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 GODDESSES

  


 

of the stone, bronze and iron age north

And elsewhere. A gallimaufry, or ridiculous hodge-podge, of female divinities from near and far. The goddess Freya is remarkable, since she apparently personifies not only earth, but moon and sun as well. The German sun is feminine, but the English sun is nowadays male. It is amusing that French and German seem to use the same word for world and moon, and that both are of masculine gender. Some confusion, surely?

Few archaeological discoveries can have generated greater academic bewilderment than the Gundestrup cauldron, found in Denmark, with its mystifying panels. The one below comes from The Bog People, Faber 1977, by P.V.Glob, whose book depicts a number of Scandinavian goddesses I have not seen elsewhere. The most recent scholarly authority to hand notes that the cauldron was "probaby produced by the Celtic tribe of the Scordisci in Thrace circa 100 BC", and adds that its iconography "displays both Celtic and Mediterranean motifs". Some commentators date it slightly earlier, and discern influences from further East of Suez. Click on picture for a full account.


goddess on wheels

From a vantage point of ignorance, the only indubitably and obviously Celtic, or Germano-Celtic, item in this panel seems to me the torque around the lady's neck. The beasts are fabulous. Those at lower right and left are said to be griffins. Those above them are almost as composite, although certainly part-elephant. The central creature has been called a hound, and also a lion. Given its admittedly rather arbitrary stripes, its ears and its tail, could it be a tiger? The head is not unlike those on animals called tigers elsewhere. The tiger is the vehicle of the Indian goddess Durga/Kali. Both Northern and Indian deities are known to have trundholmed about on wagons, sometimes juggernauts. Indian deities still travel this way. The lady's features seem to me to be composed in oriental serenity; while the positioning of her arms seems reminiscent of the figures below.


 
 

Harappa
Indus Valley



Knossos Goddess
 
 

Klicevac
Old Yugoslavia

The athletic-looking Scandinavian Iron Age figure, front and back view, comes from Glob's Bog People, pp.154-5. No date given, but presumably of the same vintage, 700-500 BC, as the four other Scandinavians below. All five wear torques or neck-rings. For details of the left-hand figure, terra-cotta, 2,300 BC, click here. The former Yugoslavian, in clay, comes from The Bronze Age in Barbarian Europe, Jacques Briard, p.98, no date given.

Presumably something about the erect slimness of the marble Cycladic figure, 3rd millenium BC, must have led me recklessly to insert it into this Scandinavian 4 x 100m relay team. There also seem to be echos in the angle and simplified features of her head. Art-works, especially small ones, may obviously absorb influence from models of any age or place. Cycladic image from The Greek and The Sea, National Tourist Organisation of Greece 1992, p.20.



 These ornaments, "carved from schist, a fine crystalline rock", are about as svelte and abstract as a goddess could possibly be. Glob describes them as representations of "the fertility goddess with neck-chain, carried in the form of an amuletic ornament in the Stone Age". From The Bog People p.158. Only the necklace tells us these forms conceal the goddess, says Glob, rather dodgily. The contrast with the paleolithic Lespugue goddess, 20,000 BC or earlier, could hardly be greater. Back view, with string apron, from Roles of the Northern Goddess, H.E.Davidson, p.82.  



 
   
Reconstructions of the mammoth ivory original, damaged on discovery

Christian Ricordeau, of Tours, France, has some pertinent and trenchant comments concerning the shape of this goddess on his website, "une très brève histoire de l'art", eg:

"It is odd that historians occasionally suggest that the sometimes highly voluptuous form of a prehistoric Venus indicates the cellulite of the women of this epoch. Do they suppose that Picasso's models had both eyes on the same side of the face?"

"It is odd that art historians present the distortions of Picasso as a radical and unheard-of turning-point, an incredible innovative audacity without precedent, which changed the practice and meaning of art for good. Have they never seen a prehistoric Venus?"


Here is the prehistoric Lespugue Venus again (1), for artistic comparison with the later Danish goddesses (2,3,4,5) from The Bog People. There seems, imho, to be some relationship between these figurines. Scandinavian design still tends towards the belief that less is more. What function would an anthropologist suggest for these objects?

No 3, in particular, seems even more closely related to the Menton Venus, also from remote prehistory. Informed comment from a theorist of visual design would be welcome.


These are the deities, foreboding the lap of Hel, that the lonely sailor has exchanged and relinquished in the hope that his single, male, omnipotent god will offer him a more intense or vivid destiny than his landgirt life. Ultimately, however, he may concede that his thought will have to "progress from the awareness of oppositions toward their resolution", as Lévi-Strauss observes. See Tower of Babel.

ne biþ him to hearpan hyge ne to hringþege
ne to wife wyn ne to worulde hyht

me hatran sind
dryhtnes dreamas
   
     
       


Mariner by James Noel Paton (1821-1901)

Ye Gods!

Freya       Hel
bird   divide  man   other   sea   ship   sun

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© Charles Harrison Wallace 2001
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