The 10 Most Badass Goddesses Of World Mythology

03/18/2015 08:39 am ET | Updated Mar 18, 2015
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Polytheism might've had a bad rap in the Bible, but it’s given rise to some of humanity’s most fascinating and enduring narratives. Some ancient pantheons, like the Greek and Norse gods, have traditionally been more prominent in the Western imagination; in recent years, these narratives have been incorporated into popular stories like the Thor comic books and the Percy Jackson saga.

But not only do these stories leave out many of the world’s most compelling mythologies, they also privilege the accomplishments and powers of male deities over their female counterparts. So below, we’re celebrating 10 totally badass goddesses from belief systems all over the world. From the solar deities of ancient Egypt and the Shinto faith, to goddesses of the sky and the realms of death, these mythological women are the heroes of their own fascinating stories:

  • Anat (Ugaritic/Ancient Semitic Mythology)
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    This ancient Canaanite goddess of love and war is definitely someone you want on your side. Sister of the storm god Ba’al, the virgin warrior Anath was famed for her ferocity in battle. An ancient Ugaritic text describes Anat’s revenge against a man who slighted her in no uncertain terms: "Anat seized Mot, the divine son,/ With a sickle she cut him,/ with a winnow she winnows him,/ with fire she scorches him,/ with a mill she crushes him,/ she scatters his flesh in the field to be eaten by birds."
  • Hel (Norse mythology)
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    Move over, Thor: the clearest badass in the Norse pantheon is Hel, ruler of the eponymous underworld of Norse mythology. (“To go to Hel” meant to die in ancient Norse idiom—nowadays, it means more or less the same thing.) Not only did she have the crucial job of judging the dead, she also had an important (and terrifying) role to play in Norse eschatology. In the legend of Ragnarok, the Norse foretelling of the Apocalypse, Hel’s role was to lead an army of the dead in a ship made of the fingernails of corpses. Does that sound like the cover of a heavy metal album, or what?
  • Amaterasu (Shinto Faith)
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    Amaterasu or Amaterasu-ōmikami is one of the major deities in the animistic Shinto religion of Japan; her full name means “Great Divinity Illuminating Heaven.” One of the world’s few female solar deities, a principal myth featuring Amaterasu depicts her conflict with her brother, Susanoo, god of storms and the sea. Angered with Susanoo because he threw a flayed horse into her weaving hall (rude), Amaterasu withdrew to a cave and brought an age of darkness upon the world. She was eventually coaxed into leaving the cave (pictured above), but Susanoo was banished from heaven. As a gesture of reconciliation, he gifted her the legendary sword Ama-no-Murakumo-no-Tsurugi (天叢雲剣, "Sword of the Gathering Clouds of Heaven").
  • Tefnut (Ancient Egyptian Mythology)
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    Tefnut was the ancient Egyptian goddess of moisture, rain and dew—a very significant task in a desert country. Daughter of the sun god Ra, she was depicted as a lion-headed goddess, occasionally with the body of a serpent. Tefnut’s rage caused droughts; her return brought renewed life; and oh, yeah, she was the mother of the gods of the sky and earth, and grandmother of Egypt’s principal gods, Horus, Isis, Osiris and Set.
  • Princess Liễu Hạnh (Vietnamese Folk Faith)
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    Princess Liễu Hạnh is a singular figure in Vietnamese myth. One of the Four Immortals, divine beings worshipped by the people of Vietnam’s Red River Delta region, Lieu Hanh was a daughter of the Jade Emperor, a central deity in Taoism and other East Asian theology. She has been incarnated on earth multiple times; during her incarnations, she fell in love with mortal men, but drove others insane when they made unwelcome attempts to court her. Other accounts have her taking vengeance after one of her temples was destroyed by inflicting a disease on the inhabitants of the area. In one account by an eighteenth-century poetess, The Story of the Van Cat Goddess, Liễu Hạnh was a figure of female emancipation who excelled at poetry and was an embodiment of female power. During the early days of the Communist regime in North Vietnam, worship of Liễu Hạnh was brutally suppressed, but she has reemerged since the 1980s as a focus of faith for mostly female worshippers. Depicted above: a shrine to Liễu Hạnh in Vietnam.
  • Ixchel (Mayan Mythology)
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    Q: Have you ever heard a phrase more badass than “the aged jaguar goddess of midwifery”? A: Definitely not. Meet Ixchel (or Ix Chel), the ancient Mayan goddess of childbirth and war. Often depicted with jaguar claws or ears, she wears a serpent as her headdress and is also associated with the moon and the traditional Mayan sweatbath. She was so sacred to Maya women that they founded an island sanctuary, still called the Isla de Mujeres, dedicated to worship of Ixchel off the coast of contemporary Cancun.
  • Louhi (Finnish Mythology)
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    Lovatar is a goddess who takes many forms and has many names, featured in the ancient Finnish epic The Kalevala. Blind daughter of the god of death, Lovatar gave birth to nine diseases (including plague, sterility and cancer). Yikes! In the Kalevala, Lovatar takes the form of a powerful, shape-shifting witch named Louhi who does fierce battle with the epic’s protagonists for the magical artifact Sampo (depicted above). Later on in the epic, Louhi attempts to steal the sun, moon and stars. Oh, and if you doubted her badassery, she’s beloved by contemporary Finnish black metal musicians.
  • Mami Wata (African and African Diaspora Spirituality)
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    Mami Wata (or Mamy-Wata) is venerated throughout much of Africa and the African diaspora of the Atlantic. An embodiment of the spirit of water, Mami Wata often appears in the guise of a mermaid, accompanied by a snake that serves as a symbol of divinity. In African legend, Mami Wata is both protective and seductive, with a volatile, dangerous temperament suited to her element of water. She is known to capture spirits and bestow riches, and to govern an innumerable host of water spirits known as mami watas and papi watas. Brought by enslaved Africans to the Americas, Mami Wata is also an important figure in contemporary Vodoun practice.
  • Mazu (Chinese and South Taiwanese Spirituality)
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    In Chinese cosmology, Mazu is the patron goddess of seafarers, protecting fishermen and sailors from the wrath of the sea. She was originally born a mortal woman, Lin Moniang, in the year 960, according to legend; she was born on an island, and wore a red dress as she guided fishing boats safely home, occasionally using supernatural powers. Hailed as a miracle worker during her life, she has been worshipped by Chinese and Taiwanese seafarers ever since as the goddess Mazu or Tin Hau. She has also been attributed the powers of granting fertility and protection against pirates, and is traditionally depicted wearing her signature red garments.
  • Tiamat (Babylonian Mythology)
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    Tiamat, the Babylonian primeval goddess of saltwater, was also the tragic heroine of a brutal love story. According to the Enuma Elish, the Babylonian creation epic, Tiamat gave birth to the gods of Babylon and formed the world, along with her consort Apsu, the primeval Babylonian god of freshwater. But Apsu grew quickly annoyed with the noise the gods made with their horseplay, and sought to destroy them—only to be killed in turn. A vengeful Tiamat summoned an army of demons to fight the gods, but she was destroyed. However, even in death Tiamat was peerless: Marduk, newly crowned king of the Babylonian pantheon, split her corpse in two to create the dome of the sky and the waters of the earth. (Also, did we mention she was depicted as a feathered dragon and also known by the epithet “chaos monster”?)
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