Prehistory Was Female-Centered
(Excerpt from Cyborgs Versus the Earth Goddess: Men's Domestication of Women and Animals and Female Resistance (2017) by Moses Seenarine)
(Female Hand print, Chauvet cave, France c. 32,000 BP)
The Earth and her organisms are wholesome, active entities. Each unique creature has individual and collective interests and relationships. However, acting like aliens, modern men or Cyborgs have reduced and eliminated the subjectivity of Earthlings to establish themselves as the only 'real' subjects in both theory and practice.
The status of being a subject is central to having rights and safeguards under a patriarchal society. Framing unique, individual beings as similar objects is a key strategy of patriarchal reduction and oppression. This article sketches female subjectivity during prehistory and their extraordinary decline in status when men gained control over human organization. It starts with a brief look at how female-centered societies were associated with Goddess ideologies. After this, the decline of the Greek Goddess, Metis, is explained. And the article concludes with an examination of the great fall in female status in the post-Stone Age.
(Woman/Goddess of Willendorf, Germany c. 28,000 BP)
Female-centered primate cultures existed for millions of years, and females held a high status within the earliest human groups, around two million BP. Also, from the dawn of the species over 200,000 years ago, females have been active participants in shaping culture, behavior, and human destiny.
The notion of a Goddess was central to Stone Age oral traditions, imagery, gynecology, and female-centered thinking. Gynocentric practices revolved around reverence for various Goddesses, and evolved along with our human-like ancestors.
The Goddess perspective was maintained during humans' continuous migration out of Africa to populate the Earth, so it was a Global one. Gynecological sanctions were part of Goddess narratives, and adhering to these environmental laws ensured long periods of sustainability for our species.1
Stone Age humans viewed the Earth as a providential Goddess and a fertile Mother, and females' prominent positions were connected to the bountiful Deity. Under the Goddess worldview, nature and animals were perceived as female – sacred, mighty, and nurturing. Men were active participants in female-led communities, with valuable roles and strong ties to their maternal clans.
As fully realized subjects, females led child-centered groups under the protection of various Earth Goddesses. Then, as now, egg-producing humans were creative, intelligent, reasonable, courageous, and powerful. They were likewise generous, compassionate, moral, socially responsible, and hard-working.
Stone Age females lived in matrilocal kin groups based on maternal residence and group motherhood. Clans were also matrilineal, with inheritance based on maternal lineage.2 The Goddess-centered economy was proportionate and equal, with gift-giving playing a primal role in fostering cooperation and solidarity between female communities.
The tightly-knit, female-centered social organization kept the power of human male animals in balance during the Stone Age. Lack of art and other physical evidence imply there was an absence of conflict, and the numerous successful migrations across the globe suggest vast periods of human cooperation.
In many parts of the World, Goddess worship and females held dominant roles, but over the past centuries, grave robbers pillaged a lot of this evidence. The burial of a 4,500 years old Siberian noblewoman from the ancient Okunev Culture that was found undisturbed provides a glimpse of the history that was wiped out.
The early Bronze Age grave include an incense burner decorated with solar symbols - three sun-shaped facial images which match ancient rock art in Siberia. There were also two jars, cases with bone needles inside, a bronze knife, 1,500 beads that once adorned the woman's costume, and 100 pendants made from animal teeth.3
In the Americas, female authority persisted into the last millennia. For example, the priestesses of Moche were renowned for their monumental architecture and rich visual culture. Regarded as the first state-level civilization in the Americas, the Moche inhabited the north coast of Peru from 2,000 to 1,200 BP.
The Moche flourished before the Incas, but at the same time, the Mayas thrived in Mexico and Central America. The Moche developed the inland desert with a complicated system of irrigation used for agriculture. They built adobe pyramids, and, like other gynocentric cultures, used an Earth Goddess to unify their society.4
The Moche had no written language but left thousands of ceramic vessels with intricate drawings portraying their daily lives and beliefs about the human and supernatural worlds. Moche artists crafted ceramic and metal objects of striking realism and visual sophistication depicting the Goddess and female life cycles.
The eight royal tombs of Moche priestess discovered contained extensive artifacts, and the complexity of the burial reveal the power and influence the women wielded in life. Archaeologists know the eight women were priestesses because of their resemblance to figures depicted in rituals scenes found in Moche art.
The women were priestesses, but they could have likewise been rulers. The political and religious realms were blended in ancient cultures, and rulers were often the priests. For instance, the Señora de Cao, who reined around 1,700 BP, is considered the first female sovereign of pre-Hispanic Peru.5
(A winged goddess depicted under Zeus' throne, possibly Metis c. 2,550 BP)
In Greek, Metis means 'wisdom,' 'skill,' or craft.' In pre-patriarchal Greek religions, Metis was of the older Titan generation and an Oceanid. Metis was born of Oceanus and his sister Tethys. She is of an earlier age than Zeus, the chief male god, and his siblings. This era was the age of the Goddess when male deities were rare or insignificant.
Metis was the Titan Goddess of good advice, planning, and cunning. She was the mother of wisdom and sound thought. After the decline of gynocentrism, Metis was reduced to a counsel and spouse of Zeus, and besides, his cousin.
A prophecy revealed that she was destined to bear a son greater than his father. Zeus became jealous and tricked Metis into turning herself into a fly. Then, he promptly swallowed her. Trapped, Metis spent the rest of her life giving Zeus advice from inside him.
Inside Zeus' belly, Metis conceived a daughter. In time, she began making a helmet and robe for her fetus, and her hammering caused Zeus great pain. Eventually, her daughter, Athena, re-birthed from the god's head fully grown and armed with a war-cry.
In later Greek mythology, after the solidification of patriarchal versions of earlier religions, poets described Athena as a "motherless goddess" and did not mention Metis. Other versions of Athena noted that Zeus, her father, later attempted to rape her. Athena killed him without hesitation and took his name and skin. In many different versions of the story, Athena never has a birth mother. Plato identified Athena with Neith, a much more ancient Triple Goddess from Libya.
Zeus swallowed Metis and made her a part of himself. But that was not enough. By having Athena born only from Zeus, the narrative gave males authority and power over something that had previously only been a female realm, the cycles of reproduction. Moreover, this framing of male-birthing removed all female association with wisdom.
In remembering Metis, this study is reclaiming female prehistory and wisdom as female-centered. It is asserting that gynocentric cultures existed among early humans and lasted throughout the Stone Age. Honoring Metis reminds us that ancient gynecological principles were sustainable and a return to these practices can slow down planetary heating and help to restore harmony on Earth.
(Woman/Goddess of Çatalhöyük c. 8,000 BP)
Stone Age gynecological worldviews that honored females and nature through various Earth Goddesses survived well into the so-called 'agrarian' era. But by the Bronze Age, even though some Goddesses remained, sex roles and status were totally reversed. Maleness became prized, at the detriment of other subjects, and females, nature, and the Goddess were collectively debased to mere objects for male use.
Men's opportunity arose with females' continuous innovations in cultivating plants during the Neolithic, or New Stone Age (12,200 to 4,500 BP). Sperm-producing humans embraced, learned, then took over female cultivation technologies, but this was not the end. The stupendous decline in female status and culture, and the attendant rise of patriarchy, are related to animal enslavement that occurred later.
By 9,500 to 9,000 BP, agricultural economies that relied on a mix of domesticated crops and farmed animals were fully crystallized in the Middle East. Soon after, many aspects of daily life in the Fertile Crescent were diffused into the Mediterranean and elsewhere.6 The agrarian transfer package included subsistence agriculture, animal husbandry, social networks, and cyborg belief systems.
By 8,000 BP, male-dominated farming economies led to the rise to powerful cyborg city-states in Eurasia. The sovereignty of female clans honoring Earth Goddesses was comprehensively diminished, and egg-producing humans were prevented from amply expressing themselves in increasingly male-dominated societies. Formerly honored girls were disempowered and objectified into tools by the falsely entitled cyborg herders.
The Bronze-Age started around 5,000 BP, and durable weapons increased male violence across the Globe as embattled men competed to rule over each other. Across Europe, patriarchal ideology continued to replace matrilineal and matrifocal systems, which severely affected females' personal, social, and economic status.
The pistillate7 calamity intensified around 1,500 BP when Christians and Muslims began to replace the thousands of female-honoring Goddess cultures in Africa and Eurasia with a single patriarchal god. In a short time span, in cultures across the world, once sovereign beings were objectified into reproductive objects and restricted to the domestic sphere.
In Gyn/Ecology, Mary Daly notes, "this attraction/need of males for female energy, seen for what it is, is necrophilia - not in the sense of love for actual corpses, but of love for those victimized into a state of living death." The domestication of 'ladies' is ongoing and so too is its resistance. Sarah Ditum argues that women cannot remain neutral on the feminist issue because the battlefield is our bodies: “There’s no way to avoid picking a side when you yourself are the disputed territory.”
While there has been some progress toward sexual equality in modern times, gains have also been eroded and "the much needed positive developments are not happening fast enough.” This conclusion was made at the 2017 UN Commission on the Status of Women, by Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, executive director of UN Women, the United Nations agency charged with promoting women's rights.8
In addition to receiving one-third less wages than a man, over half of all women workers around the world, and up to 90 percent in some countries, are informally employed. The informal economy consists of low-cost, female farm workers, street food vendors, care workers, and so on. These girls and women work without legal or social protection, and in India alone, this sector accounts for 190 million women. "They are the under-the-radar and under-valued cogs in the bigger wheels of the formal economy," Mlambo-Ngcuka said.
The UNW director note that changing discriminatory laws in over 150 countries "could affect more than three billion women and girls in the world." And empowering females politicallly can lead to many positive changes, including economic one. For instance Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka suggested that "advancing women's equality in total could bring a potential boost of 28 trillion U.S. dollars to global annual GDP by 2025."
Women and children represent seventy-five percent of humans. It makes sense that society should be organized around the interests of this majority, rather than a hopelessly insecure minority that is clearly unfit to rule. Returning the Goddess and women to their rightful place in prehistory and the present is not only good for females, but for males, and the entire Earth. Women and men ignore this imperative at our own peril.
1Goddess beliefs were part of gynecological land management practices that contributed to the long-term survival of the species. The contrasting notions of power and transcendence over nature and nonhuman animals are fundamental aspects of patriarchal thought, which are unsustainable and self-destructive as the climate crisis demonstrates.
2Chris Knight. 2008. “Early Human Kinship Was Matrilineal.” In N. J. Allen, et al, eds., Early Human Kinship. Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 61-82.
3Staff. 2016. "Found: grave of Siberian noblewoman up to 4,500 years old." Siberian Times, Aug 19.
4S Bourget & K Jones. 2009. The Art and Archaeology of the Moche: An Ancient Andean Society of the Peruvian North Coast. U of Texas Press
5Liz Mineo. 2016. "Where women once ruled." Harvard Gazette, July 19.
6Melinda Zeder 2008. "Domestication & early agriculture in the Mediterranean Basin: Origins, diffusion, & impact." PNAS 105(33):11597-604.
7A flower that lacks stamens is pistillate, or female, while one that lacks pistils is said to be staminate, or male.
8Edith Lederer. 2017. "Women's Rights Are Under Attack Worldwide, Warns U.N. Chief." AP, Mar 13
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