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.