Birds have always been deeply associated with the powerful cycle of Earth’s seasons of new existence, new beginnings, demise and an unsolicited source of renewal. In ancient myths, beginnings were conceived as the cosmic world egg in the deep abyss bringing forth the shape, space and passage of time in the Universe, sometimes encircled by a snake, as in the myth of Eurynome, (from which my wall-hanging in part takes its title: “Before the beginning…”). As the snake in its environmental habitats brings the upper, earthly and lower worlds together, so does the bird, which flies in from the absence of the sky-place, can live and breed on the ground, or float and feed on the waters. Veneration for the bird’s association with the seasonal return of the sky’s life-giving waters and women’s procreative powers is easily imaginable, of course embodied in the breaking of the amniotic waters in giving human birth. Natural recurrent cycles resonate across time and space, corroborated by human observation and experience, most importantly in the birth-giving powers of the body of woman and other female animals. No wonder the bird was such a strong symbol of the powers of goddesses. There is much more that can be explored by way of bird symbolism through the ancient images and artifacts uncovered in recent times.
The dove in particular has been woven through story and myth from earliest times, and remains a powerful symbol today. Though co-opted into Christian mythology as the (male) Holy Ghost and general symbol of epiphany, (think Noah’s ark; the annunciation to Mary of her divine conception, the dove hovering over Jesus when he was being baptized by John in the Jordan, and many others), it is significant that the dove had always been a female symbol associated with very early Goddesses, as well as being a central image of goddess in the Minoan culture of Crete. Two doves are in the crown of the little Goddess with her arms upraised at the epiphany of a full harvest moon behind her. Since she was found at Knossos, it is not surprising that there are bull’s horns on her crown also, though it must be acknowledged that the skull and horns of a bull is an image the dates back to the Neolithic village of Catal Huyuk as likely a recognition of female reproductive anatomy; and even further back into the Palaeolitic period, where it is thought that the shape may have been associated with the new moon.
The moon is present in seven of the nine shrines, and is a personal addition, not present in the original images on the cards. It was through our group moon rituals that I grew to understand, accept and cherish my power as woman, and I have come to watch and recognize the phases of the moon as they appear in the southern hemisphere, from waxing to waning. the moon is a daily (nightly?) visual symbol of the energies of birth, life and death in its cycle of fullness, demise and renewal. It is an organic reality that cannot be discounted, with women’s monthly menstrual cycles having been closely entrained to shedding and renewing according to the pull of the moon cycle. Moon, woman and earth are all entrained to the cycles of gestation, nurturance and regeneration.
Goddess known as Lilith stands on a moon that could be seen as being in the last stages of waxing to fullness – or the first stage of waning: in the southern hemisphere starting on the right and moving back to the left. It is after all a cycle, without precedence of one stage over the other. She stands proudly in the top right corner shrine of my wall hanging. She is named Lilith in the cards produced by thea, and is also referred to often in relation to the Goddess Innana/Ishtar. There are similarities to the images of Inanna, in particular the tall, slim and upright, naked body, the beehive headdress/crown and holding the symbols of power in her arms, upraised in a gesture of epiphany. Lilith is the first discredited woman in literature, the woman who told the first man, Adam that his sex didn’t please her, providing grounds for the first divorce. How dare she? Her disgrace and demonisation may have become apparent through the Bible story around the same time as the tribes of the Hibiru were getting together to sort out political ways to deal with the other tribes, and the various goddesses being venerated regionally, becoming the ‘lady of the might’. However, her primordial physical manifestation tells another story. She not only holds the symbols of power and wears the regal crown, she herself bears large wings, in a similar way to the Egyptian Isis. She is also flanked either side by two owls, birds that see in the darkness of night (as seen in the original image of the card, shown in an earlier post). Here, her bird claws stand on the snake skin, not to suggest the conquering of her supposedly uncontrollable sexual rapaciousness (remember Adam and Eve, where the snake was the helpless temptor (is this the masculine of this word, usually used in the feminine?) that she succumbed to - a story women have been burdened with for millennia since), but the snake as her powerful consort. With her shape-shifting capacity, she offers a cultural re-empowerment for women: she dares us to revision and reclaim her powers for ourselves, to transform our ways of viewing reality of patriarchal interpretations from an insubordinate woman to an autonomous woman.