Digging more deeply into my spiritual lineage of Italian Strega/Janarra, I came upon this beautiful priestess or Goddess figure from the Passo di Corvo Neolithic site, dated to the 5th and 4th millennium BCE, in the province of Foggia in Southeast Italy.
Passo di Corvo is a neolithic site that covers part of a vast agricultural plain. The site was spotted by plane in 1943. Deep trenches, ditches and henges were visible from the air. When excavated, it was found to be a large village, with 90 C shaped compounds which contained “long houses” with stone footings. It is commonly thought that these compounds were family units in a village. Please remember that the idea of “family” in the neolithic had a very different structure than we do now. Since most villages at that time were matrifocal, family would have been women and their brothers connected through a matrilineal bloodline, as well as the women’s children and matriarchal elders. The people of Passo di Corvo were agriculturalists, raising goats and sheep and cultivating grain.
In the ditches and pits where found stone tools, pottery and animal bones.
Thousands of years of plowing on these fields did serious damage to the neolithic site. There is much that has been lost to the plows and modern farming but this Goddess or priestess figurine was found, her upper portion intact. She was covered in ochre which was a common symbol of sacred regenerative blood.
Archaeologist, linguist and scholar Marija Gimbutas identifies the figure as wearing a mask, indicating she is presiding over a ritual in which a human or the Goddess serves a specific function. She looks as though she is in trance, chanting or praying. It is definitely a posture of reverence. In her book The Language of the Goddess, Gimbutas places this figure in the chapter covering zig zag and M signs: signs of sacred water.
“In the iconography of all prehistoric periods of Europe as well as that of the whole world, the image of water is zigzag or serpentine”(23).
It is important for me to remind myself that someone, most probably a woman, shaped and crafted this Goddess/priestess all the years ago. When I do that I feel a communication coming through all that millenia of time. Like reading a book, I feel an intimacy with its creator.
Here the M and zig zag appear under the figure’s breasts with the butterfly or sacred labrys, signs of rebirth and regeneration. Here the medium for rebirth is liquid, moisture, breast milk: the fluids of the Goddess. Perhaps this priestess is calling rain for the crops, or ushering a loved one through the transition from life to death and death to rebirth
Perhaps this Goddess or priestess danced and chanted the dead toward regeneration in the womb of the Goddess. These symbols are language, codes, that when utilized activate the energy they represent. Life giving water is the medium here, placed under the breast to emphasize the life giving power of that sacred liquid.
“In Passo di Corvo the M sign is encountered “below the Goddess’ breasts; the source of milk and universal nurture”(Gimbutas 22).
There are also M signs across her back. She has a V shaped necklace or collar and markings on her head of hair or a head covering. She is one of two similar 7 centimeter terra cotta figures found. But we cannot be sure that is their full size. They may have been broken at some point.
These Goddesses or priestesses are on display in the National Archaeological Museum of Manifredonia, Italy.
© Theresa C. Dintino 2023
Featured image from The Language of the Goddess by Marija Gimbutas, p.23.
Gimbutas, Marija. The Language of the Goddess. Harper & Row, 1989.