THE GREEKS CALLED HER ARTEMIS and the Syrians Atargatis. The Egyptians worshiped her as Isis and the Assyrians as Ishtar. In Jeremiah's day the women kneaded dough to make cakes in her likeness and burned incense to her. In the book of Revelation she became "a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars" (12:1). She is the goddess of heaven and earth who answers petitions, heeds sighs, and loves mercy. She is the lady of nurture and fertility who restores life to the earth at springtime.
In the Judeo-Christian tradition, God has been thought of largely as King, Father, Judge, Lord of Hosts, and the like, and these exclusively male metaphors testify to the experience of God as all-powerful, just, demanding obedience, benign, and so on. But there are other dimensions of the experience that they clearly leave out. Whatever else the Roman Catholics' adoration of the Virgin Mary may be, in this respect at least it helps restore the balance.
It is from the ancients that Rome borrowed the title they honor Mary with: Regina Coeli, or Queen of Heaven. God is Mother as well as Father—compassionate, forgiving, life-giving, endlessly creative, and nourishing. She brings us forth from her womb. We take love at her breast.