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Great Mother of the Gods, in ancient Middle Eastern religion (and later in Greece, Rome, and Western Asia), mother goddess, the great symbol of the earth's fertility. As the creative force in nature she was worshiped under many names, including Astarte (Syria), Ceres (Rome), Cybele (Phrygia), Demeter (Greece), Ishtar (Babylon), and Isis (Egypt). The later forms of her cult involved the worship of a male deity (her son or lover, e.g., Adonis, Osiris), whose death and resurrection symbolized the regenerative power of the earth.

Astarte, Semitic goddess of fertility and love. Dominant in ancient Eastern religions, she was the most important goddess of the Phoenicians, corresponding to the Babylonian Ishtar and the Greek Aphrodite.

Ceres, in Roman mythology, goddess of grain; daughter of Saturn an Ops. Her worship involved fertility rites and rites for the dead, and her chief festival was the Cerealia. She was identified with the Greek Demeter.

Cybele, Anatolian nature goddess, responsible for maintaining and reproducing the wild things of the earth. Her chief centers of worship were Phrygia and Lydia. In the 5th century B.C. her cult spread to Greece and later to Rome. Her annual festival celebrated the death and resurrection of her beloved Attis, a vegetation god.

Demeter, in Greek mythology, goddess of harvest and fertility; daughter of Cronus and Rhea; mother of Persephone by Zeus. She and her daughter were the chief figures in the Eleusinian Mysteries, and her primary festival was the Athenian Thesmophoria. The Romans identified her with Ceres.

Ishtar, ancient fertility deity, the most widely worshiped goddess in Babylon and Assyrian religion. Ishtar was important as a mother goddess, goddess of love, and goddess of war. Her cult spread throughout Western Asia, and she became identified with various other earth goddesses.

Isis, nature goddess whose worship, originating in ancient Egypt, gradually extended throughout the lands of the Mediterranean world and became one of the chief religions of the Roman Empire. The worship of Isis, together with that of her brother and husband Osiris and their son Horus, resisted the rise of Christianity and lasted until the 6th century A.D.

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