17 August 2010

New Perfumes and Ancient Huntresses

A photograph of Catal-Huyuk
All my courses this semester are law, history, or political science (except for one little course on nuclear reactor design, which should be fun)…so I’ll be reading a lot of books and writing a lot of papers. The reading list for one of my politics classes is just ridiculous, but I’m looking forward to it. Lots of classic texts, which is right up my alley. In other recent life-news, I’m trying out a new perfume from and absolutely love it already. It’s a little strong for day to day wear--especially here--but it smells even better than their soap version, which I purchased a few years back and which regretfully they don’t sell online anymore. The nearest stores are in NYC for me, so I do most of my shopping there online. Either way…love the new perfume. I wish they carried the scent in other products. I don’t really have a lotion I can pair it with that won’t clash, but I’m looking into some unscented varieties.

In the mean time, I haven’t posted any excerpts from the Amazon Legacy thesis, so here’s another one :) I’ll move on to a new topic eventually; I just haven’t gotten bored yet with Russian mythology as it relates to my feminist viewpoints yet. This excerpt is a little longer, but there didn’t seem a good place thematically to break it up. It discusses the roles/views/expressions of the Goddess and Goddess-worship by the various tribes, groups, and peoples who came to settle what later became Russia.

Modern Russia is a vast country, spanning two continents and more than a few time zones; the ethnographic and cultural heritage of those who populate such a wide land varies no less than does the geography of the land itself. The roots of the Russian people draw from Nordic hunters, Slavic farmers, and even Greek merchants. Each wave of settlement brought with it new faces, new customs, new gods, which were absorbed by and incorporated into the existing structures long before the adoption of Orthodox Christianity. According to Joanna Hubbs, a professor at Hampshire College, Russia is a “cradleland for the female statuettes,” which were carved in the Paleolithic period, and while the specific significance of the figurines is difficult to determine, they nevertheless express the concept of female fertility as innately divine. Hubbs also asserts that “the oldest form of religious veneration, shamanism, discovered among the Nordic hunting tribes, was once dominated by women.” Women were held as the “sources of shamanic power” in Siberia, and—similar to Baba Yaga’s hut in the tale of Vasilisa the wise—served as guides and initiators for the elect.

The Nordic tribes who settled in Siberia and other parts of the extensive North likely worshiped a huntress goddess, a “mother of fire and ruler over earth and sky,” as did the Slavs who settled in the Balkan region. In fact, the findings at Anatolian Çatal Hüyük, dating from 7000 BC, as well as at Tripol’e, reveal societies in transition, evolving from hunter-gatherers to farmers. At these sites archeologists have unearthed the bones of women buried in shrines and caves dedicated to female divinity. Originally the depictions of the goddess in such shrines and caves were abstractly drawn, inclusive of symbols representing the earth and sky, while later the depictions evolved to include masculine symbols around and emerging from the goddess figure and held the goddess contained between earth and sky. The changing goddess depictions suggest the “introduction of plow agriculture and the assertion of masculine power and potency: the bull enters the field; the ploughman spills the seeds.” However, until around 3500 BC when Indo-European nomads invaded and destroyed the farming settlements at Tripol’e, women were still the chief priestesses of the goddess cult. Before the invasion, the tribes were most likely organized into matriclans, but afterwards the patriarchal nomads attempted to assert their own religious and social systems over the existing ones. Thus, the goddess cult came to assimilate male deities, perhaps as “the bull or the horse consorts who serve her.”

Further south in the Caucasus mountain region, a supreme goddess of the hunt was also venerated. The Caucasian hunters named their goddess Dali, whose son was Gadagatl. While hunting is no longer an economically necessary endeavor in the majority of the world, in the mountains of the Caucasus many hunting traditions endured until modern centuries. Folk songs, particularly those sung during the round dance, have aided the preservation of this hunting lore. Many of these songs “indicate that a matriarchal religion was gradually replaced by a patriarchal one,” reminiscent of the transitions that occurred in Siberia and the Balkans. For example, before setting out hunters observed various rituals, such as lighting a candle at dawn, and they even avoided conjugal relations with women for a set time before a hunt, lest they make the hunting goddess jealous. They also believed that this goddess could not only control the animals under her protection, but could take their form.

Myths from the steppes tell a similar story. During the first millennia of the modern era, the Scythians reigned over the Russian Steppes. One of the origin myths of Scythia describes the deal that Herakles makes with a goddess of the hunt. Pausing to rest by the Dnieper River, Herakles meets the Mistress of the Woodland, who steels the horses from his chariot. She offers to release the horses only if Herakles agrees to become her lover. Once he complies, she bears him three sons, one of whom becomes the first Scythian king. This tale also seems to suggest the replacement of matriarchal structures with patriarchal ones, with the Mistress of the Woodland symbolizing the former way of life and Herakles and his three sons, her replacement.

During the sixth century, when the Greek merchants began to colonize the lands around the Black Sea, the local goddesses blended with the Greek Athena, Artemis, and Demeter-Kore. The native civilization likewise became associated with “the man-slaying Amazons […] who venerated the huntress goddess.” According to descriptions likely written by male historians of the time, “[t]hese warrior women, dressed in animal skins, were organized into matriclans and were said to mate once a year and to kill their male offspring.” While in actuality it is unlikely that they slaughtered their sons, the discovery of mounds in which armed women were buried as well as temples dedicated to “a Great Goddess served by armed priestesses” appears to validate the Amazonian associations near the Black Sea.

David Hunt, “The Association of the Lady and the Unicorn, and the Hunting Mythology of the Caucasus” (2003)
Joanna Hubbs, Mother Russia: The Feminine Myth in Russian Culture (1993)

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