Interview with Marija Gimbutas


David: You have been largely responsible for the reemergence of Goddess consciousness in the western hemisphere. How do you feel about the way that this perspective is being interpreted socially and politically?

Marija: The interpretation of Goddess in some cases is overdone a little bit. I cannot see that the Goddess as she was can be reconstructed and returned to our lives, but we have to take the best that we can seize. The best understanding is of divinity itself. (A) God (who) punishes and is angry … does not fit into our times at all. We need something better, we need something closer, we need something that we can touch and we need some compassion, some love, and also a return to the nature of things.

Through an understanding of what the Goddess was, we can better understand nature and we can build our ideologies so that it will be easier for us to live. We have to be grateful for what we have, for all the beauty, and the Goddess is exactly that. Goddess is nature itself. So I think this should be returned to humanity.

I am putting in here some extracts from an Interview with Marija Gimbutas. I came upon her work a long time ago through the shamanic writings of Vikki Noble. She was a Lithuanian archaeologist who posited a theory of a matristic society in Europe long ago. This society was then violently over-thrown by incoming warriors, who disbanded the goddess-based religions. Her theory is based on her extensive excavations and study of the subject over many decades. She died in 1994.

Here are the extracts. You can read the full interview if interested HERE

Rebecca: Could you describe your hypothesis?

Marija: These proto-Indo-European people came from South Russia to Europe, introduced the Indo-European culture and then European culture was hybridized. It was the old culture mixed with the new elements – the Steppe, pastoral, patriarchal elements. So already at that time, thirty years ago, I sensed that, in Europe there was something else before the Indo-Europeans. But I still didn’t do anything about the Goddess, about sculptures, or art, or painted pottery. I just knew that it existed but I didn’t really have the chance to dive into the field.

The occasion appeared when I came to UCLA in 1963 and from 1967 I started excavations in southeast Europe, in Yugoslavia, Greece and Italy, and did that for fifteen years. When I was traveling in Europe and visiting museums I was already building some understanding of what this culture was like before the Indo-Europeans, before the patriarchy.

It was always a big question mark to me; what could it be? This is so different. Painted pottery, for instance, beautiful pottery. And then the sculptures. Nobody really was writing about it. There were so many of them, wherever you went you found hundreds and hundreds. I was just putting in my head what I saw. So then I started my own excavations and I discovered at least five hundred sculptures myself.

Rebecca: How deep did you have to dig?

Marija: It depended. Sometimes at a site of 5,000 B.C, it was on top. You could walk through the houses of 7,000 years ago! Other times you have to dig deep to reach that. Usually you excavate sites, which are already exposed, which are known and where people are finding objects of great interest. Many things have been destroyed in this way. Some interesting excavations were made, especially in Greece and I started to understand more and more about sculptures. I don’t know how it happened, at what moment, but I started to distinguish certain types and their repetitions. For instance, the bird and snake goddess which are the easiest to distinguish.

Rebecca: Your work appeals to a very broad audience and even people who don’t have an academic background often feel they have an intuitive sense of what you’re saying.

Marija: The intuitive people are always the first to say that. Then eventually academia catches up, because these are the least intuitive. (Laughter)

Rebecca: Could you briefly describe to us the major differences between the old European Goddess traditions and the Indo-European patriarchy which came to dominate, and what aspects of the patriarchal culture caused it to want to control the matrifocal one?

Marija: The symbolic systems are very different. All this reflects the social structure. The Indo-European social structure is patriarchal, patrilineal and the psyche is warrior. Every God is also a warrior. The three main Indo-European Gods are the God of the Shining Sky, the God of the Underworld and the Thunder God. The female goddesses are just brides, wives or maidens without any power, without any creativity. They’re just there, they’re beauties, they’re Venus’s, like the dawn or sun maiden.

So the system from what existed in the matristic culture before the Indo-Europeans in Europe is totally different. I call it matristic, not matriarchal, because matriarchal always arouses ideas of dominance and is compared with the patriarchy. But it was a balanced society, it was not that women were really so powerful that they usurped everything that was masculine.

Men were in their rightful position, they were doing their own work, they had their duties and they also had their own power. This is reflected in their symbols where you find not only goddesses but also, Gods. The Goddesses were creatrixes, they are creating from themselves. As far back as 35,000 B.C, from symbols and sculptures, we can see that the parts of the female body were creative parts: breasts, belly and buttocks. It was a different view from ours – it had nothing to do with pornography.

The vulva, for instance, is one of the earliest symbols engraved, and it is symbolically related to growth, to the seed. Sometimes next to it is a branch or plant motif, or within the vulva is something like a seed or a plant. And that sort of symbol is very long lasting, it continues for 20,000 years at least. Even now the vulva is a symbol in some countries, which offers a security of creativity, of continuity and fertility.

Rebecca: Why did the patriarchal culture choose to dominate?

Marija: This is in the culture itself. They had weapons and they had horses. The horse appeared only with the invaders who began coming from South Russia, and in old Europe there were no weapons – no daggers, no swords. There were just weapons for hunting. Habitations were very different. The invaders were semi-nomadic people and in Europe they were agriculturists, living in one area for a very long time, mostly in the most beautiful places.

When these warriors arrived, they established themselves high in the hills, sometimes in places, which had very difficult access. So, in each aspect of culture I see an opposition, and therefore I am of the opinion that this local, old European culture could not develop into a patriarchal, warrior culture because this would be too sudden. We have archaeological evidence that this was a clash. And then of course, who starts to dominate? The ones who have horses, who have weapons, who have small families and who are more mobile.

Rebecca: What was daily life like, do you think for the people living in the matrifocal society?

Marija: Religion played an enormous role and the temple was sort of a focus of life. The most beautiful artifacts were produced for the temple. They were very grateful for what they had. They had to thank the Goddess always, give to her, appreciate her. The high priestess and queen were one and the same person and there was a sort of a hierarchy of priestesses.

David: Was the Goddess religion basically monotheistic?

Marija: This is a very difficult question to answer. Was it monotheistic, or was it not? Was there one Goddess or was there not? The time will come when we shall know more, but at this time we cannot reach deep in prehistory. What I see, is that from very early on, from the upper Paleolithic times, we already have different types of goddesses. So are these different Goddesses or different aspects of one Goddess?

Before 35,000 or 40,000 B.C there is hardly any art but the type of the Goddess with large breasts and buttocks and belly, existed very early in the upper Paleolithic. The snake and bird Goddess are also upper Paleolithic, so at least three main types were there. But in later times, for instance, in the Minoan culture in Crete, you have a Goddess, which tends to be more one Goddess than several. Even the snake Goddesses which exist in Crete, are very much linked with the main Goddess who is shown sitting on a throne or is worshipped in these underground crypts.

Perhaps, even in the much earlier times, there was also a very close interrelationship between the different types represented. So maybe after all, we shall come to the conclusion that this was already a monotheistic religion even as we tend now to call it – the Goddess religion. We just have to remember there were many different types of goddesses.

Rebecca: Do you see remnants of the Goddess religion in different religions throughout the world today?

Marija: Yes, very much so. The Virgin Mary is still extremely important. She is the inheritor of many types of Goddesses, actually. She represents the one who is giving life, she is also the regenerator and earth mother together. This earth mother we can trace quite deep into prehistory; she is the pregnant type and continues for maybe 20,000 years and she is very well preserved in practically each area of Europe and other parts of the world.

David: Do you see the Gaia hypothesis as being a resurgence of the original Goddess religion?

Marija: I think there is some connection, perhaps in a Jungian sense. This culture existed so deep and for so long that it cannot be uninfluential to our thinking.

Rebecca: It must have conditioned our minds for a long time. How do you respond to criticism that the Goddess religion was just a fertility rite?

Marija: How do I respond to all these silly criticisms? (laughter) People usually are not knowledgeable who say that, and have never studied the question. Fertility was important to continuity of life on earth, but the religion was about life, death and regeneration. Our ancestors were not primitive.

David: Did you experience a lot of resistance from the academic community about your interpretations?

Marija: I wouldn’t say a lot, but some, yes. It’s natural. For decades archaeologists rarely touched the problem of religion. They probably accepted the existence of the Upper Paleolithic and Neolithic religion, but the training was such that the students have no occasion to be exposed to these questions. There was no teaching about prehistoric religion. Only in some places, like in Oxford University, sixty or seventy years ago, Professor James was teaching a course on the Goddess. Nobody at that time was resisting. Now we have more resistance because of the feminist movement. Some people are automatically not accepting.

This kind of criticism (i.e. rejection of the Goddess) is meaningless to me. What is true is true, and what is true will remain. Maybe I made some mistakes in deciphering the symbols, but I was continually trying to understand more. At this time I know more than when I was writing thirty years ago. My first book was not complete, therefore I had to produce another book and another book to say more. It’s a long process.

Rebecca: Wasn’t it incredibly difficult to find written sources and references for your research?

Marija: There was so little, it was amazing! There were some good books in the 1950’s. In 1955 a Jungian psychologist, Eric Neumann, published a book on the mother Goddess. Then there were very good works on symbolism by Mircea Eliade.

David: Were you surprised in yours and others’ excavations by the advanced designs of the habitats and the settlements of the Goddess religion?

Marija: Yes, I was. This was a revelation, to see that the later culture is much less advanced than the earlier one. The art is incomparably lower than what was before, and it was a civilization of 3,000 years, more or less, before it was destroyed. For thirty years now we’ve had the possibility to date items, using carbon dating. When I started to do my research, chronology was so unclear and we were working so hard to understand what period the object belonged to. Then in the 1960’s it became so much easier. I spent a lot of time doing chronology, which is very technical work.

That gave us a perspective on how long lasting these cultures were, and you could see a beautiful development from the more simple to the really sophisticated, in the architecture and the building of temples. Some houses and temples were two stories high and had painted walls. Catal Huyuk was such a great discovery in Anatolia. The wall paintings there were only published in 1989, twenty-five years after Myler’s excavation. One hundred and forty wall paintings – and archeologists don’t believe him because it’s so sophisticated. And this is from the 7th millennium!


David: What does your research indicate about the social status of women in the pre-Indo-European culture?

Marija: Women were equal beings, that is very clear, and perhaps more honored because they had more influence in the religious life. The temple was run by women.

Rebecca: What about the political life?

Marija: My findings suggest that the political life – of course, it’s all hypothesis, you cannot reconstruct easily, but we can judge from what remains in later times and what still exists in mythology, because this again reflects the social structure – was structured by the avuncular system. The rulers of the country; the queen which is also the high priestess and also her brother or uncle. The system is therefore called avuncular, which is from the word, uncle. The man, the brother or uncle, was very important in society, and probably men and women were quite equal. In mythology we encounter the sister-brother couples of female goddesses and male gods.

It is wrong to say that this is just a woman’s culture, that there was just a Goddess and there were no Gods. In art the male is less represented, that’s true, but that the male Gods existed, there’s no question. In all mythologies, for instance in Europe, Germanic or Celtic or Baltic, you will find the earth mother or earth Goddess and her male companion or counterpart next to her.

Also there are other couples like the Goddess of Nature, Regenerator, who appears in the spring and gives life to all earth animals and humans and plants. She is Artemis in Greek mythology. She is called Mistress of Animals, and there are also male counterparts of the same kind called Master of Animals. His representations appear in Catal Huyuk in the 7th Millennium BC and they are there throughout prehistory, so we shouldn’t neglect that aspect. There is a balance between the sexes throughout, in religion and in life.

David: Is there any evidence that the takeover was violent and how much did the people try to defend themselves?

Marija: It was violent, but how much they defended themselves is difficult to tell. But they were losers. There was evidence of immigration and escape from these violent happenings and a lot of confusion, a lot of shifts of population. People started to flee to places like islands and forests and hilly areas. In the settlements you have evidence of murder.

Rebecca: What about the Kurgan, invading culture, were they always patriarchal, when did the patriarchy begin?

Marija: This is a very serious question which archaeologists cannot answer yet, but we can see that the patriarchy was already there around 5,000 B.C for sure and the horse was domesticated not later than that.



Generally just Being. Nothing in particular, no claims to fame. I like gardening and the sea, nature, art in all forms from poetry to films and everything in between, and being in the company of my family.

Posted in The Shrine of Eris, Uncategorized

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