(Essay 1) Radical Doll Making From Willendorf to Today: The Relevance of an Ancient Tradition by Jude Lally

Guardian. Art doll by Jude Lally
Guardian. Art doll by Jude Lally

When I look at the ancient stone female figurines (such as the Woman of Willendorf), I wonder at about the people who made them and how those people experienced the world. While we will never know for sure there are many theories out there offering varying perspectives.

Some of these lead to damaging mindsets while others offer life giving outlooks. As a doll maker I suggest that these prehistoric figurines were the beginnings of the practice of doll making. This paper will examine the relevance of the doll in a tradition of Goddess honoring spirituality.

Stone Dolls

All cultures have dolls which serve a whole host of purposes. These range from Egyptian dolls accompanying the dead on the journey to the otherworld and Guatemalan worry dolls to which a person can tell their worries and facilitate a letting go, to Russian Matryoshka dolls, Hopi Kachina dolls, British corn dollies, traditional Vietnamese and Australian Aboriginal dolls and the sympathetic magic use of poppet and voodoo dolls.

The oldest dolls in the world are thousands upon thousands of years old. So old in time that we don’t fully know the reason for their purpose. These are the so called ‘Venus’ figurines.

The figure known as the woman of Hohle Fels is dated to around 35,000 BCE while probably the most well known of these figurines, the Woman of Willendorf, dates to 25,000 BCE April Nowell and Melanie L. Change (2014).

A Birthing of Culture

Holding replicas of these figurines in my hands, I can’t help but wonder about the intentions and the ritual carried out in the creating of these figurines as well as considering the relationship of these people to the world around them. While we all live on the same planet theirs was a very different world.

In later dates these figurines became carved with stylistic symbols, chevrons and spirals, zigzags and lines. Archeologist, Marija Gimbutas (1989) interpreted these as symbols of water and vulva and life giving which she explained were symbols of the Goddess.

I turn what I call my stone Goddess figurine over in my hand. She is an oval piece of rock with several layers of mica. She is yet to be carved, to take form. She came to me one Imbolc eve. Standing by the river in darkness listening to the song of the rushing water, I had noticed her mica glinting in the moonlight. Like I needed another rock I thought being responsible and leaving her in her place. Later that night she called me back and I picked her up, surprised how well she fits into my hand. She is my stone goddess. She is my connection back to those most ancient ancestors who I feel selected their rocks with great care and intention.

A Female World

I wonder if the ancients chipped their rocks within ritual, possibly holding a deep intention as the rock took on the honored figure of the female. Their entire world was female. She, the mother, nature gave birth and after the harshness of winter she retuned, life began to flourish out over the land. She, the mother, nature, gave birth and after the harshness of winter she returned and life began to flourish out over the land. She then grew with the growing sun through greening while plants and trees offered bountiful fruits and harvests until the sun started to wane. Then her energy went back down to her roots in an outward death and she became the old one ensuring death took place in order for the promise of rebirth. Over and over the cycle repeated – birth, life, death and renewal – within the earth, within plants and animals and the people themselves.

Gatherers and Hunters

We all are descendants of these ancient women and both you and I are linked by a red cord back to the Seven Daughters of Eve and Eve herself, our Mitochondrial mother. Theirs was a world of gathering and hunting – the gatherers providing the daily sustenance with the hunters providing the occasional kill. This sustenance way of life allowed for much free time and with their creative inspiration, interesting finds were plated and woven. Ursula Le Guin (1998), discussing Elizabeth Fisher’s work, explains that it was at this time that some of the earliest cultural inventions came about and, like the sustenance practices, it was women who birthed them. Containers such as a type of sling or net to hold those things that were gathered were made from the women’s creative inspirations. Further evidence of the role of women in developing culture is seen today in archeological finds. From counting sticks which measured the phases of the moon and marked the gestation of a pregnancy to dark recesses of caves adorned with magnificent artwork and the familiar red ochre outline of handprints, recent studies analyzing these say the majority were created by women – National Geographic (2013).

Continued in Part 2

See (Meet Mago Contributor) Jude Lally

Editor’s Note: This is also published in SHE RISES :How Goddess Feminism, Activism, and Spirituality? (Volume 2)

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Lately I have been listening to Marija Gimbutas discussing the figurines she unearthed in a series about her work posted on youtube. More than ever I am convinced that her theoretical perspective is correct especially since I have had experiences with clay that tell the same same story about the goddess who is both bird and snake… so many female figurines have been unearthed that I can’t help thinking that some of these goddess figures were invoking Her Spirit/Soul/Body in much the same way that you do with your dolls and I with my seed pods…