What are we talking about when we talk about “love”? It’s a pretty abstract term and fluid concept. English basically has one word for “love.” There are many terms to describe affection, fondness, or attraction for or to another person, but with the term “love” we assign all manner of emotions, desires, and commitments. We can love our parents and love our pets, love our lovers and love pizza, love sunsets more than sunrises or love the color blue. The weight of this word is often found in the context of the thing you’re talking about; we understand the weight of loving your life partner to be different than the weight of loving a particular genre of music.
With this in mind, when we talk about Love Goddesses, what are we really saying about them and their power? What traits, qualities, or actions are we equating with them?
I think in some cases the answer is obvious. There are Love Goddesses who embody sensuality so obviously that one has to assume that the type of love where they wield power is sexual, pleasurable, or romantic. But there are other Love Goddesses who seem to embody none of these things and are more regal, strict, or oriented towards justice. To those goddesses you might assume they wield power in more structured forms of love, the kinds of love that come with commitment of one’s life, time, or home such as a marriage, a family, or a duty to one’s community.
These are the 8 main types of Love Goddesses that I’ve observed and I’ve offered a few examples of each. I should say that these lists are definitely not exhaustive. I mention a wide variety of goddesses here because I want to be inclusive. Please feel free to learn and research any of them, but be deeply considerate before deciding to incorporate any into your personal pantheon that are not of your culture. Spirituality is not an excuse for cultural appropriation.
For now, let’s keep things general and high level. There are 8 types I want to cover today:
1. Goddesses who attract Love
On the surface this might sound like Goddesses who attract romantic love, but I think it’s a little different from that. The desire to attract love into one’s life implies that there’s something absent, that there isn’t a person there who you feel comfortable confiding in, being vulnerable with, or receiving tenderness from. The Goddesses who work in this area can help us create and attract all manner of loving relationships with family, friends, or romantic lovers; in some cases, I think, they’re also able to bring love into our lives in other forms like a dog or profoundly tender experience of kindness from a stranger.
These Goddesses include many beings related to springtime like Aine, Freya, or Eostre. Benten or Saraswati, Hathor, Psyche, Oshun, Yemaya, Venus or Aphrodite, and Frigga have a lot of influence here too.
2. Goddesses of romantic Love
These are more familiar, I think, to most of us. Aphrodite or Venus are the most obvious candidates for romantic love goddesses. Romance is a strange thing in the context of a pagan path, though. In many traditions from the ancient world, we find that romantic love and lovers weren’t associated with things like life partnership or marriage. The ancient world was one where people often married for duty, status, or economy; romantic pursuits were left outside of that contractual relationship. This isn’t exclusive to the ancient world, either; the modern world had this system of separating romantic love from marriage in western and eastern cultures. It wasn’t until recently that we, as a culture, have valued a merging of the two.
That means we encounter many myths and stories of what we would now consider to be infidelity and cheating, but back then wasn’t viewed in that light. So long as your duties to your spouse, family, and social performance were met, cheating has often been fine. Don’t talk about it on main street but it wasn’t always a case of public ridicule or stoning. Yet, we can also find the opposite example in the ancient world, where sexual or romantic dissatisfaction with one’s spouse was a legal reason to pursue divorce. The Hebrew Canaanites did this as did the Egyptians.
Some of the more interesting goddesses to explore when considering the boundaries or merging of romantic love and commitment are, in my opinion, Radha, Juno, Freya, and Anath. Isis, Ishtar, Inanna, Yemaya, and Oshun are also very rich in this area.
3. Goddesses of familial or parental Love
My two favorite stories here are Demeter and Isis. Both of these goddesses displayed in their myths a passionate commitment to their children and their legacy. Assuming you are a pagan, there’s also a good chance you have had some turbulence with your own parents or family. Many of us abandoned the religion of our upbringing in favor of a pagan path, and many of us have identities that our families are prejudiced against like our sexual orientation or gender expression. Working with a familial or parental Goddess has been really healing for me. I resisted seeing Isis as a mother figure for so long because I had such a bad taste in my mouth about mothers, and I wanted her to feel more like a big sister. But as I allowed myself to be vulnerable in that way, I was able to work through my own trauma. Now that I’m about to be a mother myself, I am so much more confident than I could have ever imagined in facing the task of raising a child.
If parental or family love is something you struggle with or are thirsty for, I highly recommend learning about or possibly working with the goddesses Demeter, Ceres, Frigga, Tiamat, Parvati, Ereshkigal, Shekinah, or Isis.
4. Goddesses of emotional Love
How do you experience love? Like, personally? What words would you use to describe the emotion of love, as you feel it? Your answer is probably going to be different from mine, different from your partner’s answer, different from your friend’s answer. We all have our own love languages because we all have a different experience and understanding of the emotion of love. When I think of Goddesses who wield this emotion as one of their realms of power, I think of ones who are large in their pantheons, dominating, and have stories that demonstrate many different ways of offering up that pure ray of love.
Isis comes to mind again, but others who embody this pure essence include the Sophia, Venus, Branwen, Inanna, Kuan Yin, Laksmi, Oba, and Erzulie. These are goddesses who emanate in the purest form the emotion of love, and their stories and folklore demonstrate the different ways that that emotion manifests into action.
5. Goddesses of physical Love
Emotion manifests into action, often acts of service or sacrifice. But attraction, physical attraction, also manifests into action. Physical attraction to a person is about more than sexual desire. That desire is what leads us to want to observe that person, be around them, experience their auric field, drink in their personality or style. It’s often a building block to creating a deeper emotional bond, or even emotional love.
Goddesses of physical love can help us make that first move. They encourage us to send that first message on Tinder. But they also help us discern safe and unsafe situations; a Goddess of Physical Love is there with us on that date and can help us determine whether or not a hookup with the other person is going to be an experience worth enjoying or one that might eat away at our energy. These goddesses help us pick out lingerie, select the perfume we want to be our signature scent, and encourage us to be creative in the bedroom.
Aphrodite is perhaps the most famous of goddesses who wield power in this area, but she’s definitely not the only one. Bast, though originally a goddess of war, gradually came to embody these qualities of seduction and lust. Anath, Freya, Lilith, Kali Ma, Shakti, Astarte, Ereshkigal, Hathor, Inanna, Qetesh, Kupala, Isis, and Oshun all have influence in this realm of experience. You’ll notice, I hope, that many of the goddesses most associated with physical love and lust are also associated with things like the underworld, the dark moon, or war. This isn’t a coincidence.
6. Goddesses of the broken hearted
Going through a breakup is hard. Getting rejected by a longtime crush is devastating. Being strung along by a friend with benefits can be emotionally traumatizing. Losing your partner is an immeasurable grief.
Having one’s heart broken isn’t some unfortunate, random experience. It’s a guarantee in life. Most people experience their first heartbreak in their teen years shortly after puberty, and when you’re young it feels like you won’t survive it. As you age, the stakes surrounding the loss of love rise; the pain of heartbreak never ceases, but we as individuals do learn ways to build resilience to those knives.
The people of the ancient world felt this too. Disease, famine, and war took their lovers then as they take our lovers now; rejection and betrayal occurred then as it does to us in now; even the modern difficulty of catching feelings for a friend with benefits has a mirror in the ancient world of concubines and mistresses. It sucks to be a side chick, but it’s not new.
My favorite goddess by far when it comes to the healing of a broken heart is the Morrigan. Occasionally seen as one goddess, other times seen as a trifecta, her own experience of heartbreak and devastation, her own dark nature, is deeply healing. If that dark, gothic aesthetic doesn’t work for you, Hestia is a great alternative. She’s warm and will make staying curled up in bed crying a lot less lonely. Other goddesses for the healing of a broken heart include Oba, Kuan Yin, Ereshkigal, Devi, Venus, and Shakti. I’ve also heard positive things about Yaoji and Red Tara.
7. Goddesses of self Love
Self love is a challenge. It’s a challenge to separate it from ego, it’s a challenge to maintain it in the face of emotional ups and downs, and it’s a challenge to learn what it looks like for you. Some of us struggle a lot more with body image than we do confidence in our intellect, while others among us rely on our physical beauty to mask our fears of being seen as uninteresting or not charismatic. We all worry in one way or another if we’re good enough for the rest of the world, if we’re going to be accepted by it; we worry that we might lose the love of a partner or family member if we were to fail to live up to some version of ourselves we think they expect.
Goddesses of self love are about fostering not only an independent review of the self but gradually manifesting new practices, habits, routines, and mantras that encourage a life-long relationship of loving oneself. Medusa, though not technically a goddess, is the perfect example of someone who experiences othering as a result of her condition. Other goddesses to consider are Baba Yaga, Artemis, Psyche, Green Tara, Rhiannon, Kupala, Venus, Ame-no-Uzume, the Cailleach, Ereshkigal, and Isis.
8. Goddesses of unconditional love
This might seem similar to the goddesses of emotional love, who vibrate with a pure, boundless energy. But unconditional love comes with a few other elements than just emotion. Unconditional love is a package of emotional love, mercy, forgiveness, kindness, and acceptance. Sometimes we need to employ unconditional love when we forgive someone close to us, and sometimes we ache for it in the hope that we can be forgiven. Unconditional love means not holding the mistakes of a person against them, of seeing their progress more than their failures, and encouraging them to continue to grow, improve, and shine. This is often as much about how we treat others as it is about how we treat ourselves.
The Sophia, Isis, Kuan Yin, and Shekinah all embody this, as do Kali Ma, Ereshkigal, Andraste, and Asherah.
I hope this served as a useful starting point to identifying which myths and stories to begin reading, or even what goddesses you may want to incorporate into your life. Depending on where you’re at right now you might need a very different kind of Love Goddess. You may be in a loving marriage but feeling distanced from family, in the middle of a hot and cold relationship, or learning to love yourself.
If you have any additions to these lists I’d love to hear your thoughts. Or, if you’ve worked with any of these goddesses, please feel welcome to share your story. I’d love to read it and I’m sure others would benefit from it too.