Category Archives: Volume 1

Female Shamans and Medicine Women

mongolian shamanka

Mongolian shamanka

Female Shamans and Medicine Women

In some societies that practice shamanism there is a preference for the practitioners to be female. Evidence from archaeology in the Czech Republic indicated that the earliest Upper Palaeolithic shamans were in fact women (Tedlock, 2005). Descriptions of female shamans describe these women “…as invokers, healers, herbalists, oracles and diviners, ecstatic dancers, shape-shifters, shamanic  journeyers, and priestesses of the ancestors.” (Dashu, 2006).  Female shamans or ‘shamankas’, are located among the Tungus people, the Buriats, Yakuts, Ostyaks, and among the Kamchadals “…the place of the shaman was usually taken by especially gifted old women.” (MacCulloch, 1918).

SB_-_Altay_shaman_with_drum

Altay shamanka with drum. Kharkas ethnicity, circa 1908.

In Siberia, in the steppes and central regions, the female shaman possessed greater power than the male shaman and “…in general the feminine element plays a very prominent role in sorcery among the Yakuts.2 (Maddox, 1941). Female shamans are found in Tibet and Afghanistan, with female mikogami in Japan, and an Aleut ivory statuette (1816) depicting a “…woman shaman wearing an animal mask.” (Dashu, 2006).

shaman woman

Female Shaman

Female shamans are dominant in some cultures where they ate to the forefront of the cult practice. Whether in ancient China or Japan, or Korea, South Africa, Okinawa, the Philippines, from northern California to southern Chile, female shamanism  is a widespread tradition “…from Buryat Mongolia to the Buriti religion in Gabon, that the first shaman was a woman.” (Dashu, 2006).

female shaman

Reconstruction of a Mesolithic female shaman, 7000-6500 BCE, Bad Durrenberg.

shamanka decs

The Ekven burial of a female shaman was found at Chukotka on the Russian side of the Bering Strait. Some 2000 years old it was the grave of an elderly woman with a wooden mask at her knees as well as other ritualistic and shamanic artefacts.

Ekven burial

The Ekven burial. Source: public domain.

Recurrent artefacts and examples of female shamanic practice are amulets, medicine bags, mirrors, and head-dresses shown by excavated regalia, as well as drums. Examples can be seen in southern Chile where female shamans of the Mapuche Nation use drums called kultran. Korean female shaman drummers use mudangs. Drumming would be accompanied by chants and invocations as is shown by the Mexican Indian shamans.

The Mesolithic interment at Bad Durrenberg occurred some 8,500 years ago. It was a woman around 25 years of age accompanied by a child of some 6 to 12 months of age. The grave goods and artefacts comprised those assumed to have a ritualistic and shamanic function.

Bad

Bad Durrenberg burial.  Source: public domain.

Evidence of the primordial origin of female shamans is shown by the excavated burials. Such burials have been found dating from the 5th century before the present. These include the Priestess of Ukok ( as well as remains from south Kazakstan, and the basin from the Ukraine to the Tarim. Archaeologists have determined that these ancient female interments in central Asia were shamanic priestesses. The mummified remains of a female shaman was from the 5th century BCE, and a kurgan of the Pazyryk Culture of ancient Altai.

Mummy_of_the_Ukok_Princess

Mummy of the Ukok princess

Discovered and excavated in 1993 (Polosmak, 1994; 1997)) she has been dubbed the Siberian Ice Maiden. This woman is also variously known as the Princess of Ukok and the Altai Princess, or Ochy-bala after the Altai heroine.

Ukok burial

Illustration of the Ukok shamanic burial

The burial of a female Natufian shamans discovered in a cave site at Hilazon Tachtit (in Israel) was dated to circa 12,000 BP (Grossman, 2008). The Natufians of the southern Levant of 15,000 to 11,500 BP were a nomadic people who lived along the east Mediterranean (Tharoor, 2008).

The excavated remains were those of a diminutive, disabled ‘shaman’ woman of advanced years, in a specially constructed grave. The interment represents the ritual burial of one of the oldest human spiritual figures.

shaman-israel

The interment ritual and technique indicate a shamanic burial with especially placed animal bones, some 50 tortoise shells, the tail of a cow and the wing of an eagle. The grave suggests that the people living with and around this woman of some 45 years held her in high regard. As a shaman she would have been a mystic imbued with animist powers and revered social status.

Among north Amerindians medicine women are as common as medicine men, especially among the Dakotas and the Creeks (Maddox, 1941), with both occurring among the Inuit. As with shamans the medicine womanand the practice of healing is not restricted to members of the male gender.

Native American Medicine Woman in prayer

North American Medicine Woman in Prayer

In ancient Greek mythology, in the temples of Argos, , the goddess Hygeia was the daughter of Aesculapius. The fact that the great Mother Goddess Hera, as Lucina, propitiated at or presided over childbirth, and that the original goddesses were probably real medicine women indicates “…in remote antiquity women were engaged in the practice of medicine.” (Maddox, 1941).

Blood-Medicine-Woman-Calgary-circa-1900

Blood Medicine woman, Calgary circa 1900.

In central Australia the medicine is ranked equal to the medicine man just as the female shaman is the equal of the shaman. Women shamans as medicine women propitiated the spirit world and practised the healing arts towards their own sex. Medicine women were thus equal to the medicine man. Not only in the way they became such but also in social status, their role and function, but in all other respects.

medicine woman

Medicine woman

The role of the ‘witch detective’ was often combined with that of the medicine woman and in central east Africa the medicine woman was also a witch detective and prophetess. Menominee-Medicine-Woman-206x300

Menomonee medicine woman

As has been shown by both female shamans and medicine women in many times, climes and cultures “…it not infrequently happens that the female idea of the Shamanate prevails to such an extent that the most powerful shamans are women…” (Maddox, 1941). The antiquity of the shamanic role of women is illustrated by the evidence of surviving rock and cave art which can be interpreted in terms of shamanism, fertility ritual, and rites of passage.

Rock art in southern Africa can be analysed from two approaches (Eastwood, 2005), one that incorporates women issues within a framework of shamanism, and secondly one that treats it as outside the understanding shamanism. Depictions on cave walls can be interpreted in terms of the shamanistic nature of the puberty rites of girls (Lewis-Williams, 1998; Lewis-Williams, 2004).

A distinction has to be made between the meaning of the terms ‘shamanic’ and ‘shamanistic’. The word ‘shamanic’ refers to the and practices and experiences of shamans, whereas ‘shamanistic’ refers to general beliefs and practices (Whitley, 1998). The analysis can be, and has been, extended to an interpretation of cave paintings claiming that the art was the work of women.

A recent study by Dean Stone of Pennsylvania State University produced results that “…indicated prehistoric female artists also helped create the famous ‘spotted horses’ cave mural and various others.” (daily Mail, 2009). The hand prints on the mural were dated to 25,000 BCE.  Many of the hand prints were smaller than female hands as established by analysis of digital ratios.

peche merle

The ‘spotted horses’ at Pech Merle, France.  Source: public domain.

The evidence appears to show that a large number of Upper Palaeolithic cave artists were women  confirming that  the “…women’s role in prehistoric society was much greater than previously thought.” (Daily Mail, 2009). It is most likely, considering the role of women in primordial society as shamans, that ancient art was mostly the work of women (Webb, 2013).

Hand prints on cave walls were analysed by Dean Snow who showed that there was a gender difference between relative lengths of fingers. Men and women’s finger lengths are different. Even though another theory claims the hand prints may be those of adolescent boys some 75% of cave art hands are female.

   el castillo

Hand prints from Cueva de las Manos, Santa Cruz, Argentina

Examples of hand print art in caves have been found in southern France, in Australia, Argentina, Africa and Borneo. In northern Spain hand prints were believed to be some 40,800 years old (Subbaraman, 2013) where of 32 hand stencils 24 were female.

Gargas caves

The hand prints from the Gargas Caves in the Pyrenees, 27,000 years ago.

Hand stencils support the theory that, not only were women actively involved in cave art, but that they were in their role of shamans leaders in ritualistic, fertility and magical practices, many of which were also linked to rites of passage for other members of the community.

References and sources consulted

Balzer, M. M.  (1996).  Shamanism.  In: Levinson & Ember, eds.

Daiily Mail.  (2009).  Prehistoric Cave Paintings Made by Women as well as Men.  6.7.2009.

Dashu, M.  (2006).  Suppressed Histories. On web.

Eastwood, E. B.  (2005).  From Girls to Women: female imagery in the San Rock Paintings.  Before Farming.  3 (2).

Grossman, L.  et al.  (2008).  A 12,000-year-old Shaman burial from the southern Levant. Proc.Nat.Acad.Sci.  105 (46). USA

Hastings, J. (1918-28).  Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics.  Edinburgh.

Levinson, D. & Ember, M.  eds.  (1996).  Encyclopaedia of Cultural Anthropology.  Henry Holt, New York.

Lewis-Williams, J. D.  (1998).  Quanto.  South African Archaeological Bulletin. 53.

Lewis-Williams, J. D.  & Pearce, D.  (2004).  San spirituality roots.  Double Storey, Cape Town.

MacCulloch, J.  (1918).  Shamanism.  In: Hastings, J. ed.

Maddox, J. L.  (1941). The Medicine Man.  Yale UP.

Polosmak, N.  (1994).  National Geographic.  October.

Polosmak, N.  (1997).  BBC Documentary.

Subbaraman, N.  (2013).  NBC News.  15.10.2013.

Tedlock, B.  (2005).  The Woman in a Shaman’s Body. Bantam, New York.

Tharoor, I.  (2008).  12,000-tear-old Shaman Unearthed in Israel.  Time, 11.11.2009.

Webb, S.  (2013).  Earliest artists were women.  Mail Online, London.

Whitley, D. S.  (1998).  Cognitive neuroscience shamanism, and rock art of Native California.  Anthropology of Consciousness. 9.

 

 

 

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Shamanism, Archaeology and Prehistory

800px-SantaCruz-CuevaManos-P2210651b

 ‘Cave of the Hands’, Santa Cruz, Argentina.

1.  The Antiquity of Shamanism

2.  Shamanism and Cave Art

3.  Shamanism and the Upper Palaeolithic

1.  The Antiquity of Shamanism

Archaeological evidence suggests that shamanic practices possibly had their origin in the early Palaeolithic (Clottes, J. 2008) with indications of Mesolithic shamanism in Israel with Natufian Culture shamanic burials. The likely conclusion is that the “…origins of shamanism are hidden deep in the mists of our primordial past.” (Pearson, 2002). Further suggestions of proof are the presence of horned men in pictographs and cave art, with anthropomorphic birds and ornithomorphic men and women (Balzer, 1996). Indeed, in terms of antiquity, it has been said that a shaman is probably “…the oldest profession, covering the roles which in industrial societies, are played separately by the doctor, the psychotherapist, soldier, fortune-teller, priest and politician.” (Vitebsky, 1995).

A large amount of Franco-Cantabrian cave art is shamanistic and “…produced by shamans and derived from their modes of thought.” (Lommel, 1966), therefore archaeologically cave art includes images that can be called shamanistic. Basque myths from the region are concerned with ghosts, shamans, red bulls, cows, horses, birds and snakes (Lommel, 1966), and significant are the half human half animal spirits. The female is Mari, male spirits are Maide and associated with female Lamin, thus Mari and Lamin are “…probably preserved characteristics of the more ancient Mistress of the Beasts.” (Lommel, 1966). Thus the consideration that the “…repetitively portrayed Palaeolithic ‘sorcerers’ and ‘shamans’ were divine owners of animals and forests.” (Gimbutas, 2001).

2.  Shamanism and Cave Art

Cave imagery is a palimpsest resulting from changing exploitation of the topography coupled with changing shamanistic beliefs and social relations (Lewis-Williams, 1997; Clottes, 1996), implying Upper Palaeolithic people “…did not adhere rigidly to set formulae.” (Lewis-Williams, 1997). Thus as the Upper Palaeolithic progressed the historically and geographically situated forms of shamanism changed. In order to understand shamanic cave art it is best to look in more detail at two examples – the so-called ‘sorcerer’ in the Sanctuary at Les Trois Freres, and the ‘Man and Bison’ composition in the Shaft at Lascaux.

The ‘Sorcerer’ has an antlered deer head and hide who appears to be leading a dance to secure success in hunting (Lewis, 1969). The image is of a masked human being to endow a unique, magical or religious act with greater permanence by means of pictorial recapitulation (Lissner, 1961). The unreal atmosphere is compounded by the half human half animal that is engraved and painted in an innermost recess of the complex Ariege cave (Grazioli, 1960), implying the ‘sorcerer’ is a mystical being. The painting is of a powerfully symbolic magico-religious ritual. The shaman is harnessing a group effort through  group ritual dance to objectify the killing of an animal (Lewis, 1969). This shaman at Lourdes, wearing a tail and a beard, can be compared to Tungus shamanic portrayals because “…the adoption of several animal characteristics is throught to increase a shaman’s chances of sending hi soul on its travels…” (Lissner, 1961).

the-sorcerer

   The Magdalenian painted ‘sorcerer’ at Trois Freres, Ariege, France.

The shaman requires maximum assistance from various animals while on his journey. He therefore wears a deer mask, owls eyes, wolf’s ears, horse’s tail, and bears paws, as well as dancing (Lissner, 1961). Among circumpolar peoples deer antlers and bears feet are the most effective in magical equipment (Ucko, 1967). The ‘man with a bison’ in the Shaft at Lascaux is a shamanic scene with a sacrificial bison and an outstretched man (with a bird mask) lying on the ground in a trance (Lissner, 1961). The rhinoceros in the composition is insignificant because it is the man and bison in confrontation (Blanc, 1949). The supine figure is the shaman and the bird his tutelary spirit, and its perch a grave stick or sky-pole. The wooden bird poles symbolise a shaman’s spiritual journey and is thus “…a path to heaven symbolised by an upright pole and the belief that a bird can carry a shaman’s soul into the sky.”  (Lissner, 1961). The whole is a complex composition that contains evidence of totemic belief, shamanic practice, and fertility ritual.

Image (259)

A man in a bird’s head mask attacked by a wounded bison (?).

The cave painting at Lascaux, France, circa 15.000 t0 10,000 BC. (shown above), can be explained by Siberian legends of modern times. A spear seems to have pierced the bison and eviscerated it. The shaman sends his soul to heaven while he lies as though dead (Lommel, 1966), as he hunts animal spirits of negotiates with the Mistress of the Animals. A number of factors indicate the shamanic nature of the composition. The bird is gallinaceous or grouse-like and resembles the grouse carving on a spear-thrower from Le Mas d’Azil (Davenport, 1988). The feet are humanoid, as is the phallus, but the hands are four-toed typical of a bird, and as such a pictographic symbol. The artist has portrayed the shaman as his spirit helper (the bird-headed wand) at the moment of his transformation or shape-shift into a Black Grouse or Capercaille (Davenport, 1988), a performance quite familiar to the Palaeolithic hunter, resembling the communal dances, strutting and ritualised fighting of the Blackcock.

The secret of successful hunting is mimicry (Lommel, 1966), and a successful expedition is envisioned by the shaman beforehand. The entrails of the bison are wrenched out by a barbed spear and the whole image means for Abbre Breuil (1965) the hunter is wounded by the bison and then killed by the rhinoceros, whereas for Leroi-Gourhan the man is dying from wounds inflicted by the bison (Lissner, 1961). However, the shaman is most likely in a trance state. rock art in South Africa is historical evidence for ceremonies and roles of trance plus hallucinogens, so perhaps “…decorated caves in Palaeolithic Europe, at the end of the last Ice Age, might also reflect shamanic practices and trance ceremonies.” (Pitts, 2001).

In addition, shamanistic practices among early Celtic divinations they wore cloaks of birds feathers as Siberians did, bearing in mind the Celtic belief in metamorphosis – shape-shifting – or ability to change shape or appearance at will. At Santander there are wall engravings of men in bird masks who seem to be dancing, and the bird-men of Altamira are also shamans, as are the masked figures at Les Combarelles  (Lissner, 1961). At Teyat, Abri Mege (Dordogne) three strange figures resembling sea horses are probably shamans dancing in ibex masks. There are further examples of hybrid figures as hunters or shamans occupying territory between the human and animal world (Grazioli, 1960). There is also comparative evidence for shamans using birds as tutelary spirits or spirit helpers for shamanic ritual (Davenport, 1988), for example the Lascaux ‘man and bison’.

Palaeolithic batons or ‘wands’ may be shamans drumsticks, and certainly more than items of everyday use (Lissner, 1961), and female statuettes are the earliest known figurative representations in the world  and may have a shamanic ritual role as auxiliary dolls. The female statuettes of Siberian tribes, who often had female shamans or ‘shamankas’, may have had a ritual role. At Ma’lta,  50 miles north of Irkutsk, female figures and birds carved in bone represent duck and geese, reminiscent of bird figures which modern Siberian tribes place on top of their shamanic sky-poles. In view of the fact that shamanic mobiliary art may not have been durable – wands, sky-poles, drums, and other equipment such as masks – it is nonetheless possible that portable engravings of birds may have had a ritual and shamanic role.

 

Image (74)

 The ‘man and the bison’ of the Shaft at Lascaux.

3.  Shamanism and the Upper Palaeolithic

The antiquity and ubiquity of shamanism implies it was practised by hunter-gatherers of the European Upper Palaeolithic (Lewis-Williams, 2002), but it was not static or unchanging across western Europe during 30,000 years, indeed “…shamanism is the most archaic form of magico-religious relation of man towards himself and his surroundings.” (Wiercinski, 1989). Indeed, in terms of prehistory shamanism is “…generally regarded as having been endemic to hunter-gatherer societies, because of the importance of its role in hunting.” (Aldhouse-Green, 2005). Upper Palaeolithic people associated logically consistent concepts to their cave painting (Lommel, 1966), thus prehistoric man attempted to integrate into life surrounding him by performing symbolic actions that included mimicry, dance and vocalisations. Hunter-gatherers of the Upper Palaeolithic had specialists, or shamans, whose authority and prestige permitted them to mediate between the surrounding natural and supernatural powers and their own people (Sandars, 1968).  As a global phenomenon shamanism was by hunter-gatherers for thousands of years implying “…it is reasonable to infer that shamanic practices must in some way, be reflected in the material record (Pearson, 2002). Not only is shamanism attested archaeologically but also Palaeolithic art was thus “…the particular expression of shamanic cosmology and social relations as it existed at a given time and in a given period.” (Lewis-Williams, 1997).

The prevalence of art deep within caves is the “…cornerstone of the totemic and the magical interpretations.” (Ucko, 1967), that deals the death blow to ‘art for art’s sake’ theories. The Palaeolithic cave artist therefore “…does not differentiate his aesthetic activity…in a world of mystic perception which is one single unity.” (Read, 1949). There are two reasons to assume that Upper Palaeolithic shamanism existed (Lewis-Williams, 1997) which are: (1) the ubiquity of hunter-gatherer shamanism; (2) the ability of the human system to achieve altered states of consciousness. Despite the worldwide similarities of shamanism (Eliade, 1972; Vitebsky, 1995) it is therefore probable “…that some form of shamanism – not necessarily identical to any ethnographically or historically recorded type of shamanism – was practised by hunter-gatherers of Upper Palaeolithic Europe.” (Lewis-Williams, 1997).

It was hunter-gatherers who created much of rock art which they associated with shamanistic practices and the “…phenomena experienced by shamans during altered states of consciousness, are also reflected in rock art.” (Pearson, 2002). Indeed Siberian petroglyphs resemble the Aurignacian drawings from Palaeolithic France that me function as fertility symbols. However, caution has to be exercised when considering “…oven-ready shamanistic/ASC interpretations is being applied automatically to the wall art in everything to passage graves to Catal Hayuk.” (Bahn, 1998).

Handprints and footprints in cave and rock art have been assumed to be a means of establishing “…a bond between the person, the rock veil, and the supernatural world that seethed beneath it.” (Clottes, 1998). In general it is believed that Palaeolithic people saw cave entrances as portals to s supernatural domain, because rocks were assumed inhabited and protected by spirit entities.

cantabria

Handprints in a cave in Cantabria, Spain.

There are many examples of negative handprints, including Canjon de Chelly in northern Arizona, as well as positive and engraved handprints shown by Comanche Springs, New Mexico. The use of red pigment for handprints and paintings is assumed to represent the colour as a “…universal symbol of blood, which has always been regarded as the carrier of the life-force (Okladnikov, 1969).

chelly

Handprints at Canjon de Chelly, Arizona

Small dimension human footprints are also a common feature of rock art and have been regarded as those of small ‘spirit helpers’, sometimes called ‘water babies’, who inhabited pools, springs and rocks. Many of the images and themes in Palaeolithic rock art have been described as shamanic, representing ‘magical flight’ (Eliade, 1964), and the ‘shamanic journey’ (Harner, 1981). In this sense the flight represents an altered state of consciousness (Pearson, 2002), and is depicted in rock art.

footprints

Magdalenian cave footprints, Ariege, France.

Entoptic motifs (behind the eye) in trance states include flecks, lines, waves, zig-zags, spirals and dots, however in the ensuing stage of ASC the shaman begins “…to construe these entoptics into meaningful representational images based on cultural beliefs and expectations.” (Pearson, 2002).

Many of the prehistoric interments found in Siberia contain sophisticated artefacts (Artamanov, 1965). The petroglyphs found are ancient rock drawings done in red ochre and their distribution indicates “…communication or commonality of some kind among the nomadic northern tribes over the wide region from the Baltic to the far east.” (Okladnikov, 1969). There has been much interest generated by rock art studies and shamanism since the 1950’s and 1960’s (Kuhn. 1956). Accompanying the revival interpretation in the art of the Upper Palaeolithic (Lewis-Williams, 1998; Clottes, 1996) has led unfortunately to “…certain scholars basing themselves on distorted ethnography, dubious psychology and a huge amount of assumption and wishful thinking, are interpreting rock and cave art exclusively in terms of supposed shamanism, entopics (i.e. trance imagery) and altered states of consciousness (ASC).” (Bahn, 1998).

 

References and Sources Consulted

Aldhouse-Green, M. & S.  (2005).  The Quest for the Shaman.  Thames & Hudson, London.

Balzer, M. M.  (1996).  Shamanism.  In: Encyclopaedia of Cultural Anthropology.  Lewinson, D. & Ember, M. eds.  Henry Holt, New York.

Clottes, J.  (2008).  Shamanism in Prehistory.  Bradshaw Foundation.

Narby, J. & Huxley, F. eds.  (2001).  Shamans Through Time.  Thames & Hudson, London.

Pearson, J. L.  (2002).  Shamanism and the Ancient Mind.  Altamira Press, USA.

Vitebsky, P.  (1995).  The Shaman.  Macmillan, London.

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Prolegomena to the Study of Shamanism

shamanotshir

‘Ochir’ a Mongolian shaman, early 20th century.

1.  Introduction

2.  Origin and Meaning

3.  The Shaman

4.  The Shamanic Mystique

 

1.  Introduction

Shamans are ritual specialists in hunter-gatherer societies (Lewis-Williams, 2002) who are more potent and important than witch-doctors (Lewis, 1969). These specialists were thus found originally in the homogenous, technological simple, loosely structured hunting-gathering cultures of ancient times. Shamanism is a religious practice where there is communication with good and evil spirits through “…a professional class of priest-seers…” (McKillop, 1998), and thus associated with “…archaic techniques of ecstasy…” (Eliade, 1964), and a widespread practice across Eurasia and elsewhere as a primitive religion survival. In this sense some regard shamanism as evidence of the ancient origin of human archetypal concepts of spirituality.

Presently shamanism is a religious phenomenon characteristic of Siberian and Ural-Altaic peoples. Despite various theories of origin shamanism can be described as a “…widespread complex of religious and medical beliefs, centred on a community or family shaman, who is usually perceived to be a mediator between spiritual and human worlds…” (Balzer, 1996). In consideration of the religious and supernatural functions the shaman is in essence “…a social functionary who, with the help of guardian spirits, attains ecstasy in order to create a rapport with the supernatural world on behalf of his group members.” (Hultktantz, 1973).

The phenomenon of shamanism is found throughout China, Tibet, Japan, through Korea to include many Turkic and Mongoloid clans and tribes. The origin of shamanism is recognised as having occurred in northern and central Asia. Among the Japanese may be found the temple yamabushi, the Chines have their wu-i healer magicians, and there are the devil doctors of Sri Lanka (Leach, 1972). Furthermore it can be noted that the “…primitive religion of these tribes is polytheism and polydaemonism, with strong roots in nature worship…” (MacCulloch, 1918). In other words we have a religious system where shamans, as intermediaries, act between supernatural entities and earthbound humans.

220px-Yupik_shaman_Nushagak

Yupik Shaman

In religious terms shamans are a class of polytheists (employing shamanistic sacra) and worldwide religious practitioners who “…imitate trance states, generally called altered states of consciousness (ASC), for the purpose of communing with spirits (Jones, 2006). As a vigorous cross-cultural phenomenon (VanPool, 2009) the origins of shamanism are “…hidden deep in the mists of our primordial past.” (Pearson, 2002), whose roots stretch back as far as the Palaeolithic, and which is supported by archaeological evidence. Shamanism therefore consists of a range of beliefs and practices regarding communication with the spiritual world (Hoppal, 1987). For others, including anthropologists from the onetime Soviet Union, shamanism is “…essentially a ‘pre-class’ religion that may nevertheless survive in class societies in a marginal, peripheral cult form.” (Lewis, 1986).

2.0 Origin and Meaning

The term shaman is Tungus in origin from saman or sramana meaning ascetic (McKillop, 1998; Leach, 1972) and in Sanskrit  sramanas. Shamanism is not limited to circumpolar peoples as it occurs in south-east Asia, Oceania, and with Amerindians. The name comes from Siberia where a shaman is also called a tabid and female shamans called shamankas, Inuit angekok, in Lapland noi’de (Sandars, 1968), with shamanism the basis of Finno-Ugric religion (Guirand, 1982). Placed in perspective the career of the shaman “…belongs to that special category of ethnographically specific concepts used cross-culturally outside their own native contexts.” (Lewis, 1986).

In Siberia a shaman is such by hereditary transmission or spontaneous vocation, whereas in north America shamanism is a voluntary quest. However, just because shamanism describes the religion of the tribes of the Urals-Altaic region, it does not deny that the practice of shamanism also occurs in more or less complete forms elsewhere (MacCulloch, 1918). Another interpretation of the meaning of ‘saman’ is also from the Tungus describing “…a person who moved between different worlds on supernatural errands (Pearson, 2002)

Shamanism occurred all over the ancient world (Matthews, 1991), and is an animistic belief that “…presupposes an elemental force in all objects which can be dominated by a greater force…” (Guirand, 1982). A shaman is not a magician, not a visionary, not a healer, are usually male but female shamans occur, but importantly it is the “…intensity of his experience that makes him unique. His ability to extend his consciousness beyond that of the ordinary human being.” (Matthews, 1991). In other words the concept of shamanism and its practice “…is central to the recognition of shamanism.” (Aldhouse-Green, 2005), and archaeologically present in the presence of bone whistles, flutes, shamanic drums, as well as large animal bones called osteophones because they could be used as resonant instruments.

The term became accepted among the Tungus and the Turko-Mongolic cultures of ancient Siberia as well as by Altaic mythology, where shamans acted as mediators and travelling spirit guides for those cultures (Hoppal, 2005). In so far as the Tungus people and their shamanism are concerned  “…historically and geographically they have been influenced by culture and borrowing and exchange on a wide front, with the shaman playing a crucial and innovative role as recurring agent and mediator for alien spiritual forces.” (Lewis, 1986).

The most complete manifestation of shamanic practice occurs in Manchuria and Siberia (Leach, 1972) being notable among the Yakuts, Tungus, Koryaks, Ostyaks, Samoyeds as well as the Chukchee. Among the Ostyak and Samoyed tribes the position of shaman is hereditary. The shamans of the central Inuit are usually men called angakok who are noted for their displays, drum dancing and therapeutic performances (Leach, 1972). In the Russia of the 17th century the practioners of shamanism were often “…confused with common sorcerers, the general import of shamans as ecstatic healers and innovators was accepted in the 19th century.” (Hultkrantz, 1999).

3.  The Shaman

In the realm of English-speaking social anthropology “…there is a marked contrast…between American and British usage…the term ‘shaman’ enjoys a secure position in American cultural anthropology.” (Lewis, 1986). The shaman possesses a number of functions which depends upon their culture, and which includes sacrificial rituals, healing, fortune-telling, story-telling and singing, as well as being a ‘guide to souls’ or psychopomp (Hoppal, 2005). In some respects shamans are women and men “…who through the acquisition of supernatural powers, are believed to be able to either cure or cause disease.” (Leach, 1972). The shaman is not only in “…direct intercourse with the spirits, and actual (bodily and spiritual) access to the spirit world…” (MacCulloch, 1918), but possesses as a result  superior knowledge to ordinary people. The primary religious role of the shaman is that of healer and diviner. Both aspects are achieved by spirit possession or the journey of the soul of the shaman to the underworld or heaven.

Shamans are not merely intermediaries between the spirit domain and the human world but ‘mend the soul’ by treating illness and ailments (Eliade, 1964). In some ethnic groups the powers of the shaman are believed inherited or regarded as a calling by signs and dreams. A shaman can attain his or her religious status through personal quest, vocation or heredity, but is in essence a mouthpiece of the spirits who became his or her initiatory familiars. The shamans of South America became so as a result a supernatural calling or specialised training and who thus became “…the intermediaries between the supernatural world and the communities.” (Leach, 1972). In this manner the phenomenon and practice of shamanism represents “…a cult whose central idea is the belief in the ability of some individuals chosen by some spirits to communicate with them while in a state of ecstasy and perform the functions of an intermediary between the world of spirits and the given human collective (collectivity).” (Basilov, cited in Lewis, 1986).

A shaman is a particular type of individual combining functions and abilities (Lommel, 1966) who requires special training, with separation from cares and distractions of ordinary life (Lewis, 1969), with initiation often involving isolation and mentoring by an older shaman. A shaman often shows signs of mental instability, excitability, and hysterical dissociation, exhibiting suggestibility and subject to hallucinations (Lewis, 1969), but shamanism is not linked to mental illness because the shamanistic mind is “…a complex interweaving of mental sates, visions and emotions.” (Lewis-Williams, 2002). The central “…core of shamanism…” is the “…shamanic séance…” (Balzer, 1996) and an issue over which controversy still abides. A shaman must have a mana to carry on his role which he can only obtain  by being predestined for it, as well as by submitting to certain rituals (Adam, 1954). Mana, a term originating in Polynesia, can be considered as an immaterial power believed by many pre-literate peoples to be inherent in certain privileged persons and things.

Shamans use accessories called sacra which are their tools including drums, piped and whistles, which they employ in caves and shrines designated as ritual spaces (VanPool, 2009). In this context it has to be stressed that there are shamans and priests, not shamans or priests. Shamans frequently use musical instruments and noisemakers (Vitebsky, 2001), and “…consider their drums to be animated entities whose spirits can help the shamans on their journey.” (Potapopov, 1999). Drums are used by shamans by many Inuit groups and several Siberian peoples, as well as many cultures using feathers regarded as the messengers of the spirits.

 

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A drum shaman

However, the sacra of priests compared to those of the shaman, include ritual paraphanalia used in public ceremonial locations, as well as carvings of deities, statuary and the divine written word. The shaman establishes a rapport with the spirits.

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Cheyenne Medicine Man by Howard Terpning. Source: public domain.

The medicine man uses methods where spiritual aid is not essential, thus “…the methods of the medicine-man and the magician, as distinct from the shaman, are also found everywhere, and frequently enter into shamanistic practice.” (MacCulloch, 1918). In other words the term shaman, if loosely defined, has been considered in terms of ‘sorcerer’, ‘ritualist’ or simply ‘medicine-man’ (Aldhouse-Green, 2005). Every shaman possesses a harmless animal familiar, as well as a collection of iconographic symbols, tutelary and liminal creatures, as well as anthropomorphic figurines, not forgetting their psycho-active herbs and fungi (VanPool, 2009).

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A Sami shamanic drum.  Source: public domain.

Hunter-gatherers exhibit a number of characteristics of shamanism (Lewis-Williams, 1997), which distinguish it from other religions by “…the power that man or rather certain men particularly endowed, the shamans, exercise over nature.” (Guirand, 1982). Hunter gatherer shamans are therefore specialists with authority and prestige who mediate between people and surrounding natural and supernatural powers (Sandars, 1968). Theoretical studies attempt to define shamanism in terms of function and the identity of the shamans as individual practitioners, nonetheless shamans “…can be male of female, old or young, sympathetic or tyrannical, renowned or secret…” (Balzer, 1996).

As a polytheistic class shamans cannot be categorised as a uniform or homogenous group dichotomous with priests – indeed ambiguous definitions only serve to obscure their unique cultural religions and beliefs (Aldhouse-Green, 2005; Tedlock, 2005). The practices of shamans developed, as is now known, amongst the Inuit, the native Americans of the northern Pacific coast, of California, and those of the plains and other Amerindian tribes (Leach, 1972). Indeed, we can reliably and profitably use shamanic studies to describe their cross-cultural religious pattern (Tedlock, 2005). In this context shamanism is not a religion as such (Aldhouse-Green, 2005), with the role of the Tungus ‘saman’ being an ‘ecstatic’ one. This aspect underlies the fact that a shaman “…may be regarded as one whose priestly, prophetic, and magico-medical functions have not been differentiated.” (MacCulloch, 1918).

4.  The Shamanic Mystique

Characteristics of shamanism are: (1) it posits a range of institutionalised altered states of consciousness; (2) the visual, aural and somatic experiences of altered states are seen as conceptions of alternative states of reality; (3) people with special powers and skills – shamans – have access to this alternative reality; (4) the nervous system via altered states leads to dissociation. Shamans use dissociation to achieve four ends which are also features of hunter-gatherer shamanism: (1) shamans are believed to contact spirits and supernatural entities; (2) they heal the sick; (3) they control the movements and lives of animals; (a) have the ability to change the weather. These four functions coupled with the altered states are believed mediated by and facilitated by “…a variously conceived supernatural potency of power…” and this potency is “…commonly associated with animal helpers that assist shamans in the performance of their tasks.” (Lewis-Williams, 1997; 2002).

The underlying premise of shamanism is that invisible spirits pervaded the lives and world of the living (Hoppal, 1987) and that in this situation within the shaman’s power was the “…ability to summon spirits who can perform tasks beyond the capacity of ordinary people.” (Leach, 1972). The shaman dramatizes his or her performance in order to “…transform into spiritual creatures through rituals that induce Altered States of Consciousness (ASC) to create…Shamanic States of Consciousness (SCC)”. (Harner, 1980). In the trance state the most common feeling is one of swimming or flying, an important and significant indicator of the transition or implying “…an altered state of consciousness is important, shamanism may be described as an ecstatic religion.” (Aldhouse-Green, 2005).

One of the functions of a shaman is the periodic performance of sacrifice, a ritual which is an “…important part of the shamanistic rites of healing and divination…” (MacCulloch, 1918). Another shamanic ability is shape-shifting where dressed in feathers, animal pelts, head-dresses, whereby “…when in a trance state. shamans in many traditional communities experience transmogrification from human to animal form.” (Aldhouse-Green, 2005), and the guardian spirits of the shaman may be in animal form. Therefore transmogrification, the assumed shape-shifting, the shamanic trance is necessary and central to enable entry into the sprit dimension.

Considering rock art shamans often make use of images to interact with their tutelary spirits (Lewis-Williams, 1988). These tutelary spirits include ritually sent messenger birds as guides, as well as jaguars and bears (Harner, 1973), especially during their flights. The panels of shamanic rock art comprise entopic images (Clottes, 1998) where colour in such art has intrinsic spiritual meaning (Whitley, 2000).

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Shamanic petroglyph or pictograph from south east Utah.  Source: public domain.

Even though there are may variations of shamanism throughout the globe there are many shared common beliefs pertinent to the phenomenon (Eliade, 1964), and in many tribes the functions and role may be divided among different kinds of shaman (MacCulloch, 1918). The shamanic universe differs from place to place, from time to time, from culture to culture, but the fundamental structure remains the same (Pearson, 2002). The performances of shamans “…are elaborated with rituals and symbols to ensure safe passage between the worlds.” (Wilbert, 1987), with the goal of preserving the “…cosmic equilibrium by acquiring and applying knowledge…” (Pearson, 2002).

The special shamanic skill is the ability to travel from the ordinary world, which confines the community, into the realm of spirits (Pearson, 2002), therefore shamanism must involve “…soul journeys of persons chosen by the spirits: the shaman’s soul must be able to use trance to leave the body, visit the spirit world…(Aldhouse-Green, 2005). It is apparent that the core of shamanic practice “…is the  acquisition of supernatural power through ecstatic trance.” (Pearson, 2002).

The Latin for trance is transitus meaning ‘passage’ and where transive means to ‘pass-over’ and is a necessary “…pre-requisite for any kind of shamanism.” (Pearson, 2002). These trances become séances of a dramatic character for shamanic dialogues with the spirits (MacCulloch, 1918). In general terms the shaman makes his or her passage across the axis mundi, and enters the spirit world by affecting a transition of consciousness (Hoppal, 1987). The hypnotic trance is attained either through autohypnosis brought about by drumming and dancing, or by the use of entherogens. The trance plays an important role in the journey of the shaman making the drama, “…the shamanic ritual is crucial for the theatre.” (Aldhouse-Green, 2005).

Psychoactive agents or plants include cannabis sativa, tobacco, Datura, Peyote cactus (also called dumpling cactus or mescal button), and Psilocybin mushrooms, as well as Fly Agaric. As well as shamanistic sacra such as smoking pipes “…most shamanic rituals include some form of hallucinogenic agent.” (Pearson, 2002), as shown by remains of datura in pipes. It is considered that the use of psychoactive plants and hallucinogenic fungi underlies north coast Peruvian art. From Central Mexico around 1700 BP there have been found frescoes indicative of mushroom worship as well as mushroom ‘stones’ which may be suggestive of a cult or shamanic “…link between these stone mushroom figures and the ritual use of sacred hallucinogenic mushrooms.” (Pearson, 2002).

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Peyote cactus

Using psychotropic agents such as plants to induce altered states of consciousness (ASC) is a worldwide phenomenon (Schultz, 1979). Shamans in the New World use peyote and datura each one inducing different experiences (Furst, 1972). The established hallucination or ASC is “…fundamentally an experience of sight or visual hallucination…” (Pearson, 2002). To be more accurate ecstasy “…is a humanistic and theological trance, trance is a medical term for the same phenomenon.” (Hultkrantz, 1993). Shamanism and ecstasy as a result of rituals aimed at transformation means that ecstasy is a “…psychogenic mode of reaction that forms itself according to the dictates of the mind and that evinces various depths in different situations. It thus swings between frenzy and hilarious rapture on one hand, death-like comatose passivity on the other, and a mild inspirational light trance.” (Hultkrantz, 1973).

In addition to the use of psychoactive substances to achieve ritual ecstasy, chanting and rhythmic sounds are also commonly employed. The trance state can thus be induced by the rhythms of large, flat oval drums combined with chants, incense or narcotics. Many traditional societies make use of musical sacra, including rattles, percussion instruments, and drums. These are an integral and essential part of the ritual designed to create the conditions of ‘sonic drawing’ within the ritual location.  However, it should be noted that “…not all trance dances are shamanistic, any more than all feats of magic, cure, or all dreams or visions.” (Leach, 1972). As with rock and cave art sites shamanic ritual locations “…will likely contain the tools used to administer psychoactive agents, drums or other noise makers, and shamanic symbolism…” (Whitley, 2001).

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North American shaman with pipe

It is wrong to assume, as does Eliade (1964), that shamanism always involves a ‘soul in flight’ (Hultkrantz, 1973). The concept of the trance and magical flight allows the shaman to commune with the spirit entities. In other words the shaman discards his own identity during his magical journey in order to make contact with the spirits.

References and sources consulted

Adam, J.  (1940).  Primitive Art.  Pelican, London.

Aldhouse-Green, M & S.  (2005).  The Quest for the Shaman.  Thames & Hudson, London.

Balzer, M. M.  (1996).  Shamanism.  In: Levinson & Ember, eds.

Basilov, . N.  (cited in Lewis, 1986).

Clottes, J.  (1998).  Shamans in Prehistory.  H. N. Abrams, New York.

Conkey, M. W. et al.  (1997).  Beyond Art: Pleistocene Image and Symbol.  California Academy of Sciences, USA.

Eliade, M.  (1964).  Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy.  Panther Books, New York.

Furst, P. T.  (1972).  Flesh of the Gods.  Praeger, New York.

Graves, R. ed.  (1982).  New Larousse Encyclopaedia of Mythology.  Hamlyn, London.

Guirand, F.  (1982).Finno-Ugric Mythology.  In: Graves, R.  (1982).

Harner, M. J.  ed.  (1973).  Hallucinogens and shamans.  OUP, Oxford.

Harner, M. J.  (1980).  The Way of the Shaman.  Harper & Row, San Francisco.

Hastings, J. (1918-28).  Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics.  Edinburgh.

Helsko, K.  ed.  (2004).  Theoretical Perspectives in Rock Art Research.  Oslo.

Hoppal, M.  (1987).  Shamanism: An Archaic and/or Recent System of Beliefs.  Quest Books.

Hoppal, M.  (2005).  Shamans in Eurasia.  Budapest.

Hultkrantz, A.  (1973).  Definition of Shamanism.  Temenos 9 (25-37).

Hultkrantz, A.  (1993).  Introductory Remarks on the Study of Shamanism.  Shaman 1 (1).

Hultkrantz, A.  (1999).  The Specific Character of North American Shamanism.  Native American Studies.  13 (2).

Jones, P. N.  (2006).  Shamanism.  Anthropology of Consciousness.  17 (4-32).

Leach, M. & Fried, J.  (1972).  Standard Dictionary of Folklore.  Funk & Wagnall, New York.

Levinson, D. & Ember, M.  eds.  (1996).  Encyclopaedia of Cultural Anthropology.  Henry Holt, New York.

Lewis, J.  (1969).  Anthropology Made Simple.  W. H. Allen, London.

Lewis, I. M.  (1986).  Religion in Context.  C. U. P.

Lewis-Williams, J. D. & Devson, T. A.  (1988).  The Signs of all times.  Current Anthropology.  29 (201-245).

Lewis-Williams, D.  (1997).  Harnessing the Brain: Vision and Shamanism in Upper Palaeolithic Europe.  In: Conkey (1997).

Lewis-Williams, D.  (2002).  The Mind in the Cave.  Thames & Hudson, London.

Lommel, A.  (1966).  Prehistoric Art and Prehistoric Man.  McGraw Hill, New York.

MacCulloch, J.  (1918).  Shamanism.  In: Hastings, J. ed.

McKilllop, J.  (19980.  dictionary of Celtic Mythology.  OUP, Oxford.

Matthews, J.  (1991).  Taliesin: Shamanism and the Bardic Mysteries in Britain and Ireland.  Aquarian Press, London.

Narby, J. & Huxley, F. eds.  (2001).  Shamans through Time. Thames & Hudson, London.

Pearson, J. L.  (2002).  Shamanism and the Ancient Mind.  Altamira Press, USA.

Potapov, L. P.  (1999).  Shaman’s Drum.  Anth. of Consciousness.  10 (4).

Sandars, N. K.  (1968).  Prehistoric Art in Europe.  Pelican, London.

Schultz, R. E. et al.  (1979).  The Plants of the Gods.  McGraw Hill, New York.

Tedlock, B.  (2005).  The Woman in a Shaman’s Body. Bantam, New York.

VanPool, C. S.  (2009).  The Signs of the Sacred.  J. of Anthrop. Archaeol.  28 (177-190).

Vitebsky, P.  (1995).  The Shaman.  Macmillan, London.

Vitebsky, P.  (2001).  Shamanism.  University of Oklahoma Press.

Whitley, D. S.  (2000).  The Art of the Shaman.  University of Utah Press.

Whitley, D. S.  (2001).  Science and the Sacred.  In: Helsko (2004).

Wilbert, J.  (1987).  Tobacco and shamanism in South America.  Yale UP, New Haven.

 

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Amazons and Warrior Women

the-battle-of-the-amazons

The Battle of the Amazons (1600).  Peter Paul Rubens.

1.  Introduction

The Amazons were a fabled nation of warrior women, a fabulous race of warlike women who were always located on the borders of the known ancient world. The Amazons were eventually associated with a number of historical peoples in Late Antiquity. They were called androktones or ‘killers of men’ by Herodotus and he also stated they were called oiorpata or ‘killers of men’ in the Scythian language. Onwards from the Early Modern Period their name has become synonymous with women warriors in general. In Scythia the existence of women warriors has been confirmed archaeologically.

The Amazons were regarded by the Greeks as inhabiting the regions around Scythia or modern Turkey. The Amazons lived therefore on the north coast of Asia. According to Herodotus , who described the Amazons in the 5th century BC, their capital was Themiscyra from whence they invaded Thrace, the Aegean islands, Greece, Syria, Arabia, Egypt, Libya at various times. Aeschylus located them at Themiscyra on the Thermoda  (now modern Terme in Turkey), whereas Pliny placed them on the Tanais (River Don), and Strabo had them at the Carpathian Gates. The legendary gates were allegedly built by Alexander the Great as a barrier at Derbent in the Russian Caucasus. Alternatively there is Alexander’s Wall on the southeast shore of the Caspian Sea.

2.  Etymology

The common explanation of the word Amazon is of doubtful etymology. The usual explanation is ‘without breasts’ from the Greek a ‘without’ and mazos or ‘breasts’. According to legend each girl had he right breast amputated or burned off to facilitate the handling of weapons. From this mistaken interpretation arose the common and ancient fallacy of the name a-mazos. No early artwork or representation supports the claim. The word is derived possibly from the ancient Iranian term ha-mazam which means warriors. The word in Persia ‘to make war’ is hamazakaram and is probably connected to its etymology. This view comes from Heschius of Alexandria. Certainly the term contains the Indo-Iranian root kar which means ‘to make’. This indicates the naivete of the ancient Greek etymology as meaning a-mazos, without breasts. Purportedly breast removal was assumed to facilitate the use of the bow but no contemporary representation of Amazons supports this view.

3.  Historiography

The ancient Greeks knew of two Asian localities for the Amazons which were separated from Europe by the River Don. Firstly, the Amazons were located on the banks of the River Thermodon near Sinope. Secondly on the isthmus north of the great Caucasus mountain chain. Hippocrates also placed the Amazons in Europe west of the Don and the Sea of Azov. Three localities were given by Strabo. Firstly in the mountains above Albania where they were separated from the Albanians by the Scythian tribes known as the Gelai and Degai. In essence separated by the Mermadalis River (the modern Terek). Secondly, the Amazons bordering the Gargarenses located at the northern foot of the Caucasus mountains. Thirdly, the land of the Amazons and the Siracene tribe was transversed by the torrent of a river called the Mermodas which discharged into the Sea of Azov. For Herodotus the Amazons could be found northeast of the upper region of the Sea of Azov, among a tribe called the Sauromati.

The Amazons founded many settlements in Asia Minor including Amastis, Sinope (Turkish Synop), Cyme (modern Nemrut Limani), Pitano, Mytilene (Lesbos), Ephesus (west coast of Turkey), and Smyrna (modern Izmir in Aegean Anatolia). In Greek mythology the Amazons were situated on the Pontus which is part of modern day Turkey. They were, therefore, located on the shore of the Euxine Sea (Black Sea). Amazons forms an independent kingdom rules by a queen, often named Hippolyta or ‘loose, unbridle mare’. For Aeschylus they lived in the distant past in Scythia at Palus Maeotis which, as Lake Maeotis, is the Sea of Azov. At a later date they migrated and relocated to Themiscyra on the River Thermodon (modern Terek in northern Turkey) their usual home on Pontic Asia Minor.

Herodotus affirms that the Samatians were descended from Amazons and Scythians, and that Sarmatian females continued to observe their ancient maternal customs. It is thought that a Amazon group was blown across the Sea of Azov into the Scythian lands situated in the modern south-western Crimea. On the condition they did not follow Scythian female customs they agreed to marry Scythian men. Thence they migrated north-west, and settled beyond the Tanais (Don) river thereby becoming the progenitors of the Sauromatians. The Amazon queen Thalestris visited Alexander and became a mother by him. The Volscian warrior maiden Camilla is characterised by Virgil who refers to the Amazon myths. Again, according to Herodotus, Sarmatian women fought alongside Scythians against Darius the Great in the 5th century BCE.

Roman historiographical records concerning the Amazons have Caesar stressing to the Senate the Amazon conquests of large areas of Asia by the Amazons. Moreover, Amazon raids against Lycia and Cilicia were confirmed. Philostratus located the Amazons in the Taurus Mountains, and Ammianus placed them east of the Tanais (Don) and neighbouring Alans. In addition Procopius put them in the Caucasus whilst ompey affirmed he found Amazons in the army of Mithridates, king of Pontus, who campaigned against Rome. In the 2nd century BC a concubine called Hypsicratea fought in battles alongside Mithridates VI of Pontus. In 271 BC a group of Gothic women, captured by Romans while fighting in the same attire as their men, were paraded through Rome wearing signs that said ‘Amazons’. In 138 BC the Roman Sextus Junius found in Lusitania  (part of Portugal and Spain) women who fought and died bravely in the company of their men. Sextus in 138 BC also noted that the women of the Bracari (a Celtic tribe in Portugal) also bore arms alongside their men without turning their backs.

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Statue of Wounded Amazon.  After Phidias.

In 102 BC a battle between the Romans and the Teutonic Ambrones (of Jutland possibly) at Aquae Sextae, was described by Plutarch as a fight no less firce with the women as the men. The women charging the Roman troops with swords. In 101 BC the Roman general Marius fought the Teutonic Cimbrians of Jutland origin. The Cimbrian women fought by shooting arrows from ‘waggon castles’ and in the field with swords. After the death of all the Cimbrian men the women continued to fight to the death. In the 1st century AD Tacitus wrote that Triaria, wife of Lucius Vitellus, armed herself with a sword and behaved with arrogance and cruelty at the captured city of Tarracina (southeast of Rome). in 63 AD Tacitus recorded in his Annals that women of rank had entered the gladiatorial arena. Moreover, in 100 AD Juvenal wrote that a gladiatrix called Eppia of southern Syria battled with the Romans. In 378 the Roman Empress Albia Dominica organised the defence of Rome against the invading Goths.

4.  Women in Ancient Warfare

Women warriors are known from the archaeological record. In 1997 the earliest known female warrior burial mounds were excavated in southern Russia. They were buried with swords, daggers, saddles and arrowheads. From the 6th century BC to the 4th century BC women buried with weapons have been found located on the Kazakhstan and Russian border. Graves of women warriors dating from the 3rd century BC have been found near the Sea of Azov. In 2004 the 2000 year old remains (1st century AD) of an Iranian female warrior with a sword were found in the north-western city of Tabriz. Moreover, some 20% of Scythian-Sarmatian ‘warrior graves’ on the Lower Don and Lower Volga contained females dressed for battle in the same manner as men. Elsewhere, in 2006, a Moche woman was buried with two ceremonial war clubs and twenty-eight spear throwers. This south American grave from Peru was the first known burial of a Moche woman to contain weapons.

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Departure of the Amazons (1620).  Claude Deruet.

Women warriors are found among the myths and folktales of the peoples of India. King Vikramaditiya dreams of the man-hating princess Matiayavati. There are warrior women examples from Arabia, England, and among the Makurep of upper Guapore River in Brazil. On Kodiak Island in Alaska the Konig Inuit have many tales of warrior women. The Dahomey Amazons or Mino are all an female regiment in the Kingdom of Dahomey (now Benin) which lasted until the end of the 19th century, and were founded around 1645 to 1685. The Shield Maidens were warrior women in Scandinavian folklore and often mentioned in sagas. The Valkyries may have been based on the Shield maidens. In the Greek epics Amazons exist in order to be fought and defeated my men in the Amazon-battle or Amazonamachy. Amazons of Greek tradition are briefly mentioned in the Irish Labor Gabala or Book of Invasions. The characters cited are more often in the role of female martial arts teachers such as Aife, Scathach and Buanann. In Russia there were the Slavic Polenitsa or the female warriors led by Vlasta.

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A Mino female warrior from Dahomey

Women warriors, or Amazons, are a characteristic feature of Sarmatian culture. Herodotus and Hippocrates both claimed that they were the descendants of Amazons who mated with Scythians and that it was the Sarmatians who turned their women into warriors and huntresses. Sarmatian women were active in military campaigns as well as social life. Archaeological evidence shows the burial of armed Sarmatian women in 25% of excavations, usually with their bows. Warrior maiden burials are found in Scythia under kurgans in the Altay mountain region and Sarmatia. From 460 to 370 BC was the time of Hippocrates who wrote of the Sauromati and Scythian women fighting battles. For example, in the 4th century Amage, a Sauromatian queen, attacked a Scythian prince who was making incursions into her protectorates. She rode to Scythia with 120 female warriors whereupon she killed him, his guards, family and children. The Sauromati and Sarmati can be identified with some of the tribes in the Caucasus. Again, it was Herodotus who distinguished between the Scythians west of the Don and the non-Scythians to the east. These Scythians were the main Caucasus chain tribes, the Gelai and Legai. The northern slope tribes are the Legasians and possibly Chechents.

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Queen Penthesilea with her bow.

5.  Religious Cults and the Amazons

In central Greece the tombs of Amazons are frequent. They are found in Megara, Athens, Chaeronea, Chalais, Thessaly at Scotussa, and Cynocephalia. Moreover, in Athens, there was an annual sacrifice to the Amazons, on the day before the Thesea. It is possible that the Amazons who overran Asia Minor were also priestesses of the Great Goddess as well as the celebrants and initiates of her cults. Whether they belong to the realm of mythology or represent literal history, most likely both, the Amazons bequeathed an indisputable effect on classical literature. The ancient and primitive form of worship was the aniconic reference to idols and symbols not in human or animal form. This preceded the worship of anthropomorphic deities. For example, the worship of Cybele in the form of a black stone at Pessinus in Phrygia is an aniconic survival. Indeed, in later mythology, Aphrodite is a love goddess but originally a war goddess.

The worship of the Great Mother of Phrygia as Cybele is germane to the study of Amazon religion. The Amazons were worshippers of the Mother known both as Rhea and Cybele. In Phrygia (west central Anatolia) the rites of the Cretan Mother were introduced and established at Pessinus where she was known as Dindymene. Appollonius showed the Amazons practising a ritual that was similar to that at Pessinus where they venerated a black stone in an open temple on an island of Samothrace off the coast off the coast of Colchis (modern western Georgia). The Amazons consecrated the island of Samothrace to the Mother of the Gods. The worship of Phrygian Cybele was in Samothrace. The goddess in Samothrace is closely allied to the form of Cybele – hence the consecration. In Lemnos the Great Goddess is the Thracian bendis, the fierce huntress of two spears who entered the Greek pantheon as the Thracian Artemis being closely allied to Cybele and Hecate. The cult of Cybele seems to have been indigenous in Phyrygia and Lydia. Hippolyte and her Amazons set up a bretas (old wooden effigy of Artemis) at Ephesus. They then established a an annual circular dance with weapons and shields.

6.  Amazon Matriarchy and Social Life

Matriarchy and its message were used by Bachofen (1815-1887) to prove the existence of prehistoric matriarchy. It is known that women hunters and warriors are frequently found in folktale and myth. The Amazons accepted the leadership of an elected Queen, Hippolyta among them, whilst they conducted raids in Asia Minor and nearby islands (which indicates a seafaring capability). As such they were accomplished horse riders and skilled archers. In peaceful times these warrior women built their gracious capital of Themiscyra as well as cultivating their lands and hunting. Sarmatian warrior women hunted on horseback alongside their husbands and took to the battlefield in times of war. They wore the same attire as their men and adopted the maxim that no girl shall marry until she has killed a man in battle.

These Amazon women displayed the cultural and social practices consistent among Sauro-Sarmatian nomads. Their main occupations were hunting and fighting with their bows and their Amazonian crescent -shaped shields, axes and spears. All were skilled horse riders. According to Herodotus the women of the Sauromati did not constitute a separate people like the Thermodon Amazons. As nomads the Sarmatians had no fixed habitation. Nonetheless, they still had a defined social organisation that divided them into nobles, vassals, and many slaves. Social stratification is evident in the Ural burial sites. The domestic status of Sarmatian women was reduced and they were little better than slaves in the matrimonial home. With regard to marriage they were divided into exogamous tribes for marriage purposes, with marriage within the tribe seen as incestuous. Despite their ferocious warlike attitudes to tribal enemies these Sarmatian women did all the outdoor work. They tended the sheep, ploughed and reaped the land, herded the cattle, but when attacked they fought as savagely as the men.

The Sauro-Sarmatian warrior nomads practised the typical clan and tribal cults of pre-Zoroastrian Iran. Their personified deities were those of nature, the sky, the earth, and fire. Some of the cult practices may have been inversions (reversal of gender roles) of ritual initiations reserved for maidens. Their deities were related to social concepts pertaining to war or the domestic hearth. With regard to burials fire cult practices are in evidence, and Sarmatian graves are representative of a military oriented nomadic existence. Social stratification and a more defined class structure developed and was accelerated by contact with Greek and Roman trade, industry, and agriculture.

Annually, due to biological necessity, Amazon virgin maidens would visit the nearby Gargareans. They mated with the men and returned home to bear their children. This was to prevent the extinction of the Amazon nation. Female offspring were brought up and trained in the martial arts, riding, hunting, and agriculture. Males were either returned to the Gargareans, slaughtered, maimed, or blinded. Greek mythology has versions that aver that no men were allowed to have either sexual encounters or live in Amazon territory. This explains the Amazon custom to obtain offspring by meetings at certain seasons with men of another tribe.

7.  Amazons in Mythology and Folklore

In Homer’s Iliad the Amazons were called Antineira or those who fight like men. Amazons appear during the Greek Archaic period in representative art connected to several legends. Also in the Iliad amazons are killed in combat by Bellerophon after invading Lycia, the defeat occurring at the river of Sangerias (near Pessinus). Queen Myrine led her Amazons to victory in Libya and Gorgon but her tomb is outside Troy. Amazons attacked the Phrygians who were aided by Priam, which did not prevent them taking his side against the Greeks at Troy. Antiope died fighting alongside Theseus after which he marries the Amazon Queen Hippolyta. The Amazons also mounted an expedition against the island of Leuke, at the mouth of the Danube, where the ashes of Achilles were placed by Thetis. There are numerous legends that connect the Amazons with founding places in Ionia.

amazon-and-centaur

Amazon and Centaur (1901).  Franz Stuck.

In ancient Greek mythology there are a number of conflicting lists of Amazons. There are the warriors attendant on Queen Penthesilea which include Clonie, Derinoe, Polemusa, Thermodora, Evandre, Atandre, Antilorote, Bremusa, Alcibe, Hippothoe, Derimacheia, and Homothoe. Other Amazons include Ainaan (or ‘swiftness’) and one of the twelve who went to the Trojan War. Antibrote was another at Troy, as was Cleite, whose ship was blown off course and she landed in Italy to found Clete. Another Amazon was ntiope, and Antinera, the successor to Queen Penthesilea and who is known for ordering the crippling and castration of her male servant on the basis that the lame best perform the sex act. It was Queen Hippolyta who owned the magic girdle given to her by her father Ares. Queen Thalestris is the Amazon mentioned in the Alexander the Great legend. Asteria was another and the sixth killed by Heracles. Another, Helene, the daughter of Tityrus, fought Achilles and died of wounds inflicted. Otera was an Amazon who, as the consort of Ares, was the mother of both Hippolyta and Penthesilea. Melanippe was also a sister of Hippolyta who was captured by Heracles who then demanded Hippolyta’s magic girdle in return for her freedom, whereupon she complied.

Pentesilea_by_Arturo_Michelena

Penthesilea.  Arturo Michelena

The Amazons were said to have come into contact with the Argonauts of Jason who landed at Lemnos on their ay to Cholchis. They found Lemnos inhabited entirely by women with Queen Hypsipyle. They called the island Gynaekokratume which means ‘reigned by women’. The Amazons met Jason and his crew in full battle array as they were wont to kill male visitors.

One of the tasks or labours imposed on Heracles by Eurystheus was to obtain the magic girdle of the Amazon queen Hippolyta. This ninth labour resulted in another Amazonomachy whereby the Amazons attacked Heracles in force, thereby reaching Attica and besieged him at Athens. Heracles was joined by Theseus who came to help defeat the Amazon invasion as told in 6th century BC. A great battle took place on the date of the later festival called the Boedromia where the Amazons were defeated. A ritual ceremony in Pyanopsion has been interpreted as a sacrifice to Amazon dead. Theseus carried off princess Antiope, sister of Hippolyta, after the battle. In a poem in the Epic Cycle the Amazons, led by their queen Penthesilea who, according to Quintus Smynaeus, was of Thracian birth, came to aid Priam in the Trojan War after the death of Hector. This Penthesilea was a daughter of Ares, the Amazon deities being Ares and Artemis, but she was killed by Achilles. Achilles also kills Thyrsites because he alleged Achilles loved Penthesilea.

PenthesileaTischbein

The Death of Penthesilea. (1828). J. H. W. Tischbein

8.  A Chronology of Female Warriors

There are numerous and world wide examples of Amazons and women warriors both historically as well as in mythology, legend and folklore. Many goddesses have mythological origins portraying them as warriors and huntresses. Today the role of these women warriors or Amazons often remains embedded in many cultures even if disguised by the passage of time. Despite added layers of new legends the ideals and myths still cannot be obscured totally. From this palimpsest it is possible to create a timeline and geographical origin of Amazons and women warriors as characters and individuals in myth, legend, folklore and history.

wounded-amazon-1904

Wounded Amazon (1903).  Franz Stuck

In ancient Egypt circa 1600 BC Ahh0tep battled with the Hyksos thereby facilitating the re-unification of Egypt and thereupon founded a matriarchal lineage and dynasty. She was buried with military medals symbolising her valour in battle. In mythology Sekhmet was a warrior goddess depicted as a lioness. In the 3rd century BC Queen Berenice I of Egypt fought alongside Ptolemy. Berenice II participated in a battle and killed several enemies, and Ladodice I fought Ptolemy III Eurgetes. In 48 BC Arsinoe IV fought Cleopatra VII.

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Berenice

In China during the 1200’s BC Lady Fu Hao consort of W Ding, king of China, led 3000 men into battle. Further campaigns with 13,000 troops and important generals under her command, she became the most powerful military leader of her time. Many weapons were unearthed from her tomb. In the 5th century BC the Lady of Yue trained soldiers of the army of King Goujian of Yue. During the early 3rd century BC  Huang Guigu acted as a military official under Qin Shi Huang and led military campaigns against people of northern China. Between 14 and 18 AD Lu Mu led a rebellion against Wang Mang, and during the 4th century AD Li Xiu took her father’s place as military commander and defeated a rebellion. Hua Mulan was a legendary Chinese woman who went to war disguised as a man and was ta war for years without being found out.

Hua_Mulan

Hua Mulan

Trieu Au has been described as the Vietnamese Joan of Arc and her female general was Le Chan, whereas the woman Bui Thi Xuan was a general who died in 1802. In India between 1200 and 1000 BC the Rig Veda mentions a female warrior named Vishpala, who lost a leg in battle, had an iron prosthesis made and returned to warfare. Chand Bibi (1550-1599) was an Indian Muslim woman warrior, and Bibi Dalair Kaur was a 17th century Sikh woman who fought against the Moghuls. Mai Bhago was a Sikh woman warrior who fought against the Moghuls in 1294. In Aztec mythology Izpapalotl is a fearsome skeletal warrior goddess. In Brazil Maria Quiteria dressed as a man and enlisted in the ndependence forces. Anna Garibaldi fought in the Farrupilla revolution , and Maria Rosa, a 15 year old girl fought in the Contestado War. In Arabia, circa 740 BC, Zabibe was a queen who led armies as did Samsi her possible successor who revolted against Liglath-Pilesor around 720 BC. In the early 7th century AD al-Kahina was a female Berber religious and military leader and led the resistance to Arab expansionism in Numidia (north west Africa) and died in modern day Algeria.

According to the legendary history of Britain Queen Gwendolen, in 1000 BC, fought her husband Locrinus for the throne of Britain and defeated him. In 700 BC the legendary Queen Cordelia fought her nephews for control of her kingdom and personally fought in battle. In the 1st century AD Cartamandua, queen of the Brigantes allied with the Romans and battled other Britons. Also in the 1st century AD Agrippina the Younger, wife of the Emperor Claudius commanded Roman legions in Britain. In AD 61 Boudicca led a massive uprising against occupying Roman forces who rallied their men saying there were more women than men in her army. Boudicca (Boadicea) was also referred to, according to Holinshed’s Chronicles of 1577, as Bonduca. In the 3rd century AD two women warriors from the Danube

BOUDICCA IN HER CHARIOT-ILLUSTRATION

Boudicca in her Chariot

region, described as Amazons , served in a Roman military unit and are buried in Britain. Scathach (‘The Shadowy One’) was the legendary Scottish woman warrior, magician, and prophetess, daughter of Ardgamm, who ran a warrior academy in Ulster. In the Ulster Cycle she trained young heroes including Cuchulain in the arts of combat and fighting. Aife was a similar warrior. She was also known as or called Scathach n Aanaind, as well as Scathach Buanand – which means ‘victorious’, as well as Skatha. Cuchalain was trained by her in Alba in northwest Britain opposite Ireland. The Celts held to the view that only women could teach the skills of battle to men effectively.

Scathach

Scathach on the Isle of Skye

A number of women warriors clashed with Alexander the Great during his campaigns. In the 4th century BC his half-sister accompanied her father on a military campaign and killed the Ilyrian leader named Caeria in hand-to-hand combat. Also in the 4th century BC Roxana was captured during a battle by Alexander and eventually married him. In 334 BC Ada of Caria allied with Alexander and led the siege to reclaim her throne, and in 333 BC Queen Stateira and her family were captured by Alexander at the battle of Issus. She eventually married him. In 334 BC Herodotus recorded the Iranian queen Tomyris of the Massegetae fighting and defeating Cyrus the Great.

In 480 BC Artemisia of Caria and queen of the Halicarnassus participated in the Battle of Salamis and in the same year the Greek diver Hydna and her father sabotaged enemy ships before a critical battle. In 318 BC Eurydice III of Macedon fought Polyperchon and Olympias. Between 315 and 308 BC Cratespolis commanded an army of mercenaries and forced cities to surrender to her, whilst in the late 4th century BC  through to the early 3rd Amastris, wife of Dionysus of Heraclea, conquered four settlements and named them as a new city state. In the 3rd century BC the Spartan princess Arachidamia acted as captain to s group of women warriors who fought Pyrrhus during his siege of Lacedaemon. In 280 BC Chelidonis, another Spartan princess, commanded her women warriors on the walls of Sparta during a siege. She fought with a rope around her neck so she could not be taken alive. In the 2nd century BC Queen Stratonice convinced Docimus to leave his stronghold and her forces took him captive.

According to legend the Nubian queen Candace of Meroe, or Kandake or Candace Amanitore, intimidated Alexander the Great with her armies and her strategy while confronting and making him avoid Nubia. In reality Alexander never got as far south as Nubia. In 170 BC the Meroitic queen Candace Shenakdahkete ruled Nubia and a wall painting in a

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A Relief of Candace of Meroe

chapel in Meroe depicts her wearing a helmet and spearing her enemies. In the 1st century BC the Nubian queen Amanishabheto reigned over Kush or Nubia. A depiction of her pylon tower of a chapel shows her striking the shoulders of prisoners with he lance. In 1900 Yaa Asantewaa, Queen Mother of Ejisu, the Asante Confederacy and now part of Ghana, led the rebellion known as the War of the Golden Stool against British colonialism. In Hausa (Nigeria) history Amina Sukhera (also called Aminatu) was a Muslim princess (circa 1533-1610) in northeast Nigeria who had many military achievements. Oya is the warrior Undergoddess of the Niger River and is a warrior spirit of the wind, lightening, fire and magic.

amina-warrior

An artistic illustration of Amina Sukhera (Aminatu)

In the early 3rd century BC the legendary Empress Jingu of Japan may have led an invasion of Korea, but this may also be a fictional story. In 40 to 43 AD the Trung sisters and Phung Thi Chinh fought against the Chinese in Vietnam. In 248 AD Trieu Thi Trinh also fought the Chinese in Vietnam. Her army contained several thousand men and women warriors. Hangaku Gozen was an onna bugeisha or woman warrior, as was Tomoe Gozen (1157-1247). One Kaihime (born 1572) was said to have fought at the Seige of Odawara and have crushed a rebellion.

In the 3rd century BC Queen Teuta began piracy against Rome and eventually fought against Rome when they attempted to stop the piracy. Sophonisba, a Carthaginian, committed suicide rather than be handed over to the Romans as a prisoner of war. In 186 BC Chiomara, a princess of Gaul, was captured in battle between Rome and Gaul and was raped by a centurion. After a reversal she later ordered her assailant beheaded by her companions and delivered his head to her husband in recompense. In the 2nd century BC a Queen

250px-Giambattista_Pittoni-Sophonisba

The Death of Sophonisba by Giambattista Pittoni (1730’s)

Rhodogune of Parthia was informed of a rebellion and waged a war to suppress it. In the 2nd century AD Queen Tania of Dardania took over the throne after the death of her husband and went into battle riding in a chariot. Joanna of Flanders (1295-1374) known also as Jehanne de Montfort and Jeanne La Flamme  organised the defence and fought

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Jeanne Hachette or Joan the Hatchet.

in the siege of Hennebont.  Jeanne Hachette (b 1456( was a French herine known as Joan the Hachet. Joan of Arc was militarily engaged during the Hundred Years war in France. In the 19th century Emilia Plater was the Polish-Lithuanian commander in the uprising against Russia.

Sources consulted

Abercromby, J.  (1891).  An Amazonian Custom in the Caucasus.  Folklore.  Vol II (2).

Bennet, F. M.  (1912).  Religious Cults Associated with the Amazons.

Carpenter, T. H.  (1996).  Art and Myth in Ancient Greece.  Thames & Hudson, London.

Davis-Kimball, J.  (2007).  Warrior women of Eurasia.  Archaeology, 50 (1).

Kirk, I.  (1987).  Images of Amazons: marriage and matriarchy.  In Macdonald, S. et al.

Macdonald, S. et al. (1987).  Images of Women in Peace and War.  Macmillan, Oxford.

Rothery, G. C.  (1915).  The Amazons.  Senate Books, London. New Edition (1995).

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Filed under Volume 1

Prehistoric Art and Totemic Belief, Shamanism and Fertility Ritual

 Chauvet_cave,_paintings_01

Chauvet Cave: Four aurochs and two rhinoceros

1.  Introduction

2.  Chronology , distribution, and nature of Palaeolithic art

                a.  Chronology

                b.  Geographical distribution

                c.  Ecological Perspective

                d.  Nature of Palaeolithic art

3.  Totemism

                a.  Theory and definition

                b.  Totemism and cave art

                c.  Totemism and mobiliary art

                d.  Sympathetic and hunting magic

4.  Shamanism

                a.  Theory and definition

                b.  Shamanism and cave art

                c.  Shamanism and mobiliary art

                d.  Initiation and ‘Rites of Passage’

5.  Fertility Ritual and the Cult of Earth and Animals

                a.  Theory and definition

                b.  Fertility and cave art

                c.  Fertility and mobiliary art

                d.  Palaeolithic belief and myth

6.  Discussion and Summary

References and Sources Consulted                                                                                                                                                          

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Dedicated to my son William Frederick Edwards (1975-2009),

in memory of,  and gratitude for, the years we knew and shared.

Image (256)

Figure 1. 

Altamira, Spain. A bison circa 12,000 BC.

Part of a procession of Bison (Bison priscus) along a rock wall. The Altamira caves contain the masterpieces of the Ice Age Style and here shows the ponderous strength achieved through  economical drawing with imaginative impressionistic colouring. These fine paintings of Upper Magdalenian date are the “…period of the great polychromes…the frequency of his portraits no animal has held in higher estimation.” (Riddell, 1942). Source: Lommel (1966).

Introduction

 Archaeological evidence of parietal (cave) art and mobiliary (portable) art can be analysed in terms of totemic belief, shamanic practice, and fertility ritual during the European Upper Palaeolithic. Such art may have had the multiple purpose of magical intentions, clan and tribal solidarity, and mythically interpreted relationship with the natural and supernatural worlds. Firstly a brief outline of Palaeolithic chronology and cultural sequences will be correlated with, and complemented by, an introduction to the geographical distribution of parietal and mobiliary art in Europe, followed by an outline of Palaeolithic ecology, and the nature of Palaeolithic art. There follows an introduction to totemism in relation to Palaeolithic art. -Thence to an introduction to shamanism in relation to Palaeolithic art, followed by an outline of fertility ritual in relation to Palaeolithic art. Cave art will be discussed in terms of totemic belief, shamanistic practice, and fertility ritual. Portable art will be discussed in terms of totemism, magical ritual, and fertility cults. Finally a summary will attempt to encapsulate the archaeological evidence for Palaeolithic belief and myth within the clan and tribal structure of Upper Palaeolithic human beings.

2.  Chronology, distribution, and nature of Palaeolithic art

2 a.  Chronology

The Palaeolithic period began in Europe circa 750,000 BP and endured until the end of the last Ice Age circa 10,000 BP (Gamble, 1996). The Palaeolithic is conventionally divided into three periods, the Lower, Middle, and Upper. The Lower and Middle periods were from 750,000 to 40,000 BP, during which time early hominids had reached Europe from Africa – by 150,000 BP the dominant type was Homo sapiens neanderthalensis, with their Middle Palaeolithic stone tool industry known as the Mousterian.

The Upper Palaeolithic, 40,000 to 10,000 BP was colder and more inhospitable than modern-day Europe with the coldest period between 20,000 and 18,000 BP (Sainz, 2004), and when modern Homo sapiens (Cro-Magnon man) replaced the Neanderthals in Europe. The early European Palaeolithic is associated with deteriorating climatic conditions – weak oscillations in temperature within the glacial environment enabled herds of reindeer, bison, horse, mammoth, woolly rhinoceros, and red deer to roam rich steppes and tundra of the mid-latitudes. After 30,000 BP the worsening climate led to major ice sheets expanding over Scandinavia, the Alps, the Pyrenees and the Carpathians, with large glaciers in mountainous areas and an ice-bound northern Europe (Sainz, 1004). The glacial expansion of the Upper Palaeolithic reached a maximum around 20,000 to 18,000 with de-glaciation starting circa 16,000 BP.

The Upper Palaeolithic or Late Pleistocene (Lawson, 1991) is divided into four industries – Chatelperronian (from 35,000 BP), Aurignacian (from 32,000 BP), Gravettian (from 27,000 BP), Solutrean (from 22,000 BP), and Magdalenian from 19,000 to 10,000 BP (Lawson, 1991). The Solutrean is named after the type site of Solutre at Saone-et-Loire in France, with thousands of horse bones found dating from the Upper Aurignacian or Gravettian (Lissner, 1961). Other fossils included cave bear (extinct by 40,000 BP), reindeer, wild cattle, and mammoth, as well as fine flint tools. The Solutrean culture is found in southwest France and Hungary, whereas the Late or Upper Solutrean is exclusive to northwest Spain. Bows and arrows date from the Cantabrian period of the Solutrean culture and, apart from Roc de Sers (Angouleme, Charente) the Solutrean is poor in art. The Late Upper Palaeolithic, dating from 20,000 to 10,000 BP, was a period when refugee populations abandoned northern areas for southwest France (Gamble, 1996). The Magdalenian of the Upper Palaeolithic derived from the western Gravettian and included miniaturised stone tools, and emerged around 20,000 BP with an increase in art and ornament. However, in France the Chatelperronian and Gravettian are also termed the Lower and Upper Perigordian, whereas in Spanish Cantabria, French Chatelperronian, Aurignacian and Gravettian are known as the Upper Palaeolithic, the Late with Solutrean and Magdalenian (Lawson, 1991), with the Final Palaeolithic in Spain equating with the last Magdelanian and post-glacial industries elsewhere.  The chronological framework shows overlapping and sequential prehistoric  cultures in Upper Palaeolithic Spain and France, with the French Upper Palaeolithic from 33,000 to 21,000 BP comprising two alternating and sometimes contemporary cultures known as the Aurignacian and Upper Perigordian (Jochim, 1983).

The Magdelanian tool industry (18,000 to 10,000 BP) is “…associated with the period when cave painting flourished” (Gamble, 1996), therefore during the last stages of the Wurm glaciations the European Palaeolithic hunter groups developed the first artistic cycle (Sainz, 2004). The Aurignacian is named after Aurignac in France, the Perigordian after the Perigord region, and the Magdalenian after the type site of La Madeleine near Les Yyzies. Carbon dates for the Tito Bustillo layers in Spain gave 13,000 BP approximately, whereas Reseau Rene Clastres – part of the Niaux cave complex – gave two dates of 10,000 and 5000 BP. In 1985 carbon 14 dates for Cougnac in France gave 12,350 BP.

2 b.  Geographical distribution 

Caves are created by the scouring action of underground rivers and are often found in limestone, therefore there is no generality in cave form and size. Some caves occur in mountainous areas such as Covalanas in Spain, or near sea level such as Tito Bustillo and El Pindal in Spain. Parietal art, such as at Fontanet in the Upper Ariege valley, is therefore limited to areas where rock shelters and caves occur. These Ice Age caves are therefore clustered in particular regions, for example Perigord and the Pyrenees, their art spanning the whole of the Upper Palaeolithic with most dates in the latter part of the Ice Age – especially the Magdalenian (Renfrew & Bahn, 2000).

Twelve sites have been located in Italy and Sicily and only one in Romania at Cuciulat, with only one at Kapavaia in the southern Ural  mountains. However, 172 sites have been found in France with concentrations in the Dordogne and Lot area (64), with 41 sites in the central Pyrenees. Another great concentration occurs at the confluence of the Dordogne and Vezere – Le Beaune – there are 11 decorated shelters and 7 sites in the western Pyrenees form part of the extension of the Cantabrian mountains of northern Spain. In southern and central Spain there are the cave locations of Parpallo, Los Ardales, La Pileta, and Cueva del Ninos, which are part of the 110 sites found in the Iberian Peninsula (with only one in Portugal). Some 82 sites occur in north Spain with 35 in Asturias, 39 in Cantabria, and 8 at Pais Vasco and Navarra. The five most important cave art sites in Cantabria are in the labrynthine complex beneath Monte Castillo outside Puente Viesgo near Santander. There are no decorated cave sites in Britain.

The cave site of Altamira, near Santillana del Mar, was discovered in 1868 and the credit for the recognition of Palaeolithic cave art given to Don Marcelino Sanz de Sautuola, who visited the site in 1876. La Mouthe was discovered at Les Eyzies in 1895, paintings at Niaux in the Pyrenees before 1895, with extensive decorated caves at Marsoulas in 1897. Louis Capitan, Denis Peyrony, and Abbe Henri Breuil published their discovery of the Dordogne caves at Les Combarelles and Font de Guame in 1901. Further dated discoveries in France and Spain (Lawson, 1991) include Bernifal (1903), Teyjat (1903), La Calevie (1903), La Greze (1904), and Cap Blanc (1909) in the Dordogne; El Castillo (1903), Hornos de la Pena (1903), Covalanas (1903), La Loja (1908) and La Pasiega (1911) in northern Spain; Gargas (1904), Niaux (1906), Le Portel (1908), Le Tuc d’Audoubert (1912) and Les trios Freres (1914) in the Pyrenees. Up to the present day decorated caves are still to be found including Lascaux (1940), Le Gabillou (1940), Cougnac (1952), Las Monedas (1952), Las Chimeneas (1953), and Rouffinac in 1956. Recent Spanish discoveries appear to the most accomplished and include Altxerri (1962), Tito Bustillo (1968), Ekain (1969), Cueva del Ninos (1970), and Zubialde (1990), with more recently Grotte de Cosquer (1991), located in Provence near Marseille, Grotte Chauvet (1994), and Coa Valley (1994) rock engravings in Portugal (Lawson, 1991; Clottes, 1998).

The cave at Combarelles in the Dordogne is 726 feet long and its drawings some 350 feet from the entrance, whereas the cave at La Pisiega (Spain) is 726 feet long (Lewis, 1969). The La Pisiega cave is entered by a hole, in the floor entrance of the outer cave, which leads to a labyrinth of richly painted walls in the last chamber. The cavern at Niaux stretches 4,000 feet into the mountain, and that at Les Trois Freres contains the famous image of the so-called ‘sorcerer’. The cave at Tuc d’Audoubert contains a dangerous stream plus clay modelled animals and horses, a central clay model of a bear, horse models pierced with arrows and spears and a scene possibly connected with hunting magic. Most of the caves are water-coursed limestone cavers, the inner recesses difficult to access and requiring negotiation of chasms, waterfalls, narrow fissures, and perilous eerie galleries as at Font de Gaume, La Pisiega, Tuc d’Audoubert, and Montespan (Hawkes, 1965). Into these sanctuaries, the one-time haunt of cave bears and lions, Palaeolithic Cro-Magnon people slipped, crawled and scrambled, to penetrate these dark and mysterious passages (Lewis, 1969). In 1991 at Grotte Cosquer 145 images of bison, horses, and great auk were found, drawn in black charcoal and from 18,000 years BP, with the handprints of 25,000 BC, the cave described as a “…painted sanctuary in the earth.” (Krupp, 1997). Chauvet cave, discovered in 1994, is situated on the Ardeche river in south west France, and contains 300 images of bison, mammoths, horses, and woolly rhinoceros (Krupp, 1997). In adition there are lions, bears, aurochs, reindeer, leopards and owls.

Paintings and engravings from the Upper Palaeolithic are almost entirely limited to southwest and western Europe in three main regions – southwest France (Dordogne, Coreze, Vienne), north Pyrenees (Ariego, Haute Garonne, west of Tarascon), and north Spain (Cantabrian mountains west of Bilbao) – with other traditions with Mediterranean links such as Parpallo, the Rhone Valley, Italy, and Sicily (Hawkes, 1965), as well as Malaga, Guadalajara. Cave art occurs only in exceptionally on the walls of inhabited caves, such as Cap Blanc, Angles-sur-l’Anglin, and Pair-non-Pair. Every cave is different as some have only one figure but others, such as Lascaux, have hundreds (Renfrew, 2000). This is not the case for mobiliary art. The distribution of figurines is different and which extends eastwards as far as Siberia – some are works of art such as the ‘Venuses’ of Lespugues, Willendorf, and Brassempouey, whereas others are cult objects or fetishes. They do not occur in Africa. Portable or mobiliary art is found therefore from partogal and north Africa to Siberia and is distributed geographically differently to cave or parietal art, with very few decorated caves found in central Europe (Bahn, 1996). 

2 c.  Ecological perspective 

The Aurignacian witnessed the beginning of art in a portable form and developed into the decorated cave walls of France and Spain at such locations as Altamira, Gargas, Trois Freres, Le Portel, Cabrerets, and Font-de-Gaume (Lissner, 1961). The analysis of Palaeolithic art is characterised by its changing temporal and spatial distribution, because mobiliary and parietal art may “…represent manifestations of different social responses to processes and climatic deterioration, population movement, and economic change.” (Jochim, 1983). Not only was Upper Palaeolithic art “…embedded in social and economic process…” (Gamble, 1996), but as shown by southwest France there existed in the Late Pleistocene a “…range of topographic features universally attributed with social and symbolic meanings by modern hunters and gatherers.” (Carmichael, 1994). Upper Palaeolithic hunters and gatherers inhabited a landscape imbued with symbolic meaning (Mithen, 1998), and a sequence from increased economic production leading to a shift in social organisation and the development of Upper Palaeolithic art that “…formed part of a wider system of social knowledge…served through ritual to sanction many varied patters of social interaction and economic production.” (Gamble, 1996).

During the French Upper Palaeolithic large herds of herbivores roamed the landscape and these therefore fluctuated in abundance with Later Pleistocene climate changes (Jochim, 1983). There is good evidence that horses, reindeer and elk were all hunted, but there is so far “…no evidence for hunting of mammoth, woolly rhinoceros or other large mammals.” (Stuart, 1988). The mammoth, woolly rhinoceros, giant deer (Megacerops), cave bear were all entirely extinct by 10,500 years ago. The rhinoceros Dicerorhinus hemitoechus survived until 20,000 BP from around 120,000 BP. This one world, this one environment, demonstrated an indissoluble relationship that embraced animals, plants, and humans (Mithen, 1998), a world that around 25,000 BP, underwent a series of simultaneous demographic and environmental processes. These were (1) deterioration of climate stsrt of main glacial phase, (2) abandonment by humans of northern European fringes, (3) a resulting impoverishment of central European resources and the virtual abandonment of the region, and (4) the influx of the refugee population into the south-western European area (Jochim, 1983). Dramatic shifts in human hunter-gatherer populations therefore occurred as a result of the maximum European glacial expansion, forcing many to migrate southwest and for others either low density persistence or extinction with little now visible archaeologically.

Upper Palaeolithic populations would have lived in groups of 12 to 30 age ranged members and “…these groups may have formed larger tribes of up to a thousand individuals.” (Hawkes, 1965), surviving in a hunter-gatherer landscape that was “…socially constructed and full of meaning.” (Mithen, 1998), a landscape saturated with personal powers in which all humans and animals moved and the social and natural world the one and the same. It was in this milieu that cave and rock shelters were covered in paintings and there developed anthropomorphic images. In both Old and New Worlds there developed a system of clans which “…may or may not coincide  with the group hunting together.” (Hawkes, 1965), which linked to greater population mobility and contact, and periodic group aggregation led to “…fundamental changes in social arrangements and mating networks.” (Jochim, 1983).  Mobiliary art was widespread throughout Europe whereas cave art was restricted mainly to northern Spain and southwest France and, furthermore, this art has to be seen in terms of its “…functions within cultural systems dependent upon co-operative hunting of herds of big game animals” (Jochim, 1983), as well as its development in the context of fluctuations in the environment.

 2 d.  Nature of Palaeolithic art

Upper Palaeolithic art comprised two forms – mobiliary consisting of engraved and sculptured objects and parietal cave decorations (Leroi-Gourhan, 1968). Palaeolithic art has to be located within its cultural and chronological context through the Solutrean of 21,000-17,000 to the Magdalenian of circa 10,000 BP (Jochim, 1983), with parietal art isolated from other archaeological materials whereas portable art is associated with archaeological deposits. Dating for parietal art is therefore problematic. Even though cave art is not generally found directly linked with datable archaeology it is however only associated with sapiens (Homo sapiens (Waechter, 1976). Cave art is primarily associated with parietal or wall art of the Upper Palaeolithic, and is generally divided into two categories parietal and portable or mobiliary, but in reality both are “…two ends of a continuous range of expression.” (Bahn, 1998). The art of Franco-Cantabrian regions is classified into (1) painting, (2) incising. and (3) relief carving on walls or stones, with some of the finest Magdalenian art found on implements and weapons (Hawkes, 1965). The disappearance over time of paintings and engraving is generally the result of water, humidity, and formation of stalagmitic layers, with surviving images almost always found on resistant calcareous surfaces (Grazioli, 1960).

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Figure 2.

Horse and ibexes and rectangular figures representing traps or nets.

From the caves at Lascaux. Source: Grazioli (1960).

Two theories exist to explain Palaeolithic art of which (1) claims it is purely aesthetic or art for art’s sake, and (2) it is a utilitarian activity connected with magic for hunting and reproduction among animals – however, neither hypothesis is acceptable in extreme form (Grazioli, 1960). In the 1960’s a systematic approach was developed by Leroi-Gourhan (1968) following the lead of Laming-Emperaire (1962). It was argued that paintings formed compositions and represented simple hunting or fertility magic (Renfrew & Bahn, 2000), and that Leroi-Gourhan saw a ‘blueprint’ or mythogram for the way each cave was decorated. Leroi-Gourhan thus attempted to establish a basic thematic unity based on the limited range of animals and clearly intentional layout of the figures (Leroi-Gourhan, 1968; 1978). The source of more traditional views was Abbe Henri Breuil (Breuil & Lantier, 1965) who based his ideas on three assumptions: (1) the painting underneath another is older; (2) painted caves were inhabited continuously with decorations from many periods; (3) since animal and human forms were depicted then it was individual execution for magical purposes (Leroi-Gourhan 1968).  For Breuil there was no evidence of an organised body of thought, paintings were not contemporaneous, and just the result of gradual accumulation. However, paintings and engravings appear throughout caves without apparent order, often superimposed and cancelling each other out (Grazioli, 1960), thereby creating wall palimpsests. Early cave artists therefore had little regard for the work of their predecessors and very commonly engraved or painted on top of earlier work (Waechter, 1976). Techniques used in painting are complex and limited with chromatic scale from black to light yellow through browns to red (Grazioli, 1960).

Almost the whole range of known Pleistocene fauna is represented in cave mobiliary art including seals, birds, snakes, eels, with humans playing a subordinate role (Waechter, 1976). Upper Palaeolithic art had an obsessive concern with large and magnificent beasts of the times (Lewis, 1969), but not just with animal attributes but with mysterious and invisible powers associated with them – the animal is not merely portrayed it is stylised. Animals represented also include mammoth, ibex, reindeer, horses, bears, bison, wild cows, rhinoceros, fish, and some birds (Hawkes, 1965; Cornwall, 1968). Horse and bison are the most common totalling about 60% and concentrated on wall panels, with ibex, mammoth and deer located in peripheral positions (Renfrew & Bahn, 2001), with less common rhinoceros, felines, bears in the cave depths.

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Figure 3

Top: Baton de Commandement, from La Laugerie Basse, engraved with an ibex.  Middle: Bone engraved with a man crawling

up to a bison and a reindeer, from La Laugerie Basse. Bottom: Head of a bear engraved on reindeer bone, from Massat Ariege.

Source: Kuhn (1958).

Engravings or incised drawings are found on rock walls, ivory and bone, exampled by plaquettes and batons de commandment, as with a reindeer head on antler at Saint-Eulalie (Dordogne), the horse at Hornos de la Pena, and engraved aurochs at Trou de Chaleux in Belgium (Lewis, 1969). Bas-reliefs are found in many rock shelters carved on walls or roofs, for example a procession of horses 45 feet long at Le Cap Blanc (Dordogne), reliefs of bison, horses, ox, and a bird’s head at Charanti (Lewis, 1969). Home, portable or mobiliary art comprises figurines of some women as possible fertility symbols, and others portraying ibex, mammoth, bears and horses. They are remarkable representations of natural objects, often with abstract schematic patterns, possibly having magical significance (Hawkes, 1965), with Venus figurines usually found in the litter of ordinary occupation. Carvings in the round are found in many locations including Lourdes and Mas d’Azil. According to Ucko (1969) and Leroi-Gourhan (1978) Palaeolithic cave art underwent stylistic development over time.

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Figure 4.

Upper Palaeolithic carvings.  A. reindeer ivory from Bruniquel. B, horse head on reindeer antler from Mas d’Azil.

C, bird on spear-thrower on reindeer antler from Mas d’Azil.  Source: (Hawkes, 1965).

3.  Totemism

3. a.  Theory and definition

Totemism is a magico-religious system characteristic of tribal society (Thomson, 1978), a system that provides a group with its identity that depends upon a certain intimate and exclusive relationship towards a particular animal or plant (Lewis, 1969). Various definitions have been offered over time and include  “A special class of animals or plants to which a certain group of people pay reverence, assuming a mysterious affinity between themselves and the animal or plant.” (Karsten, 1935), and “…a class of material objects which people regard with superstitious respect, believing that there exists an intimate and altogether special relation with every member of the class.” (Frazer, 1910). Totemism is an institution scattered world-wide and has both social and religious significance (Adam, 1954), with totemism proper practised by hunting peoples such as Amerindians, Australian Aborigines, and some African tribes which “…disappears when agricultural ways of life take over…” (Cooper, 1995). For Amerindians the raven is the Hero-Trickster; the Bear Clan is the most important of the Hopi Indians, the totem of the Ouataouaks, there are bear tribes in California, among the Huron, Iroquoians, and Ute of Colorado; the beaver is totem of the Cayeuse, Creek, Onondaga, Seneca, and Shuswop; the buffalo the totem of the Plains Indians such as Cree, Pawnee, Sioux, and the Mandan Okapi; and there are also deer tribes and clans (Cooper, 1995). The Aborigines of Australia call totemism Kobong and have many totem clans including dingo and Water-Hen. All birds were originally totems and ancestors of all aboriginals in the Dreamtime. In Africa the buffalo is a Bantu totem. The term totem is derived from oteteman, an Objibwa word cognate with the Algonquin dialect and meaning ‘his brother-sister kin’ (Reed, 1986), however it has also been said to mean ‘…supernatural “friend or helper”…’ (Adam, 1954), in essence a belief that the primeval ancestor of the group, or clan, or tribe, was closely related to a particular animal (Lewis, 1969). The whole system of totemic belief reflects social structure, depending on whether hunter-gatherers (Australia) or farmers (Central Africa), and this implies beliefs and mode of thought differ and thus several simultaneous systems exist throughout the world – different places, different times (Levy-Bruhl, 1923).

The understanding of totemism is owed to Elkin, and Spencer and Gillen, for their work among Australian Aborigines (Lewis, 1969), where the totem appears to identify with group unity and solidarity to which it s attached e.g., Kangaroo Men. Controversy and debate still surrounds the validity of the term and concept of totemism. Its study was the core of 19th century social anthropology, with noted protagonists between 1910 and 1950, including Frazer, Radcliffe-Brown, Malinowski (1932), and Levi-Strauss (Mithen, 1988), with a renaissance of totemic studies in the 1970’s (Willis, 1990). Attempts to demolish totemism included Goldenweiser (1937), opposition from anti-evolutionists included Lowie (1940), Kroeber (1948), and Boas (1966), with the subject dismissed as “…speculations which eventuated in the totemic illusion.” (Levi-Strauss, 1962). Opposition to the liquidation of totemic studies came from the evolutionists such as Frazer (1910) and Tylor (1958; 1960). Nonetheless, apart from the view that totemism was irrelevant and only incidental Levi-Strauss still regarded the topic as indispensable for the study of social origins (Reed, 1986).

Totemism was thus divided into three classes, the individual, the social, and the cultic, encompassing a “…philosophy which regards man and nature as one corporate whole…” (Elkin, 1938). Among Australian Aborigines totemism is a religious system in which the group depends on exclusive and intimate relationship with animal or plant for its identity, and such a totem provides the group with its name, secondly this name becomes the visible, external sign of a supernatural force that binds the tribe together, and thereby the totem is considered ancestor of the tribe – a sort of fund of energy out of which all tribe members originate (Lewis, 1969). With Australian and Amerindian totemism we have the we have the most elementary stratum of direct knowledge with the majority of totems being edible species, the origin of which are connected to the food supply (Thomson. 1978). For Australian Aboriginal totemism the totem and the ‘Dreamtime’ are indissoluble because totems “…link people with the non-empirical world and they established a firm foundation for belief in the essential unity between people and their natural environment.” (Berndt, 1970), where in ‘Dreaming’ people and nature are one (Cooper, 1995).

Totemism and taboo (tabu) are inextricably linked and permeate the whole of so-called ‘primitive’ or ‘savage’ society (Reed, 1986), and thus cannot be explained by a single definition. The definition of taboo (Steiner, 1967) is concerned with: (1) social mechanisms of obedience which have ritual significance: (2) specific, restrictive behaviour in dangerous situations; (3) protection of individuals in danger; and (4) protects society from those endangered. recent interpretations have encompassed concepts of purity and contagion, the clean and the unclean, cooked and uncooked (Douglas, 1978; Levi-Strauss, 1962; 1969). In essence taboos function to separate the workaday world from wonder-world, the separation of the sacred from the profane (Evans-Pritchard, 1984). Each clan is akin to its totem species and descended from it and therefore forbidden to eat it (Thomson, 1978), however the taboo is directed against eating not killing, and not eating species of another clan without permission (Spencer & Gillen, 1904; Spencer & Gillen, 1914).

As a rule then clans refrain from eating their totem and, in general as the totem is the guardian and protector of its human counterpart, the totem is also taboo (Harrison, 1977), and thus in a mutual relationship. The first stage of the evolution of totemism was the differentiation into primitive segments or bands, which again divided to gain access to different sources of food (Thomson, 1978), and once integrated as clans according to food supply and shared products were maintained by a taboo. The totem is always taboo, the term totem itself means taboo, thus totemism is the “…absolute, inviolable food taboo…the task of totemism, the earliest social institution.” (Mithen, 1998). Moreover, the totem is not the individual animal but the species as a whole, the most common feature of tribal behaviour towards the totem is the prohibition of the species as food (Adam, 1954).

A totemic group is usually exogamous stipulating that is only permitted to marry into another totemic group (Lewis, 1969). The term ote means a consanguine kinship between uterine brothers and sisters who cannot intermarry (Reed, 1986). and thus totemism is connected to a matrilineal system and therefore clan exogamy. According to Morgan (1907) descent within the ancient gens is through the female line with a supposed ancestor implying a common gentile name. The gens came into being on three main conceptions: (1) bond of kin; (2) pure lineage through female descent, and (3); non-intermarriage between clan members. It is possibly worth distinguishing clans of matrilineal descent (possibly older system) and the gens where offspring belong to the father’s group, and within clans subdivisions of a social, educational, and religious duties to a community, and where invariably “…clans and gens are exogamous.” (Hawkes, 1965).

Totemism has two important characteristics – firstly it is to do with a group and not an individual, and secondly the group is in relation to another group of natural objects, therefore totem means not plant or animal but tribe (Harrison, 1977). Totem thus means tribe or group, whilst totemism is the idea of the unity of a group. Therefore, one human group has a special relation to another group best figured by kinship, unity of blood, expressed in terms of identity (Levy-Bruhl, 1910). It follows that a taboo will be applied on sexual intercourse between men and women belonging to the same totem-kin group (Reed, 1986), and the essence of this totemic taboo also means “…it eradicated any possibility that a kinsman would hunt, kill, or eat another kinsman.” (Reed, 1986). Totemism is the other side of the human and animal coin because it “…involves embedding human groups and individuals within the natural world.” (Mithen, 1998). Totemism is epitomised by tracing descent from non-human species, and for tribal hunters and gatherers operating clan exogamy, the “…study of natural species provided non-literate and pre-scientific groups with a ready-to-hand means of conceptualising relations between groups.” (Willis, 1990).

3 b.  Totemism and cave art

Ice Age artists, with ancestral bonds with certain animals, avoided eating them so paintings are therefore clan emblems (Pearson, 2002), the animals depicted having but a small part in prehistoric diets (Krupp, 1997). A particular totem animal can be an item of group diet. Therefore totemic rituals thought of as maintaining the species to provide food for other groups (Lewis, 1969). In southwest Africa the Bushmen are a totemic hunting people and their pictures are found all over the continent, from the Sahara to Lake Tanganiyika (Leakey, 1936; Adam, 1940). In Transvaal a herd of ostriches, one with bow and arrows and human legs is a huntsman from the ostrich clan? (Thomson, 1978). He is surrounded by both sex onlookers wearing antelope heads which may be the mimetic dance of the ostrich clans (Adam, 1940; Schapera, 1930). Paintings on cave walls show clan members have a strong sense of affinity or identity with clan species, implying that clan elders are ancestor worshipped in totemic form (Landtman, 1938). The ritual identification of animal/human ancestor  of totemic type is “…a man fully identified with an animal, his totem or otherwise, in fertility rites for the increase of the species.” (Hawkes, 1965).

image-257

Figure 5. 

Lascaux, France. Bulls superimposed on an aurochs. Circa 15,000-12,000 BC.

Not as fully modelled as the Altamira images, but appear more spirited. Shows repeated use of same rock walls.

This may represent a totemic animal of a succeeding generation of artists after those who painted the aurochs.

Source: Lommel (1966).

Ritual participation is associated with animal totemism. For many the ‘sorcerer’ is the same realm of ideas as the Lord of the Animals, therefore some supernatural being rather than a man in disguise (Hawkes, 1965; Breuil, 1965). Most pre-literate peoples have a Lord of the Beasts, a protector of game, a “…preserver and patron of the hunting culture.” (Lissner, 1961). The famous image of a fallen man with a bison at Lascaux is a case for both totemic and shamanic practice. The man appears bird-headed while beside him a bird-headed wand, so “…this picture may be of totemic significance, showing the human member and his totemic emblem”. (Hawkes, 1965). The well known ‘bison scene’ in the cave of Lascaux has many different interpretations including “…given a totemistic explanation and interpreted as an initiation scene.” (Hawkes, 1965), also as shamanistic ritual. According to this theory “…the anthropomorphic figure would be a human being (shaman) collapsing in a state of ecstasy.” (Hawkes, 1965).

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Figure 6.

An engraved bison and bison-man at Trois Freres Ariege, France. Magdalenian.

A composition involving hunting magic and shamanic ritual. Source: Sandars (1968).

Strong contenders as totemic animals include the bull, the boar, rhinoceros, mammoth, salmon. The bull is the “…primary symbolic and sacrificial animals of the hunter.” (Cooper, 1992), and has been reverenced and worshipped from earliest times. Boar bones have been ritually placed in graves and caves with the head of special importance, with many ritually interred bones including bear, ox, bison, horse, ibex, woolly rhinoceros, mammoth and hyena.

The salmon is sacred to northern Amerindians. The bear seems especially important when compared to cave bone assemblages of hunted animals. Dances as imitation of animals are found with Amerindians and Australians – the animals usually totems of objects of the hunt including bears, buffalo, deer (Cooper, 1992). The deer is an Amerindian totem animal and the deer-dance a fertility rite for southwest Amerindians. Reindeer sacrifices are made by Lapps, and palaeo-Siberian peoples have a ‘Lord of the reindeer’, whose shamans can take the form of reindeer. Bison are subjects of mask dances and sympathetic magic among Plains Indians. Chauvet Cave is problematic because of the dominance of fearsome animals, 61% of which comprise rhinoceros, lions, mammoths and bears (Chippindale, 1998). Moreover, Aurignacian sites in the Dordogne include three times more dangerous animals than those of Gravettian origin in the same area, therefore concluding that “…the enormous number of dangerous animals at Chauvet is not a unique phenomenon.” (Chippindale, 1998). In terms of totemic belief a more detailed examination of bear cults can be made.

There is sufficient evidence to the extent that the cave bear, mammoth, and other great beasts figured in the minds of their human contemporaries (Matheson, 1942), as Neanderthal or Mousterian man “…associated certain cult-conceptions with the bears he had killed.” (Abel, 1934). Kindred ideas are found in remote parts of the world. The bear is the oldest verifiable sacrificial animal. From earliest times there have been bear-cults. Neanderthal man had sacred shrines of ‘Master Bear’, with bear skulls and bones often interred with human skulls (Cooper, 1992). It is worthy of note that, considering the location of much cave art, in the carnivals of the Pyrenees the bear is still a notable figure. Finds of bear remains “…in more or less clear association with human remains or artefacts are of course numerous.” (Matheson, 1942), and comprise two species – the cave bear (Ursus spelaeus) and brown bear (Ursos arctos). In southern France there are several representations of cave bears from the Aurignacian, but later French Magdalenian pictures only brown bears. The drawings, which are claimed to show erotic symbolism, may indicate that “…Man of the Aurignac period was well as Man of the Madeleine period connected religious and cultic  conceptions with the Cave Bear, and, after its extinction, with the brown bear…” (Abel, 1934). Strange composite animals at Les Trois Freres include bears with heads of wolves and at Montespan a dying sacrificial bear with holes (Grazioli, 1960). Extinction of the cave bear may have been due to human agency but, whatever the cause “…the type of bear generally known as cave bear completely disappeared, but not before leaving a deep impression on the mind of Palaeolithic man.” (Matheson, 1942), with modern indications that bears were powerful totemic symbols.

In Drachenloch Cave near Vattis, Tamina Valley, in Switzerland, several stone chests each containing 4 or 5 bear skulls (all pointing in the same direction, were found (Matheson, 1942), and similar material was found at Petershohle in south Germany, and at Drachenhohle near Mixnitz in Austria. These were explained by Abel (1934) as representing “…skull and long bone sacrifices of Mousterian hunters, which must have been connected with their religious conceptions.” Ancient bear-cults occur among Amerindians, in Iceland, Finland, Siberia, and Japan (Cooper, 1992). In terms of totemism all Siberian shamanistic cultures regard the bear as a mythical ancestor, plus the Amerindian, Finnish, Tartar, Ugarian, Samoyeds, and for Mongols descent is from a woman who had two children by a bear. The bear as ‘Animal Master’ is the sacred animal and instructor of shamans, and bear-gods are often hunter-gods working through shamans. The she-bear symbolises maternal love through hibernation and renewal. For the Inuit the great shaman spirit is the Polar Bear, and for the ‘Bear Sacrifice’ of Ainu of Japan the sacred and sacrificial animal is often treated as kin. For the ancient Greeks the goddess herself was a bear with worship of Artemis in Arcadia as Artemis Brauronia. Early hunters persuade themselves they are not really killing animals but only their bodies and that they come to life again “…if their bones are looked after and treated with the correct magic.” (Lommel, 1966).

3 c.  Totemism and mobiliary art

The people of the Upper Palaeolithic had a rapprochement with their environment and themselves, and this can be seen with the female figurines showing the existence of anthropomorphic imagery in their art (Bahn 1989; Leblanchet, 1989). At Chauvet Cave, circa 30,000 BC, a figure with head and torso of a bison and legs of a human is therefore anthropomorphic thinking reflecting the “…seamless integration between social and natural history.” (Mithen, 1998). Humans as animals, animals as humans suggests totemic ritual and anthropomorphism. The image of an animal with human attributes, or a human descended from a lion, is anthropomorphism reflected in totemic thought.

Mobiliary art is an expression of Palaeolithic mentality with the processions of anthropomorphic figures surrounding bison is a curiously repeated composition (Grazioli, 1960). Some mobiliary engravings on ivory and bone may be indicators of clan membership if worn as neck pendants. In the 7800 year old cemetery at Oleneostrovski Magilnik in Karelia some graves were associated with neck effigies, others with effigies of elks (Mithen, 1998), the clusters of two graves suggesting two groups divided on a totemic clan basis (O’Shea & Zvelebil, 1984, cited by Mithen, 1998). Aurignacians and Magdalenians shaped and carved bone and antler plaques in ways very similar to Australian churingas (Hawkes, 1965).

3 d.  Sympathetic and hunting magic

The classic division of sympathetic magic is into two principles of thought (Frazer, 1978), with (1) like produces like and thus effect resembles cause, and the things once in contact continue to act on each other (Ucko, 1967). The theory of sympathetic magic is based upon a “…proposed relationship of identity between an image and its subject.” (Pearson, 2002), therefore acting on an image equates with acting upon a person or animal represented. For Upper Palaeolithic people there were two major aspects of sympathetic magic – hunting and fertility magic (Ucko, 1967). Magic rests upon the principle “…that by creating the illusion that you can control reality you can actually control it.” (Thomson, 1978). Cave art, as a magico-religious function, served sympathetic magic which (1) depends upon belief that similarity or relationship equates with identity, and (2) that anything down to an image or related part will affect the thing itself (Hawkes, 1965). The three main aims of magical practice are hunting, fertility, and destruction (Pearson, 2002). As a guide to action “…the ideology of magic embodies the valuable truth that the external world can in fact be changed by man’s subjective attitude towards it.” (Thomson, 1978).

Hunting magic, by possessing the image of the desired animal thereby possesses the animal itself (Pearson, 2002), and was applied to great hunted herbivores – bison, horses, aurochs, ibex and deer. Destructive magic was applied to animals dangerous to humans – felines and bears. Upper Palaeolithic images rest upon the premises of sympathetic magic, within the scenario that magical arts have a utilitarian objective in aiding survival (Pearson, 2002), therefore totemic magic is the pictorially dramatic representation of the sacred animal driven by the “…implicit theory of the kinship of all forms of life.” (Thomson, 1978). Hunting involves also a sexual division of labour – with mobile hunters being male (Malinowski, 1913; Bancroft, 1875); females immobile due to pregnancy and lactation (Zuckerman, 1936). With hunting positing a division of labour within matrilineal descent the clan is centred on women with children members of the clan of their birth (Thomson, 1978). As clan membership is determined by descent and reckoned originally through the mother, and this instances matrilineal to patrilineal not the reverse, then matrilineality would preponderate among hunting peoples of ancient times.

Mimetic dance increases the power of the hunter and ceremonies for species propagation are “…performed at the opening of the breeding season at a prescribed spot, called the totem centre, on the hunting ground of the clan to which the totem belongs.” (Thomson, 1978). Clansmen are forbidden to eat but not kill, but there are exceptions, with the headman obliged to eat a little to get the totem inside him to work his magic (Spencer, 1904). The interpretation of Palaeolithic art has been used “…as evidence of beliefs in the efficacy of magic…” (Ucko, 1967), therefore there was Upper Palaeolithic sympathetic magical practice, as well as the allusion, to totemic beliefs. An increase ritual represents the growth of the totem and includes dances by disguised performers who mimic the species, because mimicry of a successful operation is the essence of magic (Thomson, 1978).

Magic is employed to useful animals – reindeer, bison, horse, and hunted for food, plus magic associated with dangerous animals – bear and lion (Grazioli, 1960). Therefore the exteriorisation of art for the “…reproduction of visual reality by the need to attain practical ends.” (Grazioli, 1960). Countless bison, horses, oxen, ibexes, reindeer are engraved or painted with weapons transfixing bodies, arrows and javelins fly around animal figures at Lascaux (Grazioli, 1960). At Niaux animals are painted stuck by arrows, with a carved bison with engraved arrows, another with engraved wounds. At Montespan a horse engraved on clay is pockmarked with spear thrust holes, and images of wounded animals are plentiful. Magic practices are related to capture of prey portraying nets and traps (often painted next to animals) with associated animal figures. In addition hand-prints mean taking possession of prey in connection with animal images.

4.  Shamanism

4 a.  Theory and definition 

Shamans are ritual specialists in hunter-gatherer societies (Lewis-Williams, 2002) who are more potent and important than witch-doctors (Lewis, 1969). Shamanism is a religious practice where there is communication with good and evil spirits through “…a professional class of priest-seers…” (McKillop, 1998), and thus associated with “…archaic techniques of ecstasy…” (Eliade, 1964), and a widespread practice across Eurasia and elsewhere as a primitive religion survival. Presently shamanism is a religious phenomenon characteristic of Siberian and Ural-Altaic peoples. The term shaman is Tungus in origin from saman meaning ascetic (KcKillop, 1998) and in Sanskrit  sramanas. Shamanism is not limited to circumpolar peoples as it occurs in south-east Asia, Oceania, and with Amerindians. The name comes from Siberia where a shaman is also called a tabid and female shamans called shamankas, Inuit angekok, in Lapland noi’de (Sandars, 1968), with shamanism the basis of Finno-Ugric religion (Guirand, 1982). In Siberia a shaman is such by hereditary transmission or spontaneous vocation, whereas in north America shamanism is a voluntary quest. Shamanism occurred all over the ancient world (Matthews, 1991), and is an animistic belief that “…presupposes an elemental force in all objects which can be dominated by a greater force…” (Guirand, 1982). A shaman is not a magician, not a visionary, not a healer, are usually male but female shamans occur, but importantly it is the “…intensity of his experience that makes him unique. His ability to extend his consciousness beyond that of the ordinary human being.” (Matthews, 1991).

A shaman is a particular type of individual combining functions and abilities (Lommel, 1966) who requires special training, with separation from cares and distractions of ordinary life (Lewis, 1969). A shaman often shows signs of mental instability, excitability, and hysterical dissociation, exhibiting suggestibility and subject to hallucinations (Lewis, 1969), but shamanism is not linked to mental illness because the shamanistic mind is “…a complex interweaving of mental sates, visions and emotions.” (Lewis-Williams, 2002). A shaman must have a mana to carry on his role which he can only obtain  by being predestined for it, as well as by submitting to certain rituals (Adam, 1954). Mana, a term originating in Polynesia, can be considered as an immaterial power believed by many pre-literate peoples to be inherent in certain privileged persons and things.

Hunter-gatherers exhibit a number of characteristics of shamanism (Lewis-Williams, 1997), which distinguish it from other religions by “…the power that man or rather certain men particularly endowed, the shamans, exercise over nature.” (Guirand, 1982). Hunter gatherer shamans are therefore specialists with authority and prestige who mediate between people and surrounding natural and supernatural powers (Sandars, 1968). Characteristics of shamanism are: (1) it posits a range of institutionalised altered states of consciousness; (2) the visual, aural and somatic experiences of altered states are seen as conceptions of alternative states of reality; (3) people with special powers and skills – shamans – have access to this alternative reality; (4) the nervous system via altered states leads to dissociation. Shamans use dissociation to achieve four ends which are also features of hunter-gatherer shamanism: (1) shamans are believed to contact spirits and supernatural entities; (2) they heal the sick; (3) they control the movements and lives of animals; (a) have the ability to change the weather. These four functions coupled with the altered states are believed mediated by and facilitated by “…a variously conceived supernatural potency of power…” and this potency is “…commonly associated with animal helpers that assist shamans in the performance of their tasks.” (Lewis-Williams, 1997; 2002).

4 b.  Shamanism and cave art

A large amount of Franco-Cantabrian cave art is shamanistic and “…produced by shamans and derived from their modes of thought.” (Lommel, 1966), therefore archaeologically cave art includes images that can be called shamanistic. Basque myths from the region are concerned with ghosts, shamans, red bulls, cows, horses, birds and snakes (Lommel, 1966), and significant are the half human half animal spirits. The female is Mari, male spirits are Maide and associated with female Lamin, thus Mari and Lamin are “…probably preserved characteristics of the more ancient Mistress of the Beasts.” (Lommel, 1966). Thus the consideration that the “…repetitively portrayed Palaeolithic ‘sorcerers’ and ‘shamans’ were divine owners of animals and forests.” (Gimbutas, 2001).

Cave imagery is a palimpsest resulting from changing exploitation of the topography coupled with changing shamanistic beliefs and social relations (Lewis-Williams, 1997; Clottes, 1996), implying Upper Palaeolithic people “…did not adhere rigidly to set formulae.” (Lewis-Williams, 1997). Thus as the Upper Palaeolithic progressed the historically and geographically situated forms of shamanism changed. In order to understand shamanic cave art it is best to look in more detail at two examples – the so-called ‘sorcerer’ in the Sanctuary at Les Trois Freres, and the ‘Man and Bison’ composition in the Shaft at Lascaux.

The ‘Sorcerer’ has an antlered deer head and hide who appears to be leading a dance to secure success in hunting (Lewis, 1969). The image is of a masked human being to endow a unique, magical or religious act with greater permanence by means of pictorial recapitulation (Lissner, 1961). The unreal atmosphere is compounded by the half human half animal that is engraved and painted in an innermost recess of the complex Ariege cave (Grazioli, 1960), implying the ‘sorcerer’ is a mystical being. The painting is of a powerfully symbolic magico-religious ritual. The shaman is harnessing a group effort through  group ritual dance to objectify the killing of an animal (Lewis, 1969). This shaman at Lourdes, wearing a tail and a beard, can be compared to Tungus shamanic portrayals because “…the adoption of several animal characteristics is throught to increase a shaman’s chances of sending hi soul on its travels…” (Lissner, 1961).

the-sorcerer

Figure  7.

   The Magdalenian painted ‘sorcerer’ at Trois Freres, Ariege, France.

The shaman requires maximum assistance from various animals while on his journey.

He therefore wears a deer mask, owls eyes, wolf’s ears, horse’s tail, and bears paws, as well as dancing (Lissner, 1961).

Among circumpolar peoples deer antlers and bears feet are the most effective in magical equipment (Ucko, 1967).

The ‘man with a bison’ in the Shaft at Lascaux is a shamanic scene with a sacrificial bison and an outstretched man (with a bird mask) lying on the ground in a trance (Lissner, 1961). The rhinoceros in the composition is insignificant because it is the man and bison in confrontation (Blanc, 1949). The supine figure is the shaman and the bird his tutelary spirit, and its perch a grave stick or sky-pole. The wooden bird poles symbolise a shaman’s spiritual journey and is thus “…a path to heaven symbolised by an upright pole and the belief that a bird can carry a shaman’s soul into the sky.”  (Lissner, 1961). The whole is a complex composition that contains evidence of totemic belief, shamanic practice, and fertility ritual.

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Figure 8.

A man in a bird’s head mask attacked by a wounded bison (?). Cave painting at Lascaux, France, circa 15.000 t0 10,000 BC.

Can be explained by Siberian legends of modern times. A spear seems to have pierced the bison and eviscerated it.

The shaman sends his soul to heaven while he lies as though dead (Lommel, 1966), as he hunts animal spirits of negotiates with the Mistress of the Animals. A number of factors indicate the shamanic nature of the composition. The bird is gallinaceous or grouse-like and resembles the grouse carving on a spear-thrower from Le Mas d’Azil (Davenport, 1988). The feet are humanoid, as is the phallus, but the hands are four-toed typical of a bird, and as such a pictographic symbol. The artist has portrayed the shaman as his spirit helper (the bird-headed wand) at the moment of his transformation or shape-shift into a Black Grouse or Capercaille (Davenport, 1988), a performance quite familiar to the Palaeolithic hunter, resembling the communal dances, strutting and ritualised fighting of the Blackcock. The secret of successful hunting is mimicry (Lommel, 1966), and a successful expedition is envisioned by the shaman beforehand. The entrails of the bison are wrenched out by a barbed spear and the whole image means for Abbre Breuil (1965) the hunter is wounded by the bison and then killed by the rhinoceros, whereas for Leroi-Gourhan the man is dying from wounds inflicted by the bison (Lissner, 1961). However, the shaman is most likely in a trance state. rock art in South Africa is historical evidence for ceremonies and roles of trance plus hallucinogens, so perhaps “…decorated caves in Palaeolithic Europe, at the end of the last Ice Age, might also reflect shamanic practices and trance ceremonies.” (Pitts, 2001). In addition, shamanistic practices among early Celtic divinations they wore cloaks of birds feathers as Siberians did, bearing in mind the Celtic belief in metamorphosis – shape-shifting – or ability to change shape or appearance at will. At Santander there are wall engravings of men in bird masks who seem to be dancing, and the bird-men of Altamira are also shamans, as are the masked figures at Les Combarelles  (Lissner, 1961). At Teyat, Abri Mege (Dordogne) three strange figures resembling sea horses are probably shamans dancing in ibex masks. There are further examples of hybrid figures as hunters or shamans occupying territory between the human and animal world (Grazioli, 1960).

4 c.  Shamanism and mobiliary art.

Palaeolithic batons or ‘wands’ may be shamans drumsticks, and certainly more than items of everyday use (Lissner, 1961), and female statuettes are the earliest known figurative representations in the world  and may have a shamanic ritual role as auxiliary dolls. The female statuettes of Siberian tribes, who often had female shamans or ‘shamankas’, may have had a ritual role. At Ma’lta,  50 miles north of Irkutsk, female figures and birds carved in bone represent duck and geese, reminiscent of bird figures which modern Siberian tribes place on top of their shamanic sky-poles. In view of the fact that shamanic mobiliary art may not have been durable – wands, sky-poles, drums, and other equipment such as masks – it is nonetheless possible that portable engravings of birds may have had a ritual and shamanic role.

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Figure  9. 

 The ‘man and the bison’ of the Shaft at Lascaux.

Comparative evidence for the shaman using birds as tutelary spirits or spirit helpers for a shamanic ritual.

Source: Davenport (1988).

4 d.  Initiation and ‘Rites of Passage’.

Mankind get all that makes them human from society, it is the religious cult and the ritual that recreates them, initiates them into the life of the tribe, and therefore regenerates the tribe itself (Lewis, 1969). The relationship is ritualistic involving rites connected with totem animals, usually including dancing, mimetic animal movements and cries (Cooper, 1995). Originally individuals survived as members of a group with group reproduction inseparable from subsistence existence (Thomson, 1978). Hunters are part of a sexual division of labour graded through children, adults, elders (Webster, 1932), when children help women, men hunt and elders direct and supervise. The transition from one grade to another is effected by rites of initiation, thus at puberty an individual dies and is reborn. The new-born is a clan ancestor reborn, a reincarnation of the clan totem that determines naming (Thomson, 1978), the name being the totemic symbol, but not revealed because it is a totemic secret (Frazer, 1910). In Latin name and mark are nomen and nota, kin and know are gens and gnosco, which means name and mark correlates with oral and visual with “…the totem incarnate and the bearer.” (Thomson, 1978). The totemite receives manhood or womanhood and individual essence from the tribal spirit which possesses him in ceremonies and rites of totemism and initiation.” (Lewis, 1969).

Two ingredients to social, therefore common (but not universal) to the exogamous clan system (Hawkes, 1965) apart from the totemic are admission and related initiations or rites of passage. Initiation means admission to adult status, not admission to the clan, with the implication that it is admission to a totem cult where one exists. Initiation rites symbolise the idea of death and rebirth “…into the full life of the tribe.” (Hawkes, 1965). In many cases a dying person is wrapped in the skin of their dying totem animal, implying the souls of the clan are closely bound by their totem and reincarnated in that animal, with children named after the animal from which the tribe has descended (Cooper, 1995). With initiation at puberty the child dies and is born again as man or woman, whereas the death of an elder is numbered among the totemic ancestors (Thomson, 1978). Therefore birth is death and death is birth, part of an internal process of change (Van Gennep, 1960), with the interment of the corpse in a foetal position “…the posture of the unborn child.” (Webster, 1933).

Therefore hidden and daylight art signifies daylight totemic images and hidden recess art are initiation images (Ucko, 1967). At Montespan heel-prints on a clay floor left by “…men of hunting, sexual and religious maturity…” are not merely dancing magically but sharing religious experience.” (Lissner, 1961), thus in Lake Chad (Niger) mahibi (hunters) leave initiation sites walking on their heels. It can be assumed that  cave recesses do contain images related to initiation and this may explain some of the hand-prints and symbols found in the art – a symbol a way of hiding the totemic name.

5.  Fertility Ritual and the Cult of the Earth and Animals.

5 a.  Theory and definition

Fertility magic is “…thought to assist the procreation of useful species by depicting pregnant females or animals of opposite sex in pre-coupling scenes.” (Pearson, 2002), and Breuil (1965) interpreted Palaeolithic art as a reflection of fertility and hunting magic. Sympathetic magic is the basis of Palaeolithic art, the cave is the sanctuary where magic is used for reproductive rites, destruction of predators, and increase ceremonies for animals and human beings (Ucko, 1967). Upper Palaeolithic artists imaged animals to symbolise earth’s cyclic rebirth creating a “…mystic rapport with the animals, a rapport negotiated by their shamans, and cemented by their paintings.” (Krupp, 1997). Fertility magic plus hunting magic usually combined as one overall sympathetic magic interpretation, therefore “…totemic and fertility magic interpretations are most clearly related (Ucko, 1967). Scenes of hunting as pictorial magic are found worldwide.

5 b.  Fertility and cave art

Ritual renewal in Upper Palaeolithic Europe is “…evidence for a theme of cyclic renewal everywhere in Upper Palaeolithic art.” (Krupp, 1997). Fertility compositions and images occur in Franco-Cantabria (Grazioli, 1960), and deliberately relate the different sexes. At La Marne a bull pursues a cow, at Le Portel two bison face each other, thus in compositions where two animals form a scene “…they are almost invariably male and female animals…connected with the proprietary magic of reproduction.” (Graziolli, 1960). At Fonte-de-Gaume two rendeer approach each other, at Levanzo a bull follows a cow, at Chaire-a-Caluini a horse in bas-relief copulation, at Font-de-Gaume a horse is copulating and one pursues a mare. At Tuc ‘Audoubert a clay statue shows a male and female bison in copulation. At Spanish Cogul women surround a man and suggest celebrants in a fertility cult, and at Tuc d’Audoubert signs of rites celebrated indicate fertility magic and beyond that fertility religion, it suggested Venuses are “…crystallisations of the Mother Goddess concept.” (Hawkes, 1965). A number of wall engravings and low-reliefs of females demonstrates fertility related images.

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Figure 10.

Horses circa 20,000 BC. Cave painting at Pech-Merle.

The large coloured spots inside and around the outline of the wild horses “…were probably put there in the belief that

they increased fertility.” (Lommel, 1966). The meaning of the silhouette hand prints but may have been connected to hunting magic,

 but also represent some aspect of a totemic ‘rite of passage’.

5 c.  Fertility and mobiliary art

Aurignacian ‘Venuses’, which are little statuettes of exaggerated form, are in a class by themselves (Lewis, 1969). Found in France and Austria they represent a fertility cult of 20,000 years ago – all violently distorted with head, legs and arms, treated in summary fashion, the purely sexual features enlarged to confirm fertility cult purpose. Aurignacian ‘Venuses,’ not found in Spain, are little figures of ivory, limestone and other materials, and intended to symbolise fertility, thus “…the statuettes from the Grimaldi Caves were associated with some fertility cult.” (Lissner, 1961).

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Figure 11.

The Venus of Dolni Vestonice, Moravia. One of the earliest known depictions of the female form.

Ceramic, or baked clay. Gravettian 29,000-25,000 BCE.

Savignano Venus has female features, conical coiffure or conical cap, the Venus of Willendorf has a basket-like coiffure, of limestone and perhaps an Alma Mater or Earth Mother, whereas the Gagarino Venuses (Upper Don) are two obese ivories and resemble the Willendorf Venus (Lissner, 1961).

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Figure 12.

The Venus of Willendorf a Gravettian figurine from Austria carved from limestone (Sandars, 1968). Fertility cult statuette (Cornwall, 1968).

Found with traces of red ochre suggesting she represented a Mother Goddess or perhaps similar to house goddesses of Siberian tribes (Waechter, 1976).

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Figure 13

An artists reconstruction of the Venus of Willendorf.

The Venus of Laussel is a rock-relief carving circa 15,000 to 10,000 BC. At Ma’tla (north of Irkutsk) evidence of 20 statuettes of mammoth tusk were all of slender form. Figurines at Ma’lta and Gagarino, found inside remains of ancient huts, hung up in niches near the hearth, may represent female ancestresses (Lissner, 1961). Many figurines found in dwellings at Kostienki Island, Mezin (Garonne), Vestonice and Predmost (Czechoslovakia), and Mainz (Germany), can be compared to the constantly moving hunters of the Magdalenian

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Figure 14.

The Venus of Laussel, circa 15,000-10,000 BC. Rock relief carving. One of earliest stone sculptures of the female nude in history of world art.

The filled horn she holds is connected with myths of the Mistress of the Beasts, a kind of goddess who holds sway over animals and drives

them towards hunters (Lommel, 1966). Source: Sandars (1968).

The unique female head from Brassampouey (Lourdes) has an arranged cap or coiffure known as a tete a la capuche. The Venus of Lespugues (Haute- Garonne) seems to represent the golden age of the Aurignacian. It has an ‘apron’ at the rear which is similar to the second Venus of Willendorf – and may represent animal tails as worn by modern Siberian shaman attire.

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Figure 15

The Venus or Lady of Brassempouey. The Lady in the Hood from the Grotte du Pape, in the French Pyrenees.

Ivory from the Gravettian circa 22,000 BCE (Sandars, 1968). Accompanied by modern reconstruction.

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Figure 16.

Artists reconstruction of the Venus of Brassempouey

Upper Palaeolithic figurines are the earliest tangible expression of the idea that views womankind as embodying the beginning and continuance of life. Palaeolithic man portrayed the human form, especially during the earlier Aurignacian-Perigordian period with female statuettes, stressing attributes of fertility and seen “…dedicated to s different cult – the cult of maternity (Grazioli, 1960).

5 d. Palaeolithic belief and myth

Hunters do not produce – they participate in the life of their milieu (Lommel, 1966), so they only kill prey needed thereby leaving animal reproduction to nature. Totemic ritual is an expression of social cohesion whereby man’s significance is not individual but tribal membership – in other words his entire personal domain is the sacred, supernatural and divinised tribe. Some cave art compositions with a strange, incomprehensible and otherwise esoteric stance may have magical connotations and thus belong to “…a fantastic, unreal, possibly mythical world which has no apparent connection with the clear, elementary and practical world of hunting magic.” (Grazioli, 1960). The mode of thought of the hunter and his art is dominated by animals and such a mythology does not distinguish between man and animal. Feeling at one with nature the hunter sees his environment as both spiritual and material, thereby his art “…attempts to impose the power of his intellect upon his surroundings…” (Lommel, 1966).

Caves show no sign of habitation or domestic use because they were sanctuaries for religious rituals, dark retreats within Mother Earth for initiation ceremonies (Krupp, 1997), where “…men may be transported into animals and vice versa (Lommel, 1966) with the artistic result humans appear as beasts and later as hybrid beings. The penetration of darker recesses from the daylight suggests a “…growing interest in and insistence on spatially distinct ritual areas.” (Lewis-Williams, 1997). It was thought initially that animal images were a component of imitative hunting magic, however most paintings do not show wound marks. This suggests they “…played only a small part in the prehistoric diet.” (Krupp, 1997), because the artists had an “…ancestral bond with particular beasts and avoided eating them…” (Krupp, 1997). Palaeolithic communities being totemic were aware of the totemic cycle of birth and death. For example the ‘uterine’ or ‘foetal’ burial position is not known in Australia but is “…common in Palaeolithic interments…” (Thomson, 1978).

6 . Discussion and Summary

Art was a complex, essential ingredient of Upper Palaeolithic life, essential for very existence, a deeply felt need rooted in this activity (Grazioli, 1960). They were not practising ‘art for art’s sake’, the drawings, paintings, reliefs and sculptures had a religious purpose explain the use of inaccessible cave areas (Lissner, 1961), and only experienced hunters could portray animals in such a realistic way. Four strands permeate Upper Palaeolithic art (Sandars, 1968): (1) a diffused sense of sacredness; (2) an order of relationships with no account of genetic barriers allowing ideas of metamorphosis; (3) unhistorical time and returning cycles with ancestor actions, culture heroes, myths and rituals; the character and position of the shaman. Cave art and associated forms of ritual served to promote a “…necessary social cohesion in the face of competition or spatial separation.” (Jochim, 1983), but not all cave art is mysterious or religious though some is certainly tied to ritual and ceremony (Bahn, 1998), and it does contain messages. In terms of totemism, shamanism, and fertility rituals it must be considered that “…there can no longer be a single meaning…to account for the thousands of images, media, contexts, and uses of what we lump together under the term ‘Palaeolithic art’.” (Lewis-Williams, 1997).

Archaeological evidence indicates that totemism was pervasive in human society since the beginning of the Upper Palaeolithic (Mithen, 1998). Totemism is not a one way relationship of dependence upon the numinous because the totem requires sacred rituals to provide strength and fecundity (Lewis, 1969), therefore totem, taboo, and ritual are indissoluble parts of an interdependent and dynamic relationship. Totemic institutions imply exogamy, mimetic magic, and zoomorphic ancestor worship (Thomson, 1978). With modern hunter-gatherers the totemic clan system has collapsed, leaving only: (10 a sense of kinship by common descent; (2) a distinctive ancestral cult; (3) the practice of exogamy; (4) a formal taboo on particular species and; (5) proliferation of totemic myths (Thomson, 1978). It is their persistence and prevalence (much attenuated), that “…various combinations of clan structure, exogamy, totemism and matrilineal descent encourages a belief in their extreme antiquity.” (Hawkes, 1965).

The antiquity and ubiquity of shamanism implies it was practised by hunter-gatherers of the European Upper Palaeolithic (Lewis-Williams, 2002), but it was not static or unchanging across western Europe during 30,000 years, indeed “…shamanism is the most archaic form of magico-religious relation of man towards himself and his surroundings.” (Wiercinski, 1989). Upper Palaeolithic people associated logically consistent concepts to their cave painting (Lommel, 1966), thus prehistoric man attempted to integrate into life surrounding him by performing symbolic actions that included mimicry, dance and vocalisations. Hunter-gatherers of the Upper Palaeolithic had specialists, or shamans, whose authority and prestige permitted them to mediate between the surrounding natural and supernatural powers and their own people (Sandars, 1968). Their art was thus “…the particular expression of shamanic cosmology and social relations as it existed at a given time and in a given period.” (Lewis-Williams, 1997). The prevalence of art deep within caves is the “…cornerstone of the totemic and the magical interpretations.” (Ucko, 1967), that deals the death blow to ‘art for art’s sake’ theories. The Palaeolithic cave artist therefore “…does not differentiate his aesthetic activity…in a world of mystic perception which is one single unity.” (Read, 1949). There are two reasons to assume that Upper Palaeolithic shamanism existed (Lewis-Williams, 1997) which are: (1) the ubiquity of hunter-gatherer shamanism; (2) the ability of the human system to achieve altered states of consciousness. Despite the worldwide similarities of shamanism (Eliade, 1972; Vitebsky, 1995) it is therefore probable “…that some form of shamanism – not necessarily identical to any ethnographically or historically recorded type of shamanism – was practised by hunter-gatherers of Upper Palaeolithic Europe.” (Lewis-Williams, 1997).

Sympathetic and cooperative magical ceremonies restored and reinforced community life for hunter-gatherers – thus between totemism and religion stands magic (Harrison, 1997), and cave art “…had definite magical connotations, and many cave pictures may have been executed with magic in view.” (Lissner, 1961). In Palaeolithic art all coupled animals, pregnant females, wounded, trapped or being hunted are “…clear and well defined instances of a certain kind of magic…” (Grazioli, 1960). For example, hand-prints in prehistoric art are a mysterious practice that must have involved dancing, magic or religion (Verbrugge, 1957), but Franco-Cantabrian hand-prints were not art, but ritualistic effigies or two-dimensional representations of the human hand (Lissner, 1961). Cave painting did not appear until the mid-Aurignacian but hand-prints are much older whereas hand silhouettes date from much later periods (Lissner, 1961).  Positive hand prints are not common and always red, but negative hand-prints are normally black, see Figure 17.  Additionally hand-prints could possibly be part of a totemic initiatory or ‘rites of passage’ ritual where the print substitutes for the unmentioned totemic secret name. Hand stencils and hand-prints are usually in the ‘red’ entrance area of a cave while, incidentally, reindeer, bison, Megaloceros, aurochs and horses are only black implying that “…each location was chosen for a special function or was used by people of different status. ” (Chippindale, 1968).

36D74854-E882-4643-9E66-995EB238C05F_w640_r1_s

Figure 17.

Hand prints in a cave at El Castillo, Cantabria, Spain.

Fertility rituals were elaborate totemic rites employed to maintain the life-force of the animal (Lewis, 1969), ensuring its reproduction and availability for others. For Durkheim (1915) sacramental rites confirmed the sacredness inherent in the totem which was transferred to those of the Totemic group and ritual as existing to strengthen and symbolise group solidarity. Thus rituals have considerable survival value and he calls such universal and unquestionable values and assumptions “…collective representations.” We do not know if Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers regarded themselves as communicants with Mother-Earth or if they perceived themselves as interacting with an otherworld Master of Animals (Krupp, 1997). If fertility rituals took place in cave sanctuaries it is plausible that they regarded the earth’s interior as a womb-like corral for seasonal, cyclic return of animals suggested by cave bear cults. Was a bear cult a single cult? It seems that only bears, not other beasts, appear in these gory scenes, for example the bear in extremis at Lest Trois Freres is covered with circles and ovals or assumed wounds? This may indicate the existence of a bear cult in the Upper Palaeolithic accompanied by images of human heads wearing bear masks, and bear heads depicted on their own. It may be that the cult derived from a Cave Bear (Ursus spelaeus) rite even though all bears painted engraved, sculpted during the Magdalenian are brown bears (Ursus arctos). Cave images in northwest Spain and southwest France are directed towards successful hunting – but not just hunting because the caves are also for cult ceremonies and places of initiation.

Primitive art from its inception was both decorative and geometric, as well as realistic and symbolic, but ‘primitive’ does not imply ‘child-like’ because it was frequently advanced in both sophistication of handling and technique. Upper Palaeolithic people did not process caves in a rigid formalistic way (Lewis-Williams, 1997), as suggested by Leroi-Gourhan (1968) because they “…explored and adapted each cave in accordance with its peculiar topography…” (Lewis -Williams, 1997; Vialou, 1983; 1986). Note must be made of the social conditions, cosmologies, and religious beliefs of the different times at which the cave was used (Pearson, 2002). A major interpretation of cave art postulated the introduction of order and that analysis of painting positions reveals a general scheme, therefore that “…there is order in Palaeolithic man’s art providing a basis for investigating its evolution” (Leroi-Gourhan, 1968). Problems of chronology include the fact that there are few instances of mobiliary art associated stratigraphically, whereas parietal art is not stratified at all, thus “…classifying Palaeolithic art…is considerably harder than the classification of prehistoric man’s other material remains.” (Leroi-Gourhan, 1968).

Cave art did not have a single beginning or a single climax but instead “…many variations, between regions and periods…” (Bahn, 1998), it had many heydays, many beginnings, which means cave art is the “…tangible manifestation of complex cultural beliefs during the Upper Palaeolithic   .” Chippindale, 1998). Many unique developments occurred in the European Upper Palaeolithic which indicate  increasing social complexity (Jochim, 1983) including climatic deterioration and consequent population movements, and the impressive parietal and mobiliary art is evidence of long-distance exchange as a reflection of these cultural adjustments. The obvious ornamental features of mobiliary art are complimented by clear signs of magic in much cave art (Grazioli, 1960)., thus for parietal we can read sacred and for mobiliary we can read profane (Riddell, 1942)  – the original Latin for profane being ‘without the temple’. In view of this, aestheticism and utilitarian purpose are not incompatible because “…cave art hinged on creation of images almost exclusively connected with magic, the same cannot be said of mobiliary art…” (Grazioli, 1960). Above all – the cave and home artists were most likely hunters themselves, practically engaged in activities to secure good hunting so to try to “…separate art and magic and religion in the unified life of early man shows the folly of the over-critical mind.” (Hawkes, 1965).

Over 30,000 years there were periods of progress, stagnation, and regression in Palaeolithic art – development therefore was not linear (Bahn, 1998). In essence cave art is: (1) more diverse than first assumed; (2) there was not linear evolution from the awkward to the more elaborate; (3) compositions were painted long before or at the same time as others and, importantly “…the contents of the art did change considerably over time.” (Chippindale, 1998). The art of the Upper Palaeolithic indicates a psychic unity of Homo sapiens that is not a ‘mythogram’ of sequential styles pre-ordained or pre-planned. The thirteen sea animals and caprids (goats) at Grotte Cosquer indicates what”…the influence of local biotype played in painters myths.” (Chippindale, 1998). The environment of the Grotte Cosquer was one of limestone hills favouring ibex and chamois, whereas the Magdalenians of La Vache hunted mostly ibex in contrast to the cave art at Niaux with its overwhelming numbers of is bison and horses. At Chauvet there were many rhinoceros, lions, long-eared owl, panther and hyena.

The theories of Leroi-Gourhan (111968; 1978) are no longer tenable after the evidence from Chauvet Cave, especially as his Style 1 is detectable in only a few Dordogne sites, and his views are now challenged (Clottes, 1996). The positions of lions and rhinos are centrally placed at Chauvet, not in entrances or bottoms and moreover (rather than being a mythogram) Leroi-Gourhan’s stylistic dates “…appear to be totally random and irrelevant, offering no redeeming feature at all.” (Bednarik, 1995). The artists of the Upper Palaeolithic were us, and in order to appreciate the meaning of their art, we must try to put ourselves in their circumstances, look though their eyes, and try to walk in their foot-ware, and not as was stated previously indulge ourselves with over-analytical minds. Even that caves were places of seasonal aggregation for tribal ritual and trade (Bogucki, 2000) for hunter-gatherer bands or exogamous clans.

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Dedicated to my son William Frederick Edwards (23.06.1975 to 31.10.2009).

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Bogucki, P.  (2000). The Origins of Human Society.  Blackwell, Oxford.

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Chippindale, C. & Tacon, P. S. C.   eds.  (1998).   The Archaeology of Rock Art.  CUP.

Clottes, J.  (1989). The identification of human and animal figures in European Palaeolithic art.  In: Morphy (1989).

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Clottes, J.  (1998).  The Three C’s: fresh avenues towards European Palaeolithic Art. In: Chippindale, C. (1998).

Conkey, M. W.  et al. (1997).  Beyond Art: Pleistocene Image and Symbol.  California Academy of Sciences, USA.

Cooper, J. C. (1995).  Dictionary of Symbolic and Mythological Animals.  Thorson’s, London.

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Douglas, M.  (1978).  Purity and Danger.  Routledge, London.

Durkheim, E.  (1915).  Elementary forms of Religious Life.  Collier-Macmillan, New York.

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Evans-Pritchard, E. E.  (1984).  Theories of Primitive Religion.  OUP, Oxford.

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Filed under Volume 1

The Cult of the Mother Goddess

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1)  Antecedents of the Goddess Cult

(2)  Prehistoric Female Figurines

(3)  Earth Mothers and Mother Goddesses

(4)  The Triple Goddess

(5)  The Sacred and Divine Feminine

(6)  The Goddess Movement

References Cited and Sources Consulted

 

 

1.  Antecedents of the Goddess Cult

The figure of the goddess can be traced through time and is often found associated with snakes, bulls and birds. The idea of the goddess as mother can be found with the prehistoric ancestors of modern humans. Some 30,000 years ago early religion, which was a feature of human evolution, is a necessary proof that supports the suspicion that early Homo sapiens held certain spiritual beliefs. These primordial goddesses were associated with, and a feature of, the early societies of Mesopotamia, Crete, Egypt, Greece, the Aegean, and southern Europe. There was no single cultural centre in the ancient Mediterranean, even though there did exist an inter-cultural diffusion between the Mediterranean, the Near East, the Aegean, and European lands (Ucko, 1968). Diffusionist concepts became apparent in the 1950’s and 1960’s (Crawford, 1957; Vermeule, 1964) it being asserted that “…one goddess was worshipped universally all over Greece with similar ceremonies, sacrifices and hymns.” (Vermeule, 1964), rituals recognised by visitors from Mesopotamia, Syria, Anatolia, the islands of the Aegean, Hungary and Bulgaria (Meskell, 1995).

The idea of the goddess is that of a divine and sacred female who has supernatural attributes. The goddess is a primordial being who was believed in and worshipped by people and regarded as the source of all life. The notion arose therefore of an omnipotent Mother whose worship symbolised “…a cultural continuity from the Palaeolithic era to modern times.” (Meskell, 1995). Such a goddess, the Mother of All Life, was often worshipped as the principal deity for thousands of years. In English, etymologically, the word goddess is derived from two components – god plus the feminine ess. The term ess is basically the esse borrowed into Middle English from Middle French esse. The word esse came from Late Latin issa, which in turn comes from the Greek feminine suffix issa. In Old English the noun esse replaced icge. The prehistoric religion of the Great, Earth, or Mother Goddess may not mean that women were at all times political or social leaders, but more likely spiritual. The Mother Goddess was seen as symbolically the earth itself. During later periods sculptural representations of the Great Goddess are often shown sitting on thrones, which reinforces the idea that she symbolised the earth, with the primordial goddess possibly representing a mountain. The primordial goddess religion has to be seen as a life-giving principle that was also shrouded in mystery, sacredness, and divinity.

The life of prehistoric peoples, especially during the Neolithic, was dependent upon the earth and animals to provide their food, shelter and clothing. They were dependent on crop and animal fertility for both domestic and wild species. The social unity of the clan and tribe had enormous importance in the struggle for existence and survival. The life of prehistoric peoples was cyclical and, moreover, was not based upon solar but the lunar calendar. This was also reflected in their lives which were controlled by their own receptive and reproductive cycles. Such Mother Centred tribes were obviously matriarchal and did not view nature as a linear process as is thought today. Neolithic cultures according to a popular viewpoint were matriarchal, or at least matrifocal (Hayden, 1986). There is a long tradition of academic and scholarly supposition concerning the widespread prehistoric religion based on the worship of the Mother-Goddess (Malone, 1993). The original existence of a Mediterranean matriculture in the context of social evolution was the product of the works of Lewis Henry Morgan (1818-1881), Frederick Engels (1820-1890), and Johann Jacob Bachofen (1815-1887), which inspired an early debate. Bachofen argued that the earliest human societies had been women-centred and only altered to a patriarchal form before the beginning of history (Hutton, 1999). The postulated matriarchal societies were conceived of as harmonious and peaceful communities in contrast to the aggressive, warlike and patriarchal societies that replaced them (Chapman, 1991; Tringham, 1991).

In addition, within these matriarchal societies “…there were no husbands, yet men fulfilled important roles in construction, crafts and trade. Women’s lives were liberal, socially and sexually and inextricably bound to the rich religious system which ensued their prominence. (Gimbutas, 1992). These women-centred and egalitarian societies were destroyed by the invasion of Indo-European equecentric  patriarchal tribes from the Russian steppes. The existence of socially hierarchically organised societies is provided by cemeteries in Eastern Europe (Meskell, 1995), Greece (Humphreys, 1983; Hallett, 1993), ancient Egypt (Robins, 1993); and Mesopotamia (Frymer-Kensky, 1992). There are may ethnographic accounts that attest that cultures with strong female deities survived that still regarded women in non-sacred circumstances as a low status group. Some however still stressed the superiority of assumed matristic cultures in Old Europe, Egypt, Minoan Crete, and Anatolia (Eisler, 1987). Worship of the Olympian deities as preceded by a prehistoric age in which the Great Goddess or Earth Mother had ruled supreme (Hutton, 1999). It  was claimed (Gimbutas, 1982; 1989; 1991) that there actually two  religious systems; with (1) the matristic gylanic or peaceful goddess centered society and; (2) the androcratic or belligerent patriarchies. The matristic gylanic religious symbols were made apparent according to the goddess’s function such as Life-Giving, Renewal and the Eternal Earth, plus Earth and Regeneration, or Energy and Unfolding.

Catal Huyuk was a large early Neolithic village community in Anatolia from 6000 to 7000 BC, which produced obsidian, pottery, baskets, and raised cattle. The site is associated also with special shrine burials of individuals of high status (Malone, 1993). Numerous excavated female figurines are evidence of a Mother Goddess who headed a pantheon of a matriarchal culture circa 7500 BC (Mellaart, 1967).  Where is compelling evidence of an existing altar and temple, circa 7000 BC, as well as clay figurines representing the Great Goddess (Meskell, 1995). In addition symbols of bulls and wall paintings indicate the existence of the cult of Magna Mater existed some 6000 years ago (Sandberg, 1991; Wood, 1996; Leeming, 1994). The central images of the Goddess shows a young woman, a woman giving birth, and an older woman. The goddess images at Catal Huyuk are often shown seated on thrones made of leopards or lions. During the transition from matriarchal to patriarchal , during the transition from Neolithic agrarianism to the Bronze Age, “…the female principle continued to predominate the cultus that had grown up around the mysterious processes of birth and generation.” (James, E. O. 1959).

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Figure 1. Seated Goddess from Catal Hayuk

As these felines are often found near to the Goddess it indicates they were sacred to the Goddess herself. Images of the Goddess are seen on shrines, as wall paintings, and as sculptures. Of seeming importance are the figurative birthing images which suggest are a recurring theme and fertility ritual. However, the portrayal of the Goddess accompanied by bulls, horns of rams, and lions, indicates a strong affinity with contemporary societies in Old Europe as well as Minoan and Mycenean civilisations. Sculptures of the goddess figure seated and flanked by lionesses is suggestive of a prototype Cybele (Mellaart, 1960), the leading deity and Mother Goddess of later Anatolian societies.

(2)  Prehistoric Female Figurines

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Palaeolithic female figurines, some of which are therioanthropic, can logically be assumed part of a wider emphasis on fertility. They were probably part of a ritual that intended, by magical means, to increase animal as well as human fecundity. These artistic representations are believed to be of the Mother Goddess of some 25,000 years ago, which continues until the onset of the metallurgical societies from the Neolithic period (Malone, 1993). Palaeolithic figurines have to be seen within the context of animism in relation to the natural world. The mind-set of the time viewed the world as a living organism that was inextricably interwoven with human life. For hunter-gatherer peoples throughout history and the world shamanism has been found. Both the shaman and the cave or figurine artist were probably the same person, most likely female, during the Late Palaeolithic. For early Homo sapiens art was a powerful means of communication and highly purposive. Painting and sculptures have been found in Palaeolithic caves but do not necessarily merely depict everyday animal life around the artist. Palaeolithic art and figurines are not mundane because they represent an integral component of the ritual and magical life of early humankind. Palaeolithic basic urges wre to express by magico-religious means a deeply felt and developed cultus. The result was the result of migration of the Gravettian culture into former Upper Aurignacion. Therefore, eastern and central Europe received an Asiatic migration at the beginning of the Upper Palaeolithic. The Venus cultus came from the Don Valley, southern Russia, and western Asia. The bone and ivory figurines from eastern and western Asia came, for example, Kostienki, Gagarino, Mezine, and Lake Baikal.

The first prehistoric female figurines were first excavated during the 1890’s and, since World War Two, have been subjected to a range of interpretive scenarios and frameworks (White, 2006), with the initial focus “…phrased in terms of fertility, reproduction and religious power…interpretive emphasis has more recently tilted to questions of gynaecology and obstetrics…women’s status, roles of sexual division of labour, different facets of womanhood, and even women as sexual objects.” (White, 2006; Rice, 1981; Gimbutas, 1989; Duhard, 1993; Soffer, 2000). As archaeological artefacts the female ‘Mother Figures’, known popularly as ‘Venuses’, have been dated across an extensive time scale from various regions, with considerable variability in form, style, decoration and context (Meskell, 1995). The figurines, miniature statuettes made of stone, bone, horn and ivory represented many deities and appeared between 27,000 and 25,000 Bc, with about 300 found between France and central Siberia (Gimbutas, 1991).

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Figure 2.

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Figure 3.

The ‘Venuses’ from the Upper Palaeolithic are small, carved and usually corpulent figures. Most Palaeolithic figurines are from the Upper Palaeolithic period. The evidence of archaeology is suggestive of a migration of populations into the western hemisphere before the end of the Palaeolithic which extended for 2.5 million years until the Neolithic around 10,000 BCE. One of the earliest know figurines is called the Venus of Dolni Vestonice and dates from the Gravettian Culture of circa 29,000 to 25000 BC. The Venus of Willendorf is a famous example of a Pleistocene figurines from around 20,000 years ago, and is regarded as one of the earliest representations of the first primordial Mother Goddess. The Venus of Willendorf is an 11.1 cm high statuette of Oolitic limestone, which is not local, from Lower Austria. Created between 24,000 and 22,000 she is tinted with red ochre, and not carved to stand alone but perhaps held. These female figurines, in an early analysis, were divided into at least three distinct groups (Murray, 1934). Firstly, the Universal Mother, or Isis type; secondly, The Divine Woman or Ishtar type, and thirdly; a personified yoni or Baubo type. All three types are distinct from each other and were “…derived from a different religion, i.e. psychological, sentiment, and was consequently given a distinctive name as a goddess.” (Murray, 1934). Most early images are of voluptuous and abundantly round female figures. Some rock carved images of females, and the cave paintings, are believed as old as 35,000 years. For example the Venus of Berekat Ram is from the Middle Palaeolithic of the Golan Heights – and if from the Acheulean period it was possibly made by Homo erectus Image (234)

Figure 4. Venus of Berekat Ram.

A link between the Palaeolithic statuettes of women and Neolithic figurines was made in 1929, with the notion of a Near Eastern Great Goddess, in order to project the goddess back to the earliest known human activity in Europe (Hornblower, 1929). In prehistoric societies the purpose of the Neolithic figurines is not perfectly understood (White, 2006), and gives rise to questions about our conception of prehistoric peoples. The ungainly and voluptuous form of these figurines predominates among Pleistocene sculptures and their accented sexuality has been interpreted as symbolic of fertility ritual. The Universal Mother the true ‘Mother Goddess’ has several representations (Murray, 1934). Firstly: the full breasted and exaggerated shape shown by the Virgin of Laussel; secondly her portrayal with a child in her arms which suckled or just held as exampled by Isis and Horus; and thirdly as a woman enciente (or pregnant) as shown by the Egyptian goddess Ta-urt.  The stress on the maternal organs indicates their nature as amuletic fertility charms with a clear fertility function (Lindsay, 1962; Akkermans, 2003). Figurines from the Neolithic, the farming and agricultural period, show diverse images of the Mother Goddess from circa 10,000 BCE. Representative images  occur in all prehistoric cultures with regular seasonal occupations and animal husbandry (Gimbutas, 1982), but essentially  “…the predominance of female figurines over male in the earliest levels of all cultures in which  they occur in the Ancient Middle East, from the Eastern Mediterranean to the Indus valley, shows that attention at first was concentrated on the feminine aspects of the process of generation. ” (James, 1957).The suggestion also is that these finely made figures and sculptures are for special occasions by mother-figures and priestesses (Gimbutas, 1989). The forms of the Universal Mother are obviously known throughout the ancient world. The very earliest symbols engraved on rocks, bone, or horn “…reflect a profound belief in a life-generating Goddess who represents One Source while pictured in many forms.” (Gimbutas, 1991).

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Figure 5

The Neolithic Mother Goddess was crucial in the region of South-West Asia and an example is the clarity of the transition from the earlier mother-cult are the figurines from Tell Arpachiya (Lindsay, 1962), which was a pottery centre of the Ubaid and Halaf Period in ancient Iraq. Universal Mother forms are the only forms that can represent the Mother because they show her as a child-bearing woman (Murray, 1934), because she is the “…protectoress and nourisher of the child, born and unborn, and is therefore equally protectoress and nourisher of all mankind, present and future. In addition all the three forms of ‘goddesses’ are undoubtedly regarded as divine. Neolithic figurines, as those of Tell Arpachiya show, are often associated with serpents, bull heads, doves and double-headed axes and thus “…serve as a link between the Palaeolithic and Bronze Age in the Eastern Mediterranean and in Iran, Baluchistan, the Indus Valley.” (Lindsay, 1962; Akkermans, 2003). Eventually two variations in figurines emerge which in many instances are naturalistic in form but others show a varied posture. Sometimes the goddess or figure is seated which may be indicate an established or accepted sexual division or even have a religious significance.

The case for the Mother Goddess has two essential arguments in support; firstly the characteristic sexual features of the figurines is given obvious emphasis, and secondly: most figurines are female which may stress the importance of fertility. This suggests that  exaggerated sexual features may imply figurines have a purpose other than religious. It is in this vein that male figures have to be considered. Are they an exception or can they be considered as representing the parados or companion to the Mother Goddess? Another claim is that because figurines were located in cult sites in cult cities then these cult sites were defined as such by the presence of the figurines. It is thought that in ancient Europe and the Aegean the worship of the Goddess derived from Proto-Indo-European matriarchies of the Neolithic.

The goddess is portrayed symbolically by triangles, lozenges and zig-zags which represents her domain as a Bird Goddess or Snake Goddess. So many symbols indicates that the “…adoration of the Great Mother in fact was a living faith in the entire continent from the earliest times is evidenced not only in the…cult figure but is further supported by…early figurines having painting of red ochre.” (Nagar, 1988). The study of symbols in Palaeolithic art “…demonstrates that the female, rather than the male, was the deity of creation.” (Gimbutas, 1991). The figurines known as the Venus of Willendorf and the Venus of Laussel have traces of red ochre which may represent life (Sandars, 1968).

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Figure 6.  The Venus of Willendorf.

Again the Bird Goddess is symbolised by chevrons and ‘V’ symbols which are supposedly representative of the pubic triangle. The chevron symbol is found on many bird figurines and are believed to have first occurred during the Seklo Culture of Thessaly around the 7th millennium BC. In the Balkans the early Starcevo and Karanovo cultures of the 6th millennium have similar designs. Some bird decorated vases are decorated with bird-woman hybrids, and images of owls are found in cave paintings. Bird-woman hybrids have been found in some 3000 graves in Malta with the Bird-Goddess having a deposition of 725 bird bones in Orkney. However, the Mother Goddess is associated with numerous other animals but is especially identified with an owl which is termed ornithomorphic. The female symbols and images of birds and snakes also occurs with the earth mother group of figurines, and the stiff-nude group. It seems that the earth-mother group are a continuation of the figurative tradition of the Palaeolithic (Gimbutas, 2001; Ucko, 1968). The owl represents the Goddess as the symbol of death. For example, in Hungary and Lemnos  owl shaped burial urns date back to 3000 BC. Upper Palaeolithic mortuary ritual was a life-giving ritual rite connected with female figurines, and the worship of the goddess was always intertwined with the cult of the dead  (James, 1959).

Moon symbols as well as of the lunar cycle have been found with snake coils, figurines shaped like owls, and bulls horns  and all have been linked to the Goddess. Water flow is an archetypal symbol for the flow of life and thus a Life Giving attribute of the Goddess. Similarly, the zig-zag is possibly the most ancient symbol in human history. It was known to have been used by Neanderthals around 40,000 BC. The zig-zag has been interpreted as symbolising water with which the Goddess has been closely identified as well as with birth. The Venus of Mezin from the Czech Republic is a mixture of Gravettian (upright) and Magdalenian (steatopygous) styles, showing the meander body decoration.

Image (211)Figure 7Magdalenian figurines showing meander decoration.

Figurines appear in the archaeological record throughout Europe, mainly in the South-east, South-west Asia, and the Mediterranean area from the Cyclades, Majorca, and Malta (Ehrenberg, 1989; Malone, 1993). Female figurines from the Neolithic and Copper Age Cyclades were first described as a group in the 1880’s but there was no attempt to link them to the goddess (Dent, 1884). From Central Europe to the  Near East during the Neolithic period archaeology has previously revealed thousands of anthropomorphic terracotta figurines, nearly all less than six inches high (White, 2006). Balkan figurines, and Greek, were kept inside habitations and hosed in special wall niches (Malone, 1993). In the Karanovo Culture many figurines are forms of the Bird Goddess, others a pregnant goddess, as well as zoomorphic and stiff nude figures. In the Starcevo Culture there also occur ornithomorphic vases dating from circa 5900-5800 BC.  The Cucuteni-Trypillian Culture flourished in the region of modern-day Romania, Moldova, and south west Ukraine from 500 to 2750 BC. This culture left behind numerous clay figures some of which represent the Mother Goddess.

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Figure 8.

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Figure 9.

Many figurines, of apparently female imagery, are found on prehistoric sites in the Levant as well as South-East Europe, and which have ben interpreted as representing a single female goddess (Ucko, 1968). With reference to female figurines they were not necessarily connected to a specific goddess, but with the Babylonian Mother Goddess (Evans, 1895), but later it was believed figurines in Crete were images of a prehistoric Great Goddess (Evans, 1905). From the Palaeolithic onwards the Mother Goddess was the revered deity of peoples over a very wide area.

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Figure 10.

Early cults, including that of the Eye Goddess which diffused throughout the Mediterranean, were very different in each prehistoric society. There were domestic cults which were different from cults associated with death and burial. This can be illustrated by the prehistoric archaeology of the islands of Malta, with its many and massive stone temples, around 3500 to 2500 BC. An important part of the temple rituals were the feasting and sacrifices because Maltese society “…may have been a powerful matriarchy dominated by priestesses, female leaders and mother goddesses”. (Malone, 1993). There have been found small and beautifully made and obese figurines that are certainly female. The figurines have been associated, in this Tarxien Culture, with prehistoric death rituals in temple chambers.  Moreover, fertility ritual and worship was probably also a component of this prehistoric religion. The prehistoric religion of ancient Malta was not merely restricted to an infatuation with obese and corpulent women. Some 4000 to 3000 years ago the cults in Malta focussed on the use of underground tombs and caves as places of burial. In the final period of the Tarxien Culture society became increasingly dominated by a religious hierarchy “…in which cult specialists or priests controlled much of the industry of the people.” (Malone, 1993).

Venus figurines are carved from soft stone such as calcite, steatite, and limestone, from bone and ivory, as well as formed from clay and fired. Nearly all are of modest size and between 4 cm and 25 cm in height. Attempts have been made to classify the figurines and a useful one is based upon geographical provenance of which there are five subdivisions: the Pyrenees-Aquitaine group including the Venus of Lespugue, of Laussel, and Brassempouey; those of the Italian group including the venus of Savignano and Balzi Rossi; the venuses of the Rhine-Danube inclusing Willendorf, and Dolni Vestonice; and the figurines of the Russian group including Kostienki and Zaraysk and Gagarion in the Ukraine. There are cultural connections between all classifications of the groups. Certain anatomical details suggest a shared oriental origin, followed by western diffusion.

Image (220)Figure 11.

The Venus or Lady of Brassempouy, the Lady in the Hood, from Aquitaine, is a fragmentary figurine made from a tusk or mammoth ivory from the Upper Palaeolithic and about 25,000 years old. The figurine is 3.65 cm tall, has a checkerboard pattern on the head of a mouth-less face, and is one of the earliest known representations of the human face. The head patterning may be a wig, hairstyle or head-dress. From the Middle Aurignacian at Landes.

 

Reconstruction of the Venus of Brassempouey

Figure 12.

Image (225)Figure 13.

The Venus of Dolni Vestonice, Moravia, one of the earliest known depictions of the female  form dates from the Gravettian Culture of the Upper Palaeolithic, and ceramic from circa 29,000 to 25,000 BCE.

Image (224)Figure 14. The Venus of Hohle Fels, carved from mammoth ivory, Germany, 40,000 to 35,000 BCE.

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Figure 15.  The Venus of Lespugue, , French Pyrenees, circa 26,000 to 24,000 BCE. This figurines, from the Haute Garonne has large breasts and fused legs.

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Figure 16.  The Venus of Laussel, Dordogne, France , a limestone relief. 

Venus%20of%20Moravany

Figure 17.  The Venus of Moravany, carved from mammoth ivory,  from Slovakia of circa 23,000 BCE.

(3)  Earth Mothers and Mother Goddesses

All figurines of the true Mother Goddesses are those where the child is an essential part whether actual or implied. At all times, and in all ancient religions, the Mother-goddess was equally worshipped by men, women, and children “…for the relation of mother and child is universal.” (Murray, 1934). In the prehistoric struggle for existence and survival the role of the Goddess was one of the Rewarding and Eternal Earth. The figurines from Laussel, Dordogne, Lespuges , and Brassempouy, represent the Earth Mother or Fertility Goddess,. From the Ukraine a figure of a pregnant woman was from around 7000 to 6000 BC. With regard to the worship of a prehistoric Great Mother it originated with she “…who gives birth to all creation out of the holy darkness of the womb became a metaphor for nature herself, the cosmic giver and taker of life, ever able to renew herself within the eternal cycle of life, death, and rebirth.” (Gimbutas, 1991). Prehistoric Europe worshipped a Great Earth mother in two aspects, firstly as creatrix and secondly as a destroyer, and became known by a plurality of names at a much later date (Chambers, 1903).

A common feature of many myths is the personification of various deities, of the earth, of elemental forces, as a Mother Goddess, Earth Mother, or Corn Mother (Leach, 1972). Quite often an Earth deity, from who all growing things come, is a chthonic goddess. Mother Nature or Mother Earth is a common personification of nature who focusses on the nurturing and life-giving attributes which are embodied in the form of the mother. The Mountain Mother was the only divinity in ancient Greece known to be of prehistoric origin (Harrison. 1915), and known from a Late Minoan seal dated 1500 BC from Knossos. Prehistoric goddesses were associated with fecundity, fertility and agricultural provision, and worshipped accordingly. The mountain symbolised the earth and as the earth is also the mother because she gave life to man and animals. Hence, images of women representing mother nature and mother-earth are timeless. Discoveries in archaeology have established the existence of a Mountain-Mother cult in ancient Crete (Pearson, 1915), and is evidence of the antiquity of the cult. The earliest examples of the Mountain Mother are of the Minoan Mother, shown in ancient seal impressions, standing on a hill, and flanked by lions (James, 1959), in her role as an earth goddess.

Image (216)Figure 18.

Originally a nature cult, worship of the Mountain Goddess originated in reverence of her fecundity of the earth. As Earth Mother and Great  Goddess of the Mountains, she was also Mistress of the Animals who was first worshipped in Crete. Her cult spread to mainland Mycenean Greece. The cult envisage the Mountain Goddess as a Universal Mother who was also the patroness of fertility, the underworld, the seas and of war (James, 1959). In Phrygia the goddess became Cybele. in Ephesus she was Artemis, Anat and Asherah in Syria, and Ma in Comana. Anat, or Anath, was a primitive Semitic and Canaanite war goddess, the Queen of Heaven, the Mistress of the Gods, whose cult also spread to Egypt (Leach, 1972). Identified with Athena during the Hellenistic period, she was also the sister of Baal, as well as having jurisdiction over ritual sacrifices (Benet, 1965). Anat was the Great Goddess of the pantheon in Ugarit and worshiped widely by Canaanites, Amorites, Syrians, Egyptians, Hebrews and Phoenicians. The cult of Anat in Syria and western Asia was also that of Asherah, as Astarte, and Atargatis where they were “…all concerned with maternity, fertility and childbirth.” (James, 1959), around 1400 to 1350 BC. Again evidence suggests all three were originally earth goddesses. In common with Demeter and Kore the goddess Anat, and her consort Baal, were associated with the cult of the corn. The seasonal dramatic ritual was celebrated under the auspices of Asherah and Anat . The goddess Dea Syria, who had many forms as in Mesopotamia, was always the predominant deity who combined sexuality and fertility with belligerence and warlike propensities (James, 1959), in this annual ritual.

The goddess Ma was a local Cappadocian deity and a Phrygian alternative for Cybele. As a warlike goddess she was identified by the Greeks with Enyo and by the Romans with Bellona. In the Hurrian region she was known as Hebat and Shauska, and at Arinne as the Sun Goddess. The Mother of the Mountain was symbolised in Greek temples with the ‘navel of the world’ or omphalos. The omphalos was “…an eminence representing the sacred mountain…” a symbol of earth and birth combined, the “…primordial hill…” that rose out of the chaos waters (James, 1959). Anatolia, in the north-east of Asia Minor was known as the Land of Hatti. There the female deities were associated with the male gods. Anatolian goddesses, such as Heparty or Hebat, were initially Earth-Mothers in a society where a queen succeeded the queen-mother on her death and in so doing became the priestess of the goddess.

The Mother-Goddess is found in many pantheons worldwide as the Goddess of birth, fertility, sexual union, plus the whole complex of birth and growth (Leach, 1972) whether plant, animal or human. With regard to Mother Nature the derivation is natura from the Latin meaning birth or character. Hence Natura became the personification of Mother Nature. The etymology has been traced to ancient Greece. Thus Eorthe in Old English may have been personified as a goddess and the Norse deity was Jord or Earth. However, the earliest reference, circa 13th or 12th century BC,  to the Earth Mother was the Mycenaean Greek term ma-ka to ma-ga meaning Mother Gaia. Aspects of the  ancient religions of the Inca, the Assyrian, the Babylonian, the Algonquin, the Iroquois, the Slavonic, Greek, Germanic, Roman, Indian, were within the dominion of priestesses in the millennia prior to the superceding patriarchal religions (Leeming, 2009; Merchant, 2001). The idea of the earth personified as a nurturing female is not limited to the Graeco-Roman world.

The Earth Mother is a motif that occurs in many mythologies concerning a goddess that is the fertile Earth and the Mother of all other deities. In India, in the Rig Veda she is called Mahimata. In Hinduism the Mother of All Creation is Gayatvi. Worship of the female principle in India is known as Sakti and its ancient cultus is manifested in one or other of the consorts of Shiva, including Uma, Kali, Parvati, and Durga. The Durga was the Queen Mother and Warrior Goddess who rode tigers into battle. Of Puranic Hindu origin her known period of worship was circa 400 AD but probably earlier. An angry and aggressive aspect of Sakti who fought demons (Jordan, 1992) and as a malignant form of Devi she is represented as a yellow woman riding a tiger (Leach, 1972). The Durga was also a goddess of fertility worshipped in many vegetation cults and a giver of life to the fruits of the earth (James, 1959), but she was also in her chthonic aspect a chief divinity of death as well as identified with Kali and the malignant gama-devata. Kali was also known as ‘the black’ as well as ‘gentle and benevolent’. As fertility deities the furrow in India was called the yoni or vulva and the seeds in it the semen virile.

The Goddess of the Earth in Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and South East Asia was called Phra Mae Thorami.  To the Andean peoples – the Quechua and Aymara – of South America believe in Mother Earth known as Pachamama. The Cult of Pachamama known in Bolivia, Peru, Equador, Chile and Argentina, is derived from Pacha (change, epoch) and Mama meaning mother.

Image (232)Figure 19.

 In the ancient cultures of Mexico the Earth Mother is Tonantzin Tlalli meaning Reverend Mother Earth.  In Sumer the Earth Goddess is called Ki and is identified with the Lady of the Mountains or Ninhursag. For the Sumerians the earth and fertility Mother Goddess was called Nintu of Lady of Birth. For the ancient Egyptians the primal mother was Mut. The Akkadian Goddess called Kubau had the title Mother of Life, which became the Hurrian goddess Hepa, and thence to the Hebrew goddess Heva or Eve. In the mythology of the  Norsemen the earth was personified as Jord and Hlothyn as well as Fjorgyn.  The cultures of the Pacific Ocean have many names for the Earth Mother. To the Maoris she is Papatuanuku,. In the Cook Islands the Goddess of the Beginning is Varima-te-takere which means Primordial Mother.

With regard to Mother Worship the Great Mother religions arose early in prehistory with primitive images of her worship found at ancient sites. Various fertility goddesses – the Common Mother, the Great Mother – existed in the Mediterranean and the Near East and have strong resemblances to one another (Leach, 1972). The eastern Mediterranean countries, both north and south were the locale of the worship of the Great Mother. These Great Mothers sometimes had their functions limited whereas others may have had a much wider latitude. For some she may have been the sole deity and some may have claimed a form of Stone Age monotheism for her whom worship was due (Leach, 1972). A worship addressed to her the ‘all-fostering Earth and Mother of the Gods which however does not explain “…the worship of the Mother of the Gods as merely a development from the vague conception of a motherly earth.” (Pearson, 1915). Evidence suggests that the worship of the Great Mother was an old established cult of the Mother of the Gods imported originally from Asia Minor. Moreover, the Great Mother cult belonged to the most ancient level of Greek thought and religion. It was from Crete that her ritual and belief passed to the Greek colonies in Asia Minor, where in the 7th century BC she was assimilated to the cult of Cybele. The Minoan goddess, it is now obvious, came from Phrygia and Anatolia where she became modelled in clay and porcelain, with the origins of her cult going back to the Neolithic circa 3500 BC. Her depictions illustrate her role as Earth-Mother, Mountain Mother, Mistress of the Trees, and lady of the Wild Beasts. The supreme Minoan goddess was Rhea who during the Middle Minoan, circa 2100 to 1700 BC who “…herself emerged as an indivualised figure under Asian influences representing procreative life like Anat, Astarte and Asherah in Syria and the Babylonian Ishtar.” (James, 1959).

Image (233)

Figure 19.

Image (229)Figure 20.

The Great Mother of the Mediterranean was Cybele who influenced and modified the cults of other mother-goddesses in the region – including Ishtar and Aphrodite (Leach, 1972). From the 5th century BC the goddess Rhea became identified with the Great Mother of the Phrygians and thus the mother of the Greek Zeus synonymous with the Mountain Mother of the Phrygians, as the mistress of the swift slaughtering lions (Pearson, 1915). The Mother of the Gods eventually lent away many of her attributes, sacred animals, and other traits to the female goddesses of ancient Greece. To Hera sometimes her lion, and to Artemis and Aphrodite her dove, and to Athena and the Erinyes her snakes, to Demeter her mysteries. (Farnell, 1896). The ancient Egyptian goddess Isis was the counterpart of the Greek Demeter and the Roman Ceres. As local variants or atavistic survivals of the original Mother Goddess of the Mediterranean all three would have been seen as synonymous with bountiful earth (Leach, 1972). It is obvious that the Great Mother had many names including “…Rhea, Cybele, Dindymene, Ma – but her functions remain the same; her characteristic attributes and sacred animals – lion, bull and goat – vary with the culture and local surroundings of her worshippers.” (Farnell, 1896).

The Great Mother Goddess might have been known as the Greek Gaia or the Roman Tellus or Terra. Tellus was a chthonic and primordial Mother and Roman corn deity. Also known as Terra Mater (Jordan, 1992) who was the goddess of marriage, the earth and fertility, and counterpart of the Greek Gaia (Shapiro, 1979). As Goddess of the Earth Tellus was connected with agriculture and the associated festivals and rituals linked her to Ceres, the Roman goddess of grain, agriculture, fertility and mothering (Spaeth, 1996). The goddess Venus was regarded as the mother of the Roman people and her given cult was Venus Genetrix or Venus the Begetter which was included in many manifestations of the syncretised Magna Dea or Great Goddess. In the Classical period Demeter and her daughter were both associated with the earth and primarily corn-goddesses. Demeter was the patron of agriculture and ruled over the processes of vegetation. This shows that the connection intimate connection between the Earth-mother and Corn-goddess remained intact. The cultus of the Corn-maiden and the Corn-mother was interpreted in terms of myth and ritual. The cultus of Ceres the opposite number of Demeter was one where the fecundity of the earth was celebrated in seasonal drams, with Ceres also equated with Tellus Mater (James, 1959). It was Frazer (1914) who extended the Greek myth of Demeter and Persephone to suggest that worshippers all over prehistoric Europe had venerated a double  goddess – mother and daughter – who personified the corn.

Image (219)Figure 21.

The archetypal earth mother was a primordial and chthonic deity in the ancient Greek pantheon and considered a Mother Goddess or Great Goddess. An ancient pre-Hellenic goddess mainly revered in Attica, she is the essence and personification of the earth (Jordan, 1992). Her known period of worship was circa 1500 BC until circa 400 AD and her cult centre was at Delphi (Leach, 1972). In Hellenic times she became Da-meter or Demeter.  The Gaia or Earth Mother cult was widespread and most powerful at Delphi and Olympia. When emphasis was placed on the sexual aspect of the Mother Goddess Gaia became known as Cybele, Rhea Cybele, Agdistis or Dindymene. It was in Greece that Cybele became identified with Rhea even though she was worshipped in Phrygia and western Asia with orgiastic rituals (Leach, 1972). The question arises why the Cybele of Phrygia and the Rhea of Crete developed along different trajectories from identical substrata of the pre-Hellenic and pre-Phrygian peoples of Crete and Asia Minor (Pearson, 1915). There was an earlier Mother Goddess cult in Crete and Asia Minor, and it was aspects of Cybele’s oriental worship that accompanied her rituals. The Semitic origin of Cybele is attested by her identification with her counterpart Astarte. The cult must have had a very early origin in Asia Minor.

In Mesopotamia and Sumeria the Mother Goddess was known as Ninsun and is Asherah in Canaan and Ashtarte in Syria, but also known in Sumerian erotic poetry as their mother goddess Ninghursag (Leick, 2003). Ninhursaga was the Mother-Goddess known as the Lady of the Land “…where nature manifested its powers of fecundity in the spring in luxuriant vegetation on its lush slopes.” (James, 1966). As goddess of the earth she produced all life (Kramer, 1944), also Ninto ana Kalamma was the ‘Lady who gives birth’, who became Dam-gal-nunna or ‘great spouse of the prince’. who was Enki.  Ninhursag  was the wife of Enlil the earth god and she gave birth to the god of the moon, Nanna. It was during the 3rd millennium BC that the Earth Goddess assumed a variety of names including Aruru, Nintu, Ninmah, and Ninhursag. Each deity was shown and concerned mainly with maternity and childbirth. The goddess was the prominent deity in Mesopotamia, Anatolia, Syria and the Aegean, but in Egypt the position was reversed. In ancient Mesopotamia Inanna was the Queen of Heaven and goddess of fertility and war, and her known period of worship was circa 3500 BC to 1750 BC, with cult centres at Warka and Nineveh (Jordan, 1992). In local creation myths the Land of Dilmun was a land of paradise. Inanna, the Queen of Heaven and identified with Venus, was a snake goddess and originally a vegetation goddess. She was patron of the vine, of flocks, herds, with an associated snake iconography (James, 1966). Inanna’s prime concern was with the fertility of the earth and, in conjunction with the shepherd-god Dumuzi she was the source of universal life. All life in ancient Mesopotamia was conceived as the result of the union between earth, water and air as the personified goddess (James, 1959). Innana was the Sumerian Queen of the Land and source of the blood of the earth. Also Queen Moon, Great Goddess of the Bronze Age, ruler of stars, planets and rain clouds, accompanied by winged lions. She was the great Sumerian Mother goddess and  later identified with the Babylonian Ishtar (Leach, 1972). Indeed, Inanna was the prototype of the Akkadian goddess Ishtar, and engaged in the sacred marriage which was “…celebrated in the city-states to secure fruitfulness to the crops, the people, their flocks and herds and the whole land. (James, 1966).

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Figure 22.

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Figure 23.

In Mesopotamia it was Ishtar who assumed the role of Mother of the Gods and as such was also the controller of fertility and vegetation and, as such, became identified with Mother-earth. Inanna’s cult of the earth was synchronised with seasonal cycles in both myth and ritual where the goddess as Inanna/Ishtar “…represented the source of all generative power in nature and in mankind as the Universal Mother.” (James, 1959).

In Mesopotamia, Syria, Anatolia, Greece and other locations, the Sacred Tree “…symbolised the generative principle in nature personified in the Mother Goddess called Ninhursaga, Inanna, Ishtar…(James, 1966). However, not so in Egypt where it was the male god as Geb or Ptah, whereas in Mesopotamia it was the goddess who invited the king to share her nuptial couch (Frankfort, 1946). Throughout the ceremonial and ritual process it was the goddess who took the initiative and as the source of life, she “…was regarded as the incarnation of the reproductive forces in nature and the Mother of the gods and of mankind.” (James, 1966). During the long period of the development of agriculture and animal husbandry the productive role of women, with man as the begetter, in western Asia, the Aegean and Crete “…the sacred tree was primarily the embodiment of the goddess, often in association with her young virile partner, husband, son, or paramour” (James, 1966). Therefore, the transition from food gathering to production of food during the Neolithic, the female principle continued to exert its prominence in the feminine cultus. With regard to the female principle and the Tree of Life, the imagery of fecundity, and birth mystery, harks back to the Palaeolithic. Rituals were aided by magico-religious formulations and artefacts which consisted of ivory and bone figurines, corpulent statuettes or amulets. Slender figurines suggest a virgin state rather than the matronly statuettes which represented the two aspects of the female creative role.

The symbolism of the sacred marriage between the goddess and the god, who was her husband/brother was of the goddess as the female principle who precedes. not succeeds, the god. It follows therefore, in Mesopotamia the goddess was the first cause and thus the dominant figure. The ritual and symbolism reached its climax at the seasonal spring sacred marriage, which is represented visually in Akkadian seals. In these seals the Mother-goddess is shown with tree branches, the sacred tree the symbol of the goddess. In ancient Crete, in the Middle Minoan Period (circa 2100 to 1700 BC) due to influences of the ancient Near East, the goddess emerged as “…an individualised, anthropomorphic figure in her three-fold capacity of the Earth-mother…Mountain-mother…chthonic deity.” (James, 1996). Therefore as the Tree of Life she assumed human form as a goddess, the Mistress of the Trees, the Lady of the Wild Beasts and the Guardian of the Dead.

In Egypt creative activities were centred on the male gods, and the goddess had no role in the mystical concepts concerning conception. In this scenario the first cause was Ptah, with Gleb a phoenix on the primordial hill or omphalos, with Tefnut a goddess of moisture, and Isis the sacred ‘throne of the king’ or ‘king’s mother’ and thus personification of the coronation stool. Merely the source of his life-giving functions (James, 1966). The attributes of Isis were those of the harvest goddess Thermouthis, as well as identified with the mother-goddess Hathor, the patron of love and fertility.

Originally Isis did not fulfill the functions of a mother goddess which was the role of Hathor as Cow-Goddess of Denderah (James, 1959). Isis was identified with Hathor eventually and thence with allied goddesses from foreign lands – Silene, Demeter, Aphrodite, and Pelagia – whilst Osiris her husband and brother occupied a subordinate role. Therefore, in early texts Isis was not the queen-mother but creatrix of the pharaohs who were called the ‘sons of Isis’ (Frankfort, 1948). Images of the Mother Goddess are amongst the earliest found in ancient Egypt. There is an association of the goddess with animals such as the lioness, the cow, hippopotamus, white vulture, cobra, the scorpion, and the cat. As a mother goddess she was also associated with the sun, the earth, the night sky and the primordial waters. Reverence for the Mother Goddess continued into historical times such as for Hathor and Isis. Oracles associated with these deities advised the rulers of Egypt, and The Two Ladies who were Wadjet and Nekhbet who remained as patron deities of the Rulers of Egypt in every dynasty.

Image (204)Figure 24.

Hathor  which means ‘House of Horus’  was a complex deity who was Great Celestial Cow Goddess, Protectress of Women, Sky Goddess and Matron of Love.  Her known period or worship was from the Old Kingdom circa 2700 BC (perhaps earlier) to until the end of Egyptian ancient history circa 400 AD (Jordan, 1992), and  her cult centres were at Themes, Dendarah, and Giza. Sometimes identified with Isis and similar in some ways to Aphrodite and goddess of joy, love, and the sun (Shapiro, 1979), as well as representing the female principle, patroness of women and marriage, and also as a moon goddess she was a deity of death (Leach, 1972). The most well known Egyptian goddess was Isis. Daughter of Nut and Geb and sister and wife of Osiris, mother of Horus (Shapiro, 1979), she was sometimes called Aset. Her period of worship was from the Early dynastic period, circa 2700 BC until around 400 AD. The cults of Isis were found wherever there was Egyptian influence (Jordan, 1992). In Graeco-Roman times she was during the Isiac called Stella Maris. Isis was primarily celebrated as the ‘Creatress of Green Things’ and as ‘The Lady of Abundance’  and in her attributes she was “…shown personifying all that was most vital in the maternal principle.” (James, 1966). In her capacity as a maternal goddess she is represented by images with the infant Horus or Harpocrates. Despite not being uniquely a mother goddess Isis can be closely connected, and compared to Inanna, and in due course became equated with the later Magna Mater of Western Asia, as well as established mysteries of her own in 4th century Graeco-Roman times.

Neith was originally a goddess connected to war and hunting as well as the personification of the waters of primordial chaos. Goddess of the night she was a Celestial deity and Creator Goddess and known also as Neit, Net, and Nit. As Goddess of the Sky she had the epithets ‘Coverer of the Sky’, ‘She Who Protects’, ‘Mistress of All’, and ‘She Who Holds a Thousand Souls’ and was the equivalent to the Greek Rhea (James, 1959). The ancient Egyptians stated that every woman was a nutrit or little goddess. The oldest of the Egyptian deities often identified with Ma’at her sacred tree is the acacia.

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Figure 25.

Nut was a goddess connected with the underworld as well as the clouds and the heavens, where she appears in the guise of a great cow (James, 1959). Like Neith she stood in the tradition of mother goddesses and was a very ancient deity from the western delta. The cow symbolism links Nut to Hathor and Isis. Daughter of Shu (dryness) and Tefnut (water) she was the mother of Isis, Osiris, Nephthys, and Set ( Shapiro, 1979). Her body is the sky and her husband Geb, the earth. Her known period of worship was circa 3,000 BC and earlier until the end of Egyptian history circa 400 AD. Cult centres were at Karnak, Heliopolis and elsewhere (Jordan, 1992.

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Figure 26.

Mut  or (Maut), which means mother, was the patron goddess of Thebes and in Upper Egypt the counterpart of Sakhmet (Jordan, 1992) and became the consort of the sun god Amun. As the goddess of womanly arts and motherhood she was depicted as a lioness- or vulture-headed (Shapiro, 1979). Mut had a number of titles that included ‘World Mother’, ‘Eye of Ra’, ‘Queen of the Goddesses’, ‘Lady of Heaven’, ‘Mother of the Gods’, and ‘She Who Gives Birth’.

Astarte was a western Semitic, predominantly Phoenician fertility goddess, and worshipped circa 1500 BC until around 200 BC, and also known as Astarat (in Hebrew), Attart (Ugarit), and Ashtaroth (Jordan, 1992; Leach, 1972). As the Phoenician Great Goddess and Lady of Byblos, she was one of the most ancient forms of the Great Goddess in the Middle East. Possibly an Iron Age (after 1200 BC) incarnation of the Bronze Age  (before 1200)  Asherah. Astarte was accepted by the Greeks as Aphrodite. Asherah or Aserah is the Semitic name of the Great Goddess with the epithets Sacred Grove, Divine Harlot, Lady of Heaven, Queen of the Gods, the Sacred Cow, the Lady Who Traverses the Sea. Symbolised as a multi-branched tree she was also regarded as she who gives birth to the gods, thus Goddess of the Tree of Life. Regarded as the force of life. Sometimes portrayed riding a sacred lion and holding lilies and snakes. Asherah was a Ugaritic Mother Goddess originally Amorite, then Canaanite and thence Phoenician. Her known period of worship was from prehistoric times circa the third millennium BC to the Christian era. Cult centres were at Ras Shamra in Ugarit, with hill shrines throughout the Mediterranean coastal areas and corn-growing regions.

In Palestine the cult of the Mother Goddess had similar images to those of Asherah and also Astarte. The worship of both Anat and Asherah were deeply established in Palestine, and survived side by side, as did their sacred trees and poles which were original symbols and objects of veneration in their sanctuaries. Despite later legislation and denunciation by Judaism and its patriarchal priesthood the goddess worship was too deeply enshrined to be completely eradicated. Post-exile Judaism was eventually cleansed of its Mesopotamian and Canaanite accretions “…in which the Mother-goddess and her fertility symbolism constitute such a conspicuous feature.” (James, 1959). The basis of several Near East mother goddess cults was derived from that of Inanna-Ishtar, who were two of the three great goddesses of the Bronze Age. One other was Sophia mentioned in the Hebrew Book of Wisdom.

Cybele, similarly to Artemis, was associated as protectoress for bears, lions and panthers. Hecate was identified with Artemis, shared the title Antaea, the Sender of Nocturnal Apparitions, thus the worship “…of the mother was distinguished from the indigenous Greek cults chiefly by its emotional, ecstatic and mystical character.” (Pearson, 1915). Those Greeks who journeyed to Crete found on arrival the worship of the Great Mother of fertility who had the name Rhea. Henceforth her cult was transferred to Greece and was confirmed in areas affected by Cretan influences. Eventually, when her cult worship arrived in Rome in 204 BC Rhea was identified with the Goddess of Plenty or Ops, the mother of Jupiter. In Greek parlance Cybele-Rhea was the mother of Zeus. Cybele, and the primordial Gaia and Rhea were worshipped as Mother Goddesses but Greek Olympian goddesses with Mother attributes also included Hera and Demeter (Burkert, 1979), where each Great Goddess rules over a male society, each shown in her attire as Mistress of the Beasts, Mistress of the Sacrifice. Similarly the Minoan Goddess, represented as a mountain deity on seals, had many of her attributes absorbed into the Greek Artemis.

For the early German tribes they focussed on the  Germanic mother goddess called Nerthus who, according to Tacitus, was also known as Terra Mater. Nerthus was worshipped by the Anglii and Longobardi tribes. Later Anglo-Saxons worshipped the Eofan modor, Earth Mother, and folde fra modor or earth, mother of men. In Germanic pagan religion the Earth Goddess was called Nertha. It has been suggested that the Great Mother Goddess had been the main deity of the ancient Celtic peoples, with Glastonbury as a cult centre (Hutton, 1999). Among the Celtic nations the Irish goddess Anu was also known as Danu according to the Da Chich Anann near Killarney. The most honoured of the Irish deities were the Tuatha de Danaan or ‘the people of Danu’. Amongst the early Welsh a similar deity called Don was equated with Danu and identified as a Mother Goddess, referred to in The Mabinogion as the ‘Mother of Heroes’. The Celts in Gaul worshipped a ‘divine mother’ called Dea Matrona who was associated with the Marne River. Similar are the Matrones. The Matres  (Latin for mothers) and Matrones (Latin for matrons) were female deities worshipped in North West Europe from the 1st to 5th centuries AD. Always depicted in groups of three they were venerated in Eastern Gaul, the then Germania, Upper Italy and regions occupied by the Roman Empire during that time. (Lindow, 2001; Simek, 2007). Local epithets for these goddesses included ‘Galician Mothers’ and ‘The August Nurses’ or Nutrices Augustae. Hints of the Celtic deities Danu and Don are seen throughout Europe in the names of the Don River, the Danube, Dnestr, and Dnepr, which all suggest they originate with an ancient Proto-Indo-European goddess. In Lithuanian mythology there is Gaia-Zeme of Mother Earth who is the daughter of the sun and moon. In the Americas, in the Andes, there is the worship of the Fertility goddess Pachamamma. In Inca mythology this goddess presides of planting, harvesting, as well as causing earthquakes. In South America and the Caribbean she became the syncretised version of the Yoruba deities Iansan and Oyas. The Hopi of North America, at Turtle Island in Arizona, refer to the earth as Tuuwaqatsi or ‘Earth Mother’. For the Aztec and Toci the ‘Mother of the Gods’ is often associated with Tlazolteotl or Mesoamerican goddess of purification, healing and midwifery. Comparison of the Pueblo cultures of Arizona suggests the worship of the One Goddess, the life giving mother, who existed worldwide before civilisation, and the idea that the first god was a goddess. (Hutton, 1999).

(4)  The Triple Goddess

In the ancient classical world the goddesses were “…regarded mainly as patronesses, or allegorical figures, of civilisation.” (Smith, 1984), representing love, maidenly chastity, wisdom and majesty. The Romantic Movement of the 1880’s had an impact on classical studies. Between 1800 and 1940 Aphrodite (Venus) retained her numerical supremacy in appearances with Diana (Artemis) in second place. In third place came Proserpine and 4th was Ceres (Demeter). By the 1810’s the “…divine feminine is personified either in the moon…or the spirit of the green earth…” (Hutton, 1997).

The goddess is often visualised as the triple Goddess in her three aspects of virgin, mother and crone, with her corresponding sacred colours of white, red and black. These three stages of womanhood are mirrored in the phases of the moon – waxing, full and waning. The  virgin or maiden new moon represents emerging sexuality, the huntress running with the hounds, wild and free. In this form she is Artemis or Diana, a young woman who belongs to no man. As the mother or full moon, she symbolises feminine power, fertility and nurture. She is the matron at the peak of her fecundity and sexuality as Selene, Demeter, Ishtar, Isis, and Maeve. The crone or waning moon is wisdom and experienced compassion, a guide through the experience of death. In this form she is the hag, the wise woman and keeper of the mysteries. Frequently represented as Hecate she is a triple goddess in her own right and sometimes appears as Kali. All these attributes of the Triple Goddess represent different aspects of healing and growth.

The Triple Deity is common throughout world mythology with many mythical associations. As the goddess associated with the number three she is regarded as the threefold, tripled, triplicate, tripartite, triune, triadic, or as a trinity. The Triple Goddess in mythological art and religious iconography is always represented as a group, as a triad, or perhaps a single deity with three aspects. It was pointed out that the ancient pagan world often believed in a triumverate of three divine women called sometimes the Fates, sometimes the Graces, with the original single earth goddess honoured in three roles of maiden, mother, and crone (Harrison, 1903).

The ancient Greeks spoke of the earth in terms of being female whereas the sky was male in gender. This was in direct contrast to the ancient Egyptians. The gender outlook was  reinforced by “…the mind-set of the patriarchal societies which occupied medieval and early modern Europe.” (Hutton, 1997). Trinities of female mythical deities appear in  central and east European cultures and suggest evidence of an Indo-European belief in trimutive ‘spinners of destiny’ (Petreska, 2005). The various European female  mythological figures and deities show the influence of the pre-Indo-European goddess-worship, or female triple fate divinities and destiny spinners. They are attested all over Europe and Anatolia of the Bronze Age. In classical antiquity there was a sacred grove on the shores of Lake Nemi called Aricia. At this shrine a triple Diana Nemorensis was worshipped from the late 6th century AD (Alfoldi, 1960), and who was conceived as a three-fold unity of the divine huntress, the moon-goddess, and the goddess of the nether-world, Hekate. Another European group usually represented as a trinity are the Matres or Matronae who are associated with fertility and motherhood. Inscriptions as testimony to their worship were found in Gaul, Spain, Italy, Britain and the Rhineland. Their worship was carried on by the Roman army from the 1st century AD.

For the ancient Celts the triple goddess was known as The Morrigan by her three different names of Eriu, Fotla, and Banba. Therefore the goddess of the Irish sovereignty are three sisters (Ellis, 2004; Jones, 1995). This triplicate deity formation reflects a way of “…expressing the divine rather than presentation of specific god types. Triads or triple beings are ubiquitous in Welsh and Irish mythic imagery Green, 1999). Indeed, Morgan la Fay was a manifestation of the British Triple goddess in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. In addition it is worthwhile noting that the “…religious iconographic repertoire of Gaul and Britain during the Roman period includes a wide range of triple forms: the most common triadic depictions is that of the triple-mother-goddess. (Green, 1999). For some it was believed that the Triple Goddess was an aboriginal deity of ancient Britain (Graves, 1981) and that traces of her worship survived in modern British witchcraft.

For the ancient Greeks the Morai, the Charites, the Erinnyes, and the northern Norns were, as triple deities, aspects of the Greek Hecate or Roman Diana Nemorensis . Thus the “…Three-faced Selene…” is “…identified as the three Charites, the three Morai, three Erinnyes.” (Green, 1996). The goddess Hecate is synonymous “…with Persephone, Selene, Artemis, and the old Babylonian Ereshkigal, is one of the deities most involved in the papyri.” (Betz, 1989). The hymns and spells in the texts of the magical papyri of the Greeks refer to the goddess as Hecate, Persephone and Selene etc, as “…triple-sounding, triple-headed, triple-voiced…triple-pointed, triple-faced, triple-necked (Betz, 1989). The Triple Goddess has become identified, in mythology, with the Greek moon-goddesses. Artemis is the Maiden the virgin goddess of the hunt. Selene was the Mother, and mother also so of Endymion’s children. Hecate was the crone, associated with the underworld and magic, as Queen of the Witches. The goddess in her early form took the gods of the successive waxing and waning years as he lovers in sequence. Robert Graves (1969) thought that the ancient worship of the Goddess underpinned most of classical Greek myth, but which survived in a distorted or incomplete form. For example, triad survival was seen in the worship of Hera in three forms as Hera Pais (girl Hera); Hera Teleia (adult Hera); and Hera Khera  (widowed Hera).

The Triple Goddess concept is assumed to have started with the works of Jane Ellen Harrison (Meskell, 1995; Harrison, 1903, 1912). A key figure in the ‘Myth and Ritual School’ at Cambridge  which is now considered somewhat passé  and the “…reason the Ritualists have fallen into disfavour is not that their assertions have been controverted by new information…Ritualism has been swept way not by an access of new facts but of new theories.” (Ackerman, 2002). Writing of Harrison’s work Hutton (1997) wrote she was “…both celebrated and controversial, posited the previous existence of a peaceful and intensely creative woman-centred civilisation, in which humans, living in harmony with nature and their own emotions, worshipped a single female deity. The deity was regarded as representing the earth, and as having three aspects, of which the first two were Maiden and Mother, she did not name the third…Following her work, the idea of a matristic early Europe which had venerated such a deity was developed in books by amateur scholars such as Robert Briffault’s The Mothers (1927) and Robert Graves’s The White Goddess (1946; 1981).”

Marija Gimbutas put forward the argument for the existence of a Triple-Goddess reverence during the European Neolithic. This goddess- centred religion was initially modified by wave-like and sequential invasions of agricultural Indo-European patriarchalists. Therefore the egalitarian and matristic Neolithic communities, which had a matriarchal and gynaeocratic social organisation, were eventually overwhelmed (Gimbutas, 1991). The main theory of Marija Gimbutas was that a goddess centred culture existed among pre-Indo-European peoples of Old Europe between 6500 and 3500 BC (Gimbutas, 1974; 1999). The theory was adopted by modern New Age and feminist groups (Gilchrist, 1999). The theory argued that in Old Europe, the Aegean, as well as in the Near East, a Great Triple Goddess was worshipped and which pre-dated the patriarchal religion brought in by the invading Indo-European speakers. Furthermore, the contemporary Palaeolithic and Neolithic iconography provided evidence of Triple Goddess Worship.

Robert Graves took the idea of Goddess worshipping matriarchal early Europe from Harrison (Greer, 2003; Hutton, 1997) for the imagery of the three aspects related to the triple goddess. As for Harrison herself she had proclaimed tha “…Europe itself had been the location of an idyllic, goddess-worshipping, matriarchal civilisation just before the beginning of recorded history, and spoke bitterly of the disastrous consequences of the Indo-European invasion that destroyed it. In the hands of later writers such as Robert Graves, Jacquetta Hawkes, and Marija Gimbutas, this ‘lost civilisation of the Goddess’ came to play the same sort of role in many modern Pagan communities as Atlantis and Lemuria did in theosophy.” (Greer, 2003). In The Greek Myths (1969, vols 1 and 2) Robert Graves applied his convictions of the White Goddess to Greek mythology and thus various theories concerning goddess worship in ancient Greece (Van Hendry, 2002). Graves posited that Greece had been settled by a matriarchal goddess-worshipping people before invasion by successive waves of patriarchal Indo-European speakers from the north.

It is in the writings of Robert Graves  (1979; 1981) that the Triple Goddess is conceived as one of the primary deities especially by neo-pagans. Notwithstanding, separate from the Neo-pagans, the Triple-Goddess refers to historical triads of goddesses and also single goddesses worshipped in three aspects or forms. In the usual Neo-pagan worship the three-fold female figures, after Graves, as the Maiden, Mother, and Crone. Each phase of sacred womanhood is seen as separate but also sequential stages of the female life-cycle as phases of the moon. The realm of the earth, the underworld and heavens are thus ruled by a goddess phase. In this mythology the Horae were equated with the seasons, the Graces with the Fates, and the three seasons comprised the Greek year (Harrison, 1903; 1912), the matriarchal goddess herself reflecting the three stages of a woman’s life.

 

(5)  The Sacred and the Divine Feminine

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Images or figurines of the Universal Goddess of the Ishtar type (Murray, 1934) are different from the Mother-type and resemble each other only in their common femininity. These figures are always of young presumably nubile women. Sometimes they are naked, sometimes lightly clothed, and sometimes fully clothed. A feature of divine female images or figurines is that there is no emphasis or exaggeration of sexual characteristics. It is in this sense that they cannot be called  A Mother-goddess because they have never born children.

The sacred feminine with regard to figurines of the personified yoni type have exaggerated genitalia as an essential (Murray, 1934). Their beauty of form is sacrificed with the main emphasis on their pudenda. The most realistic yoni figures in the ancient world come from Egypt and represent the goddess Baubo. She is  a western Semitic Mother goddess from Syria who was known from Prene and found associated with Cybele and Atagartis (Jordan, 1992). The surviving artefacts from the Palaeolithic and Neolithic periods represent “…numerous expressions of the divine female which persisted for many thousands of years.” (Gimbutas, 1991). The Mother Goddess, as the Mother of Mysteries, was venerated as the sacred womb of the earth and held in high esteem.

The Palaeolithic and Neolithic may have seen the beginnings of gender devotion, of the exhaltation of the feminine principle, and creation of homo-social art. The figurines have led to conjectures that there were once societies where women were known as the sole progenitors. Therefore the concept of the Feminine Principle elevated to the reverential position of Creatrix of Life. The Mother as life producer became the central figure as the personification of fertility, and therefore the divine principal of maternity. As such she presided over the mystery of birth and generation. As the Mother her role child-bearing an offspring nourishment became “…the primary model for the development of the image of the goddess as the all-generating deity (Gimbutas, 1991). Therefore worship of the divine femininity or fertility was became entwined  with a Mother Goddess cult must be one of the oldest and longest surviving religions of the ancient world (James, 1959), with the goddess personifying “…the eternally renewing cycle of life in all its forms and manifestations.” (Gimbutas, 1991). Indeed, it was the thesis of Briffault that most of the world’s peoples had “…once venerated a Mother Goddess who was believed to have engendered all life, and who was commonly associated with a young god who was her son and consort.” (Hutton, 1999).

With the development of animal husbandry and the domestication of flocks and herds, the role of men in the process of reproduction became more obvious, and thence “…the mother-goddess was assigned a male partner, either in the form of her son and lover, or of brother and husband.” (James, 1959). Nonetheless in Mesopotamia it was till the goddess who invited the lover or young god to hare her bed, it was she who enfolded her consort as the young god, and she who throughout the ritual who took command took the initiative. It is unlikely at this period that the young god played any part in the antecedents of cult of the mother goddess and celebration of the maternal principle. where her cult became very prominent. When the maternal principle and idea of the divine feminine had become personified it “…was either as a single goddess, the Great Mother, with different functions and symbols, or a number of independent and separate deities exercising their several roles in the processes of birth, generation and fertility, in whom the cult was centred.” (James, 1959).

In ancient Greece the Mysteries of the Goddess all centred on the Mother and her subordinate son. The mysteries meant magic and stood in contrast to the worship to the worship of the Olympian father (Harrison, 1915). In the ancient religion of Crete the male deity was sometimes a child, sometimes a young man, sometimes a background power who fertilised the Mother Earth or the always dominant Mother. Marriage was for ancient society the mystery par excellence. There was a mystical communion between the Goddess and her putative lover which was enacted as a ritual across the whole of the East. This mattered not whether it was the sacred marriage of Cybele and Attis, Aphrodite and Adonis, or Isis and Osiris (Pearson, 1915). The worship of the Mother centred on fertility and was  group participation rather than by a single individual worshipper. Greek religion comprised two levels or strata. This was reflected in the existence of Mother cults and Father cults that characterised Greek religion. The Mother Goddess was dominant in the southern Aegean and Anatolian stratum, whereas the northern, Indo-European derived, had a dominant Father god derived from the patrilineal social conditions. A feature of the southern stratum matrilineal group worship was that it was mystical and orgiastic. From this it can be seen that the mysteries of the Mother are based – as with all religious mysteries – based on ceremonies of initiation or rites of passage. For example the Greek Demeter and her younger self as Kore show the “…mysteries are now known to be simple magical ceremonies, dramatic representations of birth, marriage, and death, enacted with a view to promote fertility.” (Harrrison, 1915). The matrilineal worship of the Mother Goddess implies that she has a succession of consorts. For example, in Crete, the fructifying of the Mother was mimetic and dramatic and sometimes attended by castration in some cults in Asia Minor (Frazer, 1907). The sacred marriage was common to all myths where the lover was symbolically done to death after the ceremony and then  restored to life. The mystical marriage may well have been “…in its origin a magical process intended to stimulate the reproductive forces of nature, while the subsequent death and  resurrection of the priest-king represented the annual decay and revival of vegetation.” (Pearson, 1915; Murray, 1912).

(6).  The Goddess Movement

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Some Neo-pagans assert that worship that worship of the Mother Goddess or Triple Goddess can be traced back to pre-Christian Europe. Indeed, as far back as the Upper Palaeolithic, and as such in todays terms is a surviving remnant of original and primeval beliefs. This is the archetypal theory of the Neo-pagans. Many Neo-pagans are not Wiccans therefore theology, beliefs and practices will vary (Adler, 2006). Many Wiccans and Neo-pagans worship the Triple Goddess  in the belief that the Triple Goddess represents the archetypal figure who appears in a number of different cultures throughout human history. There are many individual goddesses combining to form a triple goddess. In the Neo-pagan and Wiccan view sexuality, pregnancy followed by breast-feeding of the neonate, are all part of the female reproductive processes. Processes that embody the Goddess and thereby make the physical body sacred.

The theology of the Neo-pagans has adopted an eclectic of images and names from culturally divergent deities for their ritual purposes (Rountree, 2004). This explains the connection between the Triple Goddess to the three goddesses Saraswati, Lakshmi and Parvati (Kali/Durga) of the Hindu triple Tridevi. In theological terms is goddess spirituality monotheistic or polytheistic? The words The Goddess or Great Goddess suggest a monotheism but are really shorthand terms to encompass all goddesses or henotheism, which describes the modern metaphoric concept of the female deity (Long, 1996; Laura, 1997; Christ, 1997; 2003). The concept of a singular divine being having numerous expressions was not a new development. A major theme in India for many centuries was the Vedas speaking of a one-goddess-many-goddess concept (Jayran, 2000). Theological  – aspects of the deity in earlier goddess worship concerns an underling theme – not syncretism or henotheism, but the realisation of a unity behind a multiplicity of manifestations. For example, in ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt and the Mediterranean lands records show the goddess speaking for herself as being known by many names and forms. This is as much true for Inanna of Sumer as it is of Isis of Egypt. Also, is the Goddess immanent or transcendant, or both? It is believed that the Goddess is immanent and infuse all of nature (Starhawk, 1979), but when transcendant the Goddess exists independently of the material world.

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Figure 27.

In the 19th century first-wave feminists, Matilda Jocylin Gage and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, published their ideas about a female deity. Anthropologists such as Bachofen examined the ideas concerning prehistoric matriarchal Goddess cultures. The concept of prehistoric matriarchy was introduced in 1861 by J. J. Bachofen (1922) who stated “…the struggle of matriarchy against other forms is revealed in diverse phenomena, the underlying principle of development is clear. Matriarchy is followed by patriarchy and preceded by unregulated hetaerism.” Bachofen’s central postulate was historical patriarchies were recent replacements of the earlier state of primeval matriarchy, and a chthonic maternal prehistoric religion. For Bachofen chthonic mystery cults of matriarchal societies were stages in the historical development of religion.

A goddess is regarded as an aspect of the Great Goddess as well as an individual goddess possessing a specific or particular role within the pantheon. The Goddess or Great Goddess is therefore the female deity regarded as primary – even the powers of the male god are derived from her (Gottner-Abenderoth, 1987). The concept of the Great Goddess is not identical in all cultures. It is nonetheless a common concept in many ancient cultures which the Goddess Movement wants to restore (Christ, 1997), where Goddess Spirituality is synonymous for the Goddess Movement and spiritual practice. Matriarchal religion is one that focuses on a goddess or goddesses and refers to the theories of prehistoric matriarchal religions proposed by J. J. Bachofen, J. E. Harrison, and M. Gimbutas, and later popularised by Second-Wave Feminism ( Diner, 1965; Harding, 1935).

The Goddess Movement was inspired by the writings of Gimbutas (1974; 1989) and Mellaart (1967). For Marija Gimbutas the concept of Old Europe meant the existence of Neolithic societies that were ‘matristic’ and ‘goddess-centred’, with a female deity having three aspects. This concept inspired some Neo-pagan worshippers of the Triple Goddess. In the 1970’s and 1980’s these Neolithic cultures were referred to as matriarchies, and became the vehicle whereby the field of matriarchal studies was introduced to feminism (Gottner-Abenderoth, 1987). The underlying theory was the transformation of prehistoric cultures in which the local goddess was primary and the male god had only derivative powers. These prehistoric cultures were assumed to be egalitarian and possessed a social organisation that operated matrilinearity, and thus inheritance only through the maternal line (Lerner, 1987; Eisler, 1987; Gimbutas, 1989; Christ, 1997; Dashu, 2000).

Marija Gimbutas was the pioneer of the Goddess Movement, and it was her writings that initiated the field now described as archaeomythology. In essence – a fusion of archaeology, folklore and comparative mythology. The works of Gimbutas were regarded as the key to the meaning of prehistoric research but, she was criticised for “…the technique of arguing back from her theory to the meaning of artifacts, so that anything fits her case…the imputation of religious significance to any artefact that resembles an organism.” (Linnekin, 1998). Therefore as Gimbutas argued for the worship of the Triple Goddess in Europe she attracted much controversy. However, her ideas did influence modern neo-paganism. There is no dispute that the triple Goddess was known in ancient religion. Further criticism of Gimbutas was that she allegedly twisted facts and reinterpreted them to fit her feminist agenda, thus “…she has shown to her own satisfaction the contrast between the ‘peaceful character of…Old Europe’ and that of the society which destroyed it.” (Tringham, 1991).

The overall trend of the Goddess Movement were the religious and spiritual beliefs and practices that emerged out of Second-Wave Feminism during the 1970’s.  Some women embraced the concept of the female goddess more in keeping with feminist ideas abut the inherent value of women. Goddess beliefs occur in many forms. Multiple goddesses are recognised by some believers, and some include gods. Since the 1970’s goddess spirituality has emerged as a bona-fide and recognisable international cultural movement. Second-Wave feminism took up the ideas originally postulated by Bachofen and Robert Graves. Merlin Stone (1978) took Palaeolithic ‘Venus’ figurines as evidence of a prehistoric matriarchal religion, and presented matriarchal religion as involving a “…cult of serpents” as a major symbol of spiritual wisdom, fertility, life and strength. It was Marija Gimbutas who introduced the field of feminist archaeology in the 1970’s  with her now standard works for the teory that a patriarchic or ‘androcentric’ culture originated in the Bronze Age and replaced a Neolithic goddess-centred world view (Husain, 1997).

It follows that Gimbutas influenced branches of Neo-paganism in the 1970’s. Matriarchal religion became part of a contemporary new religious movement within the larger arena of Neo-paganism, and which became known as the Goddess Movement. Thus it was Marija Gimbutas, in hindsight, who “…unwittingly supplied the fledgling movement with a history, through her analysis of the symbolism of the goddess in the religion of the Palaeolithic and Neolithic Old Europe.” (Christ, 2002).

Witchcraft has no mythology or ancient history but has nonetheless, resurrected a number of archetypes, myths and pagan deities – most importantly the Great Goddess. Modern witchcraft is presented as the antithesis of the popular misconceptions and ideas of sorcery and Satanism. A deliberate distinction is made between evil black magic and the pagan revival religion of the Goddess Movement. The central myth of witchcraft is the myth of rebirth. This encompasses the descent of the goddess into the underworld. In other words a variation of the descent myths of Demeter, Kore and Persephone, Inanna and Dumuzi, Ishtar and Tammuz. Modern witches try to reflect these myths in their ritual practices.

Wicca views The Goddess together with her male consort the Horned God as the primary deity of importance. For Wicca she is the witch community’s tribal goddess, but is not universal or omnipotent. There are many variants of Wicca who regard the goddess as universal, which is in line with her description in the Charge of the Goddess. In this respect she is the Queen of Heaven similar to Isis. Her strong symbolism is often made apparent and is derived from a number of ancient deities and cultures. Sometimes portrayed as Diana, Hecate, Isis, sometimes as Maiden, Mother, and Crone or Hag. These three aspects are often regarded as the three stages in the life of the woman – separated by menarche and menopause. Within the Goddess Movement some participants, but not all, self-identify as witches, whereas others use ‘pagan’ as a generic label for their spiritual world view (Laura, 2002).

Wiccans and Goddess Movement participants often invoke ancient myths, which are used metaphorically and figuratively, rather than given a literal interpretation. In this way myths are seen as reflecting ancient understanding and view of the world. Similarly, creation myths are seen as poetic or metaphoric statements rather than in conflict with scientific understanding (Budapest, 1980; Laura, 1989, 1997; Starhawk, 1979). Myths from ancient cultures included their goddesses with those of post-Bronze Age Greek and Roman mythology which had developed a patriarchal bias. An example is the myth of Demeter and Persephone which has been classically reinterpreted (Christ, 1987; Pollack, 1997; Spretnak, 1978).

The myth of the goddess plays a central role in all ceremonies of initiation in witchcraft. These initiations, in common with Masonic rituals, have three degrees. An initiate of the First Degree participates in a symbolic ‘death of the old self’ and a ritual ‘rebirth’ as a witch. This ‘rite of passage’ for the ‘child of the goddess’ means the initiate enters the magic circle, and thereby symbolically enters the ‘Craft’. These practices of witchcraft seek to find again the transcendence of the divine feminine. They attempt this by reconstructing pagan fertility rites and the mysteries of the Goddess. Witchcraft participants regard the rituals as a affirmation of corporeal sacredness, a connection or communion of humans to nature, he cycle of life and death, and thence rebirth.

A central ritual of witchcraft is called Drawing Down the Moon. This ritual ceremony is where the High Priest invokes the force of the Goddess to enter the High Priestess. She then draws the Goddess into herself, and thus becomes the conduit for her divine energy. The origin of the ritual is allegedly derived from the Thessalian witches who were renowned for their magical powers. The Charge of the Goddess is the nearest that the ‘Craft’ can approach to a ‘litany’. The history of The Charge has ancient precedents in The Golden Ass of Apulieus (1996). The Charge of Goddess, formulated in the modern version in the 1950’s (Vlaiente, 1989), is an inspirational and traditional libational text used in Neo-pagan Wiccan religious ceremonies. It is spoken by the High Priestess after the ritual of Drawing Down the Moon. (Rabinowicz, 2004). Several versions exist, all with the same basic premise, the best known version being that of Gerald Gardner (Orpheus, 2009).

The Charge of the Goddess is recited during Wiccan rituals where the High Priestess is expected to become the representative or become the receptacle of the Goddess within the Sacred Circle. The opening paragraph names a collection of goddesses, some derived from Greek and Roman mythology. Others are cited from Celtic and Arthurian chronicles, affirming belief that these various figures represent a single Great Mother. The Charge affirms as well that all acts of love and pleasure are sacred to the Goddess thus “let my worship be within the heart that rejoices, for behold, all acts of love and pleasure are my ritual. Therefore, let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion, honour and humility, mirth and reverence within you.” (Valiente, 1989).

Charge-of-the-Goddess

Figure 27.

The religious ‘holidays’ of witchcraft are called sabbats and are based on pagan seasonal and agrarian festivals. There are 4 major and 4 minor sabbats. The greater or major sabbats are: Imbolc (Imbolg or Oimelc) on February 2nd; Beltane on the 30th of April; Lughnasadh (also Lammas_ on August 1st; and Samhain on October 31st. Lesser or minor sabbats are equinoxes and solstices to mark the change of seasons. Ostara is on March 21st and Midsummer on June 21st. Mabon occurs on September and December 21st, which is Yule. The majority of rituals reflect the witches ‘Wheel of the Year’ so therefore rituals will vary according to the coven and its traditions. Imbolc is Christianised as Candlemass, and Beltane features Midsummer morris dancing, with ‘corn-dollies’ appearing at Lughnasadh.

The Dianic worshippers adopted the concept of the Triple Goddess from ideas of Robert Graves and certain Wiccan elements. Named after the Roman goddess Diana who was the Goddess of the Witches in Charles Leland’s book of 1889 called Aradia (Barrett, 2004). Dianic Wiccans us the Triple Goddess in their ritual ceremonies. The Dianic witches believe in a witch-cult hypothesis, and attempt to trace the historical origins of their beliefs to the pre-Christian rituals of the Neolithic. Such a set of beliefs is a distillation of a primal religion at the beginning of all cultures. The Dianics , who became apparent in the 1970’s, for example regard earlier midwives and wise-women as the first witches. Witches point to the Legend of Aradia, in which Diana sends Aradia to Earth to instruct witches in their magical ways. It was Gerald Gardner who drew upon Leland’s Aradia or Gospel of the Witches (Orpheus, 2000), for the Origins of the Wiccan Charge of the Goddess in the late 1940’s. With reference to the Goddess and magic, or the art of casting spells, witches look to the Goddess for power and blessing. Magical powers are drawn from the Goddess when she is in her lunar aspect, implying magical powers wax and wane with the phases of the moon. At each phase an appropriate aspect of the Goddess is invoked for a spell. For example an invocation or petition to Aphrodite for a love spell, or to Panacea for a healing spell.

The Goddess is not a personified independent deity who acts wilfully upon the world but a primordial feminine principle who is prehistoric in origin and who had a “…constant presence throughout the Palaeolithic and Neolithic eras.” (Biaggi, 2008). The feminine aspect of the duotheistic (or ditheistic) theology of Wicca is shown sometimes as the Triple Goddess, her masculine counterpart being the Horned God. However, the Goddess predates God (or gods) by tens of thousands of years. The concept of the Triple Goddess, the Great Goddess, the Earth Mother, the Mountain Goddess shows a power and personality that flowed through the early history of Homo sapiens, humankind (Biaggi, 2008). In the form of the Triple Goddess, as Maiden, Mother and Crone, she was a modern extrapolation by Robert Graves from 19th and 20th century scholars, especially Jane Harrison, Margaret Murray, James Frazer, and members of the Cambridge University Ritualists, as well as Alistair Crowley. (Hutton, 1999). The Triple Goddess concept (1948) was the contribution of Robert Graves to modern paganism (Hutton, 1997).

The Mother Goddess was the personification of birth, reproduction, fertility, and the transformation of motherhood, as well as of death (Biaggi, 2008), and the prehistoric proof has been found in rock shelters and caves, grave sites and camps. The image of the goddess as moon is part of an assemblage of symbols that developed during the 20th century. Robert Graves posited in The White Goddess in 1948 the iconographic concept of an ancient universal European goddess. Evidence of her worship has been found world-wide with countless figurines, from world mythology, as well as cultural and anthropological analogy. Using imagery from Jane Harrison’s waxing, full, and waning moon Graves represented them as a three-form and tri-phasic goddess. It became apparent the two features of the White Goddess are especially relevant – it is an authentic work of history and an accurate portrait of the Old Religion (Hutton, 1999).

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Filed under Volume 1

Matriarchy, Mother Right and Vindication of the Female Principle

 1.  Prolegomena

 2.  Woman’s Evolution and Mitochondrial Eve

2 a.  Women in Prehistory

2 b.  Mitochondrial Eve

2 c.  Stages of Social Evolution

3.  Matriarchy

3 a.  Matriarchy and History

3 b.  Matriarchy and Feminism

3 c.  Matriarchy and Myth

3 d.  From Matriarchy to Patriarchy

 4.  Matrilinear Descent and Clan Exogamy

4 a.  Matriliny

4 b.  Clans

4 c.  Exogamy

 5. Mother Right

5 a.  Bachofen and Mutterecht

5 b.  Principles of Mother-Right

6.  The Female Principle in Antiquity and Myth

6 a.   Amazons and Warrior Women

7. The Mother Goddess

 7 a.  Goddess Archaeology

7 b.  The Goddess and Religion

7 c.  The Goddess and Witchcraft

8.  Epilegomena

 References Cited and Sources consulted

1.  Prolegomena.

It was Bachofen and Morgan who discovered independently that “…in primeval society the relations of the sexes differed vastly from those prevalent during historic times and among modern civilised nations.” (Bebel, 1904).  Matriarchy is group power residing with the women or mothers of a community. Sometimes confused, sometimes deliberately, the term is derived from the Latin matri (mother) and archon (governor or ruler). Matrifocality is distinct from matriarchy and means women hold a pre-eminent place in kinship structures. It occurs in societies where maternal authority is prominent in domestic relations. This is due to the husband joining the wife’s family, rather than the wife moving to the husband’s village, clan or tribe. Existing matrifocal cultures include the matrilineal Bunts of Mangalore, the Udupi in South India, and the system is common in Kerala but now rarely practised. In China the Mosuu of Lake Luga are matrifocal. Semi-matriarchal customs still exist in the Western Sahara. The custom is found in the Polama archipelago of Guinea Bissau. In South America the Guajaro tribes of Colombia and the Caribbean coast of Venezuela are matrifocal, and their children are raised by the mother’s brothers (avunculism). In Judaism the religion is traditionally inherited through the mother. If the mother is Jewish the child is Jewish, but if the father is Jewish and not the mother then the child is not considered to be Jewish.

Society organised along the lines of matrilineal kinship is known as Mother-Right and when at its fullest development possesses certain characteristics (Hartland, 1921). These certain features are: (1) descent and kinship are traced exclusively through the mother; (2) the matrilineal community is typically organised in clans. Every clan of men and women believes itself united in blood through their mothers; (3) No clan member may marry of have sexual intercourse with a member of the same clan; (4) the clan is the basic unit of society; (5) each clan is rules by women; (6) even when the clan is ruled by men descent is still reckoned through the female line; (7) in Mother-Right societies marriage is usually matrilocal; (8) property inheritance is usually from maternal uncle to nephew or niece. Not all of these features were present however. Often, when women ruled they were usually able to transmit and hold as well as high office.

2.  Woman’s Evolution and Mitochondrial Eve

2.a  Women in Prehistory

In terms of the archaeological record of women (Kessler, 1976) little is known of women in Australopithecine populations or those of Homo erectus during the Lower Palaeolithic. The Middle Palaeolithic Neanderthals provide evidence of an established division of labour, care of the aged and infirm, and funerary rituals. For women in the Palaeolithic age it was not ‘man the hunter’ but ‘women the gatherer’, who was responsible for the emergence of humanity. The first hominids to use tools regularly were females accompanied by their offspring. Palaeolithic burials have flint and bone tools placed near the bodies and seem to be the same for both women and men. Numerous feminine figures with exaggerated secondary sexual features were fashioned during the Upper Palaeolithic. Stone and ivory figurines, or ‘Venuses’, have been found that date from the Gravettian of between 25,000 to 20,000 BC. Also there occur occasional representations of women in association with animals. This may indicate that they participated in the symbolism and supernatural thinking of the Palaeolithic Period.

Indo-European speakers expanded over a period of some 3,500 years, a migration that started with the Hittites of Anatolia around 1,650 BC (Mallory, 1989). Assemblages of artifacts couple with linguistic evidence show the introduction of an alien cultural tradition into the European hinterland (Drews, 1989). These barbarian societies were typified by horse and chariot warfare. Many anthropologists believe there are no known societies that were, or are, unambiguously matriarchal, but concede that the Iroqouis were a possible exception (Goettner-Abenderoth, H.  2013; Leprowsky, M. A. 1993). However, the matriarchal system was recognised as egalitarian  

With regard to a long standing tradition of evolutionary thinking between 1861 and 1903 the main idea was that a goddess worshipping matriarchy existed at one time in the ancient past. Evolutionary anthropologists attempted to explain the variations seen in contemporary and ancient cultures. At the time they still tried to maintain the belief in the alleged superiority of late 19th century culture. Many evolutionary scholars regarded the origins of civilisation, and the modern state, in the newly developed terms of kinship anthropology through the mechanism of descent and marriage.

Social organisation was created out of the mother-child relationship based on the matrilineal clan system (Reed, 1975). The early ‘primitive’ communities were economies based upon hunter-gathering and simple agriculture. In hunter-gatherer communities women gathered for their children and themselves, whereas men hunted food for themselves (Reed, 1975), this therefore engendered a division of food consumption as well as labour. Communities were therefore centred around a group of women and their children. The male members would be the brothers of the women and therefore the children’s maternal uncles. However, the men were not the biological fathers because of the enforced rules of exogamy sanctified by totemism and taboo. There was thus a double taboo that did not allow sexual relations within associated groups of kin

2 b.  Mitochondrial Eve

The evolutionary history of ancient populations can be inferred or deduced from modern populations (Cavalli-Sforza, 1994), this forms the basis of the hypothesis that we all share a common female ancestor (Cann, 1987), an African woman, the common African mother. All mitochondria are descended from a person’s maternal grandmother’s mitochondria (mtDNA) therefore “…mitochondria constitute an independent record of the past, uncontaminated by the main nuclear DNA…” (Dawkins, 2001). Fundamentally, unilineal inheritance combined with occasional mutation is “…sufficient to allow geneticists to reconstruct ancient genetic prehistory from extant mtDNA types.” (Foster, 2004). Human mitochondrial genetics is the study of human mitochondrial DNA contained in human mitochondria. The human mitochondrial genome is the entirety of hereditary information contained in the human mitochondria. Mitochondria are small structures within cells that generate energy for the cell to use. Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is not transmitted through nuclear DNA (nDNA). In humans, and most multicellular organisms, mitochondrial DNA is inherited only from the mother’s ovum. Some 80% of mtDNA codes for functional mitochondrial proteins. In humans mtDNA forms closed circular molecules and each molecule normally contains a full set of mitochondrial genes. Each mitochondrion contains five mtDNA molecules. Each human cell contains approximately 100 mitochondria, some 500 mtDNA molecules per cell. Small compared to nuclear DNA. The entire human mitochondrial DNA molecule has been mapped (Schwartz, 2002).

Mitochondria “…play a role in energy-capture physiology and perform several other functions.” (Weiss, 2008).  In the remoteness of time the ancestors of mitochondria were free living bacteria that became part of other bacteria or within larger cells creating, thereby, a community of prokaryotic (non-nucleate) bacteria or the large eukaryotic (nucleated and complex) cells which are an “…enclosed garden of bacteria…” we call our own, (Dawkins, 2001). Importantly mitochondria contain their own genes (Weiss, 2008), thus have their own DNA (mtDNA), sixteen and a half thousand bases in length, confined to a single ring chromosome, as in other bacteria. Each mitochondrion, containing all the enzymes for final aerobic metabolism, are not inside the nucleus but enclosed in a membrane in the cytoplasm (Sykes, 2002). These within cell organelles are not only power cells or energy factories, but also contribute to anthropological genetics (Weiss, 2008), with modern DNA “…particularly maternally inherited mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), is now routinely used to trace ancient human migration routes and to obtain absolute dates for genetic prehistory.” (Foster, 2004). We get our mitochondria from our mother only because it is passed on only through the maternal line – no sperm mitochondria makes it into the ovum because it is lost on fertilisation  (Dawkins, 2001; Weiss, 2008). It follows that, for all individuals whether male or female, their “…mitochondria are all descended from an initial inoculation of…mother’s mitochondria. (Dawkins, 2001).

The human species originated in Africa some 150,000 years ago which means most mtDNA sequences found outside of Africa are closely related to the sequences found within the continent (Weiss, 2008). In Africa around 100,000 to 140,000 years ago there occurred the transformation of archaic to modern Homo sapiens (Lewin,1987). All modern-day human beings are descended from that African population. Homo sapiens arose some 200,000 to 80,000 years ago and the fossil record confirms that this was the period when archaic forms of genus Homo made the transition to anatomically modern humans. It is Africa which is the likely source of the human mitochondrial gene pool, and it was the prevailing ice age conditions during the last 100,000 years that substantially determined the routes and occasions for prehistoric humans to migrate and settle the world. (Foster, 2004). The initial and modest spread of humans within Africa occurred more than 100,000 years ago, with a re-expansion within Africa around 60 to 80,000, with the eventual “…out-of-Africa migration of a single, small group which settled in Australia, Eurasia and America during windows of opportunity at least partly dictated by fluctuations in sea levels and climatic conditions.” (Foster, 2004). These populations that moved out of Africa eventually completely replaced all existing archaic sapiens groups (Lewin,1987). The theory of a Mitochondrial Eve, as the grand-ancestress of us all and who lived in Africa, implies we are all “…descendants of an African diaspora within the last quarter of a million years.” (Dawkins, 2001). This common ancestress, who existed some 140,000 to 290,000 years ago, possibly in or near present-day Tanzania, must be linked to all surviving mtDNA types.

The ‘Eve’ or ‘African Eve’ label is applied to the hypothesis of a recent African origin for all human-kind with the implication that an ‘African Eve’ is the single and sole female ancestor of all people (Cann, 1997). This African or Mitochondrial Eve probably lived much earlier than the Out-of-Africa migration which is thought to have occurred between 95,000 to 45,000 years before the present (Endicott, 2009), therefore existing around 180,000 years ago as the single maternal ancestor of all mankind.” (Richards, 2001). It is the science of “…molecular biology that has given us the charismatic African Eve.” (Dawkins, 2001), and the concept of this “…hypothetical female ancestor…, this “…last mother of us all…” (Cann, 1987), based on the study of maternally inherited genes. The mitochondrial clade as defined by African or Mitochondrial Eve is the species, our species known as Homo sapiens sapiens, and the current population known as the chronospecies (Dawkins, 2004). A clade is a species which is extinct or extant, that contains one ancestor, and is a grouping of that ancestor plus living and deceased descendants. It follows that a sub-clade is a sub-group of a sub-genus or haplogroup. It is the variations detected in mtDNA between different people that is used to estimate the time between now and that of the common ancestor. The time is based on the molecular clock technique of correlating elapsed time with observed genetic drift. The African Eve hypothesis states that earlier Asian populations left no surviving descendants and therefore all surviving humans are ‘Africans’ (Dawkins, 2001). With the rise of Homo sapiens the maternal “…lineages of all human beings coalesce in mitochondrial Eve, born in South or East Africa more than 130 ka.” (Foster, 2004), implying the mtDNA is possibly derived from an archaic sapiens species who is not yet an anatomically modern human (Lewin, 1987). In this scenario Mitochondrial Eve is an archaic sapiens which raises certain questions. Firstly, did modern humans arise in one location and then migrate throughout the rest of the world?  Secondly, because mtDNA variation would require 180,000 to 360,000 years to attain modern population levels, what is the actual time since the divergence from the common ancestor?  If we “…humans are all definitely descended from the same single individual…(Dawkins, 2001), then we also share common descent, by matrilineal reckoning, with all other humans.

The mitochondrial group that has become known as the Seven Daughters of Eve are considered to be the ‘founding mothers’ or seven ‘clan mothers’ of Europe (Sykes, 2001). In this context it is best to stress that Mitochondrial Eve, of anything back to 200,000 years ago, is neither our common ancestor nor common genetic ancestor.  No, she is the most- recent common ancestor or MRCA, and this means that the MRCA of all humans is derived from Mitochondrial Eve. However, via the mtDNA pathway she is not the unqualified MRCA of all humanity. Mitochondrial Eve is the MRCA of all humans alive on earth with respect to matrilineal descent. The genetic genealogy of mtDNA is inherited maternally which means matrilineal lineages of individuals can be traced by means of genetic analysis. Human mtDNA “…is the female equivalent of a surname…” (Foster, 2004), which is passed down from the mother to her offspring in each and every generation. It follows, therefore, that the more offspring a mother and her female descendants produce “…the more common her mtDNA will become.” (Foster, 2004).

The so-called founding mothers of Europe are the mitochondrial group known as the seven clan mothers. A haplotype is a combination of DNA sequences at adjacent locations (loci) on a chromosome that are transmitted together (Sykes, 2001). A haplogroup, therefore, is a group of similar haplotypes that share a common ancestor. Seven European clan mothers have been identified and designated. Their names awarded according to their haplogroup and these are: Ursula, haplogroup U (U5) from 55,000 years ago; Xenia (X) of 30,000 years ago; Helena (H) of 12,000 years ago; Velda (V) of 12,000 years ago; Tara (T) of 10,000 years ago; Katrine (K) of 12,000 years ago; and Jasmine (J) of 45,000 years ago.

According to the determinations of Sykes (2001; 2006) clan Ursula (Latin for ‘she-bear’) originated in the Greek mountains at the beginning of the Ice Age and had an average life expectancy of 35 years. One of the first permanent representatives of Homo sapiens and first modern humans in Europe she left the highest proportion of descendants in Scandinavia, Germany, and the United Kingdom. The clan Xenia (Greek for ‘hospitable’) is the second oldest of the seven European clans and is estimated to be 25,000 years old. One of the second wave of human beings just prior to the coldest part of the last Ice Age. Her descendants comprise 7% of native Europeans. The third maternal clan (or haplotype H) is that of Helena (Greek for ‘light’) and the largest group known so far and now distributed in the Scottish highlands, Norwegian fjords, the Urals, Russian steppes, and also the Pyrenees some 20,000 years ago between France and Spain in the region of Perpignan. Clan Helena is the most common haplogroup in Europe and is also common in the Middle East and North Africa. Evolved in West Asia and arrived in Europe from the Middle East. Migrated along the Mediterranean from west Asia into Europe some 25-35,000 years ago, and reached England around 12,000 years ago. The clan’s arrival is contemporary with the Gravettian Culture. The clan remains are known from Gough’s Cave in Somerset and therefore 3000 years older than those in Cheddar Man cave, with other evidence from excavations in Italy dated to 28,000 BP. The clan Velda (Scandinavian ‘ruler’) is the smallest of the seven European clans comprising 4% of Europeans. The clan originated 17,000 years ago in the wooded plains of north-east Italy and the southern cliffs of the Alpine region. From there clan Velda spread through central and northern Europe. This haplogroup has high concentrations among the Saami and the Basque’s with 10.4% and 16.3% with the Berbers of Tunisia.

The clan Tara (Gaelic ‘rocky hill’), or haplotype T, comprises slightly fewer than 10% of modern Europeans and has a wide distribution in the south and west. Tara is known 17,000 years ago in north-west Italy and Tuscany and has high concentrations in Ireland and west Britain, and thought to have originated in Mesopotamia and the Fertile Crescent (modern Syria) and Turkey around 45-50,000 years ago. The haplotype of clan Tara was carried by migrants to north west Europe about 10,000 years ago. Tara herself arose in Tuscany about 17,000 years ago. It is assumed the group during the Neolithic ‘revolution’ brought agriculture and pastoralism to Europe and is thus a main genetic signature of Neolithic expansionism. Haplogroup K, the most common sub-clade of haplotype U8, or Khatrine (Greek ‘pure’) is a medium sized clan and comprises some 10% of the population of Europe. Khatrine originated 12-15,000 years ago in the wooded plains of north-east Italy and spread from there to central and east Europe making up a sizeable fraction of the European and West Asian lineages. It comprises 6% of European and Near East populations, 16% of the Druze, 12% of the population of Kurdistan, and 32% of Askenhazi Jews. Ancient DNA shows a presence in pre-pottery Neolithic B in Syria circa 6000 BC and skeletons of early European farmers around 5500-5300 BC. A woman from an Amorite tomb at Tell Ashara in Syria is dated at 2650-2450 BC. The indication is that Neolithic culture spread from its points of origin by migration. European distributions of clan Khatrine show 17.5 to 15.3% of the French in Perigord, 13.3% in Norway and Bulgaria, some 12.5% in Belgium, 11% in Georgia, and 10% in Austria and Great Britain. The clan Jasmine (Persian ‘flower’), or haplogroup J, is the second largest of the European clans and the only one with an origin outside Europe. Arose some 45,000 years ago in the Near East and the Caucasus and associated with peoples who migrated into Europe. Comprises 12% of the European population and were among the first farmers (Neolithic) bringing agriculture and herding from the Middle East around 8,500 years ago. Have 12% distribution in the Near East, 11% in Europe, 8% in the Caucasus, and 6% in North Africa. The foregoing are the seven major mitochondrial lineages for modern Europeans, but may now constitute 10 to 12 with the addition of haplotypes I, M, and W. Some 29 additional clan mothers have been identified (Sykes, 2001) and these are named (Fufei, Ina, Aiyana/Ai, Yumi, Nene, Naomi, Una, Uta, Ulrike, Ulla, Ulaana, Lara, Lamia, Latasha, Malxshmi, Emiko, Gaia, Chochmingwu/Chie, Digigonasee/Sachi, Makeda, Lingarine, Lubaya, Limber, Lila, Lungile, Latifa, and Layla.

Haplogroup U originates with a woman from haplogroup R around 55,000 years ago. This group has several sub-groups or sub-clades. Haplogropu U1, or clan Una, is mostly from the Middle East and Mediterranean with a scattering in Europe plus Georgia in the Caucasus. Haplogroup U2, called Uta, is common in south Asia but with a low frequency in central and west Asia. Among 30,000 year old hunter-gatherers in southern Russia. Haplogroup U3, called Uma, has very low levels in Europe of only 1%, with 2.5% in the Near East, central Asia with 1%, the Caucasus 6%, Georgia 4.2%. However, the Lithuanian, Polish, Spanish Romany populations Uma shows between 35-56.6%. Haplogroup U4, or Ulrike, has its origin in the European Upper Palaeolithic of around 25,000 years ago. Its wide distribution is the result of the expansion of modern humans into Europe before the last Glacial Maximum. The level in the Caucasus is 8.3%. Haplotype U5 is an extremely ancient clan found in European remains of Homo sapiens. The oldest in Britain is Cheddar Man of 30-50,000 (possibly 65,000) years ago. Europeans are 11% with 10% amongst European Americans. This haplogroup predates the end of the Ice Ages and the expansion of agriculture in Europe. The group is calculated to have arisen at Delphi in Greece some 45-50,000 years ago. Date human remains from the mesolithic have been found in England, Germany, Lithuania, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Sweden, France, as well as the far north Saami, Finns, and also Estonians. Haplogroup U6, called Ulla, is common in north Africa with a maximum of 29% amongst Algerian Berbers. Europe levels are at 10% with the Canary Islands at 18%. The group entered north Africa from the near East some 30,000 years ago, having arrived from west Africa. The estimate of its origin is between 25,000 and 66,000 BP but it appears to be specific for north Africa. Haplogroup U7, called Ulaana, is lacking in many European populations. The possible homeland of the group is the Indian Gujarat and Iran with Gujarat showing 12% and Iranians 10%. The group shows some 4% in the near East and 5% in Pakistan. The clan of Ulrike (German ‘Mistress of All’), who was not one of the original seven ‘mothers’, lived about 18,000 years ago in the cold refuges of the Ukraine. It European population numbers 2% and are found mainly in the east and the north with high levels in the Baltic region and Scandinavia.

Haplogroup A is the clan of Aiyana, founder of the four major maternal clans that colonised north and south America, originated in east Asia 18,000 years ago. They crossed the land bridge across the Bering Straits and thence to the Great Plains. The descendants of the four clans, were the initial population of the Americas. These four clans were Chochmingwu, Djigonasee, Aiyana, and Ina. Some 1% of native Americans are clan Xenia which originated on the borders of Europe and Asia. All four clans are still found in modern Siberia and Alaska but clan Ina is only found in south and central America. In the far east of Asia the predominant clan is Djigonasee. The far east of Asia also has representatives of the clans Ina, Aiyana, Fufei, Yumi, Nene, Malaxshmi, Emiko, and Gaia. Haplogroup X diverged from Haplogroup N and further diverged some 30,000 years ago. The group comprises 2% of the population of Europe, the Near East, and north Africa. The population expanded after the last glacial maximum some 21,000 years ago. The greatest concentration is found amongst the Druze who are a minority people in Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria.  In north America haplotype X totals 3% but for the Algonquin clan it is 25%, the Sioux at 15%, the Nuu-Chah-Nulh are 11-13%, the Navajo at 7%, and the Yakama are 5%.

The term ‘Eve’ is a “…cute and newsworthy but badly misleading way that mixed religion and science as mitochondrial Eve.” (Weiss, 2008). As has been made known mitochondria are “…found in all nucleated cells of the body and are concerned with the production and transfer of energy within cells and the production of RNA that is involved in the process of making proteins.” (Foster, 2004). The concept of ‘Eve’, even true in a restricted sense, can also be muddled and misleading (Lewin, 1987). Mitochondrial or mtDNA is used to reconstruct family or phylogenetic trees. Those family trees can be inferred from the data derived from mtDNA studies which in essence trace maternal inheritance. The problem is that mitochondrial Eve of African origin, some 200,000 years ago, is not necessarily the same thing as the last common ancestor (Lewin, 1987). A number of misconceptions have arisen out of the mitochondrial Eve concept. Firstly, a major misconception is that (a) if all women alive today are descended in a direct unbroken female line then (b), it is ‘Eve’ that was the only woman alive at that time (Dawkins, 2004). Secondly, mitochondrial Eve is not the most recent ancestor shared by all humans. The actual fact is that mitochondrial Eve is the most recent common matrilineal ancestor, and not the most recent common ancestor or MRCA, making all humans “…alive today share a surprisingly recent common ancestor, perhaps within the last 5,000 years…” (Rohde, 2004). There has arisen confusion of most recent common ancestor with the concept of most recent common ancestor in the purely female line. To be correct it must be stated “…only that Mitochondrial Eve is the most recent woman of whom it can be said that all modern humans are descended from her in the female line only.” (Dawkins, 2001).The ‘Eve’ sobriquet is somewhat unfortunate because it assumes that the only woman on earth would create an evolutionary bottle-neck. This original ‘Eve’ could not have been the only woman because she would have had numerous companions of both sexes.

It is established that we all share “…descent from a common African gene pool…this gene pool probably existed between 200,000 and 100,000 years ago.” (Cann, 1997). It is from this ancestral source that anatomically modern humans arose, and whose migratory waves into other continents eventually replaced older populations of humans. New Guinea was originally colonised some 40,000 years ago by a group of 18 cIans founded therefore by 18 different females. Within clan variation would have arisen after each founding clan mother arrived in the region which begs the question what connection has mitochondrial Eve have with the origin of modern humans? Tentative interpretations seem to fit the known fossil record thus “…mitochondrial Eve would also be the first modern human female, and the date of 200,000 years would mark the origin of Homo sapiens sapiens.” (Lewin,1987).  In genetic terms there is a need to identify the lineages of humans that are basal to the mtDNA tree. The problem becomes one of proving that a “…mitochondrial mother gave rise to an unbroken line of female descendants, whose genes we carry in us today.” (Cann, 1997). Consideration can be given to the development of totemism through prehistory in relation to the social evolution of matriarchy, mother right, and totemic clan society, recognising the basis of  woman’s evolution is “…the priority of the maternal clan system or matriarchy.” (Reed, 1978).      TheMitochondrial Eve’ gene pool is supposed to have originated in Africa around 200,000 to 100,000 years ago (Cann, 1997) and thence modern humans around 150,000 years ago (Weiss, 2008), with the transition to modern humanity in Africa between 140,000 and 100,000 years ago (Lewin, 1987). The Out of Africa migrations of these modern humans occurred between 95,000 and 45,000 years ago (Endicott, 2009). In the case of Europe the seven founding clan mothers migrated into Europe between 55,000 and 10,000 years before present (Sykes, 2001). Other maternal clans were in Australia circa 55,000 BP, hither Asia around 45,000 BP, in New Guinea 40,000 BP, and the Americas around, if not before, 30,000 years ago. It is now possible to relate these maternal clans, and their migrations to an archaeological timescale.

Matrilineal surnames, or matrinames, are mother-line surnames inherited from mother to daughter, to daughter, and are similar to the more familiar patrilineal surnames or patrinames (Sykes, 2001). The matrinames existed before patrinames since even before 1600 BC. Maternal surname means mother’s surname not matriname. It has been established that mitochondrial DNA or mtDNA is handed down from the mother to her child whereas the Y chromosome (Y-DNA) is from father to son. It follows that a patriname is handed down from father to son with their built in Y-DNA, and the matriname is handed down from the mother to daughter with their built in mtDNA

2 c.  Stages of Social Evolution

The tribe can be compared to a multicellular organism that evolved from a primitive horde. This process occurred on the basis of a sexual division of labour that was determined by the laws of production. This evolutionary development was effected by the rule of exogamy which was supplemented by mimetic magic, and “…projected ideologically in the form of zoomorphic ancestor worship.” (Thomson, 1978). The fundamental rules of totemic society are those that regulate marriage and sexual intercourse. There are three social elements of totemism which are the blood feud, the rule of exogamy, and descent. However, blood kinship destroys rather than generates the phenomenon of totemism, which makes it necessary to get behind blood kinship to find the origins of totemism. In the beginning therefore “…rudimentary totemism was the basis of a social system founded on artificial associations with an animal or plant…kinless in haracter…” (Gomme, 1908).

Morgan

Lewis Henry Morgan.

Lewis Henry Morgan (1818-1881) was an American ethnologist and anthropologist was the first to discover the correspondence between native American totem groups and the ancient Roman gentile organisations (Bebel, 1904). Morgan’s analysis of the social evolution of culture was a theory of unilineal evolution comprising three basic phases of development. Morgan divided the history of mankind into three epochs of savagery, barbarism and therefore lower, medium, and higher stages (Bebel, 1904). For Morgan the savage stage corresponded to the hunter-gatherer mode, the barbaric stage with agriculture and metal working, culminating with civilisation with writing. These stage themselves were further sub-divided. The sub-divided stages comprised Lower Savagery, Middle Savagery, Upper Savagery, Lower Barbarism, Middle Barbarism, Upper Barbarism, and Civilisation. These stages were then correlated with patterns of family, marriage and political organisation he stated “…it is undeniable that portions of the human family existed in a state of savagery, other portions in a state of barbarism, and still others in a state of civilisation, it seems equally so that these three distant conditions are connected with each other in a natural as well as necessary sequence of progress. (Morgan, 1977). The epoch of Lower Savagery corresponded to the Lower (5000,000 – 1.75 million YA), and Middle Palaeolithic (400,000 – 70,000 BP), the 99% primeval condition of humankind, where the basic feature of existence was dependence on wild sources of food supply (Clarke, 1946). Modern populations of neanthropus lived in the epoch of higher savagery during the Upper Palaeolithic (35,000 BP – 12,000 BC) The lithic cultural periods were the Chatelperronian to the Aurignacian of Cro-Magnon man to the Gravettian, on to the Solutrean and thence the Magdalenian.

It was Lewis Henry Morgan who discovered that all “…existing peoples have family relations and systems of relationships that differ markedly from our own…but which must have prevailed generally among all peoples at a remote period of civilisation.” (Bebel, 1904).  Furthermore, the similarities shown by Amerindians, Aborigines of India, and Hindustan indicate that similar systems must have existed everywhere originally. Moreover, studies in the Americas and Australia proved that “…social and sex relations constituted the foundation for the development of all nations of the world.” (Bebel, 1904). Lewis Henry Morgan argued that during the epoch of Savagery, all women were polyandrous and all men were polygamous, implying that wives and children were held in common ownership. For Morgan the evolutionary sequence started with the epoch of savagery, in which promiscuity and brother and sister incest was common (Harris, 1968). Morgan therefore postulated that the consanguinous family, as a higher form of sexual relationship, developed out of the general promiscuous state (Bebel, 1904).  However, in the later stages of savagery, promiscuity and incest were replaced by group marriage. The period of Barbarism saw the creation of more advanced technology, domestication of animals and the matrisib. The matrisib was a form of social organisation in which clans, phatries, and confederacies were established through matrilineal descent (Harris, 1968). This arrangement permitted marriage groups on a generational basis. Examples can be seen in the Indian and Amerindian systems of kinship where a sister or brother can never be the mother and father of the same child. A similar arrangement existed for the ancient Etruscans, Lycians, Cretans, Egyptians, and Athenians. I regard to the ancient Semitic mythology Adam and Eve were not actual individuals but were the names of the gentes constituting the Jews in prehistoric times. The family forms of savagery and barbarism were characterised by singular social and sex relations and it was Bachofen and Morgan who discovered independently that “…in primeval society the relations of the sexes differed vastly from those prevalent during historic times and among modern civilised nations.” (Bebel, 1904). It was Morgan’s notion that the origin of civilisation was derived from marriage and kinship. It was the conflict between the various formulations posited by Morgan that came to known as the mother-right/father-right controversy.

According to Morgan (1907), therefore, descent within the ancient gens is through the female line with a supposed female ancestor implying a common gentile name. The gens came into being upon three main conceptions: (1) a bond of kin; (2) pure lineage through female descent, and; (3), non-intermarriage between clan members. It is possibly worth distinguishing clans of matrilineal descent, the possible older system, from the gens where the offspring belong to the father’s group, and within clan subdivisions of a social, educational, and religious duties to the community, and where invariably “…clans and gens are exogamous.” (Hawkes, 1965). Further evidence for the gens was found in Greece and Rome where the gens was found to be extremely ancient. Such was the antique and obsolescent character of the gens that they comprised all persons of the same gentile name, as in Australia, America and Africa all persons “…bearing the same totem name belong to that totem kin.” (Lang, 1893).

3.  Matriarchy           

Matriarchy is group power residing with the women or mothers of a community. Matriarchy is a society in which women, especially those who are mothers, have the central roles of leadership, especially political and moral, as well as control of property. Etymologically the term is derived from the Greek mater and archein which means ‘to rule’ and so “…matriarchy means government by mothers, or more broadly, government and power in the hands of women.” (Adler, 2006). More accurately matriarchy can be construed as meaning, “…a shorthand description for any society in which women’s power is equal or superior to men’s and in which the culture centres around valuses and life events described as feminine.” (Eller, 2000).

Sometimes confused with gynocracy the term is derived from the Latin matri (mother) and archon (governor or ruler). Matriarchy is sometimes called gynarchy, gynocracy, gynaecocracy, or gynocentric society (Eller, 1995; Geottner-Abendroth, 2003; 2005), with gynocentrism meaning “…dominant or exclusive focus on women…” as opposed to androcentrism (Young, 1985). These terms are taken to mean ‘government by women over men’ , plus ‘women’s social supremacy’, or ‘government by one woman’, ‘female dominance’, even ‘women as the ruling class’, with some matriarchies being “…a strong gynocracy.” (Diner, 1965), with ‘…women monopolising government.” (Diner, 1965).  The term gynaecocracy, in use since the seventeenth century, means ‘rule by women’ and is derived ultimately from Aristotle and Plutarch. Matriarchal societies “…are often described as egalitarian.” (Le Bow, 1984).

Matrifocality is distinct from matriarchy and means women hold a pre-eminent place in kinship structures. It occurs in societies where maternal authority is prominent in domestic relations. This is due to the husband joining the wife’s family, rather than the wife moving to the husband’s village or tribe. Existing matrifocal cultures include the matrilineal Bunts of Mangalore, the Udupi in South India, and the system is common in Kerala but now rarely practised. In China the Mosuu of Lake Luga are matrifocal. Semi-matriarchal customs still exist in the Western Sahara. The custom is found in the Polama archipelago of Guinea Bissau. In South America the Guajaro tribes of Colombia and the Caribbean coast of Venezuela are matrifocal, and their children are raised by the mother’s brothers (avunculism). In Judaism the religion is traditionally inherited through the mother. If the mother is Jewish the child is Jewish, but if the father is Jewish and the mother not then the child is not considered Jewish.

Matriarchy is a gynocentric form of society with power residing in the mothers of the community and is the opposite of patriarchy. Often confused with gynococracy the concept was discovered by Joseph Francis Lafiteau (1681-1746) who named it ‘ginocratie’. The term is derived from the Greek mater (mother) and archein (to rule). The word gynecocracy means ‘wife’s rule’ but the implication is not only ‘power of female’ but also ‘power of female as a mother. In matriarchy what is termed the ‘uterine family’ is the elementary social group consisting exclusively of mothers and children (Reed, 1954).. The term ‘matriarchy’ emerged into common usage after the publication of the studies on ‘Mother-right’ (Bachofen, 1861), which stressed: (a) children’s descent was traced only through the mothers; that (b) property was passed only from mothers to children; and (c) this gave women their ‘mother-right’ and dominant social status. The implication is not only ‘power of female’ but also ‘power of female as mother’, and therefore women’s power as motherhood and maternal status in the community. Among nineteenth century scholarship there developed the hypothesis of matriarchy representing an early stage of human development that is now mostly lost in prehistory. There is no consensus on the proposition and it has been, and still is disputed, even though its existence was proven by Morgan and Engels.

Matriarchy has near synonyms in matrifocal and matricentric implying a community having a mother as head of the family or household. Both Bachofen and Morgan confined the concept of ‘mother-right’ to within the household, and regarded it as the basis of female influence upon the whole of society. Twentieth century opinion refer to are gynocentric formations and gynocentrism from gyno- for gynaeco-, where the dominant or exclusive focus is on women. Gimbutas spoke of a women centred society surrounding Goddess worship in Neolithic Europe and coined the term matristic to describe communities exhibiting influence or dominance by the mother figure.

3 a.  Matriarchy and History

The archaeological hypothesis of the theory of ancient matriarchy was recognised by Bachofen (1861) and investigated by Morgan. Jane Ellen Harrison studies myths, oral traditions, and the female cult figures of the Neolithic. Marija Gimbutas developed the theory of the ‘Old European Culture’ in Neolithic Europe. On this basis it has been postulated that matriarchal traits were replaced by the patriarchal system of the Proto-Indo-Europeans that spread from the Bronze Age.

Gimbutas

Marija Gimbutas

Some theories argue that all past human societies were matriarchal (Diner, 1930; 1965), and that the ancient Great Goddess was worshipped widely (Eisler, 1987). It will be seen that there are two institutions common to matriarchal society and its customs and they are (a) totemism and (b) the primitive kinship system  following on from the fact that “…matriarchy was the necessary first form of social organisation because women were not only the procreators of new life but also the chief producers of the necessities of life.” (Reed, 1978). Furthermore, wherever matriliny is still in force we find that patriarchal institutions were either non-existent or only weakly developed. This raises three important issues (Reed, 1978) and these are: (1) opponents of matriarchy do not deny the existence of the matrilineal kinship system which then begs the question of origin. The conundrum becomes “…if not from the ancient matriarchal epoch.” (Reed, 1978), then from when?; then (2) why has the passage from matrilineal to patrilineal always been in that singular direction and never the other way around?; and (3) why is the ancient matrilineal descent system only found today in primitive regions but never in patriarchal advanced societies? It is because modern patriarchal societies have long forgotten and lost their matriarchal origins (Reed, 1978), because it was not until the patriarchal family “…made it appearance in history that the individual father and mother emerged from the undifferentiated clan collective.” (Reed, 1986).

The original prehistoric appearance of the matrilineal family and the practice of exogamy implies also that “…the original and persistent association of the social and cultic aspects of totemism must be accepted (Hawkes, 1965). When the mother was considered the head of the family the evolved matriarchate determined the foundation of family relations and inheritance (Bebel, 1904). In anthropological and archaeological terms there is a strong case to recognise that the “…entire totemic life of…surviving Stone Age cultures perpetuates something of what was evolved by Palaeolithic man between ten and fifty thousand years ago.” (Hawkes, 1965). The Lycians, whose practices were part Cretan, part Carrian, recognised maternal law and reckoned descent through the female line. The powers of the matriarchate was recognised in all “…social relations of the ancient peoples…the Babylonians…Egyptians…Assyrians…Greeks before the Heroic Age…Italic tribes before the founding of Rome, the Scythians…Gauls…Iberians…Cantabrians, the Germans and others.” (Bebel, 1904). The existence of the matriarchate means logically the existence of a matrimonium rather than a patrimonium therefore of mater familias rather than pater familias. It was, at the time, a motherland where the gens were founded on the common ownership of property, and where matricide was considered a heinous crime.

The history of matriarchy in the Bronze Age of Minoan Crete and Sumer shows that “…many scholars are convinced that Crete was a matriarchy ruled by a queen-priestess.”  (Rohrlich, 1984), which was overrun and colonised before 1500 BC, whereas in the early Sumerian city states matriarchy left more than a trace (Thomson, 1965). In the Roman Empire with regard to the Germanic tribes Tacitus believed “…that there resides in women an element of holiness and prophesy, and so they do not scorn to ask their advice or lightly disregard their replies. In the reign of deified Vespasian we saw Veleda long honoured by many Germans as a divinity, whilst even earlier they showed a similar reverence untouched by flattery or any pretence of turning women into goddesses.” (Tacitus, 98 AD), as well as saying the nations of the Sitones where women were the ruling sex. The Iroquois League between 1000 and 1450 AD was a confederacy of five or six tribes, where decisions were taken through what may have been a matriarchy or gynaecocracy (Jacobs, 1991). During the nineteenth century the notion of matriarchy was defined by Joseph-Francois Lafiteau (1681-1746) who referred to it as ginecocratie. The controversy over ‘primal’ or preghistoric matriarchy began as a reaction to the works of Johan Jakob Bachofen  (1861). It was suggested that Neolithic female cult-figures suggested that many ancient societies might have been matriarchal. Therefore it was Bachofen who put forward the concept of a “woman centred society” (1861) which impacted on the views of Jane Harison, Sir Arthur Evans, Walter Burkert, Lewis H. Morgan, and James Mellaart.

3 b.  Matriarchy and Feminism

Early human society was certainly organised along matrilineal lines with descent traced through ties of kinship and motherhood. Nevertheless, matriarchy is not some form of a ‘lost paradise’. Women excluded men from social life rather than exerting control over them. Many historical and mythological examples reflect the transition from matrilineal to patriarchal organisation. This transition is clearly shown in the Greek myth of Orestes who killed his mother Clytemnestra in revenge for her killing his father Agamemnon.   Women in ancient Egypt, according to Diodorus, had command over their men (Stone, 1976), and Elamite documents after 200 BC detail mother to daughter inheritance. Ancient Minoan portraits of priestesses show that ancient sexual customs in female religions encouraged matrilineal forms of descent and gave women power over men stone, 1976).

Mother right in a matriarchal society means “…the centrality of women in an egalitarian society…” (Rohrlich, 1984) where is therefore a “…non-alienated society: a society in which women, those who produce the next generation, define motherhood, determine the environment in which the next generation is reared.” (Love, 1983). However, with the matriarchal Amazons we can see them as “…an extreme feminist wing.” (Diner, 1965). The most well known archaeological arguments in favour of the Goddess and the existence of the ancient Goddess religion appeared in the 1970’s with the works of Marija Gimbutas, Merlin Stone, and Starhawk. Gimbutas was an eminent Eastern Uropean archaeologist (Hutton, 1997), and her important works were Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe (1996) and Language of the Goddess (1991). Both of these works interpret the Upper Palaeolithic (30,000 to 7,000 BC) and Neolithic (7,000 to 3000 BC) using the evidence of carved figurines, ceramic figures, pottery, shrines, and cave art.  The essential argument is that Neolithic society was woman centred. The main claim is that the Indo-Europeans invaded these matristic cultures during the Bronze Age an proceeded to suppress the Goddess religion.

 3 c.  Matriarchy and Myth

Evidence from mythology indicates that certain ancient myths do expose ancient matrilineal customs existing prior to historical records. Translations of the Greek Myths (Graves, 1979) attest to the ancient Lycians reckoning by matrilinear descent as did the Carians. In Greek mythology the royal function was a male privilege, but the devolution of power was passed through women, and thus the future king only inherited his power by marriage to the queen heiress. The Homeric myths illustrate this where the noblest Greek men compete for the hand of Helen for the throne of Sparta.  Matriarchy  and its message were used by Bachofen (1815-1887) to prove the existence of prehistoric matriarchy.  The work Bachofen’s Das Mutterecht or Mother Right, claimed it was possible to prove the existence of ancient matriarchies by comparing the historical record to the Greek myths (Bachofen, 1992). Bachofen viewed myths as reflections of a prehistoric stage of thought and that social life began in an age of primordial promiscuity (Harris, 1968). The claim was that only maternal kinship could be demonstrated and that women were subject to the sexual whims of men. Women’s attempt to liberate themselves ushered in the era of Mother-right or gynaeocracy, using Lycian and Amazonian myths, plus Athenian cults of the nature-mother, to prove the point (Bachofen, 1992). This led to the establishment of women-led families and the rule of gynocrats.

Sir Henry Maine was a harsh critic of the theories of Bachofen and put forward the Father-Right hypothesis. In the view of Maine (1861) the theory of the evolutionary sequence was not valid, thinking it sufficient to generalise from the history of European nations (Harris, 1968). In the view of Maine the original European family had been patrilineal, and that modern states evolved from as era of lawlessness with the patriarchal family as the model. John McLennan put forward ideas on evolution that synthetised the conflictiing arguments of the mother-right/father-right controversy. In so doing he contributed to the ideas about the beginnings of goddess archaeology. McLennan saw early populations (1865) as living under harsh conditions and struggling to survive which included competition for shelter, food etc that led to an increase in female infanticide. The resulting shortage of women led to them being shared amongst men. This led to speculations about polyandry and the first matriarchies. The era of primitive mothers came to an end with the transition from polyandry to polygyny as various groups began to practise wife capture. Jane Harrison (1903) was a British classical scholar who used the model proposed by McLennan to propose the idea that a peaceful, women centred culture pre-dated Classical Greece (Hutton, 1997).

It is known that women hunters and warriors are frequently found in folktale and myth. In mythological terms the Palaeolithic savagery of the Pleistocene hunter gatherers was also referred to as the ‘Golden Age’ (Hesiod, 1981; Bullfinch, 1965). The myth of the Golden Age reflects the tradition of tribal subservience to the Bee-goddess (Graves, 1979), and savagery of course being pre-agricultural. However primitive man “…did not share the disdain of modern men for the work of women. It was precisely through the technological advances made by women that men were finally liberated from reliance on hunting and moved to higher forms of labour activities.” (Reed, 1986). Similarly, the ‘Silver Age’ correlated with Neolithic barbarism with its pastoralism, agricultural cultivation, and sexual division of labour (Bullfinch, 1965; Hesiod, 1981). Indeed the Neolithic crafts “…have been presented as household industries. Yet the craft traditions are not individual, but collective traditions. The experience and wisdom of all the community’s members are constantly being pooled…The occupation is public; the rules are the result of communal experience…And the Neolithic economy as a whole cannot exist without cooperative effort.” (Childe, 1951). The myth of the Silver Age reflects matriarchal conditions which persisted into classical time with the Picts (Graves, 1979). The “Brazen Age” corresponded to time of archaeology with the beginnings of civilisation and class society with the surviving priestesses and priesthood of the Neolithic

The Amazons accepted the leadership of an elected Queen, Hippolta among them, whilst they conducted raids in Asia Minor and the nearby islands (which indicates a seafaring capability).  As such they were accomplished horse riders and skilled archers.  In peaceful times these warrior women built their gracious capital of Themiscyra as well as cultivating their lands and hunting. Sarmatian warrior women hunted on horseback alongside their husbands and took to the battlefield in times of war.  They wore the same attire as their men and adopted the maxim that no girl shall marry until she has killed a man in battle. These Amazon women displayed the cultural and social practices consistent among Sauro-Sarmatian nomads.  Their main occupations were hunting and fighting with their bows and their Amazonian crescent shaped shields, axes and spears.  All were skilled horse riders.  According to Herodotus the women of the Sauromati did not constitute a separate people like the Thermodon Amazons. As nomads the Sarmatians had no fixed habitation.  Nonetheless they still had a defined social organisation that divided them into nobles, vassals and many slaves.  Social stratification is evident in the Ural burial sites.  The domestic status of Sarmatian women was reduced and they were little better than slaves in the matrimonial home.  With regard to marriage they were divided into exogamous tribes for marriage purposes, with marriage within the tribe seen as incestuous.  Despite their ferocious warlike attitudes to tribal enemies these sarmatian women did all the outdoor work.  They tended the sheep, ploughed and reaped the land, herded the cattle, but when attacked they fought as savagely as the men.  The Sauro-Sarmatian warrior nomads practised the typical clan and tribal cults of pre-Zoroastrian Iran. Their personified deities were those of nature, the sky, the earth, and fire.  Some of the cult practices may have been inversions (reversal of gender roles) of ritual initiations reserved for maidens.  Their deities were related to social concepts pertaining to war or the domestic hearth.  With regard to burials fire cult practices are in evidence, and Sarmatian graves are representative of a military oriented nomadic existence.  Social stratification and a more defined class structure developed and was accelerated by contact with Greek and Roman trade, industry, and agriculture.

Matrilineal patterns are discernible in the Celtic myths of the Welsh Mabinogi stories, especially that of Cullwch and Olwen, as well as the Irish Ulster Cycle where Cuchulain is trained by a warrior woman called Scathach, and whereby he becomes lover to her and her daughter. While king Ailill may wear the crown of Connacht it is his wife Medb who holds the real power. Similar motifs are found in Breton stories, as well as the legends of King Arthur. Similar echoes of ancient matrilinearity lie behind the plots of various fairy tales and vestiges of folk tradition. Other ancient matrilineal culture patterns were found in ancient Elam where the succession to the throne was matrilineal, with the nephew succeeding the maternal uncle. In ancient Egyptian dynasties royalty was carried by women. There is evidence that matrilinearity existed in pre-Islamic Arabia, as well as among the Yemeni Amorites, and some Nabateans of north Arabia. The Tuaraeg are a Berber ethnic matrilineal people. In South Africa dynastic descent and inheritance of the Rain Queen are subject to matrilineal primogeniture. Also in west Africa the Akan and their sub-group the Ashanti are traditionally matrilineal. In China original Chinese surnames are derived matrilineally but by the time of the Shang Dynasty they had become patrilineal. Archaeological data from the Neolithic period indicates that Chinese matrilinear clans evolved into patrilinear property owning families (Sykes, 2001). It is obvious that matrilineal structures still survive in many regions of the globe. It is the very persistence that “…formerly matrilineal descent and matrilineal marriage were general and the status of women very much higher.” (Hawkes, 1965) as shown in north America, Africa, Dravidian India, as well as relics and echoes in Melanesia, Micronesia and Indonesia where the “…widespread prevalence of various combinations of clan structure, exogamy, totemism and matrilineal descent encourages a belief in their extreme antiquity” (Hawkes, 1965).

3 d.  From Matriarchy to Patriarchy

Despite patriarchal theories, which tend to be Eurocentric and western views, there are a number of matriarchal societies among contemporary observed peoples. Examples include the Nagovisi of Bougainvillea in the South Pacific, the Khasi of Meghalaya of India, and the Machingnenga in Peru. In addition there are a large number of societies where women enjoy full sexual and economic control. These include several Pacific and Native American cultures such as the Pueblo Indians (Zuni, Laguna, and Hopi); as well as pre-nineteenth century Iroquois and Innu, as well as in Vanatinai and Hawaii. It needs noting that those patriarchal theorists who reject matriarchy are also those who fail to understand totemism because “…it was the female sex that instituted it.” (Reed, 1978). Certain contemporary views in anthropology have decried matriarchy as a non-subject with theories of kinship and totemism relegated to a type of limbo, which has led to a “…vaporisation of primitive institutions.” (Reed, 1978 – from subject to non-subject. The patriarchal system has sometimes been referred to as the so-called male-preference primogeniture.

The fratriarchy was the cooperative association of men which “…represents the growing achievement of the totemic system which was instituted by women.” (Reed, 1978). Within the matriarchal system the fratriarchal  brotherhood have way eventually to a new social order that had new relations of production at is basis, thus a “…new kind of competitive struggle for private ownership of wealth and property.” (Reed, 1954).`This process was a transitional phase in the movement from the totemic matrilineal clan proper to the advent of class society (Lindsay, 1965). At the beginning, when unrecognised individual parenthood was not a significant issue, it was the “…progressive definition of individual parenthood, determined by the growth of individual rights of property that destroyed collective marriage.” (Thomson, 1978). Eventually blood kinship became antagonistic to totemism and replaced it in time with the rise of property owning class society. If the appearance of blood feud destabilised the clan and tribal structure then the researches of Morgan, Bachofen, and McLennan confirm “…that such a wavering marks a transition from female to male descent and not conversely.” With totemism the “…tribal order and the natural order were parts of one another. Thus totemism is the ideology of savagery, the lowest stage in the evolution of human society.” (Thomson, 1977). It was during the period of Palaeolithic savagery that the “…persistent affirimation of primitive man in the totemistic stage that he is an animal or plant…has in fact obscured the other main factor in totemism, the unity of the human group.” (Harrison, 1927). The wider view must include the fact that the “…individualism of early woman from which originated the domestication of animals, the cultivation of fruits and cereals, and the appropriation of such trees and shrubs as were necessary for primitive economics.” (Gomme, 1908).

Property and inheritance had developed and family structure was undergoing transition to the patriarchy which meant for men, once they had achieved ownership of their own transmissible property, “…they could affect the full transition from the matrifamily to the one-father family…the new social order founded upon private property and the father family vanquished the matriarchy.” (Reed, 1986). The development of the patriarchal and therefore monogamous family was according to Engles (1972) “…the first form of the family to be based not on natural but on economic conditions – on the victory of private property over primitive, natural communal property.” It is interesting to note at this juncture that the origin of the “…word chattel, which means any object of personal ownership is derived from the Old French chattelcattle has the same origin. Chatel has its ultimate etymology in the Latin caput, or head. Chatel in ancient France referred to the property of the greatest value, head property. Cattle were so much the chief form of property among our pastoral ancestors that our specialised word for personal property grew from the same root.” (Hoebel, 1949). Morgan also believed that human society has originated as a “…horde living in promiscuity.” (Morgan, 1877) with no real family structure, and therefore regarded humankind as developing from a common origin to a common destiny. Morgan was one of the first to investigate systematically the kinship structure as the basic organising principle in pre-urban societies. For others the merit of Morgan’s work is that it “…has shown us totemic society in its highest form of development.” (Gomme, 1908). Over time Morgan’s three stages of social evolution, which was a comprehensive evolutionary approach, was substitutes by descriptive and empirical studies of contemporary primitive peoples in various parts of the world (Reed,

4.  Matrilineal Descent and Clan Exogamy

4 a.  Matriliny

Matrilinearity is a more common form of female pre-eminence in society and is distinct from matriarchy. With matrilinearity children are identified in terms of their mother rather than their father. Matrilineality is a system in which lineage is traced through the mother and maternal ancestors with a matriline or a mother line. A matriline is a line of descent from female ancestor to a descendant, of either sex, in which the individuals in all intervening generations are mothers. Matrilineal descent, therefore, is in contrast to patrilineal descent. The matriline of historical nobility has females of enatic (related on the mothers side) or uterine ancestry which matches patrilineal agnatic ancestry. Several anthropologists prefer the terms matrifocal and matricentral to matrilineal societies. Some even introduce the term avunculocal when referring to indigenous American, Asian, African tribes, as well the Berbers, Tuaregs, and Sardinians. Matrifocal or matricentral is used to describe societies where the mother is the head of a family or household. This scenario does not necessarily imly domination by women or mothers but one where the kinship structure of the system is one where mothers assume structural prominence (Smith, 2002).

With hunting indicating a division of labour within matrilineal descent groups the clan is centred on women with children members of the clan of their birth (Thomson, 1978). As clan membership is determined by descent and reckoned originally through the mother, and this instances matrilineal to patrilineal not the reverse, then matrilinearity could preponderate among hunting peoples of ancient times. In addition it becomes obvious that, in a matrilineal society descent implies that “…where the mother is the nearest of kin to her children in a sense quite different to that in our society, they share in and inherit from her all her possessions.” (Malinowski, 1961). In such societies the basis of social organisation was, indeed, the woman, her children and thence their children. The old women were the elders and heads of society though eventually men developed a warrior caste, a fighting organisation accompanied by techniques which eventually swallowed up the pre-existing matrilineal kinship system. Group membership in some cultures is inherited matrilineally and includes many ancient and contemporary cultures. In North America matrilineal peoples include the Huron, Cherokee, the Iroquois Confederacy, Hopi, Navajo, and the Gitksan. Old World cultures included Ancient Egypt. It is found among the Minangkabau of West Smatra in Indonesia, among the Nairs and Kurichiyas of Kerala in India. Also among the Billavas, and Majaveeras of the Kamchatka peninsula. The Pillai caste in Tamil Nadu, as well as the Khasi, the Jaintia and Garo of Meghalaya are also matrilinear. Other examples of matrilineal cultures are found with the Nakhi in China, the Basques, the Alan, and the Tuaregs. The Indo-European peoples were mainly patriarchal and patrilinear.

4 b.  Clans

A clan is a group of people united by an actual or assumed kinship and descent even though actual lineage patterns may be unknown or obscured. A clan shares a stipulation or agreement that there was, or is, a common ancestor who symbolises clan unity, against a background where “…the maternal clan system, which gave an honoured place to women, was also a collectivist order where the members of both sexes enjoyed equality and did not suffer oppression or discrimination (Reed, 1975). When the posited ancestor is not human the totem is referred to as animalian and clans in indigenous societies are likely to be exogamous. In different cultures the clan may mean the same thing as other kin groups such as band or tribe, or be a smaller part of a larger social group.  Examples of clans existing as kin groups are Scottish and Irish clans, Chinese and Japanese clans, Rajput clans, the Nair Clan in India, the Malayala Clan in both India and Pakistan.

The original human communities comprised groups of people who were related to each other, shared a common origin, and during this earliest stage of “…development that a blood relationship is often a figment of the imagination, an imagined relationship to justify the association of people in a tribe.” (Porshnev, 1970). It is at this particular juncture of the process that “…the clan had identified itself with all the species on which it fed…it had no consciousness of itself as distinct from the rest of nature…” (Thomson, 1977). It has been stated that totemism is a “…complex of beliefs and distribution which is based on the mystic self-identification of a human group or individual with some non-human natural kind.” (Marett, 1935). This allows many to claim that they are descendants of some animal of a particular species, the descendants of an imaginary ancestor implying “…the concept of blood relationship, even at the lowest totemism stage is not as natural as it seems.” (Porshnev, 1976). The family at large, the tribe, the clan or sept developed on the basis of a brotherhood under some totemic relationship.. The members of the clan have respect for one another’s lives and claim “…a common mother or a common father.” (Reinach, 1909), but where matriarchy was also “…the necessary first form of social organisation because women were not only the procreators of new life but also the chief producers of the necessities of life.” (Reed, 1975). Archaic humans have a social outlook or instinct that goes beyond that of the species and eventually a similar principle protects clansman and totems against violence or caprice.

Clans had their origins as small nomadic bands that migrated to the breeding ground of a useful species of animal or plant. It is assumed that a clan identified with the animal, plant or species it utilised for food. The development of permanent relations between two clans was on exchanges of food, one clan supplying the other, and with the passage of time, it followed that “…with the development of economic and social relations between the two clans, each asserted its distinctive identity in opposition to the other by identifying itself with the species which formed its distinctive contribution to the common food supply (Thomson, 1977). However, for ancient peoples what was also “…common to all of them, what appears to have existed everywhere, is the clan and totemism. The clan is composed of individuals who recognise a common ancestor. It is an extension of the family.” (Renard, 1929). The relationship, the economic arrangement between clans, was one that “…puts them as far as he can on a footing of equality with himself and with his fellows, the members of the same totemic clan.” (Frazer, 1927). Clans were also bands of magicians. Therefore their function as such was to control the phenomena and viscitudes of nature for the common good. This implies the existence of an elaborate social organisation. It is an arrangement based on mutual cooperation involving several clans. Its purpose is nothing less than the systematic control of the surrounding natural world, therefore  under the totemic system “…the various clans or stocks do not live isolated from each other, but are skilled up together within a narrow area, and exert their magic powers for the common good.” (Frazer, 1899).

4.c.  Exogamy

Concerning the origin of exogamy it was McLennan’s eight point hypothesis which postulated (Wake, 1891) that: (1) primitive groups were assumed, when consanguinity was first thought of, to be one stock; (2) marriage was at first unknown; (3) special attachments of children to mothers made for rude family groups, and the rise and consolidation of the system of kinship through women only; (4) a want of balance between the sexes; (5) the practice of wife capture may have given rise to exogamy; (6) the system of capture and female kinship led to the destruction of group homogeneity; (7) stock groups became local tribes, having within them many gentes of different stocks; (8) many groups disappeared in the struggle for existence. A totemic group is usually exogamous stipulating that it is only permitted to marry into another totemic group (Lewis, 1969). Exogamy is the obligation to find a marital partner outside the group of which one is a member. In this way links are formed between clans, tribes and lineages, as well as between village groups. Descent is essentially limited to the regulation of membership of the family, social group of clan, being most pronounced in clan organisation. In other words the practice of exogamy separates the social groups called clans (Rivers, 1926). Friendship and mutual relations are therefore established between such groups because exogamy not only means amity between spouses but also between their kin. In exogamous societies, therefore, a man or woman may not marry who they like because they are involved in a mate selection process according to well defined rules. More especially a man and a woman may not marry anyone within their own totemic group. Exogamy therefore means that marriage outside the group or clan is obligatory. This denies to prospective mates a segment of their society from which they can obtain a husband or a wife. Likewise, the rules of exogamy define a segment of society from whence a spouse must be sought. In general, lineages and clans are exogamous in mating practice, and such a mating and marriage pattern serves a double purpose. In the first place exogamy prevents complications arising from sexual relations with closely related persons or groups. In the second place, and of great importance, exogamy establishes co-operative and amicable relations with other clans, tribes and lineages. In turbulent times this established mutuality can afford much succour and peaceful reception. Mutual co-operation is a characteristic of most totemic and pre-literate societies, and seen in the activities of hunting, food gathering and sharing, as well as protection, support and comfort, thus among “…peoples who possess the clan organisation, kinship carries with it a large mass of social duties…” (Rivers, 1926). Marriage in such situations and societies is seen as an exchange between two clans – for example we can recognise the system of bride price. As a method of exchange of marital partners bride price was described as a pump that forces women, or men, out of their consanguineous groups and redistributes them amongst their affines. Exogamy implies that the occurrence of marriage within a clan is regarded with the same revulsion as an incestuous union or act within the particular society concerned. Exogamous marriage means that with regard to wealth property owning societies marriage alliances become a consideration for individuals, families and lineages. The implication is that in prehistoric societies and cultures that exogamy is inherent in the structure of the totemic clan. Therefore if they were totemic they must have been exogamous. It follows that the tribal system was the initial stage in the social evolution of humankind.

5.  Mother-Right

5 a.  Bachofen and Mutterecht

Johann Jakob Bachofen (1815-1887) was a Swiss antiquarian jurist and anthropologist, who as professor of Roman law at Basel University, demonstrated motherhood was the source of human society as well as postulating the  archaic existence of “mother-right”. In 1861 Bachofen proposed four phases of cultural evolution referred to as Das Mutterecht.  The first stage was haeterism which was a wild nomadic “tellurian” phase regarded as a form of primitive communism and polyamorous. By haeterism was meant a general system of temporary or continued sexual relations outside marriage or the holding of women in common. As for tellurian it is implied that these ancient people were earth inhabitants or hunter gatherers. The dominant deity of this phase was an earthy proto-Aphrodite. The second stage of Das Mutterecht or matriarchal “lunar” phase was based on agriculture and characterised by the emergence of chthonic mystery cults with the dominant deity being an early Demeter. It was Bachofen who stated succinctly that every woman’s womb “…the mortal image of the earth mother Demeter will give brothers and sisters to the children of every other woman; the homeland will know only brothers and sisters and sisters until the day when the development of the paternal system dissolves the undifferentiated unity of the mass…” (Bachofen, 1967).

The next or Dionysian stage was a transitional phase when the preceding traditions became masculinised as patriarchy began to emerge. The dominant deity was now Dionysos. The fourth, or Appollonian period, was the patriarchal “solar” phase where all trace of matriarchal and the Dionysian past is eradicated and modern civilisation emerges. The views of Bachofen were then analysed by Frederick Engels (1891) in the following way. Firstly, man originally lived in a state of sexual promiscuity rather than Bachofen’s mistaken concept of haeterism or concubinage. Secondly, as such promiscuity excludes certainty of paternity, then descent could only be reckoned through the maternal line. This was according to mother-right and the original case amongst all peoples of antiquity. Thirdly, since women as the only recognisable parents of all of the younger generation, they held a highly respectful position that there existed a regular, in Bachofen’s view, a rule of women the gynaecocracy. Fourthly, for Engels, during the transition to monogamy the women belonged to one man exclusively. This involved the violation of primitive religious law, or the traditional right of other men to the same woman, which therefore demand expiation by surrender or purchase of the woman’s indulgence. Bachofen had been inspired by the functional and holistic theories of culture and, for him, descent from the mother only could be recognised as the biological foundation of kinship (Diner, 1965).

5 b.  Principles of Mother-Right

According to Rivers (1926) mother-right is a form of social organisation where the “…rights of a person in relation to other members of his community and to the community as a whole are determined by relationship traced through the mother.” As such the phenomenon is very complex and involves a number of social elements that include descent, kinship and marriage. Some principles of mother-right have been attempted (Kohler, 1897; 1975) and listed as: (1) naming after mother at birth; (2) there is historical evidence of mother-right progressing to father-right; (3) mother-right is factually more probable; (4) that father-right was supposedly brought about by the abduction of women and bride purchase; (5) full mother-right is vital in totemic societies; (6) ancient examples are found among Amerindians and shown by (6a) the rights of mother’s brothers; (6b) if no sons then inheritance passes to brother or sister etc; (6c) marriage prohibitions are not limited to the agnatic (coming from the father) line. It is the fact that the mother gives birth that provides the grounds for mother-right and therefore “…the relation to her is regarded as decisive is so natural that the contrary must seem highly improbable.” (Kohler, 1975; 1897). In terms of exogamy mother-right groups are those where women in a local group are the sexual companions of males from outside the social group of the women (Gomme, 1908). The question arises of what is a ‘mother’? To modern society a ‘mother’ is a woman who gives birth to a child and is not a mother until she has done so but “…in primitive society motherhood was a social function of the female sex; thus all women were actually or potentially ‘the mothers of the community,.” (Reed, 1978).  Often the central structure of a human group would actually be the grand-mother, the core ancestress with her children and grandchildren forming an extended family cluster.

Again it was stated quite succinctly by Frazer (1910) that “…we confuse our word ‘mother’ with the corresponding but by no means equivalent terms in the languages of savages who have the classificatory system. We mean by ‘mother’ a woman who has given birth to a child: the Australian savages mean by ‘mother’ a woman who stands in certain relation to a group of men and women, whether she has given birth to any of them or not.” Mother-right is found among Australian Aboriginal tribes as well as the branches of the Iroquois nation of north America. For them the child belongs to the clan of the mother and to which clan the father does not belong. For example, British Colombian tribes have mother-right and the child has the name of its mother and among the Amerindians of the far north, the Aleuts, Kutchin, and Kenai, mother-right prevails, but the Inuit show a mixed system whereby though father-right exists in theory divorce means the children stay with the mother (Kohler, 1975; 1897). Survivals of mother-right among the Omaha occur as the avunculate, various marriage prohibitions and some subsidiary inheritance rights. Among the Australian Aborigines women look outside their class or totem structure for the sexual mates which leads to localised males moving from female group to female group with the “…development into a system of one of the results of the enforced migratory conditions of early man…” (Gomme, 1908). For Australian Aborigines and mother-right a man “…will call his actual mother Mia, but at the same time he will apply the term not only to other grown women, but to a little girl child, provided they are all belong to the same group…the term Mia expressed the relationship in which she stood to him.” (Spencer, 1889). For one scholar the origin and principle of totemic society was that in was not a kinship system, but was kinless in the sense that “…totemism is essentially a system of social grouping, whose chief characteristic is that it is kinless – that is to say, the tie of totemism is not the tie of blood kinship, but the artificially created associated with natural objects or animals: it takes no account of fatherhood and only reckons with the physical fact of motherhood.” (Gomme, 1908).

6.  The Female Principle in Antiquity and Myth

In the prehistoric Aegean the Minoan ‘Great Goddess’ was worshipped in a society whose women and men were apparently equals. Greek mythology contains numerous traces and references to earlier matrilinear systems. On the periphery of Greek culture there existed the legendary gynocracy of the Amazon society. Earliest Egyptian writings support the concept that there had been a previous egalitarian social organisation. Ancient Egyptian women held property, had positions of power and in religious and social organisations, as well as the right to divorce. Ancient Egyptian lineages could be traced along maternal lines with some Egyptian roots apparent in Palaeolithic culture.

            With regard to goddesses and agriculture of later times it is seen that female deities are conspicuously connected to the agricultural cycle. It can be posited that the Neolithic era was the zenith of the matriarchy and the position of the goddess. Among hunter-gatherer societies women are the gatherers. Rounds of agriculture are seasonal and cyclic in nature, which resembles the female pattern where both women and the earth are potentially fertile (Kessler, E. 1976). Women, like the earth, also have dormant seasons, but still reproduce in due time. In this scenario it is easy to transfer images from the woman to the earth. Virtually every agrarian has such a goddess figure that include among others Isis and Demeter. Each one was accompanied by a “…legend to account for the barren season.” (Kessler, 1976). In one myth Isis travels through Egypt seeking parts of the body of her destroyed husband. Again, for example, Demeter travels to the Underworld in the hope of finding her missing daughter. In ancient Greece and similarly in Rome, women were housebound and took little part in public affairs which provides the paradox “…seen in the fact that those societies which worshipped female deities and had castes of priestesses and female oracles did not necessarily give higher status to the ordinary women.” (Kessler, 1976).

Ceramic artifacts that show sculpted and painted designs that resemble snakes, as well as deer, eggs show that prehistoric Europeans were deeply concerned with various aspects of fertility such as rain, vegetation, and pregnancy (Gimbutas, 1996). It has been argued that the goddess religion, which was presided over by naked priestesses, was worshipped in cave temples (Starhawk, 1989). It has been postulated (Gimbutas, 1991) that some caves were decorated or painted with red ochre to be reminiscent of the womb. Catal Hayuk (6500-5700 BC) in Anatolia is the site excavated that shows the clearest evidence of a prehistoric matriarchal society (Starhawk, 1989). The site contained shrines dedicated to bulls, the heads assumed to symbolise the female reproductive system (Gimbutas, 1991), with some figurines in many birthing positions.

 6 a.   Amazons and Warrior Women

The  Amazons were a fabled nation of warrior women, a fabulous race of warlike women who were always located on the borders of the known ancient world.  The Amazons were eventually associated with a number of historical peoples in Late Antiquity. Called androktones or ‘killers of men’ by Herodotus and he also stated that they were called oiorpata or ‘killers of men’ in the Scythian language. Onwards from the Early Modern Period their name has become synonymous with women warriors in general.  In Scythia the existence of women warriors has been confirmed archaeologically.

The common explanation of the word Amazon is of doubtful etymology.  The usual explanation is ‘without breasts’ from the Greek a ‘without’ and mazos or ‘breasts’.  According to legend each girl had her right breast amputated or burned off to facilitate the handling of weapons.  From this mistaken interpretation arose the common and ancient fallacy of the name a-mazos.  No early artwork or representation supports the claim. The word is derived possibly from the ancient Iranian term ha-mazam which means warriors.  The word in Persia ‘to make war’ is hamzakaram and is probably connected to its etymology.  This view is derived from Heschius of Alexandria.  Certainly the term contains the Indo-Iranian root kar which means ‘to make’.  This indicates the naivete of the ancient Greek etymology as meaning a-mazos, without breasts.  Purportedly breast removal was assumed to facilitate the use of the bow but no contemporary representation of Amazons supports this view. Herodotus affirms that the Sarmatians were descended from Amazons and Scythians, and that Sarmatian females continued to observe their ancient maternal customs.  It is thought that an Amazon group was blown across the Sea of Azov into the Scythian lands situated in the modern southwestern Crimea.  On the condition they did not follow Scythian female customs they agreed to marry Scythian men.  Thence they migrated northwest, and settled beyond the Tanais (Don) river thereby becoming the progenitors of the Sauromatians.  The Amazon queen Thalestris visited Alexander and became a mother by him.  The Volscian warrior maiden Camilla is characterised by Virgil who refers to the Amazonian myths.

Women warriors are known from the archaeological record. In 1997 the earliest known female warrior burial mounds were excavated in southern Russia.  They were buried with swords, daggers, saddles, and arrowheads.  From the 6th century BC to the 4th century BC women buried with weapons have been located on the Kazakhstan and Russian border.  Graves of women warriors dating from the 3rd century BC have been found near the Sea of Azov.  In 2004 the 2000 year old remains (1st century AD) of an Iranian female warrior with a sword were found in the northwestern city of Tabriz.  Moreover, some 20% of Scythian-Sarmatian ‘warrior graves’ on the Lower Don and Lower Volga contained females dressed for battle in the same manner as men.  Elsewhere, in 2006, a Moche woman was buried with two ceremonial war clubs and twenty-eight spear throwers.  This south American grave from Peru was the first known burial of a Moche woman to contain weapons.

In Homer’s Iliad the Amazons were called Antineira or those who fight like men.  Amazons appear during the Greek Archaic Period in representative art connected to several legends.  Also in the Iliad Amazons are killed in combat by Bellerophon after invading Lycia, the defeat occurring at the river of Sangerias (near Pessinus).  Queen Myrine led her Amazons to victory in Libya and Gorgon but her tomb is outside Troy.  Amazons attacked the Phrygians who were aided by Priam, which did not prevent them taking his side against the Greeks at Troy.  Antiope died fighting alongside Theseus after which he marries the Amazon queen Hippolyte.  The Amazons also mounted an expedition against the island of Leuke, at the mouth of the Danube, where the ashes of Achilles were placed by Thetis.  There are numerous legends that connect the Amazons with founding places in Ionia.

In ancient Greek mythology there are a number of conflicting lists of Amazons.  There are the warriors  attendant on Queen Penthsilea which include Clonie, Derinoe, Polemusa, Thermodora, Evandre, Antandre, Antilorote, Bremusa, Alcibie, Hippothoe, Derimacheia, and Homothoe.  Other Amazons include Ainaan (or ‘swiftness’) and one of the twelve who went to the Trojan War.  Antibrote was another at Troy, as was Cleite, whose ship was blown off course and she landed in Italy to found Clete.  Another Amazon was Antiope, and Antinera, the successor to Queen Penthesilea and who is known for ordering the crippling and castration of her male servant on the basis that the lame best perform the sex act.  It was Queen Hippolyte who owned the magic girdle given to her by her father Ares.  Queen Thalestris is the Amazon mentioned in Alexander The Great legend.  Asteria was another and the sixth killed by Heracles.  Another, Helene, the daughter of Tityrus, fought Achilles and died of wounds inflicted.  Otera was an Amazon who, as the consort of Ares, was the mother of both Hippolyte and Penthesilea.  Melanippe was also a sister of Hippolyte who was captured by Heracles who then demanded Hippolyte’s magic girdle in return for her freedom, whereupon she complied. The Amazons were said to have come into contact with the Argonauts of Jason who landed at lemons on their way to Colchis.  They found Lemnos inhabited entirely by women with Queen Hypsipyle.  They called the island Gynaekokratume which means ‘reigned by women’.  The Amazons met Jason and his crew in full battle array as they were wont to kill male visitors.  One of the tasks or labours imposed on Heracles by Eurystheus was to obtain the magic girdle of the Amazon queen Hippolyte. This ninth labour resulted in another Amazonomachy whereby the Amazons attacked Heracles in force, thereby reaching Attica and beseighed him at Athens.  Heracles was joined by Theseus who came to help defeat the Amazon invasion as told in 6th century BC.  A great battle took place on the date of a later festival called the Boedromia where the Amazons were defeated. A ritual ceremony in Pyanopsion has been interpreted as a sacrifice to Amazon dead.  Theseus carried off princess Antiope, sister of Hippolyte, after the battle.  In a poem in the Epic Cycle the Amazons, led by their queen Penthesilea who, according to Quintus Smynaeus, was of Thracian birth, came to aid Priam in the Trojan War after the death of Hector.  This Penthesilea was a daughter of Ares, the Amazon deities being Ares and Artemis, but she is killed by Achilles.  Achilles also kills Thyrsites because he alleged Achilles loved Penthesillea.

There are numerous and worldwide examples of Amazons and women warriors both historically as well as in mythology, legend and folklore.  Many goddesses have mythological origins portraying them as warriors and huntresses.  Today the role of these women warriors or Amazons often remains embedded in many cultures even if disguised by the passage of time.  Despite added layers of new legends the ideals and myths still cannot be obscured totally.  From this palimpsest it is possible to create a timeline and geographical origin of Amazons and women warriors as characters and individuals in myth, legend, folklore and history.   In ancient Egypt circa 1600 BC Ahhotep battled the Hyksos thereby facilitating the re-unification of Egypt and thereupon founded a matriarchal lineage and dynastyWomen warriors are found among the myths and folktales of the peoples of India.  King Vikramaditya dreams of the man-hating princess Matiayavati.  There are warrior women examples from Arabia, England, and among the Makurep of upper Guapore River in Brazil.  On Kodiak Island in Alaska the Konig Inuit have many tales of warrior women.  The Dahomey Amazons or Mino are an all female regiment in the Kingdom of Dahomey (now Benin) which lasted until the end of the 19th century, and were founded around 1645 to 1685. The Shield Maidens were warrior women in Scandinavian folklore and often mentioned in sagas.  The Valkyries may have been based on the Shield Maidens.  In the Greek epics Amazons exist in order to be fought and defeated by men in the Amazon-battle or Amazonomachy.  Amazons of Greek tradition are briefly mentioned in the Irish Labor Gabala or Book of Invasions.  The characters cited are more often in the role of female martial arts teachers such as Aife, Scathach and Buanann.  In Russia there were the Slavic Polenitsa or the female warriors led by Vlasta.

7.  The Mother Goddess

7 a.  Goddess Archaeology

Goddess archaeology posits that the European Palaeolithic and Neolithic societies were matriarchal and worshipped a female deity – the Mother Goddess. Goddess archaeology arose out of the evolutionary theories and folklore research current in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The distribution of Mother-Goddess figurines throughout Europe to Russia, to the Atlantic borders and northern Siberia, through Italy and the Iberian peninsula seem “…to indicate the existence of a belief system and a ritual which involved aspects of womanhood.” (Kessler, 1976). What does become apparent is that sexuality is an integral part of ancient female religions. Archaeological criticism of the Goddess argue that prehistoric figurines are merely examples of palaeo-eroticism. Others argue that the meaning of Upper Palaeolithic and Neolithic female images remains inconclusive. Some suggest that Upper Palaeolithic female figurines were merely created as self-portraits by pregnant women (McDermott, 1996). Nonetheless, during the Upper Palaeolithic and Neolithic periods, images of nude women with prominent breasts, markes vulvae, protuberant buttocks  and bellies, all indicate an association with fertility ritual. The Venus figurines of Willendorf and Lespugue are the most famous examples of probable Goddess images (Gimbutas, 1991). Female figurines have been found seated on altars and thrones (Gimbutas, 1996) whilst they handle animals like snakes similar to statues found as Knossos. Statues with the heads of animals show that women were also associated with the fertility of animals and held leadership positions in the religions of ancient Europe (Gimbutas, 1996). Goddess archaeologists claim that the Goddess religion was organised and associated with matriarchal societies, some postulating that the heads of bulls at sites of worship resemble the female reproductive system and organs. Others disagree and believe the Neolithic figurines did not dominate Neolithic archaeological assemblages. The claim is that there were equal numbers of sexless, male and zoomorphic figures (Meskell, 1995). Other archaeologists have also questioned the extension of the ancient matriarchy premiss to Western Europe and Britain (Hutton, 1997).

The modern European folk traditions gave been linked to the Neolithic Goddess religion. For example the mythological figures embodied in the Witch and Old Hag were possible created during the Neolithic as symbols of death (Gimbutas, 1991). The images in the Neolithic include ‘stiff nudes’ and old women or crones that also symbolised death. It follows therefore that modern mages of witches and crones are possible survivals from prehistoric religious practices and beliefs. Palaeolithic and Neolithic Mother-Goddess figurines have been interpreted in terms of a cult “…which is perhaps linked with the matrilineal clans and the concept of the woman as ‘mistress of the home and hearth, protectoress of the domestic fire, responsible for the well-being of the household and bearing of children.” (Kessler, 1976) Some scholars attempted to compare the mythologies of surviving non-Indo-European with the sites and found artifacts of European Neolithic societies. Whereas others tried to associate Mari, the goddess of the Basques, with the Neolithic goddess. This theory of survival assumed a similarity in form meant the same as similarity of function and, indeed, some goddess-worshipers do assume similarity means identity. Other examples are the Classicists and scholars studying the Near East. They examined the nature of the myths used by goddess archaeologists in reference to ancient matriarchal societies. Their contention was that patriarchal myths cannot be used objectively to make hypotheses about matriarchal culture (Hackett, 1989).

7 b.  The Goddess and Religion

With regard to the religious cults of the Amazons, their tombs in central Greece are frequent. They are found in Megara, Athens, Chaeronea, Chalais, Thessaly at Scotussa, and Cynocephalia.  Moreover, in Athens, there was an annual sacrifice to the Amazons on the day before the Thesea.  It is possible that the Amazons who overran Asia Minor were also priestesses of the Great Goddess as well as the celebrants and initiates of her cults.  Whether they belong to the realm or mythology or represent literal history, most likely both, the Amazons bequeathed an indisputable effect on classical literature.  The ancient and primitive form of worship was the aniconic reference to idols and symbols not in human or animal form.  This preceded the worship of anthropomorphic deities.  For example, the worship of Cybele in the form of a black stone at Pessinus in Phrygia is an aniconic survival.  Indeed, in later mythology, Aphrodite is a love goddess but originally a war goddess. The worship of the Great Mother of Phrygia as Cybele is germane to the study of Amazon religion.

The Amazons were worshippers of the Mother known both as Rhea and Cybele.  In Phrygia (west central Anatolia) the rites of the Cretan Mother were introduced and established at Pessinus where she was known as Dindymene.  Appollonius showed the Amazons practising a ritual very similar to that at Pessinus where they venerated a black stone in an open temple on an island of Samothrace off the coast of Colchis (modern western Georgia).  The Amazons consecrated the island of Samothrace to the Mother of the Gods. The worship of Phrygian Cybele was in Samothrace.  The goddess in Samothrace is closely allied to the form of Cybele – hence the consecration.  In Lemnos the Great Goddess is the Thracian Bendis, the fierce huntress of two spears who entered the Greek pantheon as the Thracian Artemis being closely allied to Cybele and Hecate.  The cult of Cybele seems to have been indigenous in Phrygia and Lydia.  Hippolyte and her Amazons set up a bretas (old wooden effigy of Artemis) at Ephesus.  They then established an annual circular dance with weapons and shields.

Universal assumptions exist concerning the idea of the great or mother-goddess (Christ, 1979; Puttick, 1997), and many actual goddess images are often based on European deities, even if ethnically different like the Black Madonna worship of Southern France and Spain (Morgan, 1996; Rose, 1998), which implies that the Goddess religion is Eurocentric.  Indeed, some feminist standpoints actually argue against the concept of the Goddess, postulating that there is no evidence for prehistoric women’s religion (Ruether, 1980). Nonetheless, the evidence is that matristic societies are women centred that incorporated Mother Goddess worship throughout the Palaeolithic and Neolithic eras of European and other ancient civilisations (Eisler, 2011).

7 c.  The Goddess and Witchcraft

A number of folkloric and historical arguments centred around the Goddess and witchcraft between 1859 and 1968. The discussions were concerned with the existence of an ancient Goddess cult time to show that Euopean witchcraft was a descendant of a prehistoric religion. One scholar credited with the hypothesis that witchcraft was an organised religion prior to Christianity was the Italian author Girolamo Tartarotti (1706-1761). He claimed in 1749 that witchcraft was a descendant of the Dianic cults of Roman antiquity (Valiente, 1973). The French historian Jules Michelet (1798-1874) argued that witchcraft was a survival of a North European pre-Christian fertility cult (Jordan, 1996).

Similar claims to those of Michelet were advanced by the folklorist and Egyptologist Margaret Murray. A pioneer for the rights of women, her works became the blue-print for the contemporary pagan and Wiccan religion based on witch-cults in Western Europe (Murray, 1921; Murray, 1931). Murray’s argument was that witchcraft was proven an ancient religion by comparing Palaeolithic rock art from Ariege and Dordogne, depicting masked and horned dancers (Murray, 1970). These images were compared to those from Roman, Greek, Celtic art, and Christian images of the Witches Sabbath  The conclusion was that witchcraft was indeed an old religion dedicated to the worship of the Horned God (Murray, 1970). The nature of the god supposedly worshipped by witches was invented by Margaret Murray, but there is no archaeological or documentary evidence that the Horned God existed as a synonym for the Devil (Thomas, 1997). Margaret Murray further developed her principles (1954) and applied them to the kingship of Britain. It was claimed that this kingship was inextricably bound up with the murder of the sacred king demanded by the old religion of witchcraft (Valiente, 1973). The work of Marija Gimbutas had a political element added to it by Merlin Stone who wrote When God was a Woman (1976).  Stone interpreted the art of Neolithic societies and the written documents of the Levant and Mesopotamia to show the matrilineal nature of prehistoric women’s religion. Stone also showed why that religion was eventually attacked and suppressed by patriarchal Indo-European and Semitic cultures.  A feminist Wiccan called Starhawk Popularised the works of Merlin Stone. She wrote The Spiral Dance (1989) which claimed witchcraft was a descendant of prehistoric European religion implying that Wicca was the original religion of Europe.

 8.  Epilegomena

Nineteenth century western scholarship hypothesised that matriarchy represented an earlier stage of human social organisation. A stage in human development that was then lost in prehistory except for contemporary so-called primitive societies. Modern academia now claims the theory is discredited and some scholars claim it never existed (Love, B. 1984). In the Marxist tradition matriarchy usually refers to a pre-class society “…where women and men share equally in production and power.” (Adler, B. 2006). Matriarchy is also seen as a public formation in which the woman occupies the ruling position in the family. A situation often found in modern times in the USA where a quarter of black families are headed by single women.

Some 25,000 to 30,000 thousand years ago, all across Europe, the “…evidence shows that culture recognised and incorporated the woman and her cyclic regularity in a complex belief system.” (Kessler, E. 1976). In the Bronze Age, between 2600 and 1000 BC, cultures that worshipped the Goddess were violently invaded by war-like patriarchal Indo-Europeans (Gimbutas, M. 1991). These eventually emerged as the Slaves, Germans, Celts, Myceneans, Greeks, and Romans. Artifacts from the Palaeolithic and Neolithic, which resemble those found in the art of the Minoans , circa 1930 to 1400 BC, as well as that of the Indo-European Myceneans and Greeks. This shows that the religion of goddess worship had survived beyond the Neolithic age and Indo-European invasions. Later Judaism and Christianity continued the breakdown of the goddess centred religion begaun by the Indo-European invasions, with patriarchal Christianity reducing the Goddess to a symbol of perverse sexuality and debauchery by a patriarchal conspiracy (Stone, 1976). In later times Starhawk (1989) and Merlin Stone (1976) made a connection of the prehistoric mother goddess with modern witchcraft. In the field of post-processual and feminist archaeology there is a conflict between mainstream and Goddess archaeology, with the idea advanced that archaeology must engage with feminist thinking (Conkey, M. 1998). Archaeology, it is claimed, is trapped within the confines of patriarchal sciences which controls and categorises the matter. The empirical and positivist basis of contemporary archaeology is challenged by post-processual archaeology, and it is thus claimed it is not possible to separate data-collection from interpretation (Bender, B. 1998). The post-processualists argue that there are a number of ways for people to interpret an archaeological site, and this implies that multivocality destroys testing, scientific method and hypothesis making.

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