marija gimbutas

Sat, 26 Feb 1994 15:50:39 EST

I received yesterday a note from Debra Eve, secretary to
Dr. Marija Gimbutas. Marija Gimbutas died February 2, as
many will already know. She was professor emerita in
archaeology from UCLA and author most recently of the
influential (and controversial) texts, _The Language of the
Goddess_ (1989) and _The Civilization of the Goddess: The
World of Old Europe_ (1991).

I first met Marija Gimbutas at the 1987 AAR meeting in Boston.
It was my first AAR meeting. I was there to give my first
scholarly paper ever anywhere, a slide lecture on precontact
Amerindian burial mounds. The session also included papers by
Chris Downing, Karen McCarthy Brown, Susan Hollis, and was
chaired by Kathy Rabuzzi--well-known scholars all in religious
studies. The room was crowded, the topic was goddesses, the
statements provocative. That session is still remembered by
people who were there. Marija Gimbutas was in the audience.
She came up to me, and holding my hand in hers, said with
wonderful accent: "Your work is so important; we are always
forgetting North America." In the paper I'd argued, in part,
that the mounds were _not_ evidence for Mother Earth beliefs.

I sent Marija Gimbutas a copy of that paper. With her encouragement
the paper became an article; the article became a book; Sam Gill
wrote its introduction; and Dr. Gimbutas suggested journals for
review. In some feminist scholarly circles, my argument made me
suspect--not in her eyes, though. Her interest in my scholarly
career was unstinting.

Over the intervening years, we corresponded from time to time.
I visited her home only once. Early in 1989 I was in San Diego
and Dr. Gimbutas invited me to lunch. It was a beautiful day.
The house--perched up the side of the canyon--was one jammed
with a lifetime of books, notes, scholarship. Everywhere the eye
turned,there was something wonderful to see.

That afternoon, Dr. Gimbutas showed me two cover designs for the
forthcoming _The Eye of the Goddess_. One design was hieratic.
It displayed a single ceramic image labelled the Bird Goddess.
The other design displayed multiple ceramic images arranged in
a grid. Which did I prefer, she asked? I much preferred the
cover of multiple images. When she asked why, I explained that
I felt a hieratic single image implicitly read "monotheistic
beliefs." Nothing I had read of her earlier work argued for
an ancient monotheism, or monolatry. She agreed enthusiastically,
and said that was why she too preferred the multiple image design.

I pressed her further on this point. Did she feel goddess beliefs
in Old Europe were exclusionary of other beliefs--multiple beliefs,
such as powers in the weather, the animals, not necessarily sex-
specific powers, but animating powers of the earth? By no means
was she so single-minded, although she knew her work was being
cited in support of such positions by other women scholars. I
think that troubled her a bit because she fervently supported the
advancement of women in academia. I know I wanted to carry the
conversation further with her, and so did she. When I left
that day, I promised I would come back to Topanga Canyon, and
I always thought I would.

_Language of the Goddess_ and _Civilization of the Goddess_ were
both published with hieratic, single-image cover designs. Both
texts may be read in support of ancient monotheistic beliefs;
it would be hard not to read that thesis there. Yet read with
more care, there are other ideas also to be found in these books
and in Marija Gimbutas's earlier writings.

Last Fall horrendous fires burst forth in Malibu and Topanga Canyon.
On the anthropology e-mail list, Steve Maack of CalState offered
to search for friends and family. I asked him for his help.
With diligence and imagination, he located Dr. Gimbutas. She had
been evacuated, but had been able to return to her home. I spoke
with her then. Her voice was frail. The cancer she'd fought many
years was winning. She was glad she said to be home in her own
bed. I received only one more note after that from Dr. Gimbutas.
And that is where our conversation ended.

I hope the list will not mind the length of this message. I miss
her. I value her work.

Maureen Korp, PhD
Religious Studies
University of Ottawa