Veleda by the River
Sibylline reflections on culture, the politics of culture, and spiritual philosophies, with women at the center. Veleda is an ancient Celtic title for a seeress, most famously applied to a revolutionary tribal prophetess of the Bructerii in upper Germania.
Petroglyphs of vulvas are engraved into rock walls, caves, and boulders all over the world. They date to the Paleolithic and into modern times. Some are deeply grooved into the stone from repeated tracings or from grinding out rock dust for conception, healing, rainmaking, and other ritual uses. In Pomo Country in northern California, such stones are known as Baby Rocks, and women performed ceremonies there in order to conceive. [See Elizabeth Quick’s very rich article on this subject.]
Here is a collage I created of Vulva Stones around the world. (Look here for identifications of the various images.) Many of these ancient signs are described in what follows. Look at the central image, an extremely old rock engraving from Messak Setaffet in southwestern Libya. She is seated crosslegged, with her hands to the vulva, from which countless people have scraped out rock dust, grooving it deep into the stone. Her breasts are clearly marked also, but her face is a mystery, not a human face at all. Horns protrude from both sides, and above them, the beaks of two vultures or other great birds. Other full-figure examples with strongly marked vulvas exist, like the examples below from Hawaii (middle left) and Roc-aux-Sorciers in France (upper right).
Inscription of vulva signs on boulders and rock shelters goes back to the paleolithic in Australia, Africa, the Americas and Europe. Vulvas are painted on cave walls at Tito Bustillo, Spain, while they are deeply carved into the rock at Le Roc-Aux-Sorciers, France (see poster). La Ferrassie in the Dordogne is especially rich in vulva petroglyphs. Some are carved on stone blocks; one bears an animal head sculptured on one side and a high-relief vulva on the other. Another boulder has a vulva prominently placed beneath an animal’s belly.
A group of vulva-incised rocks are the centerpiece of the Brazilian site Abrigo do Sol (Sun Shelter), circa 10,000 to 7,000 BCE. The stones show both surface markings and deep gouges, some of which were used for milling or tool-sharpening. Others reflect a widespread animist custom of grinding out rock dust for ritual use. On some rocks the vulvas are accompanied by other symbols such as footprints and solar signs. (See poster.) The Wasúsu people say that these signs are “tokens of a long-vanished tribe of warrior women,” all killed long ago. [von Puttkamer 1979: 60-82]
Multitudes of deeply-engraved vulvas cover a section of Carnavon Gorge, one of many very ancient rock shelters in Australia bearing this sign. (It's said that there are over 600 vulvas, most deeply grooved into the rock, at this one site.) A sacred rock at Ewaninga, Alice Springs, is covered with similar carvings. Thick clusters of vulvas, possibly hundreds of them, are carved into rock faces at San Javier in Baja California. Vulvas are also scooped out of the stone at Phalai Phupayon cave in northeast Thailand. Painted a vivid crimson, they appear amongst myriads of lines and shapes. The local people still call this place the Cave of the Yonis. [Chareonwong 1988: 49-49. Thanks to Pairin Jotisakulratana for translating the relevant captions.]
Mesolithic vulvas are deeply engraved at Helan Shan in the mountains of Ningxia. Rounded vulvas surrounded by concentric circles appear on a rock wall in the Wa country of Yunnan, southwest China. A modern Chinese publication identifies them as “Imprints of the Maternal Worship.” [Wen 1995] Vulvas are finely incised into a rock called Batu Pina at Betengan, Minahasa in eastern Indonesia. They also appear among petroglyphs along the Lena river bluffs in Siberia.
Vulva petroglyphs are scattered around north Africa; at Taouz and Adrar Metgourine in Morocco they are outlined with layers of curved lines. A rock wall at Tiout in the Algerian Sahara shows a woman lifting her arms in a ceremonial stance; a line is drawn from her vulva to a hunter raising a bow and arrow. In another connection to the masculine, vulvas are superimposed on “bird-man” petroglyphs at the ceremonial center Mata Ngarau, Orongo, on Easter Island. The vulva motif (komari) is the single most prevalent design on the island, with 564 recorded. [Lee, Georgia, “Rock Art of Easter Island.” Online: www. bradshawfoundation.com/easter/rockart2.html] In some southern Pacific islands, komari stones (like the one shown below) figured in womanhood initiation ceremonies.
A boulder deeply carved with some thirty vulvas sits near a salt spring sacred to the Chimane people in Patene, Bolivia. They make an annual pilgrimage to this sanctuary, stopping to pray at the stone and make offerings to the Salt Mother before descending to the water to ritually gather salt. Vulvas, lines, and animals are painted in a cave near Corinto, Morazan, El Salvador. The sacredness of this ancient site was retained since the Spanish conquest; people call it Gruta del Espiritu Santo (Cave of the Holy Spirit).
The Teaching Rocks at Kinomagtewapkong (Peterborough, Ontario) incorporate a deep crack in the stone as the vulva of an outlined woman. [See Vulva Stones poster] Rocks along the rivers of southeastern Minnesota are inscribed with vulvas. A graceful vulva is engraved beside the entrance to a cave at Rock Spring, Wyoming.
Vulvas are engraved on boulders at Cape Alava, Washington, and at many sites in Nevada and California, such as Hickson Summit in Nevada and Council Rocks in the Chemehuevi country of southern California. In the eastern Sierras, Owens Valley is full of inscribed rocks sacred to the Paiute people. They bear a diversity of hieroglyphs including many kinds of circular signs, vulvas, deer, bird tracks, and human footprints. Vulvas and cupules are especially common in the stone circles that ring village encampments.
At Piedras Grandes, east of San Diego, natural rock formations look like vulvas, and some have been carved to enhance the resemblance. This country is sacred to the Kumeyaay, who hold womanhood initiations and other ceremonies there. [See McGowan 1991] In the same way, the Chumash sculpted a vulva around an opening in the rock inside Swordfish cave, which is filled with petroglyphs.
Another place where vulvas were carved to enhance natural formations is the Empie rock outcropping north of Scottsdale, Arizona. More than twenty vulva signs are sculptured into the stone, some connected along fissures. One rock face splits into a labia shape, and above it a vulva is carved near the top of the rock. A few yards away, another is connected to a sinuous carved snake. [Empie, Online]
Above: Cave of the Yonis, Thailand, where people come to rub red ochre, cinnabar, or kumkum on the vulvas.
The cave of Kamakhya at Nilachal Hill in Guwahati, Assam is a living shrine of the vulva. It is famous all over India as a Devi Peetha (Goddess sanctuary) where the yoni of Shakti fell to earth. Inside the grotto, a natural stone vulva is watered by a spring. When the monsoon begins, the rains flush red ochre from the soil and the waters turn red. Everyone observes menstrual taboos, and women celebrate mysteries that men are forbidden to watch. (Legend says that an Ahom king was turned to stone for defying this taboo.) The women dance to drums and conch-blowing until the Devi descends into the entranced dancers. Afterwards, the entire community celebrates the great festival of Ambuvachi. Kamakhya and its environs remain a major center for Goddess reverence (and Shakti tantrik traditions) to the present day.
Jane Caputi has called forth the archaic word cunctipotence from its long disuse. The Latin etymology meant “all-powerful,” but this term evokes another very old word, “cunt.” Caputi reintroduces it in this new sense: “I suggest we consider it as an alternative 'folk' etymology that guides us to claim cunctipotence as a word meaning female and female-identified power, potency, possibility, and potential – a concept sorely needed in the English language.” (And in a whole lot of others.) She adds, “Patriarchal religious and cultural systems all are built upon dread of the cunt, that is, of explicit femaleness and female potency, which are associated variously with witchcraft, abomination, idolatry, obscenity, uncleanness, and madness.”
Cunctipotence resonates with the ancient stone homages to the vulva. Ceremonies around the vulva stones had such power for the ancients, that these engravings are found all over the Earth.
von Puttkamer, W. Jesco. “Man in the Amazon: Stone Age Present Meets Stone Age Past.” National Geographic (January, 1979): 60-82
Chareonwong, Phisit. Silpa Tham Nai Prathet Tai [Rock Art in Thailand]. Bangkok: Victory Powerpoing, 1988
Wen, Yiqun. Maternal Souls Amidst Wooden Drums: the Wa. Kunming: Yunnan Educational Publishing, 1995.
McGowan, Charlotte “Ceremonial Fertility Sites in Southern California,” San Diego Museum Papers, No. 14, 1991 [1st ed. 1982]
Empie, Sunnie. “The Empie Petroglyph Site, AZ U: 1:165 (ASM).” Online: www.boulderhousepublishers.com/content/petroglyphsitepaper.htm 1999, accessed October 3, 2004
Caputi, Jane. "Cunctipotence: Elemental Female Potency." Trivia Voices, Issue 4, September 2006. http://www.triviavoices.net/archives/issue4/caputi.html
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