*

MAYA-SAKTI-DEVI

Joseph Campbell

The earliest and richest aggregate of testimonials to the character and functionality of this all-embracing and supporting, universal divinity in the earliest period and theater of her pre-eminency is that illustrated and expounded in Marija Gimbutas's unprecedented exposition. And the fundamental original trait of the Goddess there represented at the opening of her historic career is that she was at that time bisexual, absolute, and single in her generative role. "As a supreme Creator who creates from her own substance, she is the primary goddess," Gimbutas declares, "of the Old European pantheon. In this she contrasts with the Indo-European Earth Mother, who is the impalpable sacred earth-spirit and is not in herself a creative principle; only through the interaction of the sky-god does she become pregnant."(20)

The idea is equivalent to that which in India is implicit in the compound noun maya-sakti-devi, the "goddess" (devi), as at once the "moving energy" (sakti) and the "illusion" (maya) of phenomenality. For according to this nondualistic type of cosmogonic metaphor, the universe as maya is brahman, the Imperishable, as perceived. It is thus its own sole cause as well as substance. The analogy is given in the Mundaka Upanishad of a spider and its web.

"As the spider brings forth and takes back its thread . . . so creation springs from the Imperishable."(21)  And further, in the Vedantasara: "As from its own standpoint the spider is the efficient cause of its web, from the point of view of its body it is also its material cause."(22)

In distinct contrast to the Creation attributed some six millennia later to the male Creator God, who in Gen. 1:27 is represented (like the Neolithic World Mother) as bisexual yet in Gen. 2:7 is declared to have 

formed man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, the creation and creatures of the all-creating Goddess are of her own substance. The dust itself is of her body; not inert but alive. Nor was there, at any time, an unformed "chaos" to which form had to be given by a god's intention. Form, in this nondual view, is of the essence of the cosmogonic process throughout space, which is of her body, and through time, which is equally of her nature.

An outstanding characteristic of many of the artworks illustrated in Gimbutas's volume is the abstract formality of their symbolically adorned and proportioned forms. In Gimbutas's words, 

While the Cycladic figurines of the third millennium B.C. are the most extremely geometricised, rigid constraint of this kind, though less marked, characterizes most of the groups of Old European Neolithic and Chalcolithic figures. . . . Supernatural powers were conceived as an explanatory device to induce an ordered experience of nature's irregularities. These powers were given form as masks, hybrid figures and animals, producing a symbolic, conceptual art not given to physical naturalism.(23)

Painted or inscribed upon these symbolically composed little revelations of powers intuited as informing and moving the whole spectacle of nature were a number of characteristic conventionalized signs or ideograms, which, as recognized by Gimbutas, were of 

two basic categories: those related to water and rain, the snake and the bird; and those associated with the moon, the vegetal life cycle, the rotation of seasons, the birth and growth essential to the perpetuation of life. The first category consists of symbols with simple parallel lines, V's, zigzags, chevrons and meanders, and spirals. The second group includes the cross, the encircled cross and more complex derivations of this basic motif which symbolically connects the four corners of the world, the crescent, horn, caterpillar, egg and fish.(24)

Statuettes of the Goddess in many forms (we have no knowledge of her names at that time) identify her with every one of these tokens of the structuring force of a universe of which she (like the spider at the center of its structured web) is at once the source and the substance. As summarized in Gimbutas's words:

Female snake, bird, egg, and fish played parts in creation myths, and the female goddess was the creative principle. The Snake Goddess and Bird Goddess create the world, charge it with energy, and nourish the earth and its creatures with the life-giving element conceived as water. The waters of heaven and earth are under their control. The Great Goddess emerges miraculously out of death, out of the sacrificial bull, and in her body the new life begins.(25)

Compare the New Jerusalem, 4 X 432 billion cubic stadia in volume, like a radiant jewel coming down from God following the sacrifice of the Savior; the Eddie "earth anew from the waves again," following the immolation of 432,000 gods; or the periodic renewals, following the terrible dissolutions every 4,320,000 years, of the Indian Mahayuga; likewise, the glorious anodos of the Virgin, Kore, of the Greek mysteries, following the kathodos of her sorrowful descent into the netherworld, in the very way of Inanna, Ishtar, and celestial Venus, first as Evening, then as Morning Star. Compare, also, the predictable reappearances of the vanished moon every 29 days, 12 hours, 44 minutes and 2.8 seconds, following 3 nights of absence from a starlit sky.

 

In All Her Names

 

Mindfire