A Thought Adventure

Monday, December 21, 2015

30. From Matriarchy to Patriarchy. I

Aryan invader, Sumer

What brings about the transition from a matriarchal to a patriarchal society--one of the most decisive revolutions ever experienced by humankind according to Engels? Let's first see what we can gather from historical facts, myths and legends and then discuss how to interpret it.

Around 1500 BCE the Vedic Aryans enter India, destroy the higher civilization of the Indus and initiate a new age of male gods. From both the Bible and the Greek myths we learn that with the dawn of the Iron Age (c 1250 BCE in the Near East) patriarchal warrior tribesmen radically change and even suppress the old goddess mythologies. They come either from the Syro-Arabian deserts (the Semites) or from the plains of Europe and southern Russia (the Aryans). Now the Goddess is either slain or subjugated by being raped. Already in Sumer, the first of the higher civilizations (c 3500-2350 BCE), the god Enlil rapes the goddess Ninlil.

At about 1000 BCE, the Hebrews invert the entire symbolic system of the primitive, ancient and Oriental mythologies. The goddess Earth becomes the dust from which Adam is made (Hebrew, adamah, earth) and the legend of the rib is a patriarchal inversion of the myth of the hero born of the goddess Earth. Writes Camille Paglia, author of Sexual Personae, “The book of Genesis is a male declaration of independence from the ancient mother-cults. . . It remade the world by male dynasty, canceling the power of mothers." she

Portraying the story of Jesus as a unique historic event is another biblical distortion, since the tale of a killed and resurrected god has shaped virtually every civilization in the world. In the Dionysian rites, e.g.,  the Greek god Dionysus was torn to pieces as a child by the Titans and dies but rises again. And, as Greek authors Pindar and Euripides report, these rites are pretty much the same as those the Phrygians (a people in Asia Minor) performed in honor of the Great Mother

Gods take over the goddesses' power...
The Muslim god Allah is a late Islamic masculinization of the Arabian Goddess Al-Lat or Al-Ilat, formerly worshiped at the Kaaba in Mecca. In the Greek legacy, the goddesses who once reigned supreme become subordinated to the Olympian gods. Hera, e.g., who was worshipped alone in the temple of Heraion in Olympia, is forcibly married (to Zeus) and made the protector of marriage.

The earth-goddess Pandora, whom the Greeks sacrificed to, now becomes temptress instead of inspirer. And in the patriarchal version of the old Egyptian myth of Isis and Osiris, Isis gives up her dreadful aspect of matriarchal dominance and becomes Hathor, the dutiful wife. She then delegates her power to her son Horus and through him to the Pharaos of Egypt.

The Greek hero myths personalize the conflict between the patriarchal and matriarchal worlds as clashes between two irreconcilable kinship systems. Clytemnestra’s murder of her husband Agamemnon (for having sacrificed their daughter Iphigenia) is no crime under the matriarchal principle, only a just retribution in the name of blood-revenge. Under the patriarchal principle adopted by the Olympian gods it’s OK for Orestes to kill his mother Clytemnestra. This is what Achilles declares in acquitting him:

                        “The mother is not parent of her so-called child
                         but only nurse of the new-sown seed.
                         The man who puts it there is parent;
                         she merely cultivates the shoot” (Aeschylus).

Although the goddess religion survives long into patriarchal times, a telling example of what looks like a growing revolt against it can be found in the Babylonian epic of Gilgamesh (from about 2500 BCE), which sometimes is called the world‘s earliest literary document. Here the young Gilgamesh, king of Uruk, boldly declares that he doesn’t want to marry the Goddess Ishtar, since she'd killed off all her earlier consorts.

...but not without struggle.
Countless legends from all over the world tell about the hard work it takes for men to wrest leadership from women. Common to most are stories of some shining hero who conquers a monster representing an earlier order of godhood. As for instance the victories of Indra, king of the Vedic pantheon, over the cosmic serpent Vritra; of Yahweh over Leviathan, the serpent of the cosmic sea; and of Zeus over Typhon, half-man, half-snake and son of Gaia, the goddess Earth--the victory that assures the reign of the Olympic gods over the Titans.

In each of these--by Campbell termed ‘mythological defamations’--the role of demon, or anti-god, is pasted on a figure from an earlier mythology; and from now on all that’s good and noble is attributed to the new master gods. The female principle is devalued and (as Jung indicates) when a power of nature is shut out, it always turns negative, even demonic--a dangerous threat to the castle of reason.

Suddenly--though I suggest at the end of a long gathering storm--woman becomes an object of the most ferocious anger and hatred. At the same time she descends into a kind of non-person, subordinate to man on all social levels in practically all culturesFor some suggestions about the motives for this spectacular change, see next post.

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