The Living Goddesses

Marija Gimbutas was well-known as an archeologist, Baltic folklorist, and a favorite of ecologists and feminists; her works were both stimulating and controversial. The Living Goddesses was unfinished at the time of her death in 1994; it was completed on the basis of her notes and suggestions from other scholars.

Part one, Religion in Prepatriarchal Europe, begins with the images of goddesses and gods, moves to temples and tombs, and concludes with roundels (sacred areas often thought to have been of military significance). Helpfully illustrated, it demonstrates the importance of fertility, death and rebirth in what she argues was a common culture that existed across Europe prior to the arrival of the Indo-European pastoral peoples with their male deities. The best known roundel, Stonehenge, confirms the religious nature of that culture.

Part two, The Living Goddesses, describes surviving aspects of the matriarchal Old European culture. Gimbutas argues that the “throne room” of Knossos has been fundamentally misunderstood—all its symbolism is associated with the worship of the Goddess; Greek religion represents a fusion of the old and new cultures, with Zeus’ rapes reflecting the brutal treatment of women during the transition era to patriarchy; the Etruscans were an island of Old Europe surrounded by Indo-Europeans.

She concludes with an argument that the Baltic pantheon preserves almost completely the ancient goddesses and gods. Neither Indo-Europeans nor Christianity were able to eradicate the memory of the golden past.