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Religion and Psychoactive Sacraments:
An Entheogen Chrestomathy

Thomas B. Roberts, Ph.D. and Paula Jo Hruby, Ed.D.
Author Index | Title Index



The Living Goddesses

Gimbutas, Marija, edited and supplemented by Miriam Robbins Dexter. (1999)
Berkeley: University of California Press.


ISBN: 0-520-21393-9

Description: Hardcover, xx + 286 pages.

Contents: List of illustrations, editor's preface, acknowledgments, editor's introduction, 13 chapters divided into 2 parts: 1. Religion in Prepatriarchial Europe, 2. The Living Goddesses, editor's afterword, editor's notes, glossary, selected bibliography, index.

Excerpt(s):

Kaukai: Manifestations of Earth Power in the Cycle of Death and Life

In Lithuanian children's books, Kaukai appear as bearded gnomes. But they are far more than gnomes: they are little creatures the size of a human head who look more like tadpoles than humans. Sixteenth- and seventeenth-century records descsribed them as "little men who eat vegetarian food." To this day they are believed to help people by increasing grain and hay.

Lexical evidence substantiates the chthonian origin of kaukas (sg.). Numerous words stem from the root kauk-: kaukolas, kaukolis, and kaukuolys, which denote a dry or frozen clod or lump of earth. Through analogy, we can see this imagery in representations of kaukas: for example, "a kaukas" is as big as two fists, round like a ball."

Additional words make direct reference to Kaukas. Kaukas, kaukelis, or kaukoras is a name for a certain type of aromatic root, Mandragora officinarum. "Kaukas' comb" is a name for a plant shaped like a hand. This plant possesses magical powers and has connections with the underworld: "Comb your hair with it, and make sure that not a single piece breaks off - you will then have knowledge of all that is hidden in the earth."

Kaukai make their abode underground. Housewives often make a loose garment from a single thread and bury it in a corner of their house in order to entice a Kaukas to dwell there. Since the Kaukai are earth-born, they live in basements or dark storehouses.

Before humans and Kaukai made an agreement, Kaukai lived in the forest. Lexical evidence sheds some light on this arrangement. For example, many words that have the root kauk- relate to mushrooms, Phallus impudicus; kaukatiltis (tiltas = bridge) represents a place where many mushrooms can be found; kaukoratis (ratas = circle or wheel) is a cluster of mushrooms. There is a saying: "Don't light any fires on kaukoratis, because Kaukeliai (diminutive of Kaukas) might come there at night." (page 211)

Kaukai accept only vegetarian food, and they give only earth's products. They increase wheat and rye (this is connected with their bread eating) and hay (this is connected with their milk drinking). The Kaukai never bring money. . . .

Kaukas has further linguistic associations with "skull" (kaukole), and "head, mask" (kauke). The name for skull (kaukole), in addition to the Kaukas' head- or skull-sized dimensions and his embyonic, glandular form, place the Kaukai in the time between deaf and birth. They temporarily rise to the surface and affect human life, then return to their pre-birth state underground, where they belong. Jan Lasicius, in the late sixteenth century, described Kaukai as "souls of the dead" ("kaukie sunt lemures").

A common belief, originally Old European, maintains that the skull contains the life principle; therefore, people often cared for and buried the skull separately. The association of Kaukai with the skull and the head as the soul's abode, their association with roots and mushrooms, and their glandular, embryonic appearance leave little doubt about the essence of these chthonic beings. The Kaukas is a creature about to be born, yet unborn, belonging to an intermediary realm between death and birth. This sacred time of the earth's pregnancy is imbued with mysterious energies that may manifest themselves aboveground as Kaukai, bringing ever-increasing material goods. Kaukai, with their patron god, Puskaitis, reveal the earth's constant cyclical energy as the forest's "breathing power." (pages 212-213)



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