Venus of Willendorf

I crafted this Venus of Willendorf just before my child was born for our birthing shrine this year. In a recently published paper, Weber et al. (2022) placed the Venus at ~30,000 years old. She was rediscovered by Szombathy et al. in the Danube in Willendorf/Lower Austria in 1908. According to Weber et al. (2022), the depiction of the Venus “represents a symbolized adult and faceless female with exaggerated genitalia, pronounced haunches, a protruding belly, heavy breasts, and a sophisticated headdress or hairdo.” Vandewettering (2015) states that hundreds of these types of “Venus” figurines were discovered “across Eurasia from Southern France to Siberia,” and that these figures varied greatly in material. Further, Vandewettering groups scholarship on the purpose and function of the Venus statues into themes, “sex, fertility and beauty; religious functions and matrifocal societies; and representations of actual people with practical functions” (2015). Though many sources question the validity of the Venus as a symbol for fertility, a recent paper (Johnson, Lanaspa, & Fox, 2015) affirms that, “Because survival required sufficient nutrition for child-bearing women, we hypothesized that the undernourished woman became an ideal symbol of survival and beauty during episodes of starvation and climate change in Paleolithic Europe.” The problem with ancient goddess traditions is that we understand very little about what those cultures actually practiced in their day to day lives. So we are left with assigning modern meaning to ancient custom. Whether the Venus of Willendorf represents divine goddess or mundane woman, I think we can assert our own goddess theology here and recognize the divinity in all women.

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