(Textual analysis of the Charge of the Goddess part 1 )
We have chosen to use a version of the Charge of the Goddess which has been widely reproduced both in printed and online literature. It varies slightly from the versions we have had passed down to us in our tradition, but the variations are not in our opinion of great importance as they are usually just a difference in a word here or there, possibly through scribal errors along the way or through being written down from memory at times.
We have noted differences between this version and those published by Gardner and Valiente elsewhere. The underlined text represents the words spoken by the High Priest and High Priestess, whereas the writing that follows indicates the source, or possible source material(s) used, together with commentary where appropriate. When we have been unable to establish the source we have assumed it to be original material written by the person (or persons) who compiled it and have stated as such. In some instances, we have included our own speculations on possible, but circumstantial material which may have been the inspiration for a particular line or part of this Charge.
Textual Analysis of the Charge of the Goddess
“HP: Listen to the words of the Great Mother, who of old was also called among men, Artemis, Astarte, Dione, Melusine, Aphrodite, Ceridwen, Diana, Arianrhod, Bride, and by many other names.”
The opening introductory statement by the High Priest is clearly presenting the idea of a universal goddess. This piece seems to be original, though there is a historical basis for the concept and name of the Great Mother, as can be seen in the writings of the Roman historian Lucian, in the second century CE, who wrote of the goddess in his work De Dea Syria (‘The Syrian Goddess’) as:
“She is our Mother Earth, known otherwise as the Mother Goddess or Great Mother. Among the Babylonians and northern Semites she was called Ishtar: she is the Ashtoreth of the Bible, and the Astarte of Phœnicia. In Syria her name was ‘Athar, and in Cilicia it had the form of ‘Ate (‘Atheh). At Hierapolis, with which we are primarily concerned, it appears in later Aramaic as Atargatis, a compound of the Syrian and Cilician forms ... for in one way and another there was still a prevailing similarity between the essential attributes and worship of the nature-goddess throughout Western Asia.”
The Roman historian and magician Apuleius, a contemporary of Lucian, expressed a similar theme. In his novel of initiation, The Golden Ass, he has Isis describe herself as the goddess of whom all others are aspects.
“For the Phrygians call me the mother of the gods: the Athenians, Minerva: the Cyprians, Venus: the Candians, Diana: the Sicilians, Proserpina: the Eleusians, Ceres: some Juno, others Bellona, others Hekate.”
The Qabalah also needs to be considered when we look at the idea of the great mother goddess. There is a very mistaken concept amongst those who have not studied its mysteries that the Qabalah is entirely patriarchal. This is not the case and it never was. The Sefer ha-Zohar (“Book of Splendour”) places great emphasis on the Shekinah or divine feminine, and it brought sexual polarity very much to the forefront of Qabalah at the time of its publication in 1290, and the subsequent publication of the Sefer ha-Bahir (“Book of Brilliance”) in 1310, when the Hermetic and Neoplatonic texts were also being translated, resulted in both traditions feeding into alchemy, the Grimoires and other magickal traditions of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Significantly this also predated the main period of the witch trials, and the conflation of prejudice against Jews, heretics and witches.
“From Her do they receive their nourishment, and from Her do they receive blessing; and She is called the Mother of them all.”
The word Shekinah is from the root Shakhan meaning ’to dwell’, and refers to her presence within all humanity. In the ninth century the German branch of Qabalists described the Shekinah as the circle of fire around God, their union causing the throne, angels and human souls to come into being. The Shekinah has been seen as manifesting in two ways. As the Lesser or Exiled Shekinah she is perceived as being the world soul, somewhat akin to the concept of Gaia as postulated by James Lovelock. However as the source of souls, Shekinah is also present in every person, as the spark that seeks to reunite with the Greater Shekinah, the great goddess.
“Her ways are of pleasantness, and her paths are peace.
She is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her; and happy is every one that retaineth her.”
The Kabbalistic Shekinah, the Gnostic Sophia and the classical goddesses all enjoyed notable attention through the Renaissance, and it could convincingly be argued that the deities of Wicca are expressions of an inevitable resurgence of the divine powers seeking an outlet, as they have done for the last fifteen hundred years.
This idea of a universal goddess or great mother goddess was to continue through the Renaissance, as can be seen in writings by authors such as the German humanist Konrad Mutian (1471-1526). In correspondence he observed, in a manner which would have been seen as sacrilegious by the Church at the time:
“There is but one God and one Goddess,
But many are their powers and names:
Jupiter, Sol, Apollo, Moses, Christus,
Luna, Ceres, Proserpina, Tellus, Maria.
But have a care in speaking these things.
They should be hidden in silence as
are the Eleusinian Mysteries;
Sacred things must be wrapped in fable and enigma.”
This view is one which would be repeated in writings of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. In 1901 Sir Arthur Evans became convinced of the idea of a single great goddess in prehistoric times when he was excavating Knossos in Crete. From this idea he subsequently chose to interpret all divine female figures at the site as a single goddess, and all male figures as a single subordinate son/consort god. This idea was expanded by the French archaeologist Joseph Dechelette, who suggested that the cult of the Great Goddess had originated in the Neolithic period in Asia Minor and the Balkans and expanded across the Mediterranean to the whole of Western Europe.
 Kabbalah Unveiled, Mathers, 1887  Kabbalah, Ponce,1974  Proverbs 3:17-18.  The Survival of the Pagan Gods, Seznec, 1953  Manual d’archeologie prehistorique Celtique et Gallo-Romaine, Dechelette, 1908
Extract from: Wicca: Magical Beginnings written by d’Este & Rankine, 2008 (Avalonia.) PB / Kindle @ https://amzn.to/3Ay4HJr. Shared here with the intention to inspire and inform the now and future generations interested in Wicca and other Pagan traditions inspired by it.