Minoan Snake Goddesses

Clay, Underglaze
#1: 13" H x 10" W x 5" D
#2: 31" H x 17" W x 12 " D
#3: 20" H x 11" W x 7" D

About the Piece
(for side and back views, please see bottom of page)

The first of these Goddesses (Goddess #1) is a replica of the Minoan Snake Goddess found on the Island of Crete.  In our patriarchal culture Goddess is hardly acknowledged, if at all.  My ideal is to show what would have happened if Goddess were to have been historically handed down to us with the same all encompassing impact as the male God: She would be ever present. She would be infused into every aspect of our conscious and unconscious minds, our language, myths, secular and religious culture.  By creating a series of these Minoan Snake Goddesses I am trying to show what could have happened with the unimpeded evolution of Goddess, each of the Goddesses gets progressively taller to illustrate her evolving status.

Additionally, Goddesses #1 represents the religion we are given by our parents. As we mature we change, abstract, rearrange, subtract from and add to the original religion until we have made it our own. The changing forms of Goddesses #2 and #3 highlight this metamorphosis.

While Goddess #1 is a replica, Goddess #2 incorporates other designs from the Minoan culture.  For instance, her flowered skirt design is found on the walls of the Queen's Megaron at the palace of Knossos.  The flora and fauna found on Minoan vases graces her apron. In both Goddess #1 and #2, the majority of the designs come directly from actual Minoan artifacts. I have simply selected and rearranged these design elements. The first two Goddesses introduce the culture of the Minoans and their value system.  For instance, the images on Goddess #1 and #2 are peaceful scenes depicting flowers and marine life that reflect the Minoans close ties to nature and the sea. Minoan pottery and palace frescos do not depict scenes of war or military activity.  Rather, they show palace life and the resplendent beauty of nature that surrounded the island.

The theme for Goddess #3's skirt design comes from a Minoan vase depicting the labrys (double-bladed ax).  The labrys is a complex symbol that is related to the butterfly through its symmetrical shape. The labrys was a ceremonial scepter in Crete and might have been used in the ritual slaughter of the sacred bull (Barbara Walker, 1995). The butterfly is a symbol for the soul and transformation. However, these two symbols may be related in a variety of other ways. I choose to juxtapose these two symbols because of their historical richness and complexity.

On each of the blue checks on Goddess #3's skirt I have painted a butterfly, and on each of the brown checks a labrys. The two bottom rows of butterflies are fairly realistic in their depiction.  Likewise, the two bottom rows of axes are close in design to Minoan labrys'. As the viewer's eye travels upward, the butterflies and labrys's become increasingly more abstract and at times resemble each other. This fluidity between symbols shows their interrelation and creates new meanings and constructs.  For instance, the labrys is humanmade, heavy, and durable, while the butterfly is natural, weightless, and transient.  Both symbols also speak to the concept of transformation.  The butterfly comes from a cocoon and the ax from metals in the earth.  The Labrys can also be seen as a form of the double-edged sword that heals as it cuts.

The axes and butterflies from the third row up have been infused with symbolism relating to Goddess. Some of the female symbols included are eggs, crescent moons, and bowls/caldrons/grails. There are also a variety of yoni (womb of the world), mandorla (almond) and vesica piscis (vessel of the fish) shapes included. An example of this is a triple mandorla symbol in the traditional colors of the maiden (white), mother (red), crone (black).

If the Minoan Goddess had continued to flourish, she would have undoubtedly influenced other cultures in ways that we can only imagine.  With this in mind, there are a variety of symbols from different cultures that have been incorporated into skirt #3.  These include labrys that incorporate the shape of a ChineseYang Yin, the Egyptian Eye of Horus, and an infinity sign, etc. Likewise, the skirt has butterflies that are patterned from pomegranates, the lunar swastika (which is found on Cretan coins), African masks, and a geometric Native American design.  My intention was to give her an international flavor that embraces a variety of cultures and religions. Some of the symbols are cross-cultural such as the egg, the caldron/bowl/grail, and the spiral.

Each of the three Goddesses has a very wide structural base.  These women are not pushovers, metaphorically, or literally. The stability, solidity, and power of these Snake Goddesses is important.  This is a utopian piece in that the Goddesses/women I am portraying are in their ideal state.  They are not struggling to overcome oppression, or make order out of chaos.  These Goddesses dwell in an ordered, peaceful, stable realm. Their world is also beautiful and filled with rich colors and opulent patterns and symbols that are rich with cultural history and female identity. If we see a world filled with the feminine divine we can begin to bring that world to fruition.

These three pieces are deeply indebted to The Woman's Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects (1999) by Barbara Walker.  Walker has properly reclaimed women's symbols from the patriarchal clutches of history. Without this text these powerful symbols and their complex meanings would not be available. Many of the designs on #3 are based on traditional symbols found in Ms. Walker’s text. An example of this is the Sheila-na-gig located on the lunette of the skirt.  I took the idea of the Sheila-na-gig from the Barbara Walker dictionary and abstracted her body so that her four limbs resemble the wings of a butterfly, and her yoni the butterflies’ body.

These three Snake Goddesses also address the issue of the male gaze and the question of woman as subject or object. Feminist art historians regard "forthright eye contact between female subject and the viewer as embodying sexual meaning, according to them, the viewer, who is considered to be male, exerts control over the female subject, who is positioned as an object to be regarded. Eye contact between the presumed male artist/viewer and the female subject/model as the "male gaze": men look; woman are looked at (Barter, 49)". Nancy Spero writes "It's about defiance, defiance of giving pleasure to the male gaze, instead of giving pleasure to ourselves",

While Goddesses 1,2, and 3 are sexual, their purpose is not primarily connected to male gratification.  They enjoy their beauty and sexuality, but it is not the main focus of their action. Instead they are fully engaged in ritual. They do not make eye contact with the viewer.  Their focus is simultaneously inward as they focus on the task at hand, and at the same time outward, as they engage the onlooker in the ritual. Their state is trance-like, yet aware.

Barter, Judith A. (1998) Mary Cassatt: Themes, Sources, and the Modern Woman. In Mary Cassatt: Modern 
   WomanHarry N. Abrams, Inc., New York
Spero, Nancy (1995) From the art exhibition of Leon Golub and Nancy Spero: War and Memory. Organized by
   Katy Kline and Helaine Posner. MIT List Visual Arts Center, Cambridge April 15-June 25, 1995.
Walker, Barbara G. (1998) The Woman's Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects.
   HarperCollins, New York.

For questions or comments about Cydra's art, please email: womansculpture@icloud.com