Our Planet Gaia: A Different Perspective

January 24, 2010 at 9:05 am 4 comments

About thirty thousand years ago the same symbol as the one we find in the poetic Edda, verse 40 and in the Code of Emsig was used but in a very different way, that is,  in the earliest known pottery objects.  Our oldest pottery has been found in Dolní Vestoniçe, where the archeologists have excavated not only the remains of several huts with parts of the dirt floor and the clay lined walls, but also a small pottery oven.

Tfhe Dolni Goddess

The goddess figurine from Dolni Vestonice

More than two thousand pottery objects were found, some of them still laying in the ashes.  Twenty thousand years before pottery making started on a grander and more elaborate scale, these items were created with a mixture of clay and ground mammoth bones. They had been baked and then made to explode in the oven. I will only concentrate on one of the few women figurines that resurfaced, which are called “Venuses” (just like all the other naked, small female figurines from these times). One statuette and two fragmentary copies of the same, show how important this particular figurine was.

She is small, only four inches (11 cm) high, and stands erect with the hands hidden. Her breasts are big and hang low on her chest –– this is a portrait of a woman that has given birth to many children. The head is smooth, but has  a cross-shaped structure with four holes on top, where Henri Delporte thinks that blond fibers from nettles  may have been inserted. Around the hips she wears a girdle and on her back are four deep incisions, two on each side of the spine. Her eyes are also two deep slits; between the eyes and the chest there are many fine incisions that don’t show up on photos, but were noted by Marija Gimbutas and recorded in her drawings.

I don’t believe we will ever know why the artist used so much violence to carve the eyes, or what the incisions mean. Does the artist express the pain involved in the harvest of nettles? Are the fine lines a continuation of her hair? We shall never know. What we can analyze is how the statuette was made.

How the potter in Dolní mixed the whole earth into the figurines

In the same way as Odin created the Earth from Ymir’s flesh the figurine is made of earth from the vast tundra surrounding the potter’s home. As Ymir’s bones were changed into mountains, the clay – the figurine’s flesh and muscles – was mixed with the crushed bones of the mammoth, the biggest animal and a veritable mountain when appearing on the flat tundra. As Odin transformed Ymir into the Earth, the potter formed the clay into the shape of a woman. Before the clay is fired, it is easy to crush it into a ball again; even when it is dry you need little effort to destroy it. After the object has been burned neither sun nor rain, snow or ice can hurt it, not even the fact of having been dipped in water and returned to the hot oven again. Although some objects exploded, many could be mended. The pottery, is thus a very early symbol, an image of earth, water and fire, of transformation and indestructibility, and of nature transformed into culture.

Among all the objects that symbolize the earth, this is the closest to my heart.  It is impossible to include everything in one image: all the round, soft hills and the mountains with snow dusted tops, the rushing rivers and still waters, the clouds playing over the waving grass fields, the darkness in the deep forests, all the living creatures around us. Thirty thousand years ago an artist depicted her tribe’s place on earth as a woman, a mother with big breasts feeding her small children. This image still lives.  Some years ago, I asked a good friend of mine, a middle-aged Italian farm woman, whom I suspected thought in symbols, how she imagined the earth. She smiled and answered: “The earth is a mother like you and me. She gives birth to her children and feeds them.” The Dolní “Venus” is not the goddess of love that the modern name alludes to, but the Mother who gives birth and feeds her children from her bosom just like the Earth. She is a symbol of our mother Earth. The nettles belong to her – but wait! We don’t have the answer quite yet. The last link is still missing.

Why a Goddess?

The female figurine from Dolní Vestoniçe is among over two hundred statuettes depicting women that are between thirty thousand and five thousand years old. It is only one among many and I therefore wish to widen my interpretation and propose that all prehistoric statues representing women are symbolic images; that they are links to our unconscious image of Woman that we have not the slightest possibility to describe without forgetting important concepts. This Woman is not only a woman, but the Feminine contained in all human beings, all animals and all growing things.  We cannot call statues like these “women”. They enclose a larger and deeper meaning than a human

Turmenistan

5 000-years- old figurine from Turkmenistan.

being can contain. I therefore propose that we call them “goddesses”. During prehistory they were certainly not only meant to be portraits of several different goddesses, but also symbols like saints painted on icons. Like these, they are not only images, but windows with milky glass through which we faintly glimpse the splendor of divinity.

Talking about gods and goddesses we talk about concepts that are so large that our limited consciousness and our even more limited languages cannot grasp and even less express them. I am convinced that the prehistoric figurines must not be looked upon as art for art’s sake, as portraits or pornography, but are meant to be symbols for what cannot be  expressed or understood in their entirety.

The answer to Plutarch’s question

The result of representing a goddess as a mortal woman is that it gives women the possibility to feel that they belong to her in the same way as we belong to the earth. Women represent the goddesses in the same way as men represent the gods. Here we find an answer to the question that Plutarch could not answer. August 15 each year, when the ancient Romans celebrated the goddess Diana, the women washed their hair in the same way as they put nettles and flax in water and then they combed their hair in the same way as they combed the bast fibers.

In the same way as the Goddess once had shown the women how She combed her flaxen hair of nettles, the women repeated the act in Her honor – but not only that. They did it in Her place.  Combing their own hair, for a moment they embodied the Goddess, in the same way as the priest for a moment is both the one that sacrifices and the sacrifice. Now I have at last understood why Russian women for a long time were forbidden to wash their hair on Fridays, the day dedicated to the Roman Venus and the Germanic Freyja. In a patriarchal society like the one in old Russia, the mere thought that the subdued women may represent the Goddess who washes and combs her flaxen hair of nettles is a menace to those that fear the Feminine.

The discovery and experience that the rotten and dead nettles weren’t dead but transformed into blond hair, immensely widened the beliefs of that time. The bast fibers that I propose were inserted into the holes on the heads of the thirty thousand-years-old figurines in Dolní Vestoniçe, not only represented, but were the hair of the Goddess. Here we have the answer to the question why our hair is so important and why men and women think so much about their hair: It is an image of Her hair.

Woman’s dangerous hair

The hair is dangerous not only because of its sexuality – without sexuality no reproduction; without reproduction no new life–but because the hair symbolizes not only life but death. Female sexuality and motherhood attract and frighten many men.  A man may feel that what he cannot control, he must subdue. In all patriarchies – in all cultures where men subdue the women because they are frightened of what might happen to them if they allow women to return to their full power. The goddess has become a witch or a murderous prostitute. The male power unconsciously projects its own fear into the goddess and the women that represent her. Honest women must hide their hair and the goddess Holda-Diana-Lorelei has become a prostitute.

The once powerful Medusa (her name means Queen and there are many signs that Athena, Hera, Artemis and Demeter before being degraded to lower divinities hid their true faces behind Medusa’s mask) becomes the dangerous witch, whose hair is made of snakes and whose glance changes men into stone. She must be killed and a teenager by name Perseus cuts off her head. (Oh please, scroll down and look at the reconstruction of the painted head in the link to Medusa’s mask. )

Christianity changed the serpent, once the embodiment of the goddess, to a symbol of evil.  The hair went the same way. However, as the symbols show us, death cannot kill life, only transform it. This is what the ancient Greek tradition means, as recorded by Homer: At the funeral of the beloved Patrocles outside Troy, the Greeks cut their hair and cover the corpse with it. (The Iliad, 23:35) Those who cut their hair or shave their heads, consciously or unconsciously, die in order to be reborn in their own lives.

comb from Naqada, Egypt

Neolithic comb with bird from Naqada, Egypt.

The comb has borrowed its symbolism from the hair, but the comb is not the hair. Combs are tools. Every time we comb ourselves we change ourselves a little. Every time the weaver uses the comb on her web, she changes it. Life is change. The comb symbolizes change. It symbolizes that life doesn’t stand still but continually changes and every second we step closer to death. This is why the comb is so dangerous. This is the reason why the deceased in the tomb was given a comb – so that the transformation could begin. This is the reason why Lorelei not only shows herself high above the Rhine but combs her hair. This is the reason why the devotees gave combs to the goddess.

In the same way as the goddess combs her flaxen hair of nettles, women comb theirs. The transformation is present even when we are not conscious of it.

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Entry filed under: Dolni Vestonice, Nettles, Pottery, Symbols.

Gaia’s Hair, part I The Goat that is a comb

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. anuschka jaenicke  |  January 25, 2010 at 9:16 pm

    Leggendo l’articolo mi e’ venuta in mente una regola del Kanun, il diritto consuetudinario albanese, dove il marito ha il diritto di ripudiare la moglie e lo fa tagliandole una ciocca di lana dalla gonna o, appunto, tagliandole la treccia di capelli.

    Reply
    • 2. krpfll  |  January 26, 2010 at 12:25 pm

      Grazie, grazie! Si, fa perfettamente senso.

      Reply
  • 3. Anna-Lena Bager  |  January 31, 2010 at 4:31 pm

    Can a comb also have a cleaning function here? I´m thinking of how combs are used to take away lice, small twigs,spiders and knots out of hair Combs put things right again in a web after they have been disturbed. Can they be seen as a kind of defence too?

    Reply
    • 4. krpfll  |  January 31, 2010 at 7:52 pm

      New thoughts. Could that be why combs are used as ear-rings? I’ll ask and think about it.

      Reply

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