It is with great pleasure that I open up the room to a guest post today. Welcome to Linnea Tanner! Linnea is an intriguing writer who pens blog posts and books about history, mythology and more. Here is her guest post about the re-examination of human history for gender roles.
To understand the present and the alternative pathways for future social evolution, we must re-examine human history to understand how religion supports and perpetuates the social order it reflects. Earlier ancient legends spoke of a more harmonious and peaceful age that the ancient Greek poet, Hesiod, wrote of as “a golden race” who tilled the soil in “peaceful ease” before a “lesser race” brought in their god of war.
These legends tell of a time when women and men lived together harmoniously in partnership.
Today, many of us view these legends as fantasy. But did this Golden Age actually exist?
The Chalice and the Blade, written by Riane Eisler, provides a new perspective, based on piecing together ancient art, archaeology, religion, mythology, social science, and historical records, that the current presupposition that women are dependent and secondary to man has not always been divinely ordained.
World of the Goddess
Archaeological findings and mythology point to an era where our prehistoric ancestors worshipped the Goddess. Neolithic art portrays a rich array of symbols from nature that is associated with the worship of the Goddess and attests to the awe and wonder of the beauty and mystery of life.
Everywhere—in mural, statues, and votive figures—there is the image of the divine Mother cradling her child. In the shrines of the Neolithic settlement of Catal Huyak (approximately 7000 BC), female figurines were found near the shrines.
Often the Goddess is surrounded by powerful animals such as leopards and particularly the bulls. As a symbol of the unity of all life in nature, she is sometimes represented as part human and part animal.
Just as all life is born from her, it also returns to her in death to be once again reborn. Worldwide, the deification of the female in the various ancient civilizations was probably based on her biological ability to give birth and to nourish as the earth does.
One technologically advanced society where the Goddess was supreme was the Minoan society in Crete that was eventually displaced by warlike male gods. The destruction of the society provides a window on how a peaceful culture whose social structure was based on the partnership between women and men was catastrophically changed.
Their social organization evolved from a matrilineal clan to a more centralized organization around 2000 BC, as a result of the agrarian economy changing to stock breeding, industry, and particularly trade that contributed to its prosperity. Though the urban centers were technologically advanced, the architecture of the cities allowed Minoans the opportunity to enjoy nature.
One of their entertainments was the bull-sport where young men and women working in teams would take turns grasping the horn of the charge bull and somersaulting over its back. These games vividly illustrate the partnership between women and men in this society.
What brought about the radical cultural change to the ancient Goddess society? And how does this impact us today?
Gods of War
Beginning in 5000 BC, there was a long line of invasions from nomadic people from the Asiatic and European north. Ruled by powerful priests and warriors, they brought the male gods of wars, e.g. Ares, Greek God of War.
Their social organization was based on male dominance which was characterized by acquiring material wealth through conquest and destruction. Around 1000 BC, the onslaught of these invaders was catastrophic. There was wholesale destruction of towns, of shrines, and of art. Masses of people were massacred and enslaved.
The cultural norm was men with the greatest power to destroy rise to the top; the social structure became hierarchical and authoritarian.
One of the most famous of these invaders was the Semitic people called the Hebrews. The moral precepts we associate with Judaism and Christianity and the stress on peace in many churches and synagogues obscures the historical fact that these early Semites were a warring people ruled by a caste of warrior-priests.
Like the other Indo-European invaders, they brought a fierce god of war (Jehovah or Yahweh). And gradually, as we read in the Bible, they imposed much of their ideology and way of life on those they conquered.
Evidence suggests most of the local men and children were massacred in these conquests, but women were often spared to take as concubines, wives, or slaves. This standard practice is found in the Old Testament (Numbers 31) in which the children of Israel were commanded by the LORD to war against the Midianites, to slay all the males, including the little ones, and to kill any woman who had lain with a man. “But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.”
Women who were closely identified with the old view of power symbolized by life-giving and sustenance were gradually reduced in status. The Goddess becomes the wife and consort to male deities who were associated with the destructive weapons and thunderbolts.
And eventually the Goddess disappears altogether in modern religion.
One of the best-known Greek myths speaks of an earlier and better time, the time of Atlantis, where, according to Plato, there once flourished a noble civilization. As we search today for pathways to a more equal social order, we must first look to the past to understand how religion reflects our culture and perpetuates our beliefs about the roles of women and men.
Riane Eisler, The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, Our Future; 1995; HarperOne: Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, New York.
About the Writer
Linnea is currently writing an epic historical fantasy set in 1st Century Britain and the Roman Empire.
Her blog, APOLLO’S RAVEN, post articles that reflect her passion for researching historical accounts, archaeological evidence and mythology of ancient civilizations that she uses in her writing.
Top photo: Fresco Women from Knossos Palace. Photo via Wikimedia Commons