Who is God?
I don’t know, but She’s black.
– Marilynn Zarwell Stewart
About the Book
The images inside this book are derived from one or more traditional sources: depictions of goddesses surviving in museums, painted on rock walls, and in private collections around the world that struck me with their timeless power and beauty. Every one of these depictions, sculptures, figurines, relief carvings, or block prints intuitively grabbed me, and I could not forget them. Using ink and brush, I attempted to honor the forms and style indigenous to the culture of the original artists who envisioned these goddesses. The more I studied these traditional images, the more they spoke to me in their language of symbol, metaphor, allegory, and geometry.
As all of these images have been taken out of their original cultural context, we can only imagine their full intended power. Some of the original sculptures and carvings have been damaged over the centuries, and in those cases, including the depictions of Asherah, Coatlicue, and the Woman of Willendorf, I have rendered them in a restored state as carefully as possible. With a few of the images, I have taken more creative license, by synthesizing multiple images of a goddess into an original fusion, as in the case of the Lakshmi, Demeter and Persephone, Oshun, and Kali illustrations. I based the drawing of Isis on a traditional image, but placed her in a contemporary setting. The illustration of Baba Yaga is an original composition following the work of the great Russian illustrator Ivan Bilibin. With the rest of the images, I aimed to preserve the awe and beauty of the original depictions as faithfully as possible.
The page of text that accompanies each illustration gives a brief introduction to the goddess depicted. When I could find a story, I have retold it. Allowing only a single page for each goddess proved to be a daunthing task. Several volumes could be filled with stories of a goddess as widely revered as Kuan-yin or Oshun, and a single page does not do justice to the stories I have included. As for other goddesses, very little is known about them today. When I could not find a story, I have described the artwork from which the illustration was derived and included historical context that might help readers appreciate the goddess or the image more. But to comprehen-sively cover every goddess here would be well beyond the scope of this coloring book. It is my hope that you find some value as you read these stories and contemplate and color these goddesses. Like polishing old silver heirlooms, your work may help restore their brilliance, or give new shades and colors to the eternal mystery of the sacred feminine.
Goddesses—the feminine forms of divinity—have been venerated and worshipped for millennia by people in societies all over the world. Over the centuries, goddesses seen in visions and in dreams have become individual guides, protectors of communities, or the focus of an entire society’s devotion. Some goddesses may represent specific patterns within nature or the unconscious. Some are helpful and beautiful, such as Isis, Kuan-yin, and the Virgin of Guadalupe, while others such as Kali, Coatlicue, and Baba Yaga can appear destructive and horrifying. Some goddesses, such as the Great Goddess of Teotihuacan, simultaneously embody and express positive and negative forces befitting a spirit of both life and death, transformation and destruction. As such, the spirit of the Earth—and even Life itself—appear to some of us as an all-encompassing goddess with whom we have always lived in relation, whether we remember her or not.
In the mainstream culture of the West, respect for, and even consciousness of, feminine aspects of the divine seem to have all but vanished until relatively recently. Today, many of us are not even aware of what a goddess is, and do not remember the important goddesses of ancient history. To some of us, the idea of divinity as feminine might even seem uncomfortable, unusual, or exotic.
However, goddesses continue to play an integral part in the lives of many people today, and in certain societies, their myths, rituals, and traditions have remained unbroken for centuries. Of other goddesses, little has survived the destruction of the cultures that revered them. For example, the myths of the once greatly revered Celtic goddess Brigid are virtually lost, and perhaps no traditional images of her remain. The prehistoric Woman of Willendorf and the horned dancer painted on the cave walls at Tassili n’Ajjer have left only their mysterious images. Their stories—even their names—are forgotten.
Several societies that became increasingly patriarchal actively destroyed the cults and the images of their own goddesses. For example, there is evidence that the ancient Semitic goddess Asherah was demonized and her cult defamed over two thousand years ago. Matriarchal traditions in Greece were also destroyed: the great temple to Demeter at Eleusis, including the mystery rites sacred to Demeter and Persephone that were held there annually for over two thousand years, were forcibly closed by the Roman emperor at the end of the fourth century.
Today, many efforts are being made to discover more about these once great goddesses. Their images hold so much power and presence that some researchers and social scientists cannot help but project their own creative imaginations, wondering who these great and mysterious figures might have been. The images themselves have become fertile ground for our longing to know the feminine faces of divinity. They are beautiful mirrors that may reflect for us who we are, who we have been, and who we may become.
About The Author
Craig Coss is an award-winning San Francisco Bay Area fine artist, illustrator, storyteller, and educator. He recently illustrated the Official HBO Game of Thrones Tarot, to be published by Chronicle Books in Spring 2018. His work explores themes such as the divine feminine, longing, the dangers of anthropocentrism, and the tensions between archetypal opposites. His perennial philosophy is sympathetic to the ideas of Ananda K. Coomaraswamy and Corita Kent, and he agrees with Marie-Louise von Franz that traditional folktales and myths—as with dreams—often contain medicinal remedies for the psyche, interwoven in their symbols. When he’s not telling stories, making art, or teaching primitive technology, he’s restoring vintage bicycles, perfecting his iron gall ink recipes, and growing heirloom tomatoes.
See his other work at craigcoss.com