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Göbekli Tepe in the Land of the Mothers

by Kathy Jones

In GA17 Lydia Ruyle wrote about the Neolithic settlement of Göbekli Tepe in Turkey, and the discovery of an incised female figure, described by Lydia as “The oldest Sheela-na-Gig in the world”. Here, Kathy Jones writes about her journey to the site and her experiences of rural Turkey on the journey.

 In December 2011 my partner Mike and I went on an amazing pilgrimage organised by Anna Osann and Koko Newport, both Priestesses of Avalon, to Anatolia, Land of the Mothers. We were visiting sacred sites of the Goddess in a small group of English and Spanish people. Anna had a strong connection to Turkey and had organised a wonderful itinerary, exploring some really ancient Goddess sites. Koko was the Melissa Mother and my right-hand woman in creating the Glastonbury Goddess Conference. We were Soul Sisters.

We flew to Istanbul, and then took a bus into the centre of the city, where we met Anna and the Spanish pilgrims. There were eight of us, three British, four Spaniards and Anna, who spoke a multitude of languages and translated between us. Sign language worked for day to day communication, but it was not really possible to go much deeper without translation.

settlement mound
Settlement mound of Göbekli Tepe

We caught our next flight to Sanliurfa or Urfa in Southeastern Turkey, just twenty miles from the Syrian border. When we arrived it was already dark. We had been travelling for over 14 hours. We climbed into a minibus and were driven for nearly an hour first along smooth and then progressively rougher roads. For our first two nights in Turkey we were staying in the Kurdish Village of Yuvacali Koyu, in Havan. As we bounced along through the darkness in the headlights we saw piles of large boulders lining the twisting dirt track. Where were we? We seemed to be moving into the past, into ancient times.

This was our Village Homestay, where we stayed in a small village with a Kurdish family. We arrived in the dark at a small concrete house, the front wall illuminated by harsh neon light. People came out to greet us and we took our shoes off and left them outside in the freezing air – it was December. The Kurdish family were welcoming, offering us tea and cake. We introduced ourselves and spoke our intentions for our pilgrimage, with the Kurdish family sitting along side of us. We communicated in a mixture of English, Spanish, Kurdish, Turkish and sign language. It was the first time we pilgrims had really been able to talk to each other as a group.

After a while Mike and I, and Rosa and Gary, the Spanish couple we had just met a few hours ago, were taken by car to a second home where we were going to stay the night. Outside beautiful stars shone clearly and overhead were the Pleiades. We entered the two-roomed house and were welcomed by a young couple, who had three small children. The loo was village style, a small shed with a hole in the ground 20 metres away from the house through the darkness! We were shown into the room where we two couples were to sleep, one on one side of the smallish room and one on the other – we thought we would have separate rooms. All our privileged western assumptions were being challenged. This was a pilgrimage after all. We undressed and climbed into the freezing beds, which were wool filled mattresses on the floor, with thick eiderdowns, which warmed up in the night.

In the morning we woke suddenly at 6.30am, which was actually 4.30am for our bodies and minds, all four of us struggling to come to life. We had to have breakfast at 7.00am to be ready for the day’s adventures. We dressed quickly and went outside. It was our first sight of our surroundings. We were staying in a small white concrete house on the edge of a village of similar houses sloping down a small hill towards a distant river. In one direction there was a vast seemingly empty plain stretching away to a far horizon. The sky was completely clear, a winter blue. There was silence out there, no background mechanical noises. It was wonderful to hear the silence. I wanted to walk out into that peace.

Below us was something amazing – a huge prehistoric settlement mound, something I had never seen before. Dotted all over the high flat plains of central and eastern Turkey there are over 3,000 settlement mounds, which are the ancestral villages of Anatolia, where the ancient peoples once lived in mudbrick walled homes. When the walls crumbled in the sunshine, rain, wind and snow, new homes were built on top of them, piling ever higher and higher. Smaller and larger groups of people, sometimes up to 10,000 lived in these villages.

Göbekli Tepe mound & excavation
Göbekli Tepe mound & excavation

The story of the peoples can be traced within these mounds from the Mesolithic people who lived at ground level, perhaps 10,000 years ago, moving through the layers of time, to the Neolithic, Chalcolithic and Roman settlements, all piled up in one mound. The mounds are large in circumference and reach up to 30-40 meters high. They were mostly abandoned 2-3,000 years ago, and contain a rich often undisturbed record of ancient life in the Land of the Mothers. The celebrated Goddess site, Çatalhöyük, is one such mound.

But here in the centre of this small village was a large settlement mound, and the houses were clustered around one side of it. In fact the first house we went to the previous evening was halfway up one side the mound. I longed to go to look at the mound and feel the presence of the ancestors.

The land below the village was semi-arid, stretching away to the distant River Euphrates. The village’s once abundant water supplies dried up with the building of the Ataturk Dam on the Euphrates. This whole area was once the Garden of Eden lying between the Euphrates and the Tigris rivers, with abundant crops and fruit trees. The village now suffers from severe water shortages, with water being brought from a depth of 100m below the surface for irrigation, while household water is piped into the area. Piped water only came in 2007.

Back in the house on a cloth on the floor a huge breakfast was laid out for us. There was home-made salty cheese and butter, yogurt and honey, home grown tomatoes, fresh herbs, cucumbers, scrambled eggs with chillies. There was far more food than we could possibly eat. I felt bad about leaving so much food, but later I was assured that this was home-stay food and nothing would go to waste, but would be shared with the wider family.

Our kind hosts were Mehmet and Zaria. Mehmet ate with us, but Zaria sat at the edge of the room with her two children, waiting until we had finished eating, before she could begin. She had done all the work preparing the food and was not allowed to eat with us. Although this was not a directly Muslim culture, and the Kurds had a more ancient nature-based heritage, it was definitely patriarchal and I felt very uncomfortable with this distinction between us women.

The minibus arrived and we drove to the other house, where our sister travellers stumbled out, also looking sleep-deprived and a bit shell-shocked. We drove out of the village, the previous night’s boulders by the roadside revealing themselves to be just that, piles of boulders dotted through the village, marking the site of ancient dwellings. This village was very old. As well as its peaceful prehistoric inhabitants, it had a more recent bloody past. It was settled by Jews, then Armenians and now Kurds, each group extinguishing those who were there before. The Kurds had only lived in this village since the early 20th century.

We drove out of the village and a few miles on to the amazing Göbekli Tepe (Belly or Womb Hill), the earliest Temple presently known, dating from 10,000 BCE, which was 6,000 years earlier than Stonehenge. The landscape was one of bare, rocky folded hills and Göbekli Tepe lay on top of one of these rolling hills with a 360o view in all directions. We drove up a single track winding road to the entrance, a gate on the road. By the stony track there was a wide stone platform with large offering basins cut into the rock and smaller mortar holes, just like the ones in Britain, Argentina and California that I had seen, where native peoples ground nuts for flour and other staples.

We walked around the small hill to the excavation site. Apart from a couple of relaxed site guards our group were the only ones here in December. It was a very exciting moment as we saw large T-shaped stone pillars sticking up out of the ground. Walking onto a wooden walkway, we found ourselves looking down into the centre of a large oval enclosure, perhaps 30 meters in diameter, with two tall central T-shaped limestone pillars, 5½ metres in height, with eight side pillars facing inwards around the edges. Some had carvings on them. The spaces between the pillars were lined with rough unworked stones and there were stone benches there too. The central pillars may have held up a wooden roof, now long gone. They appeared to be aligned north/south.

The large central stones were between 6 metres tall, the circle stone 3 metres, and weighing between 7 and 16 tons each. No-one knows how they were carried up from the quarry several hundred metres away down the bottom of the hill. The stones were chiselled, smoothed and carved with stone age flint tools. Today some of the decorated pillars have wood around the carvings to protect them from the winter weather, which they are exposed to for the first time in 12,000 years. It was an awesome place!

Around this deeper central oval of stones, there were others, a bit higher up the hill, smaller circles and ovals. They were built right on top of each other with little space between. Many of the side and central pillars were decorated with beautiful carvings of animals, birds and insects, which were sometimes realistic, but mostly stylised, images. There were foxes, gazelles, snakes, wild ducks, cranes, bulls, insects, vultures, bulls, bears, scorpions, boars and lions – the animals which lived in these parts at the time.

Looking down into the central oval of stones with the Fox Women in the middle
Looking down into the central oval of stones with the Fox Women in the middle

I was fascinated by the main Temple. The two central pillars had stylised carvings of arms coming down from the shoulders of the pillar. There was a girdle, with a fox skin hanging down from the belly. A fox leapt across the surface of the pillar. Were these Fox Women? Was this central Temple dedicated to Fox Women, those intelligent immortal beings, who possessed magical qualities; divine beings who could assume human and animal forms? They were powerful images.

It is an amazing awesome sacred site and so far the archaeologists have excavated only five per cent of it. Geomagnetic surveys indicate that there are at least 20 rings, piled together higgledy-piggledy, still under the ground. Later higher up the hill we accidentally stood on top of an unexcavated pillar, just waiting to be dug out. The earliest rings which date from 10,000 BCE seemed to have the most elegant carvings. Every few decades it seems that the pillars and their enclosures were buried and new small circles were put inside the first. Then the whole thing was filled in with debris and new circles were created nearby. As time went by the pillars became smaller and all building work had ended by 8,200 BCE.

The whole site is a place of mystery, but the current theory is that behind the walls there are the remains of the dead, that this is a mortuary site, but they haven’t yet excavated behind the walls, or beneath the floors. Another theory is that the temples are laid out in the pattern of the Pleiades, although only a few temples have been excavated so far and the placing may be much more random.

We stayed at the site for a good long time, breathing in the ancestral energies as the sun rose into the sky. On the top of the hill was a wishing tree, where we tied our prayer flags. I prayed for the Return of the Mother into this ancient land of the Mothers, for Her recognition by the people and Her release from the control of patriarchy. I asked for healing for myself in this ancient Mother place. We lit a flame together in memory of these Goddess Ancestors who obviously loved and worshipped Her nature, It is the new flame of Göbekli Tepe. Koko took this flame to add to the Flame of Avalon. We were very happy.

The next day we went to the Museum in Urfa to see some of the archaeological finds from Göbekli Tepe. They had a wonderful small museum where the artifacts were so close that you could touch them. Among my favourites was the oldest Sheela-na-Gig carved on a bench and hidden face down under a shed for a while by archaeologists who thought her too vulgar. She was brought to light again with the help of Lydia Ruyle, the Goddess artist/scholar who is also a Friend of Çatalhöyük, the other later famous Goddess site in Anatolia. Thank you, Lydia. There was also a wonderful (now damaged) pillar with a Bear Mother, holding a Woman with a Bear’s body, giving birth to a human baby – perhaps a memory of the original Bear Mother who gave birth to human beings.

Postscript: On September 19th 2012 Koko Newport passed away unexpectedly after an accident. This journey to Turkey was one of our last pilgrimages together. Her passing took us to places of deep grief and amazing joy and I still miss her very much.