This was first sent out in the Lammas newsletter, August 2019.
If you’ve been to Cae Mabon you’ll have seen the sylph-like figure of the ‘faerie queen’ carved into an oak by the river. You may also have found Modron, the Great Mother, lying asleep and pregnant above the Treehouse. Peter, faerie queen sculptor, also makes small hand-held wooden goddess figurines inspired by ancient examples. And just last week he carved a beautiful Great Mother from yew as a vessel to contain a mother’s ashes. You could say he, and indeed we, are obsessed by images of the Goddess. Why?
It’s easy to appreciate the naked female body, as many artists have through the ages. But this is something different. This seems to be an ancient instinct – about the Goddess, the Divine Feminine, Mother Earth – awakening in us. We humans spent a very long time as hunter-gatherers before settling down as farmers and becoming civilised. Modern culture is merely a veneer. So scratch the surface and our hunter-gatherer nature can be touched and felt in, for example, our natural desire to venerate the Great Mother.
Between 30,000 and 10,000 years ago – from the Pyrenees to Lake Baikal – stone, bone and ivory statues were made of non-naturalistic, motherly figures, usually with belly, breasts and hips emphasised. This suggests a worship of the life-giving drama of fertility and birth. Humanity’s first image of life was the Mother. We are Children of Nature. These are sacred images of the nourishing and regenerative powers of the Universe.
The 17 inch high Goddess of Laussel, found near Lascaux, is a classic example. She rests one hand on her womb and in the other holds a bison’s horn, curved like a crescent moon with thirteen notches on it. These seem to represent the days of the waxing moon and the lunar months of the year, suggesting awareness of the connection between the phases of the moon and the processes of the womb, between the celestial and the earthly. It shows an understanding that the moon constantly changes in a way that is always the same. It is a visible symbol of the cycle of life, death and rebirth.
During the Palaeolithic – the vast twenty thousand year span of early humanity –the cave was the most sacred place. It was the sanctuary of the goddess and the source of her power to renew. It was often guarded by a formidably arduous approach. It was also home to paintings of animals, vivid and life like, appearing to move in the flickering lamplight, higher quality than any made until thousands of years later, homage to the powerful animals revered and hunted in the world above. Entering the cave meant making a transformative, initiatory journey to the otherworld.
In the Neolithic the first farmers used mighty stones to build burial chambers, thus recreating the experience of entering the cave. These too were places for initiation and transformation. But the Bronze Age led to more advanced weaponry and a heroic warrior culture. The goddess was eclipsed and the male god has been dominant ever since. (For more see ‘The Myth of the Goddess’ by Jules Cashford and Anne Baring.)
I’ve been thinking about this because Hugh Lupton and I recently ran a retreat for storytellers on the theme of the ‘The Goddess and Her Consorts’. We were lucky to have our old friend, Sally Pomme Clayton, participate on the course. She’s an excellent storyteller wrote about her experience here in a blog: On our day out we went to Môn or Anglesey, known as Mam Cymru, Mother of Wales, and Nain y Byd, Grandmother of the World. It can be considered the Mother Island, home of the Ancient Goddess. En route we stopped to admire Mynydd Carnguwch, the breast of the goddess made manifest in the land. Then we went to Bryn Celli Ddu, a Neolithic burial chamber where we made offerings, said prayers and sang, honouring both goddess and ancestors. We tuned into the ancient power of the place and, for a moment, tapped into our deep aboriginal selves. Later we climbed Holyhead Mountain to see the whole of the Mother Island spread out below us.
There is, I think, a revival of interest in ‘the Goddess’ going on at the moment. After two and a half thousand years in the shadow of patriarchy the time is right for a rebalancing. I reckon this was predicted in Merlin’s Prophecy, from about 500BC. He said:
Root and branch will change places
and the newness of the thing shall seem a miracle.
The healing maiden will return, her footsteps bursting into flame.
She will weep tears of compassion for the people of the land,
dry up polluted rivers with her breath,
carry the city in her right hand, the forest in her left,
and nourish the creatures of the deep.
With her blessing Man will become like God, waking as if from a dream…
‘Footsteps bursting into flame’ symbolises deity. So Merlin foresaw that the Goddess would return, bringing compassion, healing, balance and nourishment. These may be traditionally feminine qualities but they are available to us all. If you open your eyes you will see that there are ‘healing maidens’ everywhere!
So, may the Goddess be with you!