The Great Goddess

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Matriarchy, as opposed to patriarchy, was first recognized around 1850 with the publication of The League of the Ho-de-no-sau-nee, or Iroquios by Lewis H. Morgan.  This documented a matriarchical kinship system among the American Indians.  A decade later Jakob Bachofen showed that matriarchy survived in ancient Roman law.  Bachofen later recognized matriarchy as a pre-patriarchical tradition on a global scale when the Great Goddess was the principle deity and matriarchy was the foundation of kinship.

The culture of the Paleolithic period lasted until about 10,000 years ago when the advent of agriculture marked the beginning of the Neolithic.  The imagery of the Great Goddess reaches back to the earliest Paleolithic prehistory with the first sculptures of bone, ivory and stone and the concomitant symbols; the vulvas, triangles, chevrons, zig-zags, meanders and cupmarks.  The theme of the Goddess is the mystery of birth and death and the renewal of life.  As the giver of life and wielder of death she is the regeneratrix represented with images of fertility and fecundity.  Death was part of regeneration and was not the end of anything but rather a necessary part of regeneration.  Images of death can also be life affirming, with breasts carved into symbols of dying .  It was her role to receive the dead back into her womb.

The passing of the seasons marked the drama of rebirth each spring, and the drama of death each fall in the dynamic energy of cyclical time symbolized by the whirling, twisting spirals of life energy witnessed in the movement of the stars rotating around the north star.  The cycles of the moon were represented in the coiled snake which was an affirmative symbol, not a representation of evil.  White not black, was the color of death.

 

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The images of the Paleolithic Goddess are mythological messengers, one famous image from a rock shelter just outside Ezyies depicted the Goddess holding a bison horn with thirteen lines counting the moons and the mysteries of generation in the monthly rounds of menstruation.  Many of the amazing Goddess statues have enormous breasts and buttocks with no facial features and no feet.  In later incarnations the Goddess was called Lady of the Wild, Protectress of the Hearth and Consort of the Moon personifying the mystery of the moon, suggesting pregnancy, childbirth and fecundity.  Her image was often associated with water birds and the serpent.  She was associated with the hunt, both for animals and for plants.  The cave is the womb of the goddess, the nuclear life force, the egg, and the coiled snake. These images became orthostats in the form of multilined nested circles, spirals, cup shapes and whirling parallel lines.  Marija Gimbutas, in her book The Language of the Goddess, indicated that  patterning hands imprinted on cave walls are the touch of the goddess imparting her presence apotropaically, to avert negative influences. The Goddess represented the source of all life, its primordial unity found in water from which all life emerged but also in stones, in plants and animals, in birds and fish, in hills and trees, in flowers, in the natural wonders of the sacredness and mystery of life and death.

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Tibet – The Potala

The Potala, the great palace of the Dalai Lama, Lhasa, Tibet 2011

The Potala, the great palace of the Dalai Lama, Lhasa, Tibet 2011

The Potala, the great palace of the Dalai Lama, one of the architectural wonders of the world, seems to grow out of the hill where it is built.  To get inside the Potala you need a Tibetan guide who will accompany you on the tour.  Once you enter your ticket is stamped with the time and you have one hour, if you leave later than an hour your guide is fined.  It is unbelievable as we enter.  Room after room filed with Tibetan art, the walls and ceiling covered with murals, then tangkas hanging over the murals and then big cabinets and shrines on every wall filled with statuary.  Our group has two guides; an American professor and a Tibetan named Tenzin.  Inside the Potala we are in a large ceremonial chapel filled with a long row of life sized statues when Dan, our American guide, runs into a Tibetan he knows.  The man is a lama but is not dressed in robes.  They are delighted to find each other and Dan has gifts for him.  They embrace and talk for a few minutes and then we continue on the tour route.  We are moving down this long corridor with a stream of other tourists and pilgrims when all at once a door opens and the lama that Dan knows steps out and beckons for us to come through the door. I couldn’t be more surprised.  Suddenly we are off the tourist track and going into the back rooms of the Potala.  He takes us through several rooms where there are no tourists, deep into the interior of the building, until we end up in a room with brightly colored murals and incredibly elaborate woodwork and long beautiful tasseled umbrellas that hang from the tall ceiling for what appears to be  twenty to thirty feet.  This amazing room is where he works.

Tenzin, our Tibetan translator tells us that the lama’s job is putting together lost manuscripts.  The Chinese had scattered many of the libraries in the Potala and he has thousands of pages of manuscripts that he is trying to put back together like a giant literary jigsaw puzzle.  There are piles of texts on the floor, all of them wrapped in fabric where he has managed to reassemble the pages.  We get to stand with him for a few minutes and he lets us take pictures of the room, knowing full well no photographs are allowed inside the Potala and we take group pictures of all of us together with him.  It is a very large room and the walls are covered with ornate murals and the doorways all have elaborate woodwork around them with beautifully painted doors and traditional door handles.  I get Dan’s attention and tell him I have a question, he nods and Tenzin agrees to translate.  I feel like this guy has done us a big favor so I have Tenzin ask,

“Is there anything we can get you from America?”

“Yes, I need heart medicine.”

I am surprised and assume that he has a heart condition of some sort and needs medicines that he can’t get here in Tibet.  Then he looks at us and says,

“We need medicine for a broken heart, for all the young people.”

It is courageous of him to speak with us privately at all.  Here in Lhasa if a Tibetan monk talks to Westerners he can end up being interrogated by the Chinese who want a full report on everything that was said and he can even end up in jail as a result.  So I understand the pressure, the fire in the belly of being under constant oppression, of going to classes every month where they are forced to denounce the Dalai Lama and swear allegiance to China.  It is truly heartbreaking and my sympathy goes out to him and the Tibetan people who are forced into this awful situation.

 

 

 

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The William Gay archive

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William Gay was a friend.  After his death I ended up with his papers and have been, with the help of several friends, editing them for publication.  These include his great masterpiece Lost Country along with a novella titled Little Sister Death and a collection of short stories.  These have been compiled and edited and there are still two more novels, one titled Fugitives of the Heart and another, a detective story called Stoneburner, and finally a very early novel which is his first extant work.

So here are a few of the more poetic quotes we have run across as we were typing up and editing these books.

 

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William Gay’s Poetics

He drove the dark highways with the radio tuned to a country music station, he felt himself drowning, inured in woes in a most phantasmagoric landscape of lost love and betrayal until these folk became real to him, he one with them. Ultimately the night and the beer and the trusting black road and the music seemed to alter his very consciousness, making him a character in this single unending epic song that came to seem not to be a song at all but some folk stories whispered and told him by a vast and infinitely crowded cast of folk who moved irrevocably toward infidelity with masochistic glee and a dread and near mythic inevitability.

West Texas, night. A moon tracking high above him rendered the silver landscape cold and surreal. He stopped and cut the lights, the switch. Silence descended and he got out into it. The desert looked timeless. Save the dark highway beseeching it this could be the desert of ten thousand years ago or of some vague and unchartered future. He turned. The truck looked anomolaic, Fortean. Above him the dark bowl of the night sky was shot with pinholes of light. He urinated and lit a cigarette. The horizon where the highway and sky met tugged him gently as if bound to him by a webbing of an invisible wire and he got back into the truck and drove on.
Sometime after a while in the night he passed an enormous junkyard of wrecked cars. They lay crumpled and broken each in its allotted space. Splintered and glassless and bent as if dropped. Half asleep or hypnotized by the road coming at him as if from some inconceivable height there seemed something sinister about them, these useless discarded cartons death had come in.

Old men would come out that year at night and stare at the sky as if some sign might flare there briefly: stood out in the hazy blue dusk while fireflies moved like a spirit lights among the dark boles of trees and heat lightning flared and died, faint mocking thunder came tumbling roll on roll down the well of the sky. They listened to the sounds of the night as if encoded in the cries of insects might lurk some secret knowledge of the earth’s complexities, surely creatures of the night dwelt deeper in God’s favor than they. Sometimes along toward dawn clouds might form and offer surcease. Then the sun would rise over the jagged trees orange and malefic and its heat would fall like a weight. What clouds had formed would dissipate into faint wisps the sun burned away and ultimately the sky would be marvelously clear, a hot mocking blue.

He entered the outside. The night was clearing and there were patches of sky almost silver. Frogs called from some near pond, nightbirds took up the chorus. Whippoorwills from some deep hollow. He walked through the rubble, momentarily lost from the way he had come. The moon came partway out, Rorschach shards of clouds stringing over it medusalike, in the keep of some high wind unimaginable.

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Therianthropes

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Therianthropes are composite human and animals figures.  Only a very few have been found, there are five noted in the literature, and they are very famous and widely reported.  All of them have been found in deep hidden recesses.  Two  examples have been found in the Cave of the Three Brothers.  Of these one has a human body with a bison head, tail and hooves.  Another composite from the same cave has a human body with what appears to be an owls face and antlers.  Another very similar creature with a bison head and tail is found in the Cave of Gabillou.  This one and the bison headed therianthropes from the Cave of the Three Brothers are both in similar postures with one leg raised in what is assumed to be a dance posture.  They both have horned animal heads on human bodies with their sexual organs prominent.  Finally a fourth example is found in the shaft at Lascaux.  This one has a human body with a bird head.  These mysterious envoys have been regarded as masked shamans or divine creatures, as animal masters, as totems, as ancestral personifications of some force of nature, and as representatives of the archetypal energy of the ancestors that reaches back before humans were separated from the animals.  The fact that there are multiple images, albeit only a very few, signify its importance as a motif.  There is also the ivory statue of the Lionman who is another example, in a different medium, of a therianthropic design.

Figures of a part human, part animal appear on cave walls with various theriomorphic amalgamations.  These images have been taken to be masked shamans or mythic anthropomorphic creatures like a centaur.  These fantastic composite naked creatures, while very rare, are a reappearing motif, a stereotype sometimes horned, sometimes bird headed, sometimes dancing, often ithyphallic.  These grotesque, enigmatically symbolic creatures have deep roots in prehistory as hybrids of wild nature who were the divine rulers of the wilderness who survived as Pan, Faunus, Ganiklis, Myrddin, Mad Sweeny and Silvanus.  They were wildmen of the forests who, in later times, accepted sacrifices to protect the people and provide prophecies to warn them.  These phallic gods were fertility daimones who bring forth new life in the animal world as over lords of orgiastic festivals marking rebirth in nature.

These therioanthropic powers are at the chiasma that links the human with the spectrum of nature. At these deep roots symbols spontaneously manifest in an organic physiological process.  This salvific contact taps a power continuous with the whole of nature.  The birth of art is a conduit to the transpersonal connection, stimulating and infusing the human mind with the autogenous ectatic experience of the natural, primeval, oneric, unconscious, instinctive experience of nature.  They appear to be receptacles of powers unknown to our world, technicians of the sacred in an atemporal beyond at the cosmic threshold of the world of essence.

These therianthropic images are the mediating force penetrating the cosmic threshold to the world of essential nature.  They can be found only after a dangerous journey into the underworld where the threshold of awareness is opened to revelations.  Built by the tools that articulate symbolic capabilities outside normal experience they have an emergent inner order that serves to alter consciousness in a coincidence of opposites, uniting the great symbolic presence of  animal/human, inner/outer, below/above, and stillness/movement in a great ecstatic return to origins where the ancestors dwell as prophets of wisdom in a psychoidic realm of instinctual cosmic archetypes in the durative paradigmatic mythic realm.

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Machu Picchu

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Machu Picchu is one of the most spectacularly beautiful sites on earth, it is an ancient Inca ceremonial center perched on top of a narrow ridge surrounded by snow capped mountain peaks.  We were fortunate enough to get Ruben Orellana to meet us there, we had met Ruben the year before and had gone to a ceremony that he arranged with some elders from the highlands.  It was an traditional ritual offering to the mountain gods so that when we visited Machu Picchu it would be with the proper consecration.  Ruben is a Ph. D. archaeologist, born and raised in Cuzco, and he had been the head archaeologist at Machu Picchu for three years and discovered over forty outlying sites in the surrounding terrain and was an expert in the religious practices of the Inca tradition.  What i didn’t know until this trip was that he is a practicing shaman and started as a shaman’s apprentice as a young man.  We met him at Ollantytambo and rode the train to Agua Calentes where we took the first bus up the mountain to Machu Picchu.  He took us into his old office and showed us beautiful arial photos and read to us from some old Spanish documents.  He had found a reference to Machu Picchu in some old Spanish tax records and was documenting the fact that the Spanish did have some awareness of the site in the colonial days.  Then he took us up the path around a mountain ledge and suddenly Macchu Picchu came into view.  It is a stunning sight of awesome beauty, the main part of the city had a large stone wall protecting it.  We came up to the wall and stopped and as we were ready to enter the city I looked up into the clear blue noon day sky and saw a complete rainbow around the sun.  I had never seen anything like it, and pointed it out as we all gazed at it in amazement, I put my hand on Ruben’s shoulder, and said “good work Ruben”.

Once inside the city walls Ruben took us across the plaza through a complex of buildings into a large room where there are two stone cylinders carved out of the bedrock of the floor.  They are about four inches tall and fifteen inches wide with a lip about a quarter inch tall around the top edge, they were full of rain water when we first came upon them.  Bingham (the first archaeologist to excavate Machu Picchu) thought they were mortars where the women ground the corn and he took a famous picture of a young boy holding a pestle in one of them but Ruben pointed out that mortars were hollowed out in a concave manner and these have perfectly flat bottoms.  He said these were used as reflective mirrors for watching the sky, he said the room never had a roof that it was an observatory where by comparing the images in the two cylinders the ancient astronomers made calculations charting the movement of the stars, planets, sun and moon.  Then he instructed us to stand in such a way that we could see the sun reflected in the shallow pool of water.  I shifted around until i had the gleaming light of the sun reflected in the center of the pool as I stared at the reflection I noticed there was also a perfect circle of smaller suns reflected over and over around the outer lip in a radiant parhelion of gem like points of light, after a moment of concentration Ruben told us to close our eyes, and as I closed my eyes my vision filled with a deep bright red color field, he then asked us what colors we were seeing and each of us reported a different color.  He said that in the Andean traditions there is a color spectrum that runs through the body such that each part of the body is associated with a color and he asked us questions and diagnosed us based on the colors we experienced.  It was a marvelous room with an esoteric technology uniting the above and the below, reflecting outward to the distant cosmos and inward to the inner state of the body.

Then Reuben took us to an enclosed plaza at the far end of the city where the Pachamama stone stands.  It is a magnificent slab of stone over fifteen feet tall, it is one of the most striking example of the many mirror stones that are found all around Machu Picchu.  They are special stones erected by the Inca in such a way that they stand out against the horizon reproducing in silhouette the outline of the mountain peaks in the distance, echoing an eidetic contour of the distant horizon.  They served as shrines to the mountain gods, the mountains were considered living beings and the echo stones were a part of their worship.  Ruben had us stand across the plaza and told us to focus on the top edge of the stone, I looked at it and traced the outline with my eyes, concentrated my attention, and watched as the mountains in the background went out of focus.  Ruben went over to the stone and at one end of it where it slopes down to meet the ground he rubbed his hand along the top edge and said, ‘look here, look here’.  As he said that I saw a blue line appear along the top of the stone like a deep blue neon light then I squinted my eyes and the blue light ran the entire length of the stone, a beautiful deep blue not the blue of the sky but a more psychedelic neon blue like an aura radiating from the stone, a visionary moment,  produced by nothing more than a shaman saying,  “look here, look here”

 

 

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The Price of Beauty

“The price of beauty is potential disaster..”  Donald Kuspit

 

there is something strange about beauty

something so transcendental

it creates a breach in normal perception

an opening into a beguiling unknown

that rises up out of the mundane

so quickly

it can be dizzying

even frightening

sometimes terrifying

beauty has an urgent vulnerability

an uncanny poignancy

and no secure identity

it is inherently fragile

constantly questioning itself

and the price of its spontaneity

is the impending peril

of constant change

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Thunderstones

In Europe up until the late seventeenth century when ancient stone artifacts such as flint points and hand axes were found in the fields they were called thunderstones and it was assumed that they were produced by lightning.  There were even eye witness accounts of stones falling from the sky during lightning storms or being found where lightning had struck the earth.  There was an assumption based upon the Biblical account in the book of Genesis that humans had learned metallurgy soon after the creation of Adam and Eve.  These stones, also known as ceraunia, were found all over Europe.  Scholars like the Swiss naturalist Konrad Gesner described them in a published account titled De rerum fossilium figuris in 1565 where he referred to one being found after a thunderstorm in Vienna some years earlier.  Local people who found them kept them as talisman that would protect them from lightning.  Thunderstones are mentioned in Shakespeare’s play Cymbeline (IV.ii 258-263) written in 1610 when one of the characters is lamenting the death of the King’s daughter and says,

Fear no more the lightning-flash

Nor th’ all-dreaded thunder-stone.

Fear not slander, censure rash.

Thou hast finish’d joy and moan

All lovers young, all lovers must

Consign to thee, and come to dust

However, there were astute scholars who took note that there were numerous references in ancient history to the use of flint knives, Herodotus mentioned that the Egyptians used flint blades, Livy described the use of flint daggers in warfare and even the Bible made a reference to the use of flint blades for circumcision.  Then, after the discovery of the new world, as accounts and artifacts from the Indian tribes of North and South American began to flow back to Europe, it was apparent they had no metal and were using flint arrowheads and knives.  The first scholar to recognize this evidence and draw the conclusion that people in antiquity manufactured the thunderstones as weapons and tools was Michele Mercati who wrote an account titled, Metallotheca, which he completed in 1593.  He used ethnographic information from the Americas along with information from historical sources and made careful comparisons between the so-called thunderstones and the flint artifacts from the Indians of the New World to demonstrate that the thunderstones were in fact  weapons and tools made by early Europeans.  However his work was not published outside the Vatican library until 1719 so his conclusions were not widely known. None-the-less he was the first to document that thunderstones were not produced by lightning but were the work of humans who existed prior to the use of metal.   By 1723 Laurent de Jussieu wrote a book called On the Origin and Use of Thunderstones that laid the groundwork for comparative archeology by showing a detailed comparison of stone artifacts from primitive cultures now being found in other parts of the world with the stones in the various collections in Europe and concluded that Europe had been inhabited by more primitive peoples who made flint and stone artifacts.

By the early nineteenth century a number of prominent scholars were finding stone tools in association with the bones of animals long extinct.  The evidence of stratigraphy where stone tools were found in layers of earth buried deep below the surface added more credibility.  Yet even then they had little idea what to make of these tools.  They were referred to as antediluvian and Celtic.  The Biblical model of creation and the flood still dominated their thinking.  The bones of elephants, rhinoceros and hippopotamus continued to be found in France and England.  By 1863 Sir Charles Lyell published his work Geological Evidence of the Antiquity of Man which provided overwhelming evidence of the use of the stone tools among ancient inhabitants of Europe.

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The Birth of Art

Homo sapiens appeared in Europe having traveled out of Africa, migrating gradually through the Middle East up into Turkey and from there west into Europe where they arrived sometime before 40,000 BP.  Once they reached the river valleys of southern Germany works of art begin to appear in the archaeological record.  Nowhere previous to this time and nowhere along the migration route has anything resembling sculptures or paintings been found.  The earliest works of art presently known are from caves found in the Lone and Ach River Valleys.  These include beautifully done carvings from mammoth ivory of a horse, a mammoth, a buffalo and a lion.  These four have been dated to 40,000 BP.  These animals figurines are the oldest known artworks on the globe.  The most interesting figurine found in this area is the Lionman found in Hohlenstein-Stadel cave.  It is a ivory figurine nearly twelve inch tall of a lion with a  human body.  Found in small pieces in 1939, it was neglected due to the war and then forgotten about until 1988 when the fragments were found in a box in a dusty bin in the back of a museum and were reconstructed.  When the importance of the find was immediately recognized they went back to the cave and sieved the dirt and found hundreds more pieces which are still being painstakingly assembled.  It has been dated to 35,000 to 40,000 year BP.  It is the first statue ever discovered in the archaeological record of an imaginary being that is a composite creature, part human and part animal.  The oldest known human figure is the well known Venus of Hohle Fels, a large busted female with exaggerated genitals that was excavated and dated to at least 35,000 BP.

 

Early Paleolithic female figurine

Early Paleolithic female figurine

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Pristine Awareness

the exaltation of here and now

resolves

releases

and fulfills

experience

into the unconditioned consummation

of concentrated absorption

without recourse

to habits

prejudices

or old opinions

this subtle method

invites the unequivocal congruence

of good and bad

right and wrong

matter and spirit

up and down

in and out

either and or

belief and disbelief

space and time

making no discriminations

in the spontaneous display

of this unpredictably creative

pristine awareness

at the root of all experience

 

 

in the empire of the mind

there is nothing

not free

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