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~ Mother's Day Supplemental ~


Fingerprint Flower Vase

by Amanda Formaro


Difficulty: Very Easy
Age: 3 and up

This lovely little vase is perfect for spring, Mother’s Day, Grandparent’s Day or any occasion that involves the beauty of flowers. This painted jar doubles as a keepsake as it's made with your child’s fingerprints!

What you'll need:
∙ Empty glass jar
∙ Enamel paint (purple, pink, yellow)

How to make it:
∙ First, be sure to read the instructions on the back of the enamel paint bottle.
∙ Be sure glass jar is clean, dry, and all labels have been completely removed.
∙ Have children dip their fingertips into the paint and dot onto the glass to form the petals of the flowers.
∙ Repeat this process to dot on the flower centers--alternate the colors (purple flower, yellow center, pink flower, purple center, etc).
∙ Let paint dry and cure according to directions on enamel paint bottle. This may require baking in the oven, or a longer alternative is air drying for up to three weeks before using.

∙ Hold jar by the mouth to avoid bumping or grabbing any wet paint.
∙ Acrylic paints can be used; however they will wash off if jar is washed. To protect it better, you can spray entire surface with acrylic sealer, however this can diminish the shiny surface of the glass.
∙ Top off this keepsake by making bouquet of photo flowers to put inside.


MY MOTHER: One Goddess, Many Names
by Pythia

Continued . . .All these Goddesses, all their peculiarities are derived from Willendorf Mother. She embraces all the emotions and attributes found in all the later Goddesses. Choose an emotion, positive or seemingly negative, such as rage. Righteous rage can be found in Sekhmet, or any mother protecting her child. Grief? When Demeter’s daughter Persephone went into the Underworld Demeter’s grief plunged the world into winter. A mother never gives up looking for a missing child. Athena is the epitome of Warrior. A mother battles to give her child what it needs. Love and the connectiveness of all things is woven by Native American’s SpiderWoman. Grandmother, mother, child, all share DNA.

Mothers show all emotions. Not all of them constructive, but all of them informative. We learn from our mothers. We learn what it means to be a healthy individual. We also learn, by observation, what it means to be unhealthy. Whether your relationship with your mother was more positive or more negative, you owe her your life. Whether you were planned or not, after nine months of carrying you beneath her heart, I’m sure her heart overflowed with love the first time she looked upon your face.

There are no guide books to teach mothers how to deal with a particular baby. Even if you were not the first, you are unique–no manual. You learned, together, what your relationship would be. Each of you needed to learn how to maneuver, how to dance the relationship of mother and child.

Mothers are patient. As patient as Willendorf waiting to discovered. Perhaps a mother waits for you to reconnect.

Whether your mother is still dancing the complex interconnection with you, or if she is in another plane of existence–no matter. Half of your genetic makeup is from your mother, she lives in you. Honor your mother. To a large degree, whatever good resides in you today is directly attributable to her.

From Willendorf, through the countless Goddesses throughout time, to your own mother–all are Divine and worthy of your love and respect.

Face Values

by Anita Hunter

Continued . . . To understand how we recognise beauty it is worth considering how we as humans deal with images that we see. Humans are master classifiers, constantly comparing new objects and experiences against what they have encountered previously. If we find beauty, it is by comparison to what we have met before. Good and bad experiences will also bias individual perception. We may favour red heads if our first sweetheart had Titian hair. Or prefer blondes to brunettes if we were dumped by a dark-haired Romeo. Upbringing and cultural influences also dictate the criteria we use to make comparisons. A racist is likely to exclude other ethnic groups from their perception of beauty. And the notion that `blondes have more fun' may seem ludicrous and irrational but this is a criteria that is deeply embedded in the unconscious way many of us judge beauty. Blondeness certainly seems to be a prerequisite for today's female television personalities. The enormous popularity of the Barbie doll and the hungry market for bleaches and highlighting products reflect a widespread desire for lighter hair.

This classifying and comparing means that, to quote Desmond Morris, “Beauty is in the brain of the beholder”. The 18th century Scottish philosopher David Hume put it more poetically - “Beauty is no quality in things themselves. It exists merely in the mind which contemplates them.”

Sculptures, painters and more recently photographers have been recorders and often arbiters of tastes in beauty. By creating a flattering portrait, depicting a certain look or capturing their own idealized image of femininity, they have been instrumental in determining what is considered to be beautiful.

The classical Greek ideal of beauty was a strong profile, with nose and forehead running in a line, a short upper lip and smooth features. This was embodied in the sculptures of Aphrodite, the goddess of love and in her Roman counterpart, Venus. Grecian beauty involved symmetry and proportion. Pliny the elder wrote of the sculptor Xeuxis who, unable to find a model who embodied his ideal, chose five women, the sum of whose physical attributes met his idea of perfection.

The classical conventions of beauty have had a huge influence and over the centuries have been constantly revisited. There was a major change after the disintegration of the Roman Empire when art became the servant of the spreading religion Christianity. Art was used to inspire devotion. Visions of femininity were found in representations of the Madonna. Icons were painstakingly copied and artists worked using illustrations rather than live models. As a result, there was a tendency for the depiction of beauty to became stylised and artificial. Gothic attitudes to the female form had a strong influence on feminine imagery. The association of women with Eve, temptation and sin meant that by the 15th Century, beauty was only depicted in the context of either the Madonna or the enchantress.

The Italian Renaissance was an important turning point. Stylised and rather artificial ideals were replaced by naturalism. Serious studies of the human body allowed theories of beauty to be developed. Raphael, De Vinci, Titian and Georgione were influential in depicting and thereby spreading the concept of an ideal beauty. To be as `Beautiful as a Raphael Madonna' was the ultimate compliment. Michaelangelo's `Tute Divine' was particularly influential. In De Vinci's drawings and paintings, his subjects are enhanced by enigmatic half smiles and he employed subtle techniques of illumination and misting to create luminous beauty.

Dutch and Flemish artists were particularly influential in the 17th century. Rubens and Rembrandt introduced more realistic and comely ideals of beauty. Rubens portrayed the big, plump women that he adored. Rembrandt was influenced by the Renaissance ideals but he depicted women in a more natural way. Van Dyck painted epic portraits of Europe's aristocracy and captured the opulence of the courts. Dutch born Sir Peter Lely was a successor to Van Dyck in the Restoration court of Charles II. He painted a lush, voluptuous image of femininity, inspired by the French born Queen Henrietta Maria. A full figure, heavy eyelids and a sleepy expression became the vogue. Pale complexions were enhanced by rosy cheeks and a pouting mouth with a small lower lip.

Bigger, more voluptuous women were also celebrated in the paintings of Rococo artist Boucher (1703 – 70). His ravishing paintings captured the extravagance and elegant superficiality of the French court. His subjects included Madame de Pompadour, mistress of Louis XV, renowned for her beauty.

With neo-classicism (1770-1820) came a nostalgia for classical Greece and a revival of classical concepts of beauty. The depiction of femininity became an important theme in Art. Regency ideals were an embodiment of the statues of ancient Greece – a slender figure with high, rounded breasts, wearing a simple dress of clinging muslin.

In Victorian society there was a vogue for pale, almost emaciated beauty. Elizabeth Sidall was Rossetti's model for eleven years until her death in 1862. She was the archetypal Pre-Raphaelite beauty. Madox Brown wrote of watching Rossetti draw picture after picture of her, with each one “looking thinner and more deathlike and more beautiful and more ragged than ever.” French writer Octav Marbeau observed that of the mythical ladies of legend depicted by Edward Burne-Jones, he was unable to tell whether their “bruised eyes are the result of onanism, saphism, natural love or tuberculosis.” Was this a Victorian version of the recent `waif' look?

The forerunner of the modern image of femininity was the Gibson girl. Created by the American illustrator Charles Dana Gibson in the 1890's, she was inspired by the privileged and spirited Langhorne sisters (of whom Nancy went on to become Lady Astor). Gibson's drawings captured the mood of the day. His women were tall with long elegant necks, tiny waists. Their corseted S-shaped bodies dominated the iconography of women for nearly two decades. The American influence on conventions of beauty has remained huge. English models may have captured the look in the 1960's and again this decade, but in general the most successful models conform to American stereotypes. Although there does seem to be a wider appreciation of different types of beauty in today's fashion business, white Caucasian women are still in the majority. As B Rudolph wrote in Time magazine's 1991 cover story on supermodels “in every country blond hair and blue eyes sell.”

Hollywood has had an enormous influence in popularising new fashions and producing new female icons. A photogenic face was (and is) an essential requirement of all but the best character actresses. By designating certain physical features as desirable feminine attributes, Hollywood has dictated what every cinema going woman should aspire to in order to be considered beautiful. Even today, top movie stars compete with the super-models as the ultimate icons of beauty. It is no surprise that many film stars began their careers in modeling, and that actresses such as Elizabeth Hurley and Melanie Griffith have contracts to represent major cosmetics companies.

As fashion photography grew in the 20th century, photographers began to assume the role of arbiters of beauty. Determining `the look', setting standards and influencing taste. Designers, fashion editor, make-up artist and photographers all collaborate to determine the fashionable look, but today it is the top photographers who yield the most power. Steven Meisel, Patrick Demarchelier and Mario Testino are renowned for their Svengali like abilities, plucking young models out of obscurity and repackaging them as the latest talent. This constant search for a new look and a new face sometimes means that style and beauty are confused. Although widely adopted on the catwalk and in magazines, emaciated and unkempt `heroin chic' models were hardly attractive, just fashionable. The models themselves may have been beautiful but the representation was one of ugliness and despair.

Some of the changing concepts of beauty are dictated not by artists and photographers but by a dominant cultural influence. This has often been a person or an influential group of people. The monarchy and aristocracy have often led new fashions. Elizabeth I was a great influence on what was considered to be beautiful during her reign. By wearing her red hair without a head-dress, she created an appreciation for both colour and uncovered hair. The ultimate complexion was pale with an appearance of transparency; the desired effect was achieved by painting veins onto a white face paint made from mercury and lead compounds. The eyebrows and forehead were plucked to create a fashionably high forehead. Portraiture was the medium with which beauty ideals were spread outside the Royal Court circles and throughout her life, Elizabeth I endeavoured to retain her place as an icon of beauty by ensuring her portraits reflected an image frozen from her youth.

During the Stuart period, Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of King Charles I, was a leader of fashion and set the trends for contemporary beauty. Idealised portraits by artists such as Van Dyke helped to ensure that a flattering version of her looks set the standards of the day. Her curly hair, fuller figure and rounded face set the measure against which feminine beauty was judged.

Although the classical ideal of beauty involved particular proportions, it has always been recognised that the unusual or quirky can also be beautiful. In `Of Beauty' Francis Bacon wrote “there is no excellent beauty that has not some strangeness in the proportion.” The current trend for different or unusual models reflects a degree of boredom with the perfection of the supermodels and a healthy desire for a wider conception of what is considered beauty. The standard has widened. Make up artist Bobbi Brown confirms “Today, beauty is a much more eclectic collection of features and colors.”

Gender signals, that identify the different sexes, play an important role in determining what is considered to be beautiful. In our historically patriarchal society, certain female gender signals have been equated with beauty. Rounded breasts, a large bottom, small feet and pouting lips all signal at a sexual, gender level. Fashions have frequently served to emphasise these female traits and therefore emphasise femininity. Bustles, corsets, wonderbras and lipstick have all been used to exaggerate female features. Because males are more hirsute, smooth hairless skin (whether shaved, plucked, waxed, sugared or depilated) is a powerful female gender signal and is therefore considered an attractive female asset.

Sexual allure is very integral to what men find attractive and is a factor that women have exploited by the use of self-mimicry. Fleshy, reddened lips and large rounded breasts mimic the buttocks and labia (so ponder what you are doing next time you reach for the lipstick!). In 1911 charlotte Perkin Gilman complained that “much of what men consider beautiful in women is not human beauty at all but gross over-development of certain points that appeal to him as a male”.

Sometimes beauty is characterized in an excessively exaggerated gender signal or `supernormal stimuli'. Body molding (or distorting) clothes and plastic surgery aim to improve on nature and heighten the impact of selected features. Supernormal stimuli are often present in the art of primitive society; the ancient `Venus of Willendorf' exaggerates the breasts and hips in the same way as the corsets and crinolines of Victorian fashions. The current popularity of breast implants and the huge success of siliconised beauties such as Pamela Anderson and Melinda Messenger reflect a modern appreciation of supernormal stimuli. The incredibly long legs of models such as Nadja Auermann and Naomi Campbell (and also of illustrated beauties such as the Vargas girls and Jessica Rabbit) are also a type of exaggerated gender signal. The appreciation of long legs is rooted in sexuality and the rapid leg lengthening that occurs as girls reach maturity.

The pressure to manipulate our bodies in the pursuit of beauty comes from the emphasis of appearance as the hallmark of Western beauty. Cosmetic surgery is perhaps the most drastic way that women try to improve their faces and bodies, to create or retain what is deemed attractive. Although many women claim that cosmetic surgery is something that they are `doing for themselves', the beauty that they aspire to is of male creation. It is the male gaze, looking and appreciating within a sexual context that has been the most influential arbiter of what we deem to be beauty.

Reprinted from http://www.garfnet.org.uk/new_mill/winter98/ah_98121.htm


Women in Prehistory: The Venus of Willendorf
by Christopher L. C. E. Witcombe


Continued . . . When first discovered, the statuette was identified as "Venus." Szombathy refers to her as the "Venus of Willendorf" in an article published in 1909 [see BIBLIOGRAPHY]. A year or so later, MacCurdy refers to her as the "so-called Venus of Willendorf" in Smithsonian Report for 1909 (published in 1911) [see BIBLIOGRAPHY].

The name "Venus" had first been used, in a tone of mocking irony, in 1864 by the Marquis Paul de Vibraye who described a headless, armless, footless ivory statuette he discovered at Laugerie-Basse in the Vèzère valley in the Dordogne as a "Vénus impudique" or "immodest Venus" (now in the Musée de l'Homme, Paris).

The Marquis, of course, was playfully reversing the appellation of "Venus pudica" ("modest Venus") that is used to describe a statue type of the Classical Venus which shows, in the Capitoline Venus for example, the goddess attempting to conceal her breasts and pubic area from view. The inference the Marquis makes is that this prehistoric Venus makes no attempt to hide her sexuality.

The name "Venus" was subsequently adopted by Édouard Piette (1827-1906) [see BIBLIOGRAPHY], who used it to describe an ivory figurine, of which only the corpulent torso survives, found in 1892 in the "Grotte du Pape" at Brassempouy in the Department of Les Landes and now in the Musée St. Germain-en-Laye.

She was originally nicknamed la poire - "the pear" - on account of her shape. For Piette, the name "Venus" may have come to mind in this particular instance because of the emphatic treatment of the vulva's labia and the prominent, slightly protruding pubic area, which he tastefully refers to as "le mont de Vénus" - the mound of Venus (or mons pubis). "Venus" has since become the collective term used to identify all obese Palaeolithic statuettes of women.

The ironic identification of these figurines as "Venus" pleasantly satisfied certain assumptions at the time about the primitive, about women, and about taste. Venus, of course, was the Classical goddess of sexual love and beauty.

Known to the Greeks as Aphrodite, statues of her nude proliferated in the Mediterranean world from the 4th century BCE on, beginning with that carved by Praxiteles for the sanctuary on the Island of Knidos.

From the Praxiteles model there developed a type of freestanding female nude that came to be known as the "Venus pudica" or "modest Venus," mentioned above, whose pose shows the goddess attempting to conceal her breasts and pubic area from view.

Two well-known examples of this type are the Capitoline Venus (in the Museo Capitolino in Rome), and the Medici Venus (in the Galleria degli Uffizi in Florence)

In the 15th century, the Italian Renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli revived this same pose in his painting The Birth of Venus and initiated a renewed interest in the Classical Venus.

So familiar is she in the west, that the name Venus instantly conjures in the mind an image of a tall, erotically curvaceous, nude young woman whose primary identity, as every heterosexual male recognizes, resides in her physical and sexual body.

The Classical and Renaissance Venus's physicality and sexuality, though, are treated with a high degree of civilized restraint. In comparison with the "Venus" of Willendorf, the breasts of the Classical Venus are small, her pubic area is undefined (no indication of the vulva, no definition of the labia), and her stomach, hips, and buttocks are given no particular emphasis.

In other words, she exhibits a tasteful, civilized response to female sexuality that involves both the display but also the suppression of its more physical aspects.

The beginning of "history" - the shift from the prehistoric to the historic, a step marked by the advent of writing - also marks for some the move from the primitive to the civilized. The Willendorf figurine nicely illustrates the contrast. Her bulging, bulbous body, large breasts, ample abdomen, and vulva slit manifest unrefined, uncivilized, "primitive" taste.

She also exhibits, in ways that are at once appealing (to most women, perhaps) and threatening (to most men, perhaps), a physical and sexual self that seems unrestrained, unfettered by cultural taboos and social conventions. She is an image of "natural" femaleness, of uninhibited female power, which "civilization," in the figure of the Classical Venus, later sought to curtail and bring under control.

To identify the Willendorf figurine as "Venus," then, was a rich, male joke that neatly linked the primitive and the female with the uncivilized and at the same time, through implicit contrast with the Classical Venus, served as a reassuring example to the patriarchal culture of the extent to which the female and female sexuality had been overcome and women effectively subjugated by the male-dominated civilizing process.

By naming her "Venus," a set of associations is brought to the image that influences our response to what we see. In one respect, she becomes a negative image, a "failed Venus" who, by the standards of the Classical Venus, is not beautiful and is not sexually attractive.

The name "Venus" also encourages us to judge her as a piece of sculpture against the standards of idealized Greek, Roman, and Renaissance art, where she again fails miserably.

There is also a sex/gender conflict; between female and feminine. From a patriarchal western culture point of view, the Classical Venus is both sexually female and also feminine in terms of gender. According to current theory, while sex is biological, the product of nature, gender is to be understood as social, the product of nurture or culture.

The nurture and culture paradigm that has been defining the feminine in the west since the Greeks is a patriarchal one. The feminine, in terms of gender identification, as it has come to be identified in western culture, is arguably partially, or even wholly, a male construction.

The "Venus" of Willendorf is visibly biologically female, but she is not feminine; the name "Venus" imposes upon her a gendered femininity that she does not have, so again she fails.

Nowadays, in the captions to illustrations of her in books, the word "Woman" is sometimes substituted for "Venus," a switch that has contributed, together with the current growing sensitivity to the visual representation of women, to a shift in how she is perceived.

One effect of this name change is to remove her from immediate identification as a goddess and to think of her in more mundane, human terms. This demystification allows us to approach the figure more on its own terms and, without the encumbering preconceptions provoked by a name, gives us a better chance of interpreting its meaning.

The sculpture shows a woman with a large stomach that overhangs but does not hide her pubic area. A roll of fat extends around her middle, joining with large but rather flat buttocks. She is not, as Luce Passemard has pointed out, steatopygous (that is, possessing protruding buttocks) [see BIBLIOGRAPHY]. Piette had been the first to use the term steatopygous to describe the "Venus" figurines, regarding it as a racial feature that he related to the appearance of women in African tribes such as the Bushmen, Pygmies and Hottentots (KhoiKhoi) [see BIBLIOGRAPHY]. The implication that Aurignacian people may have been African in appearance influenced subsequent interpretations.

Her thighs are also large and pressed together down to the knees. Her forearms, however, are thin, and are shown draped over and holding, with cursorily indicated fingers, the upper part of her large breasts. Small markings on her wrists seem to indicate the presence of bracelets. Her breasts are full and appear soft, but they are not sagging and pendulous. The nipples are not indicated.

Her genital area would appear to have been deliberately emphasized with the labia of the vulva carefully detailed and made clearly visible, perhaps unnaturally so, and as if she had no pubic hair. This, combined with her large breasts and the roundness of her stomach, suggests that the "subject" of the sculpture is female procreativity and nurture and the piece has long been identified as some sort of fertility idol.

A characteristic of all the Paleolithic "Venus" figurines exhibited by the Willendorf statuette is the lack of a face, which for some, arguing that the face is a key feature in human identity, means that she is to be regarded as an anonymous sexual object rather than a person; it is her physical body and what it represents that is important.

From the front, the place where her face should be seems to be largely concealed by what are generally described as rows of plaited hair wrapped around her head. Close examination, however, reveals that the rows are not one continuous spiral but are, in fact, composed in seven concentric horizontal bands that encircle the head, with two more half-bands below at the back of her neck. The topmost circle has the form of a rosette. The bands vary in width from front to back to sides, and also vary in size from each other. Cut across the groove separating each band at regular, closely-spaced intervals is a series of more or less lozenge-shaped deep vertical notches, some wide, others narrow, that extend equally into the band above and into the band below. These notches alternate between bands to produce the effect of braided or plaited hair. That it is intended to be understood as braided hair seems clear, although it has been suggested recently that the figure is in fact wearing a fiber-based woven hat or cap [see BIBLIOGRAPHY].

When seen in profile, the impression is that the figure is looking down with her chin sunk to her chest, and her hair looks more like hair; longer at back and falling and gathering like real hair might on her upper back. Some find it significant that the number of full circles is seven; many thousands of years later seven was regarded as a magic number.

Such elaborate treatment of hair is extremely rare in Paleolithic figurines, and the considerable attention paid to it by the sculptor must mean it had some significance. In later cultures, hair has been considered a source of strength, and as the seat of the soul.

Hair also has a long history as a source of erotic attraction that lies, perhaps surprisingly, not so much in its color, style, or length, but in its odor. The erotic attraction of the odor of hair is obviously rooted in the sense of smell, which plays a considerable role in sexual relations. Though greatly diminished in the modern world, smell was paramount in establishing an erotic rapport with a mate, as it still is among animals. In this context, the hair of the woman or goddess represented in the "Venus" of Willendorf figurine may have been regarded as erotically charged as her breasts and pubic area.

Another characteristic of Paleolithic "Venus" figurines is the lack of feet. In the archaeological report of her finding, the Willendorf statuette is described as perfectly preserved in all its parts, so it appears she never had feet.

It has been suggested that possibly the intention was to curtail the figurine's power to leave wherever she had been placed.

A more common explanation is that because the statuette served as a fertility idol, the sculptor included only those parts of the female body needed for the conception and nurture of children. Even if she had feet, though, it seems unlikely that she was meant to stand up. This is even more true of the other Paleolithic figurines.

Nor it seems was she ever intended to lie in a supine position. In fact, her most satisfactory, and most satisfying, position is being held in the palm of the hand. When seen under these conditions, she is utterly transformed as a piece of sculpture. As fingers are imagined gripping her rounded adipose masses, she becomes a remarkably sensuous object, her flesh seemingly soft and yielding to the touch.

What her identity and purpose may have been, why and for what reason she was carved, becomes an even more pressing question. If we dismiss all associations with goddesses and fertility figures, and assume an objective response to what we see, she might be identified as simply a Stone-Age doll for a child.

But this strikes us as unsatisfactory, not the least because of the very high degree of artistic ability exhibited in the sculpting of her forms. Compared with the other Paleolithic figurines in this group, the "Venus" of Willendorf is a remarkably realistic representation of a fat woman.


And she does appear to be fat rather than pregnant; a condition, it has been suggested, due to eating large quantities of fat and marrow, and a sedentary life.

Whatever it was she was eating that caused her to become so fat, the suggestion that she must have led a life of relative leisure in order to gain so much weight offers a clue to her status. The question is: Is this what women in the Stone Age looked like? Or did they look more like Raquel Welch in the 1960s movie "One Million Years B.C."?

If what the archaeologists tell us is true, that Stone Age societies survived through hunting and gathering, the chances are the women looked more like Ms. Welch than Ms. Willendorf whose obesity would have greatly impaired her ability to move around foraging and gathering.

The chances are, a Stone Age woman, much like the women in hunter-gatherer tribes today (such as the !Kung of the Kalahari Desert in South Africa), would not have had the opportunity to get that fat, unless, of course, she had some special status. She evidently did not need to gather, or hunt, but must have been catered to and had her needs met by others.

Significantly, none of the few Paleolithic male figures in sculpture or in engraved images is shown corpulent. If the woman of Willendorf was a special female, who might she have been?

The life-like treatment of both the overall form of a fat woman and such details as the figure's knees and the dimples where the upper arm meets the chest, has caused at least one writer to suggest that a real women served as the sculptor's model.

If this were in fact the case, that the "Venus" of Willendorf is not an idol or a goddess but an actual woman, then she was clearly a woman whose specialness is indicated by her obesity and also by the fact that someone, a man or a woman, went to great pains to produce a likeness of her. But the likeness, if such it is, is noticed only in the torso and perhaps in her hairstyle; otherwise she has no face, unnaturally thin arms, and no feet.

The fact that numerous examples of this type of female figure, all generally exhibiting the same essential characteristics - large stomachs and breasts, featureless faces, miniscule or missing feet - have been found over a broad geographical area ranging from France to Siberia, suggests that some system of shared understanding and perception of a particular type of woman existed during the Paleolithic.

Images of women, mostly figurines of the same type as the "Venus" of Willendorf, all dating to the Paleolithic period, far outnumber images of men. This has lead to speculation about the place of women in Stone Age society.

Some have argued that these female figures denote the existence during this period of a prominent female deity identified usually as the Earth Mother or the Mother Goddess. On the basis of this assumption, it has been suggested that, unlike today, women played a considerably more important, if not dominant, role in Paleolithic society; that possibly a matriarchy existed and women ruled.

The "Venus" of Willendorf may be a representation at once of the Mother Goddess and a special living woman; one represented in the form or guise of the other, although which came first is impossible to know. Lacking written documentation, such claims are difficult to support or refute.


The concept of an Earth Mother or Mother Goddess or Great Goddess derives primarily from the Greeks. In the Theogony, written in the early 7th century BCE, the poet Hesiod named the "deep-breasted" Earth Gaea, "a firm seat of all things for ever," who, after emerging out of Chaos, brought forth "starry Ouranus" (the sky), Mountains, the sea, and, after having lain with Ouranus, a number of non-cosmological Titans.

Plato (c. 427-347 BCE) in the Timaeus (40e) calls her Ge. According to Pausanias in his Description of Greece (2nd century CE), there was an altar and sanctuary dedicated to Gaia (the Gaeum) at Olympia (V.14.10), and another, known as the Gaeus, near Aegae in Achaia (VII.25.13). There was also a sanctuary of Earth the Nursing-Mother near the entrance to the Acropolis in Athens (I.22.3).

The Romans worshipped her as Tellus, or Terra Mater, whom Varro (116-27 BCE) called "the Great Mother."

In De rerum natura, the Latin poet Lucretius (died c. 55 BCE) calls the earth Tellus and refers several times to her as Mother Earth or the Great Mother, stating that "she alone is called Great Mother of the gods [Magna deum Mater], and Mother of the wild beasts, and maker of our bodies" (II.597-599).

The cult of the Great Mother [Magna Mater], later identified with the mother-goddess Cybele (and by the Greeks as Rhea), was established in Rome by the 3rd century BCE. The Greek satirist Lucian (120-c.190 CE) mentions the "Great Mother" in his dialogue Saturnalia (12).

A measure of her prominence in the pagan world is the space St. Augustine (354-430 CE) devotes to attacking her worship in The City of God Against the Pagans (VII, 24).

Largely suppressed during the Christian period, she emerges again in the 18th century when references are made to the female Earth as Mother Goddess.

Interest in the Earth Mother and the Great Mother increased significantly in the 19th century. Besides the classical sources attesting to her worship, the 19th century became aware of the many contemporary tribal peoples who worshipped the Earth as a female deity.

In 1861, in the first volume of his book Das Mutterrecht ['The Mother Right'] [see BIBLIOGRAPHY] the Swiss anthropologist Johann Jacob Bachofen (1815-1887) argued that the matriarchate or gynecocracy found among tribal peoples, where authority in both the family and the tribe was in the hands of the women, was to be associated with the worship of a supreme female earth deity.

When these ideas became meshed with Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, laid out in 1859 in his On the Origin of Species, there emerged the view that human evolution must have passed through an earlier matriarchal stage.

Though controversial, this view posed no serious threat to patriarchal order. Indeed, in the context of arguments developed by the social Darwinists in the later 19th and early 20th centuries, it nicely demonstrated the superiority and evolutionary "fitness" of patriarchy over matriarchy. The fact that matriarchy was to be found in the contemporary world only among "primitive" tribal peoples only served to substantiate this claim.

It was against this background of ideas that archaeologists working at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century saw the newly discovered Paleolithic "Venus" figurines, and which permitted an interpretation of them as representations of the Mother Goddess.

Despite the lack of evidence, beyond the appearance of the figurines themselves, ancient Greek cosmogonies, and the spurious connection with much later tribal practices, numerous scholars have nonetheless felt free to extend the idea of an Earth Goddess or Mother Goddess into the prehistoric past and to claim that Stone-Age peoples had believed in her as a universal deity.

Other scholars, however, have rejected these ideas as a basis for interpretation and have pointed out, for example, the lack of obvious signs of divinity in the figurines. But, again, lacking written documentation these claims either way are difficult to support or refute.

Although the paradigm of the "Venus" of Willendorf as Mother Goddess persists, in recent years the figurine has also been interpreted as possibly functioning in a more gynaecological context, perhaps serving as a charm or amulet of some kind for women in connection with fertility.

At the time of its discovery, the statuette showed traces of red ochre pigment, which has been thought to symbolize, or serve as a surrogate of, the menstrual blood of women as a life-giving agent, as is the case in later traditions.

The emphasis given to the "Venus" of Willendorf's vulva and the possibility that the red ochre served as a blood substitute suggest that the figurine may have served some purpose in connection with female menstruation.

If the "Venus" of Willendorf was made to function within this sort of context, it would place the figurine emphatically within the sphere of the female. This would increase the possibility that it was carved not by a man, but by a woman.


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