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Goddesses: What Are Their Origins and Roles?

We are different goddesses during different times in our lives.

For my birthday a couple of weeks ago, a dear girlfriend organized a ladies luncheon for me. It was touching, especially since I had not had a luncheon in my honor for more than twenty years. I had given her the name of ten of the most powerful women I know. Even though this was not a milestone birthday, my friend saw it as a monumental birthday. After all, I was turning 61, the age my grandmother committed suicide. During the weeks leading up to this birthday I became inspired to reflect upon my life and the role of women during the ages. Unlike my grandmother, who believed she had nothing else to offer from her life, I feel as if my life has just begun. I am still tapping into new adventures and exploring new horizons. Times were different for my grandmother, who was orphaned during World War I. She had fewer opportunities than many of us today.

In the weeks leading up to my birthday, I was rereading the works of Jean Shinoda Bolen, especially her classic book, Goddesses in Everywoman. In addition to having been transformed by this book, it was serendipitous that many of my birthday gifts this year also had some connection with goddesses. This told me that many of my friends and colleagues were also at a crossroads or time of transition in their lives. A time of reflection. A time to think about our role in society.

While never really a feminist, I have always believed in the power of women to initiate change and transformation. After all, my name, Diana is after the Roman Goddess of the Hunt, which resonates with the way I lead my life, as a seeker and a hunter. I have also always experienced a theme of loss of love, which Bolen says is a common theme in many heroine myths. She explains that is the reason is that most women define themselves by their relationships rather than their accomplishments. Women’s identities are very closely tied to their relationships, so when a loved one dies, they suffer twice—loss of the relationship and a loss of an identity. I am also a strong believer in the idea of having to go through the darkness to find the light and from all bad comes good.

According to Bolen, we may be different goddesses during different times in our lives. The goddess archetypes are deep desires that vary from woman to woman, providing autonomy, creativity, power, intellectual change, spirituality, sexuality and/or relationships. She identifies seven complex archetypes within each woman which can be called upon at various times during our lives. These can be used to describe certain personality patterns or characteristics. For example, because I am a creative and sensual person, the goddess I most identify with is Aphrodite. Bolen claims, “Whenever Aphrodite is present, energy is generated; lovers glow with well-being and heightened energy; conversation sparkles, stimulating thoughts and feelings.” (p. 229). She is considered the alchemical goddess. She puts beauty and creativity first. At other times in my life, such as after graduating university at a time when intellect and pursuing a career was my utmost priority, I have felt the goddess Athena, whose primary realm is intellect and pursuing a career or project. Around the time of marriage, I became Hera, who typically puts marriage first. Most often, I have felt like either Artemis or Aphrodite. Artemis was the goddess who bonded and rescued other women, in addition to her mother, but never wanted to be like her mother.

While we might be different goddesses during different stages in our lives, there is usually one goddess that has most prominence in our lives. Understanding this provides a container for our sentiments and also provides a certain amount of comfort. It’s okay to be who we want to be when we need to be that person. In other words, we are maneuvering around our responsibilities and wearing different hats when it is necessary to do so. According to Bolen, I am presently in the wise woman stage, and I must say that I am quite comfortable here. It’s a time in my life when I can be who I want to be while holding little concern about what others think or feel about who I am. My contentment is intrinsic instead of extrinsic.

Pamela Madison in her article, “Goddesses in Older Women: Archetypes in Women Over Fifty or Becoming a Juicy Crone” also discussed her thoughts on Bolen’s other book, to be my next read. Knowing and understanding the goddess archetypes provides a container for understanding who we are. We don’t have to be one or another. According to Carol Pearson in her book Awakening the Heroes Within, these archetypes or inner guides, help us on our journey. Whichever archetype is prominent at a given time brings with it a task, a lesson and a gift. Overall, they teach us how to live and behave. Because all the archetypes live inside of us, we are able to access them when we need them, meaning that “we all have this full human potential within ourselves” (p.7).

Pearson connects her archetype classification to twelve archetypes we can tap into to help find our truest nature and transform us. These include: the innocent, the orphan, the warrior, the caregiver, the seeker, the lover, the destroyer, the creator, the ruler, the magician, the sage and the fool. All these help to balance the psyche; help us connect with ourselves and develop a sense of wholeness.

As Bolen says, it’s not so much what happened to you that made the difference or what archetype was present when it happened; what’s important is what happened inside of you that transformed or made the difference.


Bolen, J. S. (1984). Goddesses in Everywoman. Harper: New York: NY.

Madison, P. (2011). Goddesses in Older Women: Archetypes in Women Over Fifty or Becoming a Juicy Crone.” Psychology Today.

Pearson, C. S. (1991). Awakening the Heroes Within. Harper: San Francisco, CA.