Re: Question about Prehistoric Male Dominance
Robert Sheaffer (firstname.lastname@example.org)
2 Dec 1994 16:58:00 -0800
In article <email@example.com>, Gordon Fitch <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
>Some authors speculate that paleolithic or neolithic humans
>lived in non-patriarchal or even non-hierarchical
>societies, e.g. Eisler. I am interested in information
>about easily available, _non-speculative_ material which
>either supports or refutes this claim. A priori stuff,
>polemic, etc., need not apply, please; I can make all I
>need on my own. Thanks.
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San Jose, CA 95157 USA
"The Goddess Remembered": A Case of "False Memory Syndrome".
Filmmaker Donna Reed directed the 1989 documentary-format film
"The Goddess Remembered," with sponsorship from the National Film
Board of Canada. It is currently used as a major educational
resource in many universities' Womens Studies classes, appearing
on numerous syllabi. Recently it was shown in evening prime time
over KQED-TV, the major Public Broadcasting System station in the
San Francisco Bay area, during Pledge Week as part of a program
of "womens spirituality." That the film is filled with blatant
nonsense seems not to trouble in the slightest those who use it
in their classes, the Public Broadcasting System, nor the
taxpayers of Canada, who have ample reason to be upset seeing
their tax money being misused to present such shamelessly
misleading propaganda. The following represents my own meager
effort to counterbalance the misrepresentation therein contained:
Claim: Satellite photographs have recently shown that the
Neolithic monoliths of the Goddess (such as Stonehenge) "all
stand on energy lines, which criss-cross the earth."
Reply: This claim is blatant pseudo-science. There are no such
things as "energy lines" that allegedly cross the the earth.
Furthermore, scholars now dispute the identification of
neolithic megaliths with any so-called "Goddess" worship.
"By the 1950s, prehistorians had achieved agreement upon the
question of their origins [European megaliths]. They were
described as being the result of an idea brought up from
more advanced Mediterranean civilizations, together with the
cult of a Great Goddess or Earth Mother. Both parts of this
concept were shattered at the end of the 1960s, the notion
of the Goddess in circumstances which will be described
later, and the belief in a Mediterranean origin by the
discovery of faults in the Carbon 14 dating process" ["The
Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles" by Ronald
Hutton (Oxford: Blackwell, 1991), p. 19]. Thus the claim
linking neolithic megaliths to "the Goddess" is at least
twenty-five years out of date.
Claim: The [allegedly] Goddess-worshipping Old Europe was an
egalitarian, woman-centered society. It was cooperative,
non-hierarchal, and non-violent.
Reply: "David Anthony, an assistant professor of anthropology at
Hartwick College in Oneonta, N.Y., whose area of research
also coincides closely with Dr. [Marija] Gimbutas's [the
main proponent of "Goddess" claims], said that contrary to
her claims, the cultures of Old Europe built fortified sites
that indicate the presence of warfare. There is also
evidence of weapons, including some used as symbols of
status, and of human sacrifice, hierarchy, and social
inequality ... There is also no evidence that women played
the central role, in either the social structure or the
religion of Old Europe, he said. These were "important and
impressive societies," he said, but rather than Dr.
Gimbutas' "Walt Disney version" they were "extremely foreign
to anything we're familiar with"..." [from "Idyllic Theory
of Goddess Creates Storm" by Peter Steinfels (New York
Times, Feb. 13, 1990)].
"Excellent published reports on Lengyel and Tiszapolgar
cemeteries allow inferences to be made about differences
based on sex and age in Middle Neolithic society... the
burials indicate that fighting, hunting, and trading were
male activities, for men were buried with flint tools,
weapons, animal bones, and copper tools. The control of
exchange activities by males is suggested by the association
of products made of nonlocal raw material. Males were buried
with copper and obsidian. Pottery was probably made by
females and used mainly by them in domestic activities. This
is reflected by finds of pottery with female remains. Also
certain ornaments such as beads are found with females. It
should be noted that no domesticated or wild animals are
associated with female burials.... Site locations, the
presence of fortifications, and weapons suggest that there
was more warfare occurring in the Middle Neolithic than
during the Early Neolithic. The cause of increased warfare
might have been increasing competition among various
communities over land and other resources" [_European
Prehistory_ by Sarunas Milisauskas (Academic Press, 1978)
Claim: For 25,000 years, our ancestors worshipped the Goddess,
and found power in her cooperative, as opposed to
competitive, ways. The Goddess' eyes are still to be seen in
many representations along the Mediterranean, such as on
fishing boats on Malta.
Reply: "It was the world of late nineteenth and early twentieth-
century scholarship which extended the idea into principle
that prehistoric peoples had believed in such a universal
deity [Goddess]. Once this decision had been taken, evidence
was easily produced to substantiate it, by the simple device
of treating any female representations from the Old and New
Stone Ages as images of this being ... During the mid-
twentieth century, scholars such as Professor [Glyn] Daniel
and the equally celebrated O.G.S. Crawford extended the
Goddess' range by accepting that any representation of a
human being in the Stone Ages, if not firmly identified as
male, could be accepted as her images. Even a face, or a
pair of eyes, were interpreted in this way. Because spirals
could be thought of as symbols of eyes, they also formed
part of the Goddess' iconography, as did circles, cups, and
pits. In the mind of a historian of art like Michael Dames,
the process reached the point at which a hole in a stone
signified her presence. Mr. Dames was doing no more than
summing up a century of orthodox scholarship when he
proclaimed that 'Great Goddess and Neolithic go together as
naturally as mother and child'.
"As a matter of fact, when Dames published those words in
1976, they were about seven years out of date. In 1968 and
1969 two prehistorians directed criticisms at this whole
edifice of accepted scholarly belief which brought it all
down for ever. One was Peter Ucko, in his monograph
_Anthropomorphic Figurines of Predynastic Egypt and
Neolithic Crete_ .... Professor Ucko reminded readers that a
large minority of Neolithic figurines were male or asexual,
that few if any statuettes had signs of majesty or
supernatural power, and that few of them had accentuated
sexual characteristics (the 'pubic triangles' on many of
them could be loincloths). He warned against glib
interpretations of the gestures portrayed upon figures;
thus, early Egyptian figurines of women holding their
breasts had been taken as 'obviously' significant of
maternity or fertility, but the Pyramid Texts had revealed
that in Egypt this was the female sign of grief.... all over
the globe clay models very similar to those of the Neolithic
are made as children's dolls. Just as in the modern West,
most are intended for girls and are themselves female.
Another widespread use of such figures is in sympathetic
magic ... there was absolutely no need to interpret them
everywhere as the same female or male deity.
"The second attack was made by Andrew Fleming, in an
article in the periodical _World Archaeology_ uncompromis-
ingly entitled 'The Myth of the Mother Goddess.' He pointed
out the simple fact that there was absolutely no proof that
spirals, circles, and dots were symbols for eyes, that eyes,
faces, and genderless figures were symbols of a female or
that female figures were symbols of a goddess. This blew to
pieces the accepted chain of goddess-related imagery from
Anatolia round the coasts to Scandinavia. He was helped by
the revolution in the carbon-dating process, which disproved
the associated belief that megalithic architecture had
traveled from the Levant with the cult of the Great
"There was no answer possible to Ucko and Fleming, and
during the 1970s the scepticism which they embodied
proceeded to erode more of the Mother Goddess's reputed
range. Ruth Whitehouse ['Megaliths of the Central
Mediterranean' in Renfrew, _The Megalithic Monuments of
Western Europe_] considered the statue pillars of Italy,
Sardinia, and Corsica, which had been treated as part of the
deity's iconography, and found that only a few had any
female characteristics; many, indeed, carried weapons. Even
Malta, long considered one of the most obvious centres of
Neolithic goddess worship, fell before David Trump
['Megalithic Architecture in Malta' in Renfrew, op. cit.].
He pointed out that although some of the Maltese statuettes
were certainly female, many of the large cult statues were
kilted, flat-chested and generally androgynous..." [_The
Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles_ by Ronald
Hutton (Oxford: Blackwell, 1991), p. 37-42].
Claim: "We know that women developed agriculture, and the
domestication of animals."
Reply: We "know" no such thing. There is absolutely no evidence
on which one could possibly base such a sweeping claim. As
Milisauskas notes above, Neolithic burial data clearly
associates domesticated animals with males. Claims of this
type are based on nothing more substantial than theories
about supposed "stages of history" developed and made
popular during the nineteenth century by Johann Jakob
Bachofen, Friedrich Engels, and Lewis H. Morgan, which were
very influential in the early twentieth century. The idea of
a vanished "matriarchal" or "woman-centered" stage of
history became part of Marxist theory, and was widely
taught. However, modern anthropology absolutely rejects the
idea that civilization or history progresses in "stages"
because the immense data now available from societies all
around the world fails to support it.
Claim: Only recently, in the past 6,000 years, has the woman's
perspective been ignored.
Reply: The social realities of 6,000 years ago belong to
prehistory, and nobody can say with any certainty whose
viewpoint was or was not ignored. In any case, during
historical times the woman's perspective has not been
"ignored", but was woven along with mens' into tradition,
religion, morals, etc. A society's myths and morals reflect
both womens and mens experiences and interests. In any case,
the idea of a 'vanished, female-centered period of history'
is a myth.
Claim: the Gnostic Gospels show that Goddess worship was once a
part of Christianity.
Reply: They show no such thing. It is true that some Gnostic
texts attribute feminine as well as masculine traits to the
Deity, but there was never any worship of a "creator
Goddess" within Gnosticism. It is commonly-taught that
Gnostic sects were in some way more sympathetic to women
than the orthodox church. However, this is not supported by
the Nag Hammadi Gnostic texts, which are now available in
English. In the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, Simon Peter says,
"Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of Life." Jesus
replies, "I myself shall lead her in order to make her male,
so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you
males. For every woman who will maker herself male will
enter the Kingdom of Heaven" [_Nag Hammadi Library in
English_ (Harper & Row, 1981) p. 130]. The Gnostic "Sophia
[Wisdom] of Jesus Christ" says "These are all perfect and
good. Through these was revealed the defect in the female"
[p.221]. In the Gnostic Dialogue of the Savior, Jesus
directs his disciples to "Pray in the place where there is
no woman," and urges that "the works of womanhood" be
destroyed [p.237-8]. In several Gnostic works, God the
Father is praised and celebrated as "thrice-male"
[p.364,375,446]. Anyone who has been persuaded that
Gnosticism was pro-feminist has been duped by political
propaganda masquerading as scholarship.
Claim: "The [ancient] Greeks announced that history would now
begin, and proceeded to obliterate, or pervert, the 25,000
years that had gone before." The social system changed from
woman-centered to patriarchal. "There were pockets of female
resistance that gave rise to legends of Amazons."
Reply: No evidence is given for the claim that the Greeks set
out to "obliterate" or "pervert" history, probably because
none exists. The Greeks inherited few if any historical
records of earlier societies, and hence would be in no
position to alter or abolish future knowledge of what had
preceeded them, which is known primarily through the
excavation of remains. There is no evidence that womens'
roles in society were greatly different before the Greeks
than afterward. All known human societies are patriarchal,
and in the absence of evidence to the contrary, Occam's
Razor prohibits us from concluding that unknown societies
(such as during the Neolithic) were otherwise. As for
alleged "pockets of female resistance," there is no
historical evidence to substantiate such claims. The Greeks
also had legends of Centaurs, but nobody claims that this
proves Centaurs really existed.
The above is by no means an exhaustive list; undoubtedly many
other errors and misrepresentations escaped my layman's
knowledge. If this is what the Goddess promoters claim to
"remember," then they are clearly suffering from a case of False
Memory Syndrome, seeming to remember events that never actually
occurred. Camille Paglia wrote that "Our best women students are
being force-fed an appalling diet of cant, drivel, and malarkey"
[_Sex, Art, and American Culture_ (Vintage, 1992) p. 243]. The
widespread use of "educational" materials like "The Goddess
Remembered" is the best illustration of Paglia's point.
Robert Sheaffer - email@example.com - Skeptical to the Max!