Goddess worshipping religions were mostly based on being fertile and its relationship to nature. Crops yield bountifully(read fertile) because the “Mother” provided. This belief honors the females “power” to produce or “create new life”. Nature, and the earth in particular is itself a “mother” which produces bounty.
Goddess worship is found in almost all the pagan religions throughout history, including the ancient middle east countries, Egypt, Sumeria and Canaan not to mention India, Europe and Africa. The Goddess has a long history as proven by stone statuettes indicating Goddess worship as early as the Paleolithic ages.
By the time of Jesus’ ministry, the worship of Goddesses such as Artemis and Aphrodite was prevalent in the Middle East, Greece and Rome. The pagan goddess Cybele, or the “Earth Mother/Magna Mater” was brought to Rome to “protect it” from foreign foes. It was also for Cybele where the tradition of procession was observed when the statue was brought from Pessinos to Rome. Under Emperor Augustus, Cybele’s prominence so much so that the emperor restored her temple on Palatine hill, the centermost of the seven hills of Rome. The Basilica di Santa Maria now occupies the spot.
Cybele, also known as Kubile, worship spread from Phrygia now modern day Turkey (think Constantinople) and well into Greece, Rome and neighboring countries. Like the Ephesian Artemis (see Acts 19) Cybele was worshiped in the Roman Empire until the 4th Century well after the death of Christ’s Apostles. Her full Roman name was “Mother of the Gods”. She was deified as a great single parent not only of gods but also of human beings. In 431 at the Council of Ephesus, the devotion tot he Virgin Mary was formally sanctioned by the Catholic church. It was through this council that Mary was declared the “Mother of God”.
Stephen Benko specializes in early Christianity in its pagan environment. In The Virgin Goddess: Studies in the Pagan and Christian Roots of Mariology, he traces the development of the cult of Mary from Greek and Roman mythology through to recent times. Benko avoids anti-Catholic polemics and is sympathetic to the place of the “queen of heaven” in Christianity. That said, he unerringly traces Mary’s roots to the pagan, pre-Christian heavenly queens of Greece, Rome and the wider Mediterranean—those mutable goddesses whose ranks include Artemis, Astarte, Celeste, Ceres, Cybele, Demeter, Diana, Ishtar, Isis and Selene.
It is interesting to know that the first basilica dedicated to Mary is located in Ephesus where the ancient pagan goddess of Artemis was worshiped.
The Plaza de Cibeles is a square with a neo-classical complex of marble sculptures with fountains that has become an iconic symbol for the city of Madrid. The fountain of Cibeles is found in the part of Madrid commonly called the Paseo de Recoletos. It depicts the goddess Cibeles (Cybele), the Phrygian goddess of fertility, sitting on a chariot pulled by two lions.
The mere title Mater Dei, then coming ito frequent use, would instantly provoke a comparison with Mater Deum, and the formal vewtowal of the former title on the Virgin (Mary) in council in 430 A.D. might well have seemed in the eyes of pagans like despoiling their fallen goddess (Cybele) of even her title. The temple of the Mother in Cyzicus was converted into a church of the Virgin (Mary), a fate likely to have befallen every temple of the goddess not destroyed by the zeal of fanatics. The church of Santa Maria Maggiore was supposed to have arisen on the ruins of anther temple, and the Santa Maria Rotunda, the mediaeval Pantheon, was long supposed to have been originally a sanctuary of the Mother (Cybele).
source: The Great Mother of the Gods, showerman, 1901