Bridgit Meets Her 5,000 Year Old Ancestors In Malta
Peter and I like to plan a major trip every few years involving riding the air waves to a faraway place. He likes to be in the countryside; I like big cities. We have managed to combine our preferences pretty well on the last few trips: Paris with Corsica, 1993; Nice with the back roads of Sicily, 1996; and what about London and Malta, 1999?
Peter chose Malta because he had been there 41 years ago on a holiday when he was in the army. Shortly after getting our plane tickets, he received an e-mail from a member of the Malta Photographic Society with a question about his Women In Photography International Archive. Correspondence evolved, and he committed to giving a lecture to Society members on November 18th, the day before my 55th birthday.
I began to cogitate about the concept of leaving Bridgit parked at home. She weighs only 12.5 pounds, but she is extremely unwieldy with those triumphant partial arms of hers. She would have to be boxed and stowed. Traveling with a headless, legless torso was not exactly the footloose (sorry) vacation we had been envisioning. I couldn't leave her behind; I couldn't take her. My friend Dana came up with a great compromise: transport Bridgit in two- dimensional format. Why should losing one dimension diminish her in any way? So, I blew up a photograph of Bridgit to 18 by 12 inches and poster mounted the image.
While I was at it, I blew up the same image to three by two feet and put it in a poster tube.
How would Bridgit fit into Maltese environs? The very first book I read about Malta, Simon Gaul's Malta Gozo & Comino, stated that there is a temple complex on the island of Gozo (4 miles off of mainland Malta) which is 5,500 years old: Ggantija. Ggantija, and two other temples on the main island, are believed to be the oldest freestanding monuments in the world, dating to the Cooper Age, 3600 to 3200 BC. These temples are 1,000 years older than the oldest pyramids in Egypt, and predate Stonehenge by 1,500 years. They were built 3000 years before the Acropolis, and 4000 years before Copan. Gaul writes about the megalithic structure of Ggantija: "The dramatic shape of Ggantija (and others on Malta) has often been likened to an obese female form, with the threshold marking the entrance to the 'womb'." The smaller of the two temples has four apses, unlike its sister to the south. The north temple gives the appearance of being a headless voluptuous torso.
Associated with Ggantija are "headless female 'Fat' deities." These postdate the actually construction of the complex. A truly amazing feature of Ggantija is its perimeter wall, made of limestone and reaching 6 meters in height in some places. Some of the slabs are 6 by 6.5 meters! How were they transported? Legend has it that a giantess named Sansuna carried the stones on her head from the quarry site at the Ta'Cenc cliffs.
I found a truly wonderful book by Veronica Veen called Female Images of Malta: Goddess Giantess Farmeress. Veen has done extensive oral history with women in Gozo about Sansuna and about the creation of the various temples. Her book is a treasure trove for anyone interested in goddess culture, oral history, and the magic of Malta. Veen writes: "Viewed symbolically, the temples are women's bodies which you can go in and out of and thus experience a 'rite of passage.' " I resolved to celebrate the beginning of my 56th year (my 55th birthday) by entering Ggantija through her pelvis. My friend Steve sent me an e-mail stating that 11/19/99 was the very last time when a date would be all odd numbers until 1/1/3111. My birthday was destined to be especially odd, the last of the purely odd for over 1,000 years.
Before we left Malta for Gozo, we visited the National Museum of Archeology. The building, which houses the collection, was built between 1571 and 1575 as the Auberge de Provence. Peter and I, with the help of Deborah Sammut from the Malta Photographic Society, poster mounted the larger of the two-dimensional Bridgits. We transported her to the museum where a sign said it was ok to take photographs. Magical hours as we viewed the headless 'Fat' statues.
And, there is an enormous female figure, only the bottom half remaining, whose "twin", her replica actually, we would see later at the temple called Tarxien.
We saw the tiny Sleeping Woman from the Hypogeum. And, the small size -- its height -- of the headless Venus of Malta, found at Hagar Qim, is in direct contradiction to its stature.
I can close my eyes and see her now. Many of the figures look like female Buddhas. There are good photographs by Mario Mintoff and commentary by Anthony Bonanno about the museum holdings in Malta: An Archeological Paradise.
It turns out that there was an exhibit ending the next day, directly upstairs from the goddesses, called Temples of Malta: Seven Women, Seven Temples. The artists are all living and working in Malta but hailed from five countries. One of the women, Anna Grimes, painted The Venus of Malta from three different angles, and the viewing of it made the hair on the back of my head stand on end.
I also noticed a CD, Returning, by Jennifer Berezan at the reception desk. I asked the person at the desk if I could hear it, but she explained the CD player had been stolen. I bought the CD, a 52-minute chant recorded in the oracle chamber of the Hypogeum. The main ritual chambers are 5.25 meters underground. In the text accompanying the CD, Berezan explains that the oracle room was named for its phenomenal acoustics. "Its curved ceiling is elaborately decorated with serpentine 'tree of life' forms. When the human voice is intoned through a special aperture, the Hypogeum resonates like a sensitive instrument. This extraordinary sound, heard through the sacred darkness, echoes as the voice of the ancestors who have returned to the Mother of us all."
I walked down the street reading every word of the CD's text, only to discover that the CD was recorded less than one mile from our Emeryville home at Fantasy Studios in Berkeley. How hard could it be to find Jennifer Berezan? I figured I would contact Fantasy Studios when I got home, but I didn't have to wait that long. The very next day, hooked up to the telephone at the bar in our hotel, I received an e-mail by chance from Gaia Bookstore in Berkeley. Included in the events for December:
*****Thur. Dec 2nd 7:30 pm Concert & Slide Show*****
Jennifer Berezan, celebrating her new release Returning.
A celebratory mini-concert and slide show captivating the spirit and experience of her new CD recorded at the Hypogeum at Hal Saflieni Malta, one of the world's oldest Goddess temples. Berezan will share her devotional ecstatic meditation to the Mother Of Us All in the healing dark of this Winter Solstice season.
$8 Advance, $10 Door
December 2 was two days after I got back to Emeryville! I knew where I would be that night!
Meanwhile, back to Gozo on November 19th, my 55th birthday. Even though the island is only about nine miles long by 3 miles wide, we took a taxi from our hotel to Ggantija. Bridgit was wearing a green plastic bag for the occasion. The temple complex is out in the middle of nowhere, as much as anything can be, given the size of the island. It's really hard to get past one's first impression of the temple complex: those absolutely gigantic boulders, which form the outer wall. The "headless" temple is built right up against that protective wall.
As the books explained, the temples really are created in the shape of well-rounded females. I walked in with Bridgit, right through the pelvis.
You really do get a distinct feeling of being INSIDE even though there is no longer a roof and there are large gaps in the walls. The day we were there, there was a light drizzle, and there was a bit of wind.
An English couple was leaving just as we arrived. The man laughed and said to his wife: "Maybe I should just leave you here among the ruins, given your age." And guess what: he tripped and just barely managed not to fall flat on his puss. I said: "Maybe that wasn't the thing to say in a place created by a goddess." His wife adored that!
Bridgit fit right in at the temple, contributing her own special blend of ambiance on 11/19/99. At one point, I laid her down flat on the ground at the end where the altar would have been.
The wind picked her up, and we watched her fly around the chamber, only to settle down again. She actually took flight several times, as did my spirits, and each time she landed it was gentle, no damage to her cardboard backing.
We walked back to our hotel at the Ta C'enc cliffs from whence Sansuna supposedly transported the limestone. It took us two hours to get there with just our day pack and Bridgit. We walked on roads where there were no cars and very few houses right into the capitol, which is known as Victoria because the Queen came for a visit once. But it is really Rabat, population 6,200. I noticed that people have fancy doors on their homes, and often there are keys right in the locks. Closed doors with keys in the locks. From Rabat, we passed through Sannat, and then on to our hotel on the Ta C'enc cliffs. Given how long I had been looking forward to being at Ggantija, I thought I might feel letdown from the dose of reality overriding my imagination. Oh so wrong!
Back on Malta, I took a good look at Bridgit. She was becoming the worse for wear. There were actual wrinkles around her middle, and the tip of one arm was becoming crinkled. Now that she was poster mounted, there was really no way to bring her back home. Where to leave her? Tarxien.
The Tarxien temples were begun around 3600 BC, and used first as a Sanctuary by the Neolithic people and later as a depository for the ashes of the dead during the Bronze Age. So much of what was at Tarxien can be seen in the museum in Valletta. There are friezes, which show domestic animals such as goats, pigs, and bulls. And there are spiral designs, which are still very much in place at the actual site. These spiral designs now make cameo appearances in my dreams.
The largest Goddess statue was found at Tarxien, the one we saw at the museum. She must have stood at least 2.5 meters tall! A replica of what remains is in place at the temple complex.
Gaul labels her "elephantine" and says she is possibly the "'fat' goddess of fertility." She is very substantial. Gaul quotes Dr. Trump, the former curator of the Museum of Archeology as saying: "She wears a very full pleated skirt. It would be ungentlemanly to quote her hip measurements, and her calves are in proportion. She is supported, however, on small, elegant, but seriously overworked feet."
Tarxien seemed a fitting place to leave Bridgit 2-D. I took quite a series of photographs of Bridgit by the inner niche of the South Temple. The raised threshold is carved with the elaborate spiral design.
We found a wonderful crevice in between two huge boulders and slid her in.
Maybe at some point someone will find her. More likely, the photo and cardboard will just disintegrate.
Once we landed back in California on November 30, I fell in love with Berezan's Returning while my mind and body stuggled to "become congruent with the Bay Area", as my friend Dana says. Two days later, I heard Jennifer live, surprised her when I told her how I had come to connect with her CD, and bought 10 more as holiday gifts. See www.edgeofwonder.com for information about Jennifer Berezan.
Bridgit in Malta
Bridgit at St. Brigid's
High Light: The Winter Solstice
Excursion to Primal Decor
Getting to Know Felicity
Home | About Pam Mendelsohn | Recent Focus: Bridgit