by Tracy Boyd © 1977 & 2011



In a world of ever-increasing asphalt sprawl, where the

shoulders of woodside roads are sprayed with green grass-

seeded paint in a useless attempt to enshrine the lawn-

centered essence of suburban life, it is difficult to imagine

the former splendor of a world so dense with trees that the

unobstructed sighting of a patch of sky was a rare event, or

that “a squirrel might leap from tree to tree for nearly the

whole length” of an entire county in England. (2)  We are given a clue as to the

magnitude of these “immense primaeval forests” (3) in the writings of Sir James

George Frazer, whose prodigious account of the worship of trees in this ancient

leaf-covered universe appears in The Golden Bough.

        . . . long before the dawn of history Europe was covered with vast pri-

        maeval woods, which must have exercised a profound influence on the

        thought as well as on the life of our rude ancestors who dwelt dispersed

        under the gloomy shadow or in the open glades and clearings of the forest.

        Now, of all the trees which composed these woods the oak appears to have

        been both the commonest and the most useful. The proof of this is drawn

        partly from the statements of classical writers, partly from the remains of

        ancient villages built on piles in lakes and marshes, and partly from the oak        

        forests which have been found embedded in peat-bogs. (4)

The very earliest levels of the archaeological record provide the “unequivocal proof of the prevalence of the oak” (5) within these great tracts of forest.  Later eyewitness accounts, of which Frazer has given numerous examples, attest to the survival of these oaken woods through classical, and even modern times:

        Down to the first century before our era the Hercynian forest stretched east-

        ward from the Rhine for a distance at once vast and unknown; Germans

        whom Caesar questioned had travelled for two months through it without

        reaching the end. (6)

Frazer adds, that “the kind of trees which composed this famous forest is confirmed in its name, which seems to mean no more than ‘oak wood’.” (7) Relying on Pliny’s Natural History as but one source of reliable testimony, he remarks that this ancient observer “speaks of the vast Hercynian wood of Germany as an oak forest, old as the world, untouched for ages, and passing wonderful in its immortality.” (8)    

Perhaps “old as the world” is a bit of an exaggeration.  These were, however, ex-tremely ancient specimens, whose evolution was undoubtedly shaped by the various movements of the last of the numerous Ice Ages known as the second Wurm Glaciation, which lasted for more than fifty-thousand years from about 65,000 to 9,000 B.C.E. (9) During this period of staggered glaciation, everything and everyone was on the move, including the primaeval deciduous forests, retreating to more temperate sites.  Here, in these refuges from the harshest of intolerable conditions, were found some of the most breathtaking and mysterious images that have ever been created by humankind.  Depictions of animals of every description, as well as birds, fish, plants, shaman-hunters, and goddesses, exploded with color and magnificence of form on the cavern walls and around the hearths of these Ice Age peoples. 

What little we know about the inhabitants of these ice-free regions has been winnowed from the staggering number of sacred messages that they left behind.  They bequeathed to us their stories of the hunt, carved images and markings on bone and antler, and votive images of goddesses and bird-forms sculpted in the round.  These hunters and food-gatherers were, of necessity, keen observers of their challenging surroundings.  This sharpness of eye and mind is exhibited in their brilliant ability to abstract, and in their creation of astonishingly sophisticated visual puns and equivalences, many of which are imbued with a great sense of humor.    

One such example, found at a site clear of the glacial ice and just north of the River Danube, (10) is that of a female figure who, until recently, was the oldest known statue in the world. (11)  Like all of her sisters of the Old Stone Age, this diminutive, four (plus) inch deity from the Aurignacian period of the Upper Paleolithic (32,000-26,000 B.C.E.) was irreverently named the ‘Venus of’ – in this case, ‘Willendorf’ – in an effort to elicit fond memories of the sexually enticing Roman Goddess of Love, despite the irrelevance of such comparisons.  She has served as the butt of more puerile locker room humor than any figure in the history of art.  There is a certain and sophisticated level of humor in her demeanor, but it is not of a sexual nature.  She is among the most sacred of figures of our Paleolithic ancestors, proffering evidence of the earliest beginnings of the acorn as food source and sustainer of life, and providing many clues as to the originally female nature of the deities of the mighty oak.

The Goddess of Willendorf is faceless because her “face” is an acorn snuggled in its cap, which conveniently serves as her hair.  Her arms rest comfortably on her pendu-lous “breasts”, which are a pair of acorns on which the pencil-thin arms create the impression of the cups’ rims.  Her thighs are acorns, too, which rest uncomfortably on stubby post-like legs.  She is daubed with red ochre, which if analyzed, would probably show traces of tannin, the red dye derived from the boiling of acorns to make them edible, which is afterwards used for the tanning of animal hidesHer red coloration, which in the ancient world is always employed as a mark of absolute sanctity, symbolizes the blood of life.

She is not pregnant, however. (12)  And this is an extremely crucial point because if she is not pregnant, then she is not, as has been generally presumed, a “fertility goddess”.  We suggest, instead, that her rounded bulbous torso and full belly announce that the acorn supply is plentiful, and that she has partaken of it.  She would, therefore be the earliest Goddess of the Oak, the original Diana who, in time, became that goddess of the oak cult whom Frazer immortalized in The Golden Bough.  A deity whose very body is a cornucopia of plenty, ‘Diana of Willendorf’, as we have called her, is the Acorn Mother of that very place which he describes as “a land which was clothed with forests of oak”. (13)

The role of such an Acorn Mother has been somewhat overshadowed, indeed, even obliterated, by the predominance of the mighty lightning-wielding gods of the oak.  The search for an original, or even complimentary, female presence is hard to come by.  Such is the nature of patriarchy.  Even when such a female presence is right before our very eyes, as is our ‘Diana of Willendorf’, we have been misled by the authoritative pronouncements of scholars who have viewed our ancient past with a very biased eye.  A general acceptance of that skewed agenda has provided the presumed solid founda-tion for the titillating syndrome of goddess as dirty joke, which is a very efficient means of keeping perceived inferiors down in the dirt.   

This sexually-tinged viewpoint has been carried to extremes in the later writings of the usually sensible William Irwin Thompson who, in Coming Into Being: Artifacts and Texts in the Evolution of Consciousness, for example, could be said to have seen penises everywhere he looked.  Misusing the brilliant ovoid interpretations of feminist scholar Marija Gimbutas as his springboard for distortion, Thompson concludes that concealed within the eggs carried by the Great Mothers of the Paleolithic period are the penises of the future.  He declares that:

        . . . the male is implicit within the larger female form, which only seems

        natural, since the male son comes out of the body of the mother. The penis

        here is not seen as some magical sign of warrior, priest, or patriarchal an-

        cestor, for all those functions come later. We are back in time before there

        was any such thing as a priest, a warrior class, or, perhaps, even a “father.”

        We are back in prehistory when the penis is the property of the Great Mother

        and is an implicit form within her body. (14)

Despite the fact that female daughters are born out of the bodies of their mothers exactly as are their sons, Thompson, once again, feigns an unbiased view by deferring to the venerable feminist archaeologist, Marija Gimbutas.  He does this simply by following her lead of abandoning the disparaging sexist designation of “Venus” in favor of “Goddess” to describe the earliest images of the human race. (15)  But we mustn’t be fooled by his concern for labels.  It’s just a ruse to make us think he’s liberated.  The cream still sits on top of the milk.  These are his actual words:


        The presence of the penis within the body of the Great Goddess is also seen        

        in the statue from Willendorf . . . . The unnaturally thin lines of the arms

        across the top of the breast make the breasts appear in the form of the glans  

        penis. In this visual system of punning, there is a logic of association. The   

        breasts give milk, the penis gives the cream of semen. (16)

We must protest with the greatest vehemence possible, the very existence of such a “logic of association,” for as any fool knows, there is no connection whatsoever between semen and breast milk.  There are, however, very clear linguistic associations of the word acorn with the glans penis, of which this author must surely have been aware.  The Jungian analyst James Hillman, in his very illuminating The Soul’s Code: In search of Character and Calling, informs us that many languages use the same word for both, and cites the connection in numerous languages, (17)  The influence of Zeus, and other thunderous Indo-European gods who laid claim to the mother’s sacred oak, is clearly recognizable in these linked etymologies to such an extent that “the acorn was called the juglans, or glans penis of Jupiter.” (18)  This was an anatomical misnomer, however, because the seeds from the juglans are not acorns, but walnuts, which have a remarkable resemblance to the scrotum.

In distinct contrast to this male-dominant world view is that in which the worshippers of the rotund Goddess of Willendorf lived.  Theirs was a world that did not for one moment consider the male as a part of the equation in the creation of life.  Even so, such considerations are irrelevant to our discussion here and we must lay all of them aside for the simple reason that this little figure has nothing whatsoever to do with reproduction and childbirth.  Composed as she is, entirely of acorns, clearly her reason for being has only to do with the abundant supply of acorns to which her hugely overweight body is itself testimony.  When we look at her, we  must not forget that the Aurignacian people who worshipped her lived amongst such an infinitely vast number of ancient oak trees, whose equally innumerable acorns must have been dropping on their heads day and night, that they had need of little other food.  This primaeval Dianic Acorn Mother of the oak wood attests to the nourishment that the acorn provided to all who dwelt within her forests, and to all who depended upon her for life itself.

A reverent eye is an essential component in the quest for achieving an understanding of sacred art because that was the impetus for its creation – its total intent.  We cannot force modern man’s depraved indifference to the natural world on the images of those whose entire universe was the natural world.  One has to be in the midst of that world, in the flow of that rhythm, to receive the message.  As Tacitus so clearly observed in his witnessing of the religious practices of the Germanic tribes of the first century of the common era, “their holy places are woods and groves, and they apply the names of deities to that hidden presence which is seen only by the eye of reverence.” (19)  

Until I lived in a wood surrounded by oaks, my eyes were closed to the mystery of the ‘Diana of Willendorf’.  I had only to pick up an acorn to appreciate the genius of her creator.



The magnificent Temple of Artemis at Ephesus in Anatolia was one of the so-called seven wonders of the world, sites that were noted for their extraordinary architectural and artistic accomplishments in the ancient world.  Among these, in addition to        

Artemis’s ancient sanctuary, num-

bered the enormous, forty-foot tall

seated statue of Zeus at his temple

in Olympia; the Mausoleum of Hali-

carnassus in Asia Minor; the Colossus

of Rhodes, which was a monumental

statue of the sun god Helios who, with

his wide stance, straddled the entry

harbor; the Lighthouse of Alexandria;

the Hanging Gardens of Babylon in

what is now Iraq; and the most ancient

of all, the Great Pyramid of Giza. 

The original sanctuary of Artemis was

extremely ancient, having served as “a

place of pilgrimage from prehistoric

times.” (1)  During its long existence –

from its somewhat vague mythical beginnings in the pre-Ionic Bronze Age period as a sacred site dedicated to Artemis by the Amazons, until its closure in 391 C.E. by order of the Christian fanatic, the Roman Emperor Theodosius I, and final destruction in 401 by Christian mobs, – the Temple of Artemis experienced many reincarnations.  Each time it was rebuilt, its footprint was enlarged and its splendor magnified. 

Kings of many nations were known to have deposited their gold in the Artemiseum which, in addition to conducting the sacred rites of Artemis, also operated as a bank of great international stature. (2)  There were magnificent “riches, ornaments and works of art” (3) of every description throughout the temple, which was “four times the size of the Parthenon.” (4)

Herakleitos of Ephesus, (c. 535-475 B.C.E.) more familiarly known as Heraclitus, the philosopher who warned us that “you cannot step in(to) the same river twice,” (5) dedicated his book of famous writings, of which only fragments have survived, to Artemis of Ephesus and entrusted it to her care at this monumental temple.  According to the 3rd century C.E. biographer and historian of the Greek philosophers, Diogenes Laërtius, the book of Heraclitus "down to the time of Plutarch and Clement, if not later, . . . was available in its original form to any reader who chose to seek it out." (6)

Through the ages, the Temple of Artemis was many things to many people. During the Artemesion, the month-long festival in Spring that was entirely dedicated to cele-brations of Artemis, not only in the temple precincts, but throughout all of Ephesus, there was a kind of carnival atmosphere that prevailed.  But above all, and from the very beginning, “the Artemisium at Ephesus was pre-eminently a shrine which gave rights of sanctuary to suppliants.” (7)  All that one had to do to gain the protection of Artemis’s sanctuary was to arrive “with olive-boughs twined with fillets of wool” in hand. (8)

When the Apostle Paul travelled to Ephesus in 53 C.E., (9) he did not come bearing an olive branch in his hand seeking peace and sanctuary.  He came to declare war – to convert Jews and Pagans to Christianity.  He found ensconced there, “a small nucleus of converts” (10) to Christianity whom he gathered around himself like a gang of thugs.  This group of converts made it their mission to threaten the millennium-old worship of Artemis with their new-found religion.  From the descriptions of their rabble-rousing, one would think that their numbers were in the hundreds or even thousands, but we read in the story that has been passed down to us in the New Testament Acts of the Apostles that “all the men were about twelve.(11)

And if we read very carefully, what we find that they are doing – this measly band of twelve – in addition to preaching and disrupting things in Ephesus, is a real revelation.  They are practicing exorcism!  It is important to emphasize this much-ignored point because it forms a more complete picture of the atmosphere of hysteria in which the riots at the Temple of Artemis occurred.

        11. And God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul: 12. so that from

          his body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases

          departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them. 13. Then certain of the        

          vagabond Jews, exorcists, took upon them to call over them which had evil spirits

          the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preacheth. 

          14. And there were seven sons of one Sceva, a Jew, and chief of the priests, which

          did so. 15. And the evil spirit answered and said, Jesus I know, and Paul I know;  

          but who are ye? 16. And the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, and

          overcame them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house

          naked and wounded. 17. And this was known to all the Jews and Greeks also  

          dwelling at Ephesus; and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was

          magnified. (12)

Then there were the book burnings.  The books in question, it is inferred, were devoted to the subject matter of the “curious arts,” (13) which we would suppose would have included the arts of alchemy, the healing arts, astrology and other forms of esoteric knowledge, and ancient magic of every description.  Although most readers of The Acts of the Apostles would be unaware of the use of Ephesia Grammata, the ‘Ephesian words’ derived from ancient Greek magical formulae that were “inscribed on the cult image of Artemis in Ephesus” (14) with the intent of warding off evil, the riddance of this kind of age-old apotropaic magic was clearly foremost in Paul’s mind. 

These powerful words, whose meanings were said to have been untranslatable by ancient (mostly Christian) scholars who were mysteriously unable “to make sense of the words,” (15) although their meaning would be clear to anyone with a Greek Lexicon in hand, were intended to be recited aloud.  The best known Ephesia Grammata are a group of six words:




There is a certain non-sensical feeling to the rhyming rhythm of these words as there is with the magical formulas of, say, “abracadabra” or “Fe, Fi, Fo, Fum . . .”, or hax pax max Deus adimax,” a pseudo-Latin magic formula from which is derived the phrase “hocus-pocus”.  But there is nothing foolish to be found in their easily trans-latable meanings which, in the case of the six words of the Ephesia Grammata we render roughly as:


Against this backdrop of routing out the competing magicians, ceremoniously burning indispensable ancient texts, and performing exorcisms  – the raising of the dead came somewhat later with the arrival of the Apostle John in about 67 C.E. – (18) the worship of Artemis continued in full strength.  But the ever-present proselytizing of Paul, who remained in Ephesus for a period of some two and a half years, began to be perceived by her devotees as a growing threat to Artemis herself, the goddess “whom all Asia and the world worshippeth.” (19)  This is what troubled Demetrius the Silversmith and his guild of highly-skilled artisans – that these Christians were spitting in the face of the most anciently revered Artemis.  The story, which we quote at length, is told in some detail in the Acts:

        19:23. And [at] the same time there arose no small stir about that way. 24. For a           

        certain man named Demetrius, a silversmith, which made silver shrines for Diana,        

        brought no small gain unto the craftsmen; 25. whom he called together with the

        workmen of like occupation, and said, Sirs, ye know that by this craft we have our

        wealth. 26. Moreover ye see and hear, that not alone at Ephesus, but almost

        throughout all Asia, this Paul hath persuaded and turned away much people, 

        saying that they be no gods, which are made with hands: 27. so that not only this

        our craft is in danger to be set at nought; but also that the temple of the great   

        goddess Diana should be despised, and her magnificence should be destroyed,

        whom all Asia and the world worshippeth.

        19:28. And when they heard these sayings, they were full of wrath, and cried out,    

        saying, Great is Diana of the Ephesians. 29. And the whole city was filled with 

        confusion . . . 34. . . . . all with one voice about the space of two hours cried out,    

        Great is Diana of the Ephesians. 35. And when the townclerk had appeased the 

        people, he said, Ye men of Ephesus, what man is there that knoweth not how that 

        the city of the Ephesians is a worshipper of the great goddess Diana, and of the  

        image which fell down from Jupiter? 36. Seeing then that these things cannot be

        spoken against, ye ought to be quiet, and to do nothing rashly. 37. For ye have

        brought hither these men, which are neither robbers of churches, nor yet blas- 

        phemers of your goddess. 38. Wherefore if Demetrius, and the craftsmen which 

        are with him, have a matter against any man, the law is open, and there are

        deputies: let them implead one another. 39. But if ye inquire any thing concerning

        other matters, it shall be determined in a lawful assembly. 40. For we are in danger

        to be called in question for this day's uproar, there being no cause whereby we 

        may give an account of this concourse. 41. And when he had thus spoken, he    

        dismissed the assembly. 20:1 And after the uproar was ceased, Paul called unto   

        him the disciples and embraced them and departed for to go to Macedonia. (20)

Paul never dared return to Ephesus.  And although the Temple of Artemis continued to be besieged from every side in the following centuries, it proudly stood, if some-what battered, for another three-hundred and fifty years.  And this, despite the claim in the Apocryphal Acts of John that John, the second Christian apostle to impose his religion on Ephesus, had rent the temple and everything sacred in it asunder. (21)  John had, it was said, entered the precincts of the inviolable sanctuary, which he referred to snidely as an “idol temple,” (22) and, on “the birthday” of the temple (23) a day of great exhilaration and celebration, had openly threatened both the goddess herself, and her worshippers, “every one of you,” (24) with death if they did not convert to the religion of his own god.  (A truly Christian act!) 

And then, with wanton destruction and murder on his mind, an arrogant and imperious John asks Artemis’s devoted, but terrified, worshippers a litany of impertinent questions:

        Artemis ought to have succoured herself: her servant [priest] ought to

        have been helped of her and not to have died. Where is the power of the

        evil spirit? where are her sacrifices? where her birthdays? where her

        festivals? where are the garlands? where is all that sorcery and the

        poisoning (witchcraft) that is sister thereto? (25)

Who was this Artemis whom so many felt compelled to conquer? This goddess upon whose image were to be seen the simple words: The empty threats that over-shadow the Earth from all four directions shall be overpowered by auspicious forces.” 

Callimachus, in his Hymn to Artemis, tells us that in Ephesus she was the goddess of the Amazons from the beginning. (26)  Many notable Classical authors similarly con-sidered the Amazons as both the “founders of the shrine and as fugitives claiming its asylum.” (27)  Callimachus gives us a few of the details of the consecration of this sanctuary, namely, that they “set up the bretas of Artemis ‘in the shade of an oak with goodly trunk which grew in Ephesus by the sea’.” (28)  A bretas is ‘a wooden image of a god’.  We know that such an image was carved of Artemis, and based upon later marble likenesses of her that have survived, we should judge it to have been of substantial size. 

There has been a great deal of discussion about these later statues, owing, no doubt, to their numerous rows upon row of what have been interpreted – originally and incor-rectly – as pendulous breasts.  The imposing figures have even been given the dubious distinction of being titled “Artemis Polimastos (‘she of the many breasts’) to symbol-ize the vital and nutritive forces of the earth.” (29)  Although scholars seem not to have taken up the issue, it seems likely that the mythical rumor that the Amazons removed their right breasts so that they could stretch their bows unimpeded, might have inspired the misinterpretation that the appendages are breasts.  There lingers the underlying unconscious thought that the breasts were offerings to their goddess whose image they worshipped beneath the shade of an oak even before there was a temple.

These alleged Amazonian mastectomies have always been defended on the basis of

the etymological evidence that the word Amazon was derived from the Greek a + mazos, meaning ‘without a breast’.  But the Amazons were not of Greek origin.  They most likely emigrated from the imprecisely mapped area then known as Thrace.  In the Thracian language, ama meant ‘something lacking’ and zöne, in both Thracian and Greek, had the same meaning: ‘a woman’s girdle’ – the sacred girdle that was traditionally loosened upon her marriage.  Hence the name Amazon would have attached to ‘a woman whose girdle remained unloosened’. (30)

Artemis herself was amazos throughout her entire mythological life.  And there was never a time when she was not parthenos, by which we do not mean ‘virginal’, for “the oldest sense of Parthenos was not ‘virginal’ but ‘unmarried’. (31) Parthenos is a much misunderstood word that is meant to describe a woman – or a goddess – who is self-sufficient and who chooses not to marry.  ‘Virginity’ in the sexual sense of the word is not necessarily even a consideration in this context.  The very ancient women’s rites attendant upon Artemis Parthenos would appear to have been inspired by the equally ancient, socially accepted, superiority of women whose customs were rooted in matrilineal descent.

        . . . Artemis Parthenos may have been originally the goddess of a people who

        had not yet the advanced Hellenic institutions of settled marriage, who may

        have reckoned their descent through the female, and among whom women

        were proportionately powerful. . . . We may thus understand why she was

        always pre-eminently the goddess of women, and why [in later times,]    

        maidens before marriage should offer their girdles and perform other    

        probably piacular rites to Artemis. (32)

Although her assistance at childbirth was widely called upon throughout all of Greece, Artemis herself was childless.  She spent her time in the oak woods in the company of her faithful dogs and fawns and stags.  The concept, therefore, of this goddess bearing the milk-filled breasts of the nursing mother would not be in keeping with anything we know of her.  And neither would the flippant remark made by a renowned Classical scholar, that “the many breasts are the uncouth symbol of fertility,” (33) be appropriate to a deity who is not herself fertile.  Perhaps having realized, finally, the reality of this situation, other interpretations of the so-called “breasts” that decorate her images at Ephesus have been proposed. 

Unfortunately, none of the suggestions seem to align themselves with either her Greek or Oriental natures as we know them from her mythologies and ritual practices.  George A. Bean, a British archaeologist who spent many a season in Ephesus, long ago expressed his negative view of an old, but still current opinion that the appendages were eggs:

        The rows of egg-shaped objects across the chest have been understood to

        be breasts, but the most recent opinion is that they are in fact eggs, the egg 

        being a familiar symbol of fertility. These features are quite unsuited to the

        virgin huntress of the Greeks. On the other hand, the numerous beasts por-

        trayed on the lower limbs––bulls, lions, sphinxes and others––might be

        thought to represent the animal world which the Greek Artemis loved and  

        protected . . . . (34)

Following the egg theory, was a most outlandish and repugnant hypothesis that the decorations on Artemis’s torso were the testicles of sacrificed bulls. (35)  Again, there was no basis in this goddess’s mythology, or in the ritual of her worship, or in the depictions of her in art to suggest such an intimate association with this animal.  The Classicist Lewis Farnell in The Cults of the Greek States, recites the beasts that Artemis held most dear and that “were habitually regarded as sacred to her.” (36)  He is explicitly clear that

        the aboriginal Artemis was . . . an independent divinity connected with the

        waters and with wild vegetation and beasts; reflecting in her character the

        life of her worshippers who were still in the savage stage, supporting    

        themselves by hunting and fishing rather than by agriculture . . . . (37)

        it is rare and exceptional to find her related by way of sacrifice, legend, or

        cult-name with the animals of the higher agricultural community, with the

        ox or the horse or the domestic pig; and in certain localities the calf and the  

        sheep were tabooed in her ritual. She is rather the patroness of the wild 

        beasts of the field, the animals of the chase, with which . . . her life is

        connected by the mysterious tie which in very early religions binds the deity  

        to the animal world.

        The hare, the wolf, the hind, the wild boar, and the bear are consecrated to

        her by sacrifice or legend; and we may take the description of the yearly   

        offerings to Artemis Laphria (‘the devourer’) at Patrae as best illustrating 

        her nature as a goddess of the wild life of the woods. The priestess, a maiden 

        regarded probably as the human counterpart of the goddess, was drawn in a 

        chariot by stags; and Pausanias speaks of the great holocaust of stags and

        fawns, wolves and bears, and birds which were all thrown or driven into the

        flames of a great fire. (38)

The horrendous conflagration, shocking by any standards, is Artemis at her most cruel.  Jane Ellen Harrison remarks about the “primitive savagery” (39) of these rites, that “it is well perhaps for once to realize from what imminent savagery the Olympian divinities had emerged.” (40)  And at the same time, Lewis Farnell observes of Artemis that “while Greek poetry and art more usually describe her as the huntress and destroyer, the older religion was more familiar with the conception of her as the protector and patroness of wild animals, and especially of those that were with young.” (41)

At Ephesus, where her worship was very anciently established, she is entirely sur-rounded by animals of every description – even bulls.  They cover the entire lower half of her body, climb up her arms, and form a kind of halo around her hair.  In the La Belle Artemis of the 2nd century C.E., she herself is protected on either side by free-standing statues of her most favored deer.  They are badly damaged.  We see only partial trunks without heads, but the remaining ever so slender legs and cloven hooves are sufficiently visible on each so as to be certain of their identity.

Our interest in this depiction, and others nearly identical to it, of the Ephesian Artemis, lies in resolving the mystery of her upper torso.  According to a lengthy article in wikipedia that is so interspersed with obscure Christian material that it could have been written by a Jesuit, the most recent guesses as to the identification of the “breasts” of Artemis are purported to be imitations of “breast-jewelry,” (42) which we understand to be a necklace of amber beads.  We are told that the breast-shaped appendages are nothing more than

        the iconographic descendants of the amber gourd-shaped drops, elliptical

        in cross-section and drilled for hanging, that were rediscovered in the ex-       

        cavations of 1987-88; they remained in situ where the ancient wooden cult        

        figure of the Lady of Ephesus had been caught by an eighth-century flood. (43)

Simplistic answers will not do.  The necklace on ancient goddesses was an essential feature, even when they wore nothing else.  This find offers no clues specific to identifying the nature of the “breasts”. 

Actually, the answer is right before our very eyes on each and every existing version of the Ephesian representations of the goddess, regardless of minor variations that may exist among them.  In each of these statues Artemis wears a very prominent necklace of acorns that tells us exactly who she is. The acorns tell us, unequivocally, that she is not merely a goddess of woodlands “to whom all wild trees were sacred,” (44) and by whose fruit all of her creatures were nourished.  They proclaim her specific character as Acorn Mother.  And to augment this announcement, she is outfitted with a huge garland of acorns whose ragged caps are visible for all to see. 

Beneath this rich garland, the larger “colossal” (45) 1st century B.C.E. statue of Artemis with the towering headdress, (46) wears a second necklace of acorns interspersed with berries that resemble wild blackberries.  The smaller Artemis, the ‘La Belle Artemis’, more dramatically dons a second “necklace embellished with images of the zodiac,” (47) running (as it does) in a circle, while above it stand “the goddesses of victory.” (48)  It is not in the least a coincidence that the zodiac appears on Artemis’s breast, for aside from everything else, the word zodiac itself derives from the Greek zōdiakos, which literally means, ‘a circle of  animals’. (49) In the iconography of the ancient world, there is no such thing as mere decoration. Everything has a literal or a symbolic meaning that we are meant to “read”.

And so, below all of these clues as to the nature of this acorn-bearing goddess, appear four rows – not of breasts, or eggs, or bovine testicles, or even of glowing beads of amber – but of enormous, gargantuan acorns whose ends form nipple-like protrusions.  The material from which they emerge on the top row is even made to resemble the acorn cap itself.  An extraordinary tour de force!  We’ve missed the messages for nearly three thousand years (50) because we weren’t looking at the great Artemis, Lady of the Woods.  We were looking through the eyes of people who have lost touch with nature to such an extent that they no longer know what an acorn looks like. 




ABOVE ILLUSTRATION TO THE NOTES: The ‘Diana of Versailles’ depicting the woodland goddess with a stag. Marble. 2nd-1st century Roman copy of the original of 325-300 B.C.E. Gift of Pope Paul IV to King Henry II,1556. The Louvre Museum, Paris.



FRONTISPIECE ILLUSTRATION: The ‘Venus of Willendorf’, here renamed ‘Diana of Willendorf’. Limestone. 4+ inches. 26,000-21,000 B.C.E. Naturhistorisches Museum Vienna, Austria. Photo by Matthias Kabel, Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons GNU Free Documentation License.

  1. 1. Tacitus, The Germania 9, in The Agricola and the Germania. Trans. with an Introd. by  H. H. Mattingly. Rev. trans. by S. A. Handford (Middlesex: Penguin Books Ltd., 1977), p. 109. 

  2. 2.  Sir James George Frazer, The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion. Part I, The Magic Art and the Evolution of Kings. Two Volumes. (London: Macmillan and Co., Ltd., 1922), Vol. II, pp. 7-8.

  3. 3.  Ibid., p. 7.

  4. 4.  Ibid., p. 350.

  5. 5.  Ibid., p. 352.

  6. 6.  Ibid., p. 7, citing Caesar, Bell. Gall. vi.25.

  7. 7.  Ibid., p. 354.

  8. 8.  Ibid., p. 354, citing Pliny, Nat. Hist. xvi.6.

  9. 9.  See: William L. Langer, An Encyclopedia of World History: Ancient, Medieval, and Modern. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 5th ed., Revised/Updated, 1972), p. 8.

  10. 10.  See: “Map of Ice Age Europe”, in Alexander Marshack, The Roots of Civilization: The Cognitive Beginnings of Man’s First Art, Symbol and Notation.  (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1972), pp. 98-99.

  11. 11.  The slightly older “Dancing Venus of Galgenberg” was unearthed in the same general area near Krems, Austria. See: Anneli S. Rufus and Kristan Lawson, Goddess Sites: Europe. (San Fransisco: HarperSanFrancisco A Division of HarperCollins Publishers, 1991), pp. 8-9. There have been subsequent other earlier discoveries since that find.

  12. 12.  See: Alexander Marshack, The Roots of Civilization: The Cognitive Beginnings of Man’s First Art, Symbol and Notation, op. cit., p. 288; Marija Gimbutas, The Language of the Goddess: Unearthing the Symbols of Western Civilization. (San Francisco: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1989), p. 141.

  13. 13.  Sir James George Frazer, The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion. Part VII, Balder the Beautiful: The Fire-Festivals of Europe and the Doctrine of the External Soul. Two Volumes. (London: Macmillan and Co., Ltd., 1923), Vol. II, p. 90 and Note 2.

  14. 14.  William Irwin Thompson, Coming Into Being: Artifacts and Texts in the Evolution of Consciousness. (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996), p. 106.

  15. 15.  See: Ibid., p. 102; and Marija Gimbutas, The Language of the Goddess: Unearthing the Symbols of Western Civilization, op. cit., pp. xviii.; xx.

  16. 16.  William Irwin Thompson, Coming Into Being: Artifacts and Texts in the Evolution of Consciousness, op. cit., p. 106-07.

  17. 17.  James Hillman, The Soul’s Code: In search of Character and Calling. (New York: Random House, 1996), pp. 276-281.

  18. 18.  Ibid., p. 279.

  19. 19.  Tacitus, The Germania 9, in The Agricola and the Germania, op. cit., p.109.



FRONTISPIECE ILLUSTRATION: The ‘Colossal’, or ‘Great’ Artemis of Ephesus. 1st Century C.E. Ephesus Archaeological Museum, Selçuk, Turkey.

  1. 1.   George E. Bean, Aegean Turkey: An Archaeological Guide. (London: Ernest Benn Limited, 1966), p. 161.

  2. 2.   Saturnino Ximinez, Asia Minor in Ruins. Arthur Chambers, Translator. Preface by M. B. Haussoullier. (New York: Brentano’s, Inc., 1925), p. 147.

  3. 3.   Ibid., p. 147.

  4. 4.   Ibid.

  5. 5.   See: Fragments: The Collected Wisdom of Heraclitus. Translated by Brooks Haxton.  Foreward by James Hillman. (New York: Viking Penguin/Penguin/Putnam, 2001), Note re Haxton’s Fragment number 41, pp. 95-96. We do not recommend this renumbered, inac-curately translated “free verse” pop-culture edition. Instead, we highly recommend the online site of Randy Hoyt at <>.

  6. 6.   Diogenes Laërtius, Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers. ix. 6. See also Charles Kahn, The Art and Thought of Heraclitus: Fragments with Translation and Commentary. (London: Cambridge University Press, 1979), pp. 1–23 as quoted in <>.

  7. 7.   Florence Mary Bennett, Religious Cults Associated With the Amazons. (New Rochelle: Aristide D. Caratzas, Publisher, 1987 Reprint of New York: Columbia University Press, 1912), p. 32. For the entire chapter on Ephesian Artemis, see pp. 30-39.

  8. 8.   Ibid., citing Et. Mag. 402. 20.

  9. 9.   George E. Bean, Aegean Turkey: An Archaeological Guide, op. cit., p. 165.

  10. 10.   Ibid.

  11. 11.  The Acts of the Apostles 19:7 King James Version.

  12. 12.  Ibid., 19:11-17.

  13. 13.  Ibid., 19:19.

  14. 14.  I am entirely indebted to the anonymous author of the following article for all information specifically relating to the Ephesia Grammata: <>

  15. 15.  Ibid.

  16. 16.  Ibid.

  17. 17.  Translation by the author with the Liddell-Scott Greek Lexicon iPhone app in hand.

  18. 18.  George E. Bean, Aegean Turkey: An Archaeological Guide, op. cit., p. 165.

  19. 19.  The Acts of the Apostles 19:27 King James Version.

  20. 20.  Ibid., 19:23-29 . . . ; . . . 19:34-41; 20:1.

  21. 21.  This imagined act of wanton destruction is described in great detail in The Apocryphal New Testament Being the Apocryphal Gospels, Acts, Epistles, and Apocalypses with other narratives and fragments. Montague Rhodes James, Translator. (Oxford: Oxford University Press at Clarendon Press, 1924-1986), Acts of John, p. 237. For the whole story, see pp. 236-238, passim,

  22. 22.  Ibid., p. 236.

  23. 23.  Ibid.

  24. 24.  Ibid.

  25. 25.  Ibid., p. 237.

  26. 26.  The full text of the Loeb Classical Library (No. 129) 1921 edition of Callimachus: Hymns and Epigrams, translated by A. W. and G. R. Mair, is still available in print and can also be read on line at <>.

  27. 27.  Florence Mary Bennett, Religious Cults Associated With the Amazons, op. cit., p. 32.

  28. 28.  Ibid., quot/trans. Callim. in Dian. 237ff.

  29. 29.  Saturnino Ximinez, Asia Minor in Ruins, op. cit, p. 144.

  30. 30.  See: Heresies: A Feminist Publication On Art and Politics, Issue 5, Spring, 1978), Glossary, p. 128, which the author compiled collectively with Grace Shinell, Merlin Stone, Charoula Dontopoulos and others.

  31. 31.  Lewis Richard Farnell, The Cults of the Greek States. Five Volumes. (Chicago: Aegaean Press, Inc., 1971 Reprint), Vol. II, p. 448.

  32. 32.  Ibid.

  33. 33.  Ibid., Vol. II, p. 481.

  34. 34.  George E. Bean, Aegean Turkey: An Archaeological Guide, op. cit., p. 167.

  35. 35.  This was advanced by Gerard Seiterle in "Artemis: die Grosse Göttin von Ephesos" Antike Welt 10 (1979), pp 3-16.

  36. 36.  Lewis Richard Farnell, The Cults of the Greek States, op. cit., Vol. II, p. 431.

  37. 37.  Ibid., Vol.     II, p. 427.

  38. 38.  Ibid., Vol. II, pp. 431-32, whose source is Pausanias VII. 18. 12.

  39. 39.  Jane Ellen Harrison, Mythology. (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc./A Harbinger Book, 1963 reprint of Longmans, Green & Co., Inc. 1924 edition), p. 82.

  40. 40.  Ibid., p. 83.

  41. 41.  Lewis Richard Farnell, The Cults of the Greek States, op. cit., Vol. II, p. 434.

  42. 42.  <>.

  43. 43.  Ibid.

  44. 44.  Lewis Richard Farnell, The Cults of the Greek States, op. cit., Vol. II, p. 533.

  45. 45.  Ephesus. Compiled by Naci Keskin. Ertugrul Uckun, Translator. (Istanbul: Keskin Color, Ltd., No Date), under: “The Colossal Statue of Artemis”, unpaginated.

  46. 46.  She proudly stands in the Ephesus Archaeological Museum.

  47. 47.  Ephesus, op. cit., under: “Small Artemis (or La Belle Artemis) of Ephesus”, unpaginated.

  48. 48.  Ibid.

  49. 49.  Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language. College Edition. (Cleveland and New York: The World Publishing Co., 1959), “zodiac”, p. 1700.

  50. 50.  Anton Bammer of the Austrian Archaeological Institute suggested the dating of the original altar dedicated to Artemis at Ephesus to be quite “possibly as early as the tenth century B.C.[E.], See: Anton Bammer, “Recent Excavations at the Altar of Artemis in Ephesus,” in Archaeology, Vol. 27, No. 3, July 1974, p. 202.

“Their holy places are woods and groves, and they apply the names of deities to that hidden presence which is seen only by the eye of reverence.”                                  Tacitus (1)