In the rich soup of neglect and a collapsing economy, Bosnia becomes richer in archetypal lore.
Posted Tuesday, April 14, 2009, 10:41 AM
The first witch was Bosnian. Goddesses, witches, and Bosnian women have always had a sacred affinity and common, ancient origins. In Old Europe, as Marija Gimbutas documented, goddesses were manifested not only in zoomorphic figures but were also embodied in every aspect of life. Today, in the aftermath of bloody civil war, She is still living despite efforts to eliminate all traces of her.
Marija Gimbutas, a classical archaeologist, was the first to understand that the Goddess of Upper Paleolithic birthed the first witch in Old Europe. The goddesses from the Upper Paleolithic period have now evolved into war-wizened Bosnian women who sweep with their natural brooms in the land of the Balkans. Marija had an incredibly intuitive and profound grasp of "Old Europe" and of the Vinca Bird Goddess. Gimbutas termed Bosnia "the cradle of spiral art."
Symbolic manifestations of the Bird Goddess/witch are everywhere. The spiral is still found in most Bosnian women's embroidery. The spiral casts a spell that expresses life. When carrying out my psychotherapeutic work in Bosnia, I showed the Bosnian women pictures of the Old Europe spirals; many of them were shocked to see the very same symbols that they still use in their embroideries and decorations!
My mother and all my ancient mothers are Slavic women. I spent most of my life as a Bosnian American eschewing the domination of patriarchy. It was my work with Post Traumatic Stress syndrome combined with my research into Bosnian archeomythologies that brought me back to my ancestral home in 1999. There I learned that I am a Bosnian witch.
When I am in circle (kolo in Bosnian) with my Bosnian sisters, their experiences are woven into mine and I am forever marked and changed. You evolve each time you hold the Bosnian women's hands in the kolo, seeing their eyes moist with suffering and their heaving chests puffing irregularly. Sharing the round fat bread called "Pogucha" and drinking small cups of rich, dark and thick coffee in the kolo are alchemical in nature. Transforming the mundane and the ordinary into the extraordinary is the law that operates within the kolo.
I will never forget my early journeys into Bosnia.
It was cold when I arrived in Bosnia in March 1999. I remember how NATO's SFOR tanks rolled along the highways. The main artery that I frequently traveled is aptly called "Death Highway." When I saw the burned-out and bombed shells of the homes along cement roads filled with craters and potholes, I wondered how there could be any kind of life.
Vivid slashes of blackened homes with gaping holes for windows all brought me to my knees, telling evidence of Luce Irigaray's premise that men in the patriarchy need to abolish all traces of the female symbol system. I was heavy with the weight of seeing how warrior efforts have been put into the erasure of anything remotely feminine, from the destruction of home and hearth to the rape and sexual mutilation that have always been the trademarks of warfare.
NATO's bombing of the Republic of Serbia were the backdrop for my development of a cultural clinical trauma treatment bathed in feminist archetypal psychology.. I worked long days and nights whenever I went to Novi Travnik, Bosnia. I didn't hear the bombs dropping in Serbia. I was met with frantic calls from my husband as CNN broadcasted reports about the NATO bombing next door to Bosnia, but I was oblivious to it all. Bosnia is as war- torn now as it was during the civil war if not worse, because of 8 years' of a deteriorating economy and utter neglect.
Tragic in contrast to the surrounding destruction, signs of life appeared in the aftermath of war. I saw brooms, pestle and mortars, herbs, breads and the spiral symbol everywhere. These alchemical tools in the hands of Bosnian women linked the Neolithic past to the present day. I found embodied experiences in the stories of the women, in their embroideries, their traditional breads, and in their daily cups of thick steaming Bosnian coffee. I found myself embarking on a very sacred pilgrimage. I knew I must have been called to learn something very important. I did not know what I was called to do at the time, but felt that the reason would soon unfold.
In the rich soup of neglect and a collapsing economy, Bosnia becomes richer in archetypal lore.
Homes, Hearth and Hestia-Female symbols
The home is the aspect of the goddess Hestia and it makes sense that the wars now raging here hit more civilians and homes then ever before. Bosnia embodied in actuality a message which screamed "misogyny."
The sagging, destroyed homes trying to stand erect in the Bosnian towns dramatized the bloody murder of the feminine and her symbols. Sometimes, I wished for bombs to hit the grenade-damaged homes that now had trees growing in them, to erase this violent statement depicting hatred of anything feminine. But with the bombs still falling next door to Bosnia, I felt a quiver of utter shame snake through the trembling Bosnian earth and I retracted my thought.
"No more bombs on homes!" became my soul's cry. I thought of my own home, where my spirit lovingly caressed all within those walls. Many of the Bosnian women have been refugees for up to 8 or 9 years without their homes. Homeless, they are the victims of matricide.
The destruction of the families' spiritual houses was also a goal of warring factions. In the village of Amjica near Vittez, the Mosque was shattered and lying in fragments on the dusty ground, a sight which evoked powerful emotions in my group. Their knowledge that the Yugoslav War Tribunal had recently sentenced two Croatians for murdering 150 Muslims during the civil war offered little solace.
I translated the graffiti message left on the destroyed Mosque. It read: "Death to your f_____ Turkish mother." I felt it was actually saying "death to all mothers." The razed mosque was a reminder of the global fear of the divine feminine. Yet, as I worked with the Bosnian women, I felt an embodied spirituality emerging from such stark reminders. It was a witches' brew for her cauldron to manifest abundant new life from the horror. More than any of my other feminist sacred pilgrimage tours, Bosnia was a return to the first mother and a return to the feminine.
I was finding focus, and in my lens I glimpsed the Bosnian witch's home lying in ruins but still very much alive.
Bosnia was once the center of Old Europe where there had been no wars for thousands of years. As I bore witness to the latest carnage in Bosnia, I gasped at the wide difference between the wars raging here, with their failure to honor the feminine, and the knowledge that Bosnian women's lineage hailed from Neolithic times, and that these women had Amazon blood coursing through their veins.
Old Europe six thousand years past was one of peace and gender acceptance. But all that my mother and her mother ever knew was world wars and a bloody civil war. The last four generations were embroiled in wars. Germaine Greer wrote that the definition of feminism could be found in first person story. I asked, how was this possible that no one ever listened to the last four generations of women's story?
The main thrust of the work/study program was to explore and bear witness to Bosnian women's wisdom. These women could heal themselves and the community. The conference participants came face to face with the Bosnian witch.
She was everywhere. Sometimes she was in the faces of little Bosnian children playing in the bombed sidewalks of Novi Travnik or she was reflected in the faces of the women carrying wood to heat their homes.
She was barely 28 years of age and already pregnant with her second child. Talking in whispers and helping her daughter to eat the chocolates that I brought to Bosnia, this young woman spoke of how her husband lost 18 relatives in a single night at Amjica-Vittez. Her eyes spoke mostly with tears ready to spill.
Although, she never opened a single psychology book, she knew far more then I. Her husband is changed and angry, she reports. His nightmares terrify her, him and their child. She places her hand on her swollen belly and looks me in the eye. "This child will only know this murder and hatred. I need to replace this fear with love."
She took my magic marker and pulled up her blouse and pushed down her pants to draw the spiral around her navel. Her daughter then kissed the spiral and smeared it with chocolate. I knew that the spell was finally completed and I was there to bear witness to her story.
Novi Travnik's Sumejja Kolo elder Suzanna spoke about telling the "universe" of their struggle and suffering. Touring the body of Bosnia required taking in archetypal elements so vivid and so clear in psychic material that, many times, the small conference group was overwhelmed by emotions. Nothing could have prepared them for what they would experience, feel, or see.
Daily Acts-Reading the Cups
Black, strong and thick, Bosnian coffee is served steaming in demitasse cups. Bosnians place sugar between their teeth as they sip the hot liquid, raking breaths in-between sips. The Bosnian women refugees breathed life into my soul in their daily acts of drinking coffee together.
I started to re-member my ancient feminine heritage while in their circles. I found that I had a point of entry into innate wisdom and into clinical trauma practice while I was reading coffee cups.
Anyone who listens deeply here in Bosnia will be elementally changed. Often, after reading their cups, I beheld a truthful story completely unadulterated by cultural dogma which negates the feminine. It was as if someone had wiped my camera lens so clean that each image was sharply focused at the bottom of his or her cup.
Cup reading was the map to the origin of the first witch; the pictures traced the shared wisdom thousands of years old. back through our mothers and daughters to the Neolithic so long ago.
Gimbutas unearthed the iconography from archeological sites but Bosnian witches knew that all we have to do is look at the bottom of the cups to see that.
Their ancient Bosnian mothers first taught divination of the cups. First, these ancient Bosnian mothers read the ashes beneath the raging fires in the belly of their beehive ovens. Soon after, they threw wet clay in vessel-shapes into the fire. Bosnian women today are still fashioning cups from the earth and plying tree branches into brooms to sweep ashes as they did in Neolithic times. These seemingly ordinary and mundane elements are steps in the witches' recipes for breathing life into war-torn lives.
The women from Sbrenica eased their wait of six years and consulted the divine when they rested and drank coffee. This is a way of centering and not just a matter of drinking the thick black coffee. After six years, Sbrenica women have become experts in the field of war trauma, bearing witness to each other's lives each time they read their cups; this is a Bosnian way of healing their wounds.
The Cup marks on ancient homes and ancient Megaliths attest to the ritual of drinking coffee and teas. The fact that the Bosnian women and I were reading the cups to this day celebrates the great round and the return/remembrance of the first ancient mother, the divine feminine.
Brooms and Branches Brew
To this day, the elderly Bosnian wise women sweep with brooms made of natural tree branches just like their sisters did six thousand years ago. Often the craggy women in scarves decorated with tree branches and dressed in black could be seen sweeping in front of their homes. When I asked these craggy-faced Bosnian women if they minded sweeping every day, they usually told me of a recent past where the war would not allow them the luxury of such ordinary activities.
One elder woman snapped that until recently she didn't even have a broom or the ability to make one because snipers made this impossible.
Sweeping with the broom means taking the ordinary into the spiritual, for this breathed life into their existence. All the same indicators and clusters of symbolic events and figures such as the broom, cauldrons and mortar and pestles for their magic were found in ancient "Old Europe"-- Bosnia. Witches whose tools of the trade were found within the "Old Europe" Bosnian homes map a lineage hailing from the Bosnian Bird Goddess and the Horned Snake Goddess.
Plants, Pestle and Mortars
Despite the intensely violent civil war which sought to erase every vestige of a feminine heritage, the remnants remain deep in the collective unconscious of the Bosnian wise women who survived the carnage. An elder woman in Novi Travnik's circle of women spoke of how her mortar and pestle pounded herbs and teas for her starving family. She said they survived on her knowledge of plants and where to find them.
Gimbutas reminds us of the ancient wisdom of plants with the miniature oven from the Vinca culture (former Yugoslavia, c. 5000-4500 BC) which symbolically rendered the Grain Goddess with a large open mouth decorated with meanders and spirals.
To survive the holocaust of the civil war, many Bosnian women picked herbs from the mountainsides and made teas with their pestles and mortars to stave off hunger and death. I recognized I was witnessing a consolidation of aspects of the Bird Goddess. The war made the alchemical properties of ordinary tools such as the mortar and pestle even more extraordinary.
At our conference, one elder Bosnian wise woman showed us each plant and how they still handpick their teas. Translating the ancient given names of plants, the elder woman used names like "Mother's Milk" while another plant was named "universal wisdom." I was peering into the Neolithic as we foraged the mountainsides together.
Images of the Bird Goddess and the Horned Snake Goddess
Images, or what Marija Gimbutas called Iconography, allows for the matristic to rebirth itself. Madonna and/or Mother and child sculptures are one of the many icons that can easily evoke the Great Mother.
When I look deeply into the Bosnian grandmother's face, I see how the Bird Goddess image remains intact. The craggy lines and wrinkles worked by air, earth and fire etched the image more deeply for all of us to see. The fingers of the wise and ancient Bosnian women fashioned vessels which embodied the spiral's message of life and of the womb.
Figurines with their heads of clay had neatly-incised hair and reflected the symbolic forms of the triangle; the dots were so naturalistically rendered that, despite the beaked nose forms and long necks, the figurines mirrored the human face of the divine feminine. The ancients knew the obvious; just because there is a figure of the Goddess it does not mean the Goddess is that. Rather, She was all matter of things.
Despite the bombed-out homes and streets, impossibly high unemployment, and no money, these Bosnian women breathed life where there was none to be found.
Story Spoken, Oral rites of passage
Myths are mystical and magical. The ancients wanted to portray each aspect of the Bird Goddess and Horned Snake Goddess. But these symbolic forms of the divine feminine's invisible body (wind, sky) also needed to portray the breath of the spirit that always incubates life.
When I heard their stories of the last century's terrible wars, I knew that the oral tradition that had sustained their feminine heritage was again being spoken.
The Bosnian peoples today know little of the Bird Goddess or of these ancient precedents or archeological sites. The Bosnian women in my kolo-circles absorbed Gimbutas's books as if they were made of gold. In my clinical work and research treatment of severe trauma with Bosnian refugees, I found that many of the women retained a collective ancient memory of the Bird Goddess and the Horned Snake Goddess.
The Bosnian wise women's memory was already threaded in their embroidery and oral stories.
The Bird Goddess and the Horned Snake Goddess re-activate an intimate memory birthed from interactive and connective relationships. I know that intimacy is about paying great attention to details and bearing witness to each other.
My work/study conference tour embodied the archetypes and bore intimate witness to first person story. My curriculum for the work/study tour was a Bosnian witch's recipe for transformation.
As an active witness, I saw how symbiogeneses (the taking of new forms and evolving into a new organism) was the Bosnian wise women's story of evolving from a terrible civil war and of becoming stronger women.
Clinically, I was trying to move the stagnant energy of suffering into meaningfulness. I was threading the ancient symbols and archetypes back into the Bosnian women's healing. The Bosnian witches of old knew that we couldn't see our divine feminine stature in words or linear rational logic. This is why the natural broom is still fashioned to this day in Bosnia along with the bee-hive fireplace; the mortars and pestles nearby the hearth contain the stature of the divine feminine.
Apply for a fourteen-day work/study program in Bosnia. A three-day period within that time will provide a platform to heal through first person stories. There is a call for papers and presentations for this conference as well. Come and experience the Bird Goddess and the Horned Snake Goddess -- the first witch at home in the war torn fields of Bosnia.