Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Plato and total war on art


But you will know that the only poetry that should be allowed in a state is hymns to the gods and paeans in praise of good men; once you go beyond that and admit the sweet lyric or epic muse, pleasure and pain become your rulers instead of law and the rational principles commonly accepted as best. [...] Our defence, then, when we are reminded that we banished poetry from our state, must be that its character was such as to give us good grounds for so doing and that our argument required it.
Plato The Republic

With Plato Nature is turned upside down: the things of nature are themselves no more than copies of the Ideas rather than the other way around i.e. that Ideas are actually copies of things.
Thus the artist through imagination (1) works from the real and makes it into an idea and (2) challenges the right of the Father to form and shape the world. He only 'imitates' what God and the craftsman have 'made' and is therefore a liar.

God is as good as possible and remains in his own form without variation forever ... So we cannot have any poet saying that the gods disguise themselves in every kind of shape ... We must stop all stories of this kind and stop mothers being misled by them and scaring children by perversion of the myths ...
Plato The Republic

Thus the artists must be banned from the Republic as they would refuse to conform to the dominant ideology of absolute being and pursue what was possibly a counter-culture or remnants of polytheism and survivals of an earlier knowledge and ideas. This is Plato's all-out war against difference by denial and censorship, yet, at the same time, carried out in the name of rational knowledge and truth.

Refiguring lost narratives

It has been shown that cultural artefacts found in southeastern Europe date from 6500 to 3500 B.C.E. and in western Europe from 4500 to 2500 B.C.E. and that ancient beliefs, myths and rituals recorded in historical times are essential to the understanding of prehistoric symbols.

The aim of this collection of notes, quotes, and illustrations is to refigure lost narratives and reinterpret our cultural memory as a way to creating a progressive culture today. One way of doing this is to extend the examined cultural history back much further than the foundational myths of Prometheus and Adam.

The purpose of extending this inquiry to earlier belief systems is to show that the changes which took place then give us a different perspective on the usual interpretations of even the foundational myths.

The implications of these changes have radical implications for culture through time and its philosophical and ideological bases today.

Prehistoric art
The earliest known European art is from the Upper Palaeolithic period and includes both cave painting, such as the famous paintings at Chauvet, Altamira, Pech Merle, and Lascaux, and portable art, such as animal carvings and so-called Venus figurines like the Venus of Willendorf.

Fertility goddess
The fertility goddesses are the female deities to watch over and promote fertility, pregnancy, and birth in many polytheistic cultures. In some cases these deities were directly associated with sex, and in others they simply embodied related attributes. Some examples include Aphrodite in ancient Greece, Hathor in ancient Egypt, the Teutonic goddess Freyja, and Brigit in Ireland. Fertility gods are also present in many other cultures. Some archeological finds that have become associated with ancient fertility goddesses in the popular imagination are Venus figurines such as the Venus of Willendorf.

Venus of Willendorf - estimated to have been carved
between 24,000 - 22,000 BCE (wikipedia.org)

Matrilocality (also known as Uxorilocal marriage) is a term used in social anthropology. It describes a societal system in which the offspring of a mother remain living in the mother's house, thereby forming large "clan-families", typically consisting of three or four generations living under the same roof. Frequently, visiting marriage is being practiced, meaning that husband and wife are living apart in their separate families, seeing each other in their spare time. The children of such marriages are raised by the mother's extended matrilineal clan. The father does not have a significant role in the upbringing of his own children; he does, however, in that of his sisters' children. In direct consequence, property is inherited from generation to generation, and over all, remains largely undivided.

Mother right
According to mother right - so long, therefore, as descent was reckoned only in the female line - and according to the original custom of inheritance within the gens, the gentile relatives inherited from a deceased fellow member of their gens. The property had to remain within the gens*. […] Thus, in proportion as wealth increased, it on the one hand made the man’s position in the family more important than the woman’s, and on the other hand created an impulse to use this strengthened position in order to overthrow, in favour of his children, the traditional order of inheritance. […] A simple decision sufficed that in the future the offspring of the male members should remain within the gens, but that of the female should be excluded by being transferred to the gens of their father. The reckoning of descent in the female line and the law of maternal inheritance where thereby overthrown, and the male line of descent and the law of paternal inheritance were substituted for them. As to how and when this revolution took place among civilized peoples, we have no knowledge. It falls entirely within prehistoric times.
Frederick Engels The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State

* In ancient Rome, a gens (pl. gentes) was a clan, caste, or group of families, that shared a common name (the nomen) and a belief in a common ancestor. In the Roman naming convention, the second name was the name of the gens to which the person belonged. The term has also been used to refer to families within a clan system in other contexts, including tribal clans.

Mythology and ideology
Dumezil (1898-1986) devoted his life work to establishing mythology as an independent branch of the social sciences. His studies have shown that mythic beings are the means for explaining the order of mankind and the origins of the universe, and that mythic thinking is not accidental but occurs within an organized system of divine activities and functions. Thus mythology reflects an ideological structure.
Marija Gimbutas The Language of the Goddess (p xviii)

Hera was the Mother of the Gods, even of the Olympian gods, to whom she gave the ambrosia of eternal life. Hellenic writers tried to make her subordinate to Zeus, though she was much older than he, and had married him against her will. Their constant mythological quarrels reflected conflicts between early patriarchal and matriarchal cults. As the primordial feminine trinity, Hera appeared as Hebe, Hera, and Hecate - new moon, full moon, old moon - otherwise personified as the Virgin of spring, the Mother of summer, and the destroying Crone of winter.

Barbara Walker The Women's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets (p392)

The magic apple garden
Greeks said Mother Hera kept the magic apple garden in the west, where the Tree of Life was guarded by her sacred serpent. Graves points out that the whole story of Eve, Adam, and the serpent in the tree was deliberately misinterpreted from icons showing the Great Goddess offering life to her worshipper, in the form of an apple [the symbol of immortality], with the tree and its serpent in the background.
Barbara Walker The Women's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets (p49)

Adam und Eva von Lucas Cranach um 1513/15
Öl auf Holz 73 x 62 in Würzburg,
Mainfränkisches Museum (wikipedia.org)

The Serpent as Goddess
The symbol of the Serpent was the one most widely used to represent or adorn the Goddess of the ancient Near East or to depict, or mediate, the relationship between goddesses and human culture. [...] In its association with life, the Serpent represented much more than mere sexual fertility, although fertility was an important theme of the cultic occasions when serpentine imagery was used. Serpents hibernate in the winter and re-emerge in the spring. For this reason they were ideal symbols of the rebirth of nature every year and and represented a guarantee that even though all of life might seem to die off in the winter months, there was yet hope for the earth.
Mary Condren The Serpent and the Goddess (p8)

Promise and History
Allegiance would have to be to one god, Yahweh, and the central symbolism of the new religion would be based on Promise and History rather than on the Life and Cyclical Regeneration represented by the Serpent.
Mary Condren The Serpent and the Goddess (p11)

Sheela na Gigs

Photograph by Michael Sider - Sheela-na-gig on town wall
in Fethard, Co. Tipperary, Ireland (wikipedia.org)

It is possible that there is a goddess origin to Sheela na Gigs as the matriarchal aspect of our cultural heritage is covered over or integrated into modern religion. It could be argued that the sheela contains the three aspects of the goddess: vulva [maiden], breasts [mother], old face, ribs [crone]. It seems that the phrase sheela-na-gig has Gaelic origins. This phrase was repeated and written down from oral origins. The sounds tended towards similarity with the name Sheila - so was hyphenated accordingly. One Gaelic interpretation is 'Sile na gCioch' - Sheila of the Breasts. However, the sounds may have been distorted more than we think. For example, sheela-na-gig could have been written down with a different hyphenation as 'shee-la-na-gig'. Considering a 'sidhe' was a supernatural being (as in 'banshee') it could have been originally 'sidhe an gealach', the moon goddess. The Irish for moon, 'gealach', comes 'from Gala or Galata the original moon-mother of the Gaelic and Gaulish tribes' [see Barbara Walker, The Women's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, p.670]. If the l moved to the beginning in a consonant shift (for different reasons to do with ease of pronunciation, how the word was heard and repeated over time, etc.) it would sound like 'sidhe len geach' which could easily simlplify as sheela-na-gig, especially if the Gaelic version of the word was repeated over many years and then taken up by Anglophones who knew little Irish and were not sure of its Gaelic pronunciation or origins. Also, Barbara Freitag, in Sheela-na-Gigs: Unravelling an Enigma, refers to a William Battersby who 'points out that in the Irish language l and n are interchangeable' (p55).

What are Sheela na Gigs ?
Sheela na Gigs (or Sheela-na-Gigs) are figurative carvings of naked women displaying an exaggerated vulva. They are found on churches, castles and other buildings, particularly in Ireland and Britain, sometimes together with male figures. [...] The name was first published in the Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 1840-44, as a local name for a carving once present on a church gable wall in Rochestown, County Tipperary, Ireland; the name was also recorded in 1840 by John O'Donovan, an official of the Ordnance Survey of Ireland, referring to a figure on a church in Kiltinane, County Tipperary. There is controversy regarding the origin and meaning of the name, as the name is not directly translatable into Irish. Alternative spellings of "Sheela" may sometimes be encountered; they include Sheila, Síle and Síla.

Sheelas and folk religion
The overwhelming impression one gets from the enquiry into medieval motherhood is that women all over Europe sought the assistance of magical means in their hour of need, and that they continued to do so well into modern times. [...] The cavernous oval-shaped vulva, pointed to or held open by her hands, often shownas swollen or sagging, mostly pointing downwards, and in some cases so big as to reach the ground, finds a perfect explanation: it express the physical state pregnant women craved and worked for. It shows the desirable degree of dilation of the cervix immediately before, during or after childbirth. [...] A further morphological Sheela feature which makes a lot of sense in the light of the present argument is the posture. Whether standing, squatting, kneeling or seated, Sheelas are portrayed in the 'vertical' birth-giving pose.
Barbara Freitag Sheela-na-Gigs: Unravelling an Enigma (p87-8)

Sheela na gigs and the Church
In Ireland most Sheelas remained undetected by the Ordnance Survey teams, which would indicate that the country people preferred to keep them secret. [...] A more determined effort was required from the people of Dunmanway in Co. Cork. Windele observes that when the Sheela there was 'brought out occasionally for charms: the priest twice attacked it, but the people concealed it'. Finally, the fact that many Sheelas were buried in graveyards or concealed in walls or gate pillars stresses the esteem in which the people held them and how unwilling they were to obey the Church's order to destroy the figures. That these orders came from the higher echelons of the Church's hierarchy is documented by Patrick Corish, a retired professor of History from Maynooth College. 'In 1631 provincial statutes for Tuam order parish priests to hide away, and to note where they are hidden away, what are described in the veiled obscurity of Latin as imagines obesae et aspectui ingratae - in the vernacular, sheelanagigs.' As pointed out by Corish, Sheela-na-gigs were not the only reason for Episcopal concern. Pilgrimages to holy wells and trees, traditional wakes and funerals and other time-honoured practices redolent of 'the old religion' were further occurrences the bishops wished to eradicate.
Barbara Freitag Sheela-na-Gigs: Unravelling an Enigma (p68-9)

The med-wyf (wisewoman)
Nevertheless, for many centuries the rural areas remained largely free of the officious, interfering, commercial doctors with their leeches and lancets, which usually did more harm than good. Defying the disapproval of parish priests, people continued to take their illnesses and injuries to the village wisewomen, many of whom possessed time-tested knowledge of soothing herbs, anti-inflammatory and antipyretic drugs, practical dentistry and surgery, bonesetting, purging, hypnosis, massage, and other techniques for easing human pains, handed down from prehistoric times by the sacred sisterhoods of the med-wyf (wisewoman).
Barbara Walker The Crone (p128)