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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in Marija Gimbutas
The Mountain Mother: Reading the Language of the Goddess in Ancient Crete

Before he told the story of how his people received the sacred pipe, Black Elk said:

So I know that it is a good thing I am going to do; and because no good thing can be done by any man alone, I will first make an offering and send a voice to the Spirit of the World, that it may help me to be true. See, I fill this sacred pipe with the bark of the red willow; but before we smoke it, you must see how it is made and what it means. These four ribbons hanging here on the stem are the four quarters of the universe. The black one is for the west where the thunder beings live to send us rain; the white one for the north, whence comes the great white cleansing wind; the red one for the east, whence springs the light and where the morning star lives to give men wisdom; the yellow for the south, whence come the summer and the power to grow.

But these four spirits are only one Spirit after all, and this eagle feather here is for that One, which is like a father, and also it is for the thoughts of men that should rise high as eagles do. Is not the sky a father and the earth a mother, and are not all living things with feet or wings or roots their children? And this hide upon the mouthpiece here, which should be bison hide, is for the earth, from whence we came and at whose breast we suck as babies all our lives, along with all the animals and birds and trees and grasses. And because it means all this, and more than any man can understand, the pipe is holy. [italics added]

In this passage Black Elk illustrates the multivalency of symbols: the sacred pipe does not have a single meaning, but many meanings, in fact, more meanings than anyone can understand.

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Was There a "Golden Age" before Patriarchy and War?

Marija Gimbutas coined the term “Old Europe” c.6500-3500 BCE to describe peaceful, sedentary, artistic, matrifocal, matrilineal and probably matrilocal agricultural societies that worshipped the Goddess as the power of birth, death, and regeneration in all of life. Gimbutas argued that Old Europe was overthrown by Indo-European speaking invaders who began to enter Europe from the steppes north of the Black Sea beginning about 4400 BCE.  The Indo-Europeans were patrilineal and patriarchal, mobile and warlike, having domesticated the horse, were not highly artistic and worshiped the shining Gods of the sky reflected in their bronze weapons.

In the fields of classics and archaeology, Gimbutas’s work is often dismissed as nothing more than a fantasy of a “golden age.” In contrast, scholars of Indo-European languages, Gimbutas’s original specialty, are much more likely to accept the general outlines of her hypothesis. The German linguist and cultural scientist Harald Haarmann is one of them.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Little Clay Goddess

The little clay goddess went out into the garden on Planting Day.

Ohmigods.

Now I practically need a machete to get into the garden.

The tomatoes have been the size of grapefruits.

The collard leaves are as big as skillets.

The squash vine, umbilical, not content with taking over the garden, is in the process of claiming the entire back yard. I'm expecting it to grab me as I go out the door any day now.

The butternuts it bears are each more than a foot long. The last one I cooked weighed two and a half pounds.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
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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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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