MATRIARCHAL HISTORY

A Brief Summary

Copyright © The Imperial Press
"WHEN ABOVE the heavens had not been formed, when theearth below had no name, Tiamat brought forth them both. Tiamat, Mother of the gods, Creator of all."1
SO BEGINS the earliest known account of the creation of the world.

Moving from the Near East to Europe, the earliest known creation story is the pre-Hellenic Pelasgian Creation Myth, which depicts the creation of theuniverse by Eurynome, the Goddess of All Things. Commenting on this in hisclassic study of the Greek myths, Robert Graves says: "In this archaic religous system there were as yet neither gods nor priests, but only a universal goddess and her priestesses, woman being the dominant sex."2

In all myth throughout the world, the original Creator is feminine. It is onlywith the coming of a masculine-dominated (patriarchal) social system that She is replaced by a male god. Sometimes (as in the case of Tiamat above) She is said to have been conquered or killed by the new god. Sometimes the patriarchy boldly changed the sex of the Deity without changing the name--as with Ea in Syria, Shiva in India or .Atea in Polynesia. Sometimes the goddess was slowly phased out and the god phased in. W. R. Smith points out that the goddesses ofthe ancient Semites "changed their sex and became gods" in historical times3 while Atea, the supreme God of Polynesia was a goddess as little as 500 years ago4

Often the new cult of the male god could only be made to replace the original religion of the Goddess by a very severe patriarchal régime. This was the case with the Hebrew Jehovah5. Even then, the people frequently reverted to the worship of 'the Queen of Heaven', much to the chagrin of the patriarchal prophets6.

Turning from the 'historical' to the 'prehistoric'period--that is to say, to that vast majority of human history for which written records no longer exist or have been re-written by patriarchal redactors--the material evidence makes it clear that the religion of the feminine Deity was predominant for thousandsof years.

James Mellaart, probably the world's foremost authority on Near Easternarchaeology, writes in his famous survey of ancient Near Eastern civilisation: "Between 9000 and 7000 B.C. art makes its appearance in the Near East in the form of statuettes of the supreme deity, the Great Goddess."7 Mellaart states that historically "the cult of theGreat Goddess" is "the basis of our civilisation."

In a similar survey of ancient European civilisation between 7000 and 3500 B.C., Professor Marija Gimbutas explains how recent archaeology has given us a clear picture of this period, unearthing some 30,000 sculptures of clay, marble, bone, copper and gold from some 3, 000 sites. Clearly a vast area and a great period of time are involved (much longer than the whole known 'historical' period), yet certain general statements can be made covering the entire civilisation. Prof. Gimbutas shows that the Creator of the world was regarded as a Goddess (like Tiamat, often symbolised as a bird), that the Great Goddess was "the central figure in the pantheon of gods" and that "the pantheon reflects a society dominated by the mother"9

We may go back further, say to the Gravettian-Aurignacian cultures, sites of which have been found in Spain, France, Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Russia, and recently as far afield as Anatylia in the Near East. Some of these sites date back well over 25,000 years, and in these virtually all statues, divine or human, are female.

In the period after 9000 B.C., the pattern tended to follow that stated byMellaart in connection with ancient Hacilar (c. 5800 B.C.): "The statuettesportray the Goddess and the male appears only in a subsidiary role". But in the older Gravettian-Aurignacian cultures, the male scarcely appears at all. What we have is a vast preponderance of stylised female images, known toarchaeologists as "Venus figures".

We might go back further still, for example to the Venus of the Wildenmannisloch Cave, which is at Least seventy thousand years. old, but as we recede into such distant eras, dating and interpretation obviously become more difficult and conservative scholarship becomes cautious. Let us, therefore, remain with the wealth of well-attested and generally accepted fact.

What were they like, these prehistoric civilisations? Archaeologists refer to them as Palaeolithic (old stone age), Neolithic (new stone age) etc.--terms which to the average person imply brutish `cave-men' dressed in skins and barely able to speak. Serious archaeologists have not believed in this popular myth for well over half a century now, but the discoveries of the last twenty years in Europe and the Near East have shown that it is so far from the truth as to be ridiculous.

Let us take Hacilar, mentioned above in connexion with the predominance of the female image.This 'stone-age' community lived in two-storey houses, often thirty feet in length, arranged around a central courtyard, with ovens, kitchens, hearths upstairs and down, verandas overlooking the courtyard and numerous other `civilised' features. This example is entirely typical. We find similar conditions all over Neolithic Europe and the Near East and as far afield as Dravidian India. Furthermore, these societies were not separate developments, but as the great Indologist, Ananda Coomaraswamy points out, the fruits of "a common cultural inheritance throughout an area extending from Mesopotamia to Egypt and the Ganges to the Mediterranean" based upon the worship of the Great Mother".1l

It was a matriarchal civilisation in which the priesthood, and probably the heads of families and of State were all female. The concept of feminine supremacy is so alien to modern minds that many male scholars have described it in terms which imply abject subjection on the part of men. Speaking of Catal Huyuk, the oldest town at present known to archaeology, Mellaart, who was the excavator, speaks of "man's subservience to women".12 Charles Seltman says of the pre-Mycenaean Greeks "religion and custom were dominated by the female principle, and men were but the servers of women.".l3 Graves says that men, as the "weaker sex" "could be trusted to hunt, fish,gather certain foods, mind flocks and herds . . . so long as they did not transgress matriarchal law".14 J. J. Bachofen says that in prehistoric times "woman towers above man", and speaks of "the contrast between the dominant woman and the servile man"15

This assumption of man's abject condition in the ancient world is but theresult of an ingrained patriarchal prejudice which baulks at the overturning of his 'natural' superiority. To an unprejudiced eye, what emerges is a picture of a peaceful civilisation of small towns, villages and a few small cities, based on a common religion and philosophy, and where, under clear female leadership, women and men were able to coöperate, and "all the resources of human nature, feminine and masculine, were utilised to the full as a creative force."16


NOTE: It is also likely, judging from the complete absence, rather than subordinacy, of the male image that, at least in many places, the centre of civilisation was a predominantly feminine affair in which men played little part, and in which relations between women, at least among the upper echelons of society, were considered more important than their relations with men. This would be parallel with the pattern in patriarchal societies such as ancient Athens, pre-20th century academic communities etc.

Footnotes

1 The Enuma Elish (earliest text) Tr. Muss-Arnolt.

2. Robert Graves, The Greek Myths. Penguin, 1955, Vol I, p.2

3. In Theodor Reik, Pagan Rites in Judaism, Farrar, 1964, p. 7

4. Peter N. Buck, Vikings of the Pacific University of Chicago Press,1959, p 73,

5. Reik, op. cit., p. 101.

6. e.g, Jeremlah. Ch. 44, vv. 16-19.

7. James Mellaart, Earliest Civilisationsof theNear East, McGraw Hill,1965, p.18.

8. Ibid p. 77.

9. Marija Gimbutas, The Gods and Goddesses of Old Europe,7000-3500 B.C. Thames & Hudson, 1974, pp. 236-237.

l0. Mellaart, The Neolithic of the Near East. Thames & Hudson, l975, pp 111-113.

l I . Coomaraswamy, A University Course in Indian Art, Raja Singam,1978, p. 34.

12. Mellaart, Catal Huyuk. McGrawHill, 1967, pl.84.

13. Seltman, The Twelve Olyrnpians, Apollo, 1962, p.27.

14. Graves, op.cit. I, p.15.

15. Bachofen, Myth Religion and Mother Right, Princeton University Press, 1967, p.112.

16. Marija Gimbutas, Op. Cit., p. 238.


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