Last year I was reading the Red Tent by Anita Diamantand and I was struck by the story of the teraphim, the small, carved goddesses kept by the wives of Jacob, who were incidentally sisters. The little statues or teraphim were the sister’s family deities.
Somehow those little statues captivated my imagination. I can’t tell you exactly why, their story in the book didn’t take up more than a few sentences and of course the sisters were forced to destroy them since their husband, Jacob, worshiped the patriarchal god yahweh, who is notoriously jealous, and they were considered ‘false idols’.
I googled teraphim and this is about all I could find:
small images or cult objects used as domestic deities or oracles by ancient Semitic peoples.
Teraphim is a Hebrew word from the Bible, found only in the plural, of uncertain etymology.
My curiosity definitely was not satisfied.
She was carved by a nomadic hominid tribe who predated even the Neanderthal era and has been carbon dated between 232,000 and 800,000 years ago (mind blowing!). My imagination was on fire by this discovery and I would find that this was just the tip of the iceberg.
I continued my search and found that hundreds of Goddess figurines from the Paleolithic and Neolithic eras have been unearthed in recent years. The ‘Venus’ figurines are the most well known.
The Venus of Hohle Fels, which is dated to between 35,000 and 40,000 years ago, belonging to the early Aurignacian, at the very beginning of the Upper Paleolithic, is associated with the earliest presence of Cro-Magnon in Europe. This female figure is the oldest undisputed example of a depiction of a human being yet discovered.
The Venus of Lespugue, a statuette of a nude female figure of the Gravettian, dated to between 26,000 and 24,000 years ago, these are but two examples.
I started compiling a list with photos and whatever information I could glean about each Goddess, I printed out a time line, taping pages together to form a long ribbon, I made boards with pictures and descriptions and decided that at the next Moon Lodge our project would be to sculpt our own Goddess sculptures.
The conversation that night was impassioned. We were wondering why this history (or herstory) isn’t more well known? We had been lead to believe that history began with gods and kings, and that men invented everything. There was no mention in our history books of successful matrifocal societies, in fact the mention of such a thing is often scorned as impossible, a feminist fantasy. Even the archeologist Marija Gimbutas, who was hailed by academia as one of the greats when she was studying and writing about the Bronze Age (patriarchal), was deeply criticized when she unearthed, and wrote about the matrifocal cultures of the Paleolithic and Neolithic ages. She has been labeled as ‘controversial’.
The spark had been lit and the fire for discovery was now burning bright, from that moment on I have been inspired to learn about our (women’s) history, which I have discovered is rich, vast, and very ancient. It turns out that we women invented everything (more about that in Part 2). Well maybe not everything but many, many important contributions to civilization.
One discovery I’ve made is that a Goddess movement emerged around the same time that the feminist movement was gaining traction, which makes sense. Again I was left wondering, how did this movement completely passed me by? Perhaps I’m of that in between generation and was too young while the movement was at its height. I think I would have been deeply moved and inspired by this information in my youth had it been introduced. Alas my family of origin is very patriarchal and both the men and women were conformists. The 1960s completely passed my parents by, no Vietnam for my dad, no women’s movement for my mom, just cookie cutter, nuclear 1950s style family life.
I digress… In my search I’ve uncovered some brilliant writers and researchers. When God was a Woman by Merlin Stone was a revelation for me on the one hand, but on the other, I feel like I’ve known on some ancient, genetic level the truth revealed in those pages. It was more like remembering than discovering.
The Great Cosmic Mother by Monica Sjoo and Barbara Mor* is a much more in depth book and should be required reading for all women in my opinion. Men would benefit too as we are faced with the necessity of shedding the oppression of the patriarchal regime and reshaping of our world. We can learn from our ancient lineage of a better, more sustainable way of living.
I am anxious to start a conversation with you. I would love to hear your thoughts, would be over the moon if you decided to read either of the books mentioned and wanted to begin a discussion. Or to hear reading recommendations from you. Please leave me a comment or visit my on facebook.
*Monica Sjoo is often credited with writing The Great Cosmic Mother and in fact she wrote the original article which lead to the writing of the book. However, the book was written almost entirely by Barbara Mor as stated in the introduction, and yet Barbara is rarely given the credit due to her. The book is a masterpiece of research, all of which is beautifully organized into a eloquent and exciting to read history (herstory).
I just wanted to take this opportunity to acknowledge Barbara Mor and her brilliant work/contribution to the Goddess/Feminist movement.