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.

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Max Dashu

Max Dashu

Max Dashú is a founding mother of the Goddess resurgence who teaches global women's history and heritages through images. In 1970 she founded the Suppressed Histories Archives to recover the cultural treasures of women, and to research the history of domination. Her legendary slideshows and webcasts bring to light the women of power that have been hidden away, the ancient figurines, Goddess icons and spiritual philosophies, the female rebels. Drawing on a collection of over 30,000 images, she has presented hundreds of visual talks at universities, women's centers, bookstores, conferences, festivals, libraries, prisons, museums, schools, and temples. She also publishes a series of posters on female iconography, and her articles have been published in Goddesses in World Culture, among other anthologies and journals. Her paintings and prints re-envision spiritual worlds stricken from the cultural record. Her new double dvd Woman Shaman: the Ancients has just been released, following her acclaimed video Women's Power in Global Perspective. http://www.suppressedhistories.net

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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).

b2ap3_thumbnail_vulvastones.jpg
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]

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  • Paola Suarez
    Paola Suarez says #
    Yes! Yes! Yes! Thank you Max for this powerful share. I'm in love with the images and the descriptions. It inspires me to create m

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The magnificent rock paintings of the Kimberly range in northwestern Australia are among the most ancient in the world, going back tens of thousands of years. Radiocarbon dating of a fossilized wasp nest built over one painting places the nest itself at more than 17,000 years ago, so that the painting must be older -- possibly much older -- than that. Aboriginal people in this region call the paintings, or rather the Beings in them, Gwion Gwion, Giro Giro, and other names.

While making my Woman Shaman dvd, I did a lot of research on rock art around the world. These paintings grabbed my attention, not only because of their tremendous beauty, but because they show dance and ceremonial regalia. Aboriginal tradition says they represent ancestral Beings of the Dreamtime. Because human ceremony celebrates these beings, and reenacts their primordial creative acts, we come around full circle to a likely reflection what extremely ancient rites might have looked like. But from North America it was next to impossible to find Aboriginal testimony about these paintings.

While I was in Australia last year, the very knowledgeable Chris Sitka shared a book with me that contained such testimony, from several senior Law Men. (We know that Aboriginal women have their own Women’s Business in Western Australia, but the book-makers were all men, in the manner of old-school anthropologists who did not understand the implications of this; and so they had no access to the female-only traditions.) The book's title is Gwion Gwion: Dulwan Mamaa - Secret And Sacred Pathways Of The Ngarinyin Aboriginal People Of Australia (Köln: Konemann, 2000). The Law Men who testified are Ngarjno, Ungudman, Banggal, and Nyawarra of the Ngarinyin people (with background added by editor Jeff Doring).

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The Witch

The Witch
 
Max Dashu
 
Spinner shaman
Weirding woman drawing out Fate,
Knotter of ties, name-giver.
Wisewoman, counselor, teacher.
Clear-seeing sibyl,
Crone who knows meanings,
Remembering essences.
Healer, herbalist, surgeon, midwife.
Priestess of Mysteries.
 
She of the Cauldron, she waving Wands.
She of the Flame, of the Standing Stones.
The woman whose words are powerful.
The woman whose glance has force.
The woman who petitions Fates.
 
Fata, fada, hada, feé.
The woman of Faérie
Who refused to accept
Three causeless blows.
The “Good Women Who Go By Night,”
Who give growth and fruits and babies,
Give life of all kinds.
Go on your Wild Ride,
The Tregenda of the Witches.
 
A witch who cures
A witch who gives birth charms
Who teaches herbs of contraception.
A witch whose garden grows well.
A witch who advises battered wives.
An enchantress who sings
With uncanny beauty.
A witch who prefers
The company of women,
Who is ancient but makes men tremble.
Whose purpose is dreaded by lords
And thus:
 
The woman burned, the woman drowned,
The woman branded and banished.
The woman tortured, the woman
Forced to perform the ordeal
The woman violated in public,
The woman cursed and cast out,
The woman whose existence is
Forbidden to be.
 
The witch alone
Witch aloof from marriage.
Witch of independent, productive work.
Girl who does not look down before men.
Mother who does not bow her head
To the priest. Proud blind woman.
Elder homeless, weather-maker.
Marketplace spinster selling charms.
Rural woman who visits sacred springs.
Dreamer in the forest, the faery country.
Do you truly fly.
 
© 1983 Max Dashu

 

Painting: Calling at the Pictish Stones, © 1983 Max Dashu

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The question is, what are those roots? So many of us live in cultural exile as women, an exile imposed by the dominant religions, and we have been delving into our more distant heritages in search of a meaningful past. This process is a journey, along which our definitions and identifications shift as we go deeper.

I was part of the early feminist wave that reclaimed the witches, scooping that ancient word wycce up out of near-oblivion, and linking it back to women’s ceremony in an era before demonization. I found out, too, that wicca meant “male witch,” rather than being an archaic Saxon word for pagan tradition as a whole. So I opted out of using that name. But I loved learning about the Dutch cognate wickenrode, “witch’s rod,” meaning a divinatory wand, and finding an entire web of related words with animistic import. Over time I discovered other witch-names from various ethnic cultures, including veleda which belongs to a long and rich web of related Indo-European words. I reclaim its forms in both my Irish and Frisian heritages.

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I’ve spent more than four decades trying to understand what was done to female spheres of power, spiritual leadership, the Divine in female form. How did we end up in a world so totally controlled by white men, by industrial, earth-raping corporations of a now-global empire? In college we were taught that male domination was a historical universal; there were no other options, and dissent on this point would not be brooked. Don’t forget, you’re being graded. Plus there are the other prestige hierarchies to think of. This situation has not improved, though exceptions exist.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Emily Mills
    Emily Mills says #
    Welcome. So wonderful to have you join us here. I love and appreciate your work!
  • Max Dashu
    Max Dashu says #
    That's what i've been saying for years. People of european heritage need to recover our authentic roots, our place to stand in the
  • Pegi Eyers
    Pegi Eyers says #
    This is such important work you are doing Max, uncovering powerful women healers, priestesses, sacred wisdom keepers and leaders f

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