Tuesday, November 6, 2018

The Dreaming Goddess of Malta Weaves her Magic: Voyages in an Enchanted Island - Neela Bhattacharya Saxena

I hesitated for a moment to wade into a turbulent sea at Blue Cove which was like a strip of the Mediterranean, Mare Magnum, sawed into the mountain. As if to free me from uncertainty, a huge wave rose up, splashing me from head to toe -- baptizing me into the waters of the Great Mother. Ready or not -- sometimes she reaches out to you. A seeker of the magic of the Feminine, somehow, I had found myself in one of the most ancient sites of the Goddess where Neolithic and even Upper Paleolithic people, might have accessed the Divine Mother in her cosmic and fertile glory.  

The Dreaming Goddess of Malta had haunted me for over a decade. I had first discovered her when I developed my course on the goddess in world religions. I could not figure out what about this tiny figure lying comfortably on what looks like an oval shaped couch, fascinated me. As I responded to her call, thanks to my dear friend Dawn, and visited the enchanted Maltese archipelago, I discovered that it has been a crossroad of cultures, traders, crusaders, faiths, and ideas of the most astonishing variety. Here was one more voyager discovering the magic of its Dreaming Deity.
This goddess is the most unharmed among the statuettes called “Fat Ladies” found on this island. Scholars like T Zammit and E O James think that this figurine represents dream incubation. Nearby cubicles may have been utilized for people to sleep and have their dreams interpreted. Priestesses or priests might have invoked the Goddess to help the supplicants. 
Remnants of red ochre suggest life sustaining rituals that are also connected with death. This sounds quite shamanic, and what we know from our understanding of the shamanic world, they understand energy and work their healing magic by accessing our own inner core where goddesses reside. Australian aborigines practice lucid dreaming; so do the dream catchers of Native America. Dream incubation still happens in remote temples in India.
For me she represents the divine feminine that is the very source of all life; she is the center from where our waking, dreaming and deep sleep states arise. Her call is a call to endarkment, a profound invitation to yogic sleep in the womb of the Great Goddess. It is this sleep that gives us total rest; when we awaken into her reality, we re-cognize the quickening of a new aware being, the fundamental vibration of life dancing in our fragile bodies.  That deep sleep connects us to the energy of an easeful spontaneity where the universe reveals itself as a perfectly synchronized dance of dualities.  We can then actualize the shaping dreams we fashion for ourselves without any agonistic delusions.         

The shape of these other “Fat Lady” statuettes also puzzle us, but their hand gestures are most intriguing. People have wondered about their identity and meaning.  Why are they so huge? Without any written record, like the Indus Valley mystery artefacts, we can only guess at their intent. To me they are like “mudras”- one hand pointing toward the earth while the other to her heart.  This could very well represent our heart connection with the earth energy that recycles everything in her creative, sustaining and annihilating aspects. But there was so much more to this archipelago than these stone deities.
When I landed in Malta, I could not have imagined that one evening I would stand at the Hal Tarxain Neolithic temple and invoke these ancient deities through modern rituals. What could be greater synchronicity than finding myself among a group of women and men led by an NYU professor who was miming ancient rituals at the temple site. The subject was “Maltese Muse: The Witch, the Goddess and the Madonna”! I have always been immersed in divine triangles, and this confluence epitomized the triple deities. The triune aspect of the Great Mother captures the paradox where life’s most magical elements remain hidden in plain sight.
One ritual was particularly fascinating. The duality of the Great Mother in whom all polarities of good and evil merge was presented through two women, one dressed like the pristine Madonna of the Catholic heart, the other, the feared and despised witch.  As we passed through the portal, they uttered in our ears simultaneously, witch and the Madonna.  We had to later tell if we heard one or the other. I am pretty sure I heard both. Rituals are understood as “sympathetic” causation, to relieve any precarious situation where pent up emotions are given safe expression through ritual objects. I felt the third entity, the Goddess of Malta, in my very bones as we walked around the temple in the twilight hour.

Each day I spent on that magic island brought a new revelation and a new spot for me to marvel at. I was jetlagged, sitting on a bus and had perhaps dozed off, so I missed the stop to Ghar Dalam, the Cave of Darkness.  Anxiously I asked the driver how to get to my destination; I can still see him gesturing with his two fingers - walk! I got off and wandered through a quiet neighborhood lined up with pale yellow signature houses of Malta. When I reached this World Heritage site, there was not a soul stirring.  I could hear the birds and see a stretch of melon laden farm. I was strangely at home, ghar in Hindi.
As I entered the dark enclosure, I could not help remembering Werner Herzog’s film, Cave of Forgotten Dreams and Kim Stanley Robinson’s novel Shaman. I felt as if I was on a dream quest, and it was a new rite of passage. I had entered dream time and was communing with all the animals that had entered this cave millennia ago and never left, some going extinct. The museum had layers and layers of bones that included prehistoric dwarf elephants and hippopotamus. Apparently, the skull of a Neolithic child was stolen a while ago. This was purely Nature’s art work, a stark reminder of impermanence. 
I recall another surreal, spectacular and sun-drenched day. I had walked more miles in that one day than I could remember, in search of Hagar Qim and Mejndra temples. Hagar housed those giantesses and the spiral drawings. Perched high above the ocean, they were ethereal reminders of our human aspirations. From there I had trekked further, searching for the Blue Grotto. The sea was too rough for the boats, said a boatman as I rested under the shrine of the Madonna. I was too exhausted to walk any more, and the Blue Cove nearby called me for my initiatory dip. In the evening I ended up in Mdina, an old walled city and found myself watching a wedding rehearsal at the ornate Metropolitan Cathedral. 
Thought of cathedral gongs bring me to newer gods of Malta who are no less fascinating. When I first heard Maltese on the airplane, it sounded Middle Eastern and Italian. I discovered that Catholic Malta calls its God Allah and a form of Mother Mary is known as Sultanah! How we name our gods and divide ourselves, forgetting they are masks of the same unknowable totality. As a lover of all forms of the Virgin, I was thrilled when an expert Maltese anthropologist took us on a special journey.

Thanks to Michael, we had the great good fortune of visiting many grottoes of the Virgin, a Magdalene chapel and Phoenician catacombs. Michael also recounted many amazing tales including Kabbalist Abulafia’s visit in Camino. St Paul was shipwrecked on these isles. A crossroad indeed where pagans, Jews, Christians and Muslims of every color congregated. I was amazed how so many gorgeous sites survived because Malta was heavily bombed during WW II.  Carvaggio had found refuge here whose spectacular paintings came alive at a baroque masterpiece of a cathedral. Watching his vision of the beheading of John the Baptist was uncanny. 
I had to pass through Valletta each day during my wanderings; I would often sit at the upper gardens and watch the citadels and seafaring modern boats, visualizing ancient times- mythic and historic. When I later saw the new Murder on the Orient Express, I suddenly recognized the scenes shot in Malta. But it was the present and the plight of the refugees that enter my mindscape. In 2013 the Maltese president described the Mediterranean Sea as a "cemetery." After all, large number of migrants drowned there when their boats capsized. More than one million refugees had risked their lives crossing this Sea into Europe. There are many crossings, indeed.

I was privileged to have one more Neolithic temple sighting before my flight to Poland. Thanks to Dawn’s suggestions, I took a ferry to Gozo and hopped on a bus to see this gorgeous isle where Ggantja megalithic complex was discovered. These are among the world’s oldest freestanding temples; beauty of this site was sparse and austere. Sitting on top of a tourist bus, I could see distant lands of an isle that supposedly belonged to Calypso! It is not just Odysseus who was waylaid by her siren songs, but she could not keep me there for years; I had to go to Kracow for a conference, the ostensible reason for my trip to Europe.

I had returned to Dawn’s castle in her magic island for one more night before returning to New York, witnessing again those pale fortresses. Walking on the quiet streets, one sensed something deeply melancholy in this place. Or was it just me and my own heartbreak house. Myth, history and prehistory mingle in this lime stone earth colored island where its dreaming deity spins her yarn. 
I was not to see the Hypogeum where the Dreaming Lady was found. Dawn, who has been an avid researcher into its mysteries, had told me that one needs to buy tickets 3 months ahead for an entrance to Hal Saflieni, a hallowed site.  But I made friends with many Maltese people and discovered another magic island like Cyprus. Perhaps someday this Goddess will beckon me again to see the three-layered cave temple shrine and bring me deeper into her dream inception.