In Neo-pagan Witchcraft the Goddess is the very essence or central figure of the Craft and worship. She is the Great Mother, representing the fertility which brings forth all life; as Mother Nature she is the living biosphere of both the planets and the forces of the elements; she has roles of both creator and destroyer; she is the Queen of Heaven; and she is the moon. She possesses magical powers and is emotion, intuition and psychic faculty.
The Divine Force within the Goddess is believed to be genderless, but within the universe it is manifested as male and female principles. Often within the worship of the Divine Force the Goddess, or the female principle, is emphasized to the exclusion of The Horned God, or the male principle. But, theoretically both are recognized.
The Goddess has many facets, names and aspects. Although in witchcraft and Neo-paganism she is mainly worshiped in her aspects of the triple Goddess: Virgin, Mother and Crone.
Goddess worship dates back to Paleolithic times. Many anthropologists speculate the first "God " or gods of the peoples were feminine. This coincides with ancient creation myths and beliefs that creation was achieved through self-fertilization. Within the concept of creation the participation of the male principle was not known or recognized yet. The Goddess was believed to have created the universe by herself alone.
From this belief came the agricultural religions. It was thought that the gods only prospered by the beneficence and wisdom which the Goddess showered on them. Evidence appears to indicate most ancient tribes and cultures were matriarchal.
Although this maybe true, there seems to be little evidence that the feminine portions of these societies held themselves superior over their male counterparts. Generally Goddess worship had been balanced by the honoring of both the male and female Deities. This is illustrated by the belief in and the observance of the sacred marriage of the Sky God and Earth Mother in many global societies.
Among the first human images discovered are the "Venus figures," nude female figures having exaggerated sexual parts that date back to the Cro-Magnons of the Upper Paleolithic period between 35,000 and 10,000 BC.
In southern France is the Venus of Laussel which is carved in basrelief in a rock shelter. This appears once to have been a hunting shrine which dates to around 19,000 BC. In this carving the woman is painted red, perhaps to suggest blood, and holds a bison horn in one hand.
Also in Cro-Magnon cave paintings women are depicted giving birth. "A naked Goddess appears to have been the patroness of the hunt to mammoth hunters in the Pyrenees and was also protectress of the hearth and lady of the wild things."
Other female figurines were discovered dating back to the proto-Neolithic period of ca, 9000 - 7000 BC, the Middle Neolithic period of ca. 6000 - 5000 BC, and the Higher Neolithic period of ca. 4500 - 3500 BC. Some of these figurines were decorated as if they had been objects of worship. In black Africa were discovered cave images of the Horned Goddess (later Isis, ca. 7000 - 6000 BC). The Black Goddess images appeared to represent a bisexual, self-fertilizing woman.
During the predynastic Egyptian period, prior to 3110 BC, the Goddess was known as Ta-Urt (Great One) and was portrayed as a pregnant hippopotamus stand on her hind legs.
The Halaf culture around the Tigris River, ca. 5000 - 4000 BC, had Goddess figurines associated with the cow, serpent, humped ox, sheep, goat, pig, bull, dove and double ax. These things were known to the people and became symbols representing the Goddess.
In the Sumerian civilization, ca. 4000 BC, the princesses or queens of cities were associated with the Goddess. A king was associated with God.
Throughout the eons of history the Goddess assumed many aspects. She was seen as the creatress, virgin, mother, destroyer, warrior, huntress, homemaker, wife, artist, jurist, healer and sorcerer. Her roles or abilities increased with the advancement of the cultures which worshipped her.
She could represent a queen with a consort, or lover. She might bear a son who died young or was sacrificed only to rise again representing the annual birth-death-rebirth cycle of the seasons.
Throughout the centuries the Goddess has acquired a thousand names and a thousand faces but most always she has represented nature, she is associated with both the sun and moon, the earth and the shy. The Goddess religion, usually in all forms, is a nature religion. Those worshipping the Goddess worship or care for nature too.
It might be acknowledged that author Barbara G. Walker made two comments concerning the thousand names of the Goddess. The first is that "Every female divinity in the present Encyclopedia (Source: 56) may be correctly regarded as only another aspect of the core concept of a female Supreme Being." The author's other comment is, "If such a system had been applied to the usual concept of God, (giving him the different names and titles which people throughout the centuries have attributed to him), there would now be a multitude of separate 'gods' with names like Almighty, Yahweh, Lord, Holy Ghost, Sun of Righteousness, Christ, Creator, Lawgiver, Jehovah, Providence, Allah, Savior, Redeemer, Paraclete, Heavenly Father, and so on, ad infinitum, each one assigned to a particular function in the world pantheon."
Both comments may be considered correct when it is recognized that humankind is only able to speak of God, the Supreme Being and the gods in anthropomorphic terms. As it has been noted elsewhere, the human mind is unable to comprehend any godhead without the aid of anthropomorphism. But, many people such as Simon Magus have gotten themselves in serious trouble when calling God by another name. The early Church Father Hippolytus condemned Simon for referring to God as the Infinite Force.
The beginning of the Hebrew religion with its God Yahweh is said to have marked the end of the Goddess' Golden Age. Approximately this was between 1800 - 1500 BC when the prophet Abraham lived in Canaan.
The Christian Church, and especially the Roman Catholic Church, has fought hard to suppress or root out all Goddess worship. The Goddess along with all pagan deities were labeled as evil. But, little proof has been offered for this. One notable example is The Canon Episcopi.
Even though the Church attempted to completely abolish Goddess worship it never successfully did so. Remanents of it remained within the hearts of the people. An example of such devotion is seen within the actions of the people during the Church Council of Ephesus (432 AD). Until Christianized Ephesus had been a sacred city where the Divine Mother was worshiped by "all Asia and the world" (Acts 19:27). Also in this city of Ephesus, as elsewhere, she was called Mother of Animals. "Her most famous Ephesus image had a torso covered with breasts, showing her ability to nurture the whole world." During this council of bishops people rioted in the streets demanding the worshipping of the Goddess be restored. The prime candidate was Mary, the Virgin and Mother of Christ. The bishops conceded so far in allowing Mary to be called the Mother of God, but the forbade her to be called Mother Goddess or Goddess.
To the very present many, both Catholics and especially Protestants, wonder why Catholics have a great devotion toward the Virgin Mary. Few know the occurrences at Ephesus, and that this devotion is probably the long surviving remanent of their early ancestors' devotion to the Goddess.