The Story of Femenina Sube
by Batya Weinbaum
Isla Mujeres, Spanish for “Island of the Women” is an island in the Caribbean Sea, about 13 kilometres (8.1 miles) off the Yucatán Peninsula coast. In Pre-Columbian times the island was sacred to the Maya goddess of childbirth and medicine, Ix Chel. When the Spanish arrived in the 16th century they named it “Isla Mujeres” because of the many images of Goddesses there. In this article Batya Weinbaum writes about how she was inspired by Roman history to bring back Goddesses to this island.
Isla Mujeres – image © www.cancuncd.com
On Isla Mujeres, off the coast of Cancun I am in the process of constructing a mural of Great Mother fertility Goddesses from around the world, including Ma de Sumeria, Asherah of Babylon and Israel, Artemis of Ephesus, Ea of Mesopotamia, (a Goddess of wine), the cauldron of Cerridwen of Celtic descent, the ankh sign of life from Egypt, Osha the Yoruban goddess of wind with her nine scarves representing her nine daughters; together with Ix Chel of Mayan culture and the Virgin of Immaculate Conception of the island’s Catholic culture and a Delphic diviner wrapped in a serpent.
Although doing this women’s studies Goddess project in the streets during the day, at night I was revising my book, for a second edition, Islands of Women and Amazons: Representations and Realities, which was published by University of Texas Press in 2000 or thereabouts, and I got much further into areas of research I could not do so much in depth the first time around, specifically about the Sibylline Books. These were books that the last king of Rome had bought from the Sibylline priestesses, who had been recording prophecies of the Great Mother Cybele in Anatolia who was predicting the end of the world as it was then known and forecasting its demise by various natural signs or prodigies such as showers of stones. She was also instructing what could be done to prevent the collapse of the world as it was then known, eg of the Roman Empire. So the king bought her books, brought them to Rome, and imported Cybele, or the Magna Mater as she had been worshipped in Asia Minor, in several important cult sites throughout the region. The books were consulted by the Roman Forum in moments of crisis throughout the remaining days of the Republic and Empire.
I couldn’t delve that deeply into these books and their prophecies in my first phase of research, because I was in a graduate program where the belief in mediumship and receiving messages from the spiritual dimension had to be couched in the language of this author, who fancied himself as a medium… and so on. So I skirted the subject so as to avoid conflict. At home on Isla in my apartment revising my book years later, I was on my own, pursuing where the Great Mother sent me and took me with absolute faith that I was in the right place at the right time. So I read more about what had provoked the last emperor of Rome to bring these books over for the Roman Senate to consult.
What was going on in his head? This act challenged the theory that once there was matriarchy, which was gradually superseded by the rise of patriarchy, so I had to check it out. After all, a large and looming question has always been, why did women just lie down and give up their power, if women had had the power under the matriarchy that Goddess scholars say they or we did.
Perhaps only meteorite showers instigated the need for consultations of these books, but the Romans indeed did go off to procure the Great Goddess from Mt. Ida, which Cicero, like Livy, calls the Idaean mother. Once the books had been procured at an exorbitant price from the Sibylline priestesses they were eagerly or desperately consulted by the Roman leadership. These showers of stones led to the consultation, which brought about this some-what strange behaviour of charging off to get the Great Goddess to bring Her back to Rome to save the world they lived in, happened in 205 BCE. By this time, the Romans had already established a pattern of importing Goddesses from the east such as Venus, claiming her not as a stranger, but as a national entity. In doing so, they had no compunction about, as classics scholar Eric Orlin says: “making changes in the original cult to adapt them to their own system”.*
By the other side of the Second Punic War, when the consultation of the Sibylline Books occurred, an oracle was found recommending that if a foreign country was bringing war to Italian soil, bringing the Idean mother from Pessimus to Rome would drive this foreign warrior away in defeat, taking his armies with him. And peace would prevail. As incredible as it sounds to us, with drones in the news, build-ups towards bombings, public beheadings of journalists seeming to seek the truth that could bring the end to endless war, the peace-seeking Romans tired of war followed this oracle and sent an embassy to King Attalus of Pergamum.
However, the embassy first stopped at Delphi to consult with the oracle entrenched there about the advisability of such a plan. Dating back to 1400 BCE, since Mycenaean times, settlements dedicated to the Great Mother had been located at Delphi [below].
In fact, it was in this exact spot that Apollo had fought the dragon: when Apollo decided to dig into the earth to set up an oracular shrine himself, a springnymph had appeared to persuade him to go to a place where a she-dragon challenged him. The female serpent dragon was called Delphyne in later literature. In one story, she nurses Hera’s child —born without male help out of anger at Zeus when he circumvented female power and birthed Athena from his head.
From the spot where this fighting she-serpent dragon disintegrated. comes the channelled intelligence of the earth shrine at Delphi; the defeated dragon had represented the defeat of the matriarchy, or the repression of female sexual energy returning in this monstrous form. The priestess/diviner, breathing her own form of fire into this historic spot, arguing for the overturning of female subordination and oppression, had answered that to proceed, they must get the Great Ma stone and take her to Rome, So the embassy from Rome went to Pergamum, and the king there escorted the entourage to Phrygia, where the cooperative king handed over to the delegation of Romans the black stone that was thought to represent the Goddess.
Feminina Sube mural created by Batya on Isla Mujeres
At one point, when the ship carrying the huge black stone back to Rome, became stuck in the mud, Claudia herself, the mighty vestal virgin who according to William Smith as well as Giovanni Boccaccio was also known for protectively intervening between attacking mobs and her father (also a follower of the Sibylline Books) came forth and demonstrated her chastity by guiding the ship bearing the Great Goddess to shore. Thus, the strength of women was required to bring the Goddess of strong women back to balance the imbalance then leading to the decline of Rome. In the interest of ending war and waging peace, the Great Mother herself had indeed arrived, brought there to Rome to rectify the situation.
The Roman group carried the mammoth stone back to their city where it was greeted as the Delphic oracle had prescribed it to be. With great pomp and circumstance, in a manner that took on the appearance of divine intervention, they carted the stone into Rome on a chariot and installed it on the Palatine amidst days of feasting. The Goddess was brought to Rome in 205 BCE and the war ended four years later in 201 BCE.
So, maybe it’s a stretch, but there I am on Isla Mujeres, on an island said by the Spanish to be inhabited originally by no less than the original Amazons, creating a channel for the Great Mother to return. I was convinced this creation of a channel for the return of suppressed female energy has something to do with bringing about world peace and righting imbalances leading to the decline of the western world as in Rome.
How this channel getting the Great Mother through happens at this point is in every day conversation, sometimes with a passerby who stops to take pictures, sometimes with bored tourists waiting to get their golf carts rented or fixed across the street, other times with people who stop, ask questions, and then chip in to work on the project. Sometimes it feels like divine intervention as well, to be given this platform to create,to have constant conversations about the Goddess and the necessity of having her return, to save the planet. And to avoid continually being hit on by Mexican and other men, I tell people I am a nun and all the other women who come to work there are nuns dedicating our lives to the Goddess as well.
Maybe the Romans knew something. They reached out to Venus to help them at the beginning of the war, and at this turn of events, they reached out to the Great Goddess to help them defeat Hannibal. Orlin also tells us that “at some point prior to 216 BCE, the Romans made several innovations in the cult of Ceres at Rome, which amounted to the establishment of Greek rites in honor of the goddess”.* Thus, as on Isla, there is a strong pre-existing base of a labyrinth of matricentric female deity worship, including that of Ix Chel, Conchi, and Guadalupe, Ceres had long been worshipped and the new devotional practices easily resonated with existing historical principles.
Similarly, creating this mural as an everyday performance piece gives those of us working on the project the opportunity to engage in conversation about the strength these female entities were once believed to have, as at the same time we share about the spiritual power of Ix Chel and the island’s Marian tenets. And you know how the saying goes—when in Rome, do as the Romans do.
If we can claim the Great Mother as our lineage, which the presentation of the constellations of Goddesses of similar function as the Goddesses of the island does, we open up in daily conversation deep thoughts to be taken home, the way tourists think more deeply about God and what happened to Jesus and the Jews when they go home from Jerusalem. And I have had the opportunity to think about prodigies too. Maybe the rain of stones that made the Romans take extreme measures to bring back the Goddess is nothing compared to the tsunamis, global warming, and other natural disasters that have made me and others leap to take notice that extreme measures to bring back the Goddess are necessary in this day and age too.
Renting a storefront and maintaining it to front this mural might seem extravagant and senseless, but if it helps the Goddess return, and this helps save the planet, working on this project to the extent that I can, for as long as I can, is the least I can do. We want to put an Epona on the roof, and finish the Durga painted on the inside with mosaic, and we need help putting a window in for ventilation too. We aren’t having eunuchs, clashing cymbals and spilling blood, the way the Great Mother worshippers originally did, but we may celebrate the Goddess more in a “Roman” style, such as performances and banquets, when people visit. As the Romans imported priestesses from outside the state for their fabulous and renowned Thesmorphoria, the celebrations of the fertile mother, we invite your influx whenever you can come.
Boccaccaio, Giovanni. Famous Women. Virginia Brown, trans. [Harvard UP].
* Orlin, Eric M. Foreign Cults in Rome. Creating a Roman Empire. [Oxford University Press, 2010.]
Smith, William. Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Myth. Vol. One. [Little, Brown and Co. 1870. Retrieved July 2013]