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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in Marija Gimbutas

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Mother Tongue

We don't know what language was spoken by the Copper Age peoples of what Marija Gimbutas called “Old Europe.”

But whatever it was, we still—in a sense—speak it today.

English is an Indo-European language. The Indo-European languages all descend from a language spoken during the late Stone Age on the prairies (“steppes”) between the Black and Caspian Seas. This language was spoken by a milk-drinking, pastoralist people who domesticated the horse and invented (and named) the wheel. (Our wheel comes ultimately from their word *kwelkwlos, literally a “turn-turn.”)

Their nearest neighbors, to the southwest, in what is now Ukraine, Poland, and Rumania, were the Cucuteni-Tripolye cultures made famous by archaeologist and feminist ideologue Marija Gimbutas. These were settled farmers, eaters of bread and beans, whose bold, swirling designs, striking ceramics, and fetching little female figurines still speak directly to us today.

These two, the Indo-European and the Old European, were, in effect, our Father and Mother Cultures.

And we still speak their languages today.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Lady of the Thrice-Plowed Furrow

You could call them the Clay Ladies.

The ancestors made them by the tens, if not hundreds, of thousands: little naked women, poised on pointed toes to stand calf-deep in the good tilled soil of our gardens and fields.

We've been doing this since the end of the last Ice Age, and we still do. No one needs to be told why we put them there.

The best magic explains itself.

There they stand, graciously bestowing their gift of fruitfulness, looking as if they are rising from the Earth.

They are Earth itself, formlessness rising into form. The goddess rising from Earth was a minor (but not uncommon) motif in ancient Greek art, and rightly so. The furrow parts: the goddess is born.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
The Clay Ladies

You could call them the “Clay Ladies,” as our coven kid Robin did.

They exist in their tens—if not hundreds—of thousands across the world.

Goddesses? Fertility magic? Who can say?

Clearly, they're symbolic. Clearly, they're meaningful. We shouldn't expect that they meant the same thing to every culture that made (and makes) them. But to claim that they have no religious significance (as some academics have done) seems to me to fly in the face of general human experience. And if (incredibly) they never did before: well, they certainly do now.

And sometimes, I think, we can also say: this much, at least.

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Gimbutas Revisited: A Trypillian Clay Phallus, 4500-3500 BCE

In the cash-strapped days following independence, a trio of Ukrainian businessmen watched in horror as illegal digging and the black-market antiquities trade threatened to denude Ukraine of its historical patrimony. The three began to buy up antiquities before they could leave the country, and so assembled the world's largest private collection of artifacts from the Copper Age Trypillian culture (4500-2700 BCE).

I saw a traveling exhibit from this collection at the Museum of Russian Art in Minneapolis in early March 2011. What I saw there forced me to reassess my analysis of the work of Lithuanian-born archaeologist (and feminist ideologue) Marija Gimbutas (1921-1994). Although none of the ceramics in the collection had been excavated before her death, I found that the analytic vocabulary of symbols that she articulated in her 1989 book The Language of the Goddess again and again produced cogent readings of the art.

Let me take one particularly striking example. The not-quite-life-sized (6¼ x 2½ inch) clay phallus and testes (shown above), from the Khmel'nitska region of Ukraine, dates from the Trypillian BI period, roughly 4500-3500 BCE. Above the testes is a small, inset cup; the clay wedge that supports the phallus gives the entire piece a rather droll, and probably not unintended, resemblance to a quadruped. (“I like the kickstand,” I overheard one visitor say.)

Note the engraved “decoration.” Twin spirals adorn the sides of the testes. There are parallel lines engraved along the phallus itself. Rows of evenly-spaced dots ring the top of the scrotum and run down the length of the shaft.

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COMPLICATIONS AND CONFUSIONS IN DISCUSSIONS OF THE GODDESS

Although writing in patriarchal Greece from a patriarchal perspective, Hesiod said in hisTheogony or Birth of the Gods that Gaia or Earth alone was the mother of the Mountains, Sky, and Sea. With the male Sky she gave birth to the next generation of deities known as the “Titans,” who were overthrown by Zeus. Hesiod’s was a “tale with a point of view” in which “it was necessary” for the “forces of civilization”–for him represented by warrior God and rapist Zeus–to violently overthrow and replace earlier conceptions of the origin life on earth and presumably also to overthrow and replace the people and societies that created them.

With the triumph of Christianity in the age of Constantine in the 4th century AD, Christus Victor replaced Zeus in the cities, while the religion of Mother Earth continued to be practiced in the countryside. Over time, many of the attributes of Mother Earth were assimilated into the image of Mary, and priests began to perform rituals earlier dedicated to Mother Earth, such as blessing the fields and the seeds before planting. In the Middle Ages “the Goddess” re-emerged within Western Christianity in devotion to the Virgin Mary, the female saints, and figures such as Lady Wisdom, at the same time that the history of the Goddess was being erased.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Constance Tippett Chandler
    Constance Tippett Chandler says #
    Thank you for great overview of History and Herstory! As as artist, I believe that Gimbutas's books said it all. She had tons o
  • Carol P. Christ
    Carol P. Christ says #
    Amen brother!!! And then we must ask if academics who consider Gimbutas a wild-eyed kook have their heads screwed on straight.
  • Ted Czukor
    Ted Czukor says #
    Thank you for this excellent history. Given the current state of our male military-dominated world, and the concomitant disregard

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