Academic journal article Journal of Prenatal & Perinatal Psychology & Health

Mary the Dawn: Ancient European Symbols of Fertility and Pregnancy for Pedagogical Purposes

Academic journal article Journal of Prenatal & Perinatal Psychology & Health

Mary the Dawn: Ancient European Symbols of Fertility and Pregnancy for Pedagogical Purposes

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: In this paper, I will trace Ancient European Symbols of Pregnancy and Fertility from pre-history to early Christian times. Whether ancient female images represented goddesses or not, is not under discussion here. I will explore the possibility that symbols of pregnancy and fertility take on a purpose beyond self-expression, art, or worship and suggest the plausibility of pedagogical purposes in a pre-literate world. By including symbols, I also hope to show how some the roots of our modern alphabet go back to pre-history, and speak of the sacred sciences of birth.

KEY WORDS: Pregnancy, fertility, goddess, female, symbols, pedagogy

The art historian Thomas F. Matthews (1993) notes that to some nominally literate people, "... images were their way of thinking out loud ...Indeed, the images are the thinking process itself" (p. 141).

The oldest handmade images we have are figurines, the Venus of Tan Tan (see Figure 1) and the Venus of Berekhat Ram, which are dated at about 300,000 BC1 (Bednark, 2003). The earliest man-made temple we know of, built in 11,000 BC, is in Turkey and replete with mother goddess symbols (Curry, 2008). The temple shows that some early cultures surrounded themselves with symbols of life - life that is fertile and pregnant.

The Kahun Gynecology Papyrus, from around 1825 BC, is the oldest, intact written document we have. It is interesting to note the purpose of this most ancient document:

The Kahun Gynecology Papyrus] describes methods of diagnosing pregnancy and the sex of the fetus, toothache during pregnancy, diseases of women, as well as feminine drugs, pastes and vaginal applications (Arab, 2008).

At various archeological sites in Ancient Europe, we find female images covered with symbols. Considering how crucial successful childbirth was to survival, the speculation that the ancient feminine images may have been used for teaching purposes in a pre-literate world seems reasonable. Today, we speak of teachings Set in Stone to lend a venerable and authoritative quality to lessons. In pre-history stone, clay, bone, wood, and plant juices were the only available teaching and recording mediums. Many of the artifacts described in this paper were found in what seems to have been common areas or kitchens (Gimbutas, 1989). Not only would this indicate their prevalent, widespread, and everyday use, but their importance as well.

These were not sacred, as in set apart, holy objects. Neither were they insignificant rare objects. In considering the fundamentals of a society, passing knowledge from one generation to another is an important task in even the most primitive cultures. When these images and symbols are viewed in this light, their meaning, purpose, and prevalence become clear.

In discussing ancient female images, the names goddess or Venus are often used. The goddess enthroned, between two animals, as in Çatal Hüyük, 6,000 BC (see Figure 2), is seen in Etruscan Chariot facings (see Figure 3), and medieval churches such as in Limburg Netherlands (see Figure 4), or in Bully, France, (see Figure 5). The most popular and sophisticated version survives in Christian art as the Virgin Enthroned (see Figure 6). The theme of the divine birth/child between two beasts, also re-emerges in Christian settings thousands of years later (see Figure 7). Therefore, the very language I am using may influence readers to assume that the ancient images I refer to are of goddesses. Though I will use that term for the purpose of this paper, I leave others to debate the religious overtones the name implies.

The crude and amorphous shapes found in some ancient images may have resulted from wear over time, or may be due to primitive skill levels in pre-historic eras. The triangular figurine of possibly 500,000 BC from Heidelberg Germany is one such example (see Figure 8). Yet, one of the oldest images we have, a 1.5 inch female head carved from a mammoth's tusk from around 30,000 to 22,000 BC, found in Brassempouy, France, is appropriately proportional and, appears to have an art nouveau quality about it (see Figure 9). …

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