Ancient Wisdom to Heal Our Modern Time:
A Deep Dive into the Work of Marija Gimbutas
Philosophical Overview of Course
In the 1970s archaeologist Marija Gimbutas—already world renowned for her scholarship on the Bronze Age—wrote the first of four “Goddess books,” igniting a revolution inside and outside of the academy. And although she and her work have been assiduously omitted in the last three decades from establishment archaeology, her reputation looms larger than ever in the worldwide women’s spirituality movement. The orthodoxy has treated as a heretic and her followers as mindless acolytes; her profound theories continue to be ridiculed and dismissed out of hand, even as stunning new evidence—especially the new DNA science—confirms and corroborates her voluminous work.
In this course, Vicki Noble will guide our journey and synopsize the books Gimbutas wrote about the prehistory of Europe and the long, almost unbroken continuity of spiritual beliefs, visual and artistic motifs, ritual structures, and sustained human activities that have flowed like an underground stream through a substratum of women’s culture in southern, central, northern, and eastern European countries to this day. For those of us with European ancestry, this is an excavation of our ancestral roots going back to our origins more than nine thousand years ago. For those who have suffered under more recent European patriarchal intrusion and colonization, this will open a window to an earlier time before patriarchy when peaceful farmers from Anatolia settled in Greece (7000 BCE), eventually moving north and creating the extensive Danube Culture (6000-3000 BCE) which Gimbutas named “Old Europe.” In the final fifteen hundred years, that artistic, ritualistic, and highly-evolved matristic (female-centered) agricultural civilization was gradually destroyed by male Indo-Europeans (or proto-Indo-Europeans) on horseback in three brutal waves of invasion from the steppes north of the Black Sea. The last and most destructive wave (around 3000 BCE) eradicated the male farmer DNA entirely from the record, confirming the meticulous archaeological findings reported by Gimbutas. The Goddess religion—originally facilitated by women-priestesses—went underground and splintered into various cultural threads still found today in remote areas: folk music and group dance, sacred rituals and calendric festivals, traditional costumes and textile arts, herbal knowledge and “old wives’ tales.”
Why should any of this matter to us today? The global patriarchal methods of power-over and extraction of resources have brought our world to the brink of disaster, disrupting climate as well as human and nature-based ecosystems. Many effective and innovative approaches to remediation and reclamation of the earth (and our own health) appear to be new—permaculture, biodynamic farming, agroecology—but actually go back to the sustainable farming and animal husbandry practices of Old Europe. So-called “new” experiments in conflict resolution and social egalitarianism hark back to ancient matriarchal practices of consensus governance favoring cooperation and inclusion, which—in the large Cucuteni-Tripolye “megacities” of Ukraine, for instance—successfully avoided the centralization, class stratification, and competition we take as “normal” today.
The “civilization of the Goddess” (as Gimbutas called her magnum opus) provides us with a holistic model of human values, behaviors, and social organization that could literally save the future of life on this planet. Knowing that we have in our genetic make-up the knowledge or memory of this earlier way of life—that as a people we have experienced peace-on-earth—makes it easier to truly imagine that we could have it again. Each of the seven segments of this course (Thursdays: October 27th, November 3rd, 10th, 17th and December 1st, 8th, & 15th) will focus on the ancient material in the work of Gimbutas and then link to present-day issues and how this work might help us to resolve them. Students are invited but not required to read the Gimbutas books that Vicki Noble will discuss:
The Goddesses & Gods of Old Europe
The Language of the Goddess
The Civilization of the Goddess
The Living Goddesses (completed by Miriam Robbins Dexter)