Once upon a time, in the beginning of human time, during that long and slow first phase of our history, the bodies of women were seen as channels bringing to embodied life, and were observed,
portrayed and represented as the expression of creative energy.
Deep in our unconscious, we do know that the Biblical story, reversing the natural order of creation, was invented to bewilder our feelings, to separate spirit from bodies and to despise any expression of the flesh.
After Marija Gimbutas and the powerful explosion of the Spirituality Movement of Women from the Seventies on, we are re-writing history stepping back of millennia and Adam and Eve fade as fragile artificial puppets created to celebrate the grandeur of the new male disembodied God.
Now we have access, for the first time after long millennia of hidden existence, to much different stories of creation narrated through thousands of cosmogonies in mythologies of all traditions and to the thousand female figurines unearthed in the Old Continent alone, from the Iberian peninsula to Ma’alta in Siberia. They all suggest that if something sacred and powerful was imagined by our Ancestors and Ancestresses, it took the form of a Body of Woman as the powerful symbol of life, nourishment and abundance.
In my research (see Note 1), I have been exploring these primal ways of
imagining creation and their early transformations. Before the birth of patriarchy, of Greek philosophy and of monotheistic religions, coming to life and passing through death were considered part of the cyclic flowing of time, not yet disjoined in a linear sequence of oppositions. Till the Ionian pre-Socratic philosopher Anaxagoras, that imaginary was summarized in something like “nothing creates, nothing destroys” and the “Divine” was within Nature, not out of it. This is why it is more likely to find the “Creatress” acting a new beginning than creating by ex nihilo. In iconographic art, for a long time, women’s bodies were the powerful metaphors of this female all pervading energy, perceived as the primary agent of movement and transformation and as the source of consciousness of human creatures. In some cosmogonic myths, women were personified as a Great or Divine Mother from whom all the creatures, animated or not, visible or not, come forth. Often, She emerged as the first ancestress of a people or of a group of peoples or clans. Also the irreparable asymmetry between the two sexes (males and females are both of woman born) seems to have been a puzzling theme as old as the human faculty of thinking.
In the following pages I’ll give some examples from the many variants of these very special stories which are the myths about the origins that could be compared to the core samples used by geologists in sounding the deep strata of the Earth’s memory.
While aware of the impossibility of knowing their original forms, I have imagined myself as spreading a precious handful of seeds: for great is the power and wisdom they still maintain, even after having been forgotten in the dark for a very long time. To the reader belongs the task of letting them act in her/his heart and mind, intertwining them with our present knowledge, in order to strengthen and deepen the roots through which we are connected to the earth.
Functions of myths
Some experiences we pass through, which resonate throughout
different parts of ourselves, speak to us in such a complex manner
that we can but get hold of them by intuition or by placing them in the realm of the numinous. When we meet events that we perceive as greater than every day time and feel deeply touched by overwhelming emotions, these “moments of being” are the substance that myths in general deal with. The cosmogonic myths, a very special category of myths about the origins and the sense of life, warn also about the rules and the forms needed to preserve life, speaking in a way which is at the same time fictional and fixed like physical laws are. These myths manifest through symbols out of time and they have endured all the changes deposited on their original core without destroying its charge of energy, which is still there, though hidden. Nor it is easy to understand them immediately, for we have gone for some millennia in a direction which is just the opposite from the orientation those myths pursue.
In the words of the Italian Professor of History of Religions, Momolina Marconi (see Note 2), a “myth is sacred history”, “pronounced word which is repeated again and again because it owns decisive power in that it is referred to a divinity”. She also classifies myths graduating them according to their strength and the consequences they determine: there are idle myths (myths for their own sake), existential myths (or cosmogonies, which explain the origins and through their secret force bring forth life), technological myths (a subcategory of the latter, for example the myths of invention of fire), providential myths (more than cosmogonies, they guarantee the salvation of future life). But, she underlines, the function of a myth is practical: “it begins to signify something from the moment in which it is danced or told; only in this way the primordial fact goes into action: the ‘primitive man’ doesn’t create but reproduces, doesn’t improvise but acts following the sacred tradition: every myth is charged with past and pregnant of future”.
1. Luciana Percovich, Colei che dà la Vita, Colei che dà la Forma (She who gives Life, She who gives Form) Venexia Editrice, Roma, 2009.
2. Momolina Marconi (Scritti di M.M., a cura di Anna De Nardis), Da
Circe a Morgana, Venexia Editrice, Roma, 2009.
To be continued.