“Dolls”, Fairy Tales, and Ancient Goddess Figurines

by Jeri Studebaker

Vasilisa - by Ivan Yakovlevich Bilibin (1876-1942)For quite some time I'd known that archaeologists have been digging up thousands of small female figurines from ancient Neolithic archaeological sites, both in southeastern Europe ("Old Europe") and elsewhere around the world. However, I was surprised recently to find two Russian fairy tales that seem to contain the literary equivalents of these ancient figurines. The fairy tales, "Vasilisa the Fair" and "Prince Danilla Govorilla," both contain magical "dolls" that help young fairy-tale women through rough times. After reading these tales, I wondered: do they provide clues about how ancient Europeans might have interacted with their goddess figurines: about what they did with them – and when, and why, and how?

Most Neolithic goddess figurines were sized to fit comfortably in the human hand. Many appear "otherworldly," their ancient makers having given them women's bodies but birds' heads and beaks, for example, or coiled snakes for legs. Since these female figurines are typically accompanied by few if any male figurines, and are inscribed with many of the same symbols found on the walls of associated temples, the renowned Harvard/UCLA archaeologist Marija Gimbutas suggested that they represent goddesses, and that their makers belonged to societies oriented around female deity. Continue reading "“Dolls”, Fairy Tales, and Ancient Goddess Figurines"

The Princess Who Would Not Laugh: The Ancient Goddess as Revealed Through Fairy Tales

by Jeri Studebaker

Viktor Vasnetsov: The Unsmiling Tsarevna (Nesmeyana). 1916-1926, oil on canvas

Spellbound, almost hypnotized, you float through magic lands of enchantment with fairy princesses, talking frogs, magic cats and candy houses, with Snow White, Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella and a whole host of others. Was it like this for you when you read fairy tales as a child? It was for me – I was as enchanted as Sleeping Beauty when she dropped off into her 100-year sleep. And the magnificent illustrations of some of those talented old children's book illustrators (Arthur Rackham, Walter Crane, Kay Nielsen, et al.), made the journey even more intoxicating.

Now, as an adult with years of research under my belt, I have come to the conclusion that many if not most of these fabulous old fairy tales originated among goddess-oriented Europeans. This is exciting, because it means fairy tales hold secrets about how our ancient pre-patriarchal ancestors viewed goddesses, magic, good and evil, the first humans, and other potentially fascinating aspects of their spirituality -- information we can't really wring out of many other sources.

Although I wish I could take credit for it, the idea that fairy tales are all about goddesses is not mine. Even the Brothers Grimm, back in the early 1800s, wrote that fairy tales originated among pre-Christians. And the German culture historian and goddess scholar Heide Gottner-Abendroth, the great Russian folklorist Vladimir Propp, and one of America's foremost authorities on the fairy tale, Dr. Jack Zipes, all suggest it's not just any old pre-Christians who created European fairy tales – but rather ones whose lives revolved around female deity. In these tales the princesses and even the witches themselves are actually secret code for "goddess." Continue reading "The Princess Who Would Not Laugh: The Ancient Goddess as Revealed Through Fairy Tales"

Transmutation: An Alchemical Fairy Tale

by Barbara Ardinger

roseIt is said that through her lovingkindness Beauty tamed the Beast and made him human again. What if Beauty herself needed to be tamed? What if something else was going on there?

At the edge of the winter city, upon the very brim of the wilderness, sat the house of the Alchemist, and here the Alchemist had passed his long years. Here in his laboratories, among his fires of green and purple and his books written in alphabets of mystery, here the Alchemist was content.

Although the Alchemist was as remote and chilly as his location, people nonetheless came to see him—lords and ladies, generals and bishops, burghers and courtiers—and he would listen to their voices and sell them talismans and enchantments that might grant their wishes. A sliver from a secret bar of mysterious metal, a pinch of red powder wrapped in white paper, a coal that burned in cold flames of magenta and chartreuse, all these he had sold to one or another who sought audience with him.

Continue reading "Transmutation: An Alchemical Fairy Tale"