholarly theory, the issue of the Mother Goddess continues to be an exemplar for the problems of studying women in antiquity: mysterious images disembodied from their contexts, multiple scholarly biases and motivations, and conflicting interpretations of the scanty and fragmentary evidence. James; Dillon (2012)
- Worship of a nurturing Mother Goddess who oversees cosmological creation, fertility, and death does not necessarily entail or reflect a pacific matriarchy and female power in society. Talalay in James; Dillon (2012)
- Let me be perfectly clear about my own position: the maternal Great Goddess is a fantasy, a powerful fantasy with an astonishing capacity to resist criticism. Loraux in Duby, G.; Perrot, M. (1994)
- It may be impossible to ever prove one way or the other that a Great Goddess existed in prehistory. As the essays that follow suggest, what is more likely is that interpretations of female deities, their intersection with the roles of women in antiquity, and the place of these debates in modern society will be rewritten many times in the future. Talalay in James, S.L.; Dillon, S. (2012)
- Goddesses of the prime of life are often described as mother goddesses, although that term is questionable, given that the goddesses may not be maternal in any conventional sense. For instance, the single child of Cybele was conceived upon her while she was in the form of a rock and was never reared by her (see Southeastern Europe). Similarly, the eastern Mediterranean goddess Ninlil gave birth by making images of people from clay, as did the Chinese goddess Nüwa. The distinction between mother goddess and creatrix is often difficult to locate. In the Pacific, the goddess Papa both created the earth and gave birth to the gods.
The role of goddess as creatrix is common among goddesses, who can create by some other mechanism than birth, as Inuit Aakuluujjusi did when she threw her clothing on the ground, which walked away as animals. Monaghan (2014)
- Many archaeologists react with alarm when their work is associated with alternative religious beliefs and their impact on the public discourse and reception of archaeology. There is an overriding fear that their work will be classified alongside somehow equated with Marija Gimbutas' work on prehistoric figurines and the so-called "Mother-Goddess-Movement. Biehl, P.F. (1997): 'Overcoming the "Mother-Goddess-Movement": A New Approach to the Study of Human Representations' in Vasks, A. (ed.): Selected Papers of the Second Annual Meeting European Association of Archaeologists in Riga/Latvia (1996), Proceedings of the Latvian Academy of Science, p. 59-67