New Age is Ancient

New Age is Ancient

by: Linda C. Eneix

New Age
adj. 1. Of or relating to a complex of spiritual and consciousness-raising movements of the 1980's covering a range of themes from a belief in spiritualism and reincarnation to advocacy of holistic approaches to health and ecology.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition © 1992 Houghton Mifflin Co. Electronic version lic'd from and portions © 1994 InfoSoft Int'l, Inc. All rts rsvd.

Six thousand years ago, in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, a “new age” society flourished in peace and harmony with each other and their surroundings. A thousand years before the great pyramids of Egypt and the palaces of Crete ~ two thousand years before Stonehenge ~ four thousand years before Jesus, this civilization began raising megalithic stone temples to the earth goddess of fertility and abundance. Today, standing in the remains of those ancient sacred spaces, it’s easy to evoke an image of mystic ritual:

A long row of people garbed in red and in black move like a pulsing artery toward the mammoth stone edifice. One by one they enter the squared portal of the Goddess’s temple. Curved interior spaces form the shape of The Mother’s body. Drums beat the pulse of the earth. Spirals, painted in red ochre and carved in stone, thunder the unending cycle of daylight and darkness, winter and summer, birth and death and regeneration.

Despite incredible antiquity, the prehistoric temples of the islands of Malta and the people who built them are news to most of us. Identified as the earliest existing structures by humankind which define space, they are acknowledged by the Guinness Book of World Records, although they haven’t yet found their way into most reference books or encyclopediae. Slowly, one by one, they are being added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.

The limestone temples are staggering feats of engineering, even by the standards of today. Site planning, retaining walls, corbelling, the horizontal arch, the earliest use of forecourts -- all are demonstrations of the birth of architecture in the Maltese Archipelago. Within the temples, stone benches are decorated with carved parades of sheep and goats, fish and birds. Elsewhere, a sow suckling her piglets, a bull in bas relief, a four-sided "tree of life" and the rolling waves of the sea adorn haunting interior spaces.

The people who built the temples left behind a physical legacy of a time of peace and spiritual communion with the Mother Earth which has been called the purest and most impressive in the world. (dra. Veronica Veen, 1992, Inanna-Fia, Haarlem, Holland.) For more than a thousand years, the "temple people" lived in harmony with their surroundings: weaving fine fabric, grinding grain, harvesting crops, tending animals, and communing with their Goddess. They had buttons and they had furniture. They did not have metal tools, wheels or weapons. They decorated pottery and sanctuary alike with the red ochre color of life and the cyclical spirals of unending turning. This was the "fertility cult" of prehistoric Malta -- successful for centuries and then suddenly gone without a trace by the time of Abraham, ca. 2,500 B.C.E.

A priestess stands at the altar, a blade of obsidian in one hand and the horns of a sacrificed goat in the other. The horns are placed carefully into a niche at the back of the chamber. Another priestess pours dark liquid into a hole drilled into the stone floor of the temple ~ an offering to The Great Mother. Fire burns in the sacred pit. The animal, taken with reverence and respect, will feed the community. Its hide and sinew will provide vital materials; its bones will become tools.

Contrary to popular belief, these neolithic, or “new stone age” people were not savage cavemen. The culture is described by J.D. Evans as “unequaled in Western Europe in their time and for many centuries later.” (Ancient Peoples and Places - Malta, 1959, Frederick A. Praeger, New York.) They looked very much like us, were intelligent and creative. They had learned how to assure themselves of a continuous food supply via agriculture and domesticated livestock. They knew the sky, aligning their temples to solar and lunar events. They knew the earth, choosing the right stone to hold water and the right stone for carving statues. Theirs was a world pervaded by a spirituality that could not be separated from any act or thought, and their faith was expressed in astonishing accomplishment. Pottery, sculpture and the structures themselves speak a language of sensitivity and awareness.

Just as the green plant withered in giving seed for the next crop, death was understood as a natural event in the cycle of a larger whole. The dead, with ceremony and ritual, were returned to the earth in specially prepared underground chambers to await regeneration. Recently discovered burials of the period indicate no class or gender differentiation.

A young woman with her infant in her arms, a man with the head of a boar, a boy with his puppy -- are all laid with the same care. The only sign of special treatment is in the elaborate seashell headdress of an arthritic old woman.

A woman prepares herself for the oracle. An oil lamp flickers against shadows as she listens for the voice of the Goddess to give her guidance. The stone speaks. When it is done, she will emerge, reborn, into the piercing sunlight of the courtyard.

There is also evidence to suggest that the living used the vast underground crypts for re-incubation and dream divination. (Certainly, after a stuffy night underground with the bones of the ancestors, morning and the sunlit outside world would be greeted with new enthusiasm.) But it would be the above-ground temples, roofed and kept in cool darkness, which would have served as daily reminders of renewal.

Unlike tombs to hold the dead, the Maltese temples were a celebration of life. The temple was the social center of the community. While serving as foodstore and school, hospital and theatre, it’s primary function was always spiritual. Thus, every aspect of life was imbued with the spirit of the temple.

Why Malta and its tiny sister island Gozo? It’s thought from the number of known temple sites that the islands were probably places of pilgrimage in early times. People from all over the known world may have come for healing, for learning and for communion with the Goddess. Researchers are exploring the theory of magnetic “power lines” running through the region. Perhaps something in the perfect wedding of sea and sky, sun and stone spoke to the people of that time. There’s no question that it speaks to the people of today.

Five thousand years later a woman steps down from the same stone portal and crosses the same paved courtyard. The polyester collar of her shirt chafes a little at her neck. She picks up a discarded plastic table-water bottle and, with a sigh, drops it into the refuse can.

It’s not unusual to see visitors who have walked in the temples deeply moved by what they’ve experienced. It would be difficult to imagine a more suggestive environment for pondering a life decision. Guards tell stories about strange goings-on in the dark of the night; dancing and candles; people who sleep on the cold stone floors; sunrise ceremonials and odd gifts left on the altars.

How does this relate to our New Age? There does seem to be a “seeking” in our culture today. There does seem to be a movement to “find something”; to replace something which isn’t working in our society. Many of the children of the twentieth century have found themselves with an empty place in their lives and a yearning for a peaceful, simpler, more “grounded” life. They’re reading books and taking classes in the hopes of discovering or recovering some lost secret to a more fulfilling existence.

According to dra. Veen, Art Historian and Cultural Anthropologist, “Many people in the Western world, not only women but men as well, have started realizing during the past years, that they have to cope with living in a patriarchal society and culture. However, male dominance, as expressed in the great world religions and most social systems as well, is only extremely young compared with the history of mankind. Of the proverbial 24 hours, maybe just five minutes.

“During the past 15 years the book market, especially in America, has been flooded with the so-called goddess-books. These often display an admittedly enthusiastic, but carefree amateurism in which the supporting archaeological evidence is rather outdated, apart from the numerous wild associations and interpretations. But recently also a few serious volumes, like that of [Dr. Marija] Gimbutas have been published. Although ancient Malta has started to be included now, real insight is still lacking. Malta’s prehistory is clearly a case on its own and has to be dealt with accordingly.”

Perhaps the ancient temple people of Malta have something to say to the New Age people of today.

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