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  THE GODDESSES OF OLD EUROPE -    

The Nameless Ones  

By StarrWalker

 

What and where was Old Europe?
Many of the ancient civilizations have been found in "Old Europe," the ground area covering the shores of the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea. The civilizations in these areas dates back to the seventh millennium. They were agricultural communities with crude work tools. However, they had much in common in the worship of the goddess. Much of the pottery and statuary is marked with symbols such as chevrons, bands of dots, wavy lines which were used to depict water, rain, snakes, breasts, eyes, and other beasts that were held sacred. These symbols are now believed to be a universal language and not just symbols or "pretty pictures." Many of these symbols have been used throughout the world by various cultures, with a few variations, for religious rites and sacraments.

BIRD GODDESS and SNAKE GODDESS
The graceful bird-woman, half-human, half-bird, arms upraised as if to encompass the moon, a favorite of many modern pagans. Since most ancient civilizations were established near a water source, it is natural that these would be the source of their divinity. Water was the life-giver, without it there was no life. Since water was sacred, the creatures of the water were also revered. The earliest of the goddesses is the mistress of water and air. She rules the rain, the life-giving force of water. She sometimes is one creature, sometimes both, sometimes a snake and sometimes a bird, yet a single divinity. She is quite prevalent in the civilizations of Sultana at Oltenija, Rumania, c. 4000 B.C.E. She appears on vases and water containers as a water bird or a water snake. The depicted with chevrons, belts of zigzags, and groups of parallel lines with the eyes being a dominant feature. She is frequently connected to the bear, who also seems to have been connected to the water. The goddess' eyes emerge in association with torrents of rain or lines representing water. Many of the impressions were zoomorphic, half-animal, half-human and were probably used in ritual. Many times rain was associated with the breast milk of the woman and the pottery was marked with V's or cross signs on the breasts or just below them. Many on the Bird Goddesses of the Vinca, c. 5300-5100 B.C.E. had breasts and their bodies were distinctly marked with the chevrons and bands of parallel lines symbolizing rain torrents.  These figurines were found in Yugoslavia, northeastern Greece, Ukraine, Hungary, and other sites throughout southeastern Europe. Snake Goddesses were frequently marked with labyrinthine meanders and spiraling snakes, again used on water vessels, to symbolize the mythical energy of the waters and their mistress. The water bird was most likely an important food source during this period. The Vinca face masks, with their markings of chevrons, depict the importance of these creatures and the ritual homage to them.

SLEEPING GODDESS of DEATH
She was found in the graves curled up, sleeping in a pose, many times foetal, covered in red ochre, the color of blood, which was necessary for the restoration of life. She guards them in death, watching over and protecting the body of whom she was buried with, forever sacred. She is the inexhaustible source of life, to which one could be born again. Other items buried with body were tools, bowls which contained food, further evidence of the belief in life after
death. Many times urns of the red ochre were placed near the body to represent the blood of birth. The bodies themselves were also covered with the red ochre and placed in a foetal position for rebirth.

VENUS OF WILLENDORF and OTHER EARTH MOTHERS
One of the best known of the fertility goddesses, Earth Mother, the Venus of Willendorf. She was also the Lady of the Beasts. She who governs animals and the fecundity of all wild nature. She was also the Terrible Mother, whose wrath should be feared. Literally  thousands of these mother figures have been found, carved of ivory, stone, bone, and clay. She was a product of a sedentary, matrilinear community, a Moon Goddess, a Goddess of Regeneration. A giver of life and all that promotes fertility and yet at the same time wielder of the destructive powers of nature. She is marked with a body that is full-figured, fat, vigorous, large breasts, strong legs, large buttocks and broad hips, with smaller heads which were sometimes phallic in shape. Usually the hand and feet are absent. Many of the heads with the phallic shape did not have facial features. They stood on stout legs with their arms folded, the pubic triangle well-marked and highly emphasized. The figures appear to represent women in every stage of life, as young girls, pregnant, non-pregnant, and well past the childbearing years. The overall figure is relatively pear-shaped and date to the sixth millennium. Many of these goddesses were not painted or marked with the usual symbols. Some of the fertility goddesses found in the Vinca and East Balkan were in a squatting birth-giving position with thighs that were egg-shaped. Incised on the buttocks are eggs, circles with dots, and spiral lines, symbolic of birth-giving potential. This motif was followed throughout in eating vessels such as bowls, lids, pots. Sometimes animals and the moon were included in the depictions. During the fourth millennium B.C.E. the motifs on vases during the Cucuteni civilization reached a rare level of exquisite design that included the egg, double-egg, crescent, snake and spiral motifs. Similar abstract and composite designs were painted during the Late Minoan period in yellow, blue, red, and black pigments. These designs included the abstract motif of the germ-cell and egg-splitting.

MISTRESS OF THE WILD BEASTS
This contains many various goddesses which were honored with the markings of wild animals that were held to be sacred. The image of the Great Goddess in anthropomorphic form with the projection of her powers through insects and animals. She ruled both wild and domesticated animals. Figures were frequently influenced by the characteristics of the animals and their attributes. They too, like the earth mothers, were full-figured, rounded with curves. There is an amazing variety of animals that were used in the early worship of the goddess. Used frequently for protection these figures guarded the homes and the temples of old. Many items had more than one animal depicted on them, utilizing the various aspects of each animal.
 
Dogs were held to be important and sacred. Often depicted on vases as ferocious-looking and menacing they would be depicted with the Moon Goddess. Masks have been found that were used in rituals to portray the dog. Tails raised, fur bristling, they flew through the night sky howling and barking at the moon. It is seen as both the protector of man and as the ferocious monster-beast of the night. He helped herd the sheep, protect the home, and if he was wild he was a predator. In Balkin countries it is believed that the two-headed dog causes the eclipses of the sun and the moon. Dogs are frequently depicted at the side of the goddess guarding her, or surrounded by crescent moons.

Deer of grace and beauty is also a symbol of regeneration due to the annual cycle of the loss of horns and their regrowth. Does were painted on vases during the Muldava civilization Bulgaria in the shape of the crescent moon. The great horned stag was frequently drawn on cave paintings, walls, and used in ritual masks.

Toad (or frog) and Turtle was a life-giver. A form used to represent the goddess in the Central and Eastern Balkans. They were frequently quite stylized with a hole left for a human head to be inserted into the statuary. In Anatolia, she is a life-giving goddess with her legs spread wide apart in a birthing position and concentric circles painted onto her belly. Used possibly to protect against barrenness and to ensure safe pregnancy. The Toad Goddess is a birthing goddess. They have been found made of bronze, ivory, wax, wood, silver, iron, and even amber. An amber toad was found in a grave in at Vetulonia in Italy. Turtle Goddesses were also made with similar representation as the foetus from the womb.

Lady Hedgehog is among the mythical imagery that surrounds the goddess in Vinca, East Balkan and Cucuteni sites, during the fifth millennium. Since it is a nocturnal animal, not appearing in the daylight, it becomes a more mystical creature. When startled the hedgehog curls itself into a tight ball from which sharp spines stick out in every direction for protection. These ball representations can be found in graves and churches painted in the red ochre. It is also associated with a cow's uterus, which after parturition remains swollen and covered with warts.

The Bee was used in many of the Minoan pieces from Greece and Crete. She is depicted with wings, bee-like eyes, ridges on her abdomen, and zigzag hair. Frequently they had no head or the head was insect-like. In Greece, the Melissa, "the bees" was the keeper of the soul and ruled life over death.  Probably used as a representation for the "food of the gods" the honey was used in mead making. Honey was food that was good, sweet, healthy, and curative, life-giving powers of honey are legend among men. She was the goddess of regeneration.

The Butterfly was incised in frescos, vases, wall-art, and pottery during the Minoan and Mycenaean periods. Figures of women with wings or the double-axe in the shape of a butterfly or chrysalises are quite prevalent. The chrysalis is an emblem of a new life after death similar to the bee as the goddess of regeneration. Caterpillars are also seen as crescents with dots representing the various stages of the butterflies life and transformation.

The Bull (or Cow) goddesses of Catal Huyuk were held revered for their life-giving milk. The cows were venerated, not just slaughtered for their meat. This horned representation of the goddess is found throughout the world. In East Africa still worship the bull and the cow. Bear was used sometimes to represent the maternal mother and child, frequently masked.

THE PREGNANT GODDESS
Goddess of fertility, unlike the Earth Goddesses, she is always pregnant with life-giving seed. A goddess so endowed that she watches over the fertility of all the world - the crops, the animals, as well as the humans and their material possessions. She is the goddess of the grain harvest, frequently made into amulets. Most of the time she is nude, her belly incised with a snake, a spiral, or the lozenge and the dot, representing the seed and the sown field. Early Cucuteni figurines from the western Ukraine area were actually impressed with the seeds of the grain. Large buttocks, full breasts and hips, mark these figures, fecund females. Frequently she is depicted as a pig, with it's fast growing-body, it's body was probably equated with the ripening of the crops. Later, in Greece rites were done with suckling pigs to honor Demeter and Kore.

These are but just a few of the many examples of the ancient ones. When we do ritual we frequently invoke the Mother Earth or the Gods of Old, the Ancient Ones, do we really know who they were? I believe this is an important factor in the education of today's modern pagan. Marija Gimbutas and the other feminist archeologists are at best controversial in their interpretations of the archeological finds and what they mean. We live in a patriarchal society and in the past men have dominated this field, therefore their world views of the finds have had a definite male-dominated slant. Today, new thoughts are merging that "sing to the souls" of those of us who "remember a different world" and have a love of the Goddess within our hearts.

In the Name of the Great Mother,
Blessed Be, StarrWalker

Sources: The Great Cosmic Mother, Monica Sjoo and Barbara Mor, Harper Collins, 1991
 The Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe, Marija Gimbutas, University of California Press, 1996
 When Women Were Drummers, Layne Redmond, Three Rivers Press, 1997


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Last updated Friday, September 18, 1998 08:19 AM. Copyrighted Temple of The Triple Goddess, P.O. Box 38113, Phoenix, AZ 85069-8113. All rights reserved.

Email: starrw@sacredflame.com