The Goddess Revisited
"My idle happiness that slept so long is now awaking."
- Hafiz (via Gide's Fruits of the Earth)
It has been for me a long and arduous path to wellness, and this harvest of new works after a long creative hiatus is first and foremost, my celebration of Life and Womanity's mysteries.
"The Goddess Revisited" is part of my continuing search for the Sacred Feminine, this time using archeomythology research that led us to the Mediterranean isle of Malta, where the walls and apses of megalithic temples still stand from Neolithic times, the oldest freestanding structures in existence on our planet, older than the Pyramids or Stonehenge. They were temples for healing in the time of the Goddess.
Reminiscing twenty-three years back, what started out as an angry pursuit to depose my jealous Jehovah culminated in a serene temple in white to Her, whose monthly visitations no woman could ignore. My 1983 inscape "Temple to the Moon Goddess" consisted of 24 pieces in plaster, mostly live-cast and life-size, spread out over two gallery spaces.
For this new offering I decided to make maquettes, or pieces the size of a doll – from 18 to 33 centimeters - a size I've become easily fond of, as it allows me a quick sketch of my ideas and does not need a slew of male assistants to execute. My first inspiration was an old tourist memento from an old friend, which turned out to be a replica of the Sleeping Lady found in the burial site of Hal Saflieni.
It was thrilling to come face to face with her at the Archeology Museum in Valletta, behind the glass looking fragile, and small enough to fit in my hand.
Apart from the giant statue with monstrous calves and tiny feet in Tarxien which stood two meters high at the waist, "Venus" and the other famous fat ladies of Malta were miniscule – roughly 12 centimeters or 4 inches. In all the finds, craftsmanship of a high order was apparent.
The blazing summer sun and sweltering heat could only add to my giddiness at having the chance to walk amidst the ancient honey-coloured limestone walls of the temples instead of just imagining all this from books. To see holes in the ground where blood & water were offered to underworld chthonic deities, sacrificial altars shaped like mushrooms, screens and walls turned red by fire and chambers with secret passages where the ancient oracle would have sat and prophesied. To imagine what rituals and mysteries transpired within!
The Sleeping Lady had generous, ample hips and a small head and hands/feet. As I pondered why, the answer was revealed to me later during the trip, while vacationing with my daughter in Cornwall.
I woke up early one morning to take a stroll, and saw my shadow on the croquet lawn, on a hilltop, at sunrise. Behold – there was the small head perched on top of a body that loomed large and wide.
I took a picture and measured it: 19 heads instead of the normal human height of 7 ½ heads.
The Goddess at Sunrise? Could these have been the proportions that the Neolithic artist used? I proceeded to use these GAS proportions anyhow, with slight variations and in my usual neo-classical manner.
The Goddess figures are hooved; descendants of the First Bovine that exploded to create the universe (cf. Carcass-Cornucopia, 1987). The head is adorned with snakes. The hair is gathered at the back in 9 bunches to signify 9 months of gestation and ends with the tail of a scorpion (my astrological sign). I chose to portray them naked so that I could revel in and fully express the female form with all its soft swellings and undulations.
The perfect material for fleshing out these voluptuous bodies is clay. Not the resistant oil-clay or plasticine, but pottery clay, "putik": earth. After many pottery workshops I had discovered and indeed wallowed in the sensitivity and lushness of this material. The rough clay model is then cast into plaster of paris – the material I am most at home with. At this stage, all the subtler details are meticulously worked in by direct modeling, a mix of building up and carving, the technique I've always used hand in hand with livecasting. It proved to be more laborious and painstaking on this minute scale than it was working with lifesized models. I was also happy to find that years of candlemaking and carving wax Buddhas now served me well. The final pieces are then cast into bronze.
Are these fertility goddesses? Venuses? Mother Goddesses? All of the above, I guess, but above all, the temples in Malta were believed to be sanctuaries for healing where dream incubation was practiced: the worshipper sleeps in a sanctuary in the hope of receiving a cure, or information and knowledge of the divine, through the medium of dreams. The temples near the burial sites were for ancestral transmutation: a pregnant devotee would sleep in the temple where her ancestors are buried so that the spirits of the dead could enter the foetus and be reborn.
At the time of writing, work is still in progress. Work that has been so satisfying and healing. "When you work you fulfill a part of the earth's furthest dream, assigned to you when that dream was born." – Kahlil Gibran.
This work is a call for renewing our reverence for Life which comes from our Mother, or Nature, as some would call Her.
Through this work I learned to dream again.
Bibliography for Goddess Revisited
- "Malta Prehistory and Temples"
- "The Human Form in Neolithic Malta"
- "The Copper Age Temples of Hagar Qim and Mnajdra" – Guidebook 2006
- "The Ggantija Temples" – Guidebook 2006
Midsea Books Ltd, Malta
2nd edition 2004