“Ancient moon priestesses were called virgins. ‘Virgin’ meant not married, not belong to a man - a woman who was ‘one-in-herself’. The very word derives from a Latin root meaning strength, force, skill; and was later applied to men: virle. Ishtar, Diana, Astarte, Isis were all all called virgin, which did not refer to sexual chasity, but sexual independence. And all great culture heroes of the past…, mythic or historic, were said to be born of virgin mothers: Marduk, Gilgamesh, Buddha, Osiris, Dionysus, Genghis Khan, Jesus - they were all affirmed as sons of the Great Mother, of the Original One, their worldly power deriving from her. When the Hebrews used the word, and in the original Aramatic, it meant ‘maiden’ or ‘young woman’, with no connotations to sexual chasity. But later Christian translators could not conceive of the ‘Virgin Mary’ as a woman of independent sexuality, needless to say; they distorted the meaning into sexually pure, chaste, never touched. When Joan of Arc, with her witch coven associations, was called La Pucelle - ‘the Maiden,’ ‘the Virgin’ - the word retained some of its original pagan sense of a strong and independent woman. The Moon Goddess was worshipped in orgiastic rites, being the divinity of matriarchal women free to take as many lovers as they choose. Women could ‘surrender’ themselves to the Goddess by making love to a stranger in her temple.”
Monica Sjoo and Barbara Mor, The Great Cosmic Mother - Rediscovering the Religion of the Earth (via munstersandghosts)
how words change over time
I think a lot of this is very iffy, though.
Sjöö and Mor write as if ‘virgin’ were a single word that exists in a number of different languages, cultures, and historical periods, which allows them to slide around from one historical culture to another as if they all had essentially the same concept that meant the same thing. If you try to tie down any of these assertions and see whether they actually work in any particular language or historical period… they mostly don’t.
The Oxford Latin Dictionary and the Online Etymology Dictionary agree that the Latin word ‘virgó’ is most likely to come from the same root as the Latin ‘virga’ meaning a shoot or twig. It’s true that ‘virgó’ didn’t always mean someone who hasn’t had sex, but I’m not aware of any evidence that it implied a woman who was in charge of her own sexuality in any positive sense.
It also doesn’t seem to be related to the Latin word ‘vir’, meaning a man; and the statement that ‘The very word derives from a Latin root meaning strength, force, skill; and was later applied to men: virle’ is completely wrong. When they mention a root ‘meaning strength, force, skill’ they presumably mean the word ‘virtus’. ’Vir’ is not derived from ‘virtus’: it’s the other way round. ’Virtus’, meaning courage, strength, or moral excellence, is derived from ‘vir’ because its original meaning is ‘manliness’. Because, guess what, the dominant Roman culture and language were not matriarchal but misogynistic.
The passage about Ishtar, Diana, Astarte, Isis, Marduk, Gilgamesh, Buddha, Osiris, Dionysus, Genghis Khan, and Jesus smells to me like an appropriative attempt to mash an array of cultures together and enlist them in support of the ‘religion of the earth’ that the authors want to ‘rediscover’ by erasing their differences and subordinating them to some universalizing idea.
I can’t make much sense of the bit about ‘the Hebrews’ and ‘the original Aramaic’, but the suggestion seems to be that the idea of Mary conceiving Jesus without having sex was the result of some kind of mistranslation from Aramaic. I can’t see how that can possibly have happened. The earliest version of the story is in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, which were composed within living memory of Jesus’ life, and they were composed in Greek, not Aramaic.
And Mary’s virginity can’t simply be the result of mistranslation of a single word by ‘later Christians’. First of all, Matthew uses the Greek word ‘parthenos’, which means virgin in the ‘hasn’t had sex’ sense, so it wouldn’t be mistranslation, it would be entirely accurate translation. Moreover, it isn’t just a question of translating one word: Matthew quite clearly says that Mary and Joseph did not have sex before Jesus was born, and Luke says that Mary had not had sex with any man at the time when the angel visited her.
Possibly Sjöö and Mor are implying that there was a pre-gospel Aramaic tradition in which Mary was regarded merely as a ‘young woman’ and that the ‘later Christians’ ‘distorted’ this tradition to make Mary a virgin. The existence of a pre-gospel Aramaic tradition is perfectly possible, but the rest makes no sense. Sjöö and Mor are clearly framing this as an issue of translation. Even if there were written Aramaic accounts of the conception of Jesus, the gospels of Matthew and Luke are not translations of them: they’re original compositions. So they wouldn’t have been distorting the meaning of a word, they’d just have been changing the story.
Also, to say that ‘they distorted the meaning into sexually pure, chaste, never touched’ seems to imply not so much that they used one word in place of another but that they actually changed the meaning of the original word. This is plainly wrong: ‘parthenos’ meant ‘woman who hasn’t had sex’ long before the gospels were written (as did Latin ‘virgó’, if that’s that the authors have in mind).
Finally, the whole proposition that ‘later Christian translators could not conceive of the ‘Virgin Mary’ as a woman of independent sexuality, needless to say’ is nonsensical. The clear implication is that because they were Christian, they couldn’t accommodate the idea of Mary’s independent sexuality. But the interval between the death of Jesus and the composition of the gospels was, at most, one generation.
It makes no historical sense to assume that there was a fully-formed Christian attitude towards female sexuality and that this influenced the gospel-writers so strongly that it made them change a story about a woman who had a child as a result of having sex — which would, after all, have been a perfectly conventional event and not in any way an outrageous or anti-patriarchal expression of independent female sexuality — into a story about a miraculous conception. On the contrary, it’s much more plausible that the story of Jesus’ conception contributed to the later development of a negative Christian attitude to female sexuality. Or, if the gospel-writers did have such attitudes already, they were not distinctively Christian attitudes but must have come from the Jewish-Hellenistic-Roman cultural environment of the time.
The reference to Joan of Arc again seems to treat ‘virgin’ as a monolithic word that is the same in all languages, which is here said to retain ‘some of its original pagan sense’. This is despite the fact that in the very same sentence the authors recognize that the French word is ‘pucelle’, which transparently has no etymological connection with ‘virgin’ and in fact comes originally from the Latin word for a female child, a word with no connotations of independent sexuality at all. (On the contrary, it acquired a rather male-gaze sort of connotation as a word for a young woman who is the object of sexual desire.)
As for the last bit — ‘The Moon Goddess was worshipped in orgiastic rites, being the divinity of matriarchal women free to take as many lovers as they choose. Women could ‘surrender’ themselves to the Goddess by making love to a stranger in her temple.’ — we’re back to the extreme vagueness and elision of different cultures. When was the Moon Goddess worshipped with these rites? Who were the women who could take as many lovers as they chose? In what temples, and where? If this is anything more than ahistorical puff, it’s probably a reference to ‘sacred prostitution’ in ancient Babylon (which is in modern Iraq, by the way) — a practice for which there is no real evidence beyond the account of the Greek historian Herodotus, pioneer of inaccurate and exoticizing descriptions of Asian and African cultures.
An excavation of matriarchal religious beliefs and empowered female sexuality underlying the more well-attested historical patriarchal cultures of various parts of the world would be great, but this is clearly not it. This is the sort of white western neo-paganism that reviles Christianity while actually being far more similar to Christianity than it is to any historically-rooted pagan traditions, and that uses bad history and bad linguistics to give the impression that it has ancient roots when actually all it has is a collection of decontextualized pieces of other people’s cultures and histories.
(Source: rabbitinthemoon, via ladysaviours)