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Sacra Vulva: Places of Origin
Moving left to right on the poster, then right to left, and so on.
Vanuatu (Colonial name: New Hebrides Islands, southwestern Pacific) pieced and painted wooden relief of female ancestors (with third eyes and headdresses) resting on lizards (compare the Ecuadorian reliefs below). Ecuador One of many stone stelas at Cerro Jaboncillo with women displaying vulva on one side, lizards or caimanes on reverse. Some curve-seated thrones like the one shown have been found. Even though only women are depicted seated on them, it’s common to see them attributed to male chieftains. Possibly female ancestors are shown, but many of the stelas have shamanic attributes. Some women are flanked by spiral-tailed monkeys (seen also in Argentinian bronzes), and this one has swans in place of hands. Brazil Tanga vulva-cover painted in red ochre with cosmic symbolism from from the rich civilization of Marajó island, 400-1300 CE. Along with necklaces and body paint, the tanga was the only garment women wore for everyday. (At right, a tiny clay figurine from the Tapajos region, much further up the Amazon river.) Cyclades Stone statue with beaked face and prominent vulva from Kárpathos Island. Early Cycladic culture, ca. 4500-3200 bce.
Iroquoia Bone comb carved with ancestral Mothers of the Wolf Clan, Mohawk Nation. New York or Ontario. Before the English settler conquest. Costa Rica Small greenstone icon from Diquis culture, circa first century CE. Belau (Palau in older sources), western Pacific islands. Dilukai icon of ancestral mother placed on eastern gable of men’s house in a matrilineal society. 19th century. “These female figures protect the villagers’ health and ward off all evil spirits as well. They are constructed by ritual specialists according to strict rules, which if broken would result in the specialist’s as well as the chiefs death. It is not coincidental that each example of signs representing the female genitalia used as apotropaic devices are found on gates. The vulva is the primordial gate, the mysterious divide between nonlife and life.” (Encyclopedia of Religion, “Yoni,” Vol.15, p. 534). Iran Fragmentary ceramic icon from Shushan (Susa), Elam (Khuzistan, in the southwest). These figurines are often identified as the Sumerian goddess Inanna, and Sumerian culture certainly influenced the Elamites, but the Elamite figurines are artistically distinct. And the Elamite culture retained its distinctiveness, so it is more likely that they represent the Elamite goddess Pinikir or Kiririsha. Circa 1500-1200 BCE. IranCeramic vessel of woman holding sistrum and bowl, from the period of Roman domination. A large number of Baubo figurines, often in the form of Isis or Besit, were created in the 1st century BCE and early centuries C.E. Nicaragua Stone monolith with heavy pendants, headdress, and clearly marked vulva. These stone sculptures are little-known, even though they are the tallest in the Americas. Chontales province, east of Lake Nicaragua, possibly 9th century CE. Congo Ivory amulet from the Kongolo district in the eastern Congo. 19th or 20th century. Canaan (Palestine/Israel) Vulva-shaped amulet of beaten gold with the dotted numinous field seen on many southwest Asian and northeast African figurines (Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Turkmenistan). Her mask-like face has a third eye. Several examples of this type of Canaanite amulet have survived, with variations on the theme. Circa 1200 BCE. Another example at right has a Hathor-head and shows a line of public hair ascending to the navel as a tree. Australia Bark painting from Arnhem land in the north, showing one of the ancestral and creative Djanggawul Sisters, with power shining from her vulva and its “feathered strings,” where “foam splashed from the sea.” India Carved wooden yoni icon radiating power, from south India, 1700s. The Brhadaranyaka Upanishad, Agni Purana, and other scriptures treat the sacred fire pit as the vulva of Shakti, into which priests pour offerings. A famous temple relief shows men worshipping a giant yoni. Congo BaPende ancestral Mother from southern Congo, carved and painted wood, probably early 20th century. This matrilineal society also placed statues of female ancestors on roof crests. Nepal Stone sculpture of Nagini, serpent goddess of the waters, cradling her vulva, and backed up by rearing snakes. Modern. Colombia Tiny golden figurine of goddess or ancestor with spiral crown, holding vessels. Quimbaya culture, circa 300-1100 CE. Many Colombian sculptures in gold and ceramic reverently depict the vulva. Gabon Detail from painted wooden relief. Many similar sculptures exist. Need more info on this one! Rapa Nui (Easter Island) Komari (vulva) stone, a central sacrament in womanhood initiations. Komaris also appear in the abundant rock art. Dominican Republic Taino shell carved with vulva pattern, circa 1200-1500. Shell amulets in vulva shape have also been found. Mexico Glazed ceramic from Nayarit, western Mexico, painted with numinous dots and spirals. Circa 1st century CE. Numerous figurines in this style have been excavated. Chad Bagirmi wooden sculpture of woman with vulva showing through skirt. Vietnam Ceramic plaque of woman with upflung arms and parted legs, flanked by two symbols of Tai Ji (the “Great Ultimate,” better known as yin-yang). Date unknown. Britain The famous sheila-na-gig from a church at Kilpeck, in Herefordshire (near Wales). Circa 1140 CE. An ancient proto-sheila was found at Caerwent in Wales (Roman Silurnum) and a threefold relief with a sheila figure was found in northern England, nearly 2000 years old. Serbia Vulva-stone from Lepenski Vir, Serbia, circa 6000 BCE. One of several neolithic vulva-stones arranged around hearth-altars facing the Danube. Cameroon Beaded women’s skirt with vulva pattern, Kirdi culture in northern Cameroon. Ethiopia Cowrie-bands worn over the shoulder. The cowrie was revered across Africa, Asia, and Europe as a symbol of the vulva and therefore of life-essence. The Dogon saw it as a metaphor for Nummo, which also manifested itself as speech and as water. Cowries are added to ancestor figure, masks, and womanhood initiation regalia. They were so highly valued that in China, India, and parts of Africa they functioned as money. The molluscs live in tropical waters of the Indian and Pacific, and yet were traded into paleolithic Europe.
Max Dashu founded the Suppressed Histories Archives in 1970 to research and document women’s history from an international perspective. She has photographed some 15,000 slides and created 100 slideshows on female power and heritages transhistorically. For nearly 40 years, Max has presented hundreds of slide talks at universities, community centers, bookstores, schools, libraries, prisons, galleries, festivals and conferences around North America.
Max Dashu is known for her expertise on ancient female iconography in world archaeology, goddess traditions, and women shamans. She has also done extensive research on mother-right cultures and the origins of domination.
Her work bridges the gap between academia and grassroots education. It foregrounds indigenous women passed over by standard histories and highlights female spheres of power retained even in patriarchal societies.