In the previous article, I established a connection between the “weeping” Ikom monoliths of Nigeria and the weeping figurines of the Neolithic Balkans. But there is one more example worth mentioning – the weeping figurines of Cycladic islands, modern Greece. They date to 2500BC, or the Early Cycladic II period.
The mourning figurines?
Only a dozen of these figurines have been discovered so far. Luckily, some of them still have traces of paint: blue from azurite, and red from cinnabar. On some, the paint is just barely visible. This led archaeologists to the conclusion that there could have been many more similar figurines, but as the paint is long gone, we more often see just a stylized, colorless face.
But most importantly, lab analysis had shown that most of these figurines were painted and repainted numerous times, meaning that they were in use before being deposited as grave goods. Here we may see another connection with the Ikom monoliths. They are being repainted every year, during the autumn harvest festival.
So what was their use?
A scholar Gail L. Hoffman, in his work, “Painted Ladies: Early Cycladic II Mourning Figures?” explores the possibility that these were mourning figurines. However, he admits that there are quite a few problems with this theory. The most important being:
- The figurines are present only in one-tenth of all the excavated graves. (meaning that they were not an important part of the burial rites) And 2. They were in use for quite some time, before being buried.
Mr. Hoffman mentions dozens of other scholarly theories on their purpose: ancestral worship, Mother Goddess, spirit guides, and even toys. But he makes an argument against each one. He concludes that the strongest associations are with mourning and with burial rites, but adds that the question remains open and that we may never know their true purpose.
Indeed, observing these figurines out of any other context, ie examples from other cultures, we have to reach a dead-end sooner or later. But perhaps a comparative approach can take us a bit further?
For example, the Cycladic figurine alone might really look like a mourning figurine. But the Neolithic figurines from Bulgaria clearly show association with water, as the wavy lines, representing water, are painted all over them, not only on the face. The same goes for the Ikom monoliths, which are still being worshiped during the harvest season, or in other words, in the rainy autumn.
Moreover, in Indo-European mythology, autumn is usually associated with the entrance to the underworld or the land of the dead. So the mourning aspect remains.
But strangely enough, it seems that scholars have missed the most obvious place to look for clues – the Greek mythology.
Niobe, the weeping goddess
The myth of Niobe is really ancient, she was mentioned already in Homer’s Iliad. According to the myth, Niobe was a mother of fourteen children – seven sons, and seven daughters. She was so proud of this fact that she boasted to goddess Leto herself. Leto in turn had only two children – Artemis and Apollo. Of course, the vain goddess Leto took this boasting as an insult, and her children decided to take revenge.
Artemis and Appolo, both excellent archers, took their bows and slew all of Niobe’s children. Devastated, Niobe stood rigid until she turned into stone. But even then, tears wouldn’t stop pouring from her eyes.
In modern Turkey, where this myth might have originated, there is a stone known as The Weeping Rock. It is located in Mount Sipylus, Manisa. Its association with Niobe myth dates to antiquity.
Now, we know of this myth from ancient Greek sources. But the truth is that Niobe was the daughter of a Phrygian king. In fact, one of her main epithets is “Phrygian”. Modern scholars associate her with Lydians too. And Herodotus tells us that the origins of these people are not in modern-day Turkey, but rather in the Balkans. We don’t know exactly when their migration took place, but it was certainly long before Herodotus, or in other words, long before the 5th century BC.
Could they have brought the story of the weeping lady from the Balkans?
As interesting as this theory is, it is still based on a weak argument. But what if I can prove that the origins of the Niobe myth are Neolithic? In other words, that the Niobe myth existed at the same time when the Neolithic Balkan figurines were made? After all, the Neolithic connections between the Balkans and Turkey are well-attasted in archaeology.
The Niobe myth decoded
In its essence, the myth of Niobe is just another astronomical allegory, as most of the ancient myths are. The great masters of the past centuries were quite aware of this fact. A few examples of Niobe themes are below. Nicolas de Pattemontagne clearly shows Apollo as the Sun, and Artemis as the Moon. In a more concealed manner, Abraham Bloemaert accomplishes the same effect by dividing his painting into day and night. The medieval woodcut shows only the Sun, Apollo.
So, the two main protagonists, Apollo and Artemis represent the Sun and the Moon. This is why there is a clear division of light and darkness in the Renaissance paintings. But this is also how the ancients divided the year – the light part, from spring to autumn, and the dark one, from autumn to spring.
So who are the Niobe’s children then? To answer this question we need to determine where were the two most important markers – the spring and the autumn equinox.
If we assume that the myth is Neolithic, then the spring would be in Taurus and the Autumn in Scorpio. The summer solstice was in Leo and the winter in Aquarius. Here is an illustration from an older article.
Appolo and the children of Niobe
In the Neolithic, the “bright” half of the year, the realm of Apollo, the Sun, started with the constellation of Taurus. If we look at this region of the sky, right next to the Taurus, we see the constellation of Orion. Orion is represented as a hunter, sometimes with a club in his hands, but more often he holds a bow. In ancient mythology, he was the “substitute” for the Sun, invisible during the night time.
Moreover, his arrow is pointing towards the Pleiades, known as seven sisters in the Greek myth. (In other Indo-European myths they can be seven brothers, or seven wise men, seven goddesses, cows, etc…)
The “dark” part of the year started with the Scorpio constellation. Right next to it, we see Sagittarius, shooting arrows towards it. And even though Scorpio does not have seven stars, the constellation Ara, positioned right underneath Scorpio, has seven stars exactly. Could these be the other seven children of Niobe?
So, if my interpretation is correct, the myth of Niobe is truly Neolithic, as this kind of star arrangement worked only during the Neolithic period. The spring and the autumn, of course, refer to the rainy season, which we can interpret as the tears of the mourning Niobe.
Indeed most of the Neolithic figurines of the Balkans, including the famous Vinca, have stylized tears underneath their eyes…
The Pleiades as the spring marker
Numerous ancient cultures were aware of the Pleiades constellation. One of the examples is the Nebra sky disk, from 1,600 BC. But the stars were known even in Babylon, as they marked the spring equinox during the 3-2 millennia BC.
Without a doubt, we have a direct connection between the Pleiades, or the seven sisters, and the spring equinox. And Orion, the archer pointing towards them. But the Slavic mythology is equally interesting, although far less known in the west.
In Slavic mythology, the Pleiades are known as Vlascici. This name probably meant “little cows”, as they are almost an integral part of Taurus, the bull (or sometimes a cow). The myth of Hermes stealing the cows from Apollo relates to the same idea. In Slavic myth, the trickster is the god Veles. He steals the cows from the thunder god Perun (Orion, Apollo). These myths speak the same language and relate to the rainy season in the springtime.
But there are other Slavic myths in which the stars of the Pleiades represent brothers or sisters. Their seven names vary from place to place, and the options are too numerous to list here. This fact only supports the antiquity of the myth.
And finally, another Slavic myth tells of the story of the abduction of a young maiden. Her weeping mother pleads to God to punish them, and as a result, the thieves become chained to the sky, as the Pleiades.
Moreover, the Pleiades would disappear from the horizon during the springtime, and return in the summer. For this reason, Slavs believed that: “they open the summer and they close the winter“
Another way to interpret the Niobe myth
There is another way to interpret this myth, and I realized it while observing its representation on a Roman sarcophagus. However, I believe that this is an “upgrade” of a later date.
In this version, the sons and daughters of Niobe would be the zodiac signs, the twelve standard signs, plus Ophiuchus and one more. This “other one” is not represented here so it is hard to determine.
Now, it is beyond my will and power to make a separate image for each constellation, but if you refer to their astronomical shapes, you can quickly understand the following:
Orion / Apollo – self-explanatory. He holds a bow in his hands and marks the spring equinox.
Taurus / the first son – the hand position along with the torso reminds of the Taurus star cluster.
Gemini / two brothers – self-explanatory.
Cancer / the youngest brother – Cancer is the smallest constellation in this region. It looks like the Y letter, and in India, it was seen as a stick of a rishi. We see a stick above his head.
Leo – a “guardian” of a young boy – the whole body posture is similar to that of Leo, and he wears a lion’s skin on his back. The official interpretation is that this was the guardian of a young boy, but I disagree. I believe that he represents the husband of Niobe – Amphion. His name means “native of two lands”. This could be a poetic way to describe the summer solstice when the sun is at the highest point in the sky and starts to descend.
Virgo / daughter – The first female in the group of siblings, and the same is true for the zodiac. Her posture is almost identical to the Virgo constellation.
Libra / the second daughter – her hands remind of the scales, balance…
Scorpio / the third daughter with the “guardian” – This is the autumn equinox, the descent into the underworld. The female figure is lower than all others, and together with an old woman perhaps reminds of the Scorpio cluster. We see an old lady, who I believe represents Niobe herself. This is the entrance to her realm, but Niobe represents Aquarius, standing opposite to Leo, and not shown on this sarcophagus. The Slavic term for an old lady is “baba”, and rocks similar to that of Turkey are known as “baba” too. Moreover, in Bulgaria, the first of March, the month of the spring equinox, belongs to “Baba Marta” – or Grandma March. In Romania, she is known as Baba Dochia.
Ophiuchus – two daughters – The shape of this constellation looks like a square with a separate line underneath it. Perhaps this was seen as one daughter holding the other.
Sagittarius – Artemis holding a bow – self-explanatory
In conclusion, the constellations match almost perfectly the characters depicted on this sarcophagus – and also, we see the same polarity, the light, and the darkness, represented by the male and the female, beginning and ending with a figure of an archer.
Niobe, finally revealed
From everything we have seen so far, it is clear that Niobe represents the Mother Goddess. She is related to water/rain, and the Earth’s fertility cycle. The rainy seasons of spring and autumn mark the “borders” of her realm, but her true house is in Aquarius, represented by the zig-zag lines – just like those of the Neolithic figurines. The summer season is the realm of her husband, Amphion / Leo.
And as we know from the other Indo-Europan myths, she is a young girl in spring and gets old and grumpy in the autumn. Then, come March, she transforms into the young maiden again.
The association with the rain and fertility explains why the figurines were in use for a long time before being buried. The association with the burials brings the symbolism of resurrection. (!) Surely, this would be a very good reason to place her figurines in the graves of loved ones.
Baba Dochia and Baba Marta, or… Niobe of the Balkans
Wikipedia link on Baba Dochia lists a few popular legends. Here is one:
Baba Dochia’s son marries a girl that she didn’t like. Baba Dochi is angry and sends the girl to wash black wool in the river until it turns white. The girl quickly realizes that this is an impossible task. Desperate, and with frozen hands from the cold river, the girl starts crying. Jesus appears and gives her a red flower to wash the wool with it. The wool finally turns white and she returns home. When Baba Dochia hears about the magical red flower, she thinks that spring has come. She puts on her nine coats and ventures to the mountain. On the way up it gets warmer, so she starts throwing one by one of her coats, until she throws them all away. But then the weather changes again, and Baba Dochia freezes on the mountain.
In this short story, we see all the main elements of the previous discussion. The black and the white wool symbolize the “dark” and the “bright” half of the year. The proof for this claim is that the wool turns white in the springtime. The girl and the grandmother represent the two different aspects of the Mother goddess. And taking the “nine coats” as months, and starting from the spring, we end up in Aquarius, the home of Bava Dochia, where she gets “frozen” on the top of the mountain, during the winter solstice, just like Niobe turns into stone.
In another version of the myth, she actually turns into stone. And just like in the case of Niobe, this stone, shaped like an old woman, is still visible in Romania. It is a “sphynx” of a region called Babele (plural of grandmother) in the Bucegi mountains.
Dochia was the daughter (or sister) of Decebalus, King of the Dacians. Roman Emperor Trajan conquered Dacia and wanted to marry her. Dochia hid in the Carpathian Mountains, disguised as a shepherd. But this was not enough to save her, so she asked the god Zamolxes to turn her into stone. This is how she became Babele peak.
In fact, the toponyms that relate to Baba, grandmother, are numerous in the Balkans. For example Babin zub (baba’s tooth) in Serbia, or Velika baba, (great-grandmother) – two mountains, one in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and one in Slovenia, Babina Greda, Croatia. But similar toponyms exist even further in the Slavic countries, especially Poland. There, we see the Babia Góra (grandmother’s mountain), Babin, Babiac, Babice, Babienice, Babieta… Interestingly, even the name of the famous stone stelae of the steppe, is “balbal”, although they more often represent the men.
In Slavic cases, however, the links between the grandmother, weather, and mountains are deeply rooted in tradition. And the same goes for the stories of people turning into stone. Dozens of other toponyms speak of devils, weddings, thieves and many other characters, that turned into stones.
The Neolithic weeping figurines probably relate to the cult of the great-grandmother. One of her aspects is related to the astronomical phenomena, represented by the constellations, equinoxes, and solstices, the cycle of the seasons, and the rain.
Her other aspect relates to Earth and fertility, the process of birth, death, and resurrection. As such, she was worshiped practically all over the globe, since times immemorial. Neolithic Turkey is not an exception.
However, the motif of a weeping goddess, that turned into the stone is a bit specific, and no similar parallels were found apart from the Cycladic islands and Neolithic Balkans. As the Balkan figurines predate the Cycladic for several millennia, could we assume that the origins of this cult are in the Balkans?
From there, they would be brought to Turkey, around the first half of the 3rd millennia BC, and then sometime later, from Turkey to the Greek islands. The people who brought the cult were Phrygians, whose origins were surely in the Balkans. Or the Lydians (In Slavic lyudi – people)
I believe that this theory is not too far-fetched. As we saw, the Balkans have much deeper and stronger connections to such worship. But the fact that we see the same ideas as far as Russia means that the origins of this cult were Slavic, and not of some other (made-up) Balkan population, now “lost” to history. Take a moment to think about that fact.
Connections to the Ikom monoliths of Nigeria
In the end, one question remains unanswered, what is the connection with the Ikom monoliths of Nigeria. When I first saw them, I thought that the idea comes from Africa, following the mainstream history view, with which we are all programmed. But the fact is that there are only a few hundred of these monoliths, in a specific region of Africa – they are not a part of a wider African culture.
Moreover, the scholars date Ikom monoliths to 500AD, and indeed, they are not discovered underground, as they are still in use, but the weathering process did not leave much traces on them. As the stone is impossible to date, I would still assume that they are a bit older and that they relate to the period of the first seafarers. The connection with the Cycladic islands supports this claim.
In fact, on several occasions, I wrote of Nigeria as being the first station towards the Americas, if one was to follow the ocean currents. And over there, in South America, we have another myth of the weeping lady. This is probably the most famous “weeping lady” in our modern times. She is known as Llorona, the weeper, but her original name was Maria, just like the Christian version of Mother Goddess. She too weeps for her dead children, and she too is associated with rivers and lakes. The only difference is, in fact, that she has killed her children by herself. Is this small difference enough to label it as “unrelated”?