HABITATIONS OF THE GREAT GODDESS
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by Cristina Biaggi, Ph.D.
Hardcover, 201 pages, fully illustrated with approximately 250 b&w and 69 color illustrations
Publication date: October 1994
"This important study of the architecture of the Goddess corrects common misconceptions and distortions advanced by other scholars, while building a powerfully convincing view of the world of the Neolithic Goddess. Combining impeccable original scholarship with a personal journey, Biaggi presents a detailed, sensitive, accurate, and loving portrait of tombs, temples, dwellings, and sculpture inspired by the Great Goddess from Malta to the Shetland Islands" (Mimi Lobell)
|The following is an excerpt from the introduction of "Habitations of the Great Goddess" by Dr. Cristina Biaggi.|
|(The following is an excerpt from the introduction of Habitations of the Great Goddess by Dr. Christina Biaggi.)
There are few equivalents of Gothic cathedrals or Indian stupas--places in which divinity and faith are palpable--to aid us in our quest. When we look for such centers of worship in Anatolia, in the Aegean or in the well-populated Danubian basin and its hinterlands, we come away with numerous indications of the Great Goddess and many clues as to the role She played in the daily lives of the people of those regions. With the concrete evidence of the megalithic temples of Malta, we will have full and convincing confirmation of Her presence and power.
This book, however, is for readers with an interest in the Great Goddess and the feminine principle, who want answers to questions about life, death and rebirth, about the concept of deity and the role of religion in ancient society. Nearly a decade of personal fieldwork and research has convinced me that a unique religious vision produced the cohesive and continued force that led Neolithic peoples to devote huge amounts of energy to the construction of enduring and deeply impressive tombs and temples. In Malta that vision strikes the sympathetic students of prehistory with a particular force. Only when the Great Goddess is moved from the margin of prehistory to the center do we recognize a context and an explanatory power that gave rise to the structures that even now, across the centuries, amaze us.
We cannot make the non-stop journey from Malta to the Orkneys and Shetlands without being painfully aware of the vast expanse of Europe that we pass over. Sardinia, Southern Italy, the Mediterranean and Atlantic shores of Spain, the Breton peninsula, Ireland and the Scottish mainland are rich in megalithic tombs and shrines. Here too the literature ranges from the recent and accessible to the specialized and scarce. The Goddess has left her imprint throughout this vast swath of territory. Tombs number in the thousands, and those above ground represent a challenging array of type, construction and alignment. Because illustrations of megalithic tombs and temples, including those of the Orkney and Shetland structures, are scattered throughout many different monographs and specialized publications, I thought it important to illustrate this text in full as few readers have access to research libraries or can make trips to the sites.
The central and most puzzling issue that this book addresses is the reappearance in the Orkneys, and especially in the Shetlands, of structures that reflect major elements of classic Maltese temple design. This fact is the more puzzling because we do not find a continuing and clearly marked evolution of the form on mainland sites. Why, we may ask, did Neolithic peoples journey so far north and settle on islands presenting at best a harsh environment of little sun, constant wind and long winters? It is difficult to imagine the Orkneys and Shetlands as a trade entrepot or as producing an exportable excess of foodstuffs. We must question how populations limited in size by available food resources could devote the time and energy required to construct the tombs and build and maintain the temple structures.
Ironically, we can ask the same questions of the Maltese. We have to divorce ourselves from the image of a sun-kissed, fertile island. Malta is composed entirely of limestone. The topsoil is at best scant and of no great fertility. Water resources are minimal and tree cover nil. We have no evidence of Neolithic Maltese industries; the island did not possess such valued resources as obsidian or dyestuffs. Though easily accessible from the Aegean, Sicily, Sardinia, the Italian mainland and the North African littoral, Malta offers no evidence of having been a point at which trade routes met or crossed.
The island-as-sanctuary is a recurrent fact in human history. Islands too small for economic value have frequently become religious sanctuaries. Lindisfarne, Iona and Holy Isle, all off the shores of Great Britain, demonstrate this. Mont St. Michel off the northern coast of France and Delos in Greece are also part of the sacred island tradition. Mount Athos, a peninsula rather than an island, is another example. Malta and the Orkneys and Shetlands are, of course, much greater in extent and in economic potential than the islets just noted. But they are distant from the mainstream of human movement and commerce. We can surely ask whether they owe their rich archaeological heritage in part to this fact, Were they indeed islands of sanctuary, remote places where life centered on religion and ritual?
If this is the case, as I believe, then Malta and the Orkneys and Shetlands merit major reassessment. Where religious activity is most concentrated, we might reasonably expect to find it in its purest and most pervasive forms. A sympathetic consideration of the role of the Great Goddess in the life of these island societies can contribute much to our understanding of Neolithic peoples.
To commence this account of the Great Goddess with the tombs and temples in which people celebrated the great recurring cycle of birth, death and rebirth puts the lay readers at a disadvantage, asking them to accept the Goddess at the height of Her power without evidence of the earlier growth of Her religion. Space does not allow for a retelling of the complex and many-faceted story of humankind's earliest images of the Goddess. The most famous Venus images--the Willendorf Venus, the Lespugue Venus and the Venus of Laussel--can be found in many reference books and will provide the reader with at least a starting point and a basic reference for personal explorations of the earlier evolution of the Great Goddess.