ikhet_sekhmet: (ankh-mi-re)
'Witchcraft' Island [Blå Jungfrun, an island off the east coast of Sweden] Reveals Evidence of Stone Age Rituals (livescience.com, 22 September 2015)

Paleo People Were Making Flour 32,000 Years Ago (NPR, 14 September 2015)

Breakthrough in world's oldest undeciphered writing [Proto-Elamite] (BBC, 25 October 2012)

Nail Polish History Dates Back to 3200 B.C. (Nails Magazine, 1 January 1995) Not exactly an academic source, but interesting stuff if it's accurate.

Were the First Artists Mostly Women? (National Geographic, 9 October 2013) "Three-quarters of handprints in ancient cave art were left by women, study finds."

Alan F. Dixson and Barnaby J. Dixson. Venus Figurines of the European Paleolithic: Symbols of Fertility or Attractiveness? Journal of Anthropology, Volume 2011 (2011)

Oldest-known dentistry found in 14,000-year-old tooth (ABC, 17 July 2015)

Tattoos: The Ancient and Mysterious History (Smithsonian.com, 1 January 2007)

A Lost European Culture, Pulled From Obscurity (New York Times, 30 November 2009) Review of the exhibition The Lost World of Old Europe: The Danube Valley, 5000 - 3500 BC.

Last of millennium of temple marriages made in heaven (SMH, 30 April 2015): "Sashimani Devi, who has died aged 92, was the last Mahari devadasi (ritual dancer) of the 12th century Jagannath Temple in Puri, in the eastern Indian state of Orissa; her death brings to an end a tradition which has lasted nearly a millennium."

ikhet_sekhmet: (ankh-mi-re)
Will Roscoe's article "Priests of the Goddess" compares the Graeco-Roman gallus, the Mesopotamian gala (and similar cultic performers), and the Indian and Pakistani hijra.

They have several things in common:

  • they are priests of a goddess (or goddesses)
  • they're organised into groups, and employed by temples
  • they dance, sing, and play instruments
  • they are reputed to be homosexual and/or sex workers
  • they have an alternative "third" gender
  • and they have magical powers.

    It's those two last features I'm particularly interested in.

    The galli, singular gallus, "were originally temple personnel in the cities of central Anatolia", worshippers of the goddess Cybele, whose cult eventually spread throughout the Graeco-Roman world. The hijra are devotees of the goddess Bahuchara Mata; like the galli, they tell fortunes and can "utter fearful curses". (Lifting their sari to show their scars "doom[s] the viewer to calamity".) Their tradition may date back as far as "the early first millennium". The galli were called the "third sex" and the "middle kind"; the hijra are called "third gender", "not-male", and "woman-man" (Cf UR.SAL, "man-woman", ie assinnu.)

    As Roscoe points out, while the gala et al were said to be "gender transformed" by Inanna/Ishtar, we don't know whether this was a physical transformation. Interestingly, though many hijra are ritually castrated, many postpone this and some never go through with it; it's not an absolute requirement of the job. Roscoe points out that the same may have been true for the galli.

    This may have reflected an understanding of sex and/or gender which isn't reduced to the genitals, but has to do with cultural traits such as dress, behaviour, and profession. The galli wore "partly female and partly galli-specific dress", the hijra formerly mixed male and female clothing but now wear women's clothes; the gala sang in emesal, the woman's dialect, the kurgarru and assinnu "portrayed the goddess in ritual, by wearing masks and cross-dressing", the saĝ-ur-saĝ mixed male and female dress. Roscoe suggests that "since homosexual practices were, for the receptive partner, considered androgynizing, the sexual activity of galli served to overdetermine their status as androgynes". (p 205)

    "Why is gender transgression so often attributed with religious meaning?" ponders Roscoe. Nanda writes that the hijras "call into question the basic social categories of gender on which Indian society is built. This makes the hijras objects of fear, abuse, ridicule, and sometimes pity. But hijras are also... conceptualized as special, sacred beings... both Indian society and Hindu mythology provide some positive, or at least accommodating, roles for such sexually ambiguous figures."

    ETA: By contrast, Piotr Michalowski's article on the Ur III period gala doesn't mention gender at all. (He does state that "Ur III ceremonial life" was based on concepts and symbols "very different from any that became before and after".) He remarks that "galas were important players in economic and religious life", involved in funerals, funerary cults, and organising official music performances, and possibly other entertainment. It's possible that men could temporarily take the role of a gala, such as at a wedding.

    ETA: More on the galli from The Gods of Ancient Rome by Robert Turcan, who states that Cybele's cult was overseen by "foreign priests (a Phrygian man and woman, as well as by galli... castrated like Attis, the companion who was both lover and son to the goddess."

    The galli left the goddess' sanctuary only on procession days. One procession is described as being accompanied by cymbals, tambourines, trumpets, and flutes, and the frenzied brandishing of weapons; the frightened onlookers showered the galli, who were dressed in multi-coloured garments, with offerings of coins and roses.

    During another procession, mourning the death of Attis, the galli whipped and cut themselves, and amongst all the shrieking, music, and dance, the new would-be galli castrated themselves with a flint. (One ancient writer cheekily referred to this as "the very day when the faithful of the Mother of the gods began to groan and feel sorry for themselves.").

    Legally, Romans could not be galli, as they could not be castrated, so the ritual of the taurobolium was substituted for officials such as the archgallus: he was completely soaked in the blood of a sacrificed bull (followed by a sacred marriage with the goddess "behind the curtain" - I hope he washed first).

    Turcan also mentions the "armed dance" and self-mutilation of the prophetic priestess of another Anatolian goddess, Ma-Bellona; and the "mendicant eunuchs of Atargatis" who similarly "slashed their arms with hatchets or swords" before prophesying.

    ETA: The tablet BM 29616 relates how Enki "upon hearing that Inanna was vexing heaven and earth with her wrath, fashioned the gala, and provided him with an assortment of chants as well as accompanying drum-like musical instruments... in order to soothe the goddess and help calm her rage." (Samuel Noah Kramer's article also notes that the "iršemma is a composition, often melancholy in nature", written in Emesal, "that was chanted by a temple singer known as the gala to the accompaniment of drum-like musical instruments.")

    ETA: More on the hijra from Serena Nanda. The basic definition of a hijra is an impotent man who renounces male sexuality through emasculation. However, there are exceptions to this, such as hijras who were raised as girls, but did not develop breasts or begin to menstruate at puberty, and a girl with intersex genitals who became a hijra. Nanda spoke to a hijra sex worker who was "skeptical" about the idea that hijras lacked sexual desire, and to a hijra in a relationship with a man; another was angered that men who had been married and had children had "joined [the hijra] community only for the sake of earning a living". Nanda says that the "hijra role" encompasses "people whom we in the West would differentiate as eunuchs, homosexuals, transsexuals, and transvestites."

    Nanda states that "wearing female attire is an essential and defining characteristic of the hijra. It is absolutely required for their performances, when asking for alms, and when they visit the temple of their goddess Bahuchara... Long hair is a must for a hijra." They also adopt (and exaggerate) female mannerisms, take female names and address each other with female kinship terms such as "sister" and "aunty". However, they also behave in ways which would be "outrageous" for women - lifting their skirts, smoking, using "coarse and abusive speech and gestures" (Cf the "bawdy speech" of the kurgarru).

    Nanda states that "Whereas Westerners feel uncomfortable with the ambiguities and contradictions inherent in such in-between categories as transvestitism, homosexuality, hermaphroditism, and transgenderism, and make strenuous attempts to resolve them, Hinduism not only accommodates such ambiguities, but also views them as meaningful and even powerful." She points to the plentiful "androgynes, impersonators of the opposite sex, and individuals who undergo sex changes" in Hindu myths, which are familiar through popular culture.

    Kramer, Samuel Noah. Sumerian Literature and the British Museum: the Promise of the Future. Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 124(4) August 1980.
    Michalowski, Piotr. Love or Death? Observations on the Role of the Gala in Ur III Ceremonial Life. Journal of Cuneiform Studies 58 2006, pp 49-61.
    Nanda, Serena. "Hijras as Neither Man nor Woman". in Timothy F. Murphy (ed). Reader's guide to lesbian and gay studies. Chicago, London, Fitzroy Dearborn, 2000.
    Roscoe, Will. Priests of the Goddess: Gender Transgression in Ancient Religion. History of Religions 35(3), February 1996, pp 195-230. (The author has shared a huge chunk of the article online!)
    Turcan, Robert. The Gods of Ancient Rome. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2000.

  • ikhet_sekhmet: (Default)
    Pharaonic-Era Sacred Lake Unearthed in Egypt, ABC News 15 October 2009 [Temple of Mut at Tanis]

    Messages from the past become easy to read: USC researchers are producing crisp images of inscriptions and artifacts from biblical Israel and other Near Eastern locales and putting the pictures online. [Using a thing that looks like the Large Hadron Collider!] LA Times 2 November 2009

    An introductory "Thematic Essay" on Ugarit from the Met.

    And from the Met as well, a stunning Lotiform Cup from the Third Intermediate Period.

    The Real Story of Nazi Egyptology, Heritage Key 1 September 2009. "Ancient Near Eastern Studies in Germany will automatically focus on the peoples akin to us in terms of race and mind; Egyptology and Assyriology will recede into the background." Blimey.

    A splendid Durga at the National Gallery of Australia. Note that the goddess' lion is biting the buffalo demon on the bum.

    Also from the NGA: the remarkable Bronze Weaver, a 1400 year old statue from Indonesia.

    Stone Age humans crossed Sahara in the rain, New Scientist 9 November 2009

    Babylon's Ancient Wonder, Lying in Ruins, Washington Post 28 July 2009

    An oldie but a goodie: New Women of the Ice Age, Discover April 1998

    Ivory 'Venus' is first depiction of a woman [Venus of Hohle Fells], New Scientist 13 May 2009

    Brutal Destruction of Iraq's Archaeological Sites Continues, Huffington Post 21 September 2009

    Beads: Ritual and Ornamentation – What Africa's Khoe-San were wearing 77,000 years ago, Heritage Key 3 November 2009

    Check Your Venus Fantasies at the Door, Gentlemen, Archaeology 15 May 2009

    "God is the potter, not Harry". Hee.
    ikhet_sekhmet: (Butterfly hair)
    A large number of recorded public lectures given at the California Museum of Ancient Art are available on CD. I hugely enjoyed a 1987 talk by Dr William Fulco titled "The Love Goddess in Western Semitic Tradition" - here are a few notes from that.

    As an example of cultural exchange between Hurrian and Vedic culture, Fulco compares the depiction of Kali with a description of a victorious Anat, who wears a necklace of heads and a girdle of hands. (ETA: A comparison also made by Marvin H. Pope.)

    Fascinatingly, Fulco suggests that goddesses such as Anat and Athirat may be the active versions of the things their corresponding gods represent; for example, where Baal is the war, Anat is the actual fighting. (I think there's got to be a comparison here with the Hindu idea of Shakti.) He connects the ambiguous sexuality which crops up throughout ANE religion. Later in the talk, discussing the significance of names, he remarks that Anat and other goddesses are sometimes called the "Name of Baal" - that is, "an external manifestation of [Baal's] personality"; "that reality visible and manifested to the outside - that you can interrelate with". Fulco also relates this to the feminine spirit of God in the Bible.

    Regarding the question of whether Asherah was the consort of Yahweh, Fulco suggests that she was seen that way in popular rather than "normative" worship (and hence all the condemnations of the practice in the Bible, which "give you a picture of what's actually going on"!)

    Regarding the relationship ANE religions and Christianity, Fulco rather wonderfully says: "If I may put it in a faith context, if the Incarnation means anything, it means coming in the language people understand... Near Eastern mythology, mythological language, forms of worship and so on were things people understood, and I think that's what the Incarnation means, it means to use those, change those... I feel quite comfortable with it. It gives me a sense of historical context."

    Pope, Marvin H. "The Goddesses Anat and Kali," summary, Vol. II, 51, in
    Proceedings of the 26th International Congress of Orientalists. New Delhi, 1968.


    Aug. 27th, 2009 05:39 pm
    ikhet_sekhmet: (Default)
    ikhet_sekhmet: (Default)
    The Art Gallery of NSW is currently running a magnificent exhibition of Indian, Tibetan, and Nepali art, Goddess: Divine Energy - just the most gobsmacking collection of paintings and sculptures of Buddhist, Hindu, and related goddesses. It's on until January.

    Lloyd sent me clippings on three exhibitions Up Over: Devi: The Great Goddess, shown at the Smithsonian in 1999; Divine and Human: Women in Ancient Mexico and Peru, shown earlier this year at the National Museum of Women in the Arts; and the New Yorker review of The Aztec Empire, shown in 2004 at the Guggenheim.


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