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Knights of the Vine RUSSIA


Sacred Contemporary Oriental Art
From the Primordial Religion of the Great Mother to Sacred Contemporary Oriental Art
By Olga Slobodkina-von Bromssen.
Photo by Jason Platt

As I hold a clay figurine – a headless woman’s torso – dating back to 7,000 B.C., Olga Chugai, the owner of this unique collection, explains that it is the Goddess of fecundity. Other figurines in the collection also represent women – in positions of standing or reclining depending on their symbolic function – and all are elements of the cult of the Great Mother.

The cult of the Great Mother was a primordial religion practiced on the territory of contemporary Eurasia. Judging by the innumerable images which we have inherited from pre-history Eurasia, the source of the ancient religious feeling was the great sacrament of the woman’s life-giving force of creation. The Great Goddess Mother, whose womb gave birth to all creations, was the metaphor for Nature itself, the universal source of life constantly renewed in the uninterrupted cycle of life, death and regeneration.

Olga is showing me other figurines, both sacramental and those that imitate tools. She says that although they had been found in the fields of Ukraine and Moldavia, they are very similar to those found in the Middle East which date back to the ancient times of Mesopotamia. According to Chugai, Meso potamia, a most powerful culture dating back to 5,000-7,000 B.C. and perhaps even to earlier times, was created by women. “At least it’s quite clear,” says Chugai, “that when mankind started digging the earth and tools appeared, it was woman who harvested the grains; it was woman who breast-fed the wild animals thus domesticating them; it was woman who was responsible for healthy new generations; and it was woman who gave birth to the prehistoric religion reflected in the sacred art of clay figurines and protective amulets.”

A female amulet dedicated to the sacral marriage.
The central horizontal tube contains verses from the Koran

An object put on the ring finger of a young wife
so that her mother-in-law could hear the bells and is sure that the girl is working when she was embroidering or sowing

Bracelet – Bilizik.
A bracelet with snakes head at the ends, which protects the hand making it strong and fertile

If we talk about the first monotheistic religion of mankind, it was, according to Chugai, the Religion of Woman. “Even during the period of Paleolithic times (circa 100,000 B.C.),” continues Chugai, “one can find stone images of women with big wombs and breasts. It was the portrayal of the same Mother Goddess. With religion retaining the Christian image of the Mother of God – this is an endless thread.”

Along with the oldest part of her collection which includes clay dogs – guardians of fields; Chugai shows me other clay dogs, spotted – the spots portraying grains. These were made in the 1970’s and look very much the same as their prehistoric forerunners. “That’s the continuation of the tradition,” she says when I express my astonishment.

Olga Chugai, poet and historian, started her collection more than 25 years ago. A great discovery was the books by Marija Gimbutas, an acknowledged Western his torian. Gimbutas’ book Gods and Goddesses gave Chugai a clue to how it all began. “This book,” says Chugai, “turns all our ideas of pre-historic religions upside down or, to be more exact, puts them in the right place. Even in the ancient pantheon the female Goddess dominates.”

The greatest portion of Chugai’s collection includes the sacred artifacts of Turkmenistan. A sacred amulet slightly reminiscent of a heart in its form (but is actually a woman’s backside) was worn by women of the sacrum. It consists of 3 parts and symbolizes the three ages of the Goddess (or the woman): A young girl (Artemis or Diana in the antique tradition), a birth-giving woman (Aphrodite or Venus) and a grandmother who takes man away from this world. These are three facets of the same Mother Goddess. This amulet was not just a pure decoration, but was worn as an amulet responsible for regeneration (and therefore so important for a woman) and had a practical significance; it protected the woman from evil forces. It was put on the outside of all the woman’s clothes, which were multilayered in Turkmenistan, and fixed to the braids. These protective amulets are silver with cornelian and date back to the 19th century. Medieval Europe was using similar amulets for protective purposes.

A ritual ring for dancing

Half of a buckle for the dress.
It signifies a sowed field and the union of two families connected by a marriage

A bracelet from Burhara protecting the wrist. Women usually wore a couple bracelets

One of the amulets in the collection represents the sacred unity between man and woman: a triangle (symbolizing the female element) and a stick (a phallic symbol). The next amulet represents the sacred marriage and consists of diamond-shaped pieces. It was meant to protect the family. The diamond- shaped design is repeated in one of the carpets in Chugai’s studio.

As I pick up a comb, Chugai says that the comb was also considered to be a kind of protection apart form its functional use. “It symbolizes rain and serves as a wall blocking the evil forces.”

Another group of amulets portrays a birth-giving Goddess, and is also called snake-legged. It is the precursor of the Greek Orthodox Oranta. Other elements of the Mother Goddess were a bird, a bee and a butterfly. The proportion of images of men to those of women in the sacred art is about 1 in 15. But notwithstanding that men in the ancient world were of secondary importance, they also needed protection from evil energies. In Chugai’s collection one can see protective amulets for boys comprising an owl, which is one more element of the Mother Goddess. Men can at least rejoice in the fact that most dresses in the collection are men’s – Turkmenistan men’s wedding dresses and Afghan men’s dancing dresses. “Although the design of these dresses is mostly vegetation,” says Chugai, “it also goes back to the symbols of the Great Mother.”

“The world is changing again regarding woman’s independence,” says Chugai, “and in this connection, I think the accomplishment of Marija Gimbutas (who died in 1994) is about the fact that after excavating sites in Europe for 15 years, this great woman introduced clarity to the contemporary historical thinking with her books Civilization of the Goddess. The World of Old Europe, The Living Goddess and others.”

The Russian reader can now enjoy one of Gimbutas’s books Civilization of the Goddess. The World of Old Europe translated into Russian and published recently by Rospen Publishing, while those who are interested in authentic Turkmenistan silver jewelry – not only those to be worn on the sacrum, but original rings, earrings, bracelets or pendants, can buy them at the “Arti-Fact” Salon, “Ansy” Gallery.

A buckle on the head scarf.
A snakes, a cobra, which gives strength and wisdom to the head

Dagdam – A birth giving female goddess who is the cultural figure of the ancient cult.
It is the Great mother itself

A pendant on the braid protecting the women’s loins

“Ansy” Gallery: 933-51-78.
Address: Prechistenka 30.

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