What comes to mind when you think of the word “goddess” in this sentence? Divine feminine power? Earth’s mother? Ancient Greek women in white dresses getting into trouble? What kind of goddesses are we talking about? Anastasia Steele’s “inner goddess,” who dances and pole-vaults a lot in Fifty Shades of Grey because she is so excited about her romantic adventures? Each person has her own.
One definition of the term is a female deity. The other is a woman who is powerful and beautiful. A lot of fun things (Beauty! Allure! Meddling!) are included in the word’s more general meanings, but there are also some more difficult inferences about what our culture thinks are the best feminine traits (Beauty! Allure! Meddling!).
It’s in our book You Goddess! that we look at supernatural women’s stories from around the world to see how stereotypes can both hurt and help us be better people. Along the way, we saw a lot of great examples of how goddesses have been written about in fiction. Sometimes they’ve been the center of attention, but other times they’ve been in the background. Ten of them are here.
The Goddess Chronicle by Natsuo Kirino
Natsuo Kirino has written a lot of good crime novels, and her feminist take on a creation story from the eighth-century Shinto text, the Kojiki, tells the story of the goddess Izanami. This story is from the Kojiki. Izanami is like many goddesses in different world religions. She is both a creator and a destroyer, like many other goddesses. When she doesn’t accept her husband Izanaki’s superiority, she causes a stir. Eve and Lillith are two examples of troublemakers in creation stories. Kirino mirrors her vengeful anger by telling the story of another woman who was mistreated.
Circe by Madeline Miller
One of the best stories about the famous witch goddess from Homer’s Odyssey has been nominated for the 2019 Women’s Prize for Fiction for Fiction. It is both a lot of fun, because it shows the very male classical epic from a woman’s point of view, and deeply moving because it shows the trials of immortality. If you want to experience what it would be like to be a goddess, this book is the best way to do it.
Nudibranch by Irenosen Okojie
British-Nigerian Okojie’s collection of short stories is full of weird and wonderful tales, but the heart-eating, shape-shifting sea goddess named Kiru is the heart of the whole thing. She comes ashore on a small island inhabited by eunuchs with the goal of falling in love. When she has a bad experience with a person who could be her boyfriend, she eats their hearts and turns into a different, more attractive woman. It’s a great way to think about female beauty as an empty or hollow thing. The collection is strange, magical, enchanting, and unforgettable.
Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips
There are several Olympian gods and goddesses living in Hampstead in this modern-day book. It’s a lot of fun to read (Aphrodite works on a sex chatline and Artemis is a dog-walker). Things go awry when they meet humans Neil and Alice, as they usually do when deities and humans mix, like when they do. Angel tube: Neil has to use it to get into the underworld and save Alice. He also has to solve a problem caused by the Greek gods’ well-known tendency to be sexually interested in men and women.
Ragnarok by AS Byatt
In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Cate Blanchett plays the goddess of death, Hel, in a stunning way. This is a good contrast to that movie. It is a little closer to the original story in the Icelandic Edda that Byatt has written. An evacuation child during the Second World War finds a book of Norse myths and is drawn into the story of the fall of Odin, Thor, and other Norse gods. Frigg, the mother goddess from whose name we get Friday, is a big part of the story. She makes a big mistake with mistletoe (haven’t we all?). Byatt thinks that the gods’ involvement in Ragnarok is a good metaphor for how we are destroying our own planet through our abuse of the environment.
Ms Militancy by Meena Kandasamy
In this collection of poems, the author of When I Hit You isn’t afraid to be different. She looks at characters from ancient Hindu literature with a twist. In her preface, “Should You Take Offence,” she says, “Your myths put me in my place.” This is what the book is about. Because of this, I take a perverse pleasure in deliberately paraphrasing things… I don’t write about men. In my Maariamma’s mouth, she wants to eat blood. It’s my Kali that kills. It’s time for my Draupadi to be ripped apart! A stranger’s lap gets a hug from Sita, who is from my own family. All of my women fight. Her poems are called “Random Access,” and they are all about They imagine a different version of Sita, the long-suffering wife of Rama who is a big part of the epic poem “Ramayana,” which is based on the story of how she met her husband. Exhilarating.
Boxers by Gene Luen Yang
This comic book is about a boy from Shandong named Little Bao who leads the Boxer rebellion of 1900 against foreign influence in China. The Chinese deities who help his comrades fight are called “mahjong.” His friend Mei Wen is linked to the gentler Guan Yin, who is called the goddess of mercy. Guan Yin came from the male Buddhist bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, but in most of east Asia, she is now seen as a goddess instead of a man.
The Mabinogion, translated by Sioned Davies
In You Goddess!, we use the term “supernatural female” to describe a goddess. This allows us to include the story of Blodeuwedd, who was made out of flowers by a wizard to be a wife for his friend, but who kicked over the traces and found her own husband. Bloeuwedd is in this collection of Welsh stories from the Middle Ages. It was written in English for the first time in the 19th century by Lady Charlotte Guest. She was a linguist, an entrepreneur, and a driver of the Welsh Renaissance. This 2007 translation by Sioned Davies is a great example of a modern translation. In the past, Blodeuwedd was seen as a cautionary tale about having sex with someone else. To modern readers, she looks like a flower rebel who is breaking free from male control. When she changes from a vegetable to a human, the wizard who is her enemy turns her into an owl. Sadly, things don’t work out for her. Because of Alan Garner’s book The Owl Service, she lives on in the minds of many people.
American Gods by Neil Gaiman
There are a lot of gods to choose from in Gaiman’s brilliant story about a war between the gods of ancient religions, like Mr. Wednesday (Odin), and new gods, like Media and Technical Boy. When Shadow Moon is following Mr Wednesday, the Egyptian cat goddess Bast, Easter, and Mama-ji are some of the main goddesses who interact with him (the Hindu goddess Kali).
Paradise by Toni Morrison
They live an unconventional life together in a convent, but men from a nearby town attack them and try to steal their money. This is called Paradise. A character named Pallas is named after the Greek goddess Athena, and the leader of the convent, Consolata, has healing powers that seem to come from God. There isn’t an overt goddess in the book. Consolata has been linked to the sea goddess Yemanjá, who is also linked to the Virgin Mary in the Candomblé religion, by some people who read the book. Paradise is an endlessly thought-provoking book that deals with a lot of important issues when talking about goddesses. These include independent female power and the suspicion it raises, women’s archetypal roles, and religious traditions that don’t agree with each other.