Tuesday, May 17, 2016
Historically, the homes of women are spiritual places of prayer, safety and sustenance. The female centered house, with the kitchen as the apex of feminine activity, has always held sacred symbology.
Throughout time women’s alters within the house, often set inside the kitchen, reflect a relationship to the ancestors, protective spirits, saints and household deities. Generation to generation, the hands of women have carefully chosen material images and made offerings; as they passed on these traditions, mother to daughter. This simple practice of honoring links us not only to our maternal ancestors but to each other as woman across human migrations, into all civilizations though time itself; creating a common culture of women. (image: Grandmothers House)
The culture of women exists with each prayer; centered in the hearth with our daily bread.
The family is sheltered within the home, protected with feminine presences,
Shrines to ancestors, and beautifully evolving alters that evoke the art of the household.
Embellishments can take on many forms: flowers, candles, votives, food, figures, sea shells, seasonal representations, small meaningful objects, photos of loved ones; all symbolic gestures that show thought, emotion and devotion. In this way the home can become a shrine itself full of sacred objects and offered prayers. Indigenous rituals and symbology are obvious in sight practices. Yet women of all cultures appear to share a love of beauty which emerges as the preparation and presentation of food, hospitality, decoration, holiday adornments. Everyday life is celebrated in what is still the domain of women, it is the legacy of the hearth, central fire, alter within the home. (image: House Shrine)
The hearth, fire, food, and alters are metaphoric examples of the importance that women have put into their daily life sustaining routines. According to Jungian Enrich Neumann even the village is a symbol of feminine “Natural nourishing principle” for “great round” is the center of the circle of life that is dominated with female mysteries. The hearth signifies warmth, food, love; it is the “original alter”. There too is a timeless practice of sacred protection and invocation. Intentional too can be the conscious construction of the house. This is reflected in the dwellings of the matrilineal Dine (Navajo)Hogan that is dedicated to the four directions, the Turkanoans of Columbia construction that evokes the very cosmos, the Dogon people of West Africa who so inspired Aldo Van Eyck in his search for sacred architecture. Meaningful even to the smallest item, an object takes on potential to transform the mundane into spiritual connections. (Image: Basket*House*Village*Universe)
Baskets of women
Physical as well as spiritual
Object to concept
Keeping sacred the spirit of everyday life;
Within the home
Utilitarian to universal
Dwelling to village
Community to cosmos
Each human passage
Through 140 thousand years...
Birth to death
The finite to consummation
End to beginning...
We can draw a timeline from the ancient, approx.8000 years ago, from the Canaanite’s in the Mid-East across continents into Modern times. The seeds of Female ”folk religion” or “House Religion”, so called by academics, connects women in creating sacred spaces for the same essential purpose of protection against all that would harm their children and loved ones. “They placed figurines that represented and invoked protective deities in front kitchens or courtyards near doorways that provided access to the roof and interior living and work areas.”-Eleanor Willet: Women and House Religion. (Image: Ancient Kitchen) Archeology has uncovered the importance of devotional purpose in the kitchens and households of ancient women. In Catal Huyak and Crete the feminine was exalted and connections were obvious with the use of protective Goddesses. But in early Palestine the finds are quite stunning. From 8th century BCE, early Israelite households were discovered to find evidence of household worship in the forms of votives, small female figures, incense and lamps with looms, needles vessals, bowls in situ with feminine implements. Amulets were used to protect and domestic cult rooms were found as well as objects of devotion alongside of cooking bowls. Prayer was probably invoked on a daily basis to combat the many uncertainties. (Image: Clay Prayers)
I have prepared for you and Offering: pure milk,
A Cake baked in ashes,
I stood up for you a vessal for libations,
Hear me and act favorably towards me”
Mesopotamia text quoted by Akerman in Did God Have a Wife? By William Dever.
Devers writes in “Did God Have A Wife” about the overwhelming evidence in ancient Israel of archeological finds that the worship of Asherah ( probably connected to the archaic Goddesses Ishtar, Hathor and Astarte) continued well into Patriarchal religions and beyond.
Some of the historical Household Goddesses invoked by women are well known:
Greek Hestia of the hearth, sacred fire and home, Roman counterpart Vesta virtually every home contained a statute of her sacred central fire that was never to be extinguished, Ishtar Goddess of ancient mid-east, Asertah of Israel, Morrigan (in one of her many aspects) from the Celtic, ( image:Clallileach) Callileach pre-Celtic UK, Pacha Mama from Central Americas, Arani Hindu Goddess of the Hearth, Ayaba of the African Fon, Brigid Celtic and Catholic of the sacred fire, Esta who was Etruscan household Goddess, Huchi of the hearth in the cosmology of indigenous Ainu of Japan, and many, many more from through all the continents; different names for the eternal fire, the hearth, the sacred center in the feminine divine.
Early Christian too harbored the divine feminine; the church went through many changes before finally sublimating the Sophia. To further this end the medieval church began a feminization of the Christ figure; this was notable through the mystical works of Hildegard of Bingen (image: Sacred Writing), Julian of Norwich and Bernard of Clairviox. Christ symbolically become the house of God, Christians entered it through the door, his wound. The body of Christ became his church. Christ gave the milk of nourishment. Healing and miracles were attributed to holy shrines and reliquaries, sixth century work on the life of St Symeon the Stylite, the younger, refers to a woman setting up an image of the saint in her house that worked miracles curing people of diseases.
Blessings permeate and create sacred spaces with the help of guardians; icons invoke ancestors, deities, saints. This protects us and the loved ones within and as they cross into the outer (more dangerous) world. These rites cross virtually every race and era. This commonality is part of the “culture of women” which has always existed, secretly in sight many times, separate from male dominated society and religion. (image: Daily Bread)
Each and every daybreak;
We ask the spirits to watch over us
As we go about a busy day.
For our children to be well,
Healthy and thrive;
And our loved ones;
Sometimes far away,
To be protected please.
And for angels to smile upon this beautiful day,
We ask for our
The formal religions of the Patriarchs build huge fixed structures that are ordered, authoritarian, static that rise high to proclaim dominance; gatekeepers of knowledge, social mores, aesthetics, history, the very structure of the world.
Yet women have enshrined their homes, gardens and nature with icons and offerings to a spirit world that evoke prayers of peace, health and safety for family, community and even the world through the entire history of organized religions. For each household embellishment has an iconic value that flow and change with seasons, passages and feasts. Even the daily bread had an intrinsic value created with love served with beauty. Textiles are created to reflect sacred images passing through each generation,
Connected by the hands of women;
Stories are told, language and traditions learned, songs are sung in celebration of
The mythologies of imagery that encircle loved ones and celebrate ancestry.
In commonality, all women have brought comfort within the loving walls
That holds who is dear. To nourish with food, warm by fire, and clothe in our handmade legacy.
Each day is a sacred exercise in timeless feminine spirituality. (Image: Culture of Women)
Many modern and indigenous cultures hold the seeds of original civilizations and the rites of women. For the N’Debele of South Africa the decorative aspects both inside the house and the external murals echo the natural abstractions of the natural world. (Image N’Debele woman). The Basotho also of South Africa have constructed their own homes with beautiful paintings rich with vivid designs that reflect the vegetal world, natural environment as well as the cosmos. According to R. Barris, “ The Basotho house becomes the womb; the Basotho woman becomes the house”.
“Within those interior house spaces, ceremonial healings also happen. All houses are healed periodically and fed cornmeal. Traditionally, some burials occurred in the floor of the houses. Houses are deemed to be alive and have energies which can bring harmony if recognized and treated with proper respect.” Santa Clara architect Rina Swentzell is referring to the adobe dwellings that are often many generations old.(image: Feast Day)
From her signature work From Milk River, Christine Hugh-Jones says,” They construct their houses to represent the universe” and “universe is a womb”. Kay Turner in Beautiful Necessity, places an emphasis on the alters of modern women, “a different alter, one that is not male dominated or dogma bound. It is an intimate alter, a home alter, made by a woman, and dedicated for her own personal devotion to the deities she chooses”. And further “Cultures of the Goddess and her domestic alters were transformed and diminished but never fully obliterated.”
Robert Farris Thompson has documented alters of the African diaspora in Face of the Gods, these link West African traditions, surviving slavery, to the modern trans-Atlantic world. Carin Tunaker writes about the Hispanic house traditions in the Matrifocal Household, “the Mother as giver of food ( and symbolically the giver of life. This not only locates the mother (or women) at the center of the household, but also ’epitomizes how life in Nicaragua’s barrios revolve around this institution…the household is where the stream starts, is sustained and also eventually ends’ S. Ekern, Street power: Culture and Politics in a Nicaraguan Neighborhood.”
Woman’s ritual in the home have remained constant even under the most repressive of cultures, where inside the house may be compromised, Devers writes of the Muslim households today that recreate ritual outside the house. Located in external sacred spaces, meetings of women and children join in ”joyful gatherings with food and music away from Muslim orthodoxy”.
Women have always found a way to rejoice in time honored feminine rites; from the table decorated with flowers and candles to the photos of loved ones set beside memorabilia, we celebrate feminine values outside the sanctified church.(Image: Dream of Houses)
Devers writes that archeology has brought to light “Folk Religion” which is feminine, fluid, personal as opposed to “Book Religion” which fixed, literal, authoritarian. We can see now the unbroken chain of the simple everyday practices of women. We can call them sacred acts that are still enacted all over the world in the sanctuaries of women centered dwellings. (image: The Return)
House Shrines, Feminine Spaces and Women’s Alters
The body of the home is a woman;
Within, we build shrines to our family and ancestors decorating
Constantly changing alters; in the act of sanctifying.
Archaic houses too contained
The arts of women.
Stones, shells, bones, votives and clay goddesses were
Placed for prosperity, health and protection;
Evolving into dwellings with flowers, candles and
Photos of loved ones with small objects;
Images to keep, memories to honor;
Purposely and unconsciously evoking
Female divinity honoring spiritual bridges to
Peace, hearth and womb, with neither beginning nor end.
Nourishment is at the eternal center of the house;
Sustenance from the body or hands of mother and wife.
Clothing and utensils lovingly crafted or chosen
for their beauty;
With archetypal images passed through the generations
To connect genetically to our primordial Mother.
As we continue women’s prayers to our children,
In every culture, on all days, in so many ways.