The Goddess and the Bull: A Survey of the Archetype
by Helen Benigni
In recent years, the study of cross-cultural symbols gained a new impetus with the coining of the term “archetype” by Carl Gustav Jung. Although psychologists such as Jung, attribute the formation of archetypes to a collective mind that gathers symbols through time, transferring them from one culture to another, a less romantic ideology of the formation of archetypes has added significance to the meaning of the concept.
Actual historical process comes to the surface in modern studies with archeological evidence in the forefront. By keeping the original conception of the archetype as a deep and mysterious part of our collective psyche and combining that idea with scientific data, perhaps the study of archetypes will strengthen our understanding of this cultural phenomenon. With this in mind, the discovery of ancient archetypes is entirely possible through interdisciplinary efforts.
Recently, the study of archeology has been combined with the study of astronomy to form a new discipline: archeoastronomy. Archeoastronomy or the study of ancient ruins and their alignment to the night sky has opened the possibility of yet another understanding of the archetype. With the addition of archeoastronomy to the study of the archetype, not withstanding and never losing the mystique of the human imagination, the study of archetypes is only enhanced by the symbols of time, those that reflect the patterns in the night sky as well as those that reflect the patterns of the earth. The archeological icons of a culture, the myths of a culture, and the symbols of a culture all contribute to the study of the archetype. Many leaps of the imagination are needed to re-create such symbols and compare them throughout the history of one or more cultures.
The ultimate problem and perhaps the hesitancy on the part of much research has been the reluctance to combine psychology and the humanities with the hard sciences because one requires speculative imagination, forethought and presumption while the other determines an objective account of the facts to form conclusions, respectively. The difficult practice of the mind, to combine scientific efforts and speculative thought, must be overcome if research is to move forward, or ironically, move backward, to examine ancient cultures. This is most likely the way in which the ancients viewed their reality, as a coherent whole without disparate parts.
In the discovery of an archetype, merging mythology with archeoastronomy is a major effort. Underlying the myths is the scientific data, the charting of the moon, the sun, the stars, and their patterns in the sky. Numbers, data, and patterns emerge accompanied by an image, an archetype. Throughout mythology, the same constant appears. Recognizing it through the patterns of the moon, the sun, and the stars in one year illuminates the study of the cycles of the heavenly bodies in their cycles beyond the year. The doors of precession are opened and the study of archetypes renewed.
The cycles that open the doors of precession or reveal the precessional cycles beyond the year begin with a renewal of one ancient archetype: The Goddess and the Bull. In this survey, not only has a new icon come to light, possible by the merging of the disciplines of psychology, comparative mythology, archeology and astronomy, but boundaries between disciplines have been broken in order to conceptualize and ultimately to attempt to understand our ancestors and the way they thought. For the future of research and human understanding, this opens the doors of the imagination as well as the doors in our mind to the cycles of precession.
Seemingly, the human mind has forgotten that the patterns of the year as well as those patterns that go beyond the year are relevant and worth forming into archetypes that aid our understanding of our relationship with the natural world. The archetypes of precession, numerous as they are and yet buried as they are in myth and culture, have revealed themselves with the most obvious cycle first: the cycle of the ever changing moon.
It is here where humans in Paleolithic times first began to count and conceptualize how the changing moon would affect their lives. Amazingly, our ancestors this far back in time, at the beginning of our realization of the connection between the starry dynamo and ourselves, came to the awareness that beyond the twelve cycles of the lunar year are the nutation cycle of the moon, where the moon rises in a different place on the horizon for 18.6 years and then returns forming a cycle of life. Added to this concept is the discovery that at nineteen years the sun meets the moon in its journey. Moreover, three of these lunar and solar cycles made up the lifetime of prehistoric humans. The archetype of these cycles of renewal upon which human life is based became paramount and was assigned to the creator of life, The Goddess, and her consort, the bison, or later, the domesticated bison, the Bull.
In the Paleolithic Era, The Goddess holds a bison horn which marks the cycles of precession. In the Neolithic Era, The Goddess has many symbols of regeneration to accompany her Bucrania or bull’s horns, and The Horns of the Bull become consecrated in the Neolithic temples of The Goddess. The emerging archetype of the Bronze Age Goddess and the Bull, which is measured on the Bucrania or The Horns of Consecration of the Mediterranean peoples, is paramount to the Minoan-Mycenaean culture. In the Knossos temple-complex of the Mother Goddess of Crete as well as in the temple-complexes of the Minoan-Mycenaean culture on the mainland in Greece, The Goddess and the Bull reach heights of importance and dominate the iconography. In the Bronze Age at this time in Europe and the British Isles, The Goddess and the Bull are prevalent in the iconography but relatively less important than the celestial events that accompany the archetype, which are measured on the stones of time.
The amazing feats of the megalithic stone constructions of Bronze Age Europe and the British Isles, such as the building of the Aubrey Circle at Stonehenge, emphasize the advancement of the science and technology as well as the worship of The Goddess and the Bull in this culture. Because the archetype of The Goddess and the Bull was of such great importance to the Bronze Age peoples of the Mediterranean, they chose to use it as a central image in their religious practices. Again, the modern interpretation of the disciplines as separate and the emerging ideology of the patriarchy where female deities were of secondary importance prevented a complete study of this archetype. Sir Arthur Evans and Martin P. Nilsson in the first half of the Twentieth Century did extensive excavations of the Minoan-Mycenaean culture, faithfully recording the details of their studies as archeologists yet ignoring the celestial alignments and the importance of the feminine in the culture.
Unfortunately, the seven volume set of Evans’ work is now out of print and not accessible to the modern reader. By examining Evans’s study as well as the works of Nilsson and by visiting the sites, the iconology of The Goddess and the Bull became evident to me and could be put in perspective. Evans records the archeological data of The Mother Goddess but ignores the role of the astronomer priestesses in the religion. Furthermore, his sees the temple-complex as a king’s palace, an Iron Age concept that evolved much later with the emergence of the patriarchy. The absence of a divine king or priest is evident in the archeological data; however, in his era, Evans viewed data through the eyes of the firmly established patriarchy of the Mid-Twentieth Century. Fortunately, Evans did establish that The Goddess was a Mother Goddess.
The Mother Goddess of the Minoan-Mycenaean culture emerges from the dust of ages and astounds our imagination, which has been throttled by the possibility that anything but a monotheistic father-god might exist. Without a father god or a king, the Mother Goddess, her young male consort, her astronomer priestesses, and the energies of the earth and heavens represented in the sacrifice of the Bull come to light as genuinely central to the culture.
Moreover, in the nineteen year cycle of the moon and the sun, The Goddess is represented as a mother with the obvious capabilities to regenerate and continue the cycles of the earth as they correspond with the cycles of the heavens. Seen as a source for renewal, she is rarely personified on a grand scale and subsequently remains a representative force of Nature. Only one massive statue has been un-earthed from the Minoan-Mycenaean temple-complexes that demonstrate her presence on a large scale as compared to the many large statues of goddesses in later civilizations, such as the Greek and the Celtic cultures.
In Minoan-Mycenaean culture, her iconology takes the form of many small goddess figurines among countless artifacts with her image as a seated, maternal figure much like later representations of Hera, in the Greek Iron Age, and the Matrona, in the Celtic Iron Age. Furthermore in Minoan-Mycenaean culture, her surname remains “po-ti-ni-ja”, and her forenames are listed according to her attributes as bride or snake goddess in the Mycenaean Linear B tablets; as further evidence of the goddess’ presence, it is notable that the tablets at Knossos only mention priestesses and not priests. Again, her common surname as a pre-Hellenic goddess emphasizes her tendency to be seen as seemingly almost monotheistic rather than polytheistic and clearly personified.
As a pre-Hera figure, The Goddess embodies the form of an omnipresent force of Nature, even in her bride aspect. Although her later associations with deities in the Iron Age in Greece, such as her name as Eileithyia, Britomartis, and Ariadne, are presented in maiden form, this does not take away from the fact that the bride aspect of the Mother Goddess of the Bronze Age was in fact a maiden about to join forces through the sacred marriage with the male in the form of a bull to regenerate the cycle of the moon and the sun. Birthing of the cycle becomes of utmost importance and the maiden must give herself through marriage to the cycles of birth and re-birth in the heavens as well as on earth.
This aspect as well as her aspect depicting the Chthonic forces represented in the snake and her Earth forces represented in the form of the lion or the sphinx make her image not only pervading, but unique. The idea of a female sphinx is as different to the cultures with emerging patriarchies as is the idea of an omnipotent feminine deity. The idea of a pre-Hellenic, pre-Hera, goddess culture must be considered as a possibility in the same way that the possibility of any deity, symbol or archetype connected to the heavens existed in order that a holistic approach to the study of the ancients arise in our culture. The Queen of Heaven and Earth on her throne surrounded by her mythical beasts is a concept that opens the doors of perception and the doors of precession.
With the emergence of the patriarchy, kingship and organized warfare in the Iron Age, the archetype of The Goddess and the Bull evolves as a symbol of male regeneration in association with kingship, with the forces of the goddess still present. The sacrifice of the bull in Classical Greece is the sacrifice of Dionysus as the Bull accompanied by his earth mother, Semele, the Maenads, his priestesses, and his wife, Ariadne. Likewise, the sacrifice of the bull in Iron Age Europe is best portrayed by Queen Maeve of the Táin Bó Cuailnge, or the Battle of the Bulls. Here, the goddess-like Queen is still the intoxicating female who regenerates the nineteen year cycle of the moon and the sun in her quest for the fertile forces of the bull and her connection to the land as mother of the earth. In a final representation of the nineteen year cycle of precession, the Celts and the Druids, their priestesses and priests, sacrificed the bull to the goddess in their calendar celebrations but depicted the cycle itself as a process of rejuvenation inspired by the goddess and practiced by the Druid Bards. Amergin and Taliesin, the great mythical Celtic Bards, move the cycle into poetry and see it as the metempsychosis or series of lifetimes of the spiritually enlightened. In the abstract, it is still the renewal of life and the celebration of life, death and re-birth.
Perhaps, the study of the archetype of The Goddess and the Bull, after prefacing the necessary changes in research and thought, is most attuned to through an understanding of the intelligence of our ancestors. It is here that the completion of the archetype and the possibility of the study of other similar archetypes will take place. Archetypes of the planets and the constellations within the context of mythology, archeology and astronomy are only possible with the acceptance that our ancestors possessed a complete and accurate knowledge of the precessional cycles, a knowledge evident to us only as a knowledge of facts. Only by relating the facts of astronomy to religion, philosophy and comparative cultural studies, will the full potential of our imaginations be utilized and our relationship with the forces of the earth be appreciated and kept in balance, a respect sorely needed in today’s economy of diminishing natural resources. This may be realized through two Iron Age devices that record the cycles of precession: The Antikythera Device of the Mediterranean and the Coligny Calendar of Europe. The discovery of the Antikythera Device in the Mediterranean reveals the knowledge of the cycles of precession including the nineteen year cycle of the moon and the sun. Likewise, the Coligny Calendar, discovered in France, is a device that measures the cycles of time into eternity. A translation of the Coligny calendar has revealed the knowledge of the ancients in the myths of the year. The iconology of the year in the text The Myth of the Year: Returning to the Origin of the Druid Calendar (Benigni, Carter, and Ua Cuinn. Lanham: University Press of America, 2003) reveals the myths of the year through comparative mythology and archeoastronomy. In a second text, The Goddess and the Bull: A Study in Minoan-Mycenaean Mythology (Lanham: University Press of America, 2007) the first precessional cycle, the nineteen year cycle of The Goddess and the Bull, begins by opening the doors of precession. By carefully measuring the moon in The Horns of Taurus, the constellation of the bull in the night sky at the Winter Solstice in its precessional cycle, we have opened the doors of future study to the patterns of the moon, the sun, the stars and the planets and our relation to them.
Elkins, West Virgina 2008