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Posts Tagged ‘transformation’

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This is one of the first images that made me want to look much more closely at the imagery of Iron Age coinage. It is one of a type that derives from the figure of ‘Victory’ common to Greek and Roman iconography. We are so familiar with this angelic figure that we can easily make asssumptions about its nature. She is fundamentally a war deity, a reflection of the battlefield carrion-eater, eater of the flesh of enemies. She is on “our side” and so must be treated with respect and given a beneficent aspect ( much as the terrible Greek Furies were euphemised as ” Kindly Ones”, and the dangerous Fairy Folk as “The Good People”).

This figure of the bird priestess is a formidable and numinous presence. She is somewhat reminiscent of the vulture goddesses on the wall paintings of Catal Huyuk in Anatolia, and the presence of the bird/bull imagery is striking both in Celtic art and in the art of these early Neolithic towns.

The figure, though no longer possessing a human head, is apparently female, with a narrow waist surrounded by a broad belt or rolled up dress-top, and a skirt or robe hanging to her ankles. Her head is a simple large eye, or an eye within a bird-like head with mouth open. ( Initially I thought ‘bird’ , but actually there are horses’ heads with similar forms. Perhaps it is a stylised sign for ‘head’ or more likely, ‘powerful head’ or ‘spirit head’ ).

From her shoulders sprout two, large down-swept wings and between them and her head are zig-zig lines of force. Her left hand is open, gesturing and fully human, but her right arm and hand is transforming into something else. It has become part of the right wing, elongating into a sinuous arc that seems to become a vine with leaves or a flower at the end (replacing the hand). Two ‘pellets’ or drops appear next to this power arm. One appears to be still attached as if it were a fruit, the second has dropped.

Between the wing feathers and the legs of this priestess/goddess, to the left is an eye/vulva – perhaps representing the power of fecundity, of life and death, of blessing and curse, of cunning power and hidden source. To her other side are three round-ended rods or sticks, the central one attached by a line to the robe. Perhaps something of a practical or ritual nature hanging from her belt. It may be that these are bird-bone whistles, like those used in America and Siberia to imitate the cries of eagles. Whistling is a magical summoning and was often frowned upon, the whistler unintentionally likely to conjure up a storm or a harmful wind.

A subversion of the imagery of the enemy ( in this case the Roman ‘Victorias’ ) is suggested by this image, as in many other borrowings from Classical prototypes. The sub-message is clear: your goddess is not as powerful/scary/effective as ours…..

Bird priestess reaches beyond normal powers

Strong arm, bringing forth, fruit, tree, flower, life

Binding spell (bindweed arms).

Eagle Woman

Cursing Carrion

image from a coin from the area of what is now Germany
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