Ancient matriarchy is a vast and complex subject with many dimensions. Before getting into the details of this subject it is imperative for us to understand that we have come to a stage of human evolution where we are trying to reach the higher realms of consciousness for creative and generative action. In fact the time has come for the return of the feminine.
Ancient matriarchy: From the age of the "Leo Lion" to the age of the "Aquarius"
From the age of the "Leo Lion" which was dominated by the masculine principle we have reached the age of the "Aquarius" which is dominated by the feminine principle. The return of the feminine principle does not mean the ruthless domination of the world as that was seen during the masculine principle dominated era. It only means that we are getting closer to nature and we are looking at a balance being established between the feminine and the masculine principles of nature. In this way we are integrating the masculine and feminine energies and coordinating the right and the left hemispheres of the brain for a balance in consciousness. This balance of forces will allow us to understand the higher perspective of life and will show us a new door for the evolution of humanity.
Ancient Matriarchy: The era of feminine superiority and dominance
We have to acknowledge the fact that the universe is constantly changing and realigning but the sum total of everything still remains the same. The change can also be seen in the dominance of forces and energies. We are almost at the end of the era represented by male dominance which was characterized by the use of ruthless power and control in managing things. This led to unprecedented destruction and chaos. As everything changes this era of male dominance is giving way to a new era of female superiority. This will be the era of balance of forces and hence it will be dominated by love, compassion, healing and nurturing. This new age will be constructive and generative in nature.
Ancient Matriarchy: The cyclical form of existence and the return of the divine feminine
In actuality everything that is happening is taking place in a cyclical form and the sum total of everything remains the same. Prior to the current era of male dominance there existed an age of feminine superiority which ensured equality and balance of forces. Then came the time of ruthless masculine dominance and now again the pendulum is swinging back to usher in the era of feminine superiority. This is a time when the balance in nature will be re-established because of the higher expressions of the consciousness. This will be the coming of an era of enormous creative and generative energy represented by the divine feminine. The return of the divine feminine will usher in the era of a matriarchal order based on love, compassion, nurturing and healing.
Ancient Matriarchy: The roots of the divine feminine
In fact the roots of the divine feminine can be seen around the world in many societies and religions. Either the divine feminine has been revered as a holy mother or as a primordial force that has existed even before the “existence” itself. In one sect of Christianity the divine feminine is represented in the form of the divine mother. In Hebrew the Matriarchs, known as the mothers are four important women who are considered as the ancestral “mothers” of the ancient children of the Jews. In Hinduism the divine mother is known as Shakti. In Buddhism the “White Tara” symbolizes the highest form of spiritual transformation through the divine feminine and womanhood. Tara liberates the follower from the bondage of ignorance and shows the path of liberation to her loved ones. In Hinduism she is also revered as Kali. Kali is symbolized as the primordial feminine force that transcends time and that which existed even before “existence” itself. In many other native religions like paganism and neo-paganism as well as localized sects and tribes the divine feminine exists as a very powerful manifestation of nature.
Ancient Matriarchy: The existence of the matriarchal society and the goddess cult
The worship of the divine feminine dates back to the ancient cultures and the prehistoric times. The myths or oral traditions and Neolithic female cult-figures as “divine feminine” suggest that many ancient societies were matriarchal. In all the areas of the near and middle east during the Neolithic period there appeared to have been a widespread Goddess cult, based on the recovery of the so-called Venus figurines from widely scattered archaeological sites. The close resemblance of style in these figurines suggests that a similarity of worship and rituals could also have existed. This Goddess cult could very well have been the origin of all matriarchal societies, especially those of an agricultural bias, such as Egypt and its neighbours to the northeast in the Mesopotamia. There is also a theory of the existence of a widespread matriarchal culture in pre-Indo-European Old Europe of the Neolithic.
Ancient Matriarchy: The prehistoric times
On the other hand there is also a belief that the existence of matriarchal societies even dates prior to the ancient cultures extending to the prehistoric times. There is an argument on the existence of post-glacial female-structured tribes in Europe, whose characteristics were typical as of Basques. Further genetic evidence also points towards a homogenous pre-Indo-European population whose genes were akin to Basques. Moreover recent linguistic studies carried mainly in Germany corroborate that assumption.
Ancient Matriarchy: Gender equality in the ancient matriarchal societies
These ancient and prehistoric matriarchal societies were gender neutral and women enjoyed equal status in these societies as of men. But later there was a widespread fall in women's rights from East to West, in synchronicity with the Indo-European invasions. Among the other kind of atrocities that were meted out against women, colleges of priestesses were persecuted and replaced by colleges of priests which can be emphasized based on archaeological and historical evidence and relating it to the ancient myths.
Ancient Matriarchy: Matriarchal studies and research on matriarchy
Widespread research is being carried out to unearth the hidden truths related to the existence of ancient matriarchal societies. Renewed interest and focus on this subject has resulted in extensive study of the matriarchal societies that exists even today in the form of indigenous tribes and populations across the world. We now have a vigorous movement especially focussed on the matriarchal studies and two international conferences called as the World Congress on Matriarchal Studies has already been conducted in 2003 and 2005. In these conferences details of still existing matriarchal societies were also presented by scholars and indigenous speakers.
Ancient Matriarchy: Reverence of the feminine
From the studies conducted on the existing matriarchal societies as well as those from history we can find that women had enjoyed dignified and prominent position in these societies. The “order” of the matriarchal society always gave additional importance to the feminine recognizing the immense capacity of the feminine in terms of love, compassion, nurturing and healing leading to unification of the creative and generative forces of nature. In such matriarchal societies which exists even today the power is with the females of the community especially the mothers or the matriarchs. It is also called as gynecocracy or gynocracy.
Ancient matriarchy: Matrilineality and matrilocality
Related to matriarchy is the concept of matrilineality and matrilocality. Matrilineality is a subsystem of matriarchy where children are identified in terms of their mother rather than their father, and extended families and tribal alliances form along female blood lines. Matrilocality on the other hand describes societies where maternal authority is prominent in domestic relations, owing to the husband joining the wife's family, rather than the wife moving to the husband's village or tribe, such that she is supported by her extended family, and husbands tend to be more socially isolated.
Ancient Matriarchy: The origin of Matriarchy in ancient Egypt
The origin of matriarchy in Egypt dates back to the ancient times of the Neolithic period when it is believed that there was a widespread goddess cult. During this ancient period the society was matriarchal in nature and two goddesses were prominent in terms of their worship by the society. These goddesses were known as Nekhebt and Ua Zit.
Ancient Matriarchy: Goddess Ua Zit
Goddess Ua Zit was also known as Hathor and her "legend related to creation" shows close resemblance to that of the legend of Tiamet, a goddess from nearby Mesopotamia. It was believed that Ua Zit or Hathor was the primal serpent which existed from the beginning of time. She was credited with the making of the heaven, earth, and all life. When things became uncontrollably corrupt, Hathor also threatened to destroy all creation and return back to her primal state of serpent behind all things. The existence of similar goddesses clearly shows that during that period which corresponds to the Neolithic times, Goddess cult and matriarchal societies of similar nature with close cultural influence were widespread in the east and west.
In fact the myths and religious traditions are one of the best indicators to study and understand a society. The Egyptian civilianization was one of the oldest human civilizations and the early part of it was matriarchal in nature. This extended from a prehistoric time up until the first appearance of Osiris c. 3000 B.C.
Ancient Matriarchy: The origin of the goddess cult
The origin of the goddess cult would have begun with the early clans of Egypt which were matrilineal in nature and where the mother was the primary parent of her family. In these clans the family lineage was always traced through the feminine gender, going from the mother to daughter. It is believed that after many generations of such lineage, the oldest ancestors of the clan would have first been revered, then deified and finally mythologized into becoming a proto-goddess of the type of Nekhebt and Ua Zit.
Ancient Matriarchy: Female superiority in the matriarchal societies of Egypt
The matriarchal societies of Egypt from the Neolithic times had openly pronounced female superiority. Women were actually involved with the prominent roles in the society including the role of the breadwinner. Women went to marketplace where they carried out the business affairs. When it came to the matter of ancestral properties, daughters inherited the ancestral properties of the family and not the son. This was also true regarding the royal throne. Women had complete control of their home and matters related to property.
Ancient Matriarchy: The fall of the Egyptian matriarchy and the entrenchment of the patriarchal structure
But all these changed with times as repeated outside invasions and the social, cultural, political and religious influences due to these invasions slowly started to change the structure of the Egyptian society which was predominately matriarchal in the beginning. Male deities were introduced and the ancient female goddesses were demoted and later totally abolished from religious practices. During these times "Isis" remained as the only female deity among the many other male deities who were considered as predominant and supreme. These changes also reflected in the orientation of the society. The matriarchal structure of the society started to become weaker and weaker as repeated invasions led to the entrenchment of patriarchal form of social structure where more importance was now given to the masculine gender. All the major roles in the society which included the roles related to the religious and economic activities were now controlled by the male members of the family. The male members of the family also earned inheritance rights and the family lineage was now traced from father to son rather than mother to daughter.
Ancient Matriarchy: Imposition of restrictions on women
The female members of the family were restricted in the sense that their roles were curtailed and limited to only looking after the immediate family in terms of procreation and bringing up the young in the family. The female members eventually lost control of even selecting their male partners as more often the male members married from outside Egypt and brought wives from other nearby societies. This was the situation that was also seen in the royal family. The lineage for determining the successor to the throne was now decided through the male members of the royal family.
Ancient matriarchy: The end of matriarchy in Egypt
By c. 1570 BC, patriarchy was firmly entrenched in Egypt, and it was also during this time that there were no priestesses available in the temples, and the word pharaoh came to be applied solely to the king rather than the royal house. This drastic change in the social structure culminated in c. 1300 BC with the religious revolution of Akhnaton.
Ancient matriarchy: Akhnaton and the establishment of patriarchy in Egypt
Akhnaton not only rejected all deities of that particular time barring the male deity Ra, who he renamed Aten, but he also relocated the traditional seat of power to El Amarna. In doing this, he succeeded in finally establishing a patriarchal society, nearly seventeen hundred years after the first introduction of male deities to Egyptian theology. This did not completely decimate the worship of Isis as a female deity. Followers of Isis spread outward in a variety of directions as the years progressed but definitely it was the end of matriarchy in Egypt.
Ancient Matriarchy: Other ancient Matriarchies of the world
The Aegean culture zone exhibited matriarchal societies where the goddess cult existed in the form of worship of the great Minoan Goddess. In these societies women and men were considered equals and this was akin to the characteristic of matriarchy which is gender neutral and espouses gender equality. Written myths are available about these societies.
Ancient Matriarchy: The Amazon society
Even the Olympian mythology of classical Greece which is patriarchal in nature mentions about the existence of earlier matrilineal and matrifocal societies. Such a famous society is the Amazon society which was described by the Greeks in their classical mythologies. The Amazon society was considered as a Gynarchy with strong women and female warriors. In fact many cultures around the world have myths about a time when women were dominant. Several of these myths are from South American cultures. But the tragedy of things is that as matriarchy became weak in later times and as patriarchal structures dominated the world, these patriarchal societies portrayed "the women" from the early period of matriarchy as evil, thereby serving themselves with the ulterior motive of keeping the women under control.
Ancient Matriarchy: Amazon Feminism
From the myths of Amazon society, originates a form of feminism called as Amazon feminism. From the classical Greek myths we find that Amazon society was described as feminine gender dominated society where women were considered to be bold and of the warrior class. Amazon feminism is dedicated to this image of the female hero in fiction where the female is shown as strong and originating from the warrior class. In fact, Amazon feminism is expressed in art and literature with prominence given to the robust physiques of the feminine gender with lavish praise for the feats of female athletes and martial artists. It also portrays and promotes powerfully built women in gender-related situations and sexual orientations.
Ancient Matriarchy: Amazon feminism and gender equality
Amazon feminism is also concerned about physical equality and is opposed to gender role stereotypes and discrimination against women based on assumptions that women are supposed to look or behave as if they are passive, weak and physically helpless. Amazon feminism rejects the idea that certain characteristics or interests are inherently masculine and upholds and explores a vision of heroic womanhood. Amazon feminism supports and celebrates dominant women archetypes. It recognizes women who attain and express mental and physical prowess for example female strength athletes, martial artists, soldiers, women in combat, fire-fighters, lumberjacks, astronauts, power lifters, wrestlers, boxers, etc.
Ancient Matriarchy: Remnants of matriarchy in the form of Ancient Crete in the early patriarchal world
With the spread of the patriarchal structures around the world the ancient matriarchal structures went into a decline and finally were wiped out from many parts of the world. But even during this turbulent period of early patriarchal world, followers of the goddess cult and the matriarchal order concentrated at one place called as the ancient Crete which is today widely regarded as a center of matriarchy that existed in those turbulent times. Feminine imagery, both sacred and secular was found much later in Crete than in most centers of civilisation. To the Amazons, the island-center became known over the centuries as "Half-heretical Crete". The reason for calling this island-centre as “Half-heretical Crete” stemmed from the traditions that were followed here which went back a long way into the earlier times. This included the worship of famous images of the supreme Mother Goddess, in which subordinate godlings sometimes play a minor role. In fact long before the decadence of Atlantis, ancient Crete was a center for a particular form of diluted Deanism which means a system that worships the Supreme Mother. This was the original religion of the world which worshiped the divine feminine as the supreme deity and which only admitted masculine figures into minor roles as "divine" entities".
Ancient Matriarchy: Remnants of matriarchal leanings in the highly entrenched patriarchy of the early modern Europe
Looking at recent European history we can find that even though patriarchy was well entrenched in Europe in the early modern period there existed societies where traces of goddess cult was seen but with far lesser freedom to women. On the other hand there were also societies where women enjoyed relatively more freedom but which openly suppressed religious cult related to goddess worship. But these situations can only be considered as remnants of an older matricidal system surviving in a patriarchal structure. Example is the seventeenth century Spain where many religious institutions were staffed exclusively by women. A female quasi-deity was part of public religious veneration, and cult images of female supernatural beings were seen. On the other hand in the seventeenth century Netherlands, the worship of female quasi-deities was emphatically rejected and female clergy did not exist. Yet, the social and legal status of women was much higher in the Netherlands than in Spain during this period. In the Netherlands, women were freer to move about unwatched, and could own businesses of their own and separate property. In Spain, their public roles, and their rights under both law and unwritten custom, were sharply circumscribed.
Article by Sanjay Nair
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