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Friday, May the 9th, 2014, 6pm, the ‘International House of Women’ in Rome: an exhibition by women artists paying tribute to the Potnia with their work and a celebration to our Ancestresses mark the start of the conference to honour Marija Gimbutas twenty years after her death.
Saturday, May the 10h, 9:30am. The main conference room, long and narrow, fills up rapidly and latecomers have to be accommodated in a smaller room, where the talks are being reproduced with a video. At least 200 people, largely women, wait impatient for the beginning of the conference. There is also a table with a collection of books by the archaeologist, mythologist and linguist Marija Gimbutas that have revolutionised the study of ancient history, accompanied by manifestos and publications by a large variety of researchers and writers that have been inspired by her work.
Morena Luciani, the president of the association LAIMA and Luciana Percovich, writer and researcher of the Libera Università delle Donne, Milano – the organisers of the conference together with Daniela Degan and Sarah Perini – introduce the theme of the day by going straight to the point: it is necessary to come out of the cage of immobilism in which 5’000 years of history have forced us into, to find our roots again and create new images that give hope and energy to the future. Thanks to the revolutionary work of Marija Gimbutas and to the multidisciplinary approach she championed, it is no longer possible to say that we don’t know what has happened in the past: this is the profound legacy she has left us. Of course, it is possible to oppose and demean her vision, but even the most conservative archaeologists can no longer ignore her work.
The image of Old Europe that emerges from the very beginning of the conference is a fascinating one: a peaceful civilisation, characterised by harmony and equality, not at all ‘primitive’, but founded on collaboration and the respect of nature and endowed with a profound spirituality. A civilisation in balance, that honours the woman and does not oppress or discriminate men. A Goddess that embodies birth, life, death and regeneration without contrasting them, in a never ending cycle.
Joan Marler, who worked closely with Marija Gimbutas in the last years of her life and is president of the ‘Institute of Archeomythology’, sheds a revealing light on the familiar environment of her mentor: we get to know the mother and aunt, amongst the first female doctors of her country, Lithuania, and the brave struggles of her parents to preserve traditions and language by challenging the bans imposed by the Polish oppressors. It is therefore no surprise that a similar social environment would produce such a strong woman, determined to challenge the static theories and visions of a violent and warlike prehistory that, she herself commented, made her feel sick. Better, then, to dedicate herself to studying the Neolithic, a period ignored and despised, something that brought a surge of joy into her life.
Harald Haarmann, linguist and vice-president of the American Institute of Archeomythology, from where he leads the European branch in Finland, starts his presentation by showing us an aerial photo of a monument we all recognise: the Acropolis in Athens. He then subverts all that we think we know about it, starting from its original name, ‘rock’, sacred because it housed the Goddess Athena – the worship of whom is however the continuation and transformation of a more ancient cult. And the surprises do not end there: almost 2’000 pre-Hellenic elements that Haarmann dates back to the Pelasgians, descendants of Ancient European peoples, designate names of divinities and terms that we use to this day, such as altar, sanctuary, festivity, ritual procession, sacred wood, hymn. All central elements in Greek culture actually go back to a previous period.
To conclude the morning session, Mariagrazia Pelaia, the translator of the volume ‘The Civilisation of the Goddess’, reports on her interview to Zivile Gimbutas, daughter of Marija, which offers a number of observations on her life as a woman and a mother and on her cultural and spiritual interests.
The afternoon session demonstrates how studies on the Goddess and the civilisation She inspired are more alive than ever in Italy and offer continuously new discoveries and ideas. It is almost a vortex that drags us along, from Apulia to Sardinia, from the Abruzzi to the Dolomites, from the Aosta Valley to the Etruscans, from the painted cave of Chauvet, France, to the Grotta dei Cervi in Apulia. Sirka Capone, Filomena Tufaro, Laura Leone, Sarah Perini, Giovanni Feo, Adele Campanelli, Maria Cristina Ronc e Valerie Aliberti have the difficult task of summarising their research in 15 minutes presentations. The overview they provide confirms that much more remains to be discovered and rewritten in history, that the process of evolving humanity needs to be rebuilt by linking the present and past civilisations, forgotten, misinterpreted or erased, which can still provide us with interesting ideas and precious teachings. The same way we now observe a shameless manipulation of information by the media, through a cynical and intentional oblivion of everything that goes against the mainstream, we need to recognise it operated and operates with regards to the past. It is therefore necessary to give voice and space to those who have been cancelled, be it the (women?) artists that 32’000 years ago painted the wonderful animals in the cave of Chauvet or those that today build nonviolent alternatives to violence in all its forms.
The last presentation by Sandra Schiassi, from Armonie Association, Bologna, provocative and amusing, bring us back to the ground and offers hope and new air when she tells about teaching the Goddess to children class-rooms or transforming street manifestations into chanting women circles.
A stimulating and inspiring conference, from which one leaves with many hastily written notes, with a myriad of questions and curiosities in mind, with new acquaintances to meet again and a wonderful sensation of energy and open future.