Our first home was our mother’s womb. Our first meal came from our mother’s breasts. It is only natural, then, that in ancient times mothers were worshipped and adored. Mothers were our first deities and life itself was our first religion.
Manifestation of this veneration can be seen in the numerous votive statuettes found all over the world often referred to as Venus figures. Venus was the name Romans gave to the Great Goddess and from her name comes the term “veneration”. The Temples of Venus were also schools where the priestesses, known as venerii, taught sexual techniques. Sex was sacred as it offered the promise of a new life.
The Mother Goddess was a personification of nature thus uniting the individual with the divine. That’s why she was worshipped. But monotheism and patriarchs flayed her separating the individual from the divine. And the sacredness of life was lost.
But it is time for women to reunite the sacred with the profane.
The title of my huipil for the 99 Art Project is “My Name Is Venus”. It is divided into 12 frames with each frame representing a specific goddess figurine from an ancient culture.
Venus of Willendorf
Without a doubt, the Venus of Willendorf is the most famous of prehistoric female figurines. It was found in Willendorf, Austria in 1908 by the archeologist Joseph Szombathy and presently can be seen at the Natural History Museum of Vienna.
Faceless, thus a symbol not a person, she has plaited hair and originally was covered with red ochre.
The figurine is so small that she fits in the palm of a hand thus portable and maybe used as a talisman.
Poppy Goddess of Gazi (Knossos, c 1400 BC)
Poppies were grown in huge quantities on Crete and used in temples to provoke visionary experiences. Thus the seed pod of the poppy was often found in the hands of goddess figurines.
The poppy was the plant of happiness as its consumption helped ease one’s pain. That’s why it is often associated with Demeter because, after Hades kidnapped her daughter, Persephone, and took her to the underworld, Demeter was so overwhelmed with despair that she ate poppies in order to fall asleep and obliterate the pain.
The Poppy Goddess figures are generally represented with their arms uplifted as in an orant position.
Minoan Vessel Goddess with Snake
Snakes were once a symbol of female power as it was believed, like women, they contained the secrets of life. The snake’s poison represented power whereas the shedding of its skin represented regeneration.
The serpent as a Mother Goddess appeared during Neolithic times. Eve, another Earth Goddess, is also associated with the snake. Poor Eve. She was punished simply because she sought awareness but awareness had its price. For the state of unconscious unity induced humans to see themselves and all life as one. Awareness, via the eating of the forbidden fruit offered by a snake, forced Eve and Adam to see themselves as individuals and no longer part of the whole.
This Boeotian votive with Frida eyebrows not only shows a woman with a snake, it is also a vessel. The womb is a vessel as it contains the promise of a new life.
On the Aegean islands, little goddess figures were created as early as 6000 BC. Generally their arms are folded under their breasts, a position typically used when burying the dead. In fact, many of these figures were found in graves as well as in shrines.
There is still much mystery regarding these figurines but the time and effort needed to sculpt them from marble implies that there were of significance and maybe seen as religious idols related to fertility rites.
Epiphany Gesture Goddess
This goddess is a Neolithic Egyptian figure with raised arms dating c 4000-35000 BC. She has a beak, relating her to a Bird Goddess, and raised arms. The raised arms could be symbolic of bird wings ready to take flight.
This pose is known as the Gesture of Epiphany and, in Egypt, the uplifted arms in hieroglyphics represents Ka, vital essence that distinguishes the living from the dead.
Sleeping Goddess of Malta
Around 5000 BC, Sicilians began arriving on Malta bringing their beliefs with them. For about 1000 years they built temples made from giant blocks of stone that often included rooms painted red.
A tiny figurine of a sleeping goddess was found at the Hypogeum at Hal Saflien. She is dreaming the world into being.
Dreams were important because they often offered answers one failed to see when awake. Thus the incubation, the practice of sleeping in a sacred area in hopes of having a revealing dream.
This figurine from Mesopotamia (terra cotta, c 24th cen BC) possibly represents the goddess Astarte. She is holding her breasts as if offering them.
The first part of one’s life cycle was called “child at the breast” as the child was dependent upon his mother’s breast.
These figurines remind me of the “Caritas Romana“ (“Roman Charity”) paintings depicting the story of Pero, a woman who secretly breastfeeds her father while he is in jail sentenced to death via starvation. A guard discovers her and reports her to officials who are so humbled by such an act of selfishness that they release her father.
Agatha Christies’s husband, archeologist Max Mallowan, invented the term “eye idols” after discovering a number of figurines with huge eyes while excavating at Tell Brak in northeast Syria (1937-1938). In ancient times, Tell Brak was an international city and home for several civilization including the Sumerians and Babylonians until it was abandoned in c 2000 BC.
Julian Jaynes said that the mouthless eye idols indicate that their purpose was to hypnotically enhance hallucination when the living tried to communicate with the dead. Because, unlike today, eye contact was once fundamental for communication. That’s why these idols didn’t need mouths as they spoke with their eyes. Thus they are speaking statues. According to Jaynes consciousness began when the gods stopped speaking.
Unfortunately, with all the bombs dropped on Syria, it is probable that many of these idol artifacts have been destroyed.
Phoenician Astarte Goddess
The Canaanite goddess of fertility was adopted by the Phoenicians who later transformed her into Aphrodite.
What makes this figurine interesting is that she is standing akimbo. The word “akimbo” comes from “the river’s bend” and is the posture of strength, of taking a stance, of imposing yourself.
The Anunnaki were deities found in the cultures of the Sumerians, Akkadians, Assyrians, and Babylonians. Much speculation has been made about them. There are those who believe the Anunnaki to be extraterrestrial beings who came from the Taurus constellation.
Related to the Anunnaki (maybe as allies) are the Reptilians from Tiamet, a plant with characteristic similar to the Earth. Reptilians are capable of shape shifting as they were experts in genetic engineering.
Reptilians are humanoid reptiles in their original form and known to have a malevolent nature.
This archaic terra cotta figurine is from Boeotia (Northern Greece). Her bell shaped body depicts a chain of dancing worshippers with their arms up in the orant position. There are swastikas painted on her long Modglianian neck. The swastika is the symbol of the Earth fixed on one spot.
Dancing was once a spiritual experience so rituals included dance because its motion united both mind and body.
This goddess figure is now located at the Louvre, so very far from home.
Naqada is a town on the west bank of the Nile. It gives its name to the archaeological culture of Chalcolithic Predynastic Egypt (c 4400-3000 BC).
This figurine comes from the Naqada grave # 271. Her eyes are like breasts, her breasts are like eyes.
Sketches for “My Name is Venus” Huipil