Thoughts on Matriarchy

I plan to continue my posts regarding the psalms of the Marian Psalter in future posts. However right now I want to take a break from it. Recently the issue of matriarchy has come up within Deanic Conversations one of the egroups in which conversations regarding issues that are of interest to Goddess Monotheists can be discussed. Matrona Pamela Lanides recently mentioned to me that she plans to read a recently published book entitled Virgin Mother Goddesses of Antiquity by Marguerite Rigoglioso. The title intrigued me so I looked it up on my Kindle and downloaded its sample version which included its introduction and a small section of its first chapter. I was fascinated by what I read.

As a result I have ordered the book from Abebooks and hope to be able to continue my reading of it soon. Let me give a little background here. I was first introduced to the idea that the prehistorical period of humankind particularly in Ancient Europe was dominated by ancient matriarchies in the early 1980’s. For a while I bought into the idea but latter I came to agree with most modern academic archaeologists and historians who believe that matriarchies as defined as societies in which women / mothers rule all or most aspects of life have seldom if ever existed. A primary reason most academics and I following them have come to this conclusion is that there is no certain way of knowing the gender power relationships, the religions and deities of prehistorical societies because of the lack of literary evidence. Further more very few modern societies are matriarchies in the classical sense of being societies in which women rule.

However I have also been aware that alternative ideas of matriarchy are also advocated in which past matriarchal societies are viewed as having been egalitarian in nature in spite of the fact that these societies are supposed to have been female centric and to have reflected feminine values and not male values. Thus men within these matriarchal societies of the past were in no sense oppressed. I have tended to dismiss this idea in general because “matriarchy” is generally understood to mean the “rule of the mothers” as opposed to its polar opposite “patriarchy” the “rule of the fathers.”

I also have dismissed the idea of matriarchy because the ideas of matriarchy of which I have been aware have generally been associated with the idea that ancient matriarchies at least in Ancient Europe all shared in a universal religion in which the Great Mother, a Great (monotheistic) Goddess was universally worshipped. Matriarchal advocates following Marija Gimbutas‘ analysis also tended to believe that a great struggle occurred in the prepatriarchal period in which patriarchal Proto-Indo-European invaders (Kurgans) invaded and overthrew the peace loving and egalitarian matriarchal societies which existed primarily southeastern Ancient Europe. The issue of the struggle of matriarchy vs. patriarchy in other societies such as those of the Americas, East Asia and Africa tended to go unaddressed in the literature which I read.

This idea of ancient European Matriarchies tied to a universal religion of the Great Goddess has always seemed to me to be too much a reverse image of the patriarchal monotheism of Christianity. Another problem that I have had is that within much of the literature I read regarding Goddess Spirituality, it has seemed to me that males and male perceptions and achievements are often marginalized. In spite of all of its talk of non dualism it seemed to me that many forms of modern Goddess spirituality viewed the world as a dualism in which woman’s values and bodies and thus matriarchies represented everything peaceful, life affirming, sexual, and non hierarchical, while so-called male values and principles were represented as enviably life-denying, warlike, oppressive, etc. Thus the nature of all of history since the fall of the matriarchies tended to be viewed as one great nightmare. This of course was carried into the analysis of the Abrahamic faiths which of course were seen as having few if any redeeming values. I am not saying that I believe that all matriarchists have believed this. But it has been my impression that many, probably most did and do

Another realm of religious tradition of which I have had some awareness of over the years has been that of the religion of Native Americans and other native peoples of the modern world. While I am certainly not a scholar of these societies and their religions, I do have some awareness of the broad outline of the nature of their religions and societies. It seems to me that these societies particularly within the Americas in many ways have had systems of social organization and religion which may be similar to those of the ancient prehistorcial period of the human past. Thus it is reasonable to assume that the religions of many modern native societies which have often been characterized by the concepts and the practices of animism, totemism, shamanism, the worship of both female and male deities may be very similar to the forms of religion practiced by the peoples of Ancient Europe,.Asia, and Africa.

Furthermore many of these modern societies based on horticulturalist (hoe and digging stick) forms of agriculture in which women play a major economic role have practiced forms of community and family life which are matrilineal often matrifocal in character. While these societies make up only a small number of the worlds population, still millions of people live within these types of societies now. A matrilineal society is one in which property and inheritance is passed down from the female line not the patrilineal familial line which is the common practice within patriarchal societies. A matrifocal society is one in which the daughter upon marrying stays within and lives within the communal household of her mother and thus has a share in the communal property of her mother’s clan. Therefore she does not leave her family upon marriage, forsake it, and become incorporated within her husband’s family / clan. Both of these factors would tend to increase the personal autonomy, rights and economic status of daughters and women in general.

Paradoxically while one might think that the example of matrilineal societies and of native forms of religiosity might have lead me to a belief in ancient matriarchies. It did not. For one thing while it is certain that women within these types of societies must have had more powerful role than women within the classical patriarchal societies, it was also clear to me that according to much of the anthropological literature men at least on a political level often still played very powerful political roles perhaps dominant roles within these societies. Woman clearly did not dominate in these societies in a way that fit my own perception of what a matriarchy might be. Furthermore since my own perception of ancient matriarchies was enviably tied to the idea of a civilization centered around the universal worship of the Great Goddess the whole religious complex of animism, totemism and the worship of both male and female deities did not seem to support this.

Most of what I have discussed above applies to my thinking in the prior to my conversion to independent forms of Filianism / Deanism. Since that conversion my world view regarding these issues have not changed radically. However what has changed is that my interest the role of creator goddesses in earlier societies and in the idea that goddesses may have played a much greater role in earlier prehistorical societies has revived to a certain extant.

This of course returns me to Virgin Mother Goddesses of Antiquity. Within her introduction Rigoglioso redefines matriarchy. She argues based primarily on the scholarshp of the German Feminist scholar Heide Gottner-Abendroth that matriarchy should not be defined as the rule of the mothers. She instead argues that the “archy” suffix of “matri-archy” also had a meaning within the ancient Greek language as meaning the “origin” or “basis” of something. Thus matriarchy can properly be defined as a society in which the mothers are perceived as being at the “origin” or as the central “basis” of society. More importantly she defines the idea of matriarchy very broadly as being a roughly egalitarian society based on complementary roles of men and women in which the inheritance /descent line is based on matrilineal and matrifocal social structures. Thus matriarchy is no longer based on imaginary reconstructions of a distant, often over-romanticized and idealized past. It instead is very connected to forms of society which do exist in this world today and no doubt in forms of society which prevailed much more widely in more ancient times. This seems to me to be a much more interesting and perhaps realistic concept of matriarchy than is the one I have accepted over the years

According to the introduction of Rigoglioso’s book, what she hopes to accomplish is a full examination of the traditions of parthenogenesis ( virgin birth) surrounding of the several of the virgin goddesses of the Ancient MMediterranean civilization.

The process of her work starts with an examination of some of the lessor known goddesses, Chaos, Night, and Gaia from Hesiod’s Theogony and from the Orphic creation myth. Latter she moves on to major goddesses such as Metis, Athena, Hera, and Artemis. She also studies the very important Egyptian creator goddess Neith who the Greeks identified with Athena. As a result of these studies she believes she has developed a strong case in support of the idea that within the earlier prepatriarchal forms of Mediterranean civilization and society that the process of creation was generally seen ancient matriarchies as being based on a process of parthenogenesis by Virgin Mother Goddesses. This would provide support for the idea that widespread matriarchies may have prevailed at one time within ancient Mediterranean and European civilization and that the worship of powerful goddesses did prevail within those civilizations

Again I have not yet been able to read the full book. I do not know how persuasive her arguments will ultimately be. However her project does seem interesting and if successful the result will be very powerful in deed. Furthermore even if I do not find all of her arguments to be persuasive I will still feel that I have benefited by being introduced to the work of Heide Gottner-Abendroth.


5 thoughts on “Thoughts on Matriarchy

  1. Well, I will have to add that book back onto my Wish List again! Thank you for the preview of it, so to speak as well as your take on it. I’d like to see a balanced approach to understanding matriarchy and real-life historical cultures, and this sounds like a good introduction. Thank you for a wonderful post.

    • Kate actually Rigoglioso just briefly discusses modern matriarchal societies and she gives primary credit to the German feminist scholar Heide Kottner-Abendroth as the worlds primer expert in Matriarchal studies in her introduction to the book. Ms. Heide Gottner-Abendroth whose works have been translated into English has been attempting to encourage and systematize the study of modern matriarchies for thirty years. Her most important work is entitled Matriarchal Societies and I was able to borrow copy from the State Library of Ohio about five days ago and have just started reading it. It is about 500 pages long and seems to present a thorough discussion of the most significant modern matriarchal societies around the world, ranging from such places as Nepal, India, Tibet, and China to societies in Africa,Indonesia and the Americas. I am currently just on the first chapter in which she presents a brief summary of modern day matriarchal studies from the 1800s when the word “matriarchy” was first coined up through the work of Marija Gimbutas until the present. The only problem I have with her writing so far is that she discusses the issue in the black and white terms which is common to radical circles of the ideological left in which most of what does not conform their own world view is treated quite judgmentally. On the other hand in spite of this her scholarship so far seems to me to be excellent and I really do believe that her book will be very exciting.

      I do have my own copy of Virgin Mother Goddesses of Antiquity now and have done some reading of the first few chapters. I am not sure what I think of it so far. For example I really liked Rigoglioso’s section regarding the very important Egyptian Goddess Neith. On the other hand she ties Neith very closely to the Amazons which several ancient writers believed had existed in Libya / North Africa. She seems to take the Amazonian legends and statements made about the these societies by ancient authors almost completely at face value. I have a problem with this because to be honest while I believe that there are real facts which lay behind the Amazon legends of the Greeks; I do believe that there were some ancient societies in which women did do some fighting at times: I do not believe that any societies existed in the Ancient World in which men were basically absent and in which women regularly played the role of warriors. I can think of a multiple of reasons why such a societies would have been seriously handicapped and could not have survived. I can list these reasons at another time if need be.

      Another problem I am having with Rigoglioso is her belief that several important orders of priestesses existed in ancient societies organized around the purpose of enabling human women to give birth to heroes and heroines parthenogenetically ie via virgin birth. She apparently believes that these orders of priestesses believed that it might be possible for women to achieve virgin births based on the example of the goddesses which they worshipped . To be blunt this all seems to me to fantastical. So the point is I do plan to continue reading the book but right now I am having some issues with it. If I were going to recommend a book for others to read at this time I would recommend Matriarchal Societies by Kottner-Abendroth but not Virgin Mother Goddesses of Antiquity at this time. Perhaps latter after I have read more of Rigoglioso’s book I would recommend it. Note Matriarchal Societies is expensive. Editions are available at Abebooks and most of the prices run around $76.00 and go up from there. I get most of the new books which I wish to read from the Ohio Link which links most of the various university and college libraries of Ohio. One can request a book at one of the libraries connected to Ohio link and within a week one will be able to pick it up. I am sure that most other states have identical services to Ohio link. In that way I can examine a book before deciding if I want to purchase it. I can of course simply decide the read the borrowed book and not purchase a copy.


      • Glenn, thank you for the clarification and the book suggestion. It might be available via Interlibrary Loan so I will check it out there.

  2. Reblogged this on The Matronite Flame and Chantry and commented:
    Glenn King has written yet another powerful article, this time, on the original nature of Matriarchy. On a personal note, I don’t think I believe that there have been past civilizations where women ruled, either. I do support the idea of an original Goddess or Divine Mother centered religion where the Divine Mother is Source from Whom all else flows, including the female and the male.

  3. A very powerful article, Glenn. As I commented when I reblogged, I have never really bought into the idea of a matriarchal civilization, per say. Not a world-wide one, anyway. However, I do feel there is growing evidence in support of a past worship which focused on the Goddess or Divine Mother as the Ultimate Source of All.

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