Readers of The Beltane Papers are familiar with the work of Marija Gimbutas (1921-94), whose many books present evidence of Goddess culture in southeastern Europe. We are also familiar with the academic and/or patriarchal and/or anti-feminist backlash against Gimbutas and accusations that she used the thousands of artifacts found in Old Europe as projection holders to invent a Goddess culture where none really existed. “Experts” on both sides of the controversy have flamed and name-called and projected their own opinions. As UCLA professor of archaeology Ernestine Elster says, Gimbutas “set the agenda.” She was the first person to connect mythology and folklore (which she studied all her life) with the physical artifacts of archaeology.
Signs out of Time is an exquisitely photographed documentary narrated by Olympia Dukakis and featuring interviews with Carol P. Christ (author of “Why Women Need the Goddess” and She Who Changes), Elinor Gadon (author of The Once and Future Goddess), Joan Marler (Gimbutas’s biographer), Ralph Metzner (author of The Well of Remembrance), Vicki Noble (co-creator of the Motherpeace Tarot and author of The Double Goddess), and a dozen other significant figures in the Goddess movement and academia, plus excerpts from a 1989 interview with Gimbutas herself. We hear and see the story of an extraordinary life.
When Gimbutas was a child in Lithuania, pagan influences were still important. She met echoes of the Goddess every day. After the Soviets and then the Nazis invaded Lithuania at the beginning of World War II, Gimbutas and her husband and infant daughter fled the country. They settled first in Austria then moved to the United States in 1949. Her husband secured a professsorship at Harvard University, but all Gimbutas, who also held a Ph.D. and was the world’s expert in the culture of Neolithic Europe, could find at the university was an unpaid position as a researcher. Women were barred from most university buildings, including two of the main libraries, and she had to set aside household money to buy the stockings and business attire woman was required to wear if she had any hope of getting into any of the university’s official buildings. Her marriage began to fail. In 1963, she and her three daughters moved to Southern California, where she soon became a professor of archaeology at UCLA and began writing the books with which we are most familiar—Goddesses and Gods of Ancient Europe, The Language of the Goddess, and The Civilization of the Goddess.
What is most valuable about this beautiful documentary is the fact that it shows us the context of Gimbutas’s work. We see the vestiges of Goddess worship in Lithuania and hear old women singing “daimas,” or folkloric songs. We see photos of Gimbutas at work on archaeological digs. We hear from family members and friends, who tell us how she inspired their own work.
Belili Productions also offers videocassettes of uncut interviews, excerpts of which are featured in Signs out of Time. These interviews are worth hearing. Carol Christ, for example, explains that “our true heritage comes from Old Europe.” Our modern culture, she continues, is an “amalgam” of two kinds of culture—the peaceful Goddess culture and the warlike patriarchal culture that wrote the history books we read. (Note that it’s almost always the victors who write the history books.) We who live in the United States, Christ says, almost all of us the children of immigrant families, are cut off from the sacred land of our ancestors, so we no longer know what it might be like to live where female power is powerful.
Be sure to go to http://www.gimbutas.org/salons.html to learn more about the Goddess Salons from which the interviews are taken. These salons are works in progress. Ordinary women like us can request materials from Belili, gather our friends, and discuss the book selection from the previous month and view the video of the next featured guest.
~review by Barbara Ardinger, Ph.D.
Belili Productions (Starhawk and Donna Read), 2003
DVD, Running time 58 minutes, $29.85