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A goddess is a female deity, in contrast with a male deity known as a "god". Many cultures have goddesses, sometimes alone, but more often as part of a larger pantheon that includes both the conventional genders and in some cases even hermaphrodite deities. As the concept of monotheism and polytheism is relativistic, so the related concepts of god and goddess can be culturally misunderstood. The concept of gender as applied to a god and goddess, may connote deeper tendencies of patriarchy and matriarchy, which may to have equivalence to the rift between monotheism and polytheism. The goddess concept is advocated by modern matriarchists and pantheists as a female version of or analogue to god (i.e., the Abrahamic god), who in feminist and other circles is perceived as being rooted in the patriarchal concept of dominance — to the exclusion of feminine concepts. The feminine-masculine relationship between deifications is sometimes rooted in the monism, ("One-ism") rather than through a definitive and rigid concept of monotheism versus polytheism, wherein the goddess and god are seen as the genders of one transcendental monad.

Dharmic religions

Main article: Hindu Goddess
The Hinduism is a complex of various belief systems that sees many gods and goddesses as being representative of and/or emanative from a single source, Brahman, understood either as a formless, infinite, impersonal monad in the Advaita tradition or as a dual God in the form of Lakshmi-Vishnu, Radha-Krishna, Devi-Shiva in Dvaita traditions. Shaktas, worshippers of the Goddess, equate this God with Devi, the mother goddess. Such aspects of One God as male God (Shaktiman) and female energy (Shakti), working as a pair are often envisioned as male gods and their wives or consorts and provide many analogues between passive male ground and dynamic female energy. For example, Brahma pairs with Sarasvati. Shiva likewise pairs with Uma who later is represented through a number of avatars (incarnations): Parvati and the warrior figures, Durga and Kali. All goddesses in Hinduism are sometimes grouped together as the great goddess, Devi. A further step was taken by the idea of the Shaktis. Their ideology based mainly on tantras sees Shakti as the principle of energy through which all divinity functions, thus showing the masculine to be dependent on the feminine. Indeed, in the great shakta scripture known as the Devi Mahatmya, all the goddesses are shown to be aspects of one presiding female force, one in truth and many in expression, giving the world and the cosmos the galvanic energy for motion. It is expressed through both philosophical tracts and metaphor that the potentiality of masculine being is given actuation by the feminine divine. Local deities of different village regions in India were often identified with "mainstream" Hindu deities, a process that has been called "Sanskritization". Others attribute it to the influence of monism or Advaita which discounts polytheist or monotheist categorization.

While the monist forces have led to a fusion between some of the goddesses (108 names are common for many goddesses), centrifugal forces have also resulted in new goddesses and rituals gaining ascendance among the laity in different parts of Hindu world. Thus, the immensely popular goddess Durga was a pre-Vedic goddess who was later fused with Parvati, a process that can be traced through texts such as Kalika Purana (10th century), Durgabhaktitarangini (Vidyapati 15th century), Chandimangal (16th century) etc.

God or Goddess?

The fundamental belief of Sikhism is that God or Goddess exists, not merely as an idea or concept, but as a Real Entity, indescribable yet knowable and perceivable to anyone who is prepare to dedicate the time and energy to become perceptive to His or Her persona. The Gurus never spoke about proofs of the existence of God: For them S/he is too real and obvious to need any logical proof. Whether God is male or female is a concept that does not pose any problem for a Sikh as God is accepted as gender-neutral. The Sikh Scriptures refer to God as Father and Mother thus:

God is my Protector, my Mother and Father. Meditating in remembrance on Him, I do not suffer in sorrow.

– SGGS page 1183

So the concept of a Goddess, although not normally referred to by Sikhs, is in keeping with the holy text of the religion and adheres to the overall concept of God. However, the other overriding aspect of God that is very important, is the concept of the God being formless as described in this line: "When the Immaculate and Formless Lord God was all alone, He did everything by Himself. ||3||" (SGGS page 216) So Sikhs do not imagine a picture of a Goddess in their mind when visualising the Creator Being.

Graeco-Roman religion
Main articles: Greek religion and Roman religion
Eleusinian Mysteries: Persephone, Demeter, Baubo
Potnia Theron

Celtic religion
Main article: Celtic paganism
Dea Matrona
Sulis, Verbeia
Agrona, Mórrígan

Norse religion
Main article: Norse paganism
Surviving accounts of indigenous Norse paganism contain numerous female deities, giantesses and goddesses.


Abrahamic religions
Monotheist cultures, which recognise only one central deity, generally do characterize that deity as male, implicitly already grammatically by using masculine gender, but also explicitly by terms such as "Father" or "Lord". In all monotheist religions, however, there are mystic undercurrents which emphasize the feminine aspects of the godhead, e.g. the Collyridians in the time of early Christianity, who viewed Mary as a Goddess, the medieval visionary Julian of Norwich, the Judaic Shekinah and the Gnostic Sophia traditions, and some Sufi texts in Islam.

Ancient Hebrew, as well as Modern Hebrew, had no neuter gender, only masculine and feminine. Although Judaism uses masculine words to describe God more than feminine words, Judaism maintains that God has no gender. While God is frequently referred to using masculine formations (because of the grammatical gender of the words generally used to describe God), the majority of objects related to worship in Judaism such as the Torah are grammatically feminine.

In Christianity, belief in a feminine deity was deemed characteristic of heresy, but veneration for Mary, the mother of Jesus, as an especially privileged human being, though not as a deity, has continued since the beginning of the Christian faith.

Since the 1980s Christian feminists have challenged this traditional view; some such as Mary Daly no longer consider themselves Christian, but others continue to seek room within their traditions for the Divine Feminine and to press for female spiritual leadership. (See thealogy.)

However, while the term "Goddess" was rejected in what is usually considered orthodox Christianity, Christians believe that God transcends sex, whether masculine or feminine.

Some people believe that the example of Jesus and the tradition of centuries has Christians refer to and address God as "Father", not "Mother". However, this is not the real meaning of the words Jesus used to describe the deity. The original words have a meaning of both mother and father. They believe that in Jesus, who was male, God became incarnate. Pronouns that grammatically are of feminine gender (not pronouns that refer to the female sex, such as the English "she") are used to refer to the Holy Spirit in languages, such as Hebrew, where the word for "spirit" is of feminine grammatical gender. In Greek, where the word for "spirit" is of neuter grammatical gender, the pronoun that refers to it is of neuter gender. In Latin, the pronoun is of masculine gender, referring to the grammatically masculine word "spiritus". However, while in English, a language without grammatical gender, the normal pronoun to refer to a spirit would be "it", the Holy Spirit is customarily referred to as "he", perhaps partly due to the influence of Latin and of the other Germanic languages, in which the word for spirit is of masculine grammatical gender.

Professedly Christian members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) believe in, but do not worship, a Heavenly Mother, the wife and female counterpart and equal of the Heavenly Father.

In pre-Islamic Mecca the goddesses Uzza, al-Manat and al-Lat were known as "the daughters of god". Uzza was worshipped by the Nabataeans, who equated her with the Graeco-Roman goddesses Aphrodite, Urania, Venus and Caelestis. Each of the three goddesses had a separate shrine near Mecca. Uzza, was called upon for protection by the pre-Islamic Quraysh. "In 624 at the battle called "Uhud", the war cry of the Qurayshites was, "O people of Uzza, people of Hubal!" (Tawil 1993).

According to Ibn Ishaq's controversial account of the Satanic Verses (q.v.), these verses had previously endorsed them as intercessors for Muslims, but were abrogated. Muslim scholars have regarded the story has historically implausible, while opinion is divided among western scholars such as Leone Caetani, John Burton against and William Muir, William Montgomery Watt for its plausibility.

Islam, God (Allah) - although referred to as "He" - is free of gender, neither male nor female.

New religious movements

In Discordianism, Eris or Discordia, is generally venerated as Goddess, as illustrated in the first clause of the Pentabarf:

"There is no Goddess but Goddess and She is Your Goddess. There is no Erisian Movement but The Erisian Movement and it is The Erisian Movement. And every Golden Apple Corps is the beloved home of a Golden Worm."
She is generally described as a quick-tempered woman who spreads chaos and discord, which are fundamental to life and creativity. However, due to the nature of the religion, this is open to individual interpretation.

Many people liken Eris to a concept or idea, though this may be considered blasphemy by some.

Main article: Polytheistic reconstructionism
Polytheistic reconstructionists focus on reconstructing polytheistic religions, including the various goddesses and figures associated with indigenous cultures.

In Wicca "the Goddess" or "the Lady" is a deity of prime importance, along with her consort the Horned God. She is described as a kind of tribal Goddess of the witch-cult, who seems largely to be modelled on Aradia, the messianic daughter of Diana described in Charles Leland's Aradia. She was held to be neither omnipotent nor universal, and it was recognised that there was a greater "Prime Mover", although the witches did not concern themselves much with this being.

Within many forms of Wicca the Goddess has come to be considered as a universal deity, more in line with her description in the Charge of the Goddess, a key Wiccan text. In this guise she is the "Queen of Heaven", similar to Isis; she also encompasses and conceives all life, much like Gaia. Much like Isis and certain late Classical conceptions of Selene, she is held to be the summation of all other goddesses, who represent her different names and aspects across the different cultures.

The Goddess is often portrayed with strong lunar symbolism, drawing on various cultures and deities such as Diana, Hecate and Isis, and is often depicted as the Maiden, Mother and Crone triad popularised by Robert Graves (see Triple Goddess below). Many depictions of her also draw strongly on Celtic goddesses.

Some Wiccans believe there are many goddesses, and in some forms of Wicca, notably Dianic Wicca, the Goddess alone is worshipped, and the God plays very little part in their worship and ritual.

Triple Goddess

The lunar Triple Goddess symbol.Main article: Triple Goddess
Goddesses or demi-goddesses appear in sets of three in a number of ancient European pagan mythologies; these include the Greek Erinyes (Furies) and Moirae (Fates); the Norse Norns; Brighid and her two sisters, also called Brighid, from Irish or Keltoi mythology.

Robert Graves popularised the triad of "Maiden" (or "Virgin"), "Mother" and "Crone", and while this idea did not rest on sound scholarship, his poetic inspiration has gained a tenacious hold. Considerable variation in the precise conceptions of these figures exists, as typically occurs in Neopaganism and indeed in pagan religions in general. Some choose to interpret them as three stages in a woman's life, separated by menarche and menopause. Others find this too biologically based and rigid, and prefer a freer interpretation, with the Maiden as birth (independent, self-centred, seeking), the Mother as giving birth (interrelated, compassionate nurturing, creating), and the Crone as death and renewal (holistic, remote, unknowable) — and all three erotic and wise.

In dominantly Hellenic derived religions and in subsequent New Age and Wiccan religions, often three of the four phases of the moon (waxing, full, waning) symbolise the three aspects of the Triple Goddess: put together they appear in a single symbol comprising a circle flanked by two mirrored crescents. Some, however, find the triple incomplete, and prefer to add a fourth aspect. This might be a "Dark Goddess" or "Wisewoman", perhaps as suggested by the missing dark of the moon in the symbolism above, or it might be a specifically erotic goddess standing for a phase of life between Maiden (Virgin) and Mother, or a Warrior between Mother and Crone. There is a male counterpart of this in the English poem "The Parliament of the Thre Ages".

The Triple Goddess as Maiden, Mother and Crone has also reached modern popular culture, such as Neil Gaiman's own conception of the Furies in The Sandman, and elsewhere.

Religious feminism
At least since first-wave feminism in the United States, there has been interest in analyzing religion to see if and how doctrines and practices treat women unfairly, as in Elizabeth Cady Stanton's The Woman's Bible. Again in second wave feminism in the U.S., as well as in many European and other countries, religion became the focus of some feminist analysis in Judaism, Christianity, and other religions, and some women turned to ancient Goddess religions as an alternative to Abrahamic religions (Womanspirit Rising 1979; Weaving the Visions 1989). Today both women and men continue to be involved in the Goddess movement (Christ 1997).

While much of the attempt at gender equity in mainstream Judaism and Christianity is aimed at reinterpreting scripture and degenderizing language used to name and describe the divine (Ruether, 1984; Plaskow, 1991), there are a growing number of people who identify as Christians or Jews who are trying to integrate Goddess imagery into their religions (Kien, 2000; Kidd 1996, "Goddess Christians Yahoogroup").

Metaphorical reference
The term "goddess" has also been adapted to poetic and secular use as a complimentary description of a non-mythological woman. For example, Shakespeare had several of his male characters address female characters as goddesses, including Demetrius to Helena (to tease her) in A Midsummer Night's Dream ("O Helen, goddess, nymph, perfect, divine!"), Berowne to Rosaline in Love's Labour's Lost ("A woman I forswore; but I will prove, Thou being a goddess, I forswore not thee"), and Bertram to Diana in All's Well That Ends Well. Pisanio also compares Imogen to a goddess to describe her composure under duress in Cymbeline. More recently, CBS News correspondent Bob Simon described Aishwarya Rai as "a Greek goddess with an Indian spirit" while interviewing her on 60 Minutes. (Credit: Wikipedia).


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