The Great Goddess was the Mother of Wild Animals. The inner recesses and womb-walls of the caverns were alive with magic pictures of her beasts. She was herself an animal, all the animals; in many of the early images she wears an animal mask. As in ancient Chinese Taoism, so in Western pagan religions, the female principle was the transforming animal, the energy of metamorphosis and hence evolution. The brilliant rush of European animal imagery, from Cro-Magnon through Celtic, Nordic, and Teutonic art, and incorporated into medieval bestiaries and illuminated manuscripts, expressed this primal dynamic vision of evolutionary energy as a surge of spirit into multitudinous forms. The Goddess kept her various animal shapes for many thousands of years, among them the doe, the owl, the hare, the vulture, the pig, the cow, the wild mare, the lioness, the crow, the crane, the salmon, the jackal, the hermaphroditic snail, the serpent, the wren, the butterfly and the chrysallis, the spider.
Early human attitude toward animals was totemistic. “Totem” means “related through the mother.” The blood-clan’s solidarity was identified with some specific plant or animal. Through the totem the life of the human group and the ongoing life of nature were made inseparable. This is the meaning of “sacrament”: the absorption by humans of the non-human, or cosmic flow of forms. The secret spirit lives in—and through—the multitude of plant and animal forms which the Goddess can assume at will. This means that any tree or beast, bird or fish or insect, is symbolically/potentially her, and must be related to with magic and respect.
The animism of primal peoples has been called “childish.” In fact it is a profound, experiential perception of the evolutionary relation between all life forms as manifestations of the original one—the first cell from which all life multiplied, the original cosmic egg. When human survival depends on such a sensitive rapport with the environment—as it always has, and always will—such a conception is not infantile, but crucial. Human survival does indeed depend on a sacramental relation to nature. Now that this relation has been betrayed, and destroyed, we know how important it was. And is. A sacramental bond between our earliest human ancestors and the natural world was the primary factor in our evolution—not simply as a physical species, but as conscious beings. For this bonding set up a resonance in which all art, all religious ritual, all magicalchemic science, all spiritual striving for illumination was born. As primal people have always experienced it, when you look and listen to nature, something appears, something always speaks. Animism is still a valid relationship. If “modern man” neither sees nor hears, the fault is in his dead sensorium.
In primitive belief, no animal can be killed against its wish. When a member of a species is struck down, the one is wounded. Therefore the hunter must fast and pray to the animal-spirit before the hunt, not simply to ask its pardon but to gain its assent to being killed. The hunted animal is seen to give itself to the hunter, as human food, while its spirit returns to the group form. Because men did all the large-game hunting, and felt themselves to be tracking and slaying brother and sister animals, magic children, like themselves, of Mother Earth—we know they felt guilt, and sought its resolution. After the spilling of blood one must restore harmony with the dead animal, and with the Mother of Animals, as its soul persists through the multiplicity of lives and deaths. Cave paintings from the Upper Paleolithic show stick-figure male hunters, or entranced shamans, alongside beautifully rendered bison and other game animals; the hunter’s or shaman’s spear may be shown juxtaposed with the vulvas of female animals. They were seeing the animal’s wound as a magic vulva of the Goddess, and trying to establish a union or symbolic resolution within the violence of killing: as penis to vulva (which bleeds and heals itself), so spear to wound. Rock carvings and paintings found in North Africa, identical in theme to the European cave paintings, make this analogy between penis and arrow, Goddess’s vulva and animal wound, with circular lines returning the energy in a vulva-to-vulva cycle. In all these Stone Age depictions of the hunt, there is not one image of aggressive or “bloodthirsty” hunters engaged in wanton slaughter; there are only images of “prayerful petition and worshipful observation.” As Thompson points out, these Paleolithic paintings of vulvas as “magic wounds that heal themselves, or give birth to new life” continue, as symbolic images, through Western religious history. Medieval paintings show Christ exposing his wound, from which blood and water flowed during the Crucifixion, as from a uterus in childbirth.
The labial wound in the side of Christ is an expression that the male shaman, to have magical power, must take on the power of woman . . . the magical labial wound is the seal of the resurrection and an expression of the myth of eternal recurrence. From Christ to the Fisher King of the Grail Legends, the man suffering from a magical wound is no ordinary man; he is the man who has transcended the duality of sexuality, the man with a vulva, the shamanistic androgyne.
These pagan meanings were kept alive, not in orthodox Christianity certainly, but in the Gnostic tradition, which recognized magic bisexuality, the alchemical androgyne, the necessity of the male to experience his female wound. The Grail legend has been traced back to the Neolithic Near Eastern Goddess religion, but in fact it goes back much further—to the sacred Cro-Magnon caves, and the Stone Age hunter’s attempt to resolve bloodletting guilt symbolically, and ecstatically, through a fusion of his sex-spirit with the magic vulva-wound of the Mother Goddess.
When we think of the 21,000-year-old Venus of Laussel, stained with red ochre and holding up the hunter’s lunar crescent horn in the sacred cave, we know what all these same rites, images, and analogies mean, and where they come from. They come from our original selves, as children of the Great Mother, as sisters and brothers of all her magic animals. The rites, icons, and dances conceive the earth as the body of the Mother, and try to restore the harmony lost when she is wounded.
They aim to relate the beasts’ wounds to her magic vulva, which bleeds with the moon, and heals itself, again and again. In this way the species spirit of the animals may be renewed through rebirth, after the killing of individual members. Surely in these dances and rituals we see the world meaning of all religious symbolism—but more clearly, and beautifully, because closer to the source.
Western history does not show us any evolution toward greater spirit, greater meaning, greater culture. The Western Roman-Christian contribution to the world, when we look at it, has been almost entirely in the area of technology, and of analytical intellect; combined with a notorious spiritual and cultural alienation, and perhaps the loneliest individuals the planet has ever seen. What there still is of spirit, of poetry, of coherent meaning, of symbolic truth in the world did not come from “us.” It was there at the beginning, among our Stone Age ancestors. Their vision, their cosmology, their intuited truth and sacred analogies run like bright red threads through the tapestry of Western history; whatever is still alive and vibrating in patriarchal religions, especially Christianity, when traced to its source, is found to be one of these bloody living fibers retained (stolen) from the original Paleolithic cosmology, woven by these Ice Age people out of their primal pagan experience of the Great Mother and her magic world. What has followed them, in the mythic, religious, spiritual, and psychic realms at least, has been no great advance, but a devolution—a corruption, a narrowing and hardening, an atrophy of vision and heart. Our Stone Age ancestors would have no trouble understanding the words of Smohalla, a Nez Perce who sang the primal truth to the “white man’s world” of nineteenth-century business- and resource-development-oriented America:
My young men shall never work. Men who work cannot dream and wisdom comes in dreams. You ask me to plough the ground. Shall I take a knife and tear my mother’s breast? Then when I die She will not take me to her bosom to rest. You ask me to dig for stone. Shall I dig under Her skin for bones? Then when I die I cannot enter Her body and be born again. You ask me to cut grass and make hay and sell it and be rich like the white man. But how can I cut off my mother’s hair? It is bad law and my people cannot obey it. I want my people to stay with me here. All the dead humans will come to life again. We must wait here in the house of our ancestors and be ready to meet in the body of our mother.
Thrace remained a major center radiating ancient knowledge down to Pythagorean times. In The First Sex, Elizabeth Gould Davis notes that the Classical Greeks found evidence there of an ancient technology far beyond their own. Herodotus wrote:
The Thracians dwell amid lofty mountains clothed with forests and-capped by snow. . . . Their oracle is situated upon their highest mountain top, and their prophet is a woman.
According to Apuleius, Thrace was the original home of witchcraft—woman wisdom. It was also the home of the Nine Muses, called “mountain goddesses” by Herodotus; thus the legendary home of magic poetry, the wild and mysterious Maenads. And it was also the homeland of one of the original Amazon tribes, warrior women who later fought in Greece against the patriarchal armies. Davis speculates that Thrace was the germinating center for all the later civilizations of Summer, Crete, Egypt (this may or may not be so); at least it was a strong link between original European Goddess cultures and the matriarchal centers of the Neolithic Natuffians, Çatal Hüyük, Hacilar, and other Anatolian and Near Eastern sites.
In Thrace the Goddess was worshiped as the moon (Diana, Selene), and the Nine Muses, or Mountain Goddesses, were her nine magical aspects. The Maenads were her oracular priestess-shamans, custodians of her primal wisdom—and legendary teachers of the later Celtic Druids, who worshiped Cerridwen, Mountain Goddess of Inspiration. Orpheus, the mythic poet-shaman, came from Thrace; Davis thinks he was murdered by the Maenads for revealing their ritual secrets. Thracian Maenad teaching on the immortality of the soul and the theory of reincarnation influenced Pythagoras as late as the fifth century B.C.
The swastika is one of the most ancient abstract symbols. It is found scratched on Siberian clay figures of wild geese, on the underside of their wings, from the earliest Neolithic excavations. The cross originally represented the earth (the Great Mother’s body, her outstretched arms, the four directions); the swastika means the earth in flight. It is the cross with feet, or wings, set in motion: the earth and its moon are wheeled through their changes. Later seen as a sun-wheel, the swastika was first a moon-wheel, and like the double crescent (the labrys) it could signify both directions of the cosmic spin: into creation or dissolution. The right-spinning wheel (clockwise) was used to build, encourage, maintain; the left-spinning wheel (counterclockwise) was used to destroy, prevent, or transform the nature of something; just so, the witch-circle turns clockwise to do, widdershins to undo. The swastika can be found worldwide, from old relics dug up in Iran to the pottery decorations of present-day Zuni Indians in the American Southwest. Typically, as on a seventh-century B.C. terra cotta amphora from Boeotia, and other statues and pots from the Aegean, the swastika was associated with the Lady of the Beasts, the New Stone Age version of the Paleolithic Mother of Wild Animals. It is one of the magic signs on the foot of the Buddha. Taken over by patriarchy, the swastika has meant only destruction; Hitler read it as an Aryan fire sign.
The Christian church throughout Britain finally took drastic action against this “pagan cult worship.” The Christian priesthood preaches linear, not cyclic time, hoping to separate “man” from the Goddess of Nature, and “God” from the great cosmic rhythms of creation. As many wise people have observed, the way to control human life is to control the rhythm of life. Pagan life was ruled by natural cyclic rhythms. The church opposed these female rhythms with linear-historic ones, thus trying to change human rhythm from natural to mechanical—which serves the industrial process but leaves human life and labor, including agricultural life and labor, quite alienated.
Source: Monica Sjoo, Barbara Mor – The Great Cosmic Mother