The opportunity to write history remains one of the greatest spoils of victory, which explains why women’s contributions to humanity have been relegated to the shadows. Historically, significant females are seemingly few and far between. Aside from Cleopatra, Joan of Arc, Queens Elizabeth and Victoria, women leaders were anomalies—or so we were told.
In school we learned that men built and ruled the world, and that’s the way it always was. Of course, it is no coincidence that for decades, textbooks in the United States were written by a small group of white men from the Texas Board of Education. Times have changed, however. Now that scientific and archeological fields include respected women in their ranks, new revelations about the history of “mankind” show that women were much more than chattel and mere vessels of reproduction.
Women’s hands have shaped civilization as far back as six million years ago
Women’s hands have shaped civilization as far back as six million years ago, when the earliest humans began to walk upright. Some scientists now believe it was women who first stood up, so they could more easily carry food and their children. Worldwide legends cite women as the first domesticators of fire, just as women buried seeds in the ground, becoming the original botanists. From their plants and herbs, these women created healing treatments and pioneered in medicine. Needing something to hold their plentiful bounty, it is thought that women crafted pottery for this purpose, in addition to creating textiles and the earliest tools for digging. Even the invention of writing and the original alphabet have feminine roots, notes Merlin Stone in his book, When God Was a Woman (1978).
Cultures that appear to have been matriarchal, wherein lineage is traced by the mother’s heritage, were some of the most advanced societies of the ancient world, known as superior examples of peace, prosperity, equality and creativity. It wasn’t until around 3,000 B.C.—when men began to use metals to create weaponry, thereby birthing an age of war and dominance— that history took a fateful turn for women.
Ancient Matriarchal Societies
It is no coincidence that the first found figurative object, created around 30,000 B.C., is a depiction of a female form. While some scholars debate the specific meaning of numerous ancient feminine artifacts, archeologists generally confirm they represent a celebration of femininity: specifically, menstruation, pregnancy and childbirth as well as the seasonal migration of animals and the cycles of time on Mother Earth. These cycles of life defined the first 100,000 years of Homo sapiens’ existence. The Gate of Horn (1948) by Gertrude Rachel Levy, a pivotal book on Stone Age religion, affirms that the first “God” was in fact a Goddess. From the Upper Paleolithic to the Middle Neolithic— around 30,000 year— the only image of a God-like deity found painted on rock, carved in stone, or sculpted in clay, is depicted as a female.
Not only was the feminine revered spiritually, many scholars now believe early human culture was guided and sustained by an inner circle of women where human society evolved. And yet, these ancient civilizations with women inventors, producers, scientists, physicians, lawgivers, visionary shamans and artists have been hidden and ignored by Western male historians who believe that relevant history began only about 5,000 years ago with the dawn of patriarchy.
Material evidence shows these advanced matriarchal societies to be egalitarian in nature, with a balance or partnership between the sexes rather than a dominance of female over male.
A pervasive misconception of matriarchal societies implies that in cultures where women had positions of influence and power, females dominated men. Yet material evidence shows these advanced matriarchal societies to be egalitarian in nature, with a balance or partnership between the sexes rather than a dominance of female over male. Archeological sites display no hierarchical structures in housing or burials, supporting the hypothesis that there was no stratification between the sexes. While feminine ideals were worshiped and women attained positions of authority, they were not elevated at the expense of men, totally contradictory to the spirit of patriarchal systems.
Such an incomplete view of humanity has shaped the perception of our ancient history as a violent world of struggle and warrior domination, which is simply not accurate. Archeologists have unearthed sites across Europe, the Middle East and Asia where prosperous partnership societies lived in peace and abundance. The locations for these townships were chosen for their picturesque views and farming advantages rather than any defensive strategy. The evidence for this lies not only in the fact that fortifications are missing, but also in the absence of all references to warfare and weaponry in their art and architecture. Unfortunately, a lack of defensive skills made them easy prey for warring barbarians who eventually decimated their culture.
Southeastern Europe represents perhaps the greatest example of advanced matriarchal ancient civilization in the Neolithic period. Renowned Lithuanian-American archeologist Marija Gimbutas, known for her research into the Neolithic and Bronze Age cultures of “Old Europe” in her book, The Civilization of the Goddess (1991), states: “In the 5th and 4th millennia B.C., Old Europeans had towns with a considerable concentration of population, temples several stories high, a sacred script, spacious houses of four or five rooms, professional ceramicists, weavers, copper and gold metallurgists, and other artisans producing a range of sophisticated goods. A flourishing network of trade routes existed that circulated items such as obsidian, Venus of Willendorf, created around 28,000 B.C. 46 |shells, marble, copper, and salt over hundreds of kilometers.”
Within this region in early Crete, women were cultural leaders in all capacities, working as judges, doctors, athletes, artisans, priestesses and entrepreneurs. Cretan infrastructure was surprisingly advanced, with indoor plumbing running hot and cold water through ceramic pipes in homes, a system far more advanced than anything seen in Europe for another 3,500 years, and even today in some Third World countries. As a prominent trading center, fleets of ships traveled from Crete to South Africa, Ireland and the Near East. Their most enduring export was the Cretan linear script, which was passed down to the Greeks, notes Robert Graves in his book, The White Goddess (1976).
According to Gimbutas, the Old European culture was slowly destroyed from about 4,200 B.C. until the end of the third millennium B.C. Only fragments of the culture survived in parts of the Mediterranean world, particularly in Minoan Crete. When the Mycenaean invaded the Minoans around 1,450 B.C., the last remnants of Old Europe vanished, ending the Neolithic age.
Other important matriarchal cultures included the elegant and artistic Etruscans and the early Egyptians, with traces found in the later Egyptian empires as well. In these societies, families lived on land collectively owned by the mothers. A woman’s husband or lover lived with her kin-group while children lived with their mother’s family-group regardless of paternal lineage. Family property, including land and household goods, belonged solely to the women, clearly designated by ancient Egyptian law. They had full authority over their belongings and themselves, regardless of marital status.
The pre-Aryan Toda people of India, who practiced polyandry (the custom of having more than one husband at a time), were also a matrilocal culture whereby the husband lives with the wife’s community. They had an entirely different interpretation of modern-day polygamy: A woman chose a “social father” for her children among her many husbands, regardless of biological paternity. In these arrangements, the “father” did not automatically win the children’s affection and respect, he had to earn it. Even more common, the mother’s brother acted as “father” to her children, giving a whole new meaning to the “fun uncle” concept.
As hunter-gatherers and horticultural societies, the people spent only a small portion of their time actually working. They were, by and large, leisurely people who did not brutalize their neighbors, abuse or oppress women and children, or enslave others.
Steve Taylor describes another egalitarian ancient civilization in his book, The Fall: The Insanity of the Ego in Human History and the Dawning of a New Era (2005). Before 4,000 B.C. in “Saharasia” (the Middle East and Central Asia), Taylor suggests the people who inhabited the area were easily supported by the land. As hunter-gatherers and horticultural societies, the people spent only a small portion of their time actually working. They were, by and large, leisurely people who did not brutalize their neighbors, abuse or oppress women and children, or enslave others. When conflicts arose, they were resolved by committee, with both men and women participating in the governance of the tribe or band.
Rise of Man
The escalation of male dominance transformed many societies from peaceful and egalitarian organizations to a hierarchic and violent order ruled by brutality and greed. While there are disagreements among archeologists as to the extent of partnership societies across the globe in ancient times, scholars agree around 4,000 years ago there was a significant move towards cultural stratification. Feminine symbolism and a solid ideological emphasis on settlement and safety was replaced by warlike, individualistic, wild and masculine dogma. The settlements disappeared, gravesites became individualized with artifacts of weaponry, “the Goddess” was eventually eradicated and the status of women radically weakened. This period marks the beginning of history that is taught in high schools around the country, which could more aptly be identified as “his story.”
This period marks the beginning of history that is taught in high schools around the country, which could more aptly be identified as “his story.”
While some archeologists first theorized that the discovery of metals resulted in a dramatic cultural shift toward war and weaponry, it is now proven that metals were widely used in ancient societies for ornamentation and tools. It was the change in the use of metals as weapons that made such a profound difference. Gimbutas suggests Kurgan invaders from the Ukrainian steppe used their primitive weaponry to conquer and brutalize the peaceful Old European cultures. In addition, the invaders’ domestication of horses precipitated the relatively quick spread of domination and patriarchy across Europe.
A contrasting theory by Taylor suggests that masculine domination was predicated by the rise of socially stratified hierarchical politics within European cultures, institutionalized violence and the individualized ego associated with a period of climatic stress. As the lush grasslands and forests of Saharasia turned into dry, barren desert, harmonious abundance morphed into scarcity and fear, leading the people to spread out across Asia, Europe and North Africa in search of sustenance. The collective nature of the tribe disappeared as individuals struggled to survive, leading to the rise of the ego and warrior invasions. Peace was replaced by endless warring, suppression (especially of women and children) and dogmatic religion.
The Old Europeans were no match for their invaders. The sedentary horticulturalists with unfortified townships were systematically decimated by the Kurgan warriors who lived in small villages or seasonal settlements to graze their animals over vast regions. The Old Europeans, who based their economy on farming, focused on agricultural cycles of birth, death and regeneration embodied by Mother Earth. In contrast, the Kurgan ideology worshiped warrior gods, the thunderous sky and the “lethal power of the sharp blade,” states Riane Eisler in her book, The Chalice and The Blade (1988).
It is suggested that Kurgans massacred most of the local men and children, sparing some of the women to take them as concubines, wives and slaves. Spreading across Europe, each wave of invasion brought physical devastation to the Old European towns, as well as what historians call cultural impoverishment. As new settlements began to appear, they were far less technologically and culturally advanced, with an economy now based primarily on stock breeding.
During this time, at the dawn of the Bronze Age, men began to organize systematic control over women’s production and reproduction. Women as a commodity, much like their cattle, became property for men. They began to take over women’s handcrafts such as textiles and pottery, as well as the cultivation of herbs, recognizing the potential to capitalize the mass production of these products. As their understanding and collection of wealth grew through cattle breeding, men transferred these principles to women—the source of the most valuable commodity of all… humans. They turned the female body into a machine for producing more wealth via children. The number of children women were expected to bear greatly multiplied, notes Eisler. Even primates nurse one baby for three to six years before becoming pregnant again. Women’s bodies simply were not meant to produce baby after baby, year after year; but more children equaled more male workers or females to lucratively trade as wives.
Religion of Gods
While it is an uncomfortable subject for many, the rise of patriarchal dominance is inextricably linked to the expansion of Judeo-Christian and Islamic religions. In order for patriarchal systems to take over, it wasn’t enough to control a woman’s body; it became imperative to take over her spirit as well. In Greek and Middle Eastern mythology, women were suppressed but retained some level of authority among the gods. Eventually, most of the functions formerly associated with female deities were reassigned to gods. As cultural anthropologist Ruby Rohrlich- Leavitt points out, “When the patron of the scribes changed from a goddess to a god, only male scribes were employed in the temples and palaces, and history began to be written from an androcentric perspective”— the practice of placing a masculine point of view at the center of one’s world view, culture and history.
Hebrew tribes accelerated the ideological transformation until the Bible eventually removed all divine power of the Goddess. Eisler writes, “Symbolically the absence of the Goddess from the officially sanctioned Holy Scriptures was the absence of the divine power to protect women and avenge the wrongs inflicted upon them by men.”
On a practical level, the sexual freedom of women was a threat to the social and economic fabric of a strictly controlled, male-dominated society. It was a necessity to enact severe punishment and laws to regulate a woman’s virginity to protect what was essentially economic transactions between men. To secure their investment, divinely mandated power was given to Hebrew fathers to stone to death daughters who were suspected of being non-virgins before marriage. Mothers had no power to stop their daughters from being brutally murdered for the “crime” of having a broken hymen—a condition which doctors confirm happens to about 50% of females by accident.
In Judeo-Christian and Islamic religions, killing in war has been divinely sanctioned, as has plundering, raping and destroying entire cities. At the root of the worst atrocities known to humanity, religion— based on divine doctrines magically communicated as the “Word of God” to male priests—has been supported by armies, courts of law and executioners. Even today, the rise of fundamentalist Islamic religion is a source of terror around the world and continues to enslave women in the most inhumane, brutal manner.
We’re bringing to the table only half the needs of the human race.
In stark contrast, some modern theologians such as Sister Joan Chittister have a much different interpretation of the Bible, even suggesting Jesus was a feminist. From the official scriptures, it is clear that he rejected the rigid segregation and subordination of women of his time. Sister Joan has spent the better part of her 78 years writing over 50 books shining a spotlight on injustice, particularly the plight of women. “We are now at the place where men are running everything, which means that humanity is seeing with one eye, hearing with one ear and thinking with one half of the human brain. No wonder we’re doing the things we’re doing! We’re bringing to the table only half the needs of the human race,” she says. “The moment a woman comes home to herself, the moment she knows that she has become a person of influence, an artist of her life, a sculptor of her universe, a person with rights and responsibilities who is respected and recognized, the resurrection of the world begins.”
For over 4,000 years, patriarchal religiouseconomic systems have exploited human, animal, vegetable and mineral resources, systematically converting nature’s energy into profit and power for few. This manmade machine has plundered the globe and shredded Mother Nature, turning “whales into dog food, ancient forest into toothpicks, and the oily black blood and metallic veins of the earth into nuclear missiles, beer cans and smog,” write Monica Sjöö and Barbara Mor in their book, The Great Cosmic Mother (1987).
This manmade machine has plundered the globe and shredded Mother Nature, turning “whales into dog food, ancient forest into toothpicks, and the oily black blood and metallic veins of the earth into nuclear missiles, beer cans and smog.
The global assembly line forever churns out consumer junk and poisoned foods drowned in chemicals, transporting “goods” back and forth across the world. The machine itself is now replacing humans, as robots and artificial intelligence gobble up jobs…pushing more people to the bottom of the heap. We have more than enough resources for every human on the planet to have food and shelter, and yet millions of children go hungry every day, even in America. As corporations and politicians conspire to hoard spiraling profits and power, the masses are beginning to revolt. Yet, ironically, they are putting their faith in the very masters of the machine.
Likewise, the past 4,000 years of patriarchal dominance have been characterized by war and economic exploitation. The global economy exists essentially as an economy of war, with virtually all national military budgets exceeding domestic expenditures. In 2015 the International Institute for Strategic Studies reported that the United States spent $597.5 billion on defense, which is almost 10 times the Russian budget of $65.6 billion, and four times more than China’s $145.8 billion. To further illustrate the absurdity of our budgetary tragedy, the chart below shows that defense accounts for more than half of ALL spending in the U.S. Meanwhile, the current Trump administration is asking for even more money, a 10% increase in defense spending, to feed the outrageous militarized apparatus of war.
Leaders use fear to terrify the masses into supporting their greed for money and control. Statistics plainly show the absurdity of this military shame. Women are more than 400 times more likely to die at the hands of their husband than from a terrorist; approximately 4,000 American women die each year from domestic violence, and fewer than 10 from a terrorist. For millenniums, men have patronized women and patted us on our heads, telling us not to worry—they would protect us. But in reality, they are the ones we should fear.
Whether we are getting ready to fight, fighting others or fighting among ourselves, it makes no difference anymore. We live in a perpetual state of war. As Sjöö and Mor describe, “All humanity today lives under one global god: the God of War, who is continuously empowered and enlarged by the religion of money.” The world’s male population has been funneled into armies, military technicians and researchers, thereby turning war into the major mode of male survival. While women sustain agricultural and craftwork in many Third World nations—making up at least 80% of the light-assembly workforce in the global “Free Trade Zone,” elsewhere struggling to keep themselves and their children alive in the expanding refugee camps created by incessant war—males are often only able to obtain employment, food and shelter by joining the military, the national guard or other armed policing force, thereby perpetuating the War God machinery on all levels of belief, power and survival.
Men fear the day women refuse to participate in the continual cycle of greed and intimidation that has been inflicted upon them and their children for thousands of years. They would like to continue the charade that males can be free while females remain dominated and enslaved, just as white imperialists pretended to be soulful, good people while colonizing and brutalizing indigenous cultures. Only now, everyone is in one way or another enslaved and dominated by the machine. “The opposite of life is not death, but to become a mechanism,” write Sjöö and Mor.
Rather than annihilate the machine and denounce progress, it is up to us to discover how modern technologies can be used in a cooperative-communal system…not for the profit of a few, but for the benefit of all. We must reject the patriarchal suggestion that there are only two choices: man’s capitalism or man’s communism. There is another way: a partnership cooperative in which resources are shared and strengths are used to benefit everyone. Hard work and skill should be rewarded, but not at the expense of the vast majority of the population. Societies are made up of a collection of people who are intertwined. Opportunities must be honestly given regardless of race, gender or ethnicity, and nature must be valued at least as much as technology.
Instead of income redistribution, perhaps a better system would be resource distribution.
Instead of income redistribution, perhaps a better system would be resource distribution. We should evaluate how each individual can best contribute to society, whether it be in the form of money or time. If a person is not highly trained in a lucrative field, they still have valuable skills to contribute, perhaps in the form of maintaining a communal garden, building shelters or caring for children.
Instead of fixating on the past and all that has been lost, we must look to the future and what could be much better than anything ever known. Advances can be utilized to make life more enjoyable for all rather than stockpiled for the benefit of only a few as the masses are marginalized and displaced. Comprehensive retraining for people should be offered for those whose professions are diminished with advances in technology, robotics and A.I. Wide-ranging strategies developing new structures within our society should focus on partnership rather than division and dominance. Bill Gates recently introduced an interesting suggestion to tax robots the equivalent of a personal income tax to offset the loss of a job. Proceeds from such a tax could be used to retrain individuals and improve the quality of life for all.
We must seek creative solutions and find common ground to end the perpetual warring cycle, socioeconomic inequality and the systematic destruction of our planet. Our descendants cannot eat, drink or breathe bombs and bullets. We must protect what is sacred and value that which gives us life.
It takes 40 weeks to create a human life, but only milliseconds to destroy one.
These ancient matriarchal civilizations show us a new view of cultural evolution. Male dominance, violence, war and totalitarianism are not inevitable, eternal truths. A more peaceful, egalitarian way of life structured around partnership rather than dominance is not just a utopian dream, but a sustainable possibility for the future of humanity. If we learn anything from these early partnership societies, let it be the possibility of using technological advances to primarily make life more enjoyable for all, rather than to hoard and destroy.
Millions of children need not be condemned to die of hunger every year while trillions of dollars are poured into ever more advanced ways to kill. It takes 40 weeks to create a human life, but only milliseconds to destroy one. Perhaps lasting peace in the human experience is one that combines the mystical wisdom of God and Mother Earth to amend the history of mankind with a new story of humankind.
Written by Jules Lewis Gibson, founder and editor in chief of GRAVITAS Magazine
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