GODDESS FIGURES IN CZECHOSLOVAKIA
When we think of goddess material from Central Europe, we turn immediately to the works of Marija Gimbutas1, who has provided us with a treasury on the subject. To that I want to add some exciting news from Czechoslovakia which I was lucky enough to learn about during a visit this summer. First, before setting out, I consulted her books, which provided a reference to Dolny Vestonice and to Hluboke Masuvky. Both are also mentioned in the excellent guide Goddess Sites: Europe by Anneli S. Rufus and Kristan Lawson 2. As the latter authors remark, "Hluboke Masuvky, Ostrava Petrokovice and Dolny Vestonice are not names that dance easily to the [British] tongue". But they will do so soon, I guarantee, as will one new to us which it seems I was 'meant' to find out about and visit. This is Tesetice-Kyovice (I think a rough guide to pronunciation is Tesh-eh-teetseh-Keyoveetseh, but I am open to correction).
Here, during the 1960s and 70s, a 'rondel' or henge, on the scale of Stonehenge, but of wood, not stone, was excavated by Professor Vladimir Podborsky. The site, immensely important in itself, also turned out to be a treasure-house of over 350 clay figures, which Professor Podborsky referred to as anthropomorphic models, but which I would like to think contained at least some goddess figures and symbols; there were also a number of male forms, and it may be that some of these too indicated divinity.
This site was close to one mentioned briefly by Gimbutas, which is known to academics but little publicised - Hluboke Masuvky, excavated by Professor Vildomec (his name is also written as Wildomec) in the late l920s and early 30s. I had the enormous pleasure of visiting the Vildomec house, which is now a private museum, speaking to the son of the finder, himself also an archaeologist, and indeed of seeing and handling the actual figures, some of them dating to 26,OOOBCE.
The experience has been so overwhelming that I am still finding it difficult to report on all this in an organised manner. My best way seems to be to deal with various questions that presented themselves to me at the time. They were:
Why is there this huge thesaurus of goddess figures in what is now Czechoslovakia?
Why do we know so little about them in the West, and, in particular, why do we know literally nothing about Tesetice-Kyovice and what was found there?
Where does all this new material fit in with what we do know and what can we learn?
It will be useful first to explain that by the greatest good chance I was given an introduction to Vladimir Podborsky, who is Professor of Archaeology at the Masaryk University of Brno, Czechoslovakia, and that, when visiting him, and his taking me to sites and to meet Professor Vildomec jnr., we were also accompanied by Jinny, a notable and skilful interpreter from Czech to English and vice-versa, and by my son Tony who took photographs.
Why the goddess figures, and why Czechoslovakia, soon resolved itself. What we are talking about is not the modern state, soon itself to be divided into its constituent parts, but that part of it called Moravia, which stretched in the past into the country we know as Austria.
The famous Venus of Willendorf comes from this area, and much goddess material is stored in the archaeological museum in Vienna, as that was the centre of the Austro-Hungarian empire, which ruled all these countries in modern history until 1918.
Well known to archaeologists is the site at Dolni Vestonice in Moravia. The black goddess figure found there is among the first clay fired models known to us (26,OOOBCE). Some material from the museum there gives us some background. It refers to the Pavlov Hills, situated at the crossroads of several prehistoric routes that passed through Central Europe: these provided unusually favourable natural conditions, and attracted settlers to Moravia throughout the prehistoric period.
It appears that, in addition to the Dolni Vestonice Venus, a remarkable midden full of mammoth bones was also found there. These bones were often inscribed or decorated, but as the museum leaflet tells us: "Many of the rare artefacts recovered here were destroyed in 1945 when the chateau... where they were housed was deliberately burned down by the Nazis only one day before the liberation of the town".
The first potters of Europe are claimed by Moravia, while carvings on mammoth ivory have been found on a large scale. For the significance of these carvings one should see the work of Marshak 3 and Gimbutas. There is ample evidence that they were aligned to the phases of the moon, and to women's need to count ahead in connection with menstrual periods and childbirth and to relate these to the moon's phases.
So Dolni Vestonice is the most well known in Czechoslovakia but it is only one of many sites. And this brings us to some of the reasons that the material is still available, and why Tesetice-Kyovice was excavated and yet kept obscured from Western Europe and the USA - my second question.
In the West it is generally held that women in the past were the subordinate sex and that divinity resided in the male; this is, of course, a view that I (and most readers of Wood and Water) disagree with. However, this opinion does not hold in Eastern Europe. Until recently Marxism provided the background of all research there: and this includes Engels 4, who had propounded the concept of an ancient matriarchal system whose overthrow was the first world defeat of women. Consequently, under communism, it was perfectly politically correct for archaeologists to work with theories recognising important women in the past, and to point to the relationship of sacred female figures to the importance of women in the society of those times. For instance, the Dolni Vestonice material reads: "The oldest 'Venuses' symbolise woman in her triple role as propagator of the race, protector of the communal economy and totemic female ancestor [which] bears witness to the important position of women in that period". However - and this was the snag - it was politically Incorrect to communicate with the West and to share findings with Western scholars. The effects of doing so could be catastrophic. Now, at last, after what is called 'the Velvet Revolution', this information can be shared with the West, and it is very much to be hoped that it will soon be part of popular and scholarly knowledge, in all Europe and beyond.
Tesetice-Kyovice is categorised as Neolithic, thus much younger than Dolni Vestonice. The many hundreds of figures found there numerous females, either whole bodies or parts of bodies - these were the majority of the figures. There were also a number of small animals, possibly goats, dogs, or lynxes. In addition there were numerous heads, often carved from a phallic shape. Usually these heads appeared to be female, and it is as if the artists were endeavouring to provide a union of female and male. Some carvings of this kind also showed a hand touching the face, in an intensely human gesture. I have two volumes 5 (of a series of four, in Czech) giving precise accounts of all these figures, and hope to make them available so that they can be translated into English.
It is thought that the site itself was an astronomical observatory (compare Western European sites) as well as a sacred religious shrine and also a place of social gathering for the community (compare Avebury). It is also important to say that much pottery was found there, often decorated, and that as far as the site itself is concerned there is a mass of information concerning its actual archaeological details.
The site is near Hluboke Masuvky, excavated sixty years or so ago by Vildomec. The most dramatic female figure there is that of a woman with arms outstretched and arched back, perhaps a goddess or priestess. In the private museum there are over two thousand artefacts - bowls, pots, animals, female and male figures (most of the latter again phallic shape with carving or decoration; no full male bodies are to be seen). These are of the earlier periods - 26,OOOBCE to 20,OOOBCE. It was pointed out to me that this is the richest site we know of in terms of discoveries. Also, the material is categorised in the system prevailing in the 1920s, and this in itself is of great interest.
What can we learn, and where does this fit in?
First, it is important to say that all this in Eastern Europe is part of a larger heritage. Gimbutas has recorded innumerable treasures from other parts of the area and interpreted them. The ones I was introduced to apparently also have some connections with goddess finds in Siberia - particularly at a place called Mal'ta (not to be confused with the Mediterranean island) and with sites in the Ukraine. The Anthropos Museum at Brno, Czechoslovakia, is full of marvellous goddess figures from all over Eastern Europe, some of them perhaps known to experts over here, but few generally available. I am not able to do more than record what I saw; interpretation is something else. For me, it is a marvellous validation of all the work I have done and continue to do in seeking and sharing with others authentic information about women's sacred part in our herstory and history.
Wood and Water 40, Autumn 1992
1. Gimbutas, Marija Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe
(Thames and Hudson, London 1982) The Language of the Goddess
(Harper and Row, San Francisco 1989)The Civilisation of the Goddess
(Harper Collins, San Francisco 1991)
2. Rufus, Anneli S. and Lawson, Kristan Goddess Sites: Europe (Harper Collins, San Francisco 1991)
3. Marshak, Alexander The Roots of Civilisation (McGraw-Hill, New York 1971)
4. Engels, Friedrich The Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State (many editions)
5. Podborsky, Vladimir Tesetice-Kyovice (four volumes, Brno University, 1984-8)