Mary as Goddess Virgin symbolic Mari-Anna-Ishtar

Mary As Goddess:



With her title "Holy Virgin," Mary joined the ranks of many other Goddesses with the same title: Athena, Asherah, Astarte, Aphrodite, Venus, Anat, Ishtar, Diana, and others. Clearly, since many of these Goddesses are also "Love Goddesses," the ancient meaning of the word "virgin" differs from our modern conception. "Virgin" indicated an independent autonomous woman, a woman not required to answer to any man or child. The title had little to do with abstinence from sexual intercourse (A, B, *).

In Christianity, much emphasis has been placed on Mary's physical virginity and on the virgin birth of Christ. This section will explore the origins and implications of Virginity and Virgin Birth.

The Virgin Birth as Symbolic
The Virgin Birth as Literal
Virginity and Chastity
Virginity as a Phase of Life

The Virgin Birth as Symbolic

Joseph Campbell sees the virgin birth as symbolic, calling it "the birth of spiritual [hu]man out of animal [hu]man," and "the birth of compassion." He links the birth of Christ to the birth of Buddha, who was said to have been born out of his mother's side (C, p. 174-5). Campbell goes on to state, "Heroes and demigods are born that way, as beings motivated by compassion and not mastery, sexuality, or self-preservation. This is the sense of the second birth, when you begin to live out of the heart center" rather than from selfish motivation (C, p. 176).

The Gnostics (a sect of early Christians, authors of "secret gospels") also saw the virgin birth as symbolic, a union of the female Holy Ghost, Sophia, with the male Father God. They rejected the notion of a literal virgin birth (D, p. xv, 53).

The Virgin Birth as Literal

Why is a literal virgin birth so important to Christians? Nearly all Christians hold it as a main tenet of the faith because it confirms that Christ was fully human, yet fully divine. Virgin birth has held different and similar significances throughout history.

Several tribal cultures believe virgin birth is an everyday experience. Although members of those cultures freely engage in sexual intercourse, and although they understand breeding in animals, they maintain that the tribal women are divinely impregnated regularly. "For these tribes, virgin birth, conception by the gods, was the essential symbol of their closeness to heaven. . . . The tribesmen who believed that all children came from the gods did not therefore experience any alienation. Their compact with divinity was solid" (B, p. 46). "Different cultures have used virgin birth to assert [hu]man's natural distinction and closeness to the higher orders" (B, p. 49).

In Greece, virgin birth commonly signaled the birth of a divine (or semi-divine) human. "The virgin birth of heroes and sages was a widespread formula in the Hellenistic world: Pythagoras, Plato, Alexander were all believed to be born of women by the power of a holy spirit" (B, p. 35). "Zoroaster, Sargon, Perseus, Jason, Miletus, Minos, Asclepius, and dozens of others were God-begotten and virgin-born. Even Zeus, the Heavenly Father who begot many other 'virgin-born' heroes, was himself called Zeus Marnas, 'Virgin-born Zeus' " (A, p. 1049).

Joseph Stella The Virgin with esoteric symbolism roses birds Goddess
Joseph Stella The Virgin
1926 Brooklyn Museum

Much speculation among the early Church Fathers was devoted to the specific method of Mary's conception. Many of these theories were portrayed in art, ranging from conception of The Word through her ear, to the infant Jesus winging his way into her womb, to the seed of God flowing from his mouth through a tube leading under Mary's skirt (reminding modern readers of artificial insemination!). (A, B, *) The accepted version today avoids too much detail and is portrayed as the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove alighting upon Mary's head. Christians are asked to accept that the conception was miraculous, regardless of the details.

All of the virgin births discussed so far are God-begotten births. Another type of virgin birth is parthenogenesis, birth from woman alone. Cultures whose beliefs include parthenogenesis usually are matrilineal and revere the female over the male (B, p. 47).

Of course, literal virgin births are quite common today with modern scientific technology. That a woman can become pregnant without undergoing sexual intercourse is a well-documented fact. But such births are not usually viewed as miraculous.

Virginity and Chastity

Catholics and some reformed-church Christians believe that Mary was virginal before and after the birth of Jesus, free from the taint of sex (or original sin) her entire life. Many even believe that she was virginal during the birth of Jesus. Some believe she took a vow of chastity as a girl. Similarly those who are devoted to Mary are told that She demands sexual chastity from her followers. (B) How did holiness come to be so strongly linked to sexual abstinence?

The word often translated as "virgin" in biblical texts of Hebrew origin was "almah," which actually meant "unmarried woman." Yet early church fathers translated this as "a sexually chaste woman" in the days of the early church, entrenching that meaning in Christianity (A, B *). "The interpretation of the virgin birth as the moral sanction of the goodness of sexual chastity was the overwhelming and distinctive contribution of the Christian religion to the ancient mythological formula" (B, p. 48).

Was Mother Mary really a Virgin

As noted earlier, Love Goddesses were often entitled Virgin. In addition, Virgin was a common title for sacred temple prostitutes, also called "The Brides of God," another title Mary came to share (A).

This may seem shocking at first, but perhaps not quite so shocking when we realize that we are back to the ancient definition: Virgin indicated an independent autonomous woman, a woman not required to answer to any man or child, a woman free to take lovers as she so chose (A, B, *). So many of us have been taught to view sex as such a sinful, negative, violent or lustful act that it is difficult to get our minds around the concept of sacred sex.

Yet sex was sacred in ancient times. "The function of such 'holy virgins' was to dispense the Mother's grace through sexual worship; to heal; to prophesy; to perform sacred dances; to wail for the dead; and to become the Brides of God" (A. p. 1049).

Virgin Mary as a child with her mother Anna

In the Apocryphal Book of James, Anna, Mary's mother, promises her to the temple, and Mary is taken there when she is three. "And she danced with her feet, and all the house of Israel loved her" (Book of James 7:2). The Jewish temples did not accept girls, but the Goddess temples did. Accounts such as this give rise to speculation that Mary was dedicated to a Goddess temple, and give credence to Walker's theory that much of Christian myth is based upon the Mari-Anna-Ishtar Temple teachings and practices that were prevalent in Jerusalem at the time (A).

Kinstler has written a seamless fictional account of the story of Mary and Christ along these lines, based on scholarly evidence (E).
Virginity as a Phase of Life

In lore and art that has survived through the centuries, The Goddess is usually portrayed as a trinity (the original trinity!) of Virgin, Mother, Crone. Often "Maiden" will be substituted for "Virgin" to de-sexualize the word. Each phase of the Goddess represents the a phase in ordinary women's lives.

The Virgin or Maiden phase is marked at the onset of menstruation, the transformation of a child into a young woman. In this phase we celebrate the freedom of youth, expressed so eloquently in this dramatic poem by Wilshire:

Spring's daughter,
Full of Herself and Her blooming
Her Becoming
Her skin, flowering fresh petals
dew-pink, golden or brown
Her blushing parts vibrant
burgeoning with Possibility
Oh the Possibilities in Herself
the blossoming of Herself
the belonging to Herself

Not belonging to mother,
not to father,
not to lover,
The Virgin belongs to Herself alone!

Youth exultant
Exulting in Her first bleeding
Exulting in Her connection to the earth
Exulting that She cycles with the moon
Exulting in Her magically transforming body

She--waxing, incipient
She--the sliver of New Moon
barely becoming
Hebe--the Virgin Moon!

This is the temple of Hebe, Virgin
In this temple, we celebrate spring
and all new beginnings,
starting over, renewing ourselves.
In this temple, we celebrate gifts that come unbidden,
being full of possibility,
pregnant with potential.
This temple of becoming! (F, p. 149 - 52)


Mary as Priestess and Symbolic Virginity Perhaps in honoring Mary as Virgin and in contemplating Virgin Birth, we are honoring our own purity and wholeness, youthful innocence, and new beginnings. Perhaps we have a sense of being washed clean, of starting over, of a spiritual rebirth, of a new-found freedom, no matter what our age, gender or experience. Can we reclaim this seeking, this fulfillment outside the bounds of sexual chastity? This is a question for personal contemplation.


(A) The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets
By Barbara Walker

(B) Alone of All Her Sex: The Myth and Cult of the Virgin Mary
By Marina Warner

(C) The Power of Myth
By Joesph Campbell with Bill Moyers

(D) The Gnostic Gospels
By Elaine Pagels

(E) The Moon Under Her Feet: The Story of Mari Magdalene in the Service of the Great Mother
By Clysta Kinstler

(F) Virgin, Mother, Crone: Myths and Mysteries of the Triple Goddess
By Donna Wilshire

( * ) And numerous other sources

Visit My Bookstore

Back To Main Page

In Association with

Mary As Goddess Home Page
| Site Map | Get a Doctorate Degree | Become An Ordained Minister | Practitioners Directory | Products & Services | Bookshop
Esoteric Mystery School | Mary Magdalene | Homestudy Courses | Knights Templar | Divine Feminine | Contact Us

This page created by Luna Blanca in 1998 and gifted to ETS in 2005.
© 1998 - 2005 Luna Blanca
© 2006-present Esoteric INTERFAITH CHURCH, INC.
All rights reserved. Reproduction without written permission is prohibited.