Monday, May 17, 2010

Dark Lord & Tattooed Goddess, ca. 5000 BCE

These figures startled me. I mistook them for modern art. They reminded me of strikingly cubist Cycladic flat idols, white marbled from 5500 years ago. "The Lost World of Old Europe: The Danube Valley 5000-3500 BCE" exhibits an eerie familiarity. Henry Moore, Jean Arp, and Constantin Brancusi's sculptures reminded 20c viewers of Neolithic or Early Bronze Age art, but the frenzy to unearth more of such figures from the Greek islands led to the destruction of their sites, just as tourists now erode the ecological health of these attractive if fragile retreats.

Brancusi, as a Romanian, might have liked this NYU exhibit (just ended) from his homeland that brings new finds that link our contemporary fascination with streamlined, oblique, evocative angular representations to ancient-- prehistoric in this case-- artifacts. Even gossip columnist Liz Smith covered it, a bit. Confirming another ancient paradigm-- chatty woman as oracular conduit. The Institute for the Study of the Ancient World captions female arguably better preserved even than Liz as its iconic representative, apropos, under the title "Did Women Rule?:

Female Figurine
Fired Clay
Cucuteni, Drăguşeni, 4050–3900 BC
Botoşani County Museum, Botoşani: 7558
Photo: Marius Amarie

Female figurines predominate in Old European material culture. They can be found represented individually as well as in large groups, and in contexts identified as domestic, ritual, religious, and funerary. The proliferation of female imagery throughout the fifth and fourth millennia BC has prompted some scholars to interpret Old European culture as a peaceful world where female-centered goddess worship prevailed. Males, according to this theory, played a largely secondary role in society. Some scholars, however, consider this argument idealized—in fact many villages were fortified, weapons were buried with men, and adult males had the richest graves in cemeteries.

Read more about this clay statue "in situ." See samples from the exhibition catalogue in the chapter "The Figurines of Old Europe". The term "Old Europe" comes from Marija Gimbutas ca. 1974. I glimpsed her once in her lab. I passed its open door as a UCLA grad student walking a florescent-lit institutional green corridor. This Lithuanian archeologist argued that a matriarchal culture flourished in Old Europe before the Iron Age brought sky-gods, male domination, and female suppression. Feminists understandably flocked to this theory as did pagans, but predictably, scholars since have challenged her model.

I obtained news of these images from a forwarded post by Irish pagans via "Celtic Buddhists." As I have noted two entries ago, my own research into the latter movement shows their wish to connect with this puzzling past. (Speaking of mystery, they linked Anu, the Indo-European mother deity, to Áine, but this as with Danu, as Mary Jones explains, may be linguistically a coincidence. Pagans debate this, so I invite clarification from at least three followers of my blog; comments welcome.)

Goddess of love, summer, wealth, and sovereignty Áine they commemorate at Bealtaine at Cnoc Áine, Knockainy in Co. Limerick the Celtic fire ceremony, When I stayed nearby, in Ballingarry, years ago, I looked up at that mountain myself. I wondered if pilgrims trekked up on festivals, and if its cairn and ring barrows survived on its gentle-- but rounded and prominent-- summit.

Such practitioners revive and revamp a more nurturing, nature-based, environmentally balanced and sexually receptive mindset. They seek a spiritual re-orientation to heal and direct those lost in our contemporary concrete cities. While my academic attempt to explain their invention and evolution of this ethos necessarily analyzes their efforts, their celebration of their appropriation and elaboration of our religious and rural heritages does attest to our own time's broken psyche, the urge to repair ourselves.

We may not know any more than fanciful Robert Graves the structural support or weakness for a reign of a White Goddess matriarchy. Archeologists, however, now can examine discoveries that romantic poets of the 1940s or fervent womyn's herstorians of the 70s could not know. The curator, David Anthony, of this ISAW exhibit's in fact a leading critic of Gimbutas' "Kurgan hypothesis" that claimed a warlike horse-dominated invasion bringing Indo-European "androcratic" elements westward that obliterated a "matristic" pacifist society.

From the shards we contemplate, we may learn what earlier antiquarians and autodidacts could not. For me, this figure brings power. But what that sunny side up/ down photo spread above does not show comes from this side view.

Her callipygian features certainly attract attention. I suppose this is what a fertility goddess, or perhaps an incentive to get yourself or somebody close to you pregnant, looks like. Before I settled down to write this, I found my teenaged son's bikini issue of "Sports Illustrated" while straightening up the house today.

For sober scholarship, I dutifully riffed through dozens of depictions of today's sun-burnished maternal idols for comparison. Tattoos might have hidden, maybe under bi- or monokinis or cupped palms, while proportions appear to have evened out slightly. Yet do we desire this shape, if more hourglass than bottom-heavy? A Facebook page boasts: "Curvy girls are sexier that skinny gals." A study of blind men found they too prefer the curvy classic waist-to-hip ratio that sighted men (and women?) label with their own commodified bias or male gaze-- if innate (so it seems, and not socially constructed as Foucault and feminists bicker?)-- preference for the childbearing, inviting, structural template that appears embedded in our hardwiring.

Here's the horned Dark Lord Donn. With some hesitation, I share one search result, from a "Hebrew-Celtic" connection blog entry trumpeting yet again, speaking of marginal autodidacts, the doughty British Israelite faction. Sticking to Indo-European verities, yes, in Irish, the cognate's for "donn'="dark" while we in English use "dun" as an archaic term for this shadowed shade. Locally as to this find, we get the names Danube, Don, Dneiper attesting to how primordially this term precedes cultural, military, political, religious, and linguistic upheaval within this region. Only after the fall of Communism could outside scholars enter the Lower Danube in Moldova, Bulgaria, and Romania to investigate, and I hope they share much more about these hierarchical farmers from a period still little understood.

"Don - Cucuteni, Romania (ca. 5200 BCE) orig. approx. 1 meter high, fired clay."


tamerlane said...

"Female figurines predominate in Old European material culture. "

Female figures predominated in B-17 & B-24 nose art during WWII. Are we to surmise, then, that Europe c. 1943-44 was "a peaceful world where female-centered goddess worship prevailed"?

Fionnchú said...

TL, a sly observation!