Source of the Goddess in Architecture

Mimi Lobell, Architect
July 18,1942-April 7, 2001


Try thinking of a female space. What are its qualities?
Now think of a sacred space. What are its qualities?
Are they similar?

Did you know that sacred places all over the world had ancient precedents in sanctuaries dedicated to goddesses? The crypts and apses of Gothic Cathedrals such as Chartres in France and Canterbury in England stem from Neolithic megalithic circles and passage mounds. The vast majority of Gothic cathedrals were built to honor Notre Dame, Our Lady the Virgin Mary, the Goddess within Christianity.

Sacred places everywhere are modeled on the divine body of the Great Goddess. Hindu temple sanctuaries in India and Buddhist stupas and pagodas throughout Asia emulate the prehistoric garbha-griha or "womb house," a type of burial mound. Japanese Shingon Buddhist shrines are called the "Great Womb Store." The Pueblo kiva is the "Womb of Mother Earth." The female archetype crowns all domed buildings the Pantheon in Rome, Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, and St. Peter's in Rome, for example, where the feminine form of the great hemispherical dome always shelters and marks the holy-of-holies. The domes of Islamic mosques and tombs such as the Taj Mahal are considered the feminine element, while the vertical minarets are considered masculine.

The most influential building in Western architecture is the Parthenon in Athens, Greece. While not female in form, the temple was inspired by and dedicated to the goddess Athena, for whom Athens is also named. Its counterpart in Japan is Ise Shrine, dedicated to the Imperial Sun Goddess, Amaterasu, and designed as a traditional granary. Granaries are wombs holding seed, and they, too, are found in sacred architecture, especially in Africa. An example is Great Zimbabwe, where a fine stone elliptical building surrounds a mock granary near an ancient oracular cave.

Do you sense that caves are essentially "female" spaces? Think of the sages and prophets who attained their wisdom in caves, from Buddhist saints to early Christian ascetics to Mohammed. Many Native American cultures such as the Mayans and Aztecs trace their origins to caves and hold caves in high reverence.

The first known sanctuaries were the caves and rock shelters of the Upper Palæolithic era, where our Cro Magnon ancestors sought the deep dark transformative womb of the Earth for religious rites. Even today, that same idea guides the Hopi, Zuni, and Pueblo Indians of the American Southwest as they enter the spirit world through Mother Earth's subterranean kiva-womb.

These sacred places are outer manifestations of an inner place in the psyche: the Sacred Feminine. This holy place, this place of wholeness, exists in women and men who are aware enough to nurture it and seek its shelter and wisdom. In women, it is the core of being. In men, it is the muse, the anima, the soul.

The Sacred Feminine has been buried, ignored, derided, and destroyed over the past millennia. It is time to unearth it. Learn more about this precious Buried Treasure and help to resurrect it from the recesses of our psyches, history, and the earth. It is nothing less than the Great Source of the Wisdom and Life Energy of the Goddess.

The Goddess Mound continues this tradition, and the following article presents more on this theme.

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