A Thought Adventure

Monday, November 30, 2015

24. The Role of Religion

According to scholar of religion Thorkild Jacobsen, basic to all religion is a unique experience of confrontation with a power not of this world (the ‘numinous‘). And it’s the positive human response to this experience in thought (myth and theology) and action (cult and worship) that constitutes religion.
The essence of both magic and religion is to coerce spirits outside of man (to whom are ascribed powers greater than his) to fulfill man’s imperative organic needs, such as food and sex). According to both French sociologist Emile Dürkheim and Greek scholar Jane Ellen Harrison (author of Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion), religion is collective emotion; it springs from shared social interests and activities, and its benefits are expected to affect the whole of the community.

At first religion is neither spiritual nor individual but an instinctive and unconscious attempt to apprehend life as one and indivisible; only gradually is it transformed and crystallized into gods. Lévy-Brühl coined the term participation mystique to describe how before growing an ego people live in a purely animal state of non-differentiation (or total oneness with nature and the group). I.e., they don’t yet see themselves as different from other persons or objects around them. And because to them plants and animals are their equals (the natural world and human society being one), they can actually help crops and cattle grow by observing their group customs. 

The power of superstition.
How do the matriarchs persuade people of the benefits of their goddess cult? I think the strategy they choose is to reinforce two old and deeply entrenched superstitions. The first is that the female regenerative functions are a wonder of nature. It not only associates woman with a special vegetation magic but also gives her an extraordinary authority, including things like her right as high priestess to sacrifice the life of the consort, be he her own son. Says Harrison, “Matriarchy gave woman a false because magical prestige.”

The second superstition is the extremely ancient idea that death leads to rebirth (which also lies beneath all later traditions of mysticism). The concept of the earth as a bearing and nourishing mother is prominent in the mythologies of both hunting and planting societies. Already the Neanderthal grave burials, from c 200,000 to c 75,000 BCE (which contain food and implements), show the grave as a return to mother for rebirth. No doubt a way of reconciling ourselves to death, this belief is now twisted by the matriarchs to mean that the death of the fertilizing male is a necessary precondition for new life. But has it got anything to do with reality?
Statuettes of  Worshippers, Eshnunna, Iraq, 2700 BCE

This is, however, a time of awakening consciousness and new ways of seeing things. How then can the matriarchs hope to win over people by choosing rituals that so clearly belong to a pre-conscious way of thinking? I speculate that they’re smart enough to realize they’ll have to frighten their subjects into submission. And what could be scarier than the terror struck by an élite who has the nerve to sanction the methodical murder of men?

The human component.
Do I attribute too much will and determination to the women leaders? Aren’t they as confused and clueless as the rest of the people in these times of seismic change? They probably are, at least to begin with. But what I know for sure is that all cultural phenomena (whether law, custom or religion) are created by human beings, more precisely by those with the most authority. So, if women do indeed govern the world‘s first settled community, then they are also the ones who invent its religious rituals. The matriarchs before the dawn of civilization are just the first in the long row of tyrants that history abounds in who legitimize their dictates by presenting them as divine will.

As Campbell expresses it, the ultimate origin of the ‘numinous,’ the creator and destroyer of all divinities, is the human mind. Frazer puts it this way, “Gods are often merely men who loom large through the mists of tradition.”

Nevertheless, to take hold, mustn’t rituals invented by the few have some basic resonance in the many? And how is any belief or tradition to survive unless a majority agrees not to challenge it and put it under the scrutiny of their own intellect and judgment? For a possible answer, see next post

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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

23. Men’s Place in the Goddess Cult

As to the young men who fertilize the Great Goddess, they’re all beautiful delicate blossoms, obliging, narcissistic, pleasing her by their physical appearance. Symbolized in myths as anemones, narcissi, hyacinths, violets, they’re devoid of strength and character and totally lacking in individuality and initiative. (A pretty striking parallel with patriarchy’s feminine ideal, wouldn't you say?)

According to Neumann (in The Origins and History of Consciousness), the phallic youths are not fertility deities only; they are the vegetation itself, "Their existence makes the earth fruitful, but as soon as they have reached maturity they must be killed, mown down and harvested." Although lamented over and reborn as gods, they’re nevertheless only drones serving the queen bee and destined to be killed off after doing their duty. The Great Mother portrayed with an ear of corn, her corn son, is an archetype that extends to the mysteries of Eleusis in Greece and to the Christian Madonna.

'Comfort men' or eunuchs.
These flowerlike boys have no masculinity, consciousness, or higher spiritual self and are identified with their bodies only, the distinguishing mark of which is the phallus. As gods they appear in the form of dwarfs. Pygmies displaying their phallic character are worshipped in places like Cyprus, Egypt, Phoenicia. In Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, Barbara G. Walker reports that the choice of a king depends on the promptness of his erection upon the sight of the naked Goddess. In some places he’s killed if his virility fails him. 

The ministers and priests of the goddess are often eunuchs. As such, they needn’t die having already done so symbolically by renouncing their sex and assimilating themselves to women. In Syria, Crete and elsewhere the castrated priests use women’s clothing (compare modern Catholic priests) so as to carry the sacrifice to the point of identification. The male is not only sacrificed to the Great Mother but he also becomes a woman.

In Hindu mythology (but not in Tantric myths) the dominant woman is dangerous in two ways; one, as the non-maternal goddess who beheads her lover in a symbolic act of castration, dances on his corpse and impales herself on his still animate lingam; two, as the mother goddess whom the worshiper doesn’t dare to approach for fear of incest. On the human level, says Doniger, the two roles merge in the sexually aggressive mother who is “a persistent stereotype in conventional perceptions of Hindu family relationships.”

Doomed by sex.
Cuneiform tablets from Mesopotamia tell the myth of Dumuzi, the shepherd king of the city-state of Uruk. He reigns early in the 3rd millennium BCE and becomes divine by marrying Inanna, goddess of Love and Procreation, who in this poem expresses the inseparable bond between love and death:
Hindu Goddess Kali dancing on Shiva's body

“Oh my beloved, my man of the heart . . . 
 My brother of face most fair . . .
 I have brought about an evil fate for you,
 Your right hand you placed on my vulva,
 Your left hand stroked my head,
 You have touched your mouth to mine,
 You have pressed your lips to my head.
 That is why you have been decreed an evil fate.”

What does men’s sexual slavery to the priestesses say about their status at this time? While sexuality glorifies woman and brings immeasurable good to all life, for man it 's a harbinger of his demise; his very instinct for survival is transformed into a death wish. The best way to imagine ordinary men‘s life in this society may be to look at women’s life in patriarchy, and turn it clear around. Because just as femininity counts for little in a society where man is the model for human being, so does masculinity in a society where that model is woman.

Women were the first sexists.
I therefore suggest that the early goddess-worshipping society is a female autocracy, and that abuse of the opposite sex (including discriminatory sexual stereotyping) is an early female invention. Which of the sexes that practices this kind of abuse from then on, and when, is a toss-up that depends on which sex holds most outer power in society. At this juncture in history it’s women, a few thousand years later men.

Now, if as I’ve said the goddess cult is a mere stunt thought up by power-hungry matriarchs, what remains for me is to explain how both the spectators and the victims themselves could accept and put up with it for so long. Let's start by taking a look at religion. See next post.

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Sunday, November 22, 2015

22. The Role of Sexuality in the Goddess Cult

According to scholars like Neumann and Campbell, at the time before birth is linked to sexuality woman’s fertility has nothing to do with sex; it simply stands for miraculous increase and mysterious renewal. As people start linking sexuality to fecundity, they lend to it the same aura of wonder. Sexuality is a force of nature, both earthly and divine, both personal and transpersonal, and the fertility rites are a glorification of it. For the entire pre-modern world sexuality partakes in the sacred; it can pacify an angry god and avoid illness or other misfortune. Sex with more than one partner, then, is a thing of value.

The focal point of the cult is woman’s sexual activity unrelated to monogamy and family, i.e., altogether separated from her reproductive capacity. An essential aspect of the goddess’s creative power is her ‘virginity,’ or readiness to receive any man who stands in the service of fertility; only in patriarchal times is the term twisted into a symbol of chastity. All magical operations by women have a sexual character: in rain–making ceremonies, e.g., nudity is required and in India naked women push the plow around the field at night.

Sex a woman's badge of honor.
Courtesan on Greek amphora
So strong is this emphasis on female sexuality that it becomes celebrated for its own sake and incarnated by ‘prostitutes’ attached to the temples of the goddess. Honored in hymns, epics, myths, liturgies and lamentations as Ishtaritu, holy women of Ishtar, or quaditsu, the sacred ones, these women are daughters or wives of aristocratic families among peoples living around Sumer (Hittites, Luwians, Hurrians and Semitic Amorites).

In his classical work The Golden Bough, Frazer describes how the union between the goddess and her consort is joined by the real, though temporary, union of men and women at the sanctuary of the goddess. The sacred marriage ceremony is everywhere a joyous feast, preceded by lavish banquets accompanied by music, song and dance. According to Herodotus (who traveled widely in Asia Minor, the Near East and northern Africa) nearly all peoples partake in rites involving sexual license, which are meant to reinforce the fruitfulness of the ground and of man and beast.

The active sexuality of the goddess is seen as a good in itself long into the recorded era, because it humanizes men and makes them wise, guarantees the stability of the throne and the survival of the social order. The famous courtesans of Corinth originally serve a religious function, and a sacred brothel is attached to the temple of Dionysus in Sparta. Yet in the Bible sexuality freely enjoyed by both women and men becomes equated with idolatry, the worst of sins against Yahweh.

However, the operative factor in the ritual marriage ceremony is not the sexual but the transpersonal, the coming together of the two principles of female and male in holiness, beyond the individual. The particular woman, the personal incarnation of the goddess, is of no consequence; she’s totally unknown and remains anonymous.

This makes the relationship of the goddess to her lover utterly impersonal (the love motif came much later). Originally she is not concerned with the youth at all but only with his phallus, which is holy to her. All phallus cults emphasize the same thing--the anonymous power of the fertilizing agent, the phallus that stands by itself. And the real issue of her union with her consort is not the offspring, or even a bountiful harvest, but the blessings it yields for the whole community.

For the role men play in the cult and what it may indicate about their standing in this society, see next post

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Thursday, November 19, 2015

21. The Growth of Consciousness in Mythology II

Once the ego starts to separate from the unconscious, we enter the stage of the Great Mother archetype (who later splits into Good Mother and Terrible Mother, the first kindly and bounteous, the second wicked and devouring). This stage is first reflected in the relation between the Mother Goddess and her son-lover. Although the young man is able to affirm his masculine otherness, he is not yet strong enough to cope with her because he's afraid of cutting himself off from his union with her.

Caravaggio's Narcissus
Then follows a transitional phase when the ego germ attains a certain degree of autonomy. Examples are the myths of Narcissus, the young man who falls in love with his own reflection in a pool; and of Hippolytus, who as he rejects the advances of his stepmother Phaedra (the Great Mother) is becoming conscious of his ‘higher’ (as opposed to sexual) masculinity. Symbolized by light, sun, eye, this stage is a pre-condition for all self-development, a first sign of ‘centroversion,’ the ego’s move towards self-formation (which Jung calls ‘individuation’). It’s not, Neumann insists, a sign of auto-eroticism unless it is prolonged.

The Hero.
But only after the third phase, when the Hero fights the Dragon (or other monster), rescues the Captive and raises the buried treasure of Knowledge, are consciousness and ego finally established. The dragon fight, which symbolizes the slaying of the mother and the conquest of fear (the latter is pictured as entry into the cave, descent into the underworld or as being swallowed), is central to the evolution of both the individual and humankind as a whole. Because in killing the Great Mother the hero destroys the image of the Terrible Mother and saves a positive feminine element.

Being both a real woman and the soul itself, the Captive unites the hero’s ego consciousness with the creative side of his soul--his own feminine counterpart. And the hero, now an adult male and no longer a tool of the Earth Mother, can join with a woman his own age and kind, a separate ego-conscious individual and a spiritual being like himself.

In some myths a friendly, sisterly female (e.g., Medea, Ariadne, Athena) helps the hero kill the monster. In the Theseus myth, the hero who kills the Minotaur finds his way out of the labyrinth thanks to the ball of thread that Ariadne has given him. In the hero myth of Perseus, Athena lends Perseus her shield in which he sees reflected the head of the Gorgon Medusa (the Great Mother). If he’d faced Medusa, she’d have turned him to stone, but now he can kill her and rescue the captive, Andromeda.

The Hero slaying the Dragon and saving the Captive
Perseus and Athena with Medusa's head

Again, the hero’s masculinity (like earlier the Great Mother’s femininity) is purely symbolic because his fate reflects the personal development of both sexes, which is to conquer the inertia of the unconscious and identify with the independent ego. At this stage, then, human beings are no longer puppets of the unconscious but have fully  conscious minds and can join with other fully conscious minds to strike out new paths.

In principle anyway. Because, as I see it, we never grew into adult personalities. Unable to establish the kind of equal social order that would characterize a grown-up stage, we haven’t moved beyond the adolescent level of emotional development typical of the matriarchal era. Or, differently put, we haven’t saved enough of the positive ‘feminine’ element to make it possible. Thousands of years after coming of age as a species, we’re still limping along in a regressive society weakened by a never-ending struggle between two kinds of discrimination: the overt by men against women and the covert by women against men. The Adulthood of Humankind that should mark the Age of Consciousness is still a mere figment on the horizon.

Let’s now return to the malevolent matriarchy and dig deeper into why I see its goddess cult as a catalyst for the male inferiority complex. See next post.

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Monday, November 16, 2015

20. The Growth of Consciousness in Mythology. I

Neumann proposes that, just like dreams tell of the psychic situation of the dreamer, so do myths typify humanity’s unconscious situation at different stages of its development. In his book The Origins and History of Consciousness he builds on a description and classification of myths to outline the archetypal stages in the growth of consciousness.

The first, still unconscious stage is the embryonic containment in mother and the childlike dependence on her, an early, beatific state, when the world remains undivided. It’s expressed in symbols that represent the maternal womb and display all the positive maternal traits (bestower, helper, she who fulfills). Among them are the round (circle, sphere, egg) and the pot (jar, bowl, vessel), for thousands of years worshipped as the goddess in her elementary character. But anything deep or big that surrounds and preserves anything small is part of this archetype: abyss, valley, ground, sea, fountain, lake, pool, earth, underworld, cave, house.

Every human being is both male and female.
In all myths and legends the unconscious is symbolized by the feminine and by darkness. When the ego comes forth from the dark, it is associated with light and with the masculine. The terms masculine and feminine are symbolic, not personal, sex-linked characteristics. Every individual is by nature a psychological hybrid: passive, ‘feminine’ features are as common and effective in men as active, ‘masculine’ features are in women.

(Let’s therefore remember that suppressing our congenital ‘contra-sexuality’--e.g., by identifying some human qualities with one sex only--is a violation of the integrity of the personality and something culture created, not nature. It's an example of the arbitrariness of those in power.)

One early symbol is the Uroborus, the circular snake that represents the union of masculine and feminine opposites joined in perpetual cohabitation. This idea can be found in many cultures; examples are Plato’s Original Man (whose male and female halves haven’t yet separated), the Chinese T’ai Yuan, the Holy Woman, the Great Original (who combines in herself the yin and the yang, the active-masculine and the passive-feminine powers of nature) and the Hindus’ purusha (the great hermaphrodite). But we come across the same idea also in the Revelation of St John, among Gnostics, in Navajo sand paintings, in alchemical texts and as an amulet among the Roma.

For the emergence of the ego, see next post.
Uroborus (Greek oura, tail, boros, eat)
The Chinese T'ai Yuan, The Holy Woman,The Great Original

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Thursday, November 12, 2015

19. Consciousness

Jung pointed out that just as the human body has an anatomical prehistory of millions of years, so does the psyche; and both body and psyche still display “numerous vestiges of earlier evolutionary stages going back even to the reptilian age.” For most of our life as a species we live in an unconscious state, from which a conscious ego slowly rises. With his concept of participation mystique, Lévy-Brühl has helped clarify that prior to the formation of the ego humanity lives in an original, purely animal state of non-differentiation (or total oneness with nature and the group). People don’t yet think of themselves as subjects nor as distinguishable from other persons or objects around them.

The impact of consciousness
But with the awakening of consciousness, when moving on to assume an ego and identify a personality with it, humanity encounters for the first time the possibility of a self-orienting consciousness. As the conscious human mind--symbolized by the ‘ego’--pushes its way out of the unconscious and up to a place in the limelight, a new and potentially most powerful actor has entered the world theatre. One that‘s ready at last to take on an equal partnership with the other lead player in the human drama, the unconscious human instinct--symbolized by the ‘id,’ the Freudian term for the source of psychic energy that’s derived from instinctual needs and drives.

Paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould calls consciousness the greatest invention in the history of life, because it allows life to become aware of itself. By enabling us to see things objectively and in pairs of opposites, it adds an entirely new dimension to human existence. From a non-conceptual and essentially childlike way of perceiving the world, we now turn to an adult and highly discerning view--one that includes the ominous realization that we possess personal power.

Being the culmination of eons of mental development (though it may have emerged suddenly), consciousness marks our coming of age as a species. If up to this moment things have just happened to us and we’ve been more or less powerless pawns on the chessboard of an inscrutable destiny, we now rise in rank and become co-creators with evolution. Because how we evolve as a species no longer depends merely on the mutation of genes or natural selection but also on culture, i.e., on our own inventions. We have, in a sense, acquired the power of gods.

This is the point of no return.

Mumford puts it this way in his book The Transformation of Man, ”By means of his culture (man) wrought changes in himself within a few thousand years that nature would have needed millions of years to accomplish by the tedious process of organic evolution.”

Before consciousness
The arrival of consciousness doesn’t mean that we couldn’t think during earlier non-conscious stages. We both felt, thought, made decisions, solved problems, even made art. But rather than products of individual minds, these skills emanated from a deeper psychic level that existed in us long before the formation of the ego. What’s new at this stage is only being able to say, “I’m conscious of doing all this. I know I’m a feeling, thinking, willing individual who chooses how to behave.”

Jung calls that lower pre-conscious level the ‘collective unconscious.’ By it he means a substratum that’s inborn and identical in all people and consists of archetypes (or images and patterns derived from common human experiences) that come up in the mind automatically and determine behavior independently of the individual’s own experience.
According to Neumann the development of culture depends on the capacity of the conscious mind to absorb more and more of the unconscious. Early man, who lacks a self-conscious ego capable of reflecting, only perceives an unconscious content in the form of symbols. Being spontaneous expressions of the unconscious, symbols are elusive and have manifold meanings. But because myth is the language of symbol, Jung sees in it the original language of mankind and the unconscious, the natural way for the collective unconscious to communicate with consciousness.

For a view of how the growth of consciousness is described in mythology, see next post.

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Monday, November 9, 2015

18. The Village as Blueprint of Civilization

Whereas agriculture makes a complete break with the hunting-gathering economy, the city’s economy is based on the same kind of agricultural output as the village; (city = the concentration of people within a small area that leads to occupational specialization, improved skills and tools and large-scale organization of work, e.g., for irrigation.) This speaks for a similarity in life-styles between city and village, and indicates that the gulf between the nomadic and the settled societies is due to their sharply diverging means of livelihood.

Mumford, who thinks the passage from village to urban culture took thousands of years, assumes that the preconditions for the city‘s complex social cooperation (surplus food and manpower, forethought and moral discipline) slowly unfold in the village. To him, civilization (from Latin civis, citizen)--a state of social culture generally defined by city living, a centralized government and written language--is as inconceivable without the thinking patterns of the village as it is without its economic accomplishment.

The question, then, is: what took place in the farming village, the social stage that lies between the nomadic stage and civilization? I postulate some kind of coercive social order already at that stage because when we first come across civilization, in the city states of Mesopotamia, or Sumer, such a rule is firmly in place: dictatorship, social stratification, including slavery, and continual strife and war between the states. According to Mumford, exerting power in every form was the essence of civilization: "the city found a score of ways of expressing struggle, aggression, domination, conquest--and servitude."  Our hunting and gathering forebears, by contrast, have relatively little social differentiation and specialization and no warfare.

Sumer has been extraordinarily influential in all Near Eastern cultures. When conquered by the Semitic Amorites-Babylonians (who in turn strongly influence their neighbors), its civilization is taken over lock, stock and barrel; religion, mythology, literature and educational system are almost identical. There are also striking parallels between Sumerian literature and that groundwork of Western civilization: the Bible.

In all the major early civilizations there exists a principle, absolute order, or law (everywhere represented as female). In Sumer it’s called me, in Egypt maat, in India dharma, in China tao and in Greece moira. Described as irreversible and based on an eternal truth, this law consists of a set of rules governing every detail of life. The citizens must do labor for the élite and their families, give a daily sacrifice of food and wine to the gods in the temple and attend monthly celebrations, most importantly, the New Year festival culminating in the sacred marriage ceremony.

The priesthood has a monopoly on knowledge and creative thinking; bureaucracy, court of law, observatory, school and library are all run by the priests. The view of man’s fate is tragic: he’s created only to follow the orders of his gods. It’s always he, not the gods, who is to blame, which makes submissiveness the greatest virtue. In  Hammurabi’s law code from c 1700 BCE Mumford finds a sadistic punishment similar to that of modern totalitarian states--an endless list of trivial offenses punishable by death (on the principle of an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth).

The patriarchal city-state worships a mother goddess said to have once been of higher rank than the other deities (each household also has its own domestic gods). An often encountered image on the cylinder seals of Mesopotamia (which contain many of the basic motifs of early mythology) is the ritual marriage between the god and the goddess who have become incarnate in the king and queen. (see the picture on post 12.) Writes sumerologist Samuel N. Kramer in The Sumerians, Their History, Culture and Character, “The origin and evolution of this remarkable fusion of myth and ritual, of cult and credo, are obscure.”

I propose that, in an embryonic form, the village already contains the oppressive institutions typical of civilization. The kingship starts out as queenship and the office of priest as that of priestess, the village queen represents a kind of universal law, just as later the Sumerian king represents me. And out of it develops the social organization of the village, i.e., its government, religion, administration, education.

The city-state’s autocratic government, then, backed up by a powerful priesthood and a confining religious dogma, is a logical, though slow and gradual, male extension of customs that arise in a community serving female interests. The mentality of the village is essentially the same as that of the city, and the differences between them quantitative, not qualitative, more a matter of degree than of kind.

Before going deeper into my reasons for seeing the original farming village as a catalyst for the male inferiority complex--and hence for misogyny--I will now discuss consciousness, the evolutionary phenomenon that makes possible the remarkable development of our species. See next post.

Mesopotamian city-state
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Thursday, November 5, 2015

17. The Malevolent Matriarchy

The women's reaction
When the women in the farming village grasp what a threat the discovery of fatherhood poses to their authority, I propose they are so gripped with shock, fear and rage that they respond with blank denial. “So we should be as dependent on men as they are on us? What a bold-faced lie!”  “So the sons that we bear, feed and raise should be our equals? What arrant insolence!” Whereupon they make up their minds to proclaim, loud and clear, just exactly who is in charge in the community.

The village matrons then set themselves up as leaders and, because in an oral culture the elders personify the accumulated wisdom of the community, the older among them form a Council of Elders. This is an administrative body considered the first and oldest of secular political institutions; Mumford calls it a “repository of tradition, censor of morals, judge of right and wrong.” Known in Sumer around 4000 BCE, such councils are still alive today in the myriad villages where most of the world's population continues to live.

Since their primary concern is to preserve female supremacy, the matrons need to magnify the mother figure and de-emphasize the significance of fatherhood compared to motherhood. Not only is the male part in reproduction negligible next to the female, but to measure exactly what that part consists in is hard. (Scientific proof that both parents contribute equally to the child has to wait until 1785 when the male germ cells are discovered.)

Another urgent task for the matriarchs in this era of nascent consciousness is to block the population at large, i.e., everybody except themselves, from realizing the ego’s tremendous potential to shape a person’s own individual destiny. The magnitude of such a task, virtually to hold back the tide of an evolving consciousness, may not be clear to these women, but I think they know it takes exceptional resources. I therefore suggest it’s now that they come up with the surefire idea of organized religion; an institution that from this moment on proves to be not only a supremely effective but an unsurpassed tool for carrying out the policies of absolute rulers.

At the same time, organized religion operates in many useful ways. Its centralized creed, which provides people with notions of right and wrong, sanctions certain kinds of conduct and condemns others, educates the young in the culture and tribal lore, and, above all, binds people together by reinforcing solidarity with the group. It also offers individuals a bond not based on kinship.

Assuming that the best way of consolidating their power is to give womanhood the trappings of divinity, the Council of Elders selects a Queen to act as High Priestess and declares her to be the representative on earth of the Great Mother Goddess. The other members of the council become priestesses in charge of transforming the old belief in female magic into a religious cult. This makes the High Priestess the first in history’s long line of rulers that surround themselves with loyal followers (priests, vassals, noblemen, technocrats) whose job it is to strengthen the rulers’ authority and translate their decrees into the willing consent of the subjects.

The Council builds a tightly supervised system of rules for correct religious behavior and, to give it proper weight, presents it as the will and nature of a higher authority. The sacrifice is given a lofty meaning and ulterior purpose. First, the young man selected as the consort of the Goddess is assured that his death brings food to mankind and, by implication, guarantees the survival of society. Then, and most importantly, after he’s castrated, killed and eaten, the Goddess resurrects him, elevates him to divine status and makes him immortal.

But, the reader may ask, what are the facts on which I base this account of the malevolent matriarchy? Those that I promised to try to provide at the start of this blog as a foundation for my speculations? The truth is: we know nothing of the social institutions of the neolithic, or Late Stone Age village. (Nor can we follow the rise of the city at the moment it occurs, because the city is already a fact when recorded history begins.)

In a field this wide-open to guesswork I’ve decided that the best way to form a picture of the prehistoric village is to extrapolate it from the ideas and traditions of a later, historical period. And I’ve chosen to compare it with the Mesopotamian city-state, because it is the best documented and most highly developed of early social orders. See next post.

Council of Elders, Sabonjida, Ghana

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Monday, November 2, 2015

16. The Discovery of Paternity

To understand what made the matriarchs sound the death knell for their gentle reign--and the Age of Innocence--we must take into account an important discovery I suggest they make at this time of rising awareness. One that poses such a serious threat to female dominance, and is so decisive for the further development of society that I’m astounded nobody seems to have paid attention to it--namely the discovery of fatherhood. As far as I know, no one has undertaken to pinpoint when in the evolution of our species this startling revelation hits home nor tried to describe the impact it must have made. 

Ignorance about men's role in procreation
Scholars seem to agree that humankind is for eons blissfully ignorant about men‘s role in procreation. Women are believed to conceive through some extra-human, trans-personal power; animals can impregnate them (bird, serpent, bull, ram) or the wind, the moon, ancestral spirits, demons, gods. Some think women give birth spontaneously through their magical powers or else through something they ate: the Divine Mother in Japanese tradition becomes pregnant from eating cherries, the virgin goddesses and princesses of China by eating a lotus flower.

As clearly shown by the way the world’s creation stories have developed, it’s only step by step, and apparently against some odds, that men have been able to claim paternity. These stories go from describing a world born of a goddess alone to one born of a goddess impregnated by a consort. Then on to a world fashioned from the body of the goddess by a male warrior, for example from the body of Tiamat--the mother of gods and the originator of human life--by the Babylonian sun god Marduk. And finally over to a world created by a male god alone (as in the Old Testament where the god’s power is his word). And so creation, once the outcome of divine motherhood, ends up being capitalized by the father.

Lingam, Polonnaruwa, Sri Lnka
Many non-literate peoples still have a rather vague idea of men’s exact role in propagation. In general, sex is not necessarily looked upon as the cause of conception, though some think it’s related to it. Sex is believed to cause menstruation (because it starts around puberty?), and human beings are assumed to be formed from menstrual blood retained in the womb (a belief shared by Aristotle). According to French anthropologist Lucien Lévy-Brühl (an authority on the psychology of preliterate people), even peoples who do see a connection between sex and pregnancy, simply don’t pay any attention to it.

Freud (in Totem and Taboo), Otto Rank (in Beyond Psychology)  and Bronislaw Malinowski (in The Sexual Life of Savages) all note that the relationship between the sex act and pregnancy went unrecognized for long; they also think that this was active denial and not mere ignorance.

I suggest it’s once people have learned to domesticate plants that they realize, and also acknowledge, the role the male plays in procreation. Because when they understand that putting seeds in the ground makes a crop come up, it should be easy to make the connection between male seed entering the woman's body and a new human being issuing from it. I assume it is women who make this connection and that it turns their whole world upside down.

Impact on relations between the sexes
Two things make the discovery of paternity a truly mind-boggling event. First, just imagine how disappointing it must be for Eve to find she can’t bear a child without Adam, and how exhilarating for Adam to find he can create like a god! The birth of a child is the down-to-earth effect of his act of impregnation, and nothing capricious or supernatural. In a flash the very basis for female supremacy is snatched away from under the woman, and the man, emerging as co-creator of children, is catapulted to equal status with her.
Lucas Cranach, Adam and Eve

Second, fatherhood is the dynamic factor in what may be the most fundamental insight brought us by our new faculty of consciousness: that we’re irrevocably set apart from one another. The metaphor in Genesis makes Adam and Eve cover up their private parts with fig leaves. Only when we comprehend that it takes two people of opposite sex to produce a human being do we see ourselves as separate individuals. This new awareness produces a radical change in the way the sexes relate to each other--and to the sexual act itself. (I also suggest it’s at this juncture that humanity initiates what’ll become a universal taboo against incest, a practice that until now may have been the rule rather than the exception).

For how the village women meet the challenge of paternity, see next 

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