Book Review: Three Goddess Classics

Reviewed by Theresa Curtis-Diggs

Marija Gimbutas: The Language of the Goddess
Riane Eisler: The Chalice and the Blade
Anne Baring and Jules Cashford: The Myth of the Goddess

Well, crap. I feel angry. I can’t help but wonder what the costs are for women and men to live without the Goddess and Her sacred images that have underpinned religious impulses for 30,000 years. So, I’m developing a winter reading list to curl in front of the fire with, to establish some groundwork to move past the problem (unproductive anger) and into the solution. Though we still survive in a patriarchy, somehow the essential song of Goddess consistently and forever beckons us forward … in rainstorms, in laughter, through intuition, in poetry, pictures, in the wind and the moon… I love to search for Goddess and Essences of Goddess in archetypal images, because all things that thrive were first alive as archetype and image, and I like to know what’s swimming around, waiting to be born. And, we need Her!

So I want to share some of these great readings from three of our foremothers, beginning with anthropologist, Marija Gimbutas, who brilliantly examines and explains our need for the actual images from the ancient Goddess culture in The Language of the Goddess. This magnificent investigation into herstorical truth is followed by feminist interpretations of these works by Riane Eisler (The Chalice and the Blade), and Baring and Cashford (The Myth of the Goddess).

The Language of the Goddess, by Marija GimbutasLet’s launch this journey with a working description of archetypes as: the primordial images from which life structures itself, which have evolved (and continue to evolve) from time immemorial. The ancient petroglyphs and statuettes displayed in Gimbutas’ book were created with the souls and fingers of women who lived in tandem with the flowing essence of the primal and divine Goddess. And since these elder creators inhaled and exhaled 300 centuries closer to Her, what they know is beyond what I know. Their art is the sacred language in which I must reverie.  Therefore image, and not literal definitions, better explain the archetypal nature of Goddess. Or more simply put, a picture is worth a thousand words. Think “dream image” and we’re just about there.

The Language of the Goddess

The title of this book is deeply intriguing as we follow Gimbutas’ tale of ancient herstory to discern the voice of Goddess that sounds in pictographic symbols and sculptures rather than letters and words. This weaves Her close to the original Goddess as She carries Her presence throughout the breadth of this work. The petroglyphic swirls, chevrons, V of bird, and the meandering waves of water are essences of the regenerative Goddess, as are different animal figures (ram, deer, bear, snake, waterfowl, and aquatic life).

As have other feminist writers of the Goddess culture, Gimbutas paints a pastoral depiction of peaceful life within this era. In reading her words, we experience viscerally the devastation by the Kurgan Wars: out of present day Russia weapons, warriors, and sky gods descended upon the gentle gylanic cultures (matrilineal social structures, with partnered leadership) and massacred them. Since this time we lost much vital connection with Her. In order to reestablish this connection, we need to reach back to see and grasp Her symbols. In this way we can reinvigorate and more readily identify Her archetypal representations as they present themselves in our art, literature, dreams, and myths.

Very early in the development of our species (the earliest pieces are almost 30,000 years old) we did not understand the role of copulation in regeneration and vulva, breast, and uterus were endowed with miraculous powers; they were part of a parthenogenic mystery (which we find remnants of today through the Gnostic teachings). In the Neolithic era, when agriculture began to flourish, so too did brilliant understandings of the natural laws of human birth and growth. Yet Her powers, symbols, and images remained.

Gimbutas backs her theory with much grounded European research and I have found these same symbols on petroglyph boulders in the United States. The hidden pockets of archetypes within our psyches work their way out, and once they are out, they are out. Then they can visit us more readily in dreams, poetry, art, nature, etc. So, an image is often considered archetypal if it pops up simultaneously across the globe. This is the nature of the Goddess symbols.

Riane Eisler, and Anne Baring and Jules Cashford each build on Gimbutas’ work as they weave their way toward a monumental synthesis of humanity’s relationship to the powerful force of the Goddess in general, and for the present need of Her image in today’s culture.

The Chalice & The Blade, by Riane Eisler Feminist Interpretations of Gimbutas

The Chalice and the Blade

Riane Eisler’s unfolding of what she describes as Cultural Transformation Theory identifies the social structures of societies dictated by authoritarian domination after the genocide of the Goddess culture in the above mentioned Kurgan Wars, which ended approximately 5,000 years ago; thus we have been hammered by “androcratic” leadership for the last few thousand years. Yet, this research also leads us through centuries, albeit millennia, of generations in which social configurations reflected partnership models of relating: within families, tribes, and political organizations. These earlier generations blossomed with spirit and life, reflecting the gylanic tendencies of the Goddess culture, which were later filtered through the modernist patriarchal lens and disregarded. Eisler’s work brilliantly opens up Marija Gimbutas’ anthropological studies of the earlier 300 centuries. These were the flowering, undocumented moments before the genocide of our ancestral sisters and brothers who lived in an ensouled world of birth and life, before the promises of death and after-life became the primary motivation of religious doctrine. Eisler expands Gimbutas’ research to create a valuable model of transformation that we might effectively intervene in our own evolutionary process.

If it is true that our mounting global catastrophes are the direct result of androcratic leadership (and Eisler has tremendous documentation backing this idea) then the way through is not more, or even revised androcratic leadership. And neither is it matriarchal leadership, as that merely shifts the force of domination; therefore moving from patriarchy to matriarchy is, itself, patriarchal. We are in need of gylanic (partnership) leadership because the gylanic model is incapable of domination. It links us together, it lets go of hierarchical thinking and invites a new seed into the fertile soul of life. We are invited to reflect on a system that honors partnership, while also embracing our powerful individuality.

Eisler traces the early Goddess symbols, and follows them as they are co-opted by an androcratic structure that finds half the population (female) inferior to the other half of the population (male). Eisler finds that “what is still lacking is the ‘critical mass’ of new images and myths required for their actualization” (p. 188). I concur. In my mind, we have lost the symbolic archetypal link to propagate powerful gylanic myths capable of transforming the politics of hierarchical domination. Without images we are still in an outdated model where doctrines, laws, and forked-tongued words dictate reality. We need a proliferation of new, or a reclamation, restoration, or resurrection of ancient, symbols that once seeded our spirits with the vigor of gylanicity.

The Myth of the Goddess

The Myth of the Goddess by Anne Baring & Jules CashfordOur assumptions about human nature, in particular our beliefs about the capacity of human beings to live in harmony with the rest of nature and to shape a peaceful world, are crucial to whether or not we can actually create a better way of being. If we hold that human beings are and always have been primarily hunters and warriors, then we are more likely to overlook evidence to the contrary and conclude that war-like aggression is innate. No evidence has been found that Paleolithic people fought each other. It is then moving to discover that our Paleolithic ancestors have something to teach us, specifically about the way we have misinterpreted their art, and so their lives, by pressing them into a world view belonging to the twentieth century. (Baring and Cashford, 1991, p.25)

Much of Anne Baring and Jules Cashford’s visionary research validates and re-evaluates the investigations explored elsewhere by Gimbutas. It provides an understandable anthropological backdrop into the Goddess Culture. In sum: a group of homo sapiens to whom we can build an affinity emerged between 50,000 and 30,000 B.C.E.  Most of their artifacts were Goddess statues that “have the look of mothers - as though all that were female in them had been focused on the overwhelming mystery of birth” (1991, p. 6). Much of this mystery is connected to the phases of the moon, which appears in previous research, as well as my own investigations at Hickison Summit (a Paleolithic petroglyph sight in Nevada). This early Goddess is frequently represented by triples and triangles, and vulvas. There are “more than 100 images of the vulva in Paleolithic France alone…. Sometimes they have seeds or sprouts drawn over or beside them, or…the rippling movement of water, suggesting that the cosmic womb was recognized as the source…of life” (p. 11). Caves appear to be the sanctuary of the Goddess where rituals took place and are also considered the womb of the Great Goddess. Their entrance/exit points were the portals to enter into mystery, and then return to life, transformed.

This is the theme that evolves again and again through different ages and cultures throughout this (and other) books: Goddess as creatrix. The archetypal Goddess from which all things emanate (Mother Goddess; Great Goddess; Goddess of Life, Death, and Regeneration; Queen of Heaven, Earth, and Underworld; Goddess of the Great Above and the Great Below; Sophia; Gaia) gives birth to the maiden, who will grow to create, become wise as crone, then return to earth to incubate and then arise again one day in rebirth and the cycle continues. Woman is born from woman, transforms, and returns into the womb of Earth, to then re-birth woman anew. She both gives birth and is birthed. It is parthenogenic transubstantiation. She is God the Mother/Creator.

In Baring and Cashford’s research, this Goddess of the Paleolithic era continues to journey (though weakened and assaulted) into the Neolithic Era, Bronze Age and Iron Ages, into the Modern Era, through Crete, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Babylon, Greece, Rome, and then into modern western culture in the form of Christianity. Goddess has appeared as image and form (fish, bull, bird, water, serpent, vessel, cave, chevrons, meanders, and spirals, etc.) to guide and receive us. The Goddess in Her primal, un-degradable (undifferentiated) Is-ness, as well as Her manifested cultural nuances, was allowed to blossom and thrive for tens of thousands of years. According to Baring and Cashford, if we remove our blinders we might note that “creation is now dissociated from the creative source” (p. 661).

Today, the essence of “the Goddess is not absent from the collective psyche just because it is disregarded. In fact, it is exactly where we might expect to find it – in the collective unconscious (the shadow) of the race” (p. 663). The distortion and loss of these archetypal representations of the Goddess culture have dire implications: initially they were classified as pornographic, an unthinkable conception if the feminine principle was recognized as sacred; if “God” were Mother as well as Father.

In sum, these books are some of the initial herstorical works on the ancient Goddess culture. I am fascinated by Her symbolic representations, as they are reflective of who She is archetypally, of how She visits us in our minds and hearts. This is important, as her archetypal essence has been thwarted and distorted. She is being covertly imaged by advertisers who have co-opted her for capitalistic gains. She has been dubbed demonic by the fear-mongers hoping to control the masses. Wrong! I am wondering if it is now time to individually and collectively muster-up the courage to enter the portal of transformation connected to this Goddess.

Yet, how might this be done? In A Heroine’s Journey, Maureen Murdock believes we experience powerful healings as we connect with the fullness of Goddess. We do this by falling apart and allowing ourselves to descend into the underworld where hidden knowledge abounds. This practice is not for everyone, and it is a courageous woman indeed who manages one. Christine Downing is one such woman, and her book Goddess is a beautiful, powerful, and personal story of this journey. Jamie Sams finds the connection to Goddess through Native American rituals in her book The Thirteen Original Clan Mothers. I hope to review these awe filled books for the next edition of our favorite magazine, Goddess Pages!

©Theresa Curtis-Diggs

Theresa Curtis

Theresa Curtis

Theresa writes: "I accidentally got old and was accosted by Goddess to enter into crone-hood and complete my PhD dissertation on Her divine secrets invulving Vulva, as divulged by Herself. She pulled me to a powerful petroglyph sight in Nevada, and I was hit over the head with Her energy. Later I received a psychic reading and was told, "I see a large 'V.' There is some ancient knowledge that has disappeared due to the genocide of women and the influx of the (patriarchal) sky-gods." Anyway, my job is to allow myself communion with the collective unconscious, reclaim Her sacred knowledge, and welcome it forward. This is to retrieve the divinity of Vulva from Her distortion through the sterilization of medical science and the defication of pornography .
Theresa Curtis

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