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DOUBLENESS . The prehistoric cultures of Europe used images of doubles to indicate potency or abundance. This can be seen in the frequent use of double images of caterpillars, crescents, eggs, seeds, spirals, snakes, phalli, and even goddesses. Dualism is also expressed by two lines on a figurine, or in the center of an egg, vulva, or seed, and by a double-fruit symbol resembling two acorns.

The exaggerated buttocks of Upper Paleolithic and Neolithic figurines (called "steatopygous" in the archaeological literature) are probably a metaphor of the double egg or breasts, that is, of intensified fertility or pregnancy. Such figurines usually have no indication of other anatomical details; the upper part of the body is totally neglected. An intensification of the meaning can be seen in whirls, snake coils, spirals, and lozenges engraved on the buttocks of figurines created during the Copper Age of east-central Europe (55003500 bce). Obviously, the fat female posteriors that appear on prehistoric figurines had other than erotic significance or simple aesthetic purpose. They were, in fact, the actualization of a cosmogonic concept. Egg symbolism made manifest certain basic beliefs, hopes, and understandings concerning creation, life origins, and the birth process as well as reverence for supernatural potency, expressed by the doubling device, the "power of two."

A glyph formed by two ellipses connected at one enda double grain or double fruitappears on ceramics, seals, and megaliths throughout the duration of Old Europe (65003500 bce). The sign may have been retained from the Upper Paleolithic period: a sign of two connected ovals that look much like buttocks can be seen in Magdalenian parietal art. Similar signs are engraved on Irish megaliths. The double-fruit glyph continued to be significant in Minoan ceramic art. By the middle Minoan period, it can be seen in association with a tree and a sprouting bud, incorporated in the hieroglyphic inscription on seals.

The mystique of the power of two lingers in European folk tradition, especially in the East Baltic countries, which have remained a repository of ancient beliefs and traditions. Latvians have preserved to this day the word jumis and the deity of the same name. The meaning of the word is "two things grown together into one unit," such as apples, potatoes, and so on. Jumis and jumm, Finnish and Estonian words considered to be ancient borrowings from the Baltic, mean "two things or beings joined together," "bundle of flax," and "divinity who gives wedding luck."

Twin ears of rye, barley, or wheata relatively rare phenomenon in natureare a manifestation of jumis. When a double ear is found at harvest time, it is brought home by the reaper and put in a place of honor on the wall beside the table. In the following planting season, the jumis is mixed with the seed grain and sown in the field. Jumis is a force that increases wealth and prosperity, signified by double ears, double fruit, and double vegetables.

Neolithic images of the great goddess are frequently marked with two dashes over the hips, arm stumps, between the breasts, or on the pubic triangle. Often two horizontal or vertical lines are painted or incised across the face or a mask of the goddess. The double line also typically appears on mother and child figurines, which suggests that these lines may have connotations of resurgence and new life.

Double-headed goddesses convey the idea of twin birth on a cosmic plane. Figurines of "Siamese twins" are known throughout the Neolithic period and the Copper Age. The heads of these figurines are beaked and masked; the bodies are marked by chevrons, meanders, and crossbands. These attributes identify the image as a bird goddess. In Anatolia and the Agean area, two-headed figurines continue into the Archaic period of Greece. The twin aspect of the great goddess is also expressed by double-bodied or double-necked vessels from the early Bronze Age in the Aegean, Crete, and Malta.

See Also

Baltic Religion; Dualism; Numbers; Prehistoric Religions; Twins.


Butler, Michael. Number Symbolism. London, 1970.

Crawley, A. E. "Doubles." In Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, edited by James Hastings, vol. 4. Edinburgh, 1911.

Schimmel, Annemarie. Das Mysterium der Zahl: Zahlensymbolik im Kultur-Vergleich. Cologne, 1984.

New Sources

Doniger, Wendy. Splitting the Difference: Gender and Myth in Ancient Greece and India. Chicago, 1999.

Marija Gimbutas (1987)

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