Archive for September 13th, 2011

September 13, 2011

Steatopygia

hottentot venus

Steatopygia [stee-at-uh-pahy-jee-uh] is a high degree of fat accumulation in and around the buttocks. The deposit of fat is not confined to the gluteal regions, but extends to the outside and front of the thighs, forming a thick layer reaching sometimes to the knee. This development constitutes a genetic characteristic of the Khoisan, an African ethnic group, where it is regarded as a sign of feminine beauty: it begins in infancy and is fully developed by the time of the first pregnancy. It is often accompanied by the formation known as elongated labia (labia minora that may extend as much as 4 inches outside the vulva). This was historically known as the ‘hottentot apron’ — now deemed a very offensive term.

It has been suggested that this feature was once more widespread. Paleolithic Venus figurines, sometimes referred to as ‘steatopygian Venus’ figures, discovered from Europe to Siberia and presenting a remarkable development of the thighs, and even the prolongation of the labia minora, have been used to support this theory. Whether these were intended to be lifelike or exaggeratory, even idealistic, is unclear. However, these figures do not strictly qualify as steatopygian, since they exhibit an angle of approximately 120 degrees between the back and the buttocks, while steatopygia is diagnosed at an angle of about 90 degrees only.

September 13, 2011

Apotropaic Magic

evil eye

luck charms

Apotropaic [ap-uh-truh-pey-ik] magic is the use of rituals to ward off harmful influences like the ‘evil eye’ or invidia (jealous or hostile gazes). This can be a long ritual, or it can take the form of simply wearing an amulet or other token, against bad luck, or gestures such as fingers crossed or knocking on wood. When faced with a bad omen the Greeks made offerings to the Averting Gods, underworld deities and heroes who might offer them protection Apotropaic rituals were practiced throughout the ancient Near East and Egypt. Fearsome deities were invoked to ward away evil spirits.

In ancient Egypt, these household rituals were embodied by the deity who personified magic itself, Heka. Other gods invoked include the hippopotamus-like fertility goddess, Taweret, and the lion-demon, Bes (who developed from the early apotropaic dwarf demon-god, Aha, literally meaning ‘fighter’). In the region today, symbol of an eye is common to represent apotropaic intentions. A Turkish airline has adopted the symbol (known as ‘Nazar bonjuk’) as a motif for its planes. The Yiddish expression, ‘Kain ein horeh’ is apotropaic in nature, and literally translates to ‘no evil eye,’ somewhat equivalent to the expression, ‘Knock on wood.’

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September 13, 2011

Venus Figurines

venus figurines

Venus figurines is an umbrella term for a number of prehistoric statuettes of women portrayed with similar physical attributes from the Upper Palaeolithic (between 40,000 and 10,000 years ago), mostly found in Europe, but with finds as far east as Siberia, extending their distribution to much of Eurasia.

These figurines were carved from soft stone (such as steatite, calcite or limestone), bone or ivory, or formed of clay and fired. The latter are among the oldest ceramics known. In total, over a hundred such figurines are known; virtually all of modest size, between 4 cm and 25 cm in height. They are some of the earliest works of prehistoric art.

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September 13, 2011

Venus of Willendorf

venus of willendorf

The Venus of Willendorf, also known as the ‘Woman of Willendorf,’ is an 11 cm (4.3 in) high statuette of a female figure estimated to have been made between 24,000 and 22,000 BCE. It was discovered in 1908 by archaeologist Josef Szombathy at a paleolithic site near Willendorf, a village in Lower Austria. It is carved from an oolitic limestone that is not local to the area, and tinted with red ochre. Several similar statuettes and other forms of art have been discovered, and they are collectively referred to as ‘Venus figurines,’ although they pre-date the mythological figure of Venus by millennia. The Willendorf figure was named following a model already over fifty years old, and shares many characteristics with other figures.

After a wide variety of proposed dates, following a revised analysis of the stratigraphy of its site in 1990, the figure has been estimated to have been carved 24,000–22,000 BCE. Very little is known about its origin, method of creation, or cultural significance. The Venus of Willendorf was recovered in a site that also contained a few amulets of Moldavite. The purpose of the carving is the subject of much speculation. It never had feet and does not stand on its own. The apparent large size of the breasts and abdomen, and the detail put into the vulva, have led scholars to interpret the figure as a fertility symbol. The figure has no visible face, her head being covered with circular horizontal bands of what might be rows of plaited hair, or a type of headdress. She was thought to be very healthy given her weight and size.