Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth

In Which One Midwest Man-in-Black Confers, Converses & Otherwise Hob-Nobs with his Fellow Hob-Men (& -Women) Concerning the Sundry Ways of the Famed but Ill-Starred Tribe of Witches.

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Why Do So Many 'Clay Ladies' Have Triangular Arms?



Why do so many of the “clay ladies” of the ancient world have triangular arms?

Let me mention three—not necessarily mutually exclusive—possibilities.

The first is schematization. For the sculptor, especially in friable clay, arms are problematic. Detached arms invite breakage, but when attached—held against the sides of the body, say—they tend to disappear visually.

So stylizing the arms into triangles overcomes both of these problems, while still faithfully depicting the body in its fullness. It's worth noting that, in many of these figurines, the legs and feet have also been schematized into a single, triangular form.

(Remember this salient point; we'll return to it later.)

A second possibility is that what we're actually seeing here are bent arms. A cursory glance over the corpus of these figurines will show that, in a certain number of them, the woman has her hands cupped beneath her breasts, offering.

In this case, the tip of the arm-triangle would actually depict, not stylized hands, but elbows.

Lastly, let us take a step back, and view the triangular arms as part of a visual entirety. Thus viewed, the whole body below the head is outlined, triangularly, by its three outermost points: the two arms and the joined feet.

Thus the body, viewed as a whole, reflects—in large—the sacred delta at its center.

Of course, we will never know for sure that these figures meant to those that made them. Given the vast area over which, and the vast amount of time during which, they were produced, there is likely no unitary meaning to be found in them.

But the contemporary pagan hermeneutic is no originalism. Though they inform us, we are not necessarily bound by the views of the ancestors.

In our day, the clay ladies continue to speak. What do they say?

Woman, they say.

The Body, they say.

Not in Doing, but in Being, they say.



For Robin Rayfield, with thanks and appreciation

for the elegant (and very useful) term,

clay ladies”






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