God Was Pregnant ?

God Was Pregnant ?

by: Linda C. Eneix

"Fertility Cult." Those two words call up images of wild abandon and sexual frenzy; wanton displays of unleashed libido; sweaty young bodies thrashing before a stone altar, accompanied by the fevered clapping of a hundred hands and the pounding of wicked native drums.
Maybe. Maybe not.
But it does look like there was a time when pregnancy was next to godliness.

The term fertility cult is often used to describe pre-patriarchal societies which in most of the “civilized” world some 4,500 years ago, worshipped a Goddess. Of course, we’ll probably never know exactly how those neolithic people lived and how they worshipped. Not much survived of those early matrifocal people of mainland Europe once they were overrun and assimilated by aggressive Indo-European tribes identified by Archaeologist and author Dr. Marija Gimbutas in The Language of the Goddess, (1989, San Francisco: Harper and Row.) With the mobility of mounted horses and the authority of metal weapons, the invaders made relatively quick work of establishing a new order in the old world. A successful takeover would have demanded the smashing and widescale eradication of any pre-existing goddess spirituality. With a few exceptions, myths and legends were all that remained to carry memory of the ancient times. Over subsequent millennia, recorded history managed to distort or destroy most of that as well. The one clear remnant that comes down to us today is the use of such terms as Mother Nature and Mother Earth. (The ancient goddess survives in a margarine commercial.)

Archaeological remains on the Mediterranean island of Malta, however, have produced some remarkable and extremely interesting physical evidence. Huge limestone structures which are acknowledged to be the earliest remaining buildings still standing on earth have yielded material which points to a much different world than the one traditional reference books have given us. Not only have scientists found sculpture and carvings of plumply rounded devotional figures, but the floor plans of the stone temples themselves are significant. Gimbutas referred to them as clearly representing, above all else, the concept of regeneration. They echo the same maternal shape that is hauntingly familiar to many a mother who has ever examined herself naked in a mirror. One can easily imagine the concept of entering the “womb” of the temple for communion with the Goddess, and emerging “reborn” into the sunlight.

As humankind came out of the caves of Europe and western Asia, people soon learned something about agriculture, animal husbandry and the production of a continuous food supply. They already knew that females, both in the fields and at home, carried young within their bodies and gave birth. There was no great mystery about it. That was just how things happened. (It’s extremely difficult to believe that they didn’t also understand a need for the male of the species in reproduction, although some anthropologists argue this point.) When the people witnessed the earth bringing forth fruits and grains, they identified it with the same feminine characteristics of creation and nurturing. It was, after all, the mother who fed the young, and the earth that fed the people. In this way, the concept of a feminine deity of fertility and abundance would have been entirely natural.

When we talk about neolithic Malta, we are considering a time period long before Buddha and Mohammed, before Jesus and Moses and even Abraham. Sometimes it’s difficult to put aside those later influences and remain totally objective about the existence of a civilization which is neither recorded in the Bible nor described in the hieroglyphics of an Egyptian tomb. How is it that the Maltese “fertility cults” have been such a secret? It’s likely that the early people who had written language never knew about them.

As if by destiny, the megalithic temples of Malta were overlooked or ignored for many thousands of years. Abandoned for some reason at around 2500 BC, they sat in isolated silence for centuries. The roofs fell in. Weeds grew between the stones. Through a long and complicated history of foreign occupation and resettlement of the Maltese archipelago, the debris of ages continued to collect in Malta’s temples until 1827 when Ggantija became the first to be cleared. Until very recently they were thought to be something the Romans left behind, or perhaps heathen temples built by the Phoenicians during their long stay on the island. Scientific excavation did not begin until the 1920’s when Malta’s pioneer archaeologist Sir Themistocles Zammit undertook the project. In the mid-1970’s Dr. Colin Renfrew of Cambridge University in England used Bristlecone Pine calibration to accurately date the earliest structures to a staggering 3,800 BC. (That’s more than a thousand years ahead of the pyramids of Egypt.) There is some further speculation that they may be even older than that.

Although there is evidence of trade and communication with other regions, the “temple culture” of Malta developed their unique artistic expression and iconography along lines which are totally unlike anything seen elsewhere from the same time period. For more than a thousand years they successfully existed in peace and harmony with themselves and their environment. No evidence of weapons or warfare exists in the neolithic ruins.

All right. But god as a mother? There has been much said about the “fertility” and “Goddess” idols which have been discovered inside the temples and in the prehistoric underground burial chambers of Malta. Some of the excavated figures are clearly feminine images, skillfully represented down to the pleats in their cloth garments, the carefully braided hair hanging down their backs and the woven cane of their furniture. The carved heads in a group of stylized ritual objects strongly suggest male features with long noses and wide jaws. The bodies of these are straight and angular. They too are clothed. Other representational pieces are decidedly phallic in nature and leave no room for doubt.

The numerous “cult statuettes”, however, are something of a mystery. They are posed both standing and comfortably seated in various positions. Although headless, many are equipped with a socket between the shoulders, and tiny holes for manipulating a cord. Several were found with separate heads nearby. They may have been designed to fulfill the function of some sort of oracle. The important locations in which they were found unmistakably point to ritual use.

It’s been argued that these graceful statuettes with their corpulent nude bodies can’t possibly be female because they don’t have well-defined breasts. Neither does any of them have a penis to make it unarguably male. There can be no denying, however, that they are curved in the way that a woman usually curves when she lets nature take over. One modern Maltese gentleman proposes that the fat arms, thighs and calves on these figures are styled to signify strength.

Mr. Joseph S. Ellul, whose father was for many years caretaker at the Hagar-Qim site, theorizes that this is the power which would have been required to move the massive stone slabs which make up the temples. (Malta’s Prediluvian Culture, 1988, Malta: Printwell, Ltd.) The sculptures may simply be androgynous figures of abundance. Perhaps, in a society where gender was not the issue that we make it today, they were designed to serve equally with the modeled head of either priest or priestess, depending on who was officiating at the time. We may never know for sure.

One thing is certain: whether or not they ever accommodated wild orgies, the megalithic limestone temples of Malta were and continue to be places of immense importance in human history. They are remarkable evidence of a people who have been described by cultural anthropologists as among the purest and most impressive cultures that ever existed.

Personally, I have to wonder what our world might be like if the knowledge were widespread that once upon a time, God looked just like my mother!

The author has been a researcher of the Maltese prehistoric period since 1990 and is an advocate for conservation efforts at the temple sites. She has completed a novel about the “People of the Temple” pending publication in Malta.

For information on visiting the temples, contact The OTS Foundation