Once and Future Goddess: A Sweeping Visual Chronicle of the Sacred Female and Her Reemergence in the Cult

Overview

A richly illustrated testament to the reemergence of the Goddess in the art and in the lives of contemporary women and men.

In this beautifully illustrated and far-reaching history. Elinor Gadon vividly weaves words and images to demonstrate the powerful connections between ancient and contemporary art, between the Goddess of the Ice Age and the Goddess of today.

This panoramic view of Goddess imagery extends from the prehistoric Goddess ...

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Overview

A richly illustrated testament to the reemergence of the Goddess in the art and in the lives of contemporary women and men.

In this beautifully illustrated and far-reaching history. Elinor Gadon vividly weaves words and images to demonstrate the powerful connections between ancient and contemporary art, between the Goddess of the Ice Age and the Goddess of today.

This panoramic view of Goddess imagery extends from the prehistoric Goddess representations of Catal Huyuk, Malta, Avebury, and Crete, tot he more patriarchal images of the Sumerians, Greeks, and Christians, to the wide range of contemporary artists inspired by the Goddess, including Frida Kahlo, Mayumi Oda, and Judy Chicago.

Gadon provides a richly illustrated testament to the reemergence of the goddess in art and in the lives of contemporary women and men. 200 black-and-white photos; 50 color photos.

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Editorial Reviews

Booknews
Lavishly illustrated account of the worship and representation of the female deity in Western culture. Art historian Gadon describes ancient goddess-based religions, their suppression by patriarchies, their current revival, and prospects for the future. Includes over 50 color plates. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780062503541
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 11/28/1989
  • Pages: 432
  • Product dimensions: 7.37 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 1.08 (d)

Meet the Author

Elinor W. Gadon is an art historian specializing in Indian art and culture and the analysis of images and symbols in their cultural context. She has taught at Harvard, Tufts, and the New School for Social Research. She lives in Berkeley, California.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The Ice Age: The Earth as Mother

The upper Paleolithic (ca. 35,000-9000 B.C.E.) was a "revolutionary" period in human evolution. There was a virtual explosion of symbolic behavior. Ice Age people were fully evolved humans much like ourselves, capable of speaking and comprehending symbolically based language and of establishing communities with shared norms and values. Like us, they must have speculated about the origin of life and the meaning of death. The earliest human intuition of the sacred was that the earth was the source of all life and ground of being.

Art and religion were born together from a fundamental human passion to express inner life. Although there is no record of these peoples' language, no written myth or stories and therefore no history as usually defined, their art displays a keen observation of nature, the presence of music, of tools, and of self-decoration. Theirs was a rich ceremonial life.

The power of Paleolithic cave art is extraordinary; nothing quite like it has been created since. This achievement seems all the more wondrous when we consider how hard life must have been, lived as it was in the raw, at the mercy of climate and environment that varied dramatically with the expansion and contraction of a mile-high wall of glacial ice. Even the Mediterranean regions were cold and dry. Broad expanses of rich grasslands like the plains of modern Africa covered much of Europe, and vast herds of large animals roamed these flat steppes.

No one knows for certain what life was like for these Ice Age peoples and gatherersand hunters. The men, physically stronger and free from domestic burdens, hunted the large animals while the women gathered plants, which made up the bulk of the food, as they nursed and cared for their offspring.' Game might be plentiful but the hunt was not always successful. The hardest time was winter when there were no grasses or berries, nuts or tubers to supplement the diet of meat from the hunt. As the seasons changed, people moved about in search of food, often following the migrating herds. The family groups did not wander aimlessly but came back to the same places year after year to hunt the same animals and gather the same plants.

Dwelling places were chosen with great care, always near a reliable water supply, sometimes underneath protecting cliffs that faced south to catch the fight and heat of the winter sun, and sometimes overlooking shallows and fords in the rivers where migrating animals such as reindeer might cross. Sites seem to have been chosen because they provided a good view of the surrounding area. "Such vantage points would have been important for observing game animals....

Much that survives from this time has been found, on the floors of these habitation sites under the debris of millennia. Tools, cooking implements, needles for sewing have been uncovered, as well as small, portable art objects whose, use. has been something of a mystery. There are beads and pendants made from bone, ivory, and even shells, which must have been highly valued since they were brought great distances from the sea. These marked and carved ornaments were probably used in ritual, as our studies of primal peoples inform us that decoration had a sacred function. The most provocative finds on the shelter floors are the small female figures, the socalled "Venuses."

These dwelling sites are one source of Paleolithic art; another is the walls of caves in the heavily forested mountainous regions of northeastern Spain and southwestern France, in southern Germany and Czechoslovakia. The shelters were their places of domestic worship, the caves their temples.

The Sacred Images

The sanctuaries were large caverns, deep within the earth, whose long access through dark and narrow passages was often perilous. Clinging to curtains of stalactites, descending into chasms, negotiating underground waters, our Ice Age ancestors groped their way through the unknown. Some chambers were too large ever to have been fully illuminated by their lamps, which were small slabs of limestone, hollowed out in the middle to hold burning animal fat. Ever alert to the sounds of danger, the approach of threatening animals, they could hear dripping waters echoing in the vast stillness, terrifying noises. This difficult journey was a rite of passage into sacred time and space back to the beginning. And here, on the walls of the cave sanctuaries, Paleolithic people painted startling panoramas of their environment in brilliant earth colors — wooly mammoth and bison, mountain goat and musk ox, wild horse and deer, all potent with charged energy. Working with stone tools, natural pigments, and charcoal, they brought to life vast herds of these beasts moving across empty space.

Here we can imagine the shaman-priest invoking the animals' spirits, his ecstatic dance miming their very movements, in order to harness their energy and assure their rebirth from the womb of the Mother. In the dim, flickering fight the painted images were transformed into vital, living, breathing presences. Ice Age peoples perceived themselves as one with the animals, not separate species; both were nurtured, like the rocks and the trees, by the life force emanating from the earth itself Architectural historian Vincent Scully describes the impact the cave paintings had on him:

The forms of the paintings themselves, which create an image of the living beast more persuasive and directly sympathetic than any later art has been able to do, seem to show that the necessary death of the animal, partly induced by magic, was dignified by human respect and admiration for the creature itself and even by human gratitude to it.
Ice Age people also fashioned other images, small icons of the sacred female, from the ivory tusks of the great woolly mammoth, from rocks of glowing, translucent color, and from clay, the very stuff of the earth. Nearly two hundred female figures have been found at dwelling sites all across Eurasia from the Pyrenees in western Europe to Lake Baikal in central Siberia...

The Once and Future Goddess. Copyright © by Elinor Gadon. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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