In ancient times, goddesses were a regular muse and source of inspiration for music, song and dance, Getintothis’ Janaya Pickett looks at some more contemporary examples of this time old coupling.
Mythological reference in song is as old as song itself. Our fascination with religious fables continues today. Goddesses in particular embody everything to be loved and feared about the female species and have long been used to immortalise regular women in song, as well as provide wisdom and solace.
The neopagan Goddess Movement which was established in the 1970s is still popular as a reaction to the dominant patriarchal faiths. The aim of the movement is to recognise and celebrate feminine influence through understanding ancient goddesses.
There is something quite poignant in the fact that in an age of smartphones, webzines and whatnots, we continue to relate to tales that are thousands of years old. Morality tales, whether the story of Jesus or The Return of the Jedi, speak to something deep in us and we learn from them. Looking into ancient goddesses is an exploration into feminininity and how it has been recorded in history. So, why not get comfortable and let us take you on a spiritual journey through our top ten goddess songs.
10. Bananarama – Venus
This Shocking Blue song is arguably the most famous goddess song about the most famous goddess, certified as classic pop after the success of the 1986 Bananarama cover. The goddess Venus embodies love, beauty, sex, prosperity and desire. In this song, she is re imagined as the 80s feminine ideal, powerful, prosperous and most importantly, sexually desirable.
The video for the track signals a stylistic change for Bananarama, who had previously sported a more androgynous look. In this video the ladies took on a range of temptress-type characters to emphasise their newly found womanhood.
Goddess on a mountain top / Was burning like a silver flame / The summit of beauty and love / And Venus was her name
9. Bob Dylan – Isis
No, not the religious extremist group, but the ancient Egyptian goddess, Isis, the epitome of motherhood and the perfect wife.
Bob Dylan’s Isis is the story of a man who leaves his unhappy wife for a psychedelic journey, on which he contemplates his love for her and decides to return. It’s widely speculated that the song is in fact about Dylan’s turbulent marriage to Sara (mother of four of his children) which ended a year after its release on the 1976 Desire album.
I married Isis on the fifth day of May / But I could not hold on to her very long / So I cut off my hair and I rode away / For the wild unknown country where I could not go wrong
8. Laura Marling – Sophia
Sophia is worshiped in ancient religions as wisdom incarnate. She is also known as the wife of God and the mother of fate.
Sophia is Marling‘s first single from her 2011 album A Creature I Don’t Know, an exploration of womanhood through the veil of mythology. This track in particular centres around a wronged lover who calls to the goddess for wisdom and truth. Marling is ‘wounded by dust‘, but at the same moment reflecting on her own strength and autonomy.
When the bell toll, when the bell gon’ chime / You better call for your woman up high / And when the bell tolls for your last day / You’ll be getting down on your knees to pray
7. Steeley Dan – Aja
The goddess Aja is part of the Orisha, twelve devine female spirits, from Yoruba/African mythology. She is the goddess of the forest and natural remedies, the knowledge of which she has passed on to the Yoruban people. Steely Dan‘s Aja, however, bares little relation to the goddess.
The song is rumored to be about a Korean woman named Aja an object of Donald Jay Fegan‘s affection. It is the exotic connotations of the name Aja that are fetishised in this track rather than any reference to ancient mythology.
Chinese music under Banyan trees / here at the dude ranch above the sea / Aja / When all my dime dancing is through I run to you
6. NZCA Lines – Persephone Dreams
Persephone is the daughter of Zeus, lord of the Olympians and Demeter, goddess of the harvest. Persephone is both the goddess of springtime and Queen of the underworld, after her marriage to Hades. NZCA Lines (a.k.a multi-instrumentalist Michael Lovett) imagines Persephone as a dark enchantress whom the speaker is powerless to. Both the music and lyrics tell of an uncontrolled descent into lust. It is the most recent track from our top 10, being released only last year. There’s six minutes of glorious synth, guitar solos, electronic beats and steel drums. Yes, steel drums.
Are you ready now? / Do you really want it all to change? / Only when I’ve been counting the hours here waiting for you / My love
5. Cradle of Filth – The Black Goddess Rises ii
The goddess is as terrifying as she is enchanting and no band explore this in more depth than Cradle of Filth. There are not one, but three goddesses mentioned in The Black Goddess Rises ii, Ishtar, Hecate and Lilth, who deal in sexuality, sorcery, magic and necromancy.
What is interesting, from a feminist perspective, is the way in which the dark side of femininity is celebrated. Even though they are destructive, they are not necessarily negative forces. In this track Danny Filth glorifies feminine wiles and empowers women by associating them with deities.
All woman, pure predator / Wherein conspiracy and impulse dwell / Like a seething fall from grace / Thee I worship
4. Deftones – Minerva
Minerva is the strategic Roman goddess of war, wisdom and commerce. In this song Minverva is interpreted as the ability of women to manipulate and influence male emotions. The female is the protagonist who ‘could bring back peace to the earth’ with one statement.
Minerva is a hymn to the established woman, as apposed to the wide-eyed type, who knows herself and recognises her abilities. The meaning is solidified with the epic sound production and expansive accompanying video. It one of the simplest, yet powerful goddess songs on our list.
So God bless you all / for the songs you sing us / for the hearts you break every time you moan
3. Fleetwood Mac – Rhiannon
Rhiannon is the Celtic goddess of horses, birdsong and all things forest-like. She is at one with the wind and known for her independence. The whimsical tale of Rhiannon inspired Stevie Nicks‘s hippy sensibilities enough for her to immortalise it in this 1975 Fleetwood Mac release.
Rhiannon in her version is a mysterious and allusive character who ‘rules her life like a fine skylark’. She refuses to be tied down, much to the distress of her suitors and in keeping with the hedonistic ethos of the time it was written.
All your life you’ve never seen a woman taken by the wind/ Would you stay if she promised you heaven/ Will you ever win?
2. Arcade Fire – Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice)
The tale of Orpheus and Eurydice is the classic love triangle, or unrequited love story. This track, as well as others on Arcade Fire‘s 2013 Reflektor album, was influenced by a 1959 Brazilian film Black Orpheus, which is based on the ancient Greek myth.
The concept of the album surrounds the idea that each age reflects itself and that life is cyclical in nature. What Arcade Fire are saying in Awful Sound is that the archetypal story of unrequited love transcends time and can be applied to any age.
1. Bjork – Aurora
Aurora is the Greek goddess of the dawn and in fables rides across the sky in a technicolor chariot, cloaked in gold and silver. She gallops ahead of the sun to usher in the new day. In this moving track from Bjork‘s 2001 album Vespertine, Aurora is called upon to aid emotional suffering.
The isolation of the song is emphasised by the lyrical imagery and simplicity of the instruments. By referencing mythology and the natural landscape Bjork creates a beautifully intimate piece of music. Like Marling‘s Sophia, the goddess in the track is not sexual or manipulative, but a figure of wisdom. The choir accompaniment on the chorus highlights the spirituality of the track, which is truly magical and worthy of the number one spot.
Aurora goddess sparkle/ Shoot me beyond the suffer / The need is great Aurora / Utter mundane / Spark the sun off in me