It was bumper to bumper traffic on the L.A. freeway and I was listening to Neil Diamond singing how “L.A.’s fine, the sun shines most the time and the feeling is laid back.” Well the sun was shining but I wasn’t feeling at all laid back. My only thought was to get off the freeway so I took the next exit without thinking. I wound up on Hollywood Blvd and decided to stop in at Pickwick’s Bookshop. I was browsing around the archeology section looking at Max Mallowan’s Memoirs when a dowdy looking woman in her mid-fifties said to me: “You don’t want to waste your time with that. Trying reading this.” And from the shelves she whipped out The Gate of Horn by Gertrude Rachel Levy. “So just what is this gate of horn that’s so interesting?” I asked. “In Greek times,” she responded, “there were two kinds of dreams, those that come through gates made of horn which were true dreams and those that come through gates made of ivory that were deceptive. Socrates, for example, took his dreams very seriously and always asked himself which gate they’d come through.”
An hour later I found myself in a coffee shop completely mesmerized by this woman. Her name was Marija Gimbutas and she was an archeologist from Lithuania now teaching at UCLA.
One night, after the Soviet invasion of 1940, many of Marija’s family members and friends were deported to Siberia. The 19 year old Marija and her mother went into hiding and Marija joined the Underground Resistance Movement before marrying and starting a family. But that didn’t keep her from pursuing her studies. In 1944 the Soviets forced them to escape and live as refugees. Finally Marija and her family immigrated to the U.S. where eventually she got a job at Harvard translating Eastern European archeological texts for American professors.
As a young girl, Marija spent her summers in the country where she watched with joy the old women who sang as they used their sickles. Marija began documenting these songs as well as other Lithuanian folklore. She was determined to preserve the folk traditions of her country that were being destroyed by foreign occupation.
Her studies led to the idea that civilization is based on the creation and not the destruction of what’s valuable. And who better represents the concept of creation than the Goddess. “The Goddess”, said Marija,” in all her manifestations was a symbol of the unity of all life in Nature. Her power was in water and stone, in tomb and cave, in animals and birds, snakes and fish, hill, trees, and flowers.”
Unfortunately, not everyone had respect for goddesses. Old Europeans, she said, were matrilinear, peaceful, and practiced equality. The Indo-Europeans from the Russian steppes, instead, were patriarchal, warlike, and imposed hierarchical rule. Coming from north of the Black Sea, by 5000 B.C., these nomadic pastoralists had domesticated horses thus increasing their mobility. And they used this mobility to pillage and plunder. And destroy.
Daughters of Eve.
Once women were worshipped because lives were created inside their bodies. In reverence of this power of regeneration, little female votive statues were made in abundance. One of the best known is that of Willendorf dating c. 25,000 B.C.
Then the Judeo-Christian Bible story with its story of creation changed everything. Genesis, written in c. 250 B.C., blames Eve for all the evils in the world. Eve, as with all the women to come, must be eternally punished. This is the beginning of female criminalization and the role of the goddess who had ruled spirituality for c. 24,750 years had come to an end.
Adam and Eve lived in the Garden of Eden where living was easy. There was only one rule—they couldn’t eat from the fig tree. But a snake convinced Eve to eat a fig because it would make her all-knowing. She shared her figs with Adam. Then God arrived and said they had to be punished for their disobedience and kicked them out of the garden.
Knowledge has its price.
In Neolithic Europe, snakes were worshipped. A snake hibernates during the winter, sheds its skin then starts all over again. The snake thus symbolized the life continuum.
Demeter was the goddess of agriculture. One day Hades kidnapped her daughter, Persephone. In her despair, Demeter neglected her duties as a goddess and the seasons stopped causing the crops to die. Preoccupied, Zeus sent Hermes to the underworld to make a deal with Hades to get Persephone back. A compromise was made—Persephone was to spend part of the year above ground and part of the year below. Just like a snake.
Women, not men, dominated the Minoan culture. At Knossos, there were no fortifications, walled citadels, or temples dedicated to gods. There was no indication of a hierarchical society. But there was evidence that snakes were revered as seen by the Minoan Snake Goddess statues.
Asclepius was the Greek god of medicine and often used snake venom to heal people. Thus a snake wrapped around a rod is his symbol. The Staff of Asclepius continues to be used today in association with medicine and health care.
Asclepius’ wife Epione as well as his daughters, Hygeia and Panacea, also lived by the Hippocratic Oath. Over 300 Asclepeion temples were built where patients sometimes were put to sleep using snake venom to provoke “incubation” sleep. Gods and goddesses were more likely to appear if the patient was in an altered state of consciousness.
The hallucinogenic properties of snake venom were also known to Pythia (from “python”), the high priestess at Delphi. She was the oracle everyone sought when illumination was needed.
It’s no wonder then that once there was an abundance of snake imagery.
(from Cool Breeze, aka The Age of Reconfiguration ©)
Related: The World of the Goddess, Marija Gimbutas video + Signs out of time, the story of archeologist Marija Gimbutas video + Hollywood Boulevard Bookstore Follies Part 3 + Joseph Campbell & Marija Gimbutas Library