Friday, January 23, 2009

REVIEW: Signs Out of Time

Signs Out Of Time: the story of archeologist Marija Gimbutas (DVD)
Narrated by Olympia Dukakis; directed & edited by Donna Read; written by Starhawk; music by Stellamara with Sonja Drakulich. Belili Productions. 60 minutes.

The combination of inspiration and scholarship that many of us have come to know through the previous
Read/Starhawk collaboration, Women and Spirituality:The Goddess Trilogy, continues in the 2008 DVD version of the 2003 film/video Signs Out of Time.

Signs Out of Time focuses on the work and life of Lithuanian-born archeologist Marija Gimbutas (pron. Mar-i-a Gim-boo-tas), perhaps best known among non-academics and Goddessians for her 1989 book, The Language of the Goddess, in which a mythology emerges from her decoding of the repetition of symbols in Neolithic artifacts unearthed from Old Europe.

The first thing that grabbed me watching the DVD was the opening music. Though Lithuanian, it is close in style – especially the strong-throated women’s singing – to music I’m very familiar with from more than 40 years of dancing folk dances from Eastern Europe – for instance, from Bulgaria, Hungary, Greece and countries and areas (such as Serbia and Macedonia) of the former Yugoslavia. This is essentially the same area Gimbutas refers to as "Old Europe." I love this music, love the dances from these regions, some of which are very ancient women’s dances, and wonder if dancing the older dances for so many years (and from a young age) unaware of their relationship to Goddess traditions helped bring me to Goddess.

Visually, Signs Out of Time opens with dancing similar to dances I've danced. The film then intersperses footage from a 1989 interview of Gimbutas conducted by Riane Eisler (whose 1988 book, The Chalice and the Blade, applies Gimbutas’s archeological findings to anthropology and other social sciences) with both still and film footage of Neolithic Goddess artifacts going back to 21,000-24,000 BCE, and quotes from well-known scholars. For example, Prehistorian James Harrod says, "She [Gimbutas] opened up the diversity of Neolithic religious imagery...probably as old as human evolution."

In the Eisler interview, Gimbutas points out that the 3 great inventions of the Neolithic – agriculture, weaving, and pottery – are inventions of women. She tells how her research led her to conclude that "Old Europe is a peaceful culture, without weapons." Brian Swimme, mathematical cosmologist, tells how at first he thought that Gimbutas’ conclusions were "all fantasy," because he couldn’t imagine a time that was free from war. Upon reflection and closer investigation, Swimme came to understand that Gimbutas was onto something valid. Naming the places Gimbutas’ work focused on, narrator and well-known actress Olympia Dukakis observes, "our history books never told us these names."

Colin Renfrew of Cambridge University, who supported Gimbutas' earlier work involving the Bronze Age, became a critic of her Goddess work. He appears in this film criticizing Gimbutas’ work from what I suppose is a strict academic point of view. But I didn’t find his arguments particularly convincing.

Also appearing in the film are Joan Marler, Carol Christ, Patricia Reis, Miriam Robbins Dexter, Vicki Noble, Elinor
Gadon, and others. The credits at the DVD’s end list loads of other people and organizations who participated in making the film. If you’re like me, you may recognize there names of Internet friends.

The second half of the film gives us a closer look at Gimbutas’ personal life. She and her family hid from and fled from both the Nazis and the Soviets. She married, gave birth to 3 daughters, and attended university. She was deeply involved in collecting Lithuanian folk songs. She and her family emigrated to the U.S. in 1949 and she found a non-paying position at Harvard University, which allowed her to do research. She tells of the discrimination she faced at Harvard, which at that time admitted only men as undergraduates and apparently also had restrictions on hiring women instructors. In 1963 she found a post at UCLA, ended her marriage, and began what she describes as a happier time in her life. She tells how at the beginning of her academic career as an archeologist she had no trouble getting grants and other funding. But once she started specializing in archeology related to Goddess, she was unable to get funding.

The film then comes what might be called full circle, as we learn about Gimbutas’ excavating of Kilian in Greece and how she came to decode the symbols she found on the artifacts there. And we are treated to more pictures of artifacts.

Marija Gimbutas died on February 2, 1994, in Los Angeles. At her request, her ashes were taken back to Lithuania.

Reis sees the the "backlash" again Gimbutas’ work as "part of the backlash against feminism."

A quote I found on the Gimbutas/Belili website demonstrates dramatically the need for us to take seriously Gimbutas' findings:
Starhawk and Donna were together, editing and writing commentary, on September 11, 2001. Starhawk has vivid memories of playing bits of the film on Donna’s VCR, which would revert back to the news every time she paused too long to think. The Goddess images and beautiful scenes of life in the film were constantly interrupted by scenes of the twin towers falling, the airplanes crashing and the anguish of survivors and relatives. The juxtaposition of the ancient images of peace and regeneration with the current reality of war and destruction deepened our commitment to get this information out to the world.
What I’m hoping is that with the new Administration in the US and possibly with other worldwide changes, the years of trouncing on feminism, both political and spiritual, as well as the disregard for environmental concerns, will end. For it is clear to me that the knowledge revealed by Gimbutas’ work — that human history is not just a saga of wars, that in fact the warring times are far shorter than the times preceding it in which peace and social equality were accompanied by honoring the Earth and females, both human and divine — can give us the courage to reinstitute peaceful, equitable sociopolitical systems as our true heritage, and to do the work necessary to save our planet both from war and from environmental threats such as global warming. Yes, this DVD clearly shows through its exploration of Gimbutas’ work, these things are all interwoven.


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Judith Laura

More blogs about /goddess/feminist theology/spiritual feminism/pagan/feminist spirituality/.