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exhibition bannerThe Sacred Mother

Introduction

Cross-culturally, one of the most common roles filled by female deities is that of motherhood and fertility. As childbearer and nurturer, the female is not only a creator of life but also a supplier. Eventually the revered mother figure was integrated into religion and became a goddess, a transition that created widespread worship from prehistory to present.

The nature of the sacred mother’s history has resulted in a variety of manifestations and different names. The Greek and Egyptian goddesses Aphrodite and Hathor respectively, were virtually equivalent. They both governed the corollary realms of love, desire, and sexuality, but each culture represented them differently. Today, the Hindu goddess Parvati presides over similar domains.

Some goddesses also preside over the realms of motherhood and marriage, like Parvati and Hera, and others largely govern regeneration and agricultural fertility, such as Isis and Demeter. In addition, more than one mother goddess could be worshipped in the same culture. For example, in Greece, Demeter was worshipped to ensure agricultural fertility and Aphrodite, reproductive fertility. A mysterious deity known simply as the “Great Mother” was also popular in the Graeco-Roman world.

Often portrayed as voluptuous and bare-breasted, mother figures can represent the essence of fertility. The ancient goddesses Aphrodite and Astarte are often depicted fully nude, and fertility spirits in the Nigerian Yoruba culture are often represented bare-breasted and accompanied by a child. Egyptian Isis appears maternal, sometimes suckling her child Horus. With the rise of Christianity, all of these goddesses were usurped by Mary, the mother of Jesus.

(Use the links on the right to see this online exhibition.)

The Sacred Feminine Links:

The Sacred Mother
- Introduction
- Objects

The Dangerous Feminine
- Introduction
- Objects (opens new window)

Beyond Human: Female Sainthood
- Introduction
- Objects (opens new window)

Models of Knowledge and Power
- Introduction
- Objects (opens new window)

Devotees and Consorts
- Introduction
- Objects (opens new window)

The Divine Queen
- Introduction
- Objects (opens new window)

The Cult of the Virgin
- Introduction
- Objects (opens new window)

Contemporary Interpretations
- Introduction
- Objects (opens new window)

exhibition illustration

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