by Anita Louise
"Anatolia" translates in English to "Land of the Mothers," and a visit to the museums of Turkey leaves no doubt as to the validity of the name. My trip to Turkey in1998 was motivated by twin longings: to pay homage to this land of ancient Goddess cultures, and to see first-hand the hundreds of artifacts that document reverence for the Mother Goddess in Anatolia for a period of 7000 years &endash; from the Neolithic finds of Catalhoyuk and Hacilar to the 1st century Artemis of Ephesus.
In the museums, with only the glass of the case between us , the round and sensual figures of feminine power that I had poured over in books for years spoke even more powerfully to me. My heart beat faster, song welled up within me, and I knew I was in the presence of the sacred. My experience was heightened when I learned that the perception of these figures as divine is not limited to those of us who follow a Goddess spiritual path. The guidebook for the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara states that at the 7th millenium site of Catalhoyuk, "figures of the Mother goddess were not only made of baked clay, but also carved from stone" (Tlemizsoy 9). The guidebook for the museum at Ephesus explains that "the Mother Goddess whom we know as Artemis Ephesias acquired her form as an extremely fertile woman in 7000 BC, at the hands of the Catalhoyuk people and started her long reign. She was the mother of everything, she was the most powerful being and she ruled everything." It goes on to say that the sources for this information are "thousands of inscriptions … and other archaeological finds" (Erdemgil 6)
Our Turkish guide, who made it very clear that his Nomad heritage called him to honor the Mother Goddess even in this Muslim country, introduced us to a Nomad family whose summer camp was on our winding route from Ankara south to Catalhoyuk. The head of the family was a widow with 3 daughters. She invited us into her goat-hair tents &endash; one for sleeping and one for gathering. They were delightfully cool and comfortable with lots of pillows, rugs and kilims &endash; all hand woven in traditional colors and patterns. Her loom was set up under an open-sided shelter with a loosely thatched roof. We sat down under the shelter, watching the goats and listening to the soft wind, while she and our guide talked about her oldest daughter who had recently married. He had told her we were interested in the Mother Goddess and were on our way to visit Catalhoyuk. As they talked, our guide translated.
When I asked him to ask her what she thought about the Mother Goddess, she responded by waving her arms in a sweeping motion that took in the mountains behind us, the valley below, and the sky above. Her words as our guide translated them were, "We would not have all this, if it were not for Her!"
When our group arrived at Catal, three women, Afyer, Sharon and Jo, warmly greeted us. They were to be our "tour guides" for our day at the dig. Ayfer Bartu, social anthropologist at the University of Istanbul, talked enthusiastically about the Goddess groups that had come to Catal to create ritual on the mounds. In her role as liason between the locals and the archaeology team, Bartu had invited the mayor of the nearest village to one of the large Goddess ceremonies. She said he was quite pleased to have been invited and seemed to enjoy it very much. Sharon Webb and Jo Sofar, student interns focusing on museum representations and gender studies, respectively, were also open, accepting and enthusiastic, which made for a delightful day at the dig.
It was fascinating to learn about the state-of-the-art science that has inspired the academe of archaeology to hail this excavation as the "dig of the new millennium." But it was our conversations with Ayfer, Sharon and Jo that yielded up the real excitement and the hope for the future. Sharon's work was to study the methods by which artifacts are selected for museum display, and to create a process for selection that would result in a more accurate representation of a site. Jo is a physical anthropologist, and her gender studies work focuses on the interpretations of a site, and the role perspective plays. Ayfer described a project she was planning with the local women who work at the site. Cameras would be provided to each of the women, and they would be invited to photograph whatever interests them at Catal. Together, they would select and arrange an exhibit of their photographs in the new onsite museum. When the museum opened in the fall, this women's exhibit would be mounted along with the first exhibition of findings from the recent excavations, perhaps the first time in history that local women have had an opportunity to make a public comment on the archaeological work being done in their midst.
When I returned to the states in the fall, I was filled with the glories of all I had seen and heard about the Goddess and Her connection to the people of Anatolia from the Neolithic to the present day. Filled with hope and a sense of "living something that's a treasure" (Hiller) as artist Rose Wognum Frances put it, I had pushed Hodder's doubts to the back of my mind where they remained until I picked up the November 20 issue of Science magazine. In an article reporting on the recent excavations at Catalhoyuk, I read: "Hodder and other archaeologists at Catalhoyuk say the evidence to support [G]oddess worship is scant."
James Mellaart made the first excavations of Catalhoyuk in the early '60s. Based on his findings of wall paintings, sculptures and figurines which are now on display in the museums, Mellaart declared Catal a Goddess culture. Ian Hodder reopened the site in 1993. What happened, I wondered, in the intervening 30 years to produce this drastic re-interpretation by the Cambridge-based team of archaeologists?
The first excavation of Catalhoyuk provided a picture of life in the early Neolithic that challenged the established beliefs regarding the origins of civilization and culture. Mellaart's work revealed a 7th millenium culture that flourished for over a 1000 years with highly creative art and well-established trade across the continent and the Mediterranean. Not a small village, but a community of up to 10,000 people looked over a fertile river valley, lush with a diversity of grains, fruits and other vegetation. Many images of the abundant, pregnant or birthing Goddess were found in the form of figurines and wall paintings. What was not found was something history textbooks of the '60s (and many that are unfortunately still in use today), taught was a necessary element for the development of "civilization." No images of military pursuits, no weapons of war, no fortifications were found. The established ideas about early cultures were called into question as the Goddess spoke across 9000 years Her message of life abundant - peaceful and joyous, cyclical and celebratory. And, as Marija Gimbutas reminds us in The Civilizations of the Goddess, the culture of Catalhuyuk did not emerge from a vacuum, nor did its Goddess.
Twenty thousand years earlier, people of the Paleolithic carved figurines such as the abundant Goddess found at Willendorf, and the Bird Goddess from Africa with Her mighty arms upraised, the cosmic egg in Her buttocks. The main themes of Goddess symbolism &endash; birth, nurturance, death and renewal &endash; were already in place (Gimbutas xix) These figures with the pregnant belly and large nurturing breasts, prefigure the female images found at Catal. And each of these Paleolithic figures looks back to Her origins much farther than we look back to Her. A small pregnant Goddess found in the Golan Heights area has been dated to at least 250,000 BP.*
The work of Mellaart and Gimbutas was mutually supportive, and in turn supported the work of feminist scholars in other fields. Gimbutas interpreted the symbols and imagery of the Great Goddess at archaeological sites throughout Europe, and made available to us a wealth of information about the female-centered cultures of pre-historic times. The extensive research and thoughtful interpretations of scholars such as Merlin Stone, whose Ancient Mirrors of Womanhood is a rich collection of stories and mythological references to the Goddess from virtually every culture for which records exist, provided evidence for the prehistoric roots of the Divine Feminine. For many women in the era of the second wave of feminism, this information was, indeed, a gift from the Goddess.
Why was it so important? Because it meant that our assertion that women were equal to men was not a new idea challenging age-old traditions. What we were learning was that from the earliest times, women held the power of the divine. What we were learning was that women's equality was not a new concept which we must somehow prove. No, women's equality was, in fact, inherent from the beginning of humanity; it was something that had been denied and torn away from us, something we needed not to invent, but to reclaim!
And as this reclaiming work began &endash; on a personal level, on a political level, on a spiritual level &endash; archaeology provided a rich field that women thinkers plowed to bring forth hundreds of books informing and guiding us toward empowerment and growth. The prehistoric images called to us across the chasm of time, and women responded. Many wrote of their own personal journeys toward wellness and wholeness guided by a connection with the Goddess. Some made music to praise and revere Her. Some made art, recreating Her magic by the act of creating Her image. And many of us have taken inspiration from this blossoming of art and information celebrating the Goddess and Her return to our consciousness.
Mellaart's last season at Catal was in 1965. By the mid 70s, the early works of Gimbutas, Starhawk, Stone and others were inspiring the first celebratory wave of Goddess-focused creative outpourings. It was about this same time that a growing trend toward technology and science rose up as a movement calling itself the "New Archaeology." Critical of the speculative, story-telling approach of archaeologists like Mellaart and Gimbutas, this "New Archaeology", later renamed "processualism," took a quantifiable approach to archaeology. Unfortunately, this purportedly "scientific eye" often seemed to be wearing blinders when looking at symbolic imagery, particularly feminine symbolic imagery.
Within the last ten years, people like Ian Hodder have come along, charging that processualists focus too narrowly on questions that can be addressed scientifically, such as environmental adaptation, economy, and trade, neglecting more subjective concerns such as religious and social beliefs. In the Science article mentioned earlier, Hodder said, "Humans adapt to their environment partly through systems of beliefs or preconceptions of the world. Culture and mind contribute something; we don't just respond to the environment the way animals do."
Hodder's archaeology has been dubbed "post-processualism," and, like postmodernists trends in the humanities, it emphasizes the study of the symbolic and cognitive life of ancient peoples. It also argues for the need to welcome differing interpretations of an archaeological site. These are good ideas in theory, but Hodder has his own "preconception of the world," and there is no place in it for a female deity. Therefore, when he looks at the symbolic life of the people who lived at Catal Hoyuk, he sees only what supports his belief that this culture was male dominated. Hodder sees no "symbolic significance" for the many female figurines and statuettes found at Catal, yet he bases his theory of the "importance of the male line" on a single burial of a man who may have been wearing as an amulet "the deformed penis bone of a small weasel-like animal" (dialogues). The post-processualists may be broadening the focus of archaeology, but the Cambridge team seems to operate from a narrow patriarchal perspective that does not value the feminine equally with the masculine.
After 30 years of silence, the Catalhoyuk mounds are being plumbed for their secrets once again, Mellaart's intuition replaced by Hodder's state-of-the-art science and multi-discipline, multi-interpretation approach. But the "differing interpretations" of the team leaders do not seem to differ much from one another with respect to interpretations of Goddess imagery. In a conversation during my visit to the dig in '98, one of the team directors disdainfully refuted Gimbutas' interpretation of Bird Goddess imagery. Another team director has co-authored an article in which she admires Gimbutas' work with the exception of her work interpreting the Goddess cultures (Tringham). In my email dialogue with Hodder, I asked about one of the statues found and declared a Goddess by Mellaart - a woman seated between two leopards, her hands resting on their necks &endash; Hodder stated that it "suggests a powerful symbolic role for women. But beyond this we need a lot more research" (Catalhoyuk Archaeological Site). Was Mellaart wrong about Catalhoyuk?
Let us take a brief look at the evidence for Goddess worship at Catal. At the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, wall paintings depict scenes of vultures and vulture priestesses (drawn with human legs). Some scenes portray the excarnation of a headless corpse by vultures whose bodies contain a butterfly drawn within an egg, common symbols of rebirth. In other scenes, the vultures flank the head of the deceased in a protective stance very like that of Mut, the Egyptian Vulture Goddess as she appears on the tomb of Ankh-s-ka-re, c.2000 BCE (Getty), 4000 years after the settlement of Catalhoyuk. The Vulture is one of the oldest mythologies of death and resurrection. As a vulture, the Goddess takes the dead into her body in order to rebirth the soul &endash; in the form of an egg. At Catalhoyuk, we have our first evidence of the Goddess as vulture, and she functions in the three aspects of the Paleolithic Goddess &endash; she gives birth, she protects, and she resurrects.
The butterfly or labrys image appears in the 2nd and 3rd millennia BCE in Crete, and in historic times, the writings of Ovid, Virgil and Porphyry reveal that butterflies and bees were thought to be the souls of humans born from a bull (Gimbutas). This brings us to the most dramatic features of the dwellings at Catal &endash; the bucrania. Plastered with lime over clay and painted in red with designs of handprints, honeycomb or net patterns, and combs like vulture wings, the horned cow skulls hang from the walls in groups of three, or stand in rows in the center of a room. The horned imagery can be traced from the Paleolithic; a rock painting from Africa shows the Goddess or a Priestess wearing a horned headdress with what has been interpreted as either a field of grain or rain held between the horns. Either interpretation indicates the connection between horns and the creation-preservation-regeneration concerns of the Paleolithic Goddess imagery.
Perhaps the most compelling evidence for the existence of the Goddess are the paintings and figurines in human form, especially the figurine commented on by Hodder in a series of dialogues he and I have held via e-mail. She sits naked, Her body full to overflowing, showing Her ability to nurture. Her hands rest on the necks of the leopards that stand beside her, their tails curling back over her shoulders, showing Her connection to the wild, and Her strength and power to protect. A human figure lies between Her legs, showing Her power to reproduce. Found in a grain bin, She protected the life-giving grain, and insured the continuing cycles of life upon which the fertility of the land depended.
Although Hodder believes that "we have no suggestion that grain bins were symbolically important," the spiritual significance of grain is evident in almost every culture - from the Native American Selu, the Corn Mother, to Demeter, the Grain Mother, and all the myths and celebrations into historical times of the harvesting of the grain. A terra cotta relief from the 5th century BCE inscribed "Demeter, Lady of the Wild Things," shows Her with wheat and poppy pods, symbols of the Earth and the underworld &endash; life and death. Here is evidence that six thousand years after Catal, the people of Greece paid homage to the grain mother, and still recalled her ancient connection to the "wild things."
The theme of the protecting felines can be seen in many sculptures and reliefs throughout the Mediterrean area. There are reliefs of the Sumerian Ishtar standing on a lion very much like a relief from Anatolia of Kybele standing on a lion. But the most compelling evidence of all is the 4th Century BCE statues of Kybele that show her seated and flanked by two lionesses. The resemblance between these historic era statues of Goddess Kybele and the Neolithic Goddess from Catal is overwhelming.
Then in the first century CE, larger than life-size statues of Artemis greeted Paul when he came to Ephesus to preach against the Goddess religion. The Goddess had grown much larger and She was clothed, but Her lions were still with Her &endash; though now there were four, and they were males. With the inscriptions and historic references to both Kybele and Artemis as Goddess, how can the near-identical imagery of the Catal figure fail to identify Her as Goddess?
If the "thousands of inscriptions … and other archaeological finds" are "scant evidence" for Goddess worship at Catalhoyuk, which Goddess culture will be denied next? I believe there is a backlash operating here. Many women have been positively affected by the evidence of the feminine deity, a deity that we have not invented, but have reclaimed from a past that goes back to the beginnings of humanity. If archaeologists become entrenched in the denial of Goddess worship in past cultures, we Goddess followers become even more marginalized than we are today, and fewer and fewer women may have the opportunity to discover the Goddess in their lives. The study of Goddess cultures affects every aspect of our lives &endash; from the personal/political to the social/ecological &endash; and archaeology is an important foundation for our study. We must find ways to challenge the backlash and keep the doors open for feminist research, as we continue our work of re-discovering Goddess and re-creating Her values in our world.
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