A Thought Adventure

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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