|Art by Jakki Moore|
If I look at the artifact named Willendorf purely from an anthropological perspective, I have a lot of curiosity around the many references to mother, goddess, comfort, love and acceptance. I wonder why, as modern women, we project these particular attributes onto a Paleolithic (or even earlier) artifact when in reality we have no idea who this figure represented or what she meant to the people of her time. So what is it about her that elicits our need to afford a clay figure from thousands of years ago, all these different attributes that may or may not be true?
Is it because as modern day women we crave a symbol, some proof, that at one point in human evolution women were seen as sacred and mattered enough for someone to hand carve an image of the women of that day?
Is it because we desperately want a voluptuous symbol of the great mother whose lap and breasts are sufficient to hold and sustain us... to love and comfort us?
Perhaps it is because as modern women, we have grown exasperated and weary of the male ideal of how a woman should look and Willendorf gives us both memories and hope of another way. Perhaps we need to know that at one point in the male dominated narrative of humans, nubile was not seen as the desired way of being—but rather She of succulent breasts, round belly and full thighs. Perhaps we need to know that woman in her fullness of all things was not only wanted but desired and honored.
Carving this figure from limestone with the tools of the time would have been a timely undertaking, requiring great skill, so are we reaching back through ancestral hands and minds to be able to touch and hold the thoughts and ideas, ways and rituals of an older way?
Do we need to hold an ancient idea of woman as sacrosanct to make sense of the ideas around women in our time?
I have no answers for the truth of the why is lost to time. All I have are my own ideas, but they are not answers from a scholarly perspective, only those of a woman of today. For me, this hand-carved vessel which holds the memories of a different time—this image of woman in her sacred fullness of body—is a representation of a culture deeply respectful of women and one that afforded them a high level of sacredness sufficient to be immortalized in stone. Further, there had to have been an appreciation of the earth and her gifts of dirt, clay, stone, bones from animals, etc., as those items would have been needed in order to allow the creation of such a piece.
So many conversations we could have, so many ideas and theories to debate and question—and, in the end, so many unknowns when all is said and done.
Perhaps it is only how she makes each of us feel that truly matters... only our personal naming and honoring of her that is important... only that our awareness encompass the knowing that even today Willendorf’s legacy of a body Round and Full, Sacred and Beautiful calls to us from a timeline reaching back to 30,000 BCE.
Is it really that simple?
For me, yes.
For even though scholars will tell us Willendorf was this or that, but not this or that and others will have their own opinions, it is up to each of us to go within and gather our own sacred materials to hand carve the Willendorf that fits our hearts, minds and sacred intuitive knowing.
We must each create our own Willendorf.
-Arlene Bailey, ©2020 from the upcoming anthology, Willendorf's Legacy: The Sacred Body