Great Mother Goddess, in ancient Middle Eastern religions, mother goddess, the great symbol of the earth's fertility. She was worshiped under many names and attributes. Similar figures have been known in every part of the world. Essentially she was represented as the creative force in all nature, the mother of all things, responsible particularly for the periodic renewal of life. The later forms of her cult involved the worship of a male deity, variously considered her son, lover, or both (e.g., Adonis, Attis, and Osiris), whose death and resurrection symbolized the regenerative powers of the earth (see fertility rites). Although the Great Mother was the dominant figure in ancient Middle Eastern religions, she was also worshiped in Greece, Rome, and W Asia. In Phrygia and Lydia she was known as Cybele; among the Babylonians and Assyrians she was identified as Ishtar; in Syria and Palestine she appeared as Astarte; among the Egyptians she was called Isis; in Greece she was variously worshiped as Gaea, Hera, Rhea, Aphrodite, and Demeter; and in Rome she was identified as Maia, Ops, Tellus, and Ceres. Even this listing, however, is by no means complete. Many attributes of the Virgin Mary make her the Christian equivalent of the Great Mother, particularly in her great beneficence, in her double image as mother and virgin, and in her son, who is God and who dies and is resurrected.
See E. O. James, The Cult of the Mother Goddess (1959, repr. 1961).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.