The Cult of the Great Mother Goddess in Thrace
Nelly Russ, PhD
2022년 증산도 후천선문화 국제학술대회 발표논문
The Cult of the Great Mother Goddess in Thrace
Nelly Russ, PhD
This presentation will focus on the cult of the Great Mother Goddess among the indigenous population of the European Southeast, whom ancient Greeks designated with the encompassing term Thracians. The Thracians are the most ancient population on the Balkan peninsula, for which written data has been preserved. The name Thracians was first mentioned by Homer in the second song of the Iliad, to denote the population of Thracian Chersonese. It became a collective designation for many tribes, which did not ethnically and culturally differ from each other, but bore the names of dynastic families, such as Odrysians, Triballians, Getti, Edoni, Bessi, Bithyni, etc. From the information left by ancient authors in the first century BC, we know the names of more than 90 Thracian tribes. The lands of the Thracians stretched from the Carpathians to the Aegean Sea and between the Northwest of Asia Minor to Vardar River to the west. There was also Thracian population in Greece and the Aegean islands before the arrival of the Greeks. As the Thracians did not have their own script, written sources about them are scarce and of Greek origin.
Two main deities stand out as central in the Thracian system of religious beliefs – the Great Mother Goddess and the supreme solar-chthonic male god, whose personification on earth was the king. In fact, the idea of fertility and procreation, embodied in the female image, is evident in visual culture of the Balkan peninsula since the Neolithic era and in Thrace we find a continuation of an ancient indigenous cult that encompassed the entire European Southeast. A number of cultic complexes in Southern Bulgaria and rock sanctuaries in the eastern Rhodope Mountain (Raduncheva, 1996, 2002) suggest that during the Neolithic era, the Great Mother Goddess was universally revered on the Balkan peninsula. This is evidenced by the hundreds of anthropomorphic clay statuettes continuously discovered in archeological excavations since the 1950s in Bulgaria. They represent the Great Mother Goddess with hyperbolized corpulent forms and often hoding a child as a sign of her role of a procreator and source of life.
The functions of the Great Mother Goddess
Initially, the functions of the Great Goddess were not strictly divided and articulated. Although anonymous, she has numerous faces and aspects that are detectable in her representations on a large number of gold and silver objects from treasures ritually buried in the tombs of Thracian rulers and nobility, that are being regularly excavated in Bulgaria. I will single out the main hypostases of the Great Goddess as visible in Thracian artworks.
Patron of growth and vegetation
Above all, she is the Mother Earth, the source of life, who stands at the beginning and the end of all existence. She brings to life the newborn and welcomes back those who die and return to her womb. She promotes growth - the strength on which depends the eternal cycle of rebirth, the new spring renewal and the vegetation. Many of her images mixed with plant motifs are found on ornaments, earrings and rhytons, phials and applications.
On a phial from the village of Lukovit, from the 4th century BC, her image encircles the body of the vessel as two concentric rows of female heads alternating with plant ornaments.
The decoration on a goblet from Strelcha from the same period is similar –longhaired female heads are depicted frontally and separated by palmettes as symbols of the tree of life. A phial of the treasure from the village of Rogozen is similar, and on another phial, again from the 4th century BC, five palmettes are depicted under seven female heads.
An expanded version of this motif are the images on the breastplates from the village of Mezek, and from the village of Varbitsa (4th century BC), where in the center is a female head, flanked by palmettes and twisting twigs with flowers.
The same motif is found in the caryatids from the tomb near the village of Sveshtari from the 3rd century BC whose skirts are shaped as a flower.
The role of the Great Mother Goddess as a source of vegetative energy is evident in all these artworks. The following account by Arian can be understood in the same vein: “Trake was a nymph, an expert in spells and healing herbs. She could, on the one hand, eliminate suffering through herbs and, on the other hand, cause them. In the name of this Trake, it seems, they also named the country”. () Thus the Great Mother Goddess in Thrace was seen as the patroness of medicinal plants, who possessed the most intimate and secret spirit of all vegetation.
Potnia Theron: Patron saint of animals
We can also single out another important aspect of the Great Mother Goddess in Thracian art - as the patroness of animals (Potnia Theron) and goddess of hunting. On a number of objects it is customary for the face of the goddess to be accompanied by animal images. We find her in this quality on a jug from the Rogozen treasure from the 6th – 5th century BC. She is represented riding a lioness, raising a bow and arrow. The goddess is depicted as a hunter who tames the most regal animal, who, for its part, embodies her power and ubiquity in the world of wildlife. On another jug from the same treasure, the winged goddess holds two animals by the front legs, and is flanked by centaurs. In the lower frieze is a bull fallen on its front legs, surrounded by predators - lions or wolves. The goblet from Strelcha from the 4th century BC is decorated with female heads and a row of alternating lion and ram’ heads.
Her most complex representation in her guise as Potnia Theron appears on a knee guard from Vratsa from the 4th century BC (Marazov: 2010). She is shown in the presence of raging lions, winged dragons, snakes and descending eagles. The precise symmetrical composition emphasizes the idea of the vertical structure of space in the sky-earth-underworld relationship, where eagles and dragons denote the upper sphere and lions and snakes - the other two.
Goddess of Death
The personified functions of the Great Mother Goddess in Thrace are not limited to domination over vegetation, wildlife and hunting. She watches over fertility and harvest, guards the hearth and home, protects women mothers and virgins. Her creative possibilities are limitless, but at the same time she is the goddess of night and death, who instills fear and terror. In this aspect she assumes apotropaic functions. Such are, for example, the image of the gorgon from Bashova Mogila, from the 5th century BC, or the goddess on a breastplate from the 4th century BC. They are called to protect their owner from enemies and evil forces, to preserve and protect him from dangers. Her staring eyes on the kneecaps from Vratsa and Ajigol again from the 4th century BC are to remove any obstacle on the way and to facilitate the actions and deeds of their owner (Marazov, 2010:20-22).
Bendis and the Names of the Thracian Great Goddess
The images of the Great Mother Goddess are anonymous, but she also bears local names such as Bendis, Kotito, Brauro, Zerintia, etc., all associated with the cult of the feminine principle. In the ancient literary tradition, the Great Mother Goddess as an object of Thracian cult is associated in particular with Bendis and sources related to her are most abundant. The cult of Bendis was made official even in Athens after 430 - 429 BC by a decree issued by the oracle at Dodona. At that time the Athenians needed the help of the Odrysian king Sitalk during the Peloponnesian War, therefore her introduction appears to have been connected to foreign affairs and diplomacy in the Mediteranean, rather than an Athenian willingness to accept the little-known Thracian deity into their state religious system. The festivities in her honor in Piraeus called Bendideia, are described by Plato, and were very popular. The last reference to her cult comes from the 3rd century BC, after which Bendis’ cult seems to have disappeared in Greece. The temple for Bendis with her statue, was erected at the site of an ancient temple of the nymphs and a number of researchers point to the common features of Bendis and the nymphs in Thrace (Mihaylov, 2010:112).
No Thracian literary sources survive to the present day, and theferore the only historical perspective on this Thracian matter is the Greek one. The earliest records of Bendis draw a parallel between her and the Phrygian goddess Cybele, who was the full embodiment of the reproductive forces of nature in the East. A fragment by the poet Hipponax from the 6th century BC is the earliest mention of her. He claims that “for the Thracians Cybele is Bendis” and according Hezekiah – an author of the 5th century BC, Bendis is the Great Goddess, understood as another image of Cybele. In support of this idea, Strabo associates her ritual celebrations in Thrace, with those dedicated to Cybele in Phrygia.
Most often, ancient authors present her name with similar Greek or Latin correspondences - translations-designations, to make her image more understandable, and to emphasize only one among her many aspects. Polien, for example, calls the goddess of the Thracian tribes Kebreni and Skaiboi, Hera. This comparison with the queen of Olympus and wife of Zeus fully corresponds to the idea of supremacy. A passage by Herodotus in the fifth book of his Histories, identifies her as Artemis Basilea (Queen) for the Thracian and Peonian women from the area of southwestern Thrace. He adds that women brought offerings to Artemis Basileia wrapped in wheat straw. This act is in accordance with the idea of fertility, and was obviously regarded as a prayer for abundant harvest. Therefore, Artemis Queen, who is different from Artemis - the goddess of hunting, is also one aspect of Bendis. Lukofron calls her Hekate, thus emphasizing her relation to death, night and the moon and Diodorus calls her Hestia, who guards the home and maintains the sacred fire in the hearth. Apollonius of Rhodes calls her Rhea - the mother of gods. This variety of names reveals the multifaced functions of the Great Goddess that became distributed between a number of separate divinities, who personify her different hypostases.
Hierogamy as Initiation to Power
The relationship of the Thracian kings with the Great Mother Goddess is dominated by the idea of their sacred marriage (hierogamy). The marriage between the goddess and the ruler, who is at the same time regarded as her son, is designed to ensure the fertility of the land and the cycle of the seasons, and at the same time to sustain the constant renewal of the power of the king.
The legitimation of the ruler is imagined by Thracians in matrilineal terms, where only the chosen one of the Goddess is legitimate. Since the hero-contender for the throne always comes from outside, only the marriage with the queen - the embodiment of the indigenous principle, can bring him power over the kingdom. The process of investiture of the ruler is illustrated in Thracian toreutics. In the series of applications from Letnitsa from the 4th century BC, the hero must defeat the three-headed dragon - the indigenous ruler of the land. By freeing the princess - the daughter of the local goddess of the earth, and marrying her, he receives the insignia of power. On one of the applications, the intimate relation of a married couple is naturalistically depicted. Behind the couple stands a woman who holds a twig between them, in her left is an amphora. In fact, the goddess participates in the scene in two of her hypostases - as a source of life and as a guarantee of the king’s power and right to rule. The two female figures denote her virginal and matronal aspect, and the man in the composition, who corresponds to the Thracian king, is thus turned to a god as a result of the marriage ceremony.
The same idea appears in the central scene in the murals decorating the tomb of the 4th century BC near Kazanlak in Central Bulgaria. At the foreground are depicted the local king and his wife, and behind them, just as in the ornament from Letnitsa, stands a second female figure, dressed in a long robe, carrying a tray with fruit. Again, the frescoes reveal the idea of a sacred marriage for both goddesses - mother and daughter, in the company of the ruler. The marriage with the mother would ensure the fertility of the land and the marriage with the daughter – the reaffirmation of the political power over it.
These ideas are illustrated in the story related by the historian Theopompus about the Odryssian king Cotis I: “Cotis held a feast, as if the goddess Athena were about to marry him. He prepared a marriage room for her, and awaited her in a drunken state.” This act has a deep symbolical content. In order to demonstrate his political power over the Athenians in the Thracian Chersonese region and the straits, Cotis chose as his wife one of the three virgin goddesses in the Hellenic pantheon who was at the same time the Mother Goddess of the Athenian polis. The ruler was obliged to perform a sacred marriage with her as a symbolic emblem and political allegory of the imposition of his power in the relations with Athens in the first half of the fourth century BC.
This idea is supported in a votive stele dated to 329 BC from Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen, discovered in Pyrea, in the temple of Bendis. In the foreground, the goddess and the healing half-god Deloptes are united in a central group, approximately twice as tall as the worshippers standing in front of them. Although the stele is made according to the canons of Hellenic iconography, the monument does not deviate from its Thracian symbolism and represents the sacred marriage between the Goddess and Deloptes. An inscription on a sacrificial relief from the island of Samos reveals that in addition to the definition of god, Deloptes also bears the characteristic of heros – half-god, half - man. The next step in this descending gradation is the representation of Deloptes as an ordinary man, which is hinted at by his iconography on the stele. This reveals the gradual transformation of the king on the way to his passage through the level of the heros to the state of god. By virtue of communication with the mother earth, her son - the king, becomes equal in every respect with her, and becomes a god-father.
The Great Goddess in Thracian Eschatology: Heroization of the King
Thracian kings always appear in some relationship with the Great Goddess. The marriage ceremony is implied indirectly in the scene of a rider (Heros) in front of the goddess, featured on votive stelae and frescoes. In a number of images on Thracian monuments we see the Great Goddess crowning the king-hero with a wreath, or presenting him with a phial, rhyton, etc. This scene is interpreted by researchers as a scene of investiture, where these objects played the role of royal insignia. After defeating the antagonist, the king-hero receives the deserved reward - the Goddess presents him with the insignia of power.
An example are the frescoes in the Thracian tomb near the village of Sveshtari from the 3rd century BC, where the king riding a horse is crowned with the wreath of glory by the Great Goddess. The scene represents the divine investiture into power, and at the same time, in the context of the tomb, it illustrates the eschatological idea of deification of the king after his death. Thus, the frescoes from the tombs near Kazanlak and Sveshtari reveal the two aspects of the development of the royal institute, both related to the Great Goddess as the source of royal power. On the one hand, as reflected in the Kazanlak mural, it is the sacred marriage that affirms the possession of power and ensures the well-being of the population, and on the other hand - as reflected in the mural at Sveshtari – it is the death of the king, leading to his apotheosis and deification that brings him immortality.
Here stands out the problem of the role and significance of the triad, composed of two female and one male deities. In Thrace it is documented from the end of the Bronze Age, and the earliest visual evidence of its existence are the female anthropomorphic figures from the necropolis near the village of Orsoya dated to the period between 14 - 12th century BC., some of which representing a double female idol. The necropolis at Orsoya reveals the early association of the Great Goddess with death (numerous statuettes of the goddess were placed in the tombs apparently as a sign of the return of the deceased to the womb of the Great Mother Goddess), and with the king, visible in the presence of the double ax - the main sign of royal power - and the images of a bull - a symbol of the male principle. In fact, the connection between the Mother Goddess and the ruler goes back to far more remote antiquity. It has been traced in the art of the Balkan Peninsula since the Neolithic era. The relief from the Neolithic temple complex near the village of Dolnoslav in southern Bulgaria from the 4th millennium BC is indicative of this idea (Raduncheva, 1991). The mother goddess is depicted in a sitting position, holding two children in her arms. Above her is a small full-length male figure with disproportionately tall crown. It probably signifies the privileged position of a king-priest. A snake appears as an element uniting the two figures.
Bendis in Greek Art: Association with Artemis and Artemis Monychia
The character and the development of the cult of Bendis in ancient Greece is well documented by literary and archaeological sources. As can be seen from the iconography, the first image of the Thracian Bendis was created in Athens and Attica at the end of the 5th century BC. Images of Bendis in Greece did not originate from the Thracian lands, but are a creation by the Greek masters and are refracted through Hellenic religious and aesthetic ideas. They present Bendis as the Thracian counterpart of Artemis, the deity of wild nature, of hunt and the protector of life. Their iconography is also similar.
Her typical iconography is found on the Copenhagen stele mentioned above and on another important votive stele at the British Museum from Piraeus, from the 4th century BC, where Bendis is depicted with a procession of nude athletes - probably victors of the torch race, at the Bendideia festival. Bendis is depicted propped on a spear, and holding a phial in her hands to accept an offering - usually this was the blood of sacrificed bulls. She is dressed in a short chiton with belt, with an animal skin cloak draped over her waist. She is a hooded in long Thracian coat (zeira) with pointed Thracian fox skin hat and is wearing high hunting boots. In a 4th century BC terracotta figurine at the Louvre she is depicted as Artemis with all her huntress attributes, similarly attired, accompanied by a dog and with a spear, now lost. The depictions of Bendis in vase painting, where she is depicted with other deities or individually, such as the bell-shaped krater from the early 4th century BC at the Louvre, the cup and the skyphos from the late 5th century BC, follow the same model. This type fully corresponds to the descriptions of Herodotus and Xenophon on Thracian clothing. Due to these characteristics that represent her ready for hunting, she has frequently been identified with Artemis.
The striking resemblance between Bendis and Artemis had already been acknowledged in Antiquity. For example, Herodotus in the fifth book of his Histories, where he briefly describes Thracian religion, argues that the Thracians did not believe in any gods but Dionysus, Ares and Artemis, except for the nobles who also did worship their ancestor Hermes. Bendis is mentioned not even once, but scholars uniformly argue that Herodotus was in this passage in fact describing Bendis, with whom Artemis was often identified. The possible reason why Herodotus chose to describe the goddess as Artemis instead of Bendis was due to his largely Greek audience - it would have been easier for them to envisage a representation of Artemis rather than a unknown Thracian goddess. In fact, the similarities with Artemis are possible only insofar as her personification of the patroness of nature and the animal world is taken by analogy. Therefore, Artemis is in fact a Greek translation of one of Bendis’ functions as the Great Mother. It also suggests the virginal aspect of the goddess. At the same time, her name, Bendis, whose etymology, according to the majority of researchers, derives presumably from the Indo-European root bhend, i.e. to connect, combine, emphasize the quality of her as a patroness of marriage, in order to reveal her matron aspect. She was obviously a goddess of marriage who watched over marital bindings. In addition, since the phial as the sign of receiving and giving life is a common attribute of Cybele, the phial in the hand of Bendis suggests that Bendis is closer to Cybele in the sense of the Mother Goddess than the Athenian Artemis. Artemis never holds a phial in her hand, while it is a common attribute of Bendis on numerous depictions.
A comparison of Bendis to a specific aspect of Artemis - Artemis Mounychia, would provide more ground to understand how was the Thracian goddess understood in Greek context, especially since their sanctuaries in Piraeus stood next to each other. In the classical literature and in later traditions, Artemis was portrayed as a huntress - a wild deity of nature, and a virgin maiden. Artemis Mounychia, however, differed from this image. The characteristics of this particular Artemis were in fact more similar to the cult of the moon goddess - Hekate that in Thrace represented another hipostasys of the Great Goddes. Here, she appears identical with Bendis, who was also perceived as a moon deity, which is visible in a number of rock reliefs, where she is represented with her hair decorated with a crescent moon. Artemis Mounychia was a deity of protection, one connecting women with the moon cycle, and one which represents marriage, fertility and the protection of human life and nature. Not only was the Bendis temple located close to that of Artemis Mounychia, but also the festival activities celebrating the two goddesses were similar in their relation to the moon cycle and their use of torches. During the Artemis Mounychia procession, round cakes with little torches were offered to the goddess, while the neighbouring cult of Bendis was celebrated with torch races. The torch is important element in the iconography of Bendis since it emphasizes her role as a goddess of moon and night. For example, on coins from Kabyle, she bears two torches, or one torch and a patera. On another coin from Amphipolis Bendis is represented with a torch, a shield and a Thracian hat. Torches were also the attribute of Hekate, with whom Bendis has also been often identified.
The two spears of Bendis
In literary sources Bendis is addressed as “doble-speared” and in a number of images she is holding two spears which seems especially important as this is a symbolism that goes beyond a simple relation to hunting. In his comedy Thracian women, Cratinus calls her “doble-speared”, “because she was destined to receive two kinds of reverence - heavenly and earthly, and because she has two lights - her own, i.e. that of the moon, and that of the sun.” (Popov, 1981: 67) In this way, the author emphasizes the dual solar-chthonic nature of the goddess. The image of Bendis with two spears appears on coins of Byitinia kings, such as those issued by Nicomedes I from the 3rd century BC (Georgiev, 2014: 65). There she is depicted as a warrior - holding two spears in her right hand, a dagger in the left and with her shield propped on a rock. In fact, the cult of Bendis was exceptionally popular among the Bytins, who were a large part of the compact Thracian population in Asia Minor. They even had a month in their calendar, with the name Bendideios and during which they celebrated Bendis with lavish celebrations and ceremonies. In addition, the hagiography of St. Hypatius by Calinicus tells that when the saint traveled through Bithynia during the feast of Artemis, he saw the goddess standing on his way, as tall as ten men, spinning and grazing pigs at the same time (Popov, 1981: 29). From this we understand that it is in the form of Artemis that Bendis was preserved as the Great Goddess. On the one hand, this is emphasized by the pig - her sacrificial animal, a symbol of fertility, and on the other hand, by the act of spinning, because human life is seen as a thread and the Great Goddess is the one that sets the beginning and the end of this thread.
Bendis in Thracian art
Since the cult of Bendis in Thrace is not represented in written culture, material culture could bring more light to the presence of Bendis in Thrace. Reliefs featuring Bendis in the Thracian hinterland belong to two main iconographic categories (Popov, 1981:56-71). The first one is the Hellenized Artemis – Bendis. This depiction comes from a later - Hellenistic and Roman periods, and is always connected with Artemis as the Greek goddess of hunt. The reliefs of Artemis – Bendis appear on votive tablets from southwest Bulgaria, the valleys of Struma, Vardar and Mesta rivers, the western Rhodopes and the vicinity of Philippopolis (today’s Plovdiv), and are dated mostly to the 2nd and 3rd century CE. The goddess is iconographically similar to reliefs of Artemis known from the Greek world. She is depicted in a short dress, high boots and fur cap. A number of steles feature a hunting scene: accompanied by a dog she rides a deer and chases a boar. In one hand she is holding a bow, and with the other is reaching for an arrow from the quiver on her back. Researchers note that this scene is too similar to the hunt of the Thracian horseman.
The second iconographic type is the representation of Bendis – Great Mother. This depiction, exemplified in the 2nd century votive stele from a sanctuary in the Rhodope mountain, is traced to pre-Greek periods, but the tradition is surviving into Roman times as well. Since there is no written and epigraphical evidence, this deity remains anonymous, but shows iconographic similarities to other known deities such as Potnia theron and the Phrygian Cybele. She is closely connected to the cult of fertility, marriage and the delivering of children, as well as the protection of animals, vegetation and nature in general. These characteristics are similar to the ones of Artemis of the archaic period and of Artemis Basileia, described by Herodotus as the cult of fertility practised by Thracian and Paeonian maids, mentioned above. As for the iconographic type, Bendis is occasionally shown with attributes of fertility-related cults, such as pine cones and corn ears. She was also often identfied with deities of the night – Cotyto, Cybele, and Hekate. These deities were often associated with the life cycle and fertility of women and were famous for orgiastic night dances and celebrations. These goddesses are also known for their connection to dark magic and the underworld. Aristophanes in his comedy Women of Lemnos mentiones that on the island of Lemnos the worshippers of the Great Goddess of Lemnos practiced a dark magic, accompanied by human sacriice. The connection between the Great Goddess of Lemnos and Bendis is traditionally accepted and documented by a depiction of huntress on a pottery shard from Lemnos from the archaic period.
The Great Goddess and the Act of Spinning
The act of spinning related to Bendis as the Great Goddess in the hagiography of St. Hypatius mentioned above, appears as a mythological act of primary importance. The association of spinning with the Great Goddess is natural as traditionally knitting, weaving and spinning are considered typically female activities. The cosmogonic meaning of this action has been analyzed by a number of authors (Marazov, 1992: 293-297). Spinning structures the world vertically: the tow, which resembles a cloud, symbolizes the category “above”, the thread symbolizes the middle zone and acts as a mediator, and the spindle symbolizes “below”, death. In the Indo-European tradition, the spinning of the thread is always associated with human life: in the Hittite, Greek, Roman and Slavic traditions, all the goddesses of fate are spinners.
In general, the distaff and the spindle are characteristic attributes of Cybele, and often characterize her in statuettes and reliefs. The spindle is also found in the funeral inventory, and it is a question of whether it simply indicates that a woman is buried, or whether it has deeper mythological roots in the idea of immortality. Thus Bendis as a spinner ranks among the goddesses, in which an ordinary economic activity is transferred to the level of deep mythological meanings. The goddess who spins the thread can also use it as a weapon to bind the violators of social norms, for the observance of which she is vigilant.
In addition, the activity of spinning and weaving is often associated with hunting, as it provides hunting weapons, such as the hunting net. In a rock relief from Philippi, Bendis is depicted as a hunter catching deer in a net. However, the hunting symbolism hardly exhausts the rich semantics of the net. This iconography of Bendis appears as especially important, as it visually duplicates the etymology of her name, related to connecting and bonding in marriage, and is not just a sign of her hunting aspect, that is already expressed through the bow and the spear.
The Thracian Great Goddess as Part of the Eurasian cult of the Great Goddess
The cult of the Great Goddess in Thrace appears as part of a sweeping cult of the Great Mother Goddess that encompassed immense territories of Eurasia. The origins of this cult go back to the Upper Paleolithic and are represented mainly by small sculptural forms made of sandstone or mammoth bone. The oldest excavated artworks testifying to the cult fall into two types. The first type depicting a standing corpulent woman is represented by the Willendorf Venus, found in Austria on the banks of the Danube, but produced in the lands of today’s northern Italy. It dates back to between 30th and 25th millennium BC. Similar figurines were also found at Kostenki - an Upper Paleolithic site near Voronezh, a part of the Willendorf-Kostenkovskaya culture. A plump figure of a woman appears later in Hadjilar (7040 BC) and Çatalhöyük in Turkey (7400-5600 years BC), and at a later Neolithic and Eneolithic times in various forms.
The second type features a different canon of the image of a woman, also without elaboration of facial features. It is represented by the large number of female figurines made of the tusk of a mammoth, excavated at the Upper Paleolithic sites Malta and Buret in Siberia in the vicinity of lake Baikal, dated largely to the 22nd millennium BC (Mironova, 2013).They are represented bent at a slight angle, with emphasized breast and shoulders and reduced hands. The hole at the bottom of these figurines suggests that they were worn as amulets. A DNA analysis of the bone of a boy buried at Malta indicated that he belonged to the oldest genome known to science of a representative of the species of Homo sapiens, who was a distant relative of both modern Europeans and American Indians. Remarkably, identical female figurines in the same characteristic posture were discovered to the northwest of the Black Sea (today’s Ukraine, Romania and Moldova), at the site of the Neolithic culture Cucuteni -Trypillia (also known as Tripolye), dated to 5500-2750 BC. A line of succession between the two cultures is also evident by the presence of similar forms and motifs in pottery, including the swastika. This succession is additionally revealed by data from DNA analysis that have shown that large groups of population that inhabited Southern Siberia in the Paleolithic have migrated throughout the millennia along a southern route from the Altai region through Himalayas, Hindustan, Iranian Plateau, Anatolia, finally reaching from Asia Minor to the Balkans. It becomes evident that the cult of the Great Mother Goddess that has become pervasive for whole Eurasia has been possibly created by certain related clans and passed on to other peoples as they moved to new territories of residence during their migrations. Moreover, a number of motifs in Tripolye ceramic decoration are strikingly similar to those found in pottery of the Neolithic Yangshao culture along the Yellow River in China, suggesting that before subsequent migrations, the ancestors of both cultures have lived together on one territory and professed the same cult of all-encompassing fertility.
A whole complex of identical signs on Tripolye and Yangshao pottery can be attributed to the cult of the Great Goddess, since they appear as her symbolic images. First of all, these are the signs W and M as the main lines depicting the figure of the Great Goddess on vessels of Tripolye and the Majiayao culture that existed along with the Yangshao culture in the 3rd millennium BC (Mironova, 2019). The signs W and M are a reduced form of the Great Goddess as the patroness of animals - who also acts as a Bear, as evidenced by clawed paws on a vessel from Yangshao.
In addition, ceramic decoration of both Tripolye and Yangshao reveal a schematic figure of the Great Goddess with her torso delineated with broken lines denoting her arms and legs, suggesting the pose of a woman giving birth.
In addition to these signs, one of the key symbols of the cult of the Great Goddess is the sign of a diamond with a dot inside it, usually called in literature “sign of a sown field”. This symbol is commonly found in both Yangshao and Tripolye pottery decoration.
These striking parallels suggest that the cult of the Great Mother Goddess that appears as central for the European Southeast, with the Thracian Mother Goddess as one of its representatives, is genetically connected with the hypostases of the same cult in East Asia, such as Xiwangmu and Magu. Subsequently, it became the basis for the large popularity of the Christian Virgin Mary as the Mother of God in Europe, and the Buddhist Guanyin in China, Korea and Japan, where an originally male bodhisattva obtained female features.
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