Believe it or not, there was a time in recent memory when powerful women were not
part of the cultural landscape. For those of us coming of
age in the 60’s and 70’s, discovering historical figures and role models for the first time was like bestowing a
set of phantom wings to our bodies, as we floated free
and rose from the abyss
after centuries of collective
feminine soul loss.
One of these towering and influential figures is Max Dashu, who has spent over 48 years excavating the western canon for evidence of women of power in Old Europe, early medieval history and indigenous societies. She founded the Suppressed Histories Archives in 1970, and her ongoing research engages Herstory worldwide, placing women at the forefront where we belong. Women who were repressed, banned, hidden and obscured - the priestesses, clan mothers, healers, shamans, water-witches, oracles, myth-makers, philosophers, warriors and rebels from our ancestral motherlines - have come to life through Max’s relentless dedication to "restoring women to cultural memory." As author, activist and artist, she continues to offer a rich collection of visual presentations, exhibits, courses, workshops, webcasts, and keynote talks that highlight women's resistance to patriarchal oppression, challenge stereotypes of race and class, and interrogate the structures of Empire.
Over the years, Max has slowly worked toward publishing this monumental body of work, and Witches and Pagans: Women in European Folk Religion 700-1100 is the first installment in the highly-anticipated series entitled Secret History of the Witches from Veleda Press. As an independent scholar, Max explores history, myth, archaeology, art, linguistics, pagan traditions and diverse spiritual philosophies, and makes this knowledge accessible by bridging the gap between academia and grassroots education.
From roots in paleolithic times, Max illuminates the unique abilities and skills of women connected to the wild, and the magic of the cosmos. From a wellspring of deep mysteries, the healers, witches and seers of Old Europe held a vast repertoire of magic, and earth-based healing practices in service to their own communities.
Within a vast complex of traditions, for millennia the ancestral "Old Goddess" in northern Europe was considered a primordial being, a Creatrix more ancient than the Earth. Having super-human strength, vitality and endurance, these mythic "Old Women" or colossal giantesses could harness the elemental powers of stone, wind, water and fire. In Ireland and Scotland, the many versions of the archaic Cailleach myth speak of matrilineal origin stories, Elders who "carry all the knowledge," Crones who help travelers in distress, protectors of wildlife, and guardians with extraordinary powers. The Irish Cailleach Bhéara and Scottish Cailleach shaped the landforms and waters of the region, and built megalithic tombs, passage graves, womb-like crucibles, earth formations, sacred sites, monuments, standing stones, cairns and mounds. Alternatively, the "cailleachan" were nomadic herdswomen, spinners and weavers, supernatural women connected to animist sanctuaries, or associated with the Scottish deer goddess (Glaisteag).
In an epic collection of narratives from the ancient beginnings of European indigeneity to practices kept alive through the centuries, Witches and Pagans provides the threads for reclaiming our mystic talents and abilities as the witches, wisewomen and Elders of today.
And yet uncovering these treasures has not been easy. History and myth is incomplete, with many gaps and missing pieces. For centuries, women's wisdom and mysteries were systematically demonized by the leaders of the Christian hierarchy in Europe. Most of the written records that survive had one sole purpose - to obstruct folk religion, and reinterpret European paganism according to a patriarchal worldview. Scholars who worked with this material historically (and in our time) have also been patriarchal, which has continued to marginalize women, earth-based spirituality and the sacred.
Her ethnohistorical approach to integrating myth, folk religion, philosophy and the archaeological record provides a truly unique portal into our spiritual past. Throughout the long grim years of Christian domination, Empire-building and witch hunts, the wide-ranging narratives in Witches and Pagans recover and reinstate the ancient memories, symbols, mythic folkways and essential lore that continued on in Europe, and that can still nourish us today. For all those practicing cultural recovery work and nature-centered spiritualities, this brilliant series will heal our separation from each other, our European ancestry, and Earth Community. In my own work, my heart soars knowing that the divine otherworld female has been retained and expressed in our Celtic consciousness and tradition.
Thank you Max Dashu, for this incredible gift to the world!
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Pegi Eyers is the author of Ancient Spirit Rising: Reclaiming Your Roots & Restoring Earth Community, an award-winning book that explores strategies for intercultural competency, uncolonization, recovering an ecocentric worldview, rewilding, creating a sustainable future and reclaiming peaceful co-existence in Earth Community.
Available from Stone Circle Press or Amazon.