Sunday, December 2, 2012

Half the Sky and Yonis

"Ancient Midwives" (2008)

“There was a time when you were not a slave, remember that. You walked alone, full of laughter, you bathed bare-bellied. You say you have lost all recollection of it, remember . . . You say there are no words to describe this time, you say it does not exist. But remember.   Make an effort to remember.  Or, failing that, invent.”― Monique Wittig
Meg Ryan:  "Would you allow your son to marry a girl who has not been cut?"
Somali mother:  "No. God doesn't allow her not to be circumcised."
From Half of the Sky  Documentary (2012)
I watched Half of the Sky  again, the extraordinary documentary that aired on National Geographic and was produced by journalists Nicolas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, as it is now available on Netflix.  Once again I was impressed with how important this documentary is, how tragic in its scope, and how inspiring to encounter women who have lived through such experiences and become heroes.  What is most inspiring is to realize that at last the terrible inequity of women, especially in poor nations, is at last being addressed.  But there is so very far to go.  This documentary cuts no corners.   As an artist and a feminist, it renews my sense of the importance of  the Return of the Goddess, the need we all have to participate in re-mything culture.
I was particularly impressed with the sequence in Somalia where actress Meg Ryan worked with an amazing Somali nurse who has opened a hospital in Somaliland for women.  She is training midwives, as Somalia has the highest rate of birth fatalities in the world.  Besides malnutrition and lack of any prenatal care, the primary cause for maternal fatality has to do with the fact that girls are castrated from the age of 9 to 13,  in other words their clitoris and labia are cut off and part of their vaginal opening is sutured closed, with the result that scar tissue often causes great difficulty in birth, as well as other health problems like fibula, not to mention that many girls die of infection from the brutal procedure.

How terrible to imagine a deity  that demands women not only cover themselves for shame, but  that women  be punished for having female genitals, the literal source of life, at 7, or 8, or 9 years old?  How terrible to think that this is so in the 21st century, right here and now, and not in some distant feudal past. There are approximately 100 million girls and women who have had this done to them in Africa and the Middle East.  100 million!   And to view this documentary, to see the magnitude of the practice of selling little girls, as young as 4 years old, into to realize that slavery never ended.

And although we are so much more fortunate,  it's important to remember that there are people in Congress right now who want to take away birth control and health benefits, such as mammograms,  from women, who would force a young girl  who has been raped to bear a child.   We need to re-myth our world indeed,  because as the authors of this documentary point out, this is the moral issue of our time.  That's what the Return of the Goddess is about.

Large Carved Yoni on Indian Hill, Anza-Borrego
 Ironically,  I have been interested lately in a archaeological site not far from San Diego, which I was writing about before I viewed HALF THE SKY.  There are a number of native American rock carvings there that they call Yonis**, from the Hindu word for female genitalia.  They are, according to local researchers, "thought to be associated with female fertility".  I think, personally, these Yonis, which can be found world-wide, go beyond tribal women seeking  fertility, and represent a paradigm of reverence for the divine feminine and the processes of birth/death/birth inherant in the Earth, a reverence that  we have lost in patriarchal gender imbalance. 
yoni- inkopah
Yoni near Canebrake, Anza Borrego
"Venus" painting, Chauvet Cave,  30,000  BC
Besides depictions of animals, the earliest human form that occurs in very early art (the cave paintings of Europe and the so called "Venus" figures, such as the Venus of  Willendorf ) are female, often pregnant, and sometimes specifically a vagina shape.  This was more than prehistoric pornography, more than a desire for fertility so the tribe could continue.  This was the prime Deity, the source of life and the womb/tomb to which life returns for rebirth (hence, the importance of sacred caves).  Yoni stones, sometimes natural, sometimes carved, occur throughout the world as  depictions of this  mysterious source of life and pleasure.

This is the Goddess, the Earth Mother, Pachamama, represented in her most primal form. This is where we come from, and to where, in early thinking at least, we returned. I don't believe just women created and honored these shrine/sites that were undoubtedly sacred, and infused with numinous power.  I don't know about the sites in Anza Borrego, but I am pretty sure that many of these "Yoni shrines" were sited as well in places of geomantic power, near a healing spring, or a ley crossing for example, where the sense of the power of the Earth Mother would be most potent.

Mandorla Of The Spinning Goddess (1982)
Mandorla by Judith Anderson
As Riane Eisler wrote in THE CHALICE AND THE BLADE,  by examining the evolution of European and Middle Eastern religious mythology, one can see the gradual co-option of creative "birth" power by patriarchal mythological systems.  A good case may be made that Freud had it wrong:  women do not have penis envy so much as men have had a long, long mythic issue with Uterus envy.   As one studies Greek mythology, for example, the myths that were later adopted by the Romans and survive with great fascination into our day, it becomes evident that the Goddesses became increasingly diminished in status and power as they evolved from earlier times.  Penelope, for instance, whose name means "with a web on her face", was probably an earlier Goddess of fate or prophecy.  But in the later mythos she becomes a faithful wife, weaving a shroud to fend off her suitors.  The male gods begin, like Zeus giving birth to Athena through his head (interesting metaphor) to take on the birth power.  Interestingly, the more patriarchal a culture becomes, the more emphasis there is upon sexual repression and mores - celibacy, chastity,  and virginity for women.   By the time we get to the contemporary Bible, the Gnostic Sophia has been taken out of theology, God has no wife and creates alone, Jesus  is born from a Virgin (whose virginity is then restored) and all manner of restrictions  apply.  With the Protestant Reformation even the Virgin Mary, the inspiration for so many "Notre Dame" cathedrals,  is demoted or eliminated, and Christianity is fully masculinized.  This was around the time of the witch trials,  the Inquisition,  as well.

The Black Stone of Ka’aba - al-Hajr al-Aswad

The Kaaba Stone

Many believe that, speaking of sacred yoni stones that also mark pagan sites, the Kabbah  of  Mecca  is undoubtedly the most famous.  And  ironic, on many levels.

The site of the Kabbah stone is a very ancient Arabian sacred site, that was a point of pilgrimage long before the advent of Islam.  The black stone is probably a meteorite.  It has been broken several a central icon or power object in the course of Islamic history, it has  been stolen and attacked.  The stone is now reconstructed, and bound together by a silver ligature that is semi-circular (!!!) and measures about 10 inches horizontally and twelve inches vertically.

(Tor Andrae, writing of pre-Islamic Arabia:)
"Ibn al Kelbi reports that Manat was a large stone in the territory of the Hudhail tribe, that Allat was a rectangular stone upon which a Jew used to grind wheat, and that Sa'd was a high block of stone in the desert. In some cases the divinity was identified with a particular part of the natural rock......But specially erected stones might also serve as the dwelling-places of the divinity or the seats of power. The most famous of all of the stone fetishes of Arabia was, of course, the black stone in the sanctuary of Mecca. The Ka'ba was, and still is, a rectangular stone structure. Built into its Eastern corner is the black stone which had been an object of worship for many centuries before Mohammed appropriated the Ka'ba for his new religion, and made the pilgrimage to this holy place one of the pillars of Islam.
(Mohammed: The man and his faith, Tor Andrae, 1936, Translated by Theophil Menzel, 1960, p13-30)***
Pilgrim preparing to kiss the Black Stone

No one really knows what significance this stone, or site (which had, in pagan times, a simple open air shrine in the shape of a cube, hence, the "Kaaba", or Cube, structure of the present day shrine) had to the ancient peoples who made pilgrimage there, except that there were previous traditions of honoring special sites and stones.  Allat  (Al-lat)  was apparently an ancient mother and fertility goddess of the pre-Islamic Arabs at Mecca, although I also read that she was considered an underground goddess, which would perhaps identify her with the Earth Womb. Her name means literally "the Goddess".  Allah means "God, or Creator". This figure of great antiquity is one of a trinity of desert goddesses, the "daughters of Allah" that are named in the Koran. There is evidence as well that the Moon was associated with this Goddess or Goddesses.   Al-Uzza (goddess of the morning star) and Menat (goddess of fate and time) were  the other names of the goddesses in this trilogy.  These deities, as well as Djinn associated with the site, would have  been prominent  in Mecca during Mohammed's lifetime. 

Whether the Kaaba stone was once revered as an ancient earth Yoni or not, it is very interesting symbolically to consider it's current housing and shape.  Jung might have something to say about this.  It is also amazing to consider, from a symbolic point of view, that millions of people, here in one of the most contentious places on earth because of oil, the life-blood of the Mother, annually circle a 4-sided building that houses an ancient stone, possibly once devoted to a local Goddess, that is made of silver like the moon, and is shaped like a Yoni.

Muslim pilgrims, clothed in white,  circle the Kaaba inside the grand mosque in Mecca.
Photo: AP / Hasan Sarbakhshian

Carved Yoni near Solstice Cave, Upper Indian Valley, Anza-Borrego State Park

From the Sixty-Four-Yogini temple at Bheragat.
Madhya Pradesh, 12th century.
Sheela-Na-Gig, Ireland, 11th Century
Medievil Icon - figure is inside a "Vesica Pisces"



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