Notes about Masks from "The Living Goddess" by Marija Gimbutas

February 23, 2018

The faces of both male and female figurines display a peculiar shape: some show severely angular jawbones, while others look perfectly oval. This feature, combined with stylized eyes and other facial features, give these figures an otherworldly appear. Closer scrutiny reveals that these peculiar "facial features" represent masks. For many decades, archeologists failed to recognize masks on figurines, even those with a distinct demarcations between the faced the edge of the mask. In fact, at the Achilleion site in northern Greece (which dates from 6400 B.C. to 5600 B.C.), we found pregnant goddess figurines with detachable masks on rod-shaped necks. In exceptional cases, figurines hold a mask instead of wearing it. 

 

In contemporary cultures that still use masks in ritual, the masks serve to personify a supernatural force. The ancient Greeks employed masks in drama and in ritual for the same function: to embody the deities, as well as heroines and heroes. Masks most likely had a smilier purpose during the European Neolithic. In fact, the masks of the Greeks undoubtedly defended from Neolithic times. 

 

The Neolithic Old Europeans used actual life-sized masks in rituals and ceremonies. They probably created some masks grin wood, is we gave list them to decay. But life-sized masks of ceramic and metal have been discovered from the Vinca culture and in the varna cemetery of Bulgaria. Archeologists have uncovered masks from neolithic sites in the Near East, such as the Nahal Hemar cave in the Judaean desert of Israel. The figurines of Old Europe may represent ritual participants wearing masks, or an actual deity. Some masked figures lack specific features, but other remain intricate details that reveal aspect of the goddess the figurine embodies. 

 

Although Old European artists often used masks to indicate special aspects of the female divine, figurines sometimes directly assimilated animal characteristics. Figurines with animal-shaped heads occur frequently. Snake-, bird-, pig-, and bear-headed figurines have all been discovered. All these manifestations, whether masked or not, represent the intimate relationship among humankind, nature, and the divine during the Neolithic. 

 

By studying the markings on the masks and figurines, we can discern how the divine manifested through different animals. These masks represent the goddess' sacred animals, and when worn by a human figure they embody a fusions of animal and human forces. Figurines take on bird beaks, snake eyes, ram horns, or bear or pig snouts. sometimes figurines with animal bodies wear human masks. Deer, fish, elk, snakes, bears, frogs, rams, pigs, dogs, boards, hedgehogs, and waterbirds (to name a few) all played important parts in religious symbolism. 

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