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The Civilization of the Goddess

Categorized in these topics: Women in Collaboration

Response Paper
October 10, 2002

Marija Gimbutas' landmark text, The Civilization of the Goddess, introduces the reader to European Neolithic prehistory and the communities that worshipped a self-generating Goddess. By Neolithic she means " ' New stone' age in which humans lived a settled life, used ground stone tools, and produced their own food by the cultivation of crops and the domestication of animals (434)." By Goddess-worship, she means a society that celebrated a mother-tradition with emphasis on the life-giving power of women. Much of her work involved analysis and interpretation of the symbols found in this culture, and it was those symbols that spoke the loudest to me when beginning to understand this culture.

Marija Gimbutas was an extraordinary female archaeologist. Her work was revolutionary, and in some areas remains so to this day. She relied on her female-based intuition to assist her in choosing which sites to excavate, a process that her male peers found unscientific and ridiculous. Yet her intuitions often proved correct. She did, however, scientifically prove that the creative power of the female is the source of life and dates back to prehistoric times. According to Gimbutas, "The Great Mother Goddess who gives birth to all creation out of the holy darkness of her womb became a metaphor for Nature herself, the cosmic giver and taker of life, ever able to renew Herself within the eternal cycle of life, death, and rebirth (222)."

The concept of the Goddess was something unexplored and new to me. I approached The Civilization of the Goddess with a fair amount of scientific distance and quite an unfair amount of criticism and stigma. In essence, I viewed Gimbutas' work no differently than how her male peers perceived her. Reading the text, I was initially overwhelmed with the amount of information presented, the archaeological terms, and the concepts of a female-based religion. However, I was initially drawn to the chapter "Religion of the Goddess," for it explained many of the concepts behind these civilizations, such as the symbology, the assortment of Goddesses, and the functions of the temples and tombs. My intention was to absorb as much information as possible so that I would have some understanding for when I would visit the sites in Europe.

No amount of study could have prepared me for my experiences at the Goddess sites. Those that I visited-- Gavrinis, Carnac, and Chartes of France, the Bogamils of Bosnia, Ggantija, Tarxien, Hagar Qim, Hal Saflieni hypogeum, and Mnajdra of Malta-spoke volumes themselves. The symbols that abound throughout the temples demonstrate the significance placed on women and mother earth: spirals representing regeneration, columns symbolizing trees of life, triangles suggesting the pubic trinity of female reproduction, and goddesses with egg-shaped legs denoting fertility. The carvings inside the passage grave in Gavrinis resembled cell structure as viewed under a microscope, and as I sat in the darkness the walls throbbed with the energy of life. The double temples of Ggantija, one larger and one smaller, symbolized the transformation as a woman from daughter to mother. Now, as I page through Gimbutas' book, the symbols and meaning of this culture jump off the pages with such personal reverence.

The fact that the female was the deity of creation is demonstrated through the study of such symbols in Neolithic art. The Goddess is represented with exaggerated breasts, vulva, and buttocks, the areas of her body that hold her procreative powers, while there is no evidence of a father figure. Gimbutas considers her to be parthenogenetic, that is, creating life out of herself (223). Remnants of this "Virgin Goddess" are evident in Christianity today with the Virgin Mary.

The symbology of a birthing woman can be found in our terrestrial land; for example, caves represent the womb, curves found in nature represent the curves of a woman's body. So the seasons of our mother earth represent the gestation of pregnancy: "pregnant in Spring, ripening into the birth of harvest, her fruited vines cut like umbilical cords and celebrated in autumn are beliefs that are thousands of years old (228)." The most important lesson gathered from The Civilization of the Goddess is that symbols are everywhere, patiently waiting to be recognized.


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