“In the Vedas, creation is likened to the spider and its web. The spider brings the web out of itself and then remains in it. God is the container of the universe and also what is contained in it”Ramakrishna
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.
The Metamorphosis of Apeluis, dubbed the Golden Ass by Augustine, written in the 2nd century AD, details Lucius Apeluis’ encounter with the Goddess,
Though a work of fiction, the goddess theology apparent in this text remains germane today. Compare this with the theology of the Devī Māhātmya of the Indian subcontinent. The great goddess multiplies Her forms when slaying a host of demons, and encountering the demon Śumbha, He declares,
To which the Great Goddess responds,
Although we cannot necessarily come to the conclusion that there was a comprehensive and global goddess cult in the ancient world simply from this comparative theology here, we can at least note that goddess theology has a recurring theme: (1) The goddess has a singular great form, and (2) the goddess multiplies her names and forms across time and place. This establishes a sacred cultural window by which the goddess touches the mundane world and reaches to Her devotees in the form that they understand best. Or as Ramakrishna said so beautifully,
Sea of pine and waves of oak
The Forest is a home
And I will always go there
A cold breath moves the branches
In the wood,
Cooling the rocks with patterns of moss
The oaks are old gods and I thank them
fear is thunder
It beats the drum of the heart
And for a time
I am its muted prisoner
Though this sound blisters,
I can still hear the old muffled whisper
The hills and trees are alive
With a kind of thought Unknowable.
In the Other World,
They arise and fall
Arise and fall
I declare my love for them,
Old gods, old noble creatures
Though fears tympani beats continuous,
I see faces in the wood
And bones in the mountains
I call these beings my long time friends
I shall sit with them a while and wonder
At the rocks stuck between my toes
One thousand times I have failed you
Folly in that notion of a mustard seed
This body wrought of insufficient faith
And this heart of pulp seems
covered over by Father stone
like asphalt redolent from the new smell of tar
Still this nascent string of undivided love
moves inside like the coil of a spring
brick by brick along the vertebrae of bone
What creature stirs in that eternal cavern?
I’ve no sense of justice
bitumen - a Red Sea of taillights incessant
dragging wastrel in the tortuous Highway
He was a man they said - that Lord -
called God in iron wrath who dangled
His creations on the tip toe of His Finger
Held in utter horror aghast over
that Lake of liquid fire - well I
never wanted that from start to finish
Fear ranks high among the qualities of survival.
Then they - saving grace over the ages
called It woman.
Oh hold at bay those night terrors
the jackal of sermon leaving white pellets of spittle on the mouth corner:
Wait. What fear is there of Mother?
Oh Dear - will you speak to Father for me?
He always seems to follow your command.