Unearthing the Feminine – Marija Gimbutas’ Work

Through the early years of the goddess movement and also several waves of feminism, I was not engaged at all. For I observed confusion and misunderstanding about what the fuller expression of modern – or post-modern – womanhood ought to look like, not to mention what actually unfolded. Nor did I like what I witnessed then or now in the ways North American popular media characterize success or fulfillment.

As we get older, the long view potentially coincides with more compassion and wisdom. I now can look back with deeper empathy at the struggles and the prices paid, by women, families, and society, as women experimented with, and adapted to, a variety of roles. These ranged from: single-mindedly choosing a career path; trying to be `super woman’ (namely, excel on all fronts, professionally and domestically); behaving as a sexually liberated energizer bunny and/or reverting to a traditional role as full time homemaker.

Regardless of their choices, women seem to have had to justify any and every choice, while also being blamed for society’s ills. But the roots of our social ills need to be excavated elsewhere. Consider the patriarchal societal structure that pushed the feminine principle of consciousness underground long, long ago, to the degree that many women as well as men became confused about what is required to grow into wholeness.

During my adult life span I have witnessed a sequence of societal changes throughout which one has had to remain on one’s toes, like a cerebral ballerina. In doing so, one keeps abreast of the times, both to withstand the winds of change that can rip you asunder from every anchor of life that provides stability and also to pick up the scent of the winds on the horizon. We need to pay attention to sources of wisdom that can fortify us against the materialistic and technological forces that continue to compromise our inner and outer capacities for living in balance.

For a number of years, I sought understanding outside of Euro-western culture, while negotiating two worlds, given the fact that my cultural roots reside in the latter. I feel blessed to have been welcomed by Aboriginal people at a time when they opened their homes, communities and ceremonial life to the `four colours’ of humanity.

What I learned significantly transformed my life and opened a door to the spiritual dimension. To come home to my soul, however, I had to address my inner life through examining my own cultural upbringing, be forgiving, and develop insights to see the ruptures in Euro-western society, not judgmentally as dysfunction yet compassionately as a soul woundedness that goes back through many centuries. Those ruptures are the disconnections to the worlds of Nature and Spirit – in other words, the split in consciousness between the feminine and masculine principles.

Exploring feminine consciousness can help us deal with the world’s imbalances, and help us understand why we currently are in a mess as a human species, both environmentally and also psychologically. All forms of life on Earth (and beyond) are interconnected through multiple levels of energy around us, and within each and every human being. (Later blogs will focus more on psychological aspects.)

In this blog post, let’s look at the archaeological finds of the late Marija Gimbutas (1921-1994) and her visionary theories. My previous blog post pointed out how pottery is defined as a craft, according to Euro-western definitions that, moreover, refer to the inscribed markings on it as `decorative art.’ The latter may be true today in so far as `markings’ in contemporary crafts often are intended as merely superficial decoration bereft of deeper symbolic meaning.

But, in traditional cultures that go back through time to include pre-historic artefacts, Gimbutas writes in her book The Language of the Goddess that the seemingly `decorative’ motifs were in fact a complex coded system in which “every unit is interlocked with every other…in patterns that cross the boundaries of space and time.” Gimbutas, in reference to the symbology of Old Europe in the same book writes:

“They [symbols] constitute a complex system in which every unit is interlocked, with every other in what appear to be specific categories. No symbol can be treated in isolation; understanding the parts leads to understanding the whole, which in turn leads to identifying more of the parts.”

I would argue, in fact, that the systems thinking evident in pre-history symbology is the pre-cursor of today’s `ecological literacy.’ The latter, therefore, is not new yet rather being renewed. For it originally resided in the human consciousness of our ancient ancestors whom we have tended to underestimate.

Meanwhile, Gimbutas makes a case that an ancient Goddess religion once existed across an extensive geographic area, covering the Near East, southeastern Europe, Mediterranean, and in central, western, and northern Europe “as a cohesive and persistent ideological system.” Her unorthodox conclusions followed upon five major excavations, and arrived at, furthermore, through applying her interdisciplinary background in linguistics, ethnology, and the history of religions – all of which infused her profession as an archeologist.

Aside from suggesting the existence of matrifocal societies, Gimbutas also got in hot water for suggesting that the beginnings of Western civilization go further back in time than the conventional cultural markers of ancient Greece or even Mesopotamia. The latter usually is designated as the first `civilization,’ based upon its Sumerian script.

Yet other maverick thinkers acknowledge Gimbutas. William Irwin Thompson, a social philosopher and cultural critic, credits Gimbutas with the discovery that writing goes back to the Old European culture of 5300 to 4300 B.C.E., in his book Coming into Being: Artefacts and Texts in the Evolution of Consciousness (1998).

Thompson adds: “So the contention of the French philosopher Jacques Derrida – that the old division of culture that sees oral as primary and writing as secondary is invalid – would appear to be true… Sumerian writing should not be seen as a sudden invention, but rather as a form of activity with deep roots in the past” [1998, p. 123-4].

Indeed, during the latter half of the twentieth century, Gimbutas was a rare woman among similarly rare, cutting edge thinkers, all of whom were controversial through much of their professional lives. They all challenged the longstanding, established classical view of cultural evolution that has been grounded in linear rather than holistic perspectives. Instead they emphasized the overlapping and intercultural influences.

In an article about Gimbutas and the biographical documentary film Signs Out of Time (2003) about her life, reviewer George Franklin mentions: “during the last few years of his life…visionary historian Joseph Campbell spoke frequently of Marija Gimbutas, regretting that her research on the Neolithic cultures of Europe was not available during the 1960s when he was writing The Masks of God. Otherwise, he would have `revised everything’.” Similarly, anthropologist Ashley Montagu said of Gimbutas: “[she] has given us a veritable Rosetta Stone of the greatest heuristic value for future work in the hermeneutics of archaeology and anthropology.”

The influence of Gimbutas continues as well in the fields of matriarchal, goddess and feminist studies. German scholar Heide Goettner-Abendroth, for example, organized two world congresses on matriarchal studies in 2003 and 2005, and edited the book Societies of Peace: Matriarchies Past, Present, and Future (2009). In her 2005 conference paper, she identifies still-existing matriarchal societies globally. Her characterization of matriarchies is “non-hierarchical, horizontal societies of matrilineal kinship. Goettner-Abendroth writes:

“In matriarchy, divinity is immanent, for the whole world is regarded as divine. This is evident in the concept of the universe as a goddess who created everything, and of Mother Earth, who brings forth everything living. And everything is endowed with divinity – the smallest pebble and the biggest star, each woman and man, each blade of grass and each mountain.”

Goettner-Abendroth’s description addresses the essence of feminine consciousness, that is, in illustrating how the energetic worlds of Nature and Spirit are intertwined. But, men always have had a life-affirming role as well, regrettably unacknowledged in what often has been a one-sided position taken by goddess-focused and feminist women.

Gimbutas discovered the fuller reality, challenging the conventional notion that traditional ancient cultures all had `sun gods,’ – in other words, splitting the earth from the sky, and disconnecting feminine and masculine alignment of principles in human consciousness. In a 1989 interview for Whole Earth Review, she stated, in Old Europe:  “There were gods also. No sun gods; these gods are associated with the wild and cultivated vegetation especially … And there are several other types.” (Indeed, in a future blog, I will investigate the old and rediscovered concept of the `green man.’)

Let us now address the question of who is the Venus of Willendorf, the saucy lady on my Media Literacy page. This particular 11.1 cm. statuette was discovered in 1908 at a Paleolithic site near Willendorf, a village in Lower Austria.

Gimbutas criticized the identification of the pre-historic stone images as mere fertility objects. In the 1989 interview, she points out: “Venus is known as a beauty. Venus is wife of a male god, or beloved by male gods…It is wrong to call these…`Venus figurines.’ Their function is much more important than those of Venus. The functions were life giving, death-wielding, and regeneration.”

A project for our time, therefore, is how we develop a more expansive media literacy hand-in-hand with ecological literacy, by giving more credence to ancient ways of knowing that are integral to a more holistic consciousness. Doing so can help us restore planetary wellness and develop more harmony in intercultural human relationships.

Go to http://www.belili.org/marija/aboutSIGNS.html, for more information about the film Signs Out of Our Times.




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