She who gives Life and Form
Religion, science and measurement of time were not separate from the body and the biological or fertility mysteries of sexuality and reproduction; they were one body of knowledge. It is from this ancient holistic framework that we have fallen away.
This statement by Vicki Noble, referring to the great Paleolithic art, drives us far from the way of thinking which has imposed as dominant for the last centuries: ancient cosmogonies speak from such a “holistic frame”, revealing a complex pattern of vision and knowledge that only the last developments of scientific and philosophic disciplines of western culture paradoxically begin to grasp. The drive which has been pushing creation and history for the last 5000 years followed a direction diverging from that
horizon, praising differentiation and division, male over female at the price of an abnormal increase in individualism which, supported by more and more short sighted and rapacious
centrifugal forces, has led us to the desperation of the present time.
From the most ancient horizons, the cosmogonic myths and the foundation lore of the peoples tell about a female beginning not just in a glorification of the reproductive role of females giving life on the physical plane (the role into which women are forced in patriarchal cultures), but with full recognition of female ruling competence both for cosmic and human life, a competence which manifested at the beginning in founding and holding social groups, in inventing tools, transformative technologies and sacred rites and cults.
These Great Mothers and Mythic Ancestresses stayed at the origin and looked at the future with wisdom and care; the rhythms in their bodies showed and guaranteed a cosmic cyclical balance; usurping their place and stealing their symbols was the first political action of patriarchy, the primal theft of female souls. And it is about these acts of rebellion against the Creatress, about conflict and loss that historical mythology, from a certain point on, deals in a quite obsessive mood.
The terms “Great Mother” and “Goddess” which we use today to refer to this cosmic and governing Source of life are not fully appropriate, because these are terms (especially Goddess or Dea/Devi, which are as late as the Indo-European cultures) which went in use much later, in a completely humanized and personified stage of human thinking and, most of all, they are all tainted by the sentiment of separation.
The Mothers, like the most ancient Paleolithic figurines, are the symbols of an ecstatic devotion to creative energy, as it clearly manifests in one of the most visible places where life grows: they are the female pregnant bodies “metaphors of life, nourishment and abundance”. Nowadays, to the contrary, a mother is such because she has already delivered her child, and only this fact describes her being a mother, her limited symbolic power, fully sharing the human loss of divinity. Significantly, the first figurines
of “goddess with child” began to appear only at the ending of the Neolithic.
Nor can the adjective “great”, added in order to go beyond the lack of words that these pre-patriarchal figurines provoke in whoever no longer shares that way of sensing and representing life, help to express their ancient meaning. Even if we go on using these terms, we’ll learn they offer unsatisfying uni-faceted stereotypes, as it will become highly evident while dealing with stories where “Goddess, Ancestress, Mother” express fiery,
desiring, awakening, excited, pushing, loving moments of being.
Traces of matrifocal/matrilinear or matriarchal cultures can actually be found everywhere and many are the themes recurring throughout pre-patriarchal layers. The surface, or patriarchal layer, is the filter through which the ancient narratives and symbols passed through before they were written in documents. In this form, purposely altered by distorting, cutting, introducing new elements and letting fade in the background the original core of the narrations, they have been transmitted to the present. And we
must not forget that, if compared with the long long times of oral tradition, writing is still very young.
In the beginning, much time ago, in many different places, these tales have been told and handed down for boundless generations to a point when they nearly disappeared. “The loss of collective memories, of myriads of stories about the past has contributed greatly to the ongoing subordination of women. The unending, cumulative building of broad defined histories of women, including histories of feminism, is a critical component of resistance and change” writes Susan Stanford Friedman (in The Women’s Review of Books, vol. XVII n. 5, 2000).
Recovering the spirits of primal Goddesses
Not the God creator of Adam and Eve, but She was in the Beginning, and within Her the concern for the process of creation. The most ancient civilizations, which quite assuredly were matrilinear or matriarchal, imagined a female origin, where the Mother or the Goddess gave Life but also Form, that is rules, teachings and tools necessary for the continuation of creation.
Through parthenogenesis, or some similar emanation, She generated one or more daughters, then the male sons, who were all educated in the Path which guarantees Harmony and Balance.
During the ages of harmony, purity, the Golden Ages, the Earthly Paradises, the male energy, identified as diverging, dispersive, outward oriented and disorder inducing, was able to contribute
positively to social and cultural development if situated within a coherent and inclusive frame (Nature, Cosmos, social group).
But this order, for conjoint and various reasons both pertaining to the psychic and emotive spheres and to the social and evolutionary domains in the widest sense (for Cyclic Time is not a closed circle but moves along an open spiral), came to a forced end.
Did the power of the Mother begin to be perceived as overwhelming, oppressive and paralyzing? Or ineffective in connection with the dramatically changing environmental conditions in regions where She, in her terrific and deadly aspect, showed mostly the deadly face of Nature?
Why in some places, like the central plains of Eurasia, did ungoverned
male energies succeed in gaining the centre, dethroning the Mother and embracing a completely different path, marked by the rejection of every restraint and limit?
In the rising new patriarchal order, the female body was more and more devalued and traumatized, raped, cast beyond the borders until, exhausted and imprisoned, She was no longer able to give teachings or provide containment. At the same time, a complex of images was being built from an upside-down perspective in order to dismiss the Ancient Order as primordial and primitive chaos, shifting on a male divinity the gift of
creation/creativity, portrayed just as the ability of giving order to chaos. The female horizon was obscured and the male energy projected itself into the void of the heavens, inventing the incorporeal Creator. This is what later cosmogonies refer to, modulating old narrative elements in myriads of different rearrangements. Myths of sons who transformed the nurturing
mother’s attributes into disembodied power and dominion.
During the history of human evolution something at a certain point seems to have blocked the ability to live in circles and cycles, stuck the growth of psychic and spiritual energies, favouring violent and necrophilic abilities and competences which pollute our psyche as the material rubbish pollutes and kills water, earth and air.
The joyful scenery of the ecstatic dance of Eurynome, of fiery Fusji, the emanations of Mago or Sussistanako continuing their mothers’ creation are tales where we still don’t find any trace of trauma. Then, from a certain point of this mythic narration on, the tale of cruel and forced separations begins with the dismembering of “the parts of above from the parts of below”. And while falling towards the present, a new form of woman was shaped, more and more similar to the Mater Dolorosa, who has nothing left but tears. She is now portrayed in the image of the standing Madonna,
whose eyes are downturned as she crushes the serpent that has slid
down from her spine. Or in the image of the Sitting Mother: for a long period she holds her child, giving him Sovereignty, but later she collects a corpse, who seems to be slipping down from her, back to the earth. She is now a poor mammy, who seems void of any desire or strength to go look for and reclaim the dismembered parts of her son/lover, as Isis was still able to do for Osiris. The female power and energy have at last been tamed, in narrations as well as in iconography. Will we be able to recover the spirit of
these “goddesses” re-emerging in our times?
Read Part 1.