“Divine Dames” is an art series introducing you to 26 beautiful goddesses from around the world, each rendered in colorful pinup style.
From Amaterasu to Zvoruna, learn the unique stories behind these divine dames. For instance, what goddess showed mankind how to make latrines? What goddess’ unique food-prep skills include vomiting up edible fish? What goddess’ laughter is strong enough to cause an earthquake?
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Amaterasu is the Shinto goddess of the sun,ruler of the heavens, and mother to the Japanese imperial line. Once, enraged at her brother’s offenses against her, she sealed herself into a cave and robbed the world of her light. In order to coax her from her cave, a young goddess, Ama-no-Uzume, roused the other gods and goddesses of the pantheon to laughter by dancing provocatively. Curious as to what was causing the uproar, Amaterasu emerged from her cave and it was sealed behind her, forcing her to resume her role as the sun.
Bastet, or Bast, is the iconic Egyptian catheaded goddess. A busy deity, Bastet is at once a goddess of vengeance (particularly in her more ancient, lion-headed form), protection, music, love, fertility, and pleasure. Once represented as lion-headed, Bastet later ceded her leonine visage to Sehkmet and became the cat-headed goddess we know today.
Ceres is the Roman goddess of agriculture and the namesake of cereal. Her daughter, Prosperpine, was once abducted by Pluto. This threw Ceres into such a funk that she stopped all crops from growing. Only when Prosperpine was returned to her did Ceres allow the crops to grow once more. Prosperpine later became the wife of Pluto, but returned to Ceres for half of each year. So for half of each year Ceres cheerfully allows the crops to grow and for half of each year keeps the crops from growing because she’s so depressed.
Durga is a Hindu warrior goddess and represents the power of divine, fierce compassion. Lest you think that she’s a mean piece of work, let it be known that Durga is also noted for her sense of humor. When summoned forth to do battle with the buffalo demon Mahishasura, she laughed so loudly and cheerfully at the prospect of fighting that she caused an earthquake!
Hi’iaka is the Hawaiian goddess of ferns and the inventor of hula. She is also known as Hi’iaka-i-ka-poli-o-Pele, Hi’iaka in the bosom of Pele. This is because she came to the Hawaiian islands inside of an egg carried and incubated in the bosom of her older sister Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of fire. Hi’iaka later braved the underworld to bring back the beloved of her sister Pele, only to end up taking him as a lover. This ended poorly. Of the many things that one can do, one cannot steal the goddess of fire’s boyfriend.
Ishtar is the Assyrian and Babylonian goddess of love, sex, fertility, and war. Her warlike self rides a chariot drawn by twin lions. When not waging war, she is off harrowing Hell and subjugating beings as various as destriers, lions, men, and gods using only her feminine charms. Priestesses of Ishtar were known to practice sacred prostitution. Their couplings symbolized the union between Ishtar and Tammuz, god of the harvest, and helped to guarantee the fertility of the earth.
Julunggul is the rainbow-snake goddess of Arnhem Land, Australia. She can take female, male, or neuter forms. Julunggul is a goddess of maturation; she swallows boys and regurgitates them as men. She also represents fertility, rebirth, immortality, and water.
Kishimojin is a Japanese goddess who protects mothers and children. Once, Kishimojin was a demoness who stole human babies and fed them to her own 100 demon children. In order to teach her a lesson, Buddha abducted her favorite child and hid it away. When Kishimojin realized the pain experienced by parents who have lost a child, she ceased her flesh-eating ways and became a fierce protector of mothers and their children. Now she and her brood feed on pomegranates rather than human flesh.
Loviatar, divine daughter of Tuoni, Finnish god of death, first brought disease and illness into the world. The Kalevala, Finland’s epic poem, states that she “Made her couch along the wayside/On the fields of sin and sorrow/Turned her back upon the East-wind.” Which is the polite, Finnish way of saying that she had a roadside tryst with the East-wind. After their one-night stand she gave birth to nine sons: Colic, Pleurisy, Fever, Ulcer, Plague, Consumption, Gout, Sterility, and Cancer.
Mazu is the Chinese goddess of the sea. She is a benevolent mother-figure who protects fishermen, sailors, and anyone who ventures the seas. Her companions are a pair of demons: Thousand-Leagues Eyes and Favoring-Wind Ears. Their sharp senses alert her to those in peril on the sea. Mazu has also been known to extend her protection to land-lubbers. One tale has her protecting Taiwan from a Pacific War bombing raid by catching the bombs in her ample skirts!
Nemesis is the Greco-Roman goddess of comeuppances. Initially she was the goddess who gave out what was coming to people, for good or ill, but she later specialized in those who really had it coming. Traditionally, she is represented as a virgin goddess bearing instruments of torture and bondage. She is also shown as being winged, like Eros, symbolizing that her punishments come not from vindictiveness, but from love.
Oya is the Yoruba goddess of wind, water, thunder, the weather, the Niger river, and sudden change. She is known for having a masculine aspect, going so far as to even don a beard! While she is unpredictable, Oya is also seen as a guardian of balance, acting to right wrongs, enforce moral codes, and bring punishment down upon thieves and liars.
Pachamama is the Andean mother goddess. Her name literally means world-mother, though in modern usage it can also mean universe-mother. Like any mother, Pachamama both provides for her offspring and, occasionally, punishes them. As the Earth itself, all nourishing things come from her, but great destructive events such as earthquakes are ascribed to her as well.
Qamaits is a Nuxálk warrior goddess. It is said that at the beginning of time, the mountains on earth were massive, living beings who conspired to make the world uninhabitable for other forms of life. In order to make way for new lifeforms (humans included), Qamaits came down to Earth and did battle with the mountains themselves. The mountains we see today are only fragments of the great mountains that Qamaits fought and shattered into small pieces.
Ratri is the Vedic goddess of the night and sister to Ushas, the goddess of the dawn. She is described as being a beautiful young woman bedecked with stars. Despite her great beauty, Ratri can be a dangerous goddess. As the night personified, Ratri represents all the myriad dangers it contains, but she also provides protection from those very same dangers.
Sao-qing niang-niang is the Chinese mother goddess of fair weather. She is one of a nonad of protective mother-goddesses. Her name translates simply to “woman who sweeps everything clean.” Sao-qing niang-niang is tasked with clearing the sky of clouds after the rain, thus preventing floods and preserving crops. Images of her are cut from paper and then attached to rooftops after storms; there the wind shakes the images and causes her to sweep the sky clean.
Tenenit is the Egyptian goddess of beer. Despite beer’s status as a staple foodstuff in the ancient Egyptian diet, Tenenit receives little mention in most of Egyptian mythology. The primary references to her can be found in the Book of the Dead. She is also identified with Isis, the Egyptian mother goddess and goddess of nature.
Uke Mochi is the Shinto goddess of food. She famously prepared a feast consisting only of foods that issued from her body: rice and fish from her mouth and woodland game from her anus. Her guest, Tsuki-yomi, the moon god, was less than thrilled with her method of preparation. He slew Uke Mochi for what he perceived as her insult to him. Even in death, Uke Mochi provided; all the different parts of her body burst forth into foods.
Vesna is the Slavic goddess of Spring. Her festival is celebrated on the first of March, when she is invited back into the world with an invocation, songs sung in her honor, and a traditional offering of bread and salt. Even today, many Slavic countries welcome Spring on the first of March with special celebrations.
Whaitiri is the Maori thunder goddess. In Maori tradition she is renowned for her fierceness and cannibal diet. Once, she descended to Earth to marry a chieftain nicknamed man-killer. Staying to live with him and raise their children, she ended up offending her neighbors with the scent of her and her children’s human-enriched ordure (her husband, it turned out, was no man-eater.) To make amends, she taught humanity how to make latrines before taking herself and her children up into the sky.
Xilonen is one of the myriad Aztec gods and goddesses associated with the lifecycle of corn. Her name comes from the word xilotl, meaning a young, tender ear of maize, making her the goddess of young corn. Xilonen’s festival was celebrated in summer. As part of her festival, a young woman who resembled the goddess would be chosen to represent her. This woman would then be painted and adorned to further resemble the goddess. Finally, she would be ritually killed and her heart carved from her chest.
Yolkai Estsan, also Yolaikaiason, is a Navajo goddess who was magically born from a piece of abalone, earning her the nickname “White Shell Woman.” Fittingly, she ruled the dawn and the ocean. Not one to be limited to one element, she is also credited with the creation of fire and maize. Her husband is Klehanoai, the carrier of the moon.
Zvoruna is the Lithuanian goddess of the hunt and protector of animals. Though she hails from a Baltic pantheon, her name comes from the Slavic root “zver,” meaning beast. She is also known by her moniker “the bitch,” not because she has an unpleasant personality, but because she is associated with dogs in their roles as hunters and protectors.