Thursday, October 14, 2010

Goddess in Clay

Goddess of Pottery:

Someone made the first successful pot, probably after a long process and lots of accidental triumphs.  Any mythology often includes some of the joys of discovery, giving a creatrix a status well above that of mere mortals.

Originally all pottery belonged to women. "The art of pottery is a feminine invention; the original potter was a woman. Among all primitive peoples the ceramic art is found in the hands of women, and only under the influence of advanced culture does it become a man's occupation" (Briffault "The Mothers" 1927.)

The use of pottery for functions in the home are the places where she, the goddess of clay, must have resided.   And oh, how fickle she (the goddess of clay) was. For any of you who have had a beautiful pot fail, your hope that is dashed by it splitting, exploding, or just drooping into uselessness...think of all the failed pots that our foremothers had to deal with. No wonder there would have emerged a deity who might be asked to give the creations her blessings.

If you haven't noticed yet, pottery and sculpture are married and intertwined in clay works.  There's a wonderful incestuousness, but most of us just enjoy it with eyes wide open, and hearts singing whenever art enters into crafts, when the functional pieces have such beauty of design, light and color that they must be art.  But sometimes an object doesn't have a useful daily task, and then it becomes art.  What that means seems to change with the standards of different cultures, but it usually represents the highest values of that culture or at least the artist.   When sculptures have another purpose (in rituals for instance), they represent something else besides what you see...which means symbols were being used.  For the archaeological finds, they go with lost stories.

What are the clay myths?  In Sumeria, Mami (also known as Amadubad, Aruru, Ma, Mah, Mama, Ninmah and Nindum) is the potter creatrix, using clay to form seven male and seven female figures, which then are given life. As Babylonia took power over Sumeria, her name was changed to Aruru the Great...but the story was the same. And through the many recorded cuneiform stories, (on clay tablets) her name became Ishtar, Inanna, Ninhursag, and Mammitu.

Native Americans of the Southwest US had Clay Woman and Clay Man...mainly as part of a creation story. They are kachinas of Spider Woman's parents, and wear masks with white faces and red eyes. This is a dance/pantomime which the kachinas act out, where Old Man is dancing with a stick while Old Woman is making a pot...and so on. The story moves into the clay figures that represent every kind of animal...thus creating the actual ones. Clay figures are taken to be the seed from which the real objects grow.

Remember who found the goddess figures in various archaeological digs around the world, preponderantly male archaeologists.  Many a "Venus" figure was supposed to be a "fertility" figure.  But the preponderance of evidence says that any culture which provides leisure time enough for one person to create a non-survival-oriented object has just begun to support art.  The enjoyment and pleasure to be derived from beauty endure in the artifact, though the meaning and symbolism must be guessed at.   I now use the term "female figure" that has replaced the term "Venus" figure.  And not just terminolgy is frequently a stumbling block dealing with archaeological finds, but the changing of meaning completely, so it's not subsuming a prior culture with a term from the Roman one.  Thus the mythology again changes to a more "modern" one.

Today's goddess:

 Here stands Lillith, first wife to Adam in the Bible.  But she did exist before the Jewish tribes wrote her into their stories (myths?).  Do you know her history?

That shall wait for another posting.

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Thanks for making this a more personal connection by saying what you think. I'll post your comments for others to see soon!