The Fat Goddess and the Maltese Temples

Statues representing corpulent female figures abound all over Europe. Some of these could be as old as 30,000 years (e.g. the venues of Willendorf); others are from the late Neolithic period. From this age the megalithic temples of Malta yielded many so called “goddesses of fertility”. However, one must be cautious when labeling these statues by such a term.

Of these stone statues that were found locally, a dozen or so were found at Ħaġar Qim temple (c. 3000 B.C.) situated on the south coast of Malta overlooking Filfla island. Many of the statues are about 30 –50 centimeters high and all represent a fat –hipped broad shouldered figure which many scholars have interpreted as the “fat goddess of fertility”. Indeed one can never be sure about the gender that these figures represent. However, as some of the tinier figures do explicitly show a corpulent female figure by the breast and sexual organs, and also due to the nature of the religious surroundings with which these are associated they are regarded as symbolizing the maternal deity.

Some of the statues are standing headless figures, while others - also headless - are squatting. Of the former the largest (originally some 2 metres tall), was found inside the first courtyard of the Tarxien temples. From its size one may assume that it represented a mighty, perhaps even supernatural deity. This so called goddess of fertility could have represented the deity as a powerful human figure who ultimately may have symbolized the earth. From the earth crops grew, while people were buried inside the “womb” of the earth wherefrom one was supposed to be reborn.

One must of course adhere to actual findings than to flights of fantasy. Indeed one has never found locally statues of mother and child, or of a female giving birth to confirm this theory. Yet by their feminine appearance, albeit lacking in breasts, they are associated by many scholars as a human representation of “Mother Earth”.

This theory can be reached if one observes the myths that were prevalent amongst Mediterranean cultures, whereby the forces of nature could be personified by “human” deities depicted as fighting, or loving each other. The interplay of the seasons that prevail in the Mediterranean are explained by such stories of Persephone in Greece, of Horus in Egypt, or that of Baal in Phoenician cultures.

Other statues such as the Venus of Malta which is made out of clay, and which measures c. 12 centimetres, found at Ħaġar Qim, and that of the “Sleeping Lady” statuette found at the Hypogeum (another clay figure of the same size yet reclining), do show the capabilities of the prehistoric artists. Their real meaning is open to various interpretations. Hence, although the personification of the so called fat goddess is not really known it is surely related to a ritual that was acted out inside the prehistoric sacred shrines of Malta.



M. Morana
31.08.99