Ancient Science and the Grail Series by Laura Knight Jadczyk discuss how the notion of gender ties in with the divine. We will use this as our starting point and frame of reference.
Archeology and mythology suggest that a masculine, often war-like and vindictive dominator god supplanted a feminine, co-operation oriented deity at some point in prehistory. This was a global development, although its timing varies and there is evidence of the co-existence of both forms of worship for a time. The goddess worship may be tied to the more northern latitudes and to archaic shamanism of which there are some survivals in native traditions worldwide, as in Siberia and Mongolia. The bloodthirsty dominator god was a more southern phenomenon, as seen with Baal and Yahweh in North Africa, the gods of the Indus civilization and the feathered serpents of meso-American ancient civilizations. Not even this is completely clear-cut since there is also evidence of bloody conquest by northern peoples.
The shift from goddess to monotheistic worship of a male dominator god appears to indicate a fundamental change of cultural values and social organization. We can summarize as follows:
Abundance vs. Exclusivity - Nature does not provide, it must be made to yield.
Cyclic Time vs. Linear Time - All things recur and every end is followed by a new beginning. With the linear time model, there is an end once and for all and only the 'chosen' survive.
Place of Women in Society - It seems the social status of women took a decisive fall with the establishment of agricultural settlements and monotheism.
Polytheism vs. Monotheism - The dominator god requires exclusive worship and makes threats to enforce this.
Hunter-gatherer and herding vs. land ownership and large scale agriculture and cities - There is generally little written record of goddess worship. Records seem to begin with commerce and centralized rule associated with large scale agriculture and cities.
Establishment of a professional and exclusive priestly establishment - Shamanism also had its tradition and forms but the establishment of a priestly cast as exclusive mediator between the people and the divine seems to coincide with the decline of the prehistoric goddess. Leviticus gives the general idea of a legalistic and formalized religion with a priestly cast in power. The divine becomes an instrument of institutionalized power instead of being a part of life.
The decline of the goddess seems to coincide with a general vilification of women, as in the Old Testament story of Genesis or the myth of Helen of Troy being at the source of the calamity of the Trojan war.
All these developments range over an extremely broad range of geography and time and we can hardly speak of any single event or consistent timeline.
The transitions discussed above took place in pre-historic times and the evidence for them is archeological and sometimes carried over in myth which was said to have already been ancient when first recorded. The megalithic cultures of Europe may have been a more recent part of the ancient goddess worship, extending near historical times.
We will next look at manifestations of the feminine in the divine over historical times.
The ascent into power of the single monotheistic male deity was very slow. It took millennia for the goddess to be completely eclipsed, this eclipse reaching its peak probably in the Middle Ages, involving on the other hand the Catholics of the West and the Islamic expansion from the Middle East. The crusades, witch hunts and the extermination of the Cathars correspond to the low point of the goddess.
It seems that the dominator god started as a consort or defender of the goddess, progressively eclipsing the latter. Even in the Old Testament, the main manifesto of the male dominator, God is variously referred to by names of masculine and feminine gender. A once and for all substitution was not possible, hence tradition had to be morphed slowly.
In ancient Egypt the worship of Isis was eclipsed by the solar deity Ra. The union of Isis and Osiris may well represent a survival of the pre-historic goddess and the concept of the divine union of male and female and shamanistic ascent to the higher worlds. The worship of the solar deity, the edification of massive temples and centralized theocratic rule however drove these to the side. The Isis mysteries, it seems, survived well past Egyptian times in hermetic form, as suggested by Fulcanelli and others. As always, establishing authenticity is problematic.
By Greek and Roman times, the male head of the Pantheon was already installed but the pantheon was heterogenous and practices varied widely. Local deities were also frequently absorbed into the pantheon thus we cannot speak of any great monopoly of worship. The mystery schools of antiquity probably contained survivals of the goddess and ancient shamanistic practices.
The takeover of the one dominator took a decisive step when Constantine hijacked primitive Christianity and made it the exclusive state religion. With this he also came to validate the Yahweh of the Old Testament.
Elements of the divine feminine are also found in the broader Christian tradition. The Sophia of the Gnostics is a sort of errant feminine principle of wisdom which is fallen to Earth. This same Sophia is sometimes seen as a feminine principle of wisdom mediating between the world and the Holy Spirit. Virgin Mary may have received most of the heritage of the goddess within the Christian tradition, now however well absorbed into the patriarchal framework. Myths of Maria Magdalena as the female disciple or sometimes spouse of Christ also form a certain undercurrent in the stream of tradition.
While the goddess is mostly associated with earth, fertility, things which grow, abundance, culture and peace, this is not always so. In the Hellenic pantheon the many goddesses had a definite mean streak, as in scheming, jealousy, aggression and fickleness. The Greek pantheon was, at least on the exterior, remarkably anthropomorphic, as if being a celestial projection of the human penchant for drama.
The best known representation of the dark side of the feminine may be the Hindu Kali.