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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in Pagan art

Posted by on in Culture Blogs



When, while camping this summer, I lost the little silver goddess that I've worn for years—alas the day!—I did what any “21st” century pagan would do.

I gave myself some time to mourn, then image-searched “goddess pendant silver.”

Of course, I turned up many different images of many different pendants. What surprised me most—try it for yourself—was that not just the majority, but that the vast majority of them, took on a single iconic form:

a stylized (usually nude) female with legs together, pointed toes, and arms raised over her head, often in such a way that her raised arms form a circle whose curves mirror those of her lower body.

What intrigued me most about this imagery is that it does not reflect any known (to me, anyway) historical prototype. This representation of the Goddess is new to our day.

If this really is so—at this point, of course, all conclusions must be tentative ones—just what does this new iconography say about the Goddess and her reemergence in our time?

First off, of course, we must remark that the image does, in many ways, follow historical precedent: the nudity, the pointed toes, are characteristic of much ancient “goddess” imagery. Our new imagery has continuity with the old.

It is the port-de-bras which distinguishes these figures from those that came before them. Goddesses with raised arms, of course, do occur in antiquity, though not commonly (detached arms invite breakage): certain pre-Dynastic Egyptian figurines come to mind, not to mention the charming little faience “Snake Goddesses” from Knossos.

It is the joined arms though, in their circularity, that mark off this representation as new.

Stand up tall. Raise your arms over your head and touch the tips of your fingers together, enhaloing your head. What do you feel?

This is not, of course, an everyday gesture. It has a special, balletic feel. What we see here, paradoxically, is kinesis in stillness: one movement from a dance.

This is a goddess in motion.

The gesture is one of opening, of self-revelation. This is a goddess revealing herself, herself her own revelation. This is a glyph of the Return of the Goddess.

The main axis of the image being primarily vertical, heightened by the upswept arms, we see here, frozen in mid-movement, the act of upward self-extension. Behold the Goddess Rising.

Her arms frame her head. She is her own context, rotating on her own axis.

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If you didn't know it was Christian, you wouldn't know it was Christian.

Check out this horse-headed St. Mark from the 9th-century Breton Evangeliary (gospel-book) of Landévennec. Looks pretty pagan, doesn't he?

For reasons that I won't go into here, the writers of the four new testament gospels are generally associated with certain animals in Christian iconography. Generally these animals—an ox for Luke, an eagle for John, etc.—hover around in the background somewhere behind the figure of the evangelist. It took the Celtic imagination to give the evangelists the heads of said animals, however.

In the humano-centric world of Christianity, the result ends up looking surprisingly non-Christian.

St. Mark is generally associated in Christian art with the lion, not—as we see here—the horse. This figure represents a development specific to Brittany, a visual pun: marc'h in Breton (compare Welsh march; the English word mare is a first cousin) means “horse.”

The hippocephalous saint is here shown wearing a rich robe. I especially love his cloche-shaped halo and the not-altogether-reassuring look in his eye. (Clearly the monastic artist was himself something of a hippophile: note the careful attention to the spotting on the neck, the sensitively-drawn muzzle, and the tossled forelock.) He holds a book in his left hand and presents a pen with his right.

In the context of the Landévennec Gospels, of course, the book and pen refer to Mark's composition of his eponymous gospel.

For witches, though, the book and pen hold a different meaning. (“Sign.” “I cannot write my name.” “I will guide your hand.”)

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