Friday 25 March 2022

Interview: Laurie Martin-Gardner and the Hidden Goddess

Laurie Martin-Gardner, author of The Hidden Goddess - The Quest for the Divine Feminine in the Judeo-Christian Tradition, is a lifelong student of history and mythology with expertise in writing about gods, goddesses, and the archetypes found in religions and spiritual systems from around the world. I chatted to her about her background and book

Q: Please can you tell me more about about your interest in history and mythology and your background in paganism?  

A: My love affair with history and mythology began as a child when I discovered a strange book in my mother's always overflowing bookcase. I was far too young to understand anything I read in it at the time, but I knew it must have been something incredible because it featured stunning illustrations of a beautiful blue-skinned man. I was fascinated with him and the gentle energy he exuded. I would go back to that book again and again to look at those pictures. It was many years later that I learned that the man wasn't an ordinary made-up character but was actually the Hindu god Krishna. 

Not long after the words of that well-worn book began to have meaning to me, I was introduced to the very different world of Ancient Greece. My imagination was completely captured. It was as if the universe had expanded in front of me in ways I had never anticipated. Suddenly I realized that there was an entire world filled with colorful stories and powerful gods – and goddesses too! Having been raised in the conservative and ultra-religious Bible Belt of the southern U.S., that was a revelation to me. It was a pivotal moment in my life, and I devoured every religious, history, and mythology book I could find after that. Somewhere along the way, I realized my own worldview was changing as well. I was no longer content with the things I had been taught my entire life and was frustrated when my questions about the religion I had grown up in were ignored or were seemingly unanswerable. I began to seek my own answers in the histories and cultures I loved so much and was eventually led to the world of modern paganism and its many facets and paths. Since then, I’ve met many incredible people, with myriad beliefs, each has taught me something or sent me down a new path of discovery. That is where I am today - still searching for truth and answers amid the ancient past and the ever-evolving present.  

Q: Your book The Hidden Goddess - The Quest for the Divine Feminine in the Judeo-Christian Tradition sounds really interesting. I've long been personally fascinated by the glimpses of Asherah that can be found in the Bible. Can you give me some more examples of hidden goddesses within Christian writing?  

A: The Christian Bible is surprisingly rife with references to both Asherah and other goddesses, but it can be quite tricky to spot them. The version of the Bible that many of us are familiar with has been translated and re-translated many times over the centuries. Many original words and phrases have been lost to us through simple errors, but others have been purposefully omitted or changed. This is what has happened to many of the verses that speak of Asherah, the wife of Yahweh and the mother-goddess of the ancient Isrealites.  

Asherah is an ancient goddess, and her cult was well-established by the time the Isrealites entered the land of Canaan. Her worship was often associated with specially crafted wooden poles placed beneath green trees on hilltops. The earliest reference to Asherah in the Bible, Judges 6:25, speaks of these “asherah poles” as Yahweh instructs a man named Gideon to tear down the asherah pole his father had constructed. In this story, the townspeople are enraged by Gideon’s actions and it’s only through the intercession of his father, the chieftain, that his life is spared. It’s a short, simple story but it tells us much about how important Asherah was to the people in the earliest days of Judaism. We know from other passages that women made special garments to adorn the asherah poles and baked cakes for rituals in her honor. We know that Asherah’s statue was given a place of great honor, in the holiest of holies within the Temple of Jerusalem, where it remained for 236 years of the 370 year history of the Temple. Virtually every tree and high place referenced in the Old Testament is an allusion to the goddess and her worship. 

The Bible contains a multitude of stories within the books of the Old Testament of kings and prophets that tried to destroy her history, her reputation, and her imprint on Judaism. Although she didn’t go down easily, eventually, they were successful. Her name was buried beneath the weight of time and censorship. Today, it’s difficult to even find it in many popular translations. She has been downgraded to a tree, a grove of trees, or a simple pole on a hill. Many read through those passages without any idea that hidden within those trees and poles is a goddess once worshipped as the wife of the very God they are seeking. And she is not the only one. Sophia, or Wisdom, and the Shekinah, or Glory of God, are also found in the Bible and other important religious documents. Both were once important and powerful entities that helped shape the world and guided the people of Israel.  

On face value, many of the references to Biblical goddesses are simple condemnations of the worship of “false gods.”  But with a bit of reading between the lines, and understanding the symbolism of those goddesses still hidden within the verses, a very different picture begins to emerge of early Judaism and Christianity. One deemed so dangerous it had to be subdued and forgotten. In The Hidden Goddess, I tried to uncover the presence of the Divine Feminine that has been lost in the ancient texts as well as examine how “new” goddesses emerged out of the tradition itself – goddesses like the Virgin Mary and the ever-evolving Mary Magdalene. From Eve and Lilith in the Garden of Eden, to the life and death of Christ and the powerful women who shaped him, the goddess is everywhere for those willing to search for her.

Q: How did you become interested that aspect of mythology and Goddess spirituality? 

A: My first encounter with the idea that there were goddesses hidden within Judaism and Christianity surprisingly came from a television documentary. In all my years of research into other religions and spiritual teachings, I had never bothered to come back to the beliefs of my childhood. Whether that was from my own frustrations and experiences or from the naive belief that I had been told the whole and truthful story already, I can’t say. It was probably a bit of both. But as I was watching the documentary that day, I heard a name I was unfamiliar with – Lilith. According to the man speaking, Lilith had been the first wife of the Biblical Adam who was later kicked out of the Garden to become a vengeful demoness with a particularly nasty desire to kill newborn babies. I was enthralled! Did Adam really have a wife before Eve? Where was she in the Bible?  Did it mention her name? Why didn’t I know about her already? I tore through every book and article I could find on Lilith which later led me to Sophia and then to Asherah. I read the Bible again, after so many years, and found a richer, more complex world than I remembered. Stories that had once seemed insignificant and rather boring were suddenly vibrant and colorful. The goddess truly was alive and waiting to be seen. That one small segment on some random television show set me down the path that would eventually give birth to The Hidden Goddess.  

Q: If people are interested in exploring Goddesses from the Bible, apart from reading your book, what would you recommend they do?  

A: There are many incredible books available, but my personal favorite is The Hebrew Goddess by Raphael Patai. I referenced it many times in The Hidden Goddess, and I still find myself returning to it again and again. It is a wonderful starting point to discovering the many, many goddesses that influenced the people of Israel. The internet is, of course, another valuable resource. In recent years, interest in the goddesses of the Bible has exploded in popularity. There is no end to the number of excellent articles that have been written and amazing books that have been published. But I think one of the best ways to begin exploring these goddesses is to look for them yourself. Pull out a copy of the Bible (I suggest the New International Version as it preserves Asherah’s name quite well), and read the passages again with new eyes. Watch for the goddess’s presence wherever a tree or pole or grove is mentioned. Witness her story unfold for yourself.  

Q: I understand you are also a poet - can you tell me a bit more about that and where people can find your poetic work? 

A: Yes, I have been writing poetry since early childhood and published my first piece at age 12. I currently have two books of poetry and short stories available, Gentle Melancholy and To Touch the Moon. I share my new work with my Patrons and on my Facebook page. For me, writing poetry is therapeutic. It offers me a chance to purge my mind and heart of the chaos of life. I think about it as a way of expressing the otherwise inexpressible.  I often allude to my love of history and mythology in my poetry, using references from ancient stories to convey my own thoughts and emotions.  But much of it also stems from everyday life and sometimes simply from a word or phrase that sparked my imagination.

Q: What are you working on now and what are your plans for the future?  

As for writing projects, I currently have two new books in the works. The one I’m most excited about is an overview of Ancient Greece – its history, mythology, and pantheon. It is a book I have always wanted to write, and I’m excited to share my love of the subject with others. I’m also working on a new book of poetry and micro fiction that I have not announced before now. It’s a long way from finished, but it is coming. After that, I have an ever growing list of books I want to write in the future, including a return to the goddesses of ancient Israel. 

When I’m not researching or writing, I am working on my handcrafted chainmaille jewelry business.  It’s a big year for my little company as I’m currently working on a huge branding overhaul complete with a new name, new look, and new offerings.  Along with that, I have a multitude of secret side projects in the works, and I hope to launch my blog over at soon as well.  I hate being bored, so I try to keep busy as much as possible!

Q: Is there anything else you would like to say?

A: I do hope that you will check out The Hidden Goddess. It is such a special book to me. You see, The Hidden Goddess was written during one of the most difficult times in my life. Not long after I signed the contract for the book, my mother became very ill. Much of the book was researched and written from doctors' offices and hospital waiting rooms.  My mom was very excited about the book, but unfortunately she passed before it was complete. As I worked after her death to finish the last few chapters, in a way, it became my final gift to her. I am incredibly proud of it, and I think she would be too. And I am honored to get to share the remarkable goddesses of Israel with you.

The Hidden Goddess is published by Moon Books.

Pictured: The Hidden Goddess book cover, The Blisland Madonna, To Touch the Moon book cover, Laurie Martin-Gardner

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