A History Lesson – the second of a series

A warning: This blog post continues a series based on my current exploration into feminist writing. If this type of information is not of interest to you, I’ll return to more “retirement transition – life journey” stuff soon.

This blog post attempts to capture a historical perspective on matriarchy and patriarchy.

Recap: books read to date in this exploration: Goddesses in Older Women by Jean Shinoda Bolen, MD, Goddesses in Everyday Women by Jean Shinoda Bolen, MD, The Virgin’s Promise by Kim Hudson, The Heroine’s Journey by Maureen Murdock, When God was a Woman by Merlin Stone, Woman’s Reality by Anne Wilson Schaef, and Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Peres.

Chroniclers of the past (mainly men) have ignored women’s role in the evolution of humanity. On recent social media, I am seeing many references as we are more widely recognizing women’s role in more recent history. Apparently newer archeological studies are unearthing new insights into the advent of our culture and in fact civilization in general. And perhaps there is also a woman’s perspective being acknowledged.

While here in the USA we like to believe there is a separation of church and state, there is not really a separation between religion, politics, and culture. History shows everything is intertwined across social, political, intellectual, cultural, and economic attainments or attitudes.

Before the advent of Judaism, Christianity or Mohammedanism, before even the Classical Age of Greece (Greek mythology), there was a religion and culture that was female-focused. Complete with ritual activities, sacred festivals, statuaries, temples, and stories/myths of its own, this religion/culture was intentionally destroyed – demonized, obliterated, subjugated – via aggressive invasions (physically and politically) from patriarchal cultures.

While Classical Greece is often presented as the foundation of Western Civilization, it culturally came into existence 25 centuries after the invention of writing. There are thousands of years of civilization before Greece, years of matriarchal, culturally advanced, goddess-worshiping societies. Cultures that held in reverence the “feminine divinity traits” of intuition, understanding cycles of the moon, help in childbirth (propagation of life), and being connected to nature (use of herbs, knowledge of seasons). Some refer to this culture as the Religion of the Goddess. These early matriarchal, matrilineal societies invented writing (had scribes), cultivated agriculture & domesticated animals, had craftsman & healers, and had a complex theological structure with rites and rituals full of intricate symbolism. In a matrilineal society, inheritance (property and lineage) is passed down through the mother. The mother (the woman) held the property/land, was the head of the family, the head of the community, and the head of the government.

With their superior ability to conquer via violence, aggressive, male-oriented, nomadic northern Indo-Europeans (less civilized, physically stronger, lighter skinned) invaded the lands of these matriarchal, matrilineal societies. In fact, the first documented literature (myths and legends) of these northern clans was after this foray into where writing was developed. This approach to invade with violence and destroy the existing culture is surprisingly similar to how Indigenous People’s Cultures were eradicated by violent colonial supremacy and continues with current genocides globally. Unfortunately, violence tends to win.

Reworking of old myths/legends can be seen throughout history as new versions of the stories bring in censorship of old beliefs or expansion with the new theologies of the conquering people. History is written (or rewritten) by the winners! Continual, successful invasions (over thousands of years) with an “invade, conquer, and rule over the indigenous people” approach continued to morph (and even demean) the rituals and legends of these early matriarchal societies.

Through it all there was a systemic belittling, subjugating, debasement, and eventual destruction of the Religion of the Goddess. Discounting the matrilineal descent customs required destruction of the religious beliefs that supported them. For men to have power, destruction of the religion/culture was a political maneuvering to gain control of property – inheritance rights, property/land rights, business rights. Knowledge/certainty of paternity is crucial to a maintaining a patrilineal culture and this influenced the female sexual morality (controlling the autonomy of a woman’s body) that exists even today.

The Patriarchal Belief Systems that evolved from these Indo-European invasions and taking over the indigenous matriarchal cultures played a significant role in formation of the Hebrew religious canons, which played a role in the formation of Christianity and even Islam. Archeology shows they even influenced Sanskrit, the formation of the caste system in Far East (Brahmins), and aspects of the Hindu religion. From Iranian myths to Greek myths to the Sumerian legends to Old Testament Bible stories to the religious writing in the Koran, it has been shown that linguistically, many tales, phrases, and symbolism came from the same earlier source – a matriarchal culture’s beliefs and myths.

A patrilineal (inheritance via son) patriarchy (men in control) has ruled for thousands of centuries now. The male-oriented, male-worshipping, male-dominance religions that emerged beginning around 1300BC have integrated their beliefs and cannons into behavioral patterns, cultural values, acceptable roles, and laws of secular society, independent of religion. Essentially, our cultures have Patriarchal Belief Systems at their core.

Patriarchal Belief Systems include an emphasis on hierarchy, a focus on acquisition of power and profit/wealth, warfare and violence being common and accepted, winning & domination valued, and a contempt for weakness. Patriarchal archetypes have become part of the collective unconscious. The only two really acceptable archetypal roles for women in the patriarchal culture are the virgin child and the wife/mother; positive accomplished women or older wise-women archetypes were non-existent and are only beginning to (re)emerge.

The Patriarchal Belief Systems have for years even diminished any reference to the earlier matriarchal cultures. Diminishment is seen in using terms like “pagan-fertility cult” versus “female-based religion”; lower case goddess but always upper case God; defining a nature/earth-based worship as a pagan astrological cult; a high priestess, sanctified holy woman, or prophetess referred to as a temple “prostitute”; referencing something as myth or legend versus a religious writing; and Goddess-based religions called heathen or pagan. Terms like crone, hag and witch shifted from having positive connotation of older women (wise-women) to being negative descriptions. Crone comes from crown, indicating wisdom emanating from the head; hag comes from hagio meaning holy; and witch comes from wit meaning wise. From the beginning it was a “political assault” on females in order to establish and maintain male dominance.

Even the Feminist Revolution was still about the patriarchal culture… it was simply about women embracing and living the masculine culture – become like a man, including measurement of the self against male standards. Women were simply expected to live the Hero’s Journey and “be just like a man.”

My reading is broadening my awareness of living in a Patriarchal culture and more clearly understanding its Patriarchal Belief Systems. More to come in my next blog!

Picture Credit: Me – a random picture of my side garden where I am working on using containers.

20 thoughts on “A History Lesson – the second of a series

  1. Another excellent post Pat! Thank you for sharing such a wonderful synthesis of all the knowledge you’re gaining. I know it would be nice to at least have gender equity – but a part of me would love to see the rise of the matriarchy again!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Very interesting, Pat. I appreciate this glimpse into history and how it has shaped the world we live in today. Imagine if we could truly reach a point where we appreciate the attributes of all beings and leadership wasn’t influenced by gender, nationality, or skin color, but rather characteristics and skills that make a good leader.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Christie, In some ways, I think we are moving backwards from that point you’d like to reach, and that is so sad. I look around and see a world based on power, control, and violence. Yes, I can try in my own small space to appreciate individuals, express gratitude, and be welcoming and kind. Sometimes I just wonder if that is enough.


  3. I am glad this is something you continue to explore. I have a very good listener in my husband and if I ever want to chat about something, he is there for me…but understanding in any way shape or form how it’s been for me as women from the 1960s onwards, he HAS no inkling. Men just had/have life differently and we know why. Sigh. Thank you for linking up to Life This Week at Denyse Whelan Blogs.
    Next Monday, on the last day of February, I have a special announcement of interest to all who link up their blog posts with my blog’s link up party.

    I look forward to catching up with you then.


    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are right that most men cannot totally grasp living in a patriarchy as a women. I do think some try very hard to understand, and egalitarian marriages are out there! I was surprised about some of the things I learned in this exploration – my personal life has not been impacted as much by the patriarchy as many other women’s lives have been. An egalitarian marriage myself. Personally embracing the culture (yes, hard to admit, but I did and in many ways still do – Sigh). But my eye’s have been opened to a bigger picture.


  4. Let me just start with your excellent writing skills. This blog is more informative than thoughtful (like the ones that are about your life in retirement) and you have done an excellent job of informing us on an incredibly interesting subject. So many thoughts arise from reading this. Would we have remained peaceful if matriarchy would have remained? Would we have shared instead of wanting to control everything? Would there have been a reason for Jesus to come to us and if he still came would he have been a woman? Is God a woman? I might have some people gasping at these questions as these might go against what they believe, but I am quite religious and could see how things might have been different.
    Loving this blog!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Candyse. This has been a fascinating exploration (and will continue). I’ve pondered some of your questions as well. I read somewhere that “God” is actually neither male nor female, it’s just our culture has given it (?) a masculine persona, in keeping with male domination. I do wonder how much violence there would be in a world with female dominance. The current violence does seem to be man-made once again.


  5. Many years ago, I read The Chalice and The Blade: Our History, Our Future – “a 1987 book by Riane Eisler. The author presents a conceptual framework for studying social systems with particular attention to how a society constructs roles and relations between the female and male halves of humanity. Wikipedia.” Much of history was recorded by males negating the female influence. My understanding is there are still matriarchal societies in today’s world although you’ll seldom see them in western societies.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Would you recommend that book now? Sometimes, the older books have been surpassed in thinking. But yes, history is recorded by the winners and since violence has been the way to win, and males are the primary users of violence…. history has been written by men. I think we are now starting to see more of women’s influence in recent history – the stories are emerging! That’s been fascinating to see.


  6. Sounds like you’re working through some interesting material! Note that the fact you have to “warn” people you’re talking about “woman stuff” is also giving authority to the patriarchy. But I get the idea that you feel being a feminist is a different topic to retirement… But is it? I mean, isn’t retirement about coming into one’s power in a way? Oooo, so much to think about! Glad you’re writing about your explorations here. Fun stuff!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. OMG – you are so right! I was more worried about negative comments – which I’ve received on posts before that got more “controversial”. I was trying politely to say, if you don’t like the topic, don’t read it.

      But yes, I also do struggle with giving authority to the patriarchy as I was one who embraced it for years. I really like how you put it: “retirement is coming into one’s own power.” I might reuse that phrase.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hey, it’s your blog! And the more power you reveal, the more some people feel threatened and believe a “bad” comment is going to put you back in your box. Comments don’t dull your sword, sister!

        Liked by 1 person

  7. An interesting read Pat – I’m a Christian and I think that Christianity is gradually coming to recognize the value of women more and including their giftings and differences into the church narrative. Traditions come and go, cultures come and go, our world continues to spin – but it would be nice to see a balance and respect between the genders given more air space.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Leanne, thanks for your kind comment. This topic can be a bit hard for some folks to hear about. And I agree that it would be nice to see more respect between the genders. I think my awareness of the opposite (lack of respect) has been enhanced as I’ve done this reading & research!


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