Here is the third creative piece I have completed as part of my Witchlines studies.
In Neolithic Old Europe, some villages had so-called ‘focal houses’—buildings that were larger and often better built than the smaller dwellings around them, which were probably occupied by core family groups of a matrilineal lineage. It is surmised that such houses may also have been gathering places, perhaps for village councils or other events. For this task, I have imagined what one of these houses may have been like, and an event that took place there, both inside and out.
|Inside a reconstructed Neolithic house, by Szilas (Source: Wikimedia)|
This is the first year she has missed it, her new belly too round and heavy, and her ankles too swollen to make walking down to the fields a possibility. She does not mind. Someone has to look after the youngest of the children. She looks over them as they make little clay pots, rolling out long thin snakes of smooth clay, joining them one atop the other. She has shown them how—See! Smooth down the sides like this—and now they are intent on their work, their little hands finding joy in the tactile experience of shaping earth into new forms, making shapes that are round and full, just like the women do in the temple.
The day is warm and still, the only sounds the soft murmurings of the children at their work, and, from inside the mother-house, the shuffling movements of the grandmother, as she scrapes the ashes from the belly-shaped oven in each of the three rooms, and lights a new fire in readiness—the cyclical work of each day, done with joy. Her knees are too old and stiff to walk far, so she too has stayed behind. She hums a little to herself, a tune that goes round and round, curling back upon itself, as the flames catch and heat begins to radiate from the earthen walls of the ovens. It is one of the old songs she has sung so many times, to dance the grain home each year. And beyond her own voice, in the distance, she hears it—the rising swell of the song, the shouts and laughter.
With a grunt of effort she pushes herself up from her crouching position, bows to She Who Protects, and walks from the dimness of the inner room out to the brightness of the day. The children too have looked up from their making, eager to run to meet the returning villagers, but the grandmother calls them back with a tut and a smile—Wash your hands of clay before you rush off, she gently admonishes them.
The almost-mother stands, hands pressed to her lower back, and laughs as the children run off with dripping fingers, the older ones carrying the smallest. On the pathway that runs up from the fields, alongside the furthest houses, the villagers appear. The women dance in a line, hands held, circling, circling, and singing the harvest song around the men, who carry the last round baskets and sheaves of grain. They reach the mother-house and lay down their loads, amidst laughter and cheers.
When the song of harvest is complete, some of the women of the mother-house, dressed in their fineries, their hair curled and plaited, go into the house and bring out the round loaves of bread that they baked that morning, and oil, herbs, and meat. And, seated on stools and blankets in the yard, the people feast.
Later, the celebrations complete, the chosen members of each house in the village enter the mother-house, one by one, carrying their vessels, clay-made mouths empty, awaiting fulfilment. They move through the granary room, with its large, curved urns, and smell of grain and earth, and the newly made clay pots drying on the attic floor, reached by a ladder; then through the living quarters, with its pallets, piles of blankets and sheepskin, and musty, yet comforting, human smell; and finally though to the inner room, where She Who Protects dwells, her rounded, winged and lined forms standing by the oven, and on the low shelf up against the wall. Here the people assemble, kneeling, as the grandmother takes up her ladle, and dishes out generous scoops of grain into their proffered vessels, filling them.
As the clan mother, the grandmother takes great pride in sharing the gifts that the earth has offered with each house, each family, so that all are fed. To let anyone—woman, man or child—go unfed would anger She Who Protects, and the ancestors whose bodies, born from the land, have returned to feed it. In the coming days, as the rest of the grain is threshed and sorted, the granaries in every house in the village will be filled. And though the feasting may be over, the feeding never is, for it is the feeding that matters, the offerings that go back and forth, and around in a circle. All must be celebrated and sung and shared, and will be, for She will live on in her daughter, and her daughter’s daughter, and her daughter’s daughter’s daughter.