The earliest known spiral is one where a spiral of dots on mammoth-ivory winds round seven times towards or out of a central hole. The seven-fold spiral design appears highly deliberate, and the number seven, recalling the seven strata notched round the head of the Goddess of Willendorf, gains in possible significance. On the other side, serpents wind across the buckle like waves of water. Gertrude Levy, an archeologist, wrote that spirals are the most frequent decorative motif on Magdalenian ceremonial wands. The spiral form is found in the eddying of water, sea shells, the intestines, the spider's web, and the whirling galaxies of space.
Both water and serpent are closely associated with the spiral, as they are with the meander and labyrinth. The labyrinth winds like a serpent or like a serpentine movement of water through the womb of earth, which is the cave. The oldest meander known is engraved on a bone that is 135,000 years old, from Pech de l'Aze in the Dordogne. All these form an enduring constellation of images related to the figure of the goddess. They symbolize the intricate pathway that connects the visible world to the invisible, of the kind that the souls of the dead would have taken to re-enter the womb of the Mother.
Figures of Goddesses, images of the moon, the crescent horns of bison and bull, the bird, serpent, fish and wild animals, the chevrons of water of birds' wings, the meander, labyrinth, and spiral--all these reappear in the myths and images of later ages. Together they point to a culture with a highly developed mythology that wove together all these elements in stories long since lost to us, but whose traces may still linger in the enchanting convolutions of fairy tales. The miraculous survival of these images of the Mother Goddess throughout 20,000 years is a testament to a surprisingly unified culture--or at the very least, a common nexus of belief--lasting for a much longer time than their successors, images of the Father God.
Our assumptions about human nature, in particular our beliefs about the capacity of human beings to live in harmony with the rest of nature and to shape a peaceful world, are crucial to whether or not we can actually create a better way of being.
If we hold that human beings are and always have been primarily hunters and warriors, then we are more likely to overlook evidence to the contrary and conclude warlike aggression is innate. No evidence has been found that Paleolithic people fought each other. It is then moving to discover that our Paleolithic ancestors have something to teach us, specifically about the way we have misinterpreted their art, and so their lives, by pressing them into a world view belonging to this century.
The two misconceptions are interestingly related. Firstly, the goddess figurines were originally classified as erotic or pornographic art, a conception that would be unthinkable if the feminine principle were recognized as sacred, or to speak colloquially, if "God" were a Mother as well as a Father--that is to say, if our image of the deity contained both feminine and masculine dimensions. Secondly, many stick and line forms engraved in stone and bone and painted on the walls of caves were assumed to be weapons for hunting or male signs, but, on closer examination, proved to be plants, leaves, branches, and trees.
Significantly, both the symbolic potentiality of the birth-giving female figure and the myriad forms of vegetative life have been excluded, for the last 3,000 years, from the categories of the sacred.
Paleolithic art and the sacredness of the feminine principle bespeaks psychic traditions we must understand if we are to know not only what humans were and are but also what we must become.