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From the Realm of the Ancestors

From the Realm of the Ancestors


There were long times in human her/story when women's life-enhancing, Earth loving cooperative values prevailed--when men were peaceful and revered the Mother. Artist Monica Sjoo, quoted in From the Realm of the Ancestors

When new data no longer fits our existing worldview, the incongruencies inspire new questions. Pioneering thinkers follow their inner promptings, applying scholarship and synthesizing their findings until a new picture emerges--an expanded viewpoint that shifts the old paradigm. However, what begins with the desire for truth inevitably upsets and threatens the status quo.
rom the Realm of the Ancestors (1997)--a collection of essays by scholars, poets and artists--is a major tribute to the pioneering influence and vision of archaeologist Marija Gimbutas (1921-1994). In her lifetime, Gimbutas published twenty-eight books and over 300 articles on European prehistory. Originally recognized as a Bronze Age scholar, her early explorations of folklore in her native country of Lithuania eventually led to twenty-five-years of multi-disclipinary research on the Neolithic period in southeastern Europe (c. 6500-3500 BC). Her fresh interpretations of the iconographic imagery unearthed through anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figurines and pottery found in ancient settlements and gravesites, revealed peaceful agrarian cultures that revered women and placed feminine values at the center of spiritual life. Her interpretations have been met with controversy, even dismissal, from more traditional colleagues, but with gratitude and acclaim by those who welcome an alternative to the prevailing androcentric worldview.
Joan Marler, Gimbutas' right-hand assistant since 1987 and editor of From the Realm of the Ancestors, was raised on the Mendocino Coast and now lives in Sebastopol. Her massive anthology is organized into three sections: personal recollections in "Remembering a Great Woman of Science," scholarly investigations in "Deepening the Disciplines," and creative explorations of an emerging paradigm in "Expanding the Vision." Joan has provided insightful introductions to each section as well as the the inclusion of Marija Gimbutas' complete bibliography (sixteen pages in six-point type).

uxtaposing the voices of traditional academics with cutting-edge scholars, these essays present new-paradigm thinking and suggest the range of subject matter that Marija Gimbutas explored with enthusiasm. Contributions range from the intimately personal poetry of Janine Canan to the highly scientific work of Stanford research geneticist L.L. Cavalli-Sforza, who substantiated Gimbutas' Kurgan theory through DNA studies. Among the fifty-six contributors, this anthology includes such internationally recognized names as Riane Eisler, Charlene Spretnak and, more locally, Susan Moulton, Starhawk and Vicki Noble. The scholarship represented in this volume includes archaeology, linguistics, Indo-European studies, mythology, folklore, archaeomythology, feminist theology, art, ecology, women's spirituality, philosophy, sociology and psychology.

ne of the many themes discussed in this anthology concerns the interpretation of female figurines that Gimbutas refers to as "goddesses." In part three, poet Judy Grahn describes her initial reaction to some of the female images unearthed from the Neolithic period: They seemed "odd, . . . with big breasts and buttocks, covered with strange markings, baffling female faces with beaks or huge eyes, bodies with strident triangles at the pubic area. . . ." After further investigation, she intuited that the ritual painting of women's bodies for blood ceremonies (such as first menstruation) was part of their cosmetikos or ritual ordering of the world through the shape of the body. "The rituals of real women," Grahn explains, "preceded the icons." Marija Gimbutas spoke of the goddesses as "mainly life creators, not Venuses or beauties, and most definitely not wives of male gods." Nor can they be generalized under the term "mother goddess." She reinterpreted the meaning of the size of female images that today would be considered obese. "The pregnancy or fatness of a woman or an animal was considered to be as holy as the pregnancy of the Earth before her flowering in the spring. Each protuberance...was sacred."
Ecofeminist scholar Charlene Spretnak describes the artistic figurines as "stylized to express an embeddedness in the natural world--uniting the sacred with the . . . life-sustaining link among the cycles of the womb-body's blood, the Earth-body's tides and the moon-body's rhythm. These artifacts are female embodiments of the sacred, the whole, the divine . . .
We call them Goddess."rtist Meinrad Craighead writes, "These images from the past, from otherwise silent women, are filled with a gravity of purpose and a joyous thanksgiving which pierce the heart. They speak with the authority of vision, and their truth and sacredness inspire and nourish us." Marija Gimbutas asserts that these images help us "refocus our collective memory." The Irish theologian Mary Condren suggests that our lack of empowering female images has negatively shaped the way we think of women, thereby affecting female volition.

The feminist thealogian [note: thealogian is not misspelled = study of the female deity, in contrast to the male form theo-logian] Carol Christ points out that civilization was not preceded by an inferior culture but by a worldview that reflected a longstanding state of high social development. This non-hierarchical, nature-attuned, peaceful and highly artistic culture was never completely erased after the invasions of iconoclastic marauders. Rather, the older culture provided a matrix for later beliefs and practices. Findings from ancient sites along the continental periphery of southeast Europe--places like Minoan Crete, Cypress and the Aegean archipelago--indicate the veneration of a pre-Greek Goddess through an abundance of ceremonial artifacts. We begin to see what fed the psyches of these ancient people whose mystery cults link to the pre-Socratic philosophers (who nearly always claimed no predecessors). In the words of Judy Grahn, "Our sense of time has been utterly changed.... Ancient' no longer means from Greece, Rome or even Sumer; the arc of history is far longer, and its longest strand is startlingly woman-centered."
By more closely examining the subsequent "myth of progress" in light of the earlier nature-based culture, Carol Christ says we begin to "unmask the history of violent conquest at the heart of what we call civilization." Yet, in the words of Marija Gimbutas, "It is a gross misunderstanding to imagine warfare as endemic to the human condition," as "humans were once capable of living in harmony with each other, with nature and with the sacred."
Art historian Susan Moulton describes the demise of this ancient worldview that was forced underground. "The patriarchal systems that supplanted the earlier matrifocal traditions attempted to eliminate all traces of prior cultures that honored sacred powers of women. A New World Order was established where there was no more room for a feminine dimension of the divine."
Starhawk brings us full circle by reflecting on the man-made imbalance affecting the natural world. "If the sacred is immanent in nature, then we no longer have license to exploit, pollute and destroy the natural systems which sustain life. If the sacred is embodied, then our bodies carry with them a sacred authority. If the Earth herself is the location of the sacred, then we must learn to live in harmony with the Earth."
In this worthy tribute to Marija Gimbutas, Joan Marler brings together a chorus of voices that stand for the ancient, sacred ties to the Earth and its inhabitants. Although the traces of prehistory have been effaced, scholars have pieced together a now established worldview of women as creators of culture. From the Realm of the Ancestors celebrates women as mirrors of nature and points to what human civilization can be--ecologically embedded, egalitarian and non-militaristic. The legacy of Marija Gimbutas continues to foster this vision by enlightening and inspiring those who can recognize its truth.

Marija Gimbutas considered specific markings as natural patterns that developed into the rudiments of a visual language which she called "core signs of a sacred script." These include parallel lines, Ms, Vs, Xs, Ys (darts), chevrons, zig-zags, meanders, eggs, coils and interlocking snake spirals. Their contemplation reveals a multi-leveled mystery that speaks to the intrinsic connection between humans and nature. For instance, the meander is associated with energy, snakes, cosmic water and streaming female blood. Zig-zags and Ms are often engraved within uterine or "vulvar" shapes, suggesting the Bird Goddess's affinity with female moisture and amniotic fluid. Spirals are the symbol of energy, vitality and cyclic time. Coiling and uncoiling lines signify the movement of the serpent force or the growth spiral in all living things.