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A Moche Erotic Vessel: The Greek Connection

Clifford C. Richey January 2012 Revised March 2013


It might be helpful to read: http://www.scribd.com/doc/125076415/Universal-Prehistoric-Depicted-Sign-Language when reading this paper as it explains the use of Form, Imagery, Gesture signs, Stance, allusion and position as used in composing glyphs.

ll Photos Courtesy: Lima Museo Larco Moche male genitalia pottery Moche Ceramics are known throughout the world for their realistic imagery. Certain of the culture's vessels attract attention due to their explicit sexual imagery. This imagery is often referred to as erotic but one has to wonder why such compositions were placed in burials. In general, Moche ceramics are thought to display scenes from the everyday life and perhaps some ritualistic scenes related to the Moche cosmology. This paper explores the possibility that these vessels were not intended to be erotic but rather were cosmological statements that used imagery based on a written form of Native American Sign Language. This imagery was quite graphic even when not involving sexual material. For example, many animals were depicted in a very realistic manner and some vessels are even thought to be portrayals of the heads of various actual personages in the culture. The Moche, like most Native Americans considered the earth to be female and the sky to be male. The interaction between these entities was conceptualized in sexual terms. Due to the nature of written sign language system the signs used to describe the interaction between the female-earth and the male-sky was depicted in a similarly straight forward manner. Hopefully we can let these vessels speak for themselves by translating their Form, Imagery, and basic Gesture signs. The Imagery of the intercourse between the earth and sky was illustrated as sexual but, as we shall see, held a meaning more in the sense of an interaction or a union. The signs depicted in this vessel have been found to be quite consistent in meaning among a variety of Native American compositions throughout the Americas. The text of this Vessel reads differently depending on its orientation. It was meant to be handled and turned as it was read. It is based on Form, Imagery, and Gesture Signs. The signs are organized by

pattern and position and are read from largest Form and Image to the smaller. Many signs were also compounded. Imagery was composed from gesture signs. The comp

Illustration 1: Initial Form, A Sitting Bird The Stance of Sitting means, awaiting. A Bird is the sign for, flight. The one, awaiting flight.

Illustration 2: Meaning of the Signs From the side view presented in the photograph it depicts a large phallus (a great male or great man) emerging from the Triangular (earth-female) shaped Cup. The Phallus is Positioned on the side of the earth-female (on the side of the earth). The shaft of the Penis is a slightly Curved horizontal-place sign meaning, a place of descent. This meaning is further reinforced by the Imagery of a detumescent penis (relaxed or at rest).

The Glans-penis Form is the sign for a male-spirit. The male-spirit is positionally below and on the side of the earth-female. The Gonads are Egg shaped and indicate, the unborn, or the one that will emerge. The right hand side of the composition indicated the direction, the west. Experience has shown that the reader should use his own right and left as the basis for reading the compositions. The statement parallels the descent of the Sun in the west. The One Awaiting Flight. The great man, At rest, On the side, Of The earth-female a place of descent, In the west, His male-spirit, The one who will emerge, Below

Illustration 4: Front View of vessel

Illustration 3: Compounded Signs Creating the Imagery

When the Vessel is viewed from the front we observe that the Initial Form (brown) is in the shape of a pottery vessel a container. Because the Vessel is made of earthen clay the metaphor is one of an earthen container the earth itself. The earth was viewed as a vessel that contained water. The (red) Triangle shaped Cup would read as, an earth-female hole (perhaps a reference to the vagina of the earth-female), The shaft of the penis is a (green) Rectangular, vertical-place sign. The (light blue) Glans-penis would then be positioned, below, and was the sign for a male-spirit. The (dark blue) Eggs, the Gonads, are depicted as Vertical Half Circles indicating, the two sides (of the earth-female). It took only six signs to create the Form and Imagery of this Vessel. 1. The (red) Triangular (the whole sign cannot be viewed from this angle) sign for the Earth-female, 2. A Vertical Rectangle (green) representing a vertical-place or a place with either height or depth. 3. The (light blue) sign for a malespirit that was based on the shape of the glans-penis. 4-5. A Circle (the one or a location) could be divided into an upper (light green) and lower half to indicate the upper-world and the lower-world. The Circle could also be divided vertically to represent its vertical halves or sides. Here the (dark blue)

section of the circle indicates the left and right sides. As mentioned above, in sign language the left hand of the signer represents the direction, east while the right hand indicates the direction west.

The Container. The earth-female, A covered vertical-place, (or possibly) The upper world, the place The great man, His male-spirit, (positionally) Below. On the sides, East and west.

This Vessel was a drinking vessel and probably contained water or perhaps some other liquid that had some quality that would have indicated it carried spirits such as an alcoholic drink. This is probably why we call alcohol spirits to this day. The vessel may have been used by someone participating in a ritual related to the afterlife. The Cup itself represents a hole in the earth where water from the underworld emerges. This would ofter represent a spring or some place where water pools on the surface of the earth. It is quite likely that the Vessel imagery was not intended to be erotic but rather clear signs sending a message related to a cosmology of death and re-birth. The underlying message was one in which the spirit of the deceased plunged into the underworld (female) and was carried by the subterranean streams (depicted as Serpents) that ultimately led to the surface. The spirit then awaited the Sun to evaporate the water (the flying serpents or feathered serpents) thus taking it to the sky and stars, the abode of the ancestors. Springs on mountainsides or hillsides were revered as spirit-portals to the male-sky.

Back view of the Vessel. From this viewpoint the Initial Form is still a container but in terms of its shape it is more Gourd like. (Gourds were used for Vessels before the invention of pottery and even after) There are only Four signs used to create this view. 1. The Concentric Circle with a dark center (a hole). 2. The (light blue) male-spirit Form and 3-4 the Vertical-Halves or the sides of the earth. The male-spirit sign is large (great) and sits between the sides of the earth the center. It may well be that the great man given prominence in the message was a leader, or a Sun in the culture and like the actual Sun he overcame death (descent in the west was often compared, metaphorically, to old age, darkness, and death) by rising once again on the eastern side of the earthfemale.

Illustration 5: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York www.metmuseum.org

Illustration 6: Form: Star and Hand,

The Star-steward

This terracotta vase was made in eastern Greece (probably on the island of Rhodes) 2500 to 2550 years ago. Phallus vases are a rare and distinctive kind of archaic Greek pottery. They were used to store perfumed oils, presumably for erotic or medicinal purposes. Archaic Greek potters sculpted vases in a wide variety of shapes, including human heads, legs, and animals.1 The wide variety of shapes reminds us of the Moche who also used a variety of forms in their vessels as we have seen in the first part of this paper. In fact the depiction of the male genital area, as vessels, was quite similar in both cultures. Normally so depictions from cultures so widely separated by time and geography would be ascribed to coincidence. But in this case we will show that both cultures used the sign language system to organize their compositions. The signs used in the compositions were also the same or very similar. The overall Form of this Greek composition was that of a compound star sign and and the shape of a Hand (the steward or a priest of the Sun). The star-steward implies a subservience to the Sun. Next we observe the Imagery to located the signs that were used to compose the composition.


Illustration 7: The Signs Color Coded

The Overall Imagery is one of the male genitals. The Lnes above the Phallus indicates Hair (meaning a growth or a development).. The upper part of the Hair Form was made in the Triangular (female-earth) sign combined with a Vertical Rectangle (a vertical-place) sign. In other words, a place below the earth where there is growth or development. There are Dots on each Line (hair) and together they form a series of levels that provides a count of Ten. The Ten levels, the Nine levels of the underworld plus the surface. The (tan) Phallus is in the Form of a Finger that equates to the number, one. Its Stance is angled to the Right meaning, stopped. The (yellow) Tip of the Phallus is tear or Water-drop shaped meaning a particle of water. The (yellow) area above the Phallus is in the Form of the sing for a star and its Stance is one of Heading downwards. When the gesture sign for a star is made the opening between the index finger and the thumb is facing to the left but in this depiction that opening is facing downward. The open area of the Star continues to the (red) Triangular shaped earth-female sign and is positioned on the side (of the earth). The Curve of the (light blue) Hairline also continues downwards and is the Curved Form of the glans penis which is the sign for a male-spirit. Due to its Relative Size it was considered a great male-spirit just as was the star, the great-star, Venus. The male-spirit was positioned between the two (red)

earth-female signs and was thus, between the sides of the earth-female or at the center. The male-spirit sign is also covered with the multitude of (black, meaning dark) Dots that mean moisture or wetness. The male-spirit is wet from entering into the darkness of the watery underworld.

Illustration 8: Color Code Continued We need now follow the (dark blue) Curved Line on the right side of the composition. Again, as on the left side, we find the (red) Triangular earth-female sign with the (dark blue) Curved Line in the Form of the sign for arising to the (green) surface or ground Line. It is here that we see the (yellow) Tip of the Phallus in the Form of a Water-drop (a particle of water) in the Stance of heading, upwards from the earth's surface. The next sign above the Water-drop is a (green outline) Vertical Rectangle indicating a vertical-place a place that has height and depth. Above this place is the (red) Triangular earth-female sign with Curved sides in the Form of arising signs. Thus the water-particle arises on the side of the earth. We have now followed the cycle of Venus from descending from a hole (note the actual hole in the vessel)down the side of the earth and then arising to another, actual, hole on the right side of the vessel. In gesture signing the Left hand indicated the east while the right hand indicated the west. Thus the Great-Star, Venus descends in the east and arises in the west. It, the great-male-spirit, arises in the Center (of the cosmological world) within a water-drop, a particle of water that arises on the sides of the earth.

Illustration 9: Metropolitan Museum

Illustration 10: A Sitting Bird, Awaiting Flight We need to remember that these ancient, multidimensional vessels, were intended to be handled as they were read. Different messages appeared to the reader and the vessel was manipulated in the hands of the reader. Above we have a frontal view of the vessel whose Form was that of a Flared Mouth Vessel, a container that indicated, metaphorically, an earthen vessel, the earth-female, as a container of water. The vessel's Imagery Imagery was that of a spread tailed Bird Sitting (meaning, awaiting flight). The (yellow) Beak or Mouth of the Bird indicated a water-source. The Beak as mentioned above was in the Form of a water-particle. The Head of the Bird is in the Form of the glans penis that meant a male-spirit. The Tail has the same meaning as described earlier.

Illustration 11: Awaiting Flight on the Sides The Frontal view of the vessel also provides us with the Formof two (blue) Sitting Birds, the ones awaiting flight in the east and west.

Illustration 12: Metropolitan Museum Illustration 13: The Backside of the Earthen Vessel

We are referring to this side as the back of the vessel although we really don't know which side was , anciently, considered the front or back. But we can see that this vessel was definitely considered female by the large Nipples or moisture holes found on its Body. These signs are found directly below the actual holes in the vessel. There is a Large Finger (the great one) pointing a direction, below. Within the Finger, which was positioned, in the center, are Nine (black) Circular signs , the one the location in the darkness, the Circles are lined up vertically creating, in effect, nine levels. The nine levels of the underworld. The remaining signs within the Finger are Horizontal Rectangles (horizontal-places or horizontal-levels) which, by their number (Four) indicate the four directions or everywhere. Between the actual holes in the vessel is a (green) Horizontal-Rectangle indicating a horizontal-place, that positions this place in the center, Just behind this sign is the actual Mouth of the vessel (the water source), Just above the Mouth of the vessel is an indented sign (light blue) indication the sign for a male spirit. The Stance of the male-spirit is one of heading upwards from the Mouth (the water-source) of the vessel. The (black) Curved signs on each side of the Finger and the sides of the Vessel are the signs for arising. Thus the meaning is that the great one arises in the east and west of the earth-female. The fluid that this vessel contained could have most certainly been water as all indicators point in that direction. The metaphor could also accommodate the possibility that the fluid was semen bearing the male seed or spirit. Whatever fluid was contained in the vessel would, in time, evaporate and its particles would need to pass by the male-spirit sign positioned as heading upwards just above the hole or Mouth of the vessel. In this manner the cosmology was self evident.

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