Transcript of Disc II, Chapter V: Staffs
© 2013 Max Dashu

The shamanic staff is ancient, primordial. In this Saharan mural, some 7000 years ago, an old woman holds the staff, presiding over a ceremony...

Tassili 2
Women are the central actors in this rite; she in the center appears to blow on her staff as a man kneels offering his bow.

Tassili 3
In closeup, we see that her head is suffused with red ochre—filled with vital power. This is in the Tassili-n-Ajjer, Algeria.

Tadrart Akakus Rite
A Libyan woman swings two wands while another blows on a horn in a ceremony in the Tadrart Akakus.

Uan Tamauat, Libya
In this intriguing mural from Uan Tamauat, an older woman passes a wand to a girl (who has tiny breasts, in profile) supported by two masked male figures, in what appears to be an initiation ceremony.

Aïr, Niger
One of five female figures in the Aïr mountainside petroglyphs of Niger holds two wands, or perhaps a bow and arrow

Maack shelter, Brandberg
Sacred staffs appear in southern Africa too. A magnificent striding woman in the Brandberg of Namibia carries a staff, and wears face-paint, beaded regalia, and a feather-like ritual tie on her arm.

Digging stick rite
In South Africa, old rock paintings show San women praying with their digging sticks: consecrating their food gathering tools, or manipulating them as power objects.

A woman shaman dances with a staff in Zombepata cave, near Sipololo, Zimbabwe. She faces an opening into an immense mass, with winged beings flying in and out -- cliff swallows, bees, or souls. [She has wing-like lobes emerging from her ribs.]

Sipololo 2
A drawing shows the shaman more clearly; her staff, her breasts, and the ritual ties she has bound around her shoulders and arms.

Sipololo 3
Pulling back, we see numinous lobed masses of red ochre, shimmering with myriads of tiny dots. These mysterious shapes may represent ancestral essence or life force. [Peter Garlake suggests “potency and release.”]

Beyuk Dasha
A group of women make ceremony with crooked staffs in an ancient petroglyph in Beyuk Dasha, Azerbaijan

Beyuk Dasha 2
They’re more clearly visible in this drawing, which brings out the animal in the background. The women’s bodies are shaped like neolithic clay figurines

Chinese bronze
The Wu dance whirling their ritual staffs on bronze offering vessels in China, accompanied by dancing cranes

Xi Wangmu staff
The Shan Hai Jing described the goddess Xi Wangmu as a shaman with a victory staff, illustrated in this  modern sculpture

Dragon Staff
In later dynasties, the historical curain parts to reveal a woman holding a dragon staff.

Tiger-woman Lady Jiang and her Wu sister Chen Jinggu are depicted with tasseled wants in their hands.

In Japanese, the mikogami used staffs to direct the flow of power. This haniwa figure once grasped a long staff, now missing.

Uzume Staff
The first miko was the strong and fierce Ame-no-Uzume, who danced with a torimono wreathed with eulalia grass, her head and arms garlanded with leaves.

Uzume Staff2
As Uzume danced and chanted next to a sakaki tree adorned with mirrors and streamers, stamping her feet, she also played a catalpa bow, while all the spirits kept time with clappers.

Uneme of Atsuta
This woodcut shows Uneme of Atsuta exorcising a great serpent from a lake, using a gohei (wand with streamers). [by Utagawa Kuniyoshi, Twenty four paragons of filial piety of our Country]

Javanese dakini
A Javanese dakini holds a khatvanga, the ritual staff of Tantrik adepts in India and Tibet, and a powerful wand of the dakinis.

La Madeleine
An engraved bone from La Madeleine, in late Paleolithic France, shows a staff-carrying woman with a giant eel, horses, and mysterious markings. She walks resting a wand on her shoulder, between two huge horses.

On a carved Mycenean gem, a Greek priestess grasps a staff or torch in one hand, and a sword in the other.

Ukraine maenads
In later Greek art, ecstatic female dancers often carry staffs. These are from Vodoslavka in the Ukraine.

The Norse name for a ritual staff, valr, gave rise to völva and vala, names for female shamans. This is a reconstruction of a ritual staff...

Valr 2
... that was found in the grave of an ancient Swedish priestess, along with a censer and ewer. Archaeologists interpret these as grave goods of a völva.

In Eirikssaga a völva traveled from farm to farm in Greenland, prophesying. She carried a staff adorned with brass and gems, and “a large skin-bag, in which she kept the talismans needful to her wisdom.”

Witch with wands
Many centuries later, Olaus Magnus’ History of the Northern Peoples shows a witch with a flaming wand in her mouth, and several more tucked in her belt, while engaged in the magical act of spinning. [Mid 16th century]

[A much older Germanic wisewoman is mentioned in Roman sources as “Ganna, who was a priestess in Germany, having succeeded Veleda, in the time of Domitian.” Scholars think her name is derived from Gand, “wand.” A Latin text mentions another Germanic priestess whose title Waluberg, may derive from *walus: “staff, wand,” a word related to Norse volr.]

Witch of Endor
The witch’s wand was so deeply embedded in European culture that Baroque artists automatically pictured the biblical Witch of Endor waving a wand

Sorceress with wand
The witch’s wand is pictured again and again in demonologies during the witch hunts, and afterward, in the more authentic folk memory of fairy tales.

Piedras Marcadas, New Mexico
In some places, ceremony involved dancing with double staffs, here in New Mexico

Goddesses or priestesses are shown grasping double staffs, in Old Babylonia around 1800 bce

Three Akkas
In northern Scandinavia, the Saami painted the three Akkas, or grandmothers, wielding these staffs on sacred drums.

Staff Goddess
In ancient Peru, the “Staff Goddess” clutches two dragon-staffs, she of the vagina dentata [“toothed vagina,” a common theme in South American tradition]

A laughing golden woman also flourishes these double staffs, in the Coclé region of Panamá, central America.

Lady of Cao
And this Moche priestess was buried with tall ceremonial maces in Peru.

Blackfeet buffalo dancers
Blackfeet women danced with two medicine poles in their Buffalo ceremonies, which had special headdresses and medicine bundles full of sacred things.

Essie Parrish
Pomo dreamers and healers pounded the ground with doctoring staffs, like the great Essie Parrish in the Roundhouse of the Kashaya in northern California.

Rosebud Winter Count
A Winter Count of the Lakota at Rosebud records the capture of a medicine woman, with her staff as a symbol of her office

The primordial shaman Takutsi Nakawé had magical bamboo staffs. In this Huichol art, she waves a muwieri, the feathered sacred staff.

Chibcha staff
In Colombia, a Chibcha medicine woman or chieftain holds a wand or scepter.

Muisca snake staff
And a golden sculpture of the related Muisca portrays a female shaman with a double-snake-headed staff

Tava Staff, Altai
Carved and tasseled wooden staffs – tava --were among the ritual tools of shamans in the Altai, central Asia

Benin staff
Another bronze of a royal Benin woman once held a staff in her left hand; the other holds an unexplained object; the figure suggests spiritual, and perhaps ceremonial, power.

Benin Queen
A bird staff was among the ritual regalia of the Queens of Benin in Nigeria.

Yoruba drum
Women with staffs and horns were carved into a Yoruba drum.

A priestess holds the crooked ileeshin staff of Nana Burukú. Filled with pure Ajé, it “cannot be held by any man.” [Teresa Washington, Our Mothers, Our Powers, Our Texts: Manifestations of Ājé in Africana Literature]

Zimbabwe watercolor
A modern painting of a medicine woman in Zimbabwe shows her ritual staff, along with horns, whisks, medicine basket, and other shamanic tools.

Mujaji's Lodge Roof
In northern South Africa, an ancestral mother holds aloft a staff and wand atop of the roof of the Mujaji, the rainmaking priestesses of the Lovedu.



Woman Shaman: the Ancients © 2013 Max Dashu

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