Melusine Draco’s Seeking the Primal Goddess raises questions about the roots of pagan and polytheist practice, specifically regarding the origins of the “Mother Goddess” figure in both a devotional and symbolic sense. Beginning with an assessment of Jungian archetypes and the role of a collective unconscious in shaping human perceptions of the mythological and the sacred, Draco stresses instead the particularity of cultural worldviews and considers the larger influence that migration and diffusion have exerted in forging linkages and shared conceptions of goddess worship. Different cultural groups, particularly from deep in the Neolithic past, have formulated different ideas about the sacred and have symbolized the sacred according to diverse languages and cultural values. Similarities among symbolic and mythological systems, therefore, can be understood as the result of cultural migrations and intermingling rather than any “inborn” or “universal” conception of the sacred. Different cultures do indeed have different gods — and there are identifiable archaeological reasons for such differences. This diversity is reflected in artifacts as well as in the mythological systems that have characterized different cultural groups, whether those of the Celts or the Greeks or the earlier Egyptian, Anatolian, and Minoan civilizations (ca. 3500-5500 years ago). This book seeks to uncover some of the “roots” of the goddess, accounting for cross-cultural similarities by reference to diffusion and exchange, not archetypal “hard-wiring.”
Draco draws on archaeological theory, particularly the work of Marija Gimbutus and Margaret Murray, in support of her claim that ancient goddess worship extends wide across Europe and far into the Neolithic and Palaeolithic past. Evidence for this “primal goddess” of Old Europe, Draco argues, can be found in figurines as old as the Venus of Willendorf, ca. 25,000 years ago, as well as more archaeologically recent “Stargazer” goddess figures from Anatolia (modern day Turkey), ca. 5,000 years ago. Minoan Crete also factors into Draco’s theory, a theory that relies heavily on the work of Gimbutus and her claims about a matrilineal and matrifocal society that succumbed to invasions from the more warlike and patriarchal societies from the Indo-European cultures, particularly the Kurgans from the Pontic steppe north of the Black Sea.
Certainly the evidence in the archaeological record exists to indicate goddess worship and the high probability of cultures that privileged the feminine in ways markedly different from the more patriarchal societies of both the past and the present. The primal goddess that Draco seeks is therefore to some degree traceable, but so much indeed has been lost to time and the changing symbolic and cultural systems over the past 40,000, and even 5,000, years. Draco suggests that recent findings in molecular genetics and mitochondrial DNA (inherited by both males and females, but passed down exclusively through the female line) might serve as a connection to a kind of “racial memory” deep in the Palaeolithic past — a memory that might connect us all to our goddess-bearing ancestors. (Though is this not just a variation on Jung?) This is surely one of Draco’s more speculative lines of thought, but certainly the book overall poses a great many interesting points of inquiry. It is recommended for its generally well developed and provocative meditations.
Seeking the Primal Goddess is a book that covers a great deal of ground in a fairly short space. It is not without its problems, but the issues it raises about goddess origins, and symbols, are worth considering in a serious light.
[Reviewed by Christopher Greiner.]