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Five Life Rites of the Goddess

egyptian art with five  goddesses

The divine feminine as guiding cosmic wisdom through our five life stations

- part one of a series of posts.

The White Goddess by Robert Graves is a classic work on mythology and the poetic muse. His central thesis involved the concept of a single goddess who, although known under many names and with different functions, was an expression of a universal religion long predating patriarchal forms.

The powerful ideas in The White Goddess helped to revitalise modern studies of the ancient matriarchy, with the great goddess as the earth’s fundamental spiritual beingness. Graves’ exposition involves the rhythms of nature and sacred number and the essential expression of the goddess as cyclical.

In the solar calendar her number was thirteen for the number of moon cycles as the sun moved through the zodiac. In this way the goddess ruled the pattern of nature’s year and her weather-based seasons, which have been viewed as two, four or the six and seven marked by indigenous Australian peoples.

In the lunar calendar fifteen or 3 X 5 ruled because the full moon falls on the fifteenth day of lunation.

Three-fold Goddess

The moon’s phases of waxing, full and waning became an image of the threefold goddess related to the rhythms in the living world and to a woman’s menstrual cycle. The phases connected especially with the life stages of female fertility – virginity, full blooming and fading. The roles were commonly described as maiden, woman-mother and crone or grandmother.

In the ancient world the symbolism of three was widely represented and highly significant. In an echo of all Nature, the awesome triple goddess was guardian of the eternal cycle of seed, growth and dying. The triple goddess was widespread in religions. Irish Brigit is a triune goddess, an example of three in one. The three Matres were worshipped throughout Celtic Gaul. Lakshmi, Saraswati and Parvati form a divine Hindu trinity. Hathor, Nephthys and Isis an Egyptian one, while the rites of Kore, Demeter and Hecate were celebrated in the mysteries at Eleusis in Greece. The Horae and Graces are threefold. The Greek Fates and the Norns of the Norse myths who ruled the destinies of humans and gods are portrayed as three women weaving the threads of life.

Today she has been ‘resurrected’. Her threefold symbolism of the Celtic triple spiral and the triskele or triskelion remain popular decorative motifs, from earrings to tattoos.

Reclaiming rites of the threefold goddess helps many women to find their inner power. And knowing her assists all of us to attune to the living world around us – the kind of empathy desperately needed today when we are abandoning Mother Nature, or at best barely hear as she calls us, surrounded as we are by noise and concrete and metal.

Five-fold Goddess

What of the five-aspected goddess? Some spiritual pathways add two extra goddess archetypes, warrior and lover-whore, to make five. Or there’s the division into keepers of the dark, waxing, waning and full moons, plus the April full moon known as the egg.

As well, five is the number of the human being, the ‘handy’ five-fingered being, maker and creator throughout life on earth. Thus, the symbolism of five is intimately embedded in human lives and it points to the real potential in human souls.

In this context the goddess as ‘guiding cosmic Wisdom’ is directly linked to the human journey on earth and five key stages or stations – birth, initiation (entry into woman- or manhood), consummation (sex, marriage, bonds of love), repose (the time of wisdom, knowledge, reflection and vision) and death, which leads to the return and rebirth. In cultures around the world each station had its sacred places and ritual significance. Each also involved responsibilities and privileges. Knowing the purpose of these enabled a person to connect fruitfully with divine purposes and to the world around, to the community and to life beyond the physical. That is why they remain relevant.

In ancient times wise women acted as guides and mentors in the keeping of the rites and the sanctuaries. Of the five stages, only the initiation of young males into adulthood was in the hands of men.

Losing the rites of the goddess and her power

Today we have lost understanding of life mysteries and women and men have suffered because of this. We mark the stations of life that were once profound mysteries through the prism of dis-ease and discomfort. Birth has been increasingly placed in the hands of medical clinicians – with midwives often pushed to the periphery. Forgotten is the spirit-earth connection telling us that human procreation is a microcosm of divine Creation. And death is quickly shunted off to professionals in funeral parlours.

For young males without the formal initiatory rites of passage, entrance into adulthood is frequently associated with pumped up but directionless aggression. As for females, too long has menstruation begun ‘the curse’ that only ends with menopause, and that relegates women to the burden of useless old age, respected only if someone has achieved worldly status – but this status mostly pertains to men. ‘Crone’ has become a term of derision; ‘hag’ derived from hagia, ‘holy’ is even more insulting.

For many women, their wedding is a key life rite, while sex and love in marriage do fulfil dreams. Often the whole process is fraught through unrealistic fantasy expectations of ‘happy ever after’ or a redundant concept of male ownership that results in daily media reports of domestic abuse.

Her expressions and symbols

The goddesses are like the petals of a flower, part of a beautiful unity. From her origin in Oneness, the goddess devolves into many forms in diverse cultures. Hebe, Maia, Artemis, Persephone, Aphrodite, Inanna, Ishtar, Parvati, Hathor, Bastet, Hokhmah, Athena, Tara, Hecate, Cerridwen, the Morrigan and Erishkigal - these and countless other goddesses world-wide guarded the five stations, with many having more than one sacred role. The five Egyptian goddesses in the papyrus picture [1] (heading the post) were vital guardians of the human journey from birth all the way through to rebirth.

The earthy symbol of five appears in different ways. Below are two: the Celtic symbol of unity and the pentagram.

The Celtic symbol depicts nature’s fourfold elements, earth, air, fire and water, interlocking with the fifth, the etheric, the spiritual counterpart of the physical through which humans attune to all life. The pentagram, a five-pointed star, today signifies fame or celebrity, although its symbolic origin was the archetypal and stylized form of the standing human being, legs apart, arms extended and the head above, making five points.

The star’s relevance goes way back. In ancient Egypt the constellation of Orion portrayed cosmic ‘man’, Sah or Osiris, and was closely associated with nearby Sirius the brightest star in the heavens, frequently understood as Isis, beloved of Osiris and the goddess guiding life on earth. The star has been taken up today as the pentacle set in a surrounding circle, a sign connected with Wicca and the restoration of lost female rites.

The Songs of the Five Trees of the Goddess - an imaginative reconstruction

And then there are the five trees, the first of which is the Tree of Life who is called Wisdom (Greek Sophia). These trees are said to exist unchanging in the eternal realms. Thus, in the Coptic Gospel of Thomas Jesus says ‘…For there are five trees for you in Paradise which do not change, either in summer or in winter, and their leaves do not fall. He who knows them shall not taste of death.’[2] Metaphysically these trees portray the path through life attuned to higher purpose and in touch with the eternal.

Trees in different lands and cultures will be differently named. Graves called on trees of the Celtic lands to explore their language and symbolic meaning for his work on the goddess. In my novel Marriages of the Magdalene, I took up the theme. Mary Magdalene’s female mentors take her on a journey to the five ancient sanctuaries of female mysteries with their trees, memories of which were held in women’s secret lore.

I focused on Palestine’s indigenous trees in the Bible. Through these I could investigate and imagine the matriarchal undercurrent hidden behind the patriarchal stories of biblical sites. These are the five trees of Canaan related to five ancient mystery sites: the palm, tamarisk, olive, tabor oak and acacia. In the Magdalene Christianity website [3], I have included the Songs of the Goddess. The five songs came to me as a kind of poetic summation of Mary Magdalene’s experiences. Songs like these may have once been sung in women’s secret gatherings.

I drew my versions of ancient forgotten rites from imagination – or perhaps memory. I was conscious too that in the light of the Christ event, the goddess must emerge again, and is emerging, yet we need to renew the mysteries in a form that reflects the soul’s striving towards spiritual individuality that lives beyond the limits of gender. Yet it is often said that the life force of the soul is held in the feminine aspect of self.

We acknowledge our humanity when we return to the goddess and discover her varied expressions within us through our newly won individual consciousness, because we are both male and female and will experience both over the course of our incarnations.

When we reclaim the five stages of the goddess for ourselves, we do this for all women and all men. It will be wonderful when we mark the important milestones of life again with rituals and celebrations that acknowledge their spiritual purpose – our soul’s rebirth into this world, which then becomes our school of life and learning; our first steps into adulthood; the search for loving fruitful partnerships as echoes of divine love; the quest in maturity for inner wisdom and true vision; and the great transition marked by our death, thus to journey again through the spiritual realms.

Truly, the rhythms of the goddess belong to us all. And in the posts that follow I will explore the deep significance of each of the five stations, watched over by the spiritual beings whose wisdom aligns with the One known as Wisdom who is the Tree of Life.


[1]The papyrus painting (probably a copy of an original tomb painting) depicts the god Osiris surrounded by five Egyptian goddesses - from left: Nephthys, Amentet, Isis, Maat, and Meskhenet who created the newborn child’s ka and is found in the halls of Maat. [2] Logia (saying) 19. This gospel of ‘Jesus’s sayings’ dating from the 1st century CE was found in 1945 hidden in a cave at Nag Hammadi, Egypt with cache of gnostic writings. These works have enlightened scholars on the nature of Gnosticism. [3] - post in Portal 5 The Rhythms and Songs of the Goddess


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