Roles of the Northern Goddess

Roles of the Northern Goddess

Roles of the Northern Goddess

Roles of the Northern Goddess


While much work has been done on godesses of the ancient world and the male gods of pre-Christian Scandinavia, the northern goddesses have been largely neglected. Roles of the Northern Goddess presents a highly readable study of the worship of these goddesses by men and women. With its use of evidence from early literature, popular tradition, legend and archaeology, this book investigates the role of the early hunting goddess and the local goddesses who were involved in all apects of the household and the farm. What emerges is that the goddess was both benevolent and destructive, a poweful figure closely connected with birth and death and with the destiny of individuals.


Goddesses are everywhere.

(Kinsley 1989:x)

There is general agreement that the concept of a goddess goes back into the remote European past. When the brilliant cave paintings of the hunting peoples of the Ice Age were being produced in Europe in the Upper Palaeolithic period, memorable female shapes were also created. We have striking examples in the so-called Venuses of Lespugue, and Kostenki (Ukraine), which have been dated as early as 25,000 BC and are perhaps even earlier. These belong to a class of small figures about 6 in. (16 cm) high, in ivory, bone, coal or clay, representing a woman with drooping head, pendulous breasts, swelling buttocks and abdomen, and tapering legs narrowing to a point, as if the figure were intended to be stuck upright in the earth. The finest surviving examples are no crude shapes, but give the impression of delicate spring flowers pushing upwards from a bulb and presently to open in fulfilment (Figure 1a). A different type of figure is one from Wallendorf carved in limestone, which does not lend itself to such graceful shapes; this is rounded, squat and solid, but outlined with an economy and sureness of touch which suggests a long tradition of skilled craftsmen (Figure 1b).

Indeed the large number of surviving figures marked by similar stylistic features indicates that they continued to be made over a long period, over an area stretching from the Pyrenees to European Russia, and that they served as important and necessary symbols for the small communities of hunter-gatherers. They have been found in storage pits under house floors and also near the hearth, although a few have been left in sites which could have been meeting places or sanctuaries (Knight 1991:367).

While some figures are simple and uncomplicated, possible complexities in this female symbolism are illustrated by a figure from Laussel in the Dordogne, again dated as early as 25,000 BC, carved on a limestone block outside a rock shelter. It shows a woman with the usual rounded curves and pendulous breasts, her left hand resting on her swelling abdomen, while in her right she holds a bison horn. Her head is turned towards the horn, but her face is featureless. The horn she holds is marked with thirteen incisions, a number perhaps deliberately chosen to indicate the thirteen days of the waxing moon or the thirteen lunar months (Marshack 1972:333). This figure was marked with red ochre and cruder female figures were carved on blocks in the vicinity.

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