Transcript of Disc I, Chapter VII: Goddesses with Shamanic Aspects
© 2013 Max Dashu

Tigress woman
The Chinese goddess Xi Wangmu was a shapeshifter with tiger teeth and a leopard’s tail, according to the Shan Hai Jing.

Xi Wangmu
She sits on a Snake Wu mountain amongst spirit animals, with a shamanic headdress and staff, and three azure birds bring her fruits.

Tigress Xi Wangmu
The Shan Hai Jing says that the tiger-woman on Jade Mountain “excels at the xiao,” a mystical cry  variously translated as whistling, roaring, or screaming.

Xi Wangmu again
The Zhuang Ze casts her as an adept who realized the Tao: “Xi Wang Mu attained it and took her seat on Shao Guang mountain. No one knows her beginning and no one knows her end.”

Molded tile
She sits on a tiger-and-dragon throne, surrounded by a host of shamanic spirits and emissaries: the three-legged raven, nine-tailed fox, dancing frog, and elixir-making hare.

Spirit Tree, Sichuan [also called Money Tree]
Xi Wangmu also presides at the summit of spirit trees whose stylized tiers of branches represent the   shamanic planes of the world mountain, Kunlun, and its cavern worlds. She’s connected with shamanic initiation and oversees cosmic journeys, especially on her festival of the Double Sevens, “the perfect night for divine meetings and ascents.”

Mago painting
Mago, the great goddess of Korea, is often pictured in the herbal cape and skirt of a female immortal, accompanied by a spirit deer – or riding on it – with medicines she has gathered.

Xian on flute
Several famous female shamans became deified.

Bari Gongju
The Korean mudang Bari Gongju was cast off at birth for being a girl, but became a mudang who  journeyed to the underworld to get the elixir of life, in order to heal her parents. She became a goddess who helps souls of the dead journey to the otherworld. [Her name is also romanized as Pali Kongju]

Chen Jinggu
Chen Jinggu, born in Fuzhou in 767, was adept in rain-making, spirit-calling, and healing. She cured all kinds of diseases and injuries, and founded a shamanic sisterhood who practiced the mystic arts of Mount Lü.

Chen 2
Chen was later deified as the Lady of Linshui, and venerated along with her two sworn sisters. She is usually depicted dancing with a noose and water buffalo horn, or seated with a sword and snake.

Around 960, a spiritual prodigy was born to a Chinese fisher family in Fujian. Lin Moniang used her powers to help people, guiding fishing boats safely to shore. One day while weaving she saw her father and brothers in danger at sea, and journeyed in the spirit to rescue them from drowning.

Mazu at Sea
After her death, people said she had ascended to heaven and became the goddess Mazu who protected the fisherfolk from storms and pirates.

Mazu deified
Later imperial officials gave her the title Tian Hou, Heavenly Queen, and her temples spread across the the southern coast of China, and then to its diaspora.

Seven Hathors
Shamanic goddesses abound in Egypt. Here are the Seven Hathors as temple women, drumming and shaking the sistrum, a rattle sacred to HetHeru.

Auset with sistrum
One of the 10.000 names of Auset (Isis) was Weret Hekau, meaning the Great Enchantress or “strong of magic.” She shakes the sistrum, sacred rattle of Kemetic women.

Winged Auset                            
Auset has the shamanic power of shapeshifting into a falcon-like form. She spreads out her protective wings [Nut and Maat are also shown this way, but note the throne hieroglyph of Isis]

Golden Isis                          
Beating her wings powerfully, she arouses spirit and spreads life-essence.

Temple Relief of Auset/Isis as kite
To revive Ausar/Osiris, she changed entirely into bird form and hovered over his body: “She made light with her feathers, she made wind with her wings, uttering cries...”

Reviving Osiris / Ausar
“She raised up the Still-Heart...” here Auset flies and beats her wings all around Ausar, with serpents of regeneration in the underworld beneath his bier.

Isis at Denderah temple
And again snakes are below, along with the protective god Bes; and at right sits the deep-eyed Hekat, frog goddess of generation, birth and resurrection. Auset is shown in both her falcon and human forms.

Golden winged Isis
Although Auset is indisputably a deity, her shapeshifting and power to restore the dead to life recur in numerous stories about powerful shamans, as we’ll see further along.

Freyja (modern drawing)
The Norse goddess Freyja also has bird attributes, and is described as a sorceress. Her feather-robe, the Fjadrhamr, enables her to fly across the lands like a falcon.

Ishtar seal imprint
Ishtar is winged too, and like her Sumerian predecessor Inanna, she emanates the me (powers, rites, skills, and offices) from her shoulders.

Ishtar with Caduceus          
Among these me are religious offices, the scepter, staff [here the caduceus] magicianship, descent to and ascent from underworld, various arts, and five different kinds of drums.

Inanna: eyes and shrine
The descent of Inanna/Ishtar herself to the underworld, passing through its seven gates, was a pre-eminently shamanic act.

The Huluppu tree
Inanna planted a magical huluppu tree in her garden; in its three levels came to live the serpent, the wild-woman Lilitu, and the thunderbird. She caused the tree to be felled and a drum and drumstick made from its wood – but gave them to Gilgamesh, who used them for ill.           

Kybele in naos
Asia Minor became renowned for its ecstatic women’s ceremonies with frame drums and hand cymbals, for the goddesses Kybele, Kubebe, and Ma of Comana. The rites of Kybele took place in wilderness settings...

Kybele enthroned with drum
... with dance, drums, torches, trance and states of exaltation as the Goddess descended into her votaries. “... I hear that the turban-wearing women of Asian Kybele ... with drums and bullroarers and booming of bronze cymbals in their two hands make loud din...

Kybele with drum
... celebrating her who is the wise musician of the gods and healer as well.” Kybele was nearly always depicted with the drum and cymbals, as her veneration spread across the Roman empire.

Fauna, in the Villa Mysteries of Pompeii
In Rome itself, Fenta Fauna was a goddess of entranced prophecy and healing. Women celebrated her rites with wine, music and “revelry.” Her name was taboo...

Bona Dea
... so they called her Bona Dea, the Good Goddess. The serpent coiled around her arm symbolized healing power. Her priestesses kept serpents in their herbarium under a great rock on the Aventine hill, and treated the sick and injured.

Hygeia seated with snake
Hygeia, a Greek goddess of healing, was also shown with a (much larger) snake. Though she retains the serpent of ancient women’s rites, the focus had shifted to her father, the deified healer Aesclepius.

Tanit stela
At Carthage, Tunisia, the goddess Tanit was symbolized by an icon of an invoking priestess, which in some of its forms resembles the Ankh.

Tanit with Caduceus
Like her cousin Ishtar, Tanit had a caduceus—staff with coiled serpents -- which did not originate with the Greeks, but much earlier in Mesopotamia [from iconography i have seen, as a female attribute].

Tanit in molded ceramics
She too was a winged goddess, whose veneration spread to Spain and, here, Ibiza in the Balearics.

Punic statue with outstretched arms
Tanit had an oracle at Carthage. The Romans destroyed her temple, but it was later rebuilt, and prophetesses were still active there in the early 5th century, even after the Christian state demolished it  again.

In Tibet, dakinis are depicted as ecstatically dancing shamans, evoking a very old cultura layer that persisted, most fully outside institutional religious channels.

Circular temple of 64 Yoginis, Hirapur
Parallel traditions in India venerated the 64 Yoginis. The name means “female yogis,” but in an increasingly patriarchal culture, yogini came to connote a goddess more often than a living woman.

Hirapur 2
The temple of the 64 Yoginis at Hirapur is one of several circular sanctuaries to these Tantrik goddesses, with heads of birds, tigers, elephants, snakes, horses, and other animals.
[Another of these circular Yogini temples stands at Ranipur-Jaharial]

Cihuacoatl statue holding serpent
With Cihuacoatl of Mexico we come back to Serpent Woman, which is what her name means in Nahuatl.

Cihuacoatl 2
Aztecs said that “the woman called Quilaztli, who is Cihuacoatl” co-created the Fifth Sun People by pounding the bones of the Fourth Sun ancestors in a mortar and placing them in a sacred clay vessel.

Cihuacoatl 3
Cihualcoatl is both a goddess and a legendary medicine woman. Praise songs describe her as beating a drum. “She comes adorned in the ancient manner with the eagle crest, in the ancient manner with the eagle crest.”

Quilaztli (modern)
In the northern homeland of Aztlán, the woman shaman Quilazttli challenged the war chiefs, calling out her powers: “I am Eagle Woman, I am Serpent Woman, I am Warrior Woman and I am Underworld Woman.” Some of the people remained under her leadership, while others followed the war chiefs south to Tenochtitlán.

Cihuacoatl office
An important Aztec office was named after her, a female priesthood later appropriated by men.

Cihuacoatl in procession, codex
In the Aztec empire, Cihuacoatl was impersonated by a male priest who carried a weaver’s batten, the insignia of several Mexican goddesses, and used as a ritual tool by medicine women.

Tlazolteotl, codex
Teteu Inan, Mother of the Gods, also called Tlazolteotl or Toci, the Grandmother, dances with a shield and shakes a bundle of reeds. She wears the spindles with tassels, like the Maya Goddess.

Laud Codex 39
As a goddess of birth, transformation and death, she wields shamanic power objects, and the serpent.

As Temazcaltoci, Grandmother of the Sweatlodge, she brings about healing, attunement, and sacred vision with fire and water, earth and breath.

Tailed goddess
The Maya saw the Moon as a weaver, healer, and midwife with many shamanic traits – here it’s a reptilian tail.

Old Ix Chel, or Chak Chel
Ix Chel also has an Old Woman aspect, as the counselor, teacher and initator.

Another old woman shaman, the first shaman in the world, is Takutsi Nakawé, Grandmother Growth. She is Earth, a creatrix, and a powerful medicine woman with a bamboo staff and sacred basket.

She taught the Huichol to sing, dance, do ceremony, and to heal the sick. Here she wields the muwieri, feathered staff of the shamans.


Woman Shaman: the Ancients © 2013 Max Dashu




Suppressed Histories Archives |Woman Shaman: the Ancients dvd