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Sky Father

The Sky Father is a recurring theme in pagan and neo-pagan mythology. As a concept, it is the complement of the Earth Mother and appears in some creation myths, many of which are European or ancient Near Eastern. Other cultures have quite different myths; Egyptian mythology features a sky mother and an earthly dying and reviving god of vegetation. Shinto gives precedence to a sun goddess. A sky father also relates to a solar deity, a god identified with the sun.

In Anglo-Saxon mythology, the god Tiwaz was venerated as the Sky Father.

In Maori mythology, Rangi was the Sky Father. In this story Sky Father and Mother Earth embraced and had divine children.

Sky Father or Heavenly Father is one term for the god of Christianity in China and the Chinese language.

History of the concept

In late nineteenth century opinions on comparative religion, in a line of thinking that begins with Friedrich Engels and J. J. Bachofen, and which received major literary promotion in The Golden Bough by Sir James G. Frazer, it was believed that worship of a sky father was characteristic of nomadic peoples, and that worship of an earth mother similarly characterised farming peoples. According to this body of doctrine, nomads militarily overran farming societies, and replaced goddesses with male gods. During the process, it was believed that the invaders devalued the status of women and replaced a matriarchy with a patriarchy. The religious changes were imagined to reflect this change in the status of the sexes. This belief system was linked to the discovery of the Indo-European languages, and it was fancied that the military conquest underlying this model spread those languages. The sky father was held to be an Indo-European invention. This is the Aryan myth, the belief that European history was shaped by a conquering Aryan race. Aryan and Indo-European were synonymous during this period.

This theory is rejected by most archaeologists and anthropologists as an explanation of early European religious life. The archaeological record does not indicate that Indo-European languages spread throughout their area in Europe and Asia by military conquest alone. Many non-Indo-European cultures also have male-dominated pantheons, without being conquered or bent on conquest. There is no direct historical correlation between the worship of goddesses and the social status of women; nor is their a great deal of evidence that the worship of female deities is associated with agriculture, or that male gods accompany nomadism.

Nor is there any reason to believe that the Indo-Europeans practiced a religion that was more male-dominated, patriarchal, or promoted male gods at the expense of goddesses. It is in fact true that a male sky father, whose name has been reconstructed as *dyeus-ph2têr, and who appears in Greek mythology as Zeus, in Roman mythology as Jupiter, in Norse mythology as Tyr, and in Hinduism as Dyaus Pita, seems to have been shared and inherited from a common stock of Indo-European mythology. Each of these names is cognate to the others. This is not, in fact, the most widespread inherited Indo-European deity. The sky goddess whose name is reconstructed as *aus-os- is even more widespread; goddess of dawn, she appears in Greek mythology as Eos, in Rome as Aurora, in Germanic mythology as Eostre, in Baltic mythology as Ausra, and in Hinduism as Ushas. These names are all cognate as well. From what we can tell of Indo-European culture, there was neither a systematic bias against goddesses or a religious motivation towards male dominance greater than any other comparable culture.

The theory about earth goddesses, sky fathers, and patriarchal invaders was a stirring tale that fired various imaginations. The story was important in literature, and was referred to in various ways by important poets and novelists, including T. S. Eliot, D. H. Lawrence, James Joyce, and most influentially, Robert Graves.

How it worked out in practice depended on which side the believers chose to root for. Belief in the sky father and the military prowess of Aryan supermen was a feature of Nazi racial ideology; the swastika was chosen to embody this belief system because it was a solar symbol. Sympathy with the lost utopia of the matriarchal goddessdom arose later. Established as a recurring theme in important literature, the tale lived on among the literature faculty long after it had been dropped by the anthropology department. Its truth was assumed by several historical novelists and fantasy authors, including Mary Renault, Mary Stewart, and more recently Mercedes Lackey and Marion Zimmer Bradley, among many others. The influence of feminism helped give the tale a new lease on life even as the notion of earth mothers and sky fathers was being rejected as oversimplified and implausible in the world of anthropology, archaeology, and comparative religion. It is frequently invoked in feminist spirituality.