Updated: Aug 16
Since Paleolithic times, the vulva is well presented as a primal symbol of creativity and the source of creation, life and death.
The Vulva in Prehistory
the 'gateway to life' is the most common symbol of prehistoric times
The Vulva began as sacred. There are vulva symbols carved into cave walls in the earliest historic settlements. Mostly seen as engravings on stone, bone or ivory, they are found in caves, on figurines, and stones. The earliest found depiction is in the Chauvet cave from 37.000 BCE and on the Venus of Hohle Fels.
We encounter depictions of vulvas everywhere, worldwide, thousands of times, more or less realistic, more or less abstracted. Richard Fester
Long before the development of agriculture, people depicted vulvas, seeds and saplings in art. In the earliest depictions of the female deity from the Aurignacian around 30,000, the vulva was carved into rocks - almost always depicted abstractly and schematically, usually triangular, semicircular or bell-shaped, with a line or dot to designate the vaginal opening. Marija Gimbutas
is a term that Miriam Robbins Dexter coined for vulva depiction
"The sacred display reflects the huge numinosity of the prehistoric divine feminine, and of her magical genitalia, (...) and the honoring of the powers of the ancient divine feminine."
Sheela na gigs
vulva display to keep evil spirits away (apotropaic)
Sheela na gigs are 11th and 12th-century figurative carvings of naked women displaying an exaggerated vulva, found on churches, castles, and other buildings, particularly in Ireland and Great Britain.
»The sacred image of the yoni is an archetype, a timeless pattern of energy occurring in the human psyche.“
Inanna's lap of honey
Five thousand years ago in what is now Iraq, Sumerian Goddess Inanna’s vulva was worshipped as a sacred site. Sumerian hymns praised the Goddess’s 'lap of honey', compared her vulva to 'a boat of heaven' and celebrated the bounty that 'pours forth from her womb'. Sacred sexuality was celebrated and called Hierosgamos.
The connection of her sexuality to the earth’s fertility was so direct that even lettuces were described as the pubic hair of the Goddess.
The demise of vulva
Yet at some point, the vulva became associated with the obscene and pornographic. As culture changed, the vulva became increasingly censored or hidden entirely. Fertility goddesses showing their vulvas were reserved for female-only spaces.
Meanwhile, in the public domain, female statues and vulva symbols were covered up or removed entirely in favor of phallic symbols.
There is much scholarly debate about how and why the vulva became censored, but one theory worth considering is the increase of literacy and predominantly male playwrights and poets in ancient Greece. Leonard Schlain in his book 'The Alphabet and the Goddess' argues that the disappearance of the vulva coincides with an increase in phallic symbology and a more literate society.
For example, in the trilogy The Oresteia written by Aeschylus (c525 – 455 BCE) the god Apollo, argues that men are the creators of life and women are merely a passive vessel.
Vulva as Yoni
In parts of India, the art of making love and the worship of the vulva has probably survived the longest.
»The worship of the yoni signifies the worship of the Goddess and the worship of woman as her living representative.«