Friday, August 7, 2015

Witches and Shaman: Women’s Religion from Lapland to the Alps by Michela Zucca

[Author’s note: I would like to thank the research workers of the Arctic Centre and of the University of Rovaniemi, Finland, in particular Leena Tornberg and Tarja Tammia, for their help and contribution] 

From 1999 to 2001 I had to stay some time in Lapland as project manager of a European project, which allowed me to operate as an anthropological and cultural researcher on the spot. . . . the Alps and the Pyrenees . . . have been able, more than other territories, to maintain an archaic sub stratum of mysterious origin, which translates in rituals and traditions that bring us back to an animistic and shamanic past. Years in which woman was the supreme administrator of power. As priestess, but also as divinity. And as mother. 

. . .The deer was sacred to the German god Freir; and Cerunnos, the Celtic god of fertility, had deer horns on his head. But if we go further back in time, we find that the closest relationship is not between man and deer but between women and deer (or reindeer).
Artemide’s priestess was represented on carts pulled by deer. The goddess herself was represented always with a deer, or on a cart pulled by them. But Artemide is only the Greek translation of a more ancient divinity, maybe the most archaic adored by earlier people: the wood and Mistress of Animals.(1) To Diane in the whole Celtic world are associated the Matron, the three mothers, to which are dedicated a great number of inscriptions. Usually commissioned by women. Diane, East (Orient) Madonna, Mistress of the Buon Zogo is at the same time Mistress of animals as of witches. During the first coinfessions of the Sabbath, when the Inquisition had not yet created the stereotypes image of these ancient ecstatic cults, animals also participated in the feasts; and the Goddess (often named expressly as Diane, with the Latin name of Artemide) is the animals’ mistress, also expert in officinal herbs. 

But Atremide was also associated to the animal sacred to the whole arctic area: the bear. Or better, the she-bear. 

The affection of the she-bear towards her cubs was famous in the whole ancient world: maybe for this reason she became a motherhood symbol. There was a Celtic goddess, in the she-bear image, called Artio: epigraphs dedicated to her have been found on the Renan Palatinate near Buitburg, in the north of Germany, maybe in Spain. In Old Irish language, the bear is art; in Gallic, *art. 

The Goddess image, in bear form first and then human, is associated to the Matres, and resembles the one of a sitting Demetra. The connection bear-goddess/ nurse-goddess arises also from the cult of Artemide Kalliste and Artemide Baruronia, and in Crete’s cults and myths. 

. . .Shiites adored a goddess half woman and half snake that recalls immediately the Melusine’s myth, ancient divinity of woods, humiliated by the patriarchal society and forced to leave this world (but she took with her the art and the magic knowledge) . . .Still today, on the Alps and surely much more in traditional society, beasts represent entities with soul, sensibility and cleverness; sometimes of wisdom higher than human. 

Witches coming from the cold Mother, tomorrow we draw, We draw deservedly!(2) . . .
The ecstasies of the goddess followers connect irresistibly to those of the shamans, men and women but above all women, of Siberia, up to the Hokkaido island and the Japanese Ainu,(3) and of Lapland(4). In both we find the same elements: the flight of thee soul to the dead world, under animal resemblance, on animal horseback or other magical vehicles. The strong sexual symbolism. The Lapland shamans batons can be related to the brooms with which the witches are declared to fly to the Sabbaths. 

. . .The religion that is at the basis of these beliefs looks extraordinarily similar in the Alps and Northern Europe, in terms of rituals and the conformation of sacred sites. Principal divinity is always a mother goddess that is the earth and the whole universe(5) and, among the Samis, is represented by the Sun. 

. . .The sacred spots of the Alps, Celtic, or pre-Celtic, seem copied on those of Sami’s and of the northern population. They adored their divinities in places signed by waterfalls, enormous rock, stones, caves, springs, lakes and round sacrificial places(6), marked by stones (cromlech), by paling, enclosure walls etc. Probably the sacred disk is connected with the religion of the Mother Goddess because the first enclosure was the one of birth, place of life but also of death, in which was performed the mystery of creation, from which men were definitely excluded. 

A song from a Shamanic sitting observed in 1907 by Russian anthropologist Anutshin in the extreme North in Kaljagino’s district: 

Men and women, look at what is doing the old Salda . . . Girls and boys, look . . . Am I a stranger for you? . . .No, I am your mother . . .

 -Michela Zucca, She Rises: Why Goddess Feminism, Activism and Spirituality?

1. Gaetoano Forni, Gli albori dell’agricoltura. Ramo editorial degli agricoltori, Roma, 1990, p. 38, 43, 126, 128, 131, 140-141.
2. Giacomo Doglio, Gerardo Unia, Aritare le Alpi, Cuneo L’Arciere, 1980, p.53 and foll. And Arnolf Niedeerer, Economicia e forme tradizionale di vita nelle Alpi, in Storia e civilta delle Alpi, by Paul Guichonnet, vol 11, Milano, Jaks Books, p. 74-75.
3. Kira van Deusen, The Flying Tiger: Women Shamans and Storytellers of the Amur, McGill-Queen University Press, Montreal, Canada, 2001; Takashi Irimoto, Ainu Shamanism, in A.A. V.V., by Takako Yamada and Takashi Irimoto, Circumpolar Animism and Shamanism, Hokkaido University Press, Sapporo, Giappone, 1997, p. 31, 42; Bo Lundmark, Rijukuo-Maia and Silbo-Gammoe: toward the Question of Female Shamanism in the Saami Area, in A.A.V.V., by Tore Ahlback, Sami Religion, Almqvist & Wiksell International, Stockholm, Sweden, 1987, p. 158-169.
4. A.A. V.V. by Tore Ahlback, Sami Religion op. Cit
5. Takakao Yamada, The Concept of Universe and Spiritual Beings Among
Contemporary Yakut Shamans, in A.A.V.V., by Takakao Tamada and Takashi Irimoto, Circumpolar Animism, op.cit., p. 218.
6. Ornulky Vorren, Sacrificial Sites, Types and Function, in A.A. V.V., op.cit., p. 94109; A.A.V.V., by Louise Backman and Ake Hultkrantz, Saami Pre-Christian Religion, Stockholm Studies in Comparative Religion No. 5, Almqvist & Wiksell International, Stockholm, Sweden, 1985. 

[Editors’ note: This essay comprises selected excerpts from the original paper of the same title, published in Report Centro Ecologica Alpina, 27, 2002, pp. 46-58.]

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