Myth of Matriarchy

Historical facts, not fiction

Deborah – “Queen Bee”, a ruler of Israel in the matriarchal period…The Bible called her a “prophetess” and “judge” to disguise the fact that she was one of the governing matriarchs of a former age.

War – A primary patriarchal contribution to culture, almost entirely absent from the matriarchal societies of the Neolithic and early Bronze Ages.

Villages grew into the first towns and cities. The Goddess was painted on the plastered walls of shrines, giving birth to the Divine child – her consort, son, and seed…Mathematics, astronomy, poetry, music, medicine, and the understanding of the working of the human mind developed side by side with the lore of the deeper mysteries.

But later, cultures developed that devoted themselves to the arts of war. Wave after wave of Indo-European invasions swept over Europe from the Bronze Age on. Warrior Gods drove the Goddess peoples out from the fertile lowlands and fine temples…The mythological cycle of Goddess and Consort, Mother and Divine child, which had held sway for 30 thousand years, was changed to conform to the values of the conquering patriarchies.

In short, women equal good, men equal bad.

Besides the implied sexism, the theory is just bad history. There is no conclusive historical evidence of a matriarchal civilization having ever existed anywhere. There have been, and still are, matrilineal societies, in which inheritance and/or genealogy is traced through the female line. But this in no way implies a superiority or even an equality of the feminine gender in these societies. Jews, for example, are traditionally a strongly patriarchal yet matrilineal culture.

Something else to consider: if these matriarchies were so great, stable and powerful, how did the marauding men manage to so easily take over?

Since I first stated “there is no such thing as a matriarchal civilization,” several people have named possible matriarchal cultures. First, there is a difference between cultures and civilizations. Small jungle tribes do not fit any accepted definition of a civilization, which generally includes written records and complex political and social institutions. I’ve also twice been pointed in the direction of a large matriarchal society in part of China which I’ve not been able to read up on yet, so I will not say categorically that this claim is wrong or right.

So, in the interests of accuracy, I shall limit the above statement slightly. There have been no matriarchal civilizations in Europe or the Middle East, which is the location generally given for these mythological, Goddess worshipping matriarchies. There are no pre-historical (i.e. before writing) societies in this area that are obviously matriarchal either. That does not mean that they were patriarchies. Quite the opposite, we strongly suspect tat societies generally were more egalitarian the farther back in time they are. Note the word “suspect.” Without written records, it is frequently impossible to understand an extinct culture’s specific beliefs and practices. Maybe there were matriarchies. Maybe pigs will fly. So far, however, there is evidence of neither. (Although Israel certainly never had a “matriarchal period,” as mentioned above.)

There was also never a time when the Goddess reigned supreme, to the best of our knowledge. Stating as fact the details of Neolithic and Paleolithic religions is irresponsible, due to the extreme lack of evidence on which to base such theories.

The existence of Paleolithic Venuses is no more evidence of a goddess-centered culture than the pictures and bones of bears proves a divine bear-centered Paleolithic culture.

We’re not even sure the “Venus” figurines are goddesses. They may, for example, have been part of some system of sympathetic magic. It’s not like we find these things inside identifiable temples or shrines. We find them scattered among other belongings. And there’s nothing to idencate that Neolithic and Bronze Age people were not involved in warfare. Quite the opposite, bronze was important precisely because it made better tools – including weapons – than stone. While a spear might be for hunting and an ax for collecting wood, there is no purpose for a bronze sword other than fighting humans.

One small step down the from matriarchal society theories are those stating that in pagan societies men were the official kings but it was their wives who actually held the true power. Barbara G. Walker’s The Women’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets is over a thousand pages of attempting to cram every legendary woman into this role and every man into a sacrificial king, ruling only at the whim of his wife. It’s really painful reading.

First off, if having to hide behind the facade of your husband is what you call equality, you’ve got issues. Second, this sort of clandestine arrangement as an official and permanent fixture of a society is implausible. Yes, it happened (and still happens), but on a case-by-case basis. It is an arrangement that might be momentarily accepted, but it certainly isn’t going to be promoted by a society as a whole as an institution.