A little about ancestors

The Venus of Willendorf, she knew. She bowed her head in the wonder of her own sacred nature, and her place in the universe. She embraced her fecundity, comfortable in a body that could nurture and sustain. She remains so even now, 30,000 years after her likeness was carved by loving hands. Or as my favorite art historian was fond of pointing out, “Just a thousand grandmothers ago.”

A thousand generations of being sustained by earth, and of returning that sustenance with reverence. It seems there was always an inclination to keep a record of that reverential act, maybe in part as some kind of receipt, but mainly as a votive to be shared across the community and even across generations. Could they have had any idea that we would see it even today? There may have been an inkling, yes.

The votive was meant to be passed from hand to hand, and indeed she is luminous from this generosity. She is cut from stone, but her body seems more like our own skin, soft and worn as it is from hopeful fingers. Did they find their miracle of good harvests and plentiful babies? We who see her today know that they did. We are proof of those gifts, and all the harvests that ensured our lives, shared by a thousand grandmothers.

Stonehenge, Andy Powell, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Our grandmothers saw larger effigies drawn from stone: circles of great giants, looming ever still on our landscapes. Great monuments sit heavy on the hills, their weight proclaiming their rightful presence, but whose elegant constructions defy gravity and time. They were made for the light. They come alive with celestial illumination, as though our sun could turn stone into skin. They are supple reminders of the immediacy of a thousand grandmothers ago.

Standing Stone, Didcot Photo © Des Blenkinsopp (cc-by-sa/2.0)

I have sat with them, wondering at how something as laborious and heavy as our shared past could all at once seem light, loving, and fertile. We know so little about how they were made, and what purpose they may have served; but poetically, that echoes our own self-concern. How did we get here? Why do we gather in this way? What does it mean? And then the sun rises, and the stones come alive.

In the wonder of the sunrise, a momentary illumination reveals these quiet mysteries are all at once the bones of our existence, and the softness of our being.

This is how I remember to keep my inquiries as such: strong, soft, and sure, true to the echo of a thousand grandmothers ago.

Featured Image: Venus von Willendorf, Thirunavukkarasye-Raveendran, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

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