The Motherpeace images
focused mainly on North and South America, Europe and Africa, with Central,
Eastern and South Asia remaining somewhat of a lacuna. My chronological
especially on the period from the 7th millenium BCE until the Bronze Age, and I lost interest around the beginning of the 3rd millenium when patriarchal militarism replaced the earlier peaceful
agricultural lifestyles all over the area I've just described. In the last three years I have become focused on the question of women's activities during the Bronze and Iron Ages as well as
investigating the female presence in Central Asia amongst the nomadic people.
The lens through which
this current research has taken shape is the question of the Amazons--those
female warrior women Herodotus and the other classical historians told
us about. Western history
has treated the Amazons as myth--even Marija Gimbutas didn't believe in them! Yet the first time I went to Turkey, I learned that historians there understood Amazons to have been real women who
not only rode but also bred horses, fought military battles, and founded many important cities named after their Queens around 2000 BCE. In an exhibition in Istanbul called "Nine Thousand
Years of the Anatolian Woman" I had my first experience of seeing weapons excavated from a female warrior's grave. Since that time I have discovered many amazing connections between these
Bronze Age Amazon Queens and the later classical Amazons of the 5th century BCE, as well as hypothetical links between them and pre-Buddhist yogis and dakini-witches all over Central Asia
and into Tibet.
The place that has most
fascinated me is Catal Hoyuk in Neolithic Anatolia (modern day Turkey).
Here the archeologist James Mellaart found beautiful female sculptures
and beautifully painted
frescoes of a great Mountain Mother Goddess and her priestesses. It seemed apparent to me from the artistic images alone that these early peaceful agricultural people (7th-millenium BCE) could
also be found in Crete in the form of the neolithic Snake Goddess found there dating to 6000 BCE.
That idea--treated as no more than a feminist fantasy at the time--has now come to be accepted as more or less the archeological truth. Likewise when I was first introduced to the 5th-millenium
culture of the Mediterranean island of Malta near Sicily, with its early standing stone temples shaped like a Double Female and famous "Fat Ladies of Malta" in the form of figurines discovered
in temples there, I thought more than anything they resembled the fat Buddha-women from Catal Hoyuk. A time gap of more than two thousand years made that almost impossible within standard
archeological views at the time.
Robert Graves captured
my imagination in his book, The White Goddess, in which his own research
led him to state his conviction that as militaristic patriarchal tribes
moved in on the
sedentary agricultural communities who worshipped the Mother Goddess, the priestesses of this ancient religion migrated to sacred caves and secret islands for refuge taking the icons and practices
with them into safety. Islands like Malta, Crete, the Cyclades. Cyprus, Ireland and Scotland, even Iceland could fit that picture. Graves described the priestesses as having responsibility or ownership of the sacred scripts and alphabets, especially the vowels that they never wrote down but used in "mantra" or chant. These ancient scripts he maintained were written on round clay tablets carried in goatskin bags with a gorgon face on the outside as a warning to the uninitiated. I recently visited Italy and saw that Etruscan artifacts include inscribed mantras, early undeciphered texts, and Gorgon faces carved on many of the thousands of tombs.
The first contemporary
work to appear which corroborated my research was Merlin Stone's When God
Was A Woman, which appeared at the end of the 1970's just as Karen and
I were making
the Motherpeace deck. Then in the 1980's I discovered the work of Marija Gimbutas. Her book, Gods and Goddesses of Old Europe, was later reprinted as Goddesses and Gods of Old
Europe, bringing the title into alignment with the content of the material. It was Gimbutas who presented the first coherent archeological overview that put the pieces together and made sense of
the visual material. Although her radical work has been the target of complaints and near-hysterical accusations from within the archeological establishment, as the years go by her conclusions are
thoroughly supported by recent excavations.
The problem (scientifically
speaking) has been that huge gaps have existed in the archeological and
written records, making it difficult to prove certain things that might
be true about ancient people.
Linguists have recently been helping to fill some of these gaps by determining to some extent the range of various language groups and in many cases the timing (from dialects) of when tribal
divisions might have taken place. It would seem from linguistic sources that ancient people had enormous trade contacts around the ancient world, and that they migrated frequently and to fairly
distant places. As linguistic evidence is weighed alongside of archeological artifacts, the picture that emerges is one of an ancient culture of the Mother Goddess that was very widespread and
continued to exist throughout many millennia first as a running river, and later as a continuous
Twenty years ago Karen
Vogel and I used to discuss the probability of a connection between Egypt
(especially the Hyksos intrusion) and Crete, which has been proposed recently
Bernal in his Black Athena volumes. For the last year I have had two full-size color Xeroxes
tacked up over my desk: a gold necklace of Double Goddesses from Alacahoyuk in Bronze Age Turkey juxtaposed next to a gold necklace of double eagles from Mycenae (Greece) later during
the Bronze Age. Even for me it was a stretch to consider that these two pieces might be literally linked, yet they were remarkably similar and related to a widely-shared concept of queens ruling in
"dual queenship" popular at the time and mentioned by Herodotus in relation to the Amazons. Imagine the synchronicity at work for me when I read Bernal's theory that the Hyksos were a
steppe people who established Alacahoyuk and then briefly ruled Egypt until being expelled from there, whence they went on to colonize Crete (Knossos, that is) and create the famous gold burials
at Mycenae! (This simultaneously confirmed several of my intuitions, while explaining the 500-year
gap in the archeological record separating Alacahoyuk from early Mycenae.)
Twenty years ago one
of my favorite texts was a captivating coffee-table book called "From the
Land of the Scythians" presenting photographic material from some burials
in Russia and Siberia
that completely engaged my imagination. Especially I was enthralled with the skeleton of a woman wearing a high gold crown and hundreds of gold plaques that had been originally sewn on her
clothing. The authors didn't call her a queen or a priestess, but for me she was a clear indicator that Robert Graves and earlier scholars like J.J. Bachofen and Robert Briffault had been on the right
track with their ideas of matriarchy and Mother Right. I fantasized that a colorful felt saddle blanket depicting griffons could have been mine in a past life, and later I serendipitously acquired an
out-of-print book called Frozen Tombs of Siberia that described the now-famous Pazyryk burials in more detail. Imagine my delight at being in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg last year and
seeing with my own eyes these treasures.
When I met Berkeley archeologist
Jeannine Davis-Kimball three years ago and heard her lecture at UC Berkeley
on the Russian Amazon burials she had been excavating for four years, it
was like an
epiphany for me. She showed slides from 6th-century BCE female burials of the Sauromatian tribes from an area between the Black and Caspian Seas to the Ural Mountains (not far from my "gold
woman" whose burial was just north of the Black Sea in what we know as the Ukraine) She described the range of Sauromatian burials as including "normal" women with their customary
artifacts (e.g. shells and spindle whorls), priestesses with their cultic items (altars, spoons, mirrors and lumps of white gypsum), warrior women with their weapons (including bronze and iron
arrowheads), and a few men buried with their swords. I wanted to jump for joy.
The rest is history.
I made contact with Jeannine, she was open to connecting and exchanging
information with me which has led to a mentoring relationship in which
I am learning about the
nomadic people who live in the Eurasian steppes today and who are surely some of the living descendants of Amazon cultures from twenty-five hundred years ago. Our amazing investigatory
trip to southern Russia last August involved three weeks of travel from the Black Sea (and more particularly the Sea of Azov, anciently known as Meot Lake) to the Don River (called Tanais in
ancient times), and up the Volga River into the foothills of the Ural Mountains that technically divide Europe from Asia. In museums and archival basements we met with Russian archeologists and
looked at artifacts from female burials, many of them rich with gold, silver and other valuables, as well as weapons and so-called "cultic" items like portable altars, beads, bone spoons, and later
incense burners. Significantly over time the burials show fewer "animal art" objects and more weapons, showing the gradual militarization of the area and assimilation of the more peaceful
In preparing for the
trip I decided to color Xerox the photo of the so-called "Scythian queen"
as I thought of her, whose burial at the Seven Brothers mounds near the
Sea of Azov turned out to be
one of the burials we investigated. I couldn't get it out of my mind that the way her leg was bent for burial made me think of the classic pose of the dakini in Tibetan Buddhism images. I used the Black
Dakini on the cover of my book, Shakti Woman, and have been doing practices related to her for more than ten years. One of the things about intuitive research is you have to trust even the most
whimsical associations in case it might lead to something. So I also color Xeroxed two dakini images alongside of the skeleton of "the Queen" and took it with me to Russia.
The second archeologist
on the trip was a Russian woman named Maria Goryeva, a Kalmyk archeologist
from the autonomous region of Kalmykia whose people are Mongol and Buddhist
the Tibetan (lamaist) tradition. Maria Goryeva is the director of the museum in Elitsa, the capital of Kalmykia. Her museum was filled with Buddhist collections alongside histories of the Kalmyks and
the more ancient archeological artifacts from the Sarmatian burials found so prevalent in the area. By the time we had visited seven or eight museums along the Volga and Don Rivers and looked at
many archeological reports on female burials of the Sauromatians (and later Sarmations) who appear to be precisely the Amazons Herodotus was writing about, even the two archeologists on
our trip were calling the bent-leg position "the dakini pose." Not all the females were buried in this position, to be sure--but enough that we couldn't help but be struck by it.
I went on the trip to
Russia assuming that almost certainly the Amazons were a late remnant of
earlier Goddess cultures I had been researching for twenty years, and hoping I would find documentation to support such a position. It seemed no accident that the earliest shamanism,
originating in Siberia, was female shamanism, connected with the Great Bear constellation and the Great Goddess Artemis; and that Artemis was also the name applied to the Great Goddess of
Catalhoyuk in the 7th millenium BCE as well as the Amazons in the 5th century BCE--seventy
I have been working on
an book called The Double Goddess beginning with double-headed life-size
female statues from an 8th-millenium BCE site in Palestine where the earliest
was practiced, and then Double Goddess images from Catalhoyuk where farming was spread in the 7th millenium BCE. Double Goddesses have also been found in Greece and the Balkans from
the Neolithic period (6th-5th millenium) and again in the Bronze Age in Anatolia and northern Syria. Turkish archeologists report that Amazon queens founded major cities named after them in Turkey
during the Bronze Age (2000 BCE), and later historians such as Herodotus (450 BCE) describe the Amazons as ruling in "dual queenship" with a military queen and a domestic one. It's my theory
that "dual queenship" and the Double Goddess represent women's egalitarian way of governing and
represent female sovereignty.
Not only did the trip
support my suppositions with the rich burials of warrior women and priestesses,
but it opened me to see that the Amazons themselves were part of a huge
"confederation" of tribes living all across the Eurasian steppes from at least the Bronze Age through the classical period and into the early medieval period to the time of the Silk Route and the early
beginnings of Tibetan Buddhism with its marvelous female imagery built around the retinues of supernatural dancing "sky walkers" called dakinis. I am now absorbed in the study of Tibetan texts
that refer to pre-Buddhist living "Bon yoginis" and "yogini Queens," linking Tibetan ancestry to a cross between a "demoness" and a yeti, and alluding to earlier wild female practitioners known as
"dakini witches." The religion in Tibet that immediately predates Buddhism and bitterly fought its formation is called "Bon," a name that refers to "the reciting of mantras," the magical spells cast for
achieving health and happiness. Tibetan Buddhism took form between the 8th and 12th centuries at the same time that tantric "yogini temples" were in use in Northern India, and no doubt the
Vajrayana practices came in part from there (as scholars have assumed). Miranda Shaw has already shown how central women were to the formation of Buddhist tantric practices in her
comprehensive book on Indian yoginis called Passionate Enlightenment which describes the songs of the yoginis as well as their outfits of bone ornaments.
I have a strong sense
that the roots of the whole dakini iconography may be found in Central
Asia and the Amazons, as well as the powerful female queen-priestesses
buried in the frozen tombs of
Pazyryk, the Altai mountains, and the Tarim Basin of the Tien Shan. The continuous thread of connection has to do with the female oracular voice, and the practices of female shamanism which
date from ancient origins. Clearly all these diverse peoples were in contact through the Silk Route and undoubtedly earlier, and the steppe people are reported to have entered India from the north at
that time if not before. In addition, it appears that neolithic Indus Valley (Harappan) cultures development in southern Central Asia in
the first place.
The female skeletons
and mummies found in the steppe burials are consistently buried with spoons
(for the sacred mare's milk koumiss), mirrors (for healing and divination),
gypsum (Robert Graves
said the priestesses painted their faces with white gypsum before rituals), portable altars for offerings, and often with their own weapons as well--swords, daggers, and arrowheads. Some
wear headdresses (sometimes as grand as three feet high) and they are frequently depicted in images of a man on horseback with a "rhyton" (horn-shaped vessel) coming to a throned Goddess
to receive an oracle. Such images are found in the famous Pazyryk carpet (the earliest-known knotted carpet, 4th century BCE), on gold plaques sewn onto the clothing of people buried at
Pazyryk as well as other so-called "Scythian" sites, in Thrace (Balkan Europe), Etruscan Italy, and throughout Anatolia. This oracular function of the female is still alive and active in East Asian
cultures such as Korea and Japan, as well as all across Siberia, Mongolia, and Tibet where it is obscured under the rubric of shamanism (or more negatively, trance mediumship).
Most likely the Eurasian
oracular priestess function was cross-fertilized by Africa through its
profound, direct influence on Egypt, and from there reaching Greece, Anatolia,
and the Middle
East. The concept of two Queens--a Queen Mother and a Queen Sister, ancient in Africa, was still noted in the last century. Furthermore African Amazons are reputed to be older than Eurasian
Amazon tribes, with legends linking them to islands which one historian took to mean the sunken continent of Atlantis and another the Canaries. The original Gorgons were tribes of warrior women
in North Africa, reduced later to the three sisters (including Medusa) whom most of us know from classical Greece. The fierce Gorgon with snakes for hair (having come to represent women's
women and the female fighting spirit) is widespread all over the Mediterranean as far as the Russian steppe. African Gorgons were an orgiastic tribe of Libyan oracular women connected to the
Python who wore snakeskins and carried Double Axes--all themes that carried over to the island of Crete during the Bronze Age. Athena who also originated in Africa often wears the Gorgon face
on her breastplate.
My research methods are
unorthodox as far as academic expectations go, but I am a passionate scholar.
I have vivid dreams that illuminate my scholarship, as well as profound
synchronicities that cause me to believe that my research into this area is a kind of "spiritual calling" rather than simply an academic inquiry. The associations my mind makes seem wild even by my
standards, but my ability to concentrate and focus on the subject at hand leads me inevitably into territories that cross the boundaries between disciplines and cover vast time periods as well as
overwhelming geographical terrains. Even on the trip to Russia I had a dream on the first morning in Rostov-na-Danu (Rostov on the Don) wherein I was reminded about the "daughters of Danu,"
those steppe tribes that migrated to Ireland and colonized it sometime prior to the Christian era. The name Danu refers to a Goddess whose name was given to all the rivers flowing into the Black Sea (the Danube, the Dneister, the Dneiper, the Donets, and the Don) and archeologists agree that the Celtic Irish were descended in some way from the Indo-European steppe tribes. There are also perplexing links between India, Tibet and Ireland that can be perceived in the name of Tara, simultaneously a Goddess in India and Tibet and the place in Ireland where kings were crowned by
virtue of the sovereignty Goddess.
When I became interested
in Maenads (those wild Dionysian women involved in ecstatic snake-handling
rites and orgiastic dancing around the Mediterranean), they appeared to
connections to the Amazons--and both Amazons and Maenads seemed linked to the image of the Gorgon; and all three of them somehow seemed related to Norse Valkyries and Tibetan dakinis,
who share attributes with the Etruscans! The "Caucasian" mummy recently uncovered in a frozen tomb in the Altai Mountains shares iconographic attributes with women buried at Catalhoyuk
thousands of years earlier and thousands of miles away. And Tibetan dakinis whose practices are linked to cemeteries and charnel grounds seem to be connected with Amazon warrior priestesses
buried in a dancing pose a thousand years earlier in Western Central Asia.
According to Indo-Tibetan
scholar David Snellgrove, most of the translators of Buddhist texts into
Chinese were Central Asian rather than Indian. History has it that the
first transmission of Buddhism into Tibet is due to two wives of the 7th-century
King of Tibet, one from China and one from Nepal, both of whom are said
to have introduced Buddhism into Tibet through those marriages.
This is particularly interesting in light of archeological verification that the Saka excavations of the easternmost steppes (later Buddhist areas) unearthed mostly Eurasian males and mostly Mongolian
females--clearly mixed marriages. According to Joseph Needham, ancient Chinese women shamans called Wu were active in facilitating religious rites in China from at least the Shang
Dynasty--time of the famous oracle bones--until the time of Confucianism (200 BCE) when they were kicked out of the courts. I've always wondered, where did they go? The Chinese character
for Wu was modified and came to mean "witch" rather than healer, while the character for healer was attached to a different radical meaning "alcohol" and pertaining to the later system of Chinese
An eastern steppe people
described by the Chinese as "Yueh-chih" are believed to be the Massagetae
("Great Getae") about whose female-egalitarian customs Herodotus wrote
men's clothing, hunted, and rode horses like the men even into battle). These Massagetae/Yueh-chih are buried in the Pazyryk mounds, and were pushed westward in the 2nd
century BCE towards the lands of the Scythians (Eastern Europe north of the Black Sea, west into Thrace) and south into India as the Saka according to Snellgrove who link's them to the Kushana
Dynasty, supposedly the greatest Central Asian dynasty ever, and who also may be related to the Tocharian mummies buried inn the Tien Shan Mountains. Those female mummies wore tall pointed
conical black hats a foot high and share shamanistic attribute's with other mummies buried in the Altai and at Pazyryk. Chinese and Tibetan texts from the time of the T'ang Dynasty (7th century
AD) describe at length a "Western Country of Women" which some scholars have thought was eastern Tibet but might also refer to the Tien Shan.
Last spring I had a very
vivid dream in which the top of my head erupted like a volcano and a "stupa"
emerged from the hole, created out of wedding cake frosting. Since then
I have noticed
depictions of stupas coming out of the heads of many different Buddhas, as well as similar protrusions emerging from the heads of female figurines and statues from various pre-Buddhist
cultures. On our trip to Russia, we saw numerous female "Babas" dating from as early as the Bronze Age (2000 BCE) and as late as the Middle Ages, and many of them have protuberances
coming from the tops of their heads that later marked Shiva or the Buddha. Etruscan priestesses have strongly defined pointed hats which could be related, and Etruscan museums sport what look
like stone stupas or "omphalos" from the 5th century BCE (same date traditionally given for the Buddha's birth).
The ancient origins of
female shamanism lie in the Paleolithic period with its Venus figurines,
lunar calendars, horses, reindeer, and extraordinary rock art. Nomadic
people in Siberia--although
prevented for many generations from practicing their religion openly--still have shamans and use oracles even today, many of them women. While in Russia I saw several shamanistic healers
referred to as "extra-sense" who used divinatory and clairvoyant skills as well as channeling the "heat that heals." I believe that the "dakini-witches" and yoginis predating the Bon and Buddhist
male dynasties left a legacy to all of us through the Tibetan concept of the "terma" or hidden mind-treasure, written inn the secret dakini script, and awaiting the modern "tertrons" (termafinders)
whose destiny it is to find and reveal such treasures in the vernacular of our time.
courtesy of Serpentina
more information on the research of Jeannine Davis-Kimball
PO Box 5544
Berkeley, California 94705
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