“Loving, knowing, and respecting our bodies is a powerful and invincible act of rebellion in this society.”
~ Inga Muscio
Replica on my birth altar.
I do not remember the first time I ever saw her, but I do know that I have loved the Goddess (Venus) of Willendorf sculpture for many, many years now. I consider her almost a personal “totem.” I do not see her as a literal representation of a particular deity (though when someone uses the phrase, “Great Goddess” or “Great Mother,” she’s the figure I see!), I see her more as honoring the female form. I love that she is so full-figured and not “perfect” or beautiful. I like that she is not pregnant (there is some disagreement about this and many people do describe her as pregnant) and what I like best is that she is complete unto herself. She is a complete form–not just a headless pregnant belly–I just LOVE her. She represents this deep, ancient power to me.
In a past assignment for one of D.Min classes, I wrote:
I have a strong emotional connection to the Paleolithic and Neolithic figures. I do not find that I feel as personally connected to Egyptian and Greek and Roman Goddess imagery, but the ancient figures really speak to something powerful within me. I have a sculpture of the Goddess of Willendorf at a central point on my altar. Sometimes I hold her and wonder and muse about who carved the original. I almost feel a thread that reaches out and continues to connect us to that nearly lost past—all the culture and society and how very much we don’t know about early human history. There is such a solid power to these early figures and to me they speak of the numinous, non-personified, Great Goddess.
I know ancient goddess figures are commonly described as “fertility figures” or as pregnant, but most of the early sculptures do not actually appear pregnant to me, they appear simply full-figured. One of the things I love about the Willendorf Goddess is her air of self-possession. She is complete unto herself. She may be a fertile figure, but she is not clearly pregnant and she does not have a baby in her arms, which indicates that her value was not exclusively in the maternal role. Early goddess figurines are usually portrayed alone, it is only later that we see the addition of the son/baby figure at the mother’s breast or in arms. The earliest figures seem independent of specifically maternal imagery, it is later that we begin to see Goddess defined in relationship to children or as exclusively maternal. I think this reflects a shift that women continue to struggle with today (in Goddess religion as well as personal life) with the mother role see as exhaustive or exclusive. In contemporary society, the only mainstream representation of the Goddess that manages to survive under public recognition is the Madonna and Child and here, not only has Goddess been completely subsumed by her offspring, but she is no longer even recognized as truly divine.
This image has been a potent affirmation for me many times in my life. One Mother’s Day, my then four-year-old son Lann found a little green aventurine Goddess of Willendorf at a local rock shop: “We have GOT to get this for Mom!” he told my husband and they surprised me with it that afternoon. It still makes me get a little teary to look at it, because it was such a beautiful moment of feeling seen by my little child. When I found out I was pregnant for the third time, my husband surprised me with a beautiful, large Goddess of Willendorf pendant. I was holding onto that pendant during the ultrasound that told us that our third son no longer had a heartbeat and during my labor with my little non-living baby, I wore and held onto the pendant. It went with me to the emergency room and I could feel its solid, reassuring weight against my chest when dressed in just a hospital gown and receiving IV fluids as blood continued to come from me as my body said goodbye to my baby. I buried a goddess of willendorf bead with my baby’s body and put a matching one on his memorial necklace.
Bead ready to go in with my baby.
On Mother’s Day the following year, right after finding out I was pregnant with my rainbow baby girl, my husband gave me a beautiful new Goddess of Willendorf ring. I was little scared to wear it, because what if she too, became a sad reminder of a pregnancy lost (I have only worn the pendant again a tiny handful of times since the miscarriage-birth experience, even though I took a lot of comfort in it during that time), but wear it I did up to and through the moment when I caught my sweet little living girl in my own grateful, be-ringed hands.
The website that he bought the ring from went down shortly after and I’d not ever seen another ring like it for sale. However, I signed up to become a retailer for Wellstone Jewelry in 2011. While on the phone making an order, I requested one of their Venus of Lespugue pendants. The woman on the phone told me, “we don’t sell very many of those. She seems to make people uncomfortable. In fact, we used to make a ring too. A venus of willendorf ring, but no one ever wanted her. I think because she is ‘too fat’ and she makes people feel weird.” Oh my goodness, I replied, I think I have one of your rings! I emailed her a picture of my hand and sure enough, though discontinued now, I’d coincidentally gotten one of the last ones ever made. She said they could get the mold out of storage and make some more custom rings just for me. Since I’m a business genius (what? You said they never sold? Sign me up for a dozen!), I immediately said yes and she shipped me several beautiful Goddess of Willendorf rings, which I then sold to several friends. (I still have two left if anyone wants to buy one! I would wear them all if I had enough fingers. My favorite ring ever!)
What does this have to do with my uterus making me look fat? Well, I’ve had the experience of wearing this ring and having another woman, a wonderful, peaceful, healer of a woman, laugh at it, like it was a joke ring. My mom sold a pottery sculpture version of the Willendorf to a man at our craft workshop and he laughed at her too saying, “this is hilarious.” Hilarious? Because she is fat, I guess? Several years ago, I read a post online titled Does My Uterus Make Me Look Fat? and I thought of my beloved Goddess of Willendorf, She of the Ample Uterus. While I can no longer locate the article itself and the post I had linked to in my drafts folder takes me to a re-direct site, I remember the article talking about how even pre-teen girls have a slight swell to their bellies. The author of the post was like, “duh, a flat belly IS NEVER POSSIBLE. THERE IS A UTERUS IN THERE.” When I read it, I thought about the jewelry woman’s comments about women not liking the goddess of willendorf ring because she is too fat. And, I saved a couple of quotes, the first two from the Our Bodies edition of Sage Woman magazine (Spring, 1996):
Batik Goddess of Willendorf from a friend at my blessingway.
“…so it has been: women’s power has declined as woman’s belly has been violated and shamed…5,000 years of patriarchal culture has degraded belly, body, woman, the sacred feminine, the soul, the feminine sensibility in both women and men, native peoples, and nature–all in a single process of devaluation. Because our belly is the bodily site of feminine sensibility, our patriarchal culture marks the belly as a target of assault, through rape, unnecessary hysterectomies and Cesarians [sic], reproductive technology, legal restrictions on women’s authority in pregnancy and childbirth, and belly-belittling fashions, exercise regimens, and diet schemes…a culture that literally hates women’s guts…” –Lisa Sarasohn, The Goddess Ungirdled
“Our bodies are vessels of the sacred, not the homes of sinful urges. Our bodies create and sustain the sacred. And that sacredness does not equate with any artificial notion of bodily perfection. All of us are fit habitations for the divine, no matter what the diet doctors, fitness gurus, health good fanatics, New Age healers, and the fashion police try to force on us. If we don’t take our bodies into account in our expression of [our religion], then it becomes a mere shadow of itself. When we are fully present in our bodies [women’s religion] becomes a three-dimensional, vibrant, fully fleshed-out expression of the divine…” –DeAnna Alba in How to Flesh Our Your Magick
And, perhaps from the original Does My Uterus Make Me Look Fat article, I had this quote saved as well that addresses the “love your body,” rhetoric so often expressed, including, I suppose, in even the quote I chose to open this post:
“the fact that “love your body” rhetoric shifts the responsibility for body acceptance over to the individual, and away from communities, institutions, and power, is also problematic. individuals who do not love their bodies, who find their bodies difficult to love, are seen as being part of the problem. the underlying assumption is that if we all loved our bodies just as they are, our fat-shaming, beauty-policing culture would be different. if we don’t love our bodies, we are, in effect, perpetuating normative (read: impossible) beauty standards. if we don’t love our individual bodies, we are at fault for collectively continuing the oppressive and misogynistic culture. if you don’t love your body, you’re not trying hard enough to love it. in this framework, your body is still the paramount focus, and one way or another, you’re failing. it’s too close to the usual body-shaming, self-policing crap, albeit with a few quasi-feminist twists, for comfort.”
–saved from this post
Even though I am a goddess sculptor myself, I have never been able to make my own version of the Goddess of Willendorf that satisfied me. I tried polymer clay, I tried pottery clay, I tried making my husband make one for me. None of them were right. Finally, just this month, my husband said, why don’t you make one, but using your own style? This was an ah ha moment for me and guess what, it worked! I successfully used the same technique and structure I use for all of my sculptures, but with a Willendorf-style-twist and I finally made my own sculpture that I’m really proud of. My husband made a mold and cast her in pewter and I’m wearing her right now. Her uterus might make her look fat, but to me, she is one of the most powerfully affirming images of womanhood I have ever encountered and there is nothing funny about her.
“Your body is your own. This may seem obvious. But to inhabit your physical self fully, with no apology, is a true act of power.”
–Camille Maurine (Meditation Secrets for Women)