Book Review: The Double Goddess
I wasn't sure what to expect when I first picked up this book and began to read, but I ended up enjoying it more than I expected. The author's main thrust is the re-identification of the huge number of doubled or twinned female figurines and images that span centuries of ancient art and are found all over the world. These "double goddess" images have long labeled as part of a "fertility cult," that dismissive label archaeologists slap on so many pieces of ancient spirituality when they threaten to put the Divine Feminine in the spotlight. But what Vicki Noble suggests in this book, and I think her argument is a reasonably convincing one, is that these works of art reflect not only a concept of a twinned goddess but also a real-world sharing of power between women in leadership positions in some ancient societies. Whether this doubled role meant two leaders sharing the office at the same time, or something more like the Chief and the Tanist, or a secular leader and a religious one (or, to take a modern example, the CEO and the COO), is unclear. Still, it's an interesting proposition, and one that takes us into the realm of cooperation ahead of competition, something this world could certainly use more of.
I will admit that I have some trouble with Noble's view of the pre-patriarchal world as somehow magically peaceful and Golden Age-y. The archaeological evidence is pretty clear that, from at least the Neolithic onward, there has always been a certain amount of violence in human societies, though it took some time for us to build up to the vast scale of the wars of recent centuries (not exactly our greatest achievement). But I do think Noble is on to something about the way leadership worked in matrifocal cultures, with human institutions reflecting the mythology and vice versa. This is a subject that could do with more exploration, to be sure. And I very much enjoyed the way she links the Mediterranean world with the areas farther east via the Silk Road, a connection many archaeologists and historians seem to miss in spite of the overwhelming evidence of contact going back many, many centuries.
The book includes extensive illustrations of the double goddesses from the archaeological record, which I found fascinating. This isn't a theory built on a couple of pieces in a back corner of a museum somewhere. There are hundreds, possibly thousands of these doubled female images in the art going back millennia. I find it hard to believe that such a widespread and ancient symbol set has no meaning, and this book helped me realize the extent to which archaeologists and historians have selectively ignored these figures because of what they might represent. All in all, this is a fascinating read, well researched and heavily documented. Whether or not you end up agreeing with Noble's ideas, you'll come away having acquainted yourself with a segment of our history that is often glossed over or dismissed but that deserves a great deal more attention.