The Racist Horror the Blairites are unleashing

Every racist in the country must be rejoicing at the horror John Mann and his Blairite and Tory allies are unleashing, not only on the Labour Party but on society.

This unprincipled crew and their allies know they have lost the political argument about what the Labour Party should stand for, so have decided on the lowest form of skullduggery possible, to accuse a man who has been a leading and committed campaigner against racism of being the very thing he abhors, to be a closet racist himself.

“Leon Trotsky was a Nazi, and I know it for a fact “. This is what Stalinists said of Trotsky in the 30’s. Unable to politically answer the Left Opposition, Stalinists just hit on the idea of accusing them of being in league with their political opposites. Dirt sticks, the trouble is those who use filth to attack their opponents stink of it themselves.

This is the tactic being used by these cynics now. But they are unleashing a monster.

“Race” in objective terms does not exist. There is only one race on earth, that is “Homo sapiens sapiens” the human race. So a racist – like the Nazis, falsely apply a hereditary and biological characteristic to a a group of human beings in order to use these supposed characteristics for their own political ends. By calling anti Israel or Zionist political positions ” antisemitism ” John Mann is confirming in the minds of racists that Jewishness is indeed a racial entity, that there is such a thing a racial Semite. Therefore to attack Israel, not just a Jewish state, but the Jewish State is by definition antisemitism ie racism.

Semitic is a historical term – it refers actually to group of languages spoken by people, the first ones being the Akkadians, who migrated into the Middle East including Palestine around 2500 BC. Arabic and Hebrew are both Semitic languages and have a common ancestor.

However these opponents of the Labour Party leadership know this, they also know their allegations are false. John Mann knows that Corbyn is not a racist, he knows that Livingstone is not a racist but knows that an accusation of ” antisemitism ” will cause havoc.

But there are people out there, in the Tory Party, UKIP, the EDL, the BNP and so on who will be very happy to have it confirmed by members of an anti racist party that being Jewish, is after all to be a member of a biologically defined “race”, different to ” English” and so on.

This crowd in deciding to use the abhorrent filth of racism to attack the party that has left them behind must beware of the law of unintended consequences.

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Did the ancient Greeks actually liked it under Roman rule because they carried the name (Eastern Roman Empire) even if it’s their own empire?

This was a Quora question. I like this question – one of my pet moans about 19th century historians. When Gibbon described the Decline & Fall of the Roman Empire in the 18th century he meant the Empire until it’s final fall in 1453.

One big problem in interpreting history is that it is always approached from the from the standpoint and using the values of the historian’s own day and society. Often these values are ones that the people only perceive to be of their own day. So people look at the brutality of the Spanish Inquisition who tortured and burnt, Jews, Muslims and heretics, or the brutality of medieval and Tudor times and believe we are “ civilised” now. Yet the 20th century encompassed more brutality and human slaughter than at any time in human history. Apart from two world wars, to be Jewish in Germany was a death sentence. To be an actual Marxist in Stalin’s Russia was a death sentence. To be South Vietmese peasant was as likely as not be a death sentence and of course many more. Today to be Muslim in Burma ? To be Muslim in Serbia, to be Muslim in Israel? To be a Christian in Syria?

Anyway back to the Roman Empire. To the average person the Roman Empire fell in 5th century and was followed by the “ dark ages”.

This was the western centric view. The Empire that carried on in the east was redesignated by 19 th century historians as the “ Byzantine” Empire – something very foreign and rather exotic. They were not proper Romans because they spoke Greek. Western rulers were very keen to emulate what they thought the ancient Greeks and Romans to be. The American constitution includes a Senate, an upper house of wisdom, Capitol Hill itself is a tribute to the Romans. Napoleon saw himself as the Caesar of a new Roman Empire. The British thought that Parliament was like classical Athens, the Spartans – a more successful state in many ways – were crude by comparison. Palmerston’s marathon speech to the House of Commons summed it up with the subject of “Pax Britannica”. Britannia herself, symbolises Britain is depicted as a Roman goddess. While western society loved the ancient Greeks, as the foundation of modern culture – actual Greeks, the ones were regarded as Eastern, untrustworthy and lacking culture not even to be trusted with ancient monuments – Elgin clearly regarded Britain as in the inheritor of Graeco Roman culture – not the modern Greeks, so long under Turkish rule.. This is why Roman Empire was Latin and not Greek. The “real” Roman Empire was Latin and ended in 427, the rest became Byzantium, a Medieval Greek Empire.

But the actual history is different. When you look at a map of the Roman Empire at its greatest extent it’s eady to see that the major cities, the main ports are in the east, Corinth, Ephesus, Antioch, Nicaea, Byblos, Caesarea, Jerusalem, Alexandria among the main ones. All through the Middle Ages the mightiest City of all, with a population at its height in the 8th & 10th centuries exceed 1,000,000 was Constantinople . Excepting towns in Provence, towns in West were trifling. Throughout the history of the Empire the balance of trade and production was in the east. Anatolia and Egypt were the bread baskets of the Empire. Everywhere in the east Greek was spoken as the lingua franca. Rome itself became too remote, too peripheral. The decision by Constantine I to move Rome to the small Greek village of Byzantium. So the new Capital was called New Rome, after his death, it was designated “ The New Rome that is called Constantinople”. After Justinian, who had built the wondrous Hagia Sophia, Latin ceased to be language of government. From that time onwards the government language was Greek. But they were Romans, for them Roman meant civilisation, it meant the known world. The last Emperor Constantine XI who died defending the city on the walls of Constantinople in 1453 was designated “ Roman Emperor “.

However, looking from a people’s point of view, the Roman Empire was fundamentally a slave economy – the foundation of which was the high productivity ( relatively) in the Eastern half. While trade – as far as China and Sri Lanka flourished, this enabled cities like Constantinople, Antioch, Adrianople etc to become very large. As it shrank because of growth of Islamic states on the one hand and Western Europe’s ( particularly Italy) slow emergence from feudalism, together with the continued movement of peoples fro east to west, it became more petrified into feudal like structure.

Thatcher’s Legacy

Thatcher’s baleful legacy lives with us today. Brexit is the result of her turning the Tory Party into representatives of finance capital and thus regarding it as unnecessary to invest in industries. This government deliberately provoked the notion that the UK was being swindled and bamboozled by the bureaucracy of the EU while her own class was swindling the people. Selling off national assets like telecommunications, electricity, gas and water has produced profiteering at our expense. Selling off Council houses, deregulating rents has caused massive house price inflation and the crisis we have now. I never saw a beggar on the streets of London until Thatcher, now there are thousands. In 1979 Thatcher came into power on the slogan “ Labour isn’t Working” because unemployment had topped a million for the first time since the war. By the time she left office it was 3 million, probably a lot more since the Tories kept changing the method of counting unemployment. She was fundamentally undemocratic, when Labour won the elections for the Greater London Council her answer was to abolish it and sell County Hall to privateers. However, while being ostensibly pro European she began the Euro scepticism in the Tory Party that led to Cameron’s referendum designed solely to resolve problems in the Tory party. Thus we are now on a suicidal trajectory that ultimately we can thank Thatcher for.

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Where was Byzantium?

We have to try and place ourselves in the shoes of a Roman inhabitant. The concept of the Empire was not the same as ours. To us an empire is a central power governing and controlling colonies and countries that have been conquered – like the British Empire. The Empire to the Roman was not a number of countries ruled by Rome, but the civilised (after 325, Christian) world. Rome was the sentimental capital, but they had no trouble in moving the capital to New Rome ( Constantinople).

So to be a Roman was to be a citizen of the civilised world. Sometimes there were two emperors ruling side by side, that was not regarded as divisive – a good example was Romanus I and Constantine VII who governed successfully together and were not related. Also when the Empire was divided East and West, it was not regarded as two empires, but a purely administrative division of the whole Empire. This is illustrated by time when after the overthrow of the last western Emperor Romulus Augustus, Theodoric the Ostrogoth, who made himself King of Italy sent the Imperial regalia back to Emperor Zeno in Constantinople as an acknowledgement that he was simply ruling Italy in the name of the Emperor.

All through the history of the Empire, the balance of power and trade was biased towards the East, the major production was there, trade and so on. The lingua franca of the Eastern half was predominantly Greek. From southern Italy eastwards, Greek was the the major language. So Greeks from Greece itself saw themselves as Greek speaking Romans, as the people of Anatolia, Alexandria etc saw themselves. Emperor Justinian, in the sixth century was the last Latin speaking Emperor, but Latin had always been the minority language in Constantinople. “Byzantium “ was the name of the small town upon which Constantinople was built. Nineteenth century British historians liked to see the Roman Empire as an early version of the British Empire – to them it was Latin, the Greek speaking Empire in the East after the fall of the West, was foreign, exotic, Eastern, almost Russian. So they coined the term “Byzantine” and imposed it on our concepts. To The Greeks, in Anatolia and Greece itself, Roman meant Christianity and civilisation.

After the fall of Constantinople, Despot of Morea ( Greece) regarded himself as the Roman Emperor in Mistras ( very well worth a visit). Even under Turkish rule Greeks regarded themselves as Roman, so when the Greek kingdom was set up in 1834, the rulers numbered themselves after the last emperor. The last king of Greece was Constantine XIII, numbered after Constantine XI the last Emperor in 1453, when Constantinople fell to the Ottomans. This was the driving force behind the Greek attempt to take Constantinople in 1920. I’m told that some Greeks still refer to themselves as ” Romans” even today.

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Capitalism and Marx

The key thing for me is how Marx applied his philosophy derived from Hegel. As he said, philosophers understand the world – the key thing is to change it. In other words to apply your philosophy to your empirical observation to find a programme for change. In terms of observation Engels contributed a massive amount. His book “ the condition of the English working class” is an in depth observation of the abject squalor that existed in Manchester while surrounded by booming wealth of the capitalist class.

To start with dialectical materialism gives you an understanding that everything is part of a system, a system is part of another system as so on. A system is formed of opposing forces, in contradiction to each other but in equilibrium. However all equilibriums are unstable, so disturbances cause changes until a new equilibrium is established.

When people work they always produce a surplus over their individual needs. If they didn’t do this human society couldn’t exist. If every individual spent every waking hour producing only enough to keep themselves alive then society couldn’t exist. Humans therefore have to organise themselves into some kind of system to distribute this “ social “ surplus. A primitive hunting gathering society may only have enough surplus to maintain the young, but perhaps not enough for the old. But who decides this? Collectively, by evolution of rules, rituals and religion or other ways ?

As society evolved through various systems, class rule developed. This occurs when on group organises society and controls the distribution of the social surplus by taking control of the means by which that society produces everything they need. In a slave society, people are owned by a ruling class, in feudal society the land on which society produces is owned by a class of lords. In capitalism, capital, ie the means to erect factories etc is owned.

Capitalism is massively more productive than any previous system and therefore produces an enormous social surplus. The decisions on how to distribute this lies with the ruling class. How much of this surplus is used on social things and not profit depends on the equilibrium between the classes at a particular time and the needs of the capitalist state.

The class system is a system so it does comprise of forces opposing each other. The working class was the creation of capitalism – its means to produce and make profits. In creating this, they created a force capable of overthrowing and establishing a new equilibrium. In order to prevent this, a great part of the surplus is devoted to a massive state structure. Police, military courts etc also ideology aimed at convincing workers that the capitalist order is not only good but a law of nature. Also another contradiction- capitalism is complex, so it needs an education system for producers to work. That very same education system will also make people aware that they are being exploited.

Also the producing class will always oppose and try and defend against their rulers by one means or another. Sometimes slaves rise up. Sometimes feudal peasants rise up. Workers form unions, opposed and suppressed initially by the ruling class, but now adjusted to and incorporated into the system.

Capitalism is only the latest form of evolution of human society and just as capitalism overthrew feudalism – often violently eg the English Civil War, the French Revolution, it will succumb to its own contradictions be overthrown. Society will then organise itself differently and find a new system to distribute the social surplus – hopefully to benefit everyone and not have the majority of it creamed off into private hands.

Capitalism is different to others in that the system works by constantly revolutionising methods of production in order to defeat their own capitalist competitors. So capitalists have a joint interest in maintaining themselves against workers while at the same time destroying fellow capitalists. When this growth ceases because the world is saturated with capitalism it begins to eat itself. Social surpluses spent on public social products like health, education, prisons, military, utilities etc are taken over by themselves in a frantic attempt to keep up profits. Privatisation of health might produce profits in the short term but does not add to the social surplus. Thus capitalism is already in decline because in western countries it has already started to consume itself.

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Religion – a View from the Left

RINALDO FREZZATO

Religion and Society

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RELIGION – A SOCIALIST VIEW?

I am using this blog basically air my views about things I have thought about over the years – some will be topical some will not. I don’t make any claims to originality, but equally, no-one should be able to accuse me of plagiarism. If I quote anyone I will certainly try to acknowledge them.

I am a socialist, I see myself as a Marxist, and definitely not in the Stalinist or Maoist tradition – both of whose ideas and followers I reject as mockeries and distortions of Marxism. To paraphrase Trotsky, Stalin stands in the same relation to Marxism as Judas Iscariot to Christianity – traitor. Many Marxists will very likely see my thinking as flawed or lacking in rigour  – I do not make any claims of any kind.

The  blogs concerning the analysis of religion are not intended to be scholastic with masses of footnotes and references. However a reading list of some of  the sources used might be helpful.

N.I. Bukharin – Historical Materialism

J.G. Frazer – The Golden Bough

F. Engels – The Origins of Private Property and the State

Mansel – The Gnostic Heresies

The Holy Bible (authorised version)

The Qu’ran (in English)

The Dictionary of Christian Biography

The Cambridge History of the Bible

Jacquetta Hawkes & Woolley – Prehistory and the Beginnings of Civilisation

Jacquetta Hawkes – Atlas of Ancient Archaeology

Cambridge Encyclopaedia of Archaeology

Tacitus – The Annals of Imperial Rome

S. Takakura – The Ainu of Northern Japan

N.G Munro – Ainu Creed and Cult

George Caitlin – Letters and Notes on the Manners, Customs and Condition of the North American Indians

Mircia Eliade – A History of Religious Ideas

Merlin Stone – The Paradise Papers

Elaine Pagels – The Gnostic Gospels

William Watson – Cultural Frontiers in the Ancient Near East

James Melaart – The Neolithic of the Near East

Bachofen – The Mother, Myth and Religion

D. Baranki – Phoenicia and the Phoenicians

A. Bertholet – History of Hebrew Civilisation

K. Bittel – Hattiska, Capital of the Hittites

D.G. Brandon – Creation Legends of the Ancient Near East

E. Butterworth – Some traces of the Pre – Olympian World

S. Melgunov – Russian Religious and Social Movements of the Seventeenth Century

Womens Liberation and Socialist Revolution – various =- Pathfinder

H. Butterworth – Christianity and History

H.N. Brailsford – The Levellers

K. Marx – Capital vol 1

J.G Robertson  – A Short History of Christianity

M. Finley – Early Greece and Bronze Age Archaic Society

Radical Feminist Collective – Feminist Practice

F. Engels – The Dialectics of Nature

Alexandra Kollantai – Sexual Relations & the Class Struggle >

The Roots of Christianity (Religion – a Marxist Analysis)

THE ROOTS OF CHRISTIANITY

A MATTER OF FAITH

Faith is not merely a question of belief as many may consider it to be. It is more a question of belief in contradiction to knowledge or beliefs held in other ways.

 

Before the Ruling Class

In the classless societies of the pre-slave days, where labour was carried out in common and the products of labour held in common, religion was equally the common property of all. Religion was formulated in common, but over a long series of generations, as an explanation for the human material existence and the existence of the material world that people lived in. It also offered a system of ideas by which the functioning of the material world might be influenced by human agency. Religion of this kind was built on the logical supposition that all of nature upon which human life depended was organised in a similar way to human society.

 

The spring came, the rain fell, the sun shone, and the corn grew because of the will of those beings that governed them. The earth, itself, even the rocks, had the same attributes and, therefore, for the same will and purpose as the human mother. In the absence of any scientific knowledge, these explanations were not only as good any other, but logical in terms of the social and economic organisation of those societies.

 

Class Society

With the coming of class society, religion required another function other than logical and explanation and belief. It required the subversion of logical explanation to the needs of the ruling class. On the part of the slaves – it required a suspension of disbelief – that is to say, faith. A class society requires submission, achieved by force if necessary, by the producers to the dominating class who not only organise them economically and socially, but take from them, again by force if necessary, the products of their labour. To do this as a system requires the enforcement of faith on both sides. An act of robbery and exploitation is easy to see, and slaves could see the evidence of their own eyes that they were being deprived of the products of their own hands.

 

Against this clear knowledge faith has to be counterpoised, that oppression and exploitation is not what it clearly is, but a separate right deriving from supernatural sources. In other words, faith can generally help in the enforcement of beliefs that would not ordinarily be credible. Faith lies above actual knowledge, it is a set of contradictory rules justified only by the fact that it enables a ruling class to exploit and yet appear to have the right to do so.

 

N.I. Bukharin, in his excellent book “Historical Materialism’ makes the point about the absurdity of faith in this way. He puts forward a proposal for a new religion based upon the hypothesis that the world was created and is governed by a lot of little green demons whose writhings give rise to all the physical phenomena we see about us. These little devils are, of course, infallible, invisible, and inaudible, nor can they be detected in any other way. Thus, although no one can actually prove they exist there is no way that anyone else can disprove it either. Of course, he points out, most people, quite rightly, would regard this theory as a lot of nonsense, but only because this ‘religion’ has no role in any ruling class ideology, since it performs no economic and social function.

 

Any religious belief that is not bound up in the structure of one’s own society is generally regarded as ‘superstition’ – nonsense. So the Christian can say quite seriously that the ancient Greeks or a modern ‘primitive’ that their religion is ‘superstition’. The idea of gods for this thing and gods for that appears to the Christian to be absurd. But the Greek ruling class had good economic and political reasons for demanding faith in it.

 

Alternative versions of one’s own religion become ‘heresies’. Within Christianity therefore, Catholicism, Protestantism are heresies to each other. Christianity, Judaism and Islam are all heresies of each other.

 

Christian mythology is no less “absurd” than any other and depends just as much on magical legendary events. We all know that women cannot conceive without some kind of sexual intercourse, even if it is done by artificial means. Yet at school we are all taught that this scientific impossibility happened as a matter of fact. This virgin woman, we are told, gave birth to a child who turned out to be none other than God, the self same God who had made her pregnant in the first place. This man/God, following a series of magical performances then was executed and after lying dead for a full two days came back to life. Following that a cloud came down and whisked him off to heaven. This man, we are told, is not only one God and his own father, but also The Holy Spirit making three as one, but still only one – all a mystery. We are told to believe that this event that defies any known laws of biology, physics, or any thing else, took place on the evidence of ‘eyewitness’ accounts written nearly a hundred years after the supposed events.

 

No one on earth could actually disprove this myth and no one can prove it either, in all respects it has the same veracity as Bukharin’s little demons. The important point is that no one is really expected to believe it as such (although many do), they are merely expected to suspend disbelief in it. Faith is not an acknowledgement of fact, it is an act of ideological submission.

 

Heresy as Political Opposition

When those who are exploited rebel against their masters, their faith in ruling class religion explodes at the same time. As Marx pointed out opposition to rulers is always there, open or covert.

 

Indeed, exploding the religious ideology of their rulers was the way people expressed their opposing political programme. The 16th century Anabaptists, the Hussites of Munster, for instance, of central Europe in propounding their belief of the producers’ right to hold their products in common, rejected the dogmas of the Catholic Church. Christianity, for them, was reduced to those things that Christianity could logically explain in the light of their own knowledge and experience. For them God continued as the Creator, since they had no other alternative theory, but for them God created the earth for all human kind and Christ came to earth as a poor man – how he was actually conceived was of little interest. From the point of view of the mediaeval peasant this form of Christianity had a logic while the magic incantations and the acts of submission of the kings, barons, popes, and bishops did not.

 

In our capitalist society, faith goes beyond the hocus-pocus of religion. Faith in capitalism is not excusively religious since religion no longer has a monopoly on ideology. Here submission required and the faith to actually submit is similar to the wine and bread.

 

We are required to have faith in the ruling class’s assertion that they have built weapons capable of destroying the whole human race in order to prevent the human race from being destroyed by those very weapons. Or one may have faith in the Government’s belief, and many people did, that unemployment is the solution to the problem of unemployment. Or one may have faith in the capitalist’s assertion that Trident is here to protect the ordinary person from the ordinary Russian.

 

We have to faith in system that clearly causes, poverty, starvation, pollution, war and widespread misery actually is for the benefit of all.

 

One could also believe in the media bogeys, that Corbyn is a revolutionary socialist, or that the Labour Party is made up of revolutionary socialists, or the Soviet Union was constructed according to the ideas of Karl Marx. This is not so difficult as we are expected to believe that Christianity as it exists has much to do with Jesus Christ as that figure appears in the Bible. These and many other absurdities are a matter of faith.

 

Early Christianity contained political objectives, cloaked in religious expression. Beginning in the Jewish area, the objective was the removal of the Roman yoke. This was initially expressed in terms of a fundamentalist Jewish religion. The orthodox religion did not serve the purpose as the Jewish ruling class shared in the oppression by collaborating closely with the Romans.

 

The concept of a ‘messianic’ religion, the coming of a great leader who would lead the Jewish people into battle against their oppressor was the logical result of this aspiration. The Scriptures would inevitably be searched for ‘proof’ of the validity of this objective. The failure of the Jewish rising in 66 AD laid the basis for the conversion of the ‘Jewish’ messiah into a broader messiah who would lead all oppressed people against their rulers.

 

Thus, the roots of Christianity lie partly in the fundamentalist version of Judaism and therefore acknowledged the Jewish Scriptures – but in different ways.

 

Jewish religion, itself, unacknowledged or not, found its roots in the religions of the Semites of the middle east, most of which were still current at the time. Semite religion itself was a combination of the Semite warrior/pastoral religion and the old matriarchal Sumerian religion. The monotheist patriarchal Jewish religion was of fairly recent origin, stemming from the period of the Jewish kingdoms and even then was not universal in Israel and Judea. Therefore, to anyone at the time, the old religion – still flourishing in the productive base of society – represented the old freedoms before the period of Roman rule.

 

It was inevitable therefore that Christianity should also take on the essential features of the old matriarchal religion. Christianity as it came to be – as the official religion of a patriarchal society – still matriarchal at its base – diminished the component, derived from matriarchal origins and emphasised the patriarchal content. When we once examine the trends in early Christianity it will be seen that the old matriarchy – representing as it did – a primitive communism and equality – was at that early stage its most powerful component.

 

Even Christianity as we know it historically and today has much of matriarchy in it. Orthodox Judaism did not allow for female deities or the death of the god as did matriarchal religions. Yet the death of the god, the holiness of his mother and his resurrection at her hands, are the fundamentals of matriarchal religion. The male component in Christianity eventually was given superiority but only in its final version.

 

Christ as well as appearing to be the Messiah – from Judiasm – is the Adonis derived from the middle east. Astarte or Aphrodite become the Virgin Mary and although later demoted in importance had nonetheless an important position and is still, in fact, Catholicism’s goddess in all but name.

 

As Christianity was taken up in other parts of the Empire, the matriarchal component was strengthened. Christ/Dionysus, Mary/Demeter in the Greek world. But Egypt was an easy convert to Christianity and the slaves upon whose productivity depended much of the Roman economy made an easy transition from Isis to Mary, from Osiris to Christ. Egypt became a stronghold of Christianity and resisted, until the invasion of Islam, the patriarchal versions of Christianity and never accepted the authority of Roman or feudal ruling classes over their ideology – just as previously they had never accepted the imposition of Amon/Ra over their own Isis and Osiris.

 

Early Development and Tendencies

We must see Christianity in its early phase as a political opposition movement based upon the oppressed classes of the Roman Empire. In terms of political movements of today it cannot be called progressive in any modern sense for there was no progress from a slave economy which could possibly be introduced without a ruling class. There was no way to progress to a new form of society but only to restore ancient freedom – that is to say the removal of ruling the Roman ruling class. I am in no way condemning the movement. Had the it succeeded it would have been a reversion to the old freedom of the matriarchal economy. Its failure was inevitable and so was its conception into the ideology of feudalism.

 

As in all popular movements there was no exact identity of interest, especially since the Empire was diverse and slaves a difficult or impossible class to unite. The oppression and exploitation felt by the Jews – exploited by tribute through its own ruling class was different to that in Egypt, different to that in urban centres – felt by the plebeians and manufacturing slaves, different to those dragooned into auxiliary service with the army and so.

 

Therefore, there were diverse tendencies within Christianity. Roughly one may make a right reformist and left revolutionary division. This is to impose present day terminology on to the ancient world obviously falsifies it to certain extent, nevertheless, the difference between the factions and tendencies were real and so was their internal political struggle.

 

St. Paul and the Scripture

It may come as some surprise to many that early Christianity had no scripture of its own, nor any recognised sacred writing. It may also be a surprise to know that the first books of the “New Testament” to be written were not the gospels at all, but the letters of St. Paul. These letters were never meant to be taken as sacred writing in any form, nor were they written as general principles of Christianity. Most of Paul’s letters were polemical aimed specifically at the opposition within the Christian organisation and part of a struggle for control. Paul felt himself and his followers to be leaders of the movement but he was not universally acknowledged as such. He was the leader of the reformist faction, wishing to convert Romans of good standing to Christianity.

 

His programme/ideology, although anti-Roman was a reformist programme of change from within. A very rough parallel would be the Labour Party today who are quite happy to convert capitalists to socialists without demanding that they cease to be capitalists. Thus Paul’s Christianity is a mixture of reform without offending any of the essential values of Roman patriarchy.

 

Paul and his followers based their ideology on two platforms

 

  1. a) An oral tradition of Christ whose ‘life’ was not complete in Paul’s own day but was made up of a rough skeleton of sayings and statements. At this time – around 70 A.D. Christ must have been a shadowy figure, a mythical ‘founder’ of the movement to whom was attributed a number of sayings and prophesies. Most of the prophesies were current at the time of the Jewish rebellion. From the old religion (matriarchal) prevalent in all the Mediterranean area was derived the story of Christ’s death and resurrection. This would sound immediately convincing to anyone at that time as it was the basis of all religion in any case. On this point Paul and the opposition were agreed although they differed very strongly in the meaning of the resurrection. The “left” (Ophites, Canites, and Sethites) held a very different interpretation.

 

  1. The Jewish Scripture. Christianity began as a Jewish movement and developed out of the defeat of the Jewish rebellion in 66 AD. A military movement against the Romans was now out of the question. However, the Jewish scripture was made was now reformed on the basis of the broader movement. The only scripture any Christian was prepared to acknowledge was the Hebrew scripture up until the 2nd century A.D. No letters of Paul or any gospel was acknowledged as the holy script until Christianity became an official state religion. However, the interpretation of Jewish scripture differed once again from left to right. Paul’s wing accepted the scripture and found in it the main principles of their own movement. The left wing -the Ophites and Cainites – particularly saw the Jewish scripture as a lesson while not disbelieving it held it to be a catalogue of contrary examples and therefore contrasted their version of Christ against the Jewish scripture.

 

The Pauline Letters

Many copies of letters written at the same time as Paul’s epistles, through similarity in formal style have established the epistles of St. Paul as genuine. They are, in fact, messages, written to various branches of the Church, designed to be read out at meetings. They often refer to some event that came to Paul’s attention. What is clear, is that Paul was not writing ‘scripture’ since the concept of a ‘Christian bible’ did not exist until the 3rd century A.D.

 

Many branches of the Church accepted his authority as a leader and accepted his claim to be the mouthpiece of God. He styled himself ‘Paul by the will of God to be an apostle, to the Church of God at Corinth …called to be Saints Grace to you and peace from God our father, Lord Jesus Christ.’

 

None of his letters constitute ‘preaching’ as such for they were designed for internal use. There is a vague parallel here with the role of Trotsky in the 4th International in the 1930’s. Like Trotsky, arguments, factions, disputes were referred to him. His letters, like Trotsky’s were aimed at settling ideological disputes, giving encouragement and solving knotty ideological problems and slamming the opposition. Such letters were later given generalised canonical status, some of the followers of Trotsky equally canonise his letters as containing eternal truths and are equally as far from the intention of the writer.

 

The letters were probably kept by the individual branches who received them and like the letters of Lenin, Trotsky, etc were brought out later in disputes, bits of them quoted against the opposition. Later right wing polemicists began to call them in order to help their case against the other tendencies.

 

Clement, a leader of the Rome branch, wrote a good deal polemic himself against the left, says in a letter around 96 A.D. ,that he had Paul’s letter to the Romans and he knows of the letter to the Corinthians, although he has not got it himself, he has heard about its contents.

 

Marion, in 140 A.D. says that he has 10 of St. Paul’s letters whilst 60 years later the Roman church has 13 of Paul’s letters in their possession.

 

Not all the letters are genuine. Later polemicists used Paul’s name to add strength to their own arguments. The letters, moreover in the New Testament, by no means constitute a complete collection of Paul’s letters. Many are probably lost altogether and many in the New Testament are fragments of different letters put together. For example 2 Corinthians is an amalgam of several letters, Philippines is considered to be a similar amalgamation. ‘Hebrews’ is generally regarded as a fake, it appears nowhere in early collections and its style is different to the accepted Pauline letters.

The letters of the New Testament therefore do not comprise of all of the letters that Paul wrote and have in them many letters that Paul did not write.

 

Another important fact to be taken into consideration is that the New Testament letters are a one way traffic. The letters sent to St. Paul outlining the problems that they asked him to comment on have been lost. Their contents can only be inferred from Paul’s own letters.

 

Many of Paul’s letters are in fact replies to letters sent to him and many of them concern the opposition tendencies within the Church. These tendencies took up most of Paul’s attention – as they did later polemicists. Paul regarded the gnostic tendency as an ever present danger and many of the letters are wholly concerned with pouring contempt on the opposition in order to keep his own followers loyal.

 

The Faction at Corinth

The best example which shows the real purpose of Paul’s letters is found in his ‘two’ letters to the Corinthians – in fact several letters. The first letter is a reply to an ideological question raised over a number of issues. Paul’s answer advocates the taking of a strong line against opposition elements and expelling them for example “do not associate with immoral men”. It appears that the situation in the Corinth branch worsened whether due to his letter or whether the opposition was making ground is not clear. Paul paid a visit himself to Corinth which seems to have been a disaster. It appears that the opposition, who were strong in Palestine and Antioch, had sent people of their own to Corinth and the branch was on the point of defecting to them. A member of the Corinth Church had affronted Paul so vigorously that Paul demanded formal submission to his leadership or his expulsion. It appears from Corinthians 2 that the branch rejected Paul’s ultimatum and in the next fragment he adopts a more conciliatory tone. It would seem that the whole Corinth branch was on the point of defecting – probably to the Ophites or Cainites, as Paul mentions the ‘false prophets’ from Palestine who were stirring up trouble in the Corinth branch.

 

The fight against the opposition’s growing strength in the Corinth branch got pretty dirty. They must have accused him of being a liar, unscrupulous in his attempts to control them and were suspicious of his appeals for money. Paul regarded this as an attack on God and it appears from 4 Corinthians that he was seriously considering the expulsion of the whole branch. How the struggle was eventually resolved is not known, although it would be reasonable to suggest that had his own tendency been victorious in Corinth, the fact would have been noted.

 

A similar problem seems to have arisen in Galatia – the area around Antioch where the Ophites were strong – there is a strong connection between Christianity and the old matriarchal religion centred on Aphrodite and Adonis in Antioch. It would appear from later accounts that the slaves of Antioch regarded Adonis and Christ, Mary and Aphrodite as interchangeable. The letters to the Galatians seem to be dealing with a possible defection there.

 

Paul’s letter to the Romans, on the other hand, was much more friendly. Rome was his stronghold and this letter offered encouragement for them as he was about to set out to Spain to found a new branch of the church there.

 

Both Philippians and Colossians are letters written from prison, although not at the same time. Although we can regard Paul as the leader of the right wing of the Christian movement, it is also important to keep in the background that the whole movement was in political opposition to the Roman ruling class despite the difference in methods and programme between left and right. It was inevitable therefore, as one of the leaders of the movement, Paul would fall foul of the authorities. The letter to the Philippians seems to indicate that this branch was one of his strongholds and that they sent him assistance when they heard of his imprisonment. The Colossians on the other hand is a letter written to a new branch that he does not know personally. In it, he backs up a local leader called Epaphras to whom he delegates the authority formally bound to the Church of Laodicia.

 

On the whole, Paul’s letters are concerned with the struggle between the tendencies in the Christian movement and principally Paul’s struggle against the gnostic sects and their revolutionary outlook. Not much of the argument refers to Christ himself and none to the gospels – they had yet to be written – and their function was political too. Paul never quotes Christ or refers to any incident in his life except for his death and resurrection and the Second Coming – the basic ideas of which he derived from matriarchal religion.

 

The Non-Pauline Letters

These are the letters that were attributed to Paul when Christianity’s right wing had finally defeated the opposition. They are quite different to the genuine Pauline letters. The letter to the Ephesians refers to nothing that would indicate the reason for the letter being written, neither does it mention the Church of Ephesus at all. The letter was in fact written at a much later date by a Paulinite and is a summary of Paulinite principles. It was not written to the Church at Ephesus but as a general circular. It was ascribed to Ephesus probably arbitrarily because as no other letter was found addressed to Ephesus. To the later church this seemed strange as Ephesus was one of the largest churches and strongly Paulinite. It is quite likely that the letter came from Ephesus, however, no polemical letters to Ephesus were ever necessary as they were never in dispute. This particular letter is not a polemic it is a straight and rather florid statement of Paulinite principles. E.J. Goodspeed who helped translate the letters for the Revised Version noted that the style is turgid and it has a “monstrous conglomeration” of sentences. Some have considered that the Ephesians has a strong gnostic flavour.

 

Timothy and Titus

The two letters, supposedly from Paul to Timothy and Titus – two of his lieutenants are fakes, written not earlier than the 2nd century. The church organisation described in them did not exist in Paul’s own day. The two letters purport to be from Paul instructing Timothy and Titus how to organise the church, how to carry out a service, a great deal is said on women, duties of deacons, archdeacons, bishops and so on. The two letters were not part of any early collection and when they were written the strictly hierarchical organisation of the Church was well established and ideologically Christianity was ready to collaborate with the Roman ruling class.

 

The letters were faked in order to show that Paul had ordained the authoritarian structure of the church. The organisation receiving retrospective sanctification reflected the hierarchy of the Roman government at this time. There is no reason why Paul should write a letter to his ‘lifelong’ companion and lieutenant at their headquarters in Ephesus explaining to him how to organise the church in a way that it was not to be organised for another 200 years at least. Whatever the drawbacks of Paul’s own position, he was in opposition to the Roman ruling class, not supporting or justifying or forming an ideological and material parallel to them, as the later church did. ‘Titus’ and ‘Timothy’ are inventions of the later church inserted to justify the authoritarian and hierarchical structure of a church about to become ‘official’.

 

Peter and Jude

Like the previous two letters, these too are fakes, written halfway through the second century. If Peter, the chief apostle of Christ, was active and writing letters then no doubt Paul’s letters would have mentioned him. The fact is, none of the apostles are mentioned by Paul. This would certainly point to the apostles being a later invention.

 

Both of these tracts were written for wide circulation and were aimed specifically against the ‘gnostic’ Christians, i.e. Ophites, Cainites for it was during the 2nd Century A.D. that the struggle between the left and right of Christianity reached its peak. Condemnations of the gnostics coming from the pens of St. Peter and St. Jude (suitably retrospective) were salvos in the struggle. Later on, as they appeared to condemn ‘heresy’ in general – of which there was no concept at the time – they could easily be incorporated into the Canon. Condemnation of heresy was an important aspect of Christianity as an official ideology, when the struggle was against the state’s enemies rather than the struggles within a particular movement.

 

The Letter to the Hebrews

The letter to the Hebrews gained admission to the Canon (i.e. the New Testament) on the assertion that it was the word of St. Paul. This is generally recognised, even in the church, that the letter is a forgery. Unlike the genuine letters of Paul which are polemical, the ‘Hebrews’ is a philosophical work concerning the nature of Christ, suffering, obedience, the relation of Christ and the angels, his enthronement etc. The author is of a much later period than Paul.

 

James

James is the odd one out of the New Testament as there is no clue to its authorship. The James of this letter is supposed to be Christ’s brother (half brother!) but nothing is said that would prove this. It was probably one of a whole number of ‘letters’ and gospels that were circulating during the 2nd century. It was one of the last books to be accepted officially into the Canon.

 

The Synoptic Gospels

The Synoptic Gospels are Matthew, Mark, Luke, and the Acts of the Apostles. John has a different origin and was the last of the Canonical gospels to be written.

 

All four books purport to be ‘witness’ accounts but the precise date of their authorship is not known for certain except that they were all written after the letters of St. Paul.

The New Testament, as it exists today and since the establishment of official Christianity was selected out of a very large body of material available at the time, i.e. the third century A.D., the rest were rejected as being non-canonical and heretical.

 

The order that the books appear in the New Testament was carefully thought out by the compilers. It appears from the New Testament that Matthew’s gospel was written first followed by the others. After Christ’s death came the Acts of the Apostles and then the activities of St. Paul.

 

As has already been pointed out, Paul predated all the others and therefore had no gospel to quote although an oral tradition of Christ’s sayings had probably built up. It was not felt necessary until the late 1st century or 2nd century to describe the life and death of Christ and during the 2nd century a vast number of ‘gospels’ were written.

 

The gospels served a similar purpose to the letters. Each branch of the church and each faction felt it necessary to produce their own version of the ‘historical’ truth to prove the validity of their own position and to satisfy the curiosity bound to be aroused concerning what really happened. Many of them reflect also, the problems faced by a particular sect or area. During the second century no gospel was accepted as scripture, in terms of truth, the gospels of the left, later destined for oblivion, were in seen in equality to those we now see in the New Testament.

 

The first synoptic gospel to be written, was not Matthew but Mark. It is by far the simplest of the four and describes the miracles and events in a very rough and ready way. It begins abruptly, not describing the birth and it ends abruptly without describing events after the ‘Resurrection’. It was written in poor Greek. What specific purpose it served cannot be said except to meet a demand for a description of Christ’s life. The Catholic Church accepted Mark, but as an ‘inferior’ gospel and relegated to a place behind Matthew.

 

Matthew’s gospel was written using Mark as the basis. It was Mark’s basic outline but embellishes the details and intersperses a lot of quotes from scripture – the Old Testament – which do not appear in the earlier version. It is probable that ‘Matthew’ was a product of the Christian group in Palestine – either Caesarea or Jerusalem. It lays heavy emphasis on the scripture and is very strongly against the orthodox Jewish hierarchy.

 

Christianity in Palestine saw itself as a breakaway Jewish sect. Its energies were spent in the struggle against official Judaism. This gospel was the favourite of the early Catholic Church and was written with the intention of proving to Jewish listeners and readers that Christ actually was the Jewish Messiah. This is the reason why that Matthew begins with Christ’s genealogy tracking him back to King David (so conforming to prophesies). The quotations from the Jewish scriptures are intended to reinforce the point the gospel is making to the Jews themselves, The messianic ‘leader’ message later appealed to the fledgling state ideology of the fourth century because they were wishing to make an ideological parallel between Christ and the Roman Emperor.

 

The emphasis on the messianic ‘leader’ initially served to try to convince Jews that the Christian messiah was the same messiah they hoped would lead them to liberation. However, later on in the fourth century, this ‘leader’ served another purpose – to be an ideological parallel to the Roman Emperor. I believe that it is for this reason that Matthew was the favourite gospel of the Catholic Church and of the Roman Emperors – who are often depicted in church mosaics standing between St. Peter and St. Matthew in heaven.

 

Luke and the Acts of the Apostles

These two books began circulating as one volume around 180 A.D. They were written not to convert any specific sect or for edification of Christians but for open sale to the educated – the ruling class ‘public’ that existed at the time. They are an indication of how class collaborationist the right wing of the Christian movement had become by that time. One finds a similar type of writing from the right wing of the Labour Party today. This gospel was published in the Greek style scrolls on which books for sale were written during that period. The author dedicates the work to His Excellency Theophilus – who was not a Christian.

 

The Acts in particular were a public statement aimed at the Roman ruling class to the effect that Christianity was not a threat to the Roman state. It seeks to show that Christianity was not a class or sectional religion. Both Luke and the Acts – which were in reality one book – aims at an appeal for Christianity that overcomes the differences in nationality class but unites all in the Roman state.

 

Although modelled on the same basic outlines as the other two gospels, it is a skilful piece of propaganda. Before inclusion in the ‘Canon’ it underwent some editing. The ‘Acts’ were split from Luke, so that they could serve as a link between the four gospels and St. Paul. This created the fiction that Paul based his ideas on the gospel rather than the reality of his time.

 

St. John’s Gospel

The author of St. John’s gospel is a mystery. Careful examination of this gospel reveals the language of the gnostic opposition seeping through. It is a far more abstract tract than the synoptic gospels and is specifically directed against the gnostics using their own language and concepts. The abstract ‘idealistic’ slogans of the Ophites are thrown back at them for example, ‘God is Love’, ‘God is Light’. It is thought that after the Council of Nicea this gospel was only just accepted into the New Testament as it appears to tread a very narrow line between Gnosticism and Paulinism.

 

This gospel diverges significantly from the others by including accounts of private discussions between Christ and the apostles and Christ and the Jews. These “private” conversations are typical of the gnostic gospels. The miracles and parables that appear in the other three are carefully selected to suit the author’s purpose – perhaps to steal the Gnostics ‘cleverness’ without conceding anything to them.

 

Revelation

This is the only ‘directly inspired’ divine book that appears in the New Testament and was selected out of a number of similar apolyptic writings. It was written in Asia Minor and contains descriptions of the last days of the world, prophesies of the antichrist, and the Last Judgment.

 

Such writings only make sense in context of the society they are written in and this one has to be seen in the light of the serious crisis of the Empire during the third century.

 

The Roman slave economy was disintegrating under the weight of its own contradictions, devastating plagues, population shifts bringing in barbarian invaders. To an educated Roman citizen at this time there must have been a sense of impending doom – the world was indeed very old and on the verge of ruin and collapse, the end of the Empire would soon be followed by the end of the world.

 

To sum up on the ‘canon’, there is no evidence whatever, that the gospels that we know as the ‘New Testament’ have any superiority over the rejected Christian material. The ‘canonical’ books were not written first and many of the ‘gnostic’ gospels were written and were circulating before some of the canonical ones. The gospels were not differentiated along the lines of ‘canonical’ and ‘heretical’ at the time they were written.

 

It appears that many gospels were used by Christians for different purposes as well as those produced by the sects that they belonged to themselves. Canonisation emerged very much later when the Roman ruling class began to see the right wing version of Christianity as a suitable ideological vehicle for the changed economic/political structure of the Roman state. The rigidity required for survival of the ruling class and the Roman state itself a halfway house to the rigidity of feudalism found an excellent ideology in later Christianity.

 

Sources – The Didache

Although Mark’s gospel is shown to be the prototype of the others, that gospel itself is an embellishment of earlier writings. One of the earliest known written materials to be circulating around the Christian church was called the Didache. This may have been the work of a church leader in Rome, possibly Clement. It is the prototype for Mark’s gospel. It was written between 70 – 90 A.D. and consists of a series of ‘commandments of Christ’. These are sayings attributed to Christ and are similar in context to those that appear in the gospels. It is based upon an oral collection of sayings collected by the author. Many of the sayings are worded differently to the gospels and point to its oral origin e.g. ‘Love God and honour your neighbour’. ‘The poor will inherit the earth’.

 

By the Second Century A.D. the churches were established in many areas and the leaders were writing tracts arguing and debating ideological points. Papias of Heiropolis is one of the earliest known writers after Paul and in his writing he quotes from both Mark and Matthew and equally from the ‘Gospel of the Hebrews’ a gnostic gospel later rejected.

 

Eusebius writing in the 3rd century condemned Papias for accepting too easily ‘strange parables’ hence the disappearance of most of Papias’s work.

 

Hermas of Rome, in the second century, wrote his own acknowledged tract called ‘The Shepherd’. In the scriptures, Matthew and Mark, the Gospel of the Hebrews (not to be confused with ‘Paul’s Letter’ to the Hebrews) and other gnostic material are quoted with equality.

 

A good example of the left/right 2nd century debate is to be found in the letters of Ignatius of Antioch. From his letters it appears that Ignatius was familiar with the Pauline letters as well as Matthew and St. John. However, he never quotes any gospel as the equal of the scripture – the Old Testament in a debate with the Jewish Christians – probably Ophites. The Ophites decided that Ignatius’s views were not in any way supported by the scripture, they had written to him saying ‘If I do not find it in the scripture – I do not believe it in the gospel’. Ignatius’s reply was ‘It is written in the scripture’, but their answer was ‘That is just the question!’.

 

The significance of this will be seen in the profoundly different interpretation of the Old Testament by the right and left tendencies of Christianity.

 

Another early Christian writer, Polycarp of Smyrna says in his letters that while the ‘sayings of Christ’ are authoritative they cannot be regarded as ‘scripture’. In other words, early Christianity was a political ideological movement, not a set of given beliefs, the actual ‘facts’ about Christ himself did not have the relevance that they had later on.

 

However, it was the gnostic (i.e. left wing) of Christianity who produced the first great Christian writers. The first known of the gnostic writers was Marion. In Marion’s opinion the authentic teaching of Christ has been distorted by the Paulinite wing but he accept a ‘revised’ view of the Pauline letters and revised version of St. Luke as valid gospels,. Other gnostics – such as Valentian accepted the four (canonical) gospels and the Pauline letters but put such a different interpretation on them as to make them mean the opposite to the Pauline tendency’s understanding of them.

 

It was only right at the end of the Second century that some writers began to treat any of the gospels as equal to scripture. Clement of Alexandria, a Pauline follower, identified to his own satisfaction which gospels were ‘true’ and which were ‘false’. With a few minor exceptions his selection became the New Testament of the Catholic Church.

 

The greatest problem in understanding the struggle that went on lies in the fact that the right wing were victorious. Their writing and version of Christianity has been preserved. The defeated tendencies – the Gnostics had no successors, Their extensive writing has largely been lost – as no one had any particular interest in preserving it – unless there was some point that the official faction wished to adopt. Much of the material was probably deliberately suppressed, for the growth of ‘canonical’ belief produced its opposition – the concept of ‘heresy’.

 

Heresy became an official concept after Christianity became a state religion because to be a heretic was to be in political opposition to the ruling class. In the Second century, the gnostics claimed equal validity with the ‘catholic’ writng, nor was this disputed at the time. There are only four gnostic gospels remaining and some of these are only fragmentary. The Gospel according to the Hebrews’ is an Ophite gospel since the “Holy Spirit’ is depicted as Christ’s mother. There is also the ‘Gospel according to St. Peter’, the ‘Gospel according to St. Thomas’ and a gnostic version of ‘Acts of Apostles’.

 

No single decree or statute states which gospels were ‘true’ and which ones ‘false’. A third century list issued by the Roman church stipulates the ‘New Testament’ as being Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, thirteen Pauline letters (excluding Hebrews) Jude, St. John 1 x 2, the Wisdom of Solomon (removed much later from the Bible), Revelation of John, Revelation of St. Peter rejected after the Council of Nicea, epistle to the Laodicians, epistle to the Alexandrians. This list is obviously not the same as the New Testament of today but at this time even right wing Christianity was not an official state ideology so further revision was still possible.

 

One of the second century strongholds of the left was Egypt, particularly Alexandria. It is from Clement of Alexandria that we can derive some information concerning gnostic texts – now lost. Clement was not a gnostic himself but he did describe the texts that the gnostics in Egypt used. Clement states that as far as he knows there were three versions of Mark’s gospel circulating. The first one was the ‘orthodox’ version used by the Paulinites, the gnostics apparently had a version of Mark of their own and Clement states that there was yet a third version, one supposedly written in Mark’s own hand kept by the gnostics in Alexandria. Other texts used by the gnostics in the Alexandria Church were, according to Clement, the Gospel of St. Peter, Gospel of St. Thomas, the Acts of St. Andrew, the Gospel of St. John, the Gospel of St. Paul, Revelation of St. Peter, Gospel of the Hebrews, the epistle of Barnabas, the epistle of the Hebrews (later canonical), Revelation of St. John (now canonical)

 

The Christian “Left” (Gnostic)

‘Gnosticism’ is defined by the dictionary (Websters’ New Etymological) as Christians who maintained that knowledge and not faith was the way to salvation, claiming themselves to have a superior knowledge of spiritual things — from the Greek Gnostikos – good at knowing.

 

The early Christian movement was an opposition movement to the Roman ruling class. As we have seen, it was by no means united. The Second century was a period of sharp opposition and debate between what we may call the ‘right wing’ or ‘Paulinite’ or ‘reformist wing and left wing’ or ‘Gnostic wing’. The term ‘gnostic’ itself was used as a derogatory term when the struggle was all over. Those who wished to ‘know’ rather than have merely ‘faith’ were dangerous heretics when Christianity had won its position as the official ruling class ideology.

 

The right or Paulinite wing increasingly had a policy of converting the Romans to their ideology. In this they succeeded but at the cost of being converted themselves into instruments of power in the hands of that same ruling class. Not that the ruling class immediately saw the use of Christianity even the most right wing type.

 

Christianity originally was the religion of the oppressed – fundamental economic changes had to take place in the Roman Empire before the Paulinite version could be accepted. Even so, ‘conservative’ elements in the ruling class, wishing to retain the old slave holding society resisted the new ideology. For the classical economy of slavery the Roman religion was suitable ideology; for a feudalised, more military, economy a stricter hierarchical ideology was necessary.

 

Paulinite Christianity was easily adaptable to the purpose, for as the reformist wing, it had already a strong potential for elitism and hierarchical formation. Materially as it developed it copied the form of Roman administration and hierarchy so that when its time came it could offer material as well as ideological support to the degenerated Empire and its feudal successors.

 

The left wing, although comparable in strength to the Paulinites during the Second century were by no means comparable to a left wing movement among the modern working class. They tended to be regionally based, although the letter of ‘Jude’ and others seem to indicate that there was some contact across the Empire. The letters of Paul to Corinthians seem to indicate an intervention of gnostics in the Corinthian branch of the Church from elsewhere. These ‘visitors’ that were attacked by Paul seem to have had some success in winning the Corinthians power from the Paulinites to the left.

 

 

The major left grouping gave themselves the title ‘Ophite’. This title means ‘The Snake’ and it is one of the many features which connect Christianity, especially the gnostics, to the matriarchies of the Mediterranean and the middle east.

 

The old matriarchal religions survived in some form during the Roman Empire. They were the religions of slaves and oppressed peoples of the Empire – with the recent exception of the Jews. The ‘Ophite’ system successfully linked these old matriarchies into a unified whole and linked this to Jewish scripture. The link with Jewish scripture was an absolute necessity since the Jews were the focal point of resistance against Roman oppression.

 

From our vantage point in history, the Ophite use of scripture may seem ingenuous, if not a little contrived, but in the context of the 1st and 2nd centuries it is perfectly logical. Generally all gnostic sects held the Jewish scripture to be valid but a refutation of Jewish belief.

 

In other words, they accepted the scripture as true and therefore accepted the reality of the Jewish God but maintained that the purpose of Christ’s intervention on earth was to refute the laws of the Jewish God and overthrow the principles of patriarchy. Christ, therefore, was not God’s son but God’s superior come to supersede and overthrow him and reverse his laws. The ‘Ophite’ meant the ‘snake’, the snake of the Garden of Eden, evil for God but in fact good for mankind as the snake was none other than (for some sects) Christ in an earlier incarnation.

 

For the Ophites and allied sects, Christ was not a man, but a combined male/female entity. The Christ that came to earth was a combination of the Incorruptible Light of the Right Hand (male -Christ) and the Incorruptible Light of the Left Hand (female – Sophia). They had come to earth previously as the snake of the Garden of Eden (for the Cainites at least). Their first visit had been a failure, they attempted to give Adam and Eve knowledge but were thwarted by the Jewish God who was nothing more than a renegade angel.

 

There was no room in Ophite ideology for Lucifer and his cohorts. Hell was already here on earth created by the Jewish God, through the Jewish patriarchy and the Roman oppressors – not for them the crucifix of the Paulinites, but the snake of the old matriarchy.

 

In social terms their religious ideology meant the ‘Snake’ and not the crucifix of the Paulines. They opposed all Mosaic laws of oppression and practised the old matriarchy, abolishing marriage within their own membership and where women had total political and social equality. It was these factors (of which their religion was the political expression) that so scandalised and frightened the Paulinites. The attacks on women and ‘false prophets’ in Paul and other letters are not provoked through a desire to expand on the position of women in society but to attack the gnostic factions within their own movement.

 

By the end of the third century, the Ophites, Cainites, Sethites and other gnostic factions were defeated. Their writings fell to neglect and destruction for the Roman state was reestablishing itself on a new, lower economic basis with the support of the Paulinite church.

 

Gnosticism seems to have been centred n Syria and Samaria (the old Israel) originally, but spread to Alexandria and Greece. All gnostic sects rejected the Paulinite concept of ‘free will’ and none of them subscribed to the ‘Day of Judgment’ theory. They considered all human beings to consist of three parts

  1. a) The body, which in the Garden of Eden had been light and beautiful but was now dark, sluggish, and ugly.
  2. b) The soul given by the Jewish God
  3. c) The light given by Sophia. The struggle inside each human being was therefore for Sophia’s ‘light’ to liberate ‘God’s soul’.

 

There were various grades of liberation, but those who achieved the highest would rise up in spirit to enjoy sexual union with an angel (of whatever sex).

 

The function and purpose of Christ among gnostic sects had nothing to do with the ‘dying for our sins’ concept of the Paulinites. On the contrary, Christ’s purpose was more specific, to enlighten the human race of the errors of the Jewish God and the wisdom of Sophia. Some sects maintained that Christ was merely a prophet to whom Sophia had given the gift of knowledge, others doubted whether Christ had actually existed as a human being at all. Cenenthus, a gnostic writer – an Ophite maintained that Jesus was a pure man whose body had been entered by Nous (the snake) who was none other than Christ and Sophia. On leaving Jesus, the man had been unjustly crucified and he was resurrected to rectify this injustice.

 

It is difficult for us to imagine today that the gnostic version of Christianity was of equal standing with the (Paulinite) form of Christianity .

 

By the time that the Emperor Constantine called the Council of Nicea – where hundreds of delegates, who travelled and were boarded at his own expense in 325, the Church was well established in terms of hierarchical organisation and Gnosticism had been long defeated.

 

However, to serve as an ideology for the newly reunified Roman Empire, now moving from Rome to Constantinople, Christianity itself had to be unified. Within the Church a new heresy had arisen, that of Arianism. The defeat of this heresy enabled the Roman state to establish religion of Christ the Pantocrator, the ruler of the world under God and of God – a reflection of how the Roman Emperor needed to be seen by the slave and semi feudal subjects of the Empire, an Empire not thriving and dominant as it had been in the 2nd century, but a military despotism under siege from without and in constant danger of collapse and opposition within.

 

The Origins of Religion – Hunting Society

Religion – a Marxist Analysis

 

HUNTING AND PASTORAL SOCIETIES

There is only one species of human being living on earth today, that is “homo sapiens sapiens” . There are no sub-species, offshoots, throwbacks, varieties – just one species. This species has probably existed for more than 100,000 years, the earliest archaeological evidence of “homo sapiens sapiens is dated at around 105,000 years ago. A previous species “homo sapiens neanderthaliensis” is known to have existed at least 250,000 years ago. However, the two species – according to present knowledge – shared the world until about 40,000 years ago. Since this time, it seems that our species has been the only species of human being.

 

However, the two species had this in common, they both lived in societies. The history of the human race is therefore the history of human society. The idea of the individual human or pair of humans living without society is a fanciful notion put forward by some who think that it is possible to understand human beings in terms of the individual and not in terms of a human system – that is a society. There is nothing new in this “Robinson Crusoe approach, it began with Adam and Eve. It is an indication though of how our society thinks – in terms of the private individual who decides to get educated, decides to get married, decides to have children, decides to believe or not believe in God, decides on a career and eventually decides to drop dead. However, society, is not just a group of individuals who decided to come together to help each other like the Masonic Lodge, it is a system that all are part of, none can escape from and conditions every thought we think, every word we say, and every decision we make.

The majority of people who dominate our thinking. are themselves part of the ruling class of our society who dominate our thinking as a whole. Therefore it can be expected that their descriptions, understanding of society are prejudiced by their role in dominating our society. However, this prejudice stretches back through the 100,000 years of human history, the same prejudice, taints pre-history As it does modern history. Here is an example from “Pre-History and the Beginnings of Civilisation by Jacquetta Hawkes, p 125.

 

A life of a hunter is restless, dangerous and most uncomfortable, but blessedly free from the monotonous tedium that was to come with farming and reach a climax in the well regulated factory or office. It is probably, in fact, the life preferred by most men to all other (in contrast to women) they were conditioned to it for a million years.

 

We can see here modern prejudice seeping through. The hunter is an individual who somehow appreciates that his life is more exciting than “societies who existed after him – as if he had a choice – but if our men find life boring in the “climax “ of society – capitalism it must be the “hunting gene that somehow has been transmitted to men but not to women, who, by contrast, enjoy the tedium of “well regulated society.”

When the same author comes to an understanding ancient religion then her prejudice is equally obvious. Page 207.

 

It seems that while the individual mind was still bound up with family, society and nature and when, moreover, women and maternity were probably still dominant in family and social structure, there was a tendency for the idea of the divine life and fertility to be expressed in the form of the Great Goddess. As intellect gained in power, greatly increasing man’s isolation, and as law and prohibitions built up conscience, then the masculine god waxed and assumed the throne in the human mind.”

 

This is the modern mind interpreting the past in its own image. Firstly, the individual somehow “bound up is taken as the starting point. However, the first sentence does not describe ancient society but modern society. In ancient society there was no concept of the individual, it is in our society that the individual is “bound up with family, society and nature” . However, the greatest prejudice is to imply that the human intellect can grow independently, that laws and prohibitions do not emerge from every society that has ever existed and that the indication of this growth of bourgeois “conscience” is provided by the worship of a male god in the “throne of the mind” as opposed to the consciousness, intellectually weak, lawless and licentious worship of a Great Goddess.

 

Taking this approach, history becomes nothing more than the development of the human intellect expressed in its laws and prohibitions and belief in the male god. Given the vast number of laws and prohibitions we have today and the general belief in a male god, human society has reached its pinnacle of achievement – although there is probably room for more laws and prohibitions.

 

A System within a System

To understand human beings we have to understand human society as a system existing as part of the natural world, opposed to it and in equilibrium at the same time. Every human, in every society is part of its system and we cannot pluck the individual out and say how she/he thinks and acts without seeing what part that individual plays in that particular system.

 

Pre-history has by convention been given certain chronological categories which while more helpful than the nineteenth century designations of “Savagery , “Barbarism etc. do not clarify the types of society that we may wish to talk about. The designations begin around 130,000 years ago to about 9,000 B.C.

 

This immense period of time is designated “Paleolithic or “Old Stone Age . For convenience it is split into Lower, Middle, and Upper Paleolithic.

 

The next period a mere 2-3000 years is called “Mesolithic or Middle Stone Age and covers the period from 6,000 – 3,000 B.C. Then we have the Neolithic or New Stone Age. After that we have the Bronze Age, the Iron Age, etc. These terms have some limited use as they are meant to describe the tools, the instruments of production with which human society comes into contact with nature. However, these tools have a limited story to tell. They do not specify how production with these tools was organised nor perhaps – equally important the other instruments of production like sheep, pigs, horses, dogs which human society manipulated and converted to instruments of production instead of being only the results of production. To call a society a New Stone Age Society categorises it as much as describing our own as the “Nuclear Age” or the nineteenth century as the “Steam Age” instead of describing it by its way of organisation of production – Capitalism.

 

Although these terms have a limited use and will therefore be used, I shall use designations that are not purely chronological and describe societies in terms of their organisation of production. Some terms will be a bit lengthy but that cannot be helped.

 

Categories Of Societies With Conventional Equivalents And Basic Class Type

1)        Hunter/Gatherer

Depending more or less equally on hunting animals and gathering wild              plants, etc, (Paleolithic) (Nomadic) (Communist).

2)        Hunter

Depending more on hunting – ie. usally herding animals and less on                    gathering.

(Paleolithic, mesolithic) (gen. nomadic) (Communist –male).

3)        Advanced Hunting (horse-hunting)

Production by hunting with domesticated animal e.g. horse, as an instrument    of production.

(Mesolithic, bronze, iron) (nomadic) (warrior) (male)

4)        Pastoral

Basic herd animal domesticated for production but without horses e.g.                sheep, goats, cattle. Some hunting and gathering to supplement.

(Mesolithic, bronze, iron) (nomadic) (Communist — male)

5)        Advanced Pastoral

Variety of animals e.g. cattle, pigs, sheep, goats with the horse as an                   instrument of production,. some hunting and gathering and plundering.

(patriarchal) (Mesolithic, bronze, iron) (nomadic)

6)        Gatherer/Hunter

Generally an interim stage to (7), Mostly gathering particularly wild edible                        grasses (wheat and barley) Hunting as a supplement.

(Neolithic) (Communist — female)

(semi-nomadic)

7)        Slash and Burn Agriculture

Collection of wild seed and replanting. Beginning of domestication of plants.      Hunting supplement.

(Neolithic) (Communist — female) (semi nomadic)

8)        Matriarchal Agriculture (Neolithic)

Formed by fusion of (4) and (7) complete agricultural economy domestic                         plants and animals. No hunting.

(Neolithic) (Communist — female) (Settled)

9)        Slave Agriculture

A fusion of (5) and (8) producing agricultural society exploited by warrior               ruling class.

(Neolithic, bronze, iron age)

Further fusions ie. (9) and (5) strengthen system.

(Patriarchal) (Settled)

 

Chronology Of Social Evolution (Approximate)

The Hunter Gatherer

Hunting and gathering is the initial form of human production – it is the first type of human society. However, it must not be assumed, therefore, that the structure of society was uniform in all places. The exact type form of society depending upon the environment, what there was to be hunted, what there was to be gathered and what raw materials were available to work upon and convert into instruments of production e.g. flint for knives, axes, tools, wood for building and making weapons and so on. Hunting and gathering did not necessarily yield equal amounts of product.

 

In some areas, hunting was more productive and those societies tended to evolve towards a hunting economy; in others, others game was either scarce or difficult to catch but gatherable crops were more readily available and so those particular societies evolved in that direction.

 

Australian Hunter Gatherers

One of the few examples of a hunting/gathering society to survive until the recent past is that of the Australian aborigines – although their form of society is now in sight of total extinction.

 

People are thought to have begun to settle in Australia around 30,000 years ago. They appear to have arrived in several waves over a long period. As they arrived after Australia was separated by the sea from the rest of Australasia it appears that the original inhabitants had a different form of society from that which subsequently developed. For one thing, they must have had a high degree of technical skill to build boats to negotiate the difficult passage from the Asian continent to the islands and mainland of Australia.

 

The aboriginal economy as it was when Australia was first colonized by the British, did not include the domestication of either animals or crops or dependence on any one form of animal or gatherable crop. Nor did it involve the use of boats.

 

Despite the size of Australia, and the size of its fertile and temperate areas the whole continent did not support more than 250,000 people before the settlement of Europeans. This was after 30,000 years of continuous habitation. This implies a very low level of productivity which declined even further when the

English settlers pushed the people out of the fertile areas into the desert.

 

The Aboriginals were simply categorised as “Savage “ and useless to the English colonists. Their primitive form of production did not even make them worthy of exploitation – they had no surplus product to be stolen from them – unlike in other British colonies – India for instance. They were either driven into the desert or murdered and then ignored; even today, the original inhabitants of Australia are treated as subhuman savages by many white Australians.

 

Aboriginal beliefs, customs and social structure baffled all but a few of the English settlers. Christian missionaries dismissed any idea that they had any form of social structure at all, they were merely considered to be “promiscuous and immoral”. However, people like Lewis Morgan and Frederick Engels realised that the native Australians reflected a stage in social and economic evolution and in its own way Australian society was just as complex as that of the Europeans who, at the time, considered theirs to be natural and ordered by God.

 

However, Engels credits an English missionary, Lorimer Fison, for discovering and understanding the social structure and system of sexual relationships practiced by the Australian people.

 

The tribes of South Australia practiced a two class system of sexual relationships. Every person in the tribe was classed either as a “Kroki or a “Kumite . Sexual liaison with someone of the same class was strictly forbidden but a liaison with any one of the opposite class was unrestricted. In other words a Kumite woman could have a sexual relationship with any Kroki man she pleased and vice-versa. The class of an individual depended upon the class of the mother. Class was transmitted maternally and there existed no social recognition of paternity. This did not mean that the Aboriginal people did not understand the connection between sex and conception, there is no evidence of any society who did not understand such a simple thing; but the transmission of class through the maternal line had an economic and social function.

 

The two class system effectively prevented sexual relationships between all relations on the maternal side – as well as many who were not relatives, but permitted free intercourse on the paternal side. Although the system allowed father/daughter relationships – as the father and daughter are of opposite classes, Fison found no instances of it actually happening.

 

The tribes which inhabited Queensland in the nineteenth century took the class system a stage further. Every person here was a member of one of four classes. Each generation was split into two. Its operation can be illustrated if we called the classes, for convenience, A + B and C + D. All “A s were permitted free intercourse with all “B s, but not with their own class or with the other classes. All the children arising out of relationships with A and B would be either C or D. If the mother was “A then the children would be “C , if the mother was “B then the children would be “D . The C and D s were permitted free intercourse between each other, but not with their own class or with A and B. The offspring of these unions would revert back to A and B.

 

The effect of this was to prevent any inter-generation intercourse at all and cut out the possibility of father/daughter or uncle/niece relationships. Cousin relations on the father ‘s side were permitted – that relationship was not recognized – but cousin relationships of the female side were prohibited. We can discount the possibility of grandparent, grandchildren relations because it would have been rare to find three generations sexually mature or capable at the same time.

 

These rules were strictly adhered to and the penalty for breaking them was banishment from the community – a virtual death sentence, but Fison does not record any instances of it actually happening. It was probably extremely rare.

 

It is interesting to see how the system worked in practice. Fison noted that most of the people tended to pair up – not always for life but for long periods. There was no formality to this pairing up provided the class rules were obeyed, it was a purely voluntary arrangement on both sides. Both the man and woman were free to go off and find another partner if they wished and free to have sex with someone else if they wished. Occasionally, one man was found to be living with several “wives” but this was not usual.

 

However there were enough examples of “promiscuity” for the Christian missionaries to brand the Aborigines as “immoral”. When they, themselves, were offered sleeping facilities by women they thought were other men’s wives, but they witnessed – with horror – this hospitality offered to strangers. It was a fairly frequent occurrence for Aboriginal men to wander off on their own for a while, presumably hunting or prospecting. On coming to a camp, the missionaries often witnessed another man’s “wife” offering the stranger sexual hospitality. What astonished the missionaries was that neither the “wife” nor the “husband” seemed in the least concerned or guilty about this “infidelity”.

In fact, they would have been more concerned at the stranger’s refusal.

 

However, there was nothing strange about this behaviour for anyone who really understood these people, the stranger had no less right to have sexual intercourse with a willing woman than the man she had paired with. She had the right to sleep with any man she pleased provided that neither transgressed the class prohibition.

 

We can see that this basic hunter/gatherer system is free to evolve towards a matriarchal structure, the basic fundamentals of “mother right” are there and also free to evolve towards a patriarchal one as the hunting culture is also strong. Which way would evolve depends upon the evolution of its economy. In Australia, in a period of 50,000 years it evolved hardly at all until the British came and disturbed its equilibrium from which time its evolution was towards extinction.

 

Australian Religion

In terms of religion, the Aborigines were also ambivalent inclining neither toward matriarchal religion or male dominated religion but having features of both. In this way they are the same as their European forebears who lived during the Paleolithic period. They believed in both the Great Mother Goddess who created the world. In many archaeological remains, ie. the “Venus figures – statuettes of women with exaggerated sexual features but no faces – as found in Europe. Also cave painting at Cogul in Spain show a ceremony of women taking place – a group of women with a man in the middle, which appear to be similar to matriarchal rites in the next section. Also, the hunter/gatherers seem also to have the animalistic beliefs common amongst all hunting peoples. The Australians had both types of belief and so did other hunter/gatherers – in America for instance.

 

With hunting comes animal gods, with animal gods come blood taboos, these blood taboos apply to women also. They are universal amongst hunting and pastoral societies, the hunter/gatherer religion has the basis of this as well as matriarchal religion.

 

THE HUNTERS

No two hunting societies are ever exactly alike for there is such an enormous variation in possible circumstances. Some hunting societies lived on the margin of bare existence, others in relative prosperity.

 

In Europe, it appears that hunting reached a peak of prosperity during the last glaciation – around 18,000 B.C. At this time the plains of Northern Europe were swarming with wild game.

 

Grasslands may have been richer sources of nutrients for large ungulate populations than they are today and the world wide fall in sea level and the emergence of continental shelves added much exploitable terrain to the habitats available to hunter/gatherers. Not only was game more numerous than at later periods, but bigger. There were larger forms of many animals. Giant varieties of sheep, goats, deer as well as mammoths. horses and cattle all flourished in Europe and around the Mediterranean during this period. This period was one of great advance and relative prosperity. Archaeology had shown that tent and temporary house building reached a sophisticated level during this period.

 

Domestication of Dogs

Moreover, pottery remains have been found on sites of purely hunting societies. This shows that the people had a relatively large surplus product which gave them the time to develop such skills. Also it has been shown that it was during this Upper Paleolithic/Mesolithic period that society domesticated its first animal – the dog. It is usually thought that the dog was domesticated because it was a scavenger – a camp follower. However, dog skeletons found with human ones on Mesolithic sites were large animals related to the Southern wolf. Dogs were not domesticated as individuals but as packs.

 

Wolf packs hunted the same animals as humans, reindeer, etc. By initially following wolf packs, the hunters could share the kill- especially since wolves wound a great many more animals than they actually bring down. It was short step from that to domesticating their own pack by bringing up young animals to follow as a hunting pack – they would do most of the hard work for you. From an Upper Paleolithic hunting scene in Cueva de Los Cabollos, the hunters seem to be following a similar method. They are shown loosing off arrows at any reindeer they can see and most of the animals shown have arrows sticking in them. The hunters would then follow the crippled animals until they could be brought down.

 

A variety of new weapons were also developed, the bow and arrow – which never reached the Australians, spear throwers, specialised fish spears, fish nets, specialised arrows for bringing down birds, barbed harpoons, fish hooks, heavy axes and adzes – for woodwork and significantly – in the Mesopotamia – reaping knives. Carvings and artifacts of this time show a high degree of skill and beauty.

 

Hunting And Pastoral Religion

As might be expected the religion associated with hunting societies and partial hunting societies has much to do with animals. It must be remembered that societies that depend 100% on hunting were few – although there are some examples.

 

To understand the hunters attitude in religious terms we have to understand their comprehension of their world -in other words, try to see things through their eyes. The hunting society existed and functioned as a society – not as a group of individuals, they drew no distinction between themselves as individuals and themselves as a society. The animals around them, both their prey and their wild competitors existed in their perception in the same way. Animals, as far as they were concerned, lived in societies like human beings, the hunters did not distinguish between one animal and the species in general.

 

The ancestral spirit that guided their behaviour and society guided the animals as well. The animals to the hunters, therefore, were the equals of human beings in every way, in intelligence, organisation, and most hunting societies believed that humans and animals were closely related. Some animals were regarded as superior to humans, particularly competitors, those that hunted but could not be hunted by people.

 

Example (1) Acagchemen – California

This American people this is an example of a pre-horse hunting society with a very low level of surplus production. Their staple diet was buzzard but they also gathered wild millet.

 

Their chief deity was a god called Chinigchinich who was not a buzzard but a prairie wolf – the coyote. The buzzard was also sacred and once a year a festival in honour of the buzzard was held.

 

According to their legend, a woman of their tribe ran away to the mountains where Chinigchinich turned her into a buzzard. They believed that although the buzzard was killed the woman lived on – in other buzzards. Further to this, they believed that the more buzzards were killed – or should we say in their terms – the more of the Buzzard was killed, the more she multiplied, for they made no distinction between the individual buzzard and buzzards in general.

 

How do we account for the fact that the ruling god was male and a coyote? The coyote was their competitor, but also their superior. In a very primitive hunting society armed with stone and bone tipped weapons without the mobility of the horse, the coyote was a far superior hunter than the human. Given that no distinction could be made between one coyote and coyotes in general then the coyote was a superior being -a god. However, the coyote did not propagate the buzzard but merely formed it from a woman. It would be natural to assume – from the Indians point of view that the coyote had done this for his own benefit, so he could eat it, but would allow the humans a share. It had to be a female so that it could continue to propagate despite its frequent death. For the Indians there was only one buzzard and that was female, so she could continue to reproduce herself., For that reason the Indians held the coyote and the buzzard to be sacred.

 

Example (2) Egypt

In “Ancient Matriarchy” I show that Egypt was an important area of the matriarchal religion of Isis and Osiris. However, Egypt was made up in ancient times of a large variety of societies. From Thebes, the religion of Amon, the sacred ram, was introduced into Egypt. Once a year a ram was killed and an image of Amon clothed in the ram’s skin. In other areas, such as Mendes, the Amon took the form of a goat rather than a ram. The origin of Amon is no doubt similar to the Buzzard.

 

Further, the sacrificial ram who is himself a god in the origin of the Jewish Passover, a custom which the Bible inform us the Hebrews picked up in Egypt. The Arabian, Ramadan no doubt has the same root. Amon was introduced into Egypt after Isis and Osiris and was incorporated into the Egyptian’s ruling class’s mythology and was for a short period the chief Egyptian deity – until another group gained superiority and relegated Amon to a lower place in the hierarchy.

 

Example 3 The Zuni and Mogui Indians – New Mexico

Although by the end of the nineteenth century the Zunis had been taught the arts of agriculture and had become settled their recent dependence on hunting was shown in their religion. Their staple prey had been the turtle. Their chief deity was the fire-god Shu-lu-wit-si. Once a year, the priest of the god dressed up in turtle shells and led a procession out of the village to catch turtles. When they came back with basketfuls of them, they were distributed to all the households. The house’s turtle was wrapped up in blankets, as if it was a small baby, yet it was not fed or given any water. J.G. Frazer, in the “Golden Bough relates how he tried to question the Zunis about their treatment of the turtle. He asked one of the household.

“Why do you not let him go or give him some water?

“Poor younger brother! Know you not how precious it is? It die? It will not die, I tell you it cannot die.

“But it will die if you don’t feed it and give it water.

“I tell you it cannot die; it will only change houses tomorrow and go back to the home of its brothers. (Then turning to the turtle). “Ah my poor dear lost child or parent. Who knows which? My sister or brother? Maybe my own grandfather or grandmother?”

 

The next day with some grief and lamentation the turtle was killed and eaten, the shell was scraped and dried and made into a dance rattle.

 

Here we see the common hunting belief that humans and animals are one and the same. The belief is here that human beings were once turtles and will revert back after death. Also the individual is immortal because the individual lives as part of the society and while society lives the individual lives. Turtle society and human society are one and the same thing.

 

The Mogui – a related tribe held a similar belief. Here they divided themselves into totem clans such as the Deer Clan, the Wolf Clan, the Bear Clan. This was not done because they wanted to identify themselves with the swiftness of the deer or the ferocity of bears, but because they believed that each clan were these animals in human form. After death, they believed, each clan member would return to deer society or bear society whichever. Again they saw humans and animals as one.

 

Example (4) The Ainu – Japan

The Ainu were the original inhabitants of Japan and are now few in number and confined to the Islands of Hokkaido, Sukhalin and Kunil. Both in language and appearance they are unrelated to the Japanese. They are a Caucasian people and are distinguished by their exceptional body hair. Their language appears also to be unrelated to any other known language. Before the arrival of the Japanese from Korea – probably around 400-500 A.D. – they occupied much of present day Japan. Much of early Japanese history is concerned with the conquest of the Ainu. It appears that during the 9th century there was a major campaign against the Ainu after which they were confined to the three northern islands of Japan.

 

The Ainu live today in small villages near the sea depending on hunting, fishing, and gathering wild plants. Their traditional houses were pit dwellings – rather like the Upper Paleaolithic hunters, covered with reed thatch. Their clothes were exclusively made from either skin or from a fabric made from tree bark. In recent times, the Japanese have tried to encourage them to take up small scale agriculture but despite this the Ainu population is now a tiny remnant and is probably on the verge of extinction.

 

The main prey of the Ainu was the bear, but they also hunted eagles and foxes. The bear is a difficult and dangerous animal to hunt and the level of production must have always been very low but they had no alternative animal to base their production on. As a consequence of their low level of surplus production, their lack of other alternatives their society – like that of the Australians has evolved not at all, except in a negative sense – towards extinction. The bear was the main source of their production, salted bear meat provided their staple diet – supplemented by gathering, bearskin their clothes, and their bones made their tools and weapons. It would be no surprise therefore to find that the bear was their god.

 

The successful hunted bear was therefore treated with great respect and care for the god continued to live in other bears. The dead bear brought home had to be treated with proper ceremonial, otherwise it may not return in the form of another bear. The bear brought into the village – either dead or wounded was immediately offered food and drink and profuse apologies made to it for having to kill it. The skulls of hunted bears were always mounted on posts outside the houses – alongside the skulls of foxes – a lesser god.

 

The Bear Festival

The importance of the bear to the Ainu can be shown by their annual bear festival which took place each year at the end of winter. Households of the village took turns to stage the festival for the rest of the village. The staging of the festival required three to four years’ preparation by the particular household.

First a bear cub must be captured, preferably a suckling one. The captured bear cub was brought into the village and suckled at the breast of a woman who had milk. It was put into the hut where the children were kept, and was treated as if it were a child of the village, being suckled and weaned like the other children, played with and cared for. When the bear cub grew too big to be treated in this way, then it was put into a wooden cage, despite this it was treated with great care and affection – being well nourished on wild millet porridge and fish. The bear was also treated with great respect and reverence – the Ainu regarded him as the god.

 

After three years, the bear is mature enough for the festival and the householder who is staging it invites the rest of the village to this house, where they are all given a lot of millet saki to drink.

 

When all are assembled, the householder begins the ceremony. He starts by apologising to the god he is about to kill. He asks the bear/god to attest to the fact that it has been well treated during its stay, but now it is too big and he is obliged to kill it.

“My friends, he says to the gathering “come to the feast and we will unite in the great pleasure of sending the god away.”

 

The bear is then tied down with ropes and blunt arrows fired at it. This does not kill it but infuriates it. However, the bear is killed by strangling, a process in which most can play a part for its neck is enclosed in a split tree bough and all unite to push the ends together and strangle the bear. It is considered exceptionally bad luck to spill this bear’s blood at the wrong time. The carcass is then decapitated and all the men are given a drink of the blood to give them courage. However they must take care that no blood falls to the ground. The bear’s head is then set in a window and a piece of its own cooked flesh is given as an offering. The bear is then cooked and the feast shared by all making sure that all of this bear is eaten and none is left. The ceremony was witnessed by a Dr B. Schenke in the 1880’s, however, it is described also by a Japanese writer in 1652 and this is what he says.

When they find a young bear, they bring it home and the wife suckles it. When it is grown they feed it with fish and fowl and kill it in the winter for the sake of the liver, which they esteem an antidote to poison, the worms, colic, and disorders of the stomach. It is a very bitter taste, and is good for nothing if the bear has been killed in the summer. The butchering begins in the first Japanese month For this purpose, they put the head between the two poles, which are squeezed together by 50 or 60 people – both men and women. When the bear is dead, they eat his flesh, keep the liver as medicine and sell the skin, which is black and commonly six feet long, but the longest measured 12 feet. As soon as he is skinned, the person who nourished the beast begin to bewail him, afterwards they make little cakes to regale those who helped them.

 

It is remarkable that two accounts, one from a visiting European, another from a Japanese, separated by nearly 250 years should be so similar. Provided that the Ainu could rely on the bear, then there was no reason to evolve either economically or socially, their slow decline was probably due to the loss to the Japanese of the better hunting areas of the country.

 

Although we see here all the typical aspects of hunting society and religion, the bear as a god, the lack of distinction between the individual bear and bears in general, its immortality, its equality with humans, and so on there is another extremely important lesson to be learned from the Ainu. For in this society, we see – petrified – the beginnings of domestication.

 

The Ainu took the first step in domestication by capturing the young bear cub and nurturing it in the village. Unfortunately, they could go no further because the bear is not able to be domesticated, it is too fierce, being a hunter itself so domestication never progressed beyond the first stage -the capturing and nurturing of the young animal – but it had to be destroyed before it was mature enough to be dangerous.

 

If we transfer this scene from Japan to early Europe where animals like sheep and goats were the prey – and not bears – it is possible to see how domestication began. It is also possible to see in this Ainu bear festival the beginnings of religions like Amon of Egypt and the Jewish feast of the Passover.

 

The Ainu, however, being stuck with the bear as their basic source of food were unable to domesticate it and evolve their society into a more productive pastoral one, which would have set their society off on a new course.

 

Example (5) The Gilyaks – Siberia

There were many other societies in the world similar to the Ainu, but it is worth giving another example to show   despite the fact that they are in completely different parts of the world exactly how similar they are.

 

The Gilyaks were one of many peoples who inhabited the vast area of Siberia in the nineteenth century. Despite their remoteness at that time, L. von Shrenke, a another German traveller, witnessed the bear ceremonies of Gilyaks in Tebach.

 

Like the Ainu, the bear was the staple prey of Gilyak people, but the Siberian bear was a much larger and fiercer animal than the one the Ainu hunted. Like the Ainu, they tried to capture the young, but this involved a fierce struggle with the she-bear. Men were killed very commonly in this struggle, it happened often enough for the Gilyaks to accept it as nothing unusual. Men who died fighting the bear were thought to join the bear spirit.

 

Like the Ainu, the cub was taken home and fattened on fish, but here the whole village had to take turns to feed it. When it was mature enough it was ready for the festival – held like the Ainu – at the end of winter. However, in Tebech if more than one bear was ready they would all be used. In the feast witnessed by von Shrenke three were used.

 

The festival began with the bears being led in ceremony to each house in the village where it was given some food. On the eve of the feast day, the bears were led on to the frozen river. The following morning, once again the bears were led onto the frozen river – to the hole where the women drew the water.

 

From there the procession returned to the village where the bears were shot with arrows. The bears were then taken to a selected house to be skinned and cooked. Only the male heads of families were allowed to take part in the skinning and cooking, young men, women and children were not allowed in. The bears meat was placed in a large cooking pot and the pot filled with snow – to cook the bear in water was forbidden. When the bears were cooked, everyone else could now enter – the bears’ heads were mounted and the women tied bandages over the bears eyes to dry their “tears . The cooked meat is offered to the bears and then shared out. After the feast and all the bear meat had been eaten, the bones were put back in the cooking pot and every one left. As people filed out the door, the oldest father gave each person a light blow on the shoulder with a fir branch – a retribution on the bear’s behalf for eating it.

 

In the afternoon, the men carried the bear bones deep into the forest where they were buried except for the skulls which were impaled on stakes. While they were away, the women of the village held their own dance. The dance consisted of all the women doing a dance in turn with the fir tree branch while the other women accompanied her on drums.

 

The Gilyak’s god was, of course, the bear which they called Lord of the Mountain and they believed that if the god is properly respected he will not only keep coming but protect them from other evils.

 

Animal Competitors

The hunting society sees around it, not a hierarchy where man is the “lord of creation” but a world of closely related and equal species living in similar societies. In the case of the Californian natives, the coyote was seen as a superior hunter to man and therefore was elevated in the minds of hunters to god status. In other societies too, where sometimes the competing species are more fierce and dangerous to human beings, these animals are treated as equals. They are treated in the same way as competing human tribes, peace is easier than war and many tribes attempted to make non-aggression pacts with animals.

 

Crododiles

A good example was the Dyaks of Borneo and their relationship with crocodiles. The Dyaks will not hunt or kill a crocodile for fear of starting a feud with the crocodile tribe. If, however, the crocodiles start the trouble by taking a human victim, then, in return the Dyaks hunted down one crocodile in vengeance.

 

There was a similar practice on Madagascar, here the various tribes who lived around Lake Itasy believed the crocodiles and humans were kinsfolk and descended from the same ancestor. Annually the tribes would go to the lake and the chief would make a pact with the crocodiles – addressing them as “brothers . Basically, the chief indicated that if no humans were killed by crocodiles than no crocodiles would be killed by humans. If humans were killed then an equal number of crocodiles would be killed also. The people believed that the crocodile chiefs agreed to this and so when someone fell victim to a crocodile, the crocodiles would deliver the murderer to their vengeance.

 

When a crocodile had killed one of its human “kin” then the village went to the lake where the chief demanded that the crocodiles give up the murderer to them. A hook was baited and thrown in and the crocodile thus caught was believed to have been put there by its tribe and was the actual guilty crocodile. It was therefore dragged ashore, subjected to a trial, and executed. However, the dead crocodile was now treated as one of their own kinsfolk and buried in the tribal grave and tribal funeral rites.

 

Tigers

In Bengal, the people had the same attitude towards tigers and they disapproved strongly of gratuitous tiger hunts by the British and Maharajahs, believing that the tiger tribe would blame them and seek vengeance. The Bengalis only went on a tiger hunt if one of their village had been killed by a tiger. If they succeeded in killing one then they tried to renew the pact by promising over the dead body of the tiger that they would never kill another.

 

Snakes And Wolves

Amongst the Seminole and Cherokee people of North America, the rattlesnake was recognised as Chief of the snake tribe. Therefore, rattlesnakes were left well alone for if one is killed then the rattlesnake will ensure that one of the murderer’s family will die of snake bite. Here again we have the lack of distinction between the individual and the general, the rattlesnake is one, killing one does not wipe him out, he exists in all rattlesnakes.

 

However, relations with snakes and wolves became more complex for obviously under certain circumstances it was necessary to kill a snake or a wolf. If a snake is killed then the medicine man had to make a long ceremony to appease the snake. Also, if wolves raided one of their fish-traps or food supplies, then a formal declaration of war might be made on the wolves. In this event, specially selected men, protected by strong magic from the consequences of their deeds, were sent out to hunt the wolves. It was generally regarded as preferable to keep the wolves away and avoid the necessity of hostilities.

 

The Choice Of Prey

The choice of a particular animal for prey is not haphazard. Generally one or two species are selected as staples with others as supplements. Hence the Ainu killed the bear as the staple but supplemented bear with foxes, fish, and eagles. The Californian natives subsisted on buzzard with buffalo as supplement. The choice of prey is determined by the greatest productivity – animals that have no productivity are generally left well alone.

 

The greatest productivity came if the prey animal available was a herding ruminant like sheep, goats, and cattle. Hunting these particular animals gave an opportunity for further evolution of that society – through domestication a pastoral economy can be evolved which had a much higher and reliable level of productivity than a hunting economy.

 

If, however, an animal like the horse was domesticated, then this animal instead of being a means of production i.e. meat, skin, bone, can be converted to an instrument of production – for riding and later, hauling. This vastly increases the efficiency of both a pastoral economy and a hunting economy and makes a combination possible – herding sheep and goats and hunting reindeer. It was among the latter forms of society that property – instruments and means of production developed first.

 

However, in every case where an animal was killed, the spirits of the animal societies had to be propriated or mollified. As in Siberia and Japan, bear hunters in North America would offer the dead bear food and drink and, in their case, a smoke from the peace pipe. Amongst the Nootka , the dead bear would be dressed in the chief’s war bonnet, put in the chief’s place and the best delicacies placed before it; only then could it be skinned and eaten. The Caffres of East Africa treated the elephant in a similar way as did the Bagurda treat the buffalo.

 

As a final example, we can take the Koryaks of North Eastern Siberia who hunted whales. They believed that whales lived in tribes and villages just like they did. When a whale was killed, it was hauled into the village and treated as if it was a visitor, a guest from a kin tribe. The Koryaks believed that given all the hospitality the whale would want to return and visit them again. Indeed they believed that every whale caught was the guest who had visited the year before.

 

The Blood Tabu

Here we approach an area that has been much misunderstood and will lead directly on to topics which have been even more misunderstood such as infanticide, puberty and menstruation and initiation.

 

A hunting society and, to an extent, a pastoral society lives by causing death. The death of animals is the life of society, so therefore life and death are inextricably interwoven. When an animal dies, it bleeds, its blood is its life, the animal’s life flows out of it in the form of blood. It was natural to suppose therefore that blood was life, in the blood rested the spirit, release the blood and the spirit of the animal emerged as the body dies. Therefore the blood was treated with care and fear and was subject to many tabus.

 

The successful hunters, although producing the means of life for society put themselves and the rest of the tribe in great danger from the spirit they had released and were in danger until the spirit had returned to its own tribe.

 

“Unclean” is a common concept amongst hunting and pastoral tribes, but it has no connection with a concept of “dirty” – unhygienic. The contamination associated with “unclean” is a spiritual one, blood makes people unclean which meant around them was a spirit, not yet departed, which was highly dangerous until it had returned home. A few examples will serve to show the rites undergone by the successful hunters.

 

Amongst the Inuit of the Bering Strait the successful hunters of a whale were not allowed to re-enter the village for few days during which time they had to stay with the body of the whale. At the same time, no one in the village was allowed to use a sharp instrument for fear of injuring or antagonising the whale’s spirit. After a few days of isolation, the spirit was thought to have re-entered the whale’s bladder. The Inuit held an annual festival in December where all the bladders of hunted animals caught during the year were returned to the sea and rejoined their own tribes – to return again as whales, seals, etc.

 

A similar practice was carried out amongst the Aleut of Alaska. Here the hunter was shut in an isolated hut where he sat and made snorting “dying whale” noises for several days. He was then allowed to emerge to return to the whale. The parts where the whale had received its wounds were cut out, and if, by chance, the whale was still alive, then the hunter returned to the hunt and waited a few more days.

 

Moving back to bears, in this case, the Lapps. The successful hunters were again regarded as “unclean and were shut for three days in an isolated hut. Also the sledge and reindeer used to bring back the bear’s carcass were unclean and could not be used again. After three days, the secluded men may emerge but must strip off their clothes while the women spit the red juice of alder bark into their faces. Now the men may dress and look for the bear meat and, like the Kilyaks, the women are excluded from this. After the feast there is a complicated fire dance and all except the hunt leader may rejoin their women, he must remain isolated a further two days. Moving into Africa, we find the Hottentot hunter isolated for three days after the hunt. In Borneo, the hunter has eight days isolation. Nearly every hunting society has similar restrictions and tabus on hunters.

 

Tabus On Warriors

The warrior and the hunter are one and the same – amongst hunting society the warrior is not a specialised soldier, the instruments of hunting are turned in this case against rival human tribes. The purpose of this is economic. A hunting society requires a certain range to support itself, encroachment onto this range will result in a drop in production, with possible catastrophic results. Even so most tribes preferred to avoid war where possible. Even if war was necessary, the aim was not to annihilate the rival but to push them away – bloodshed was generally kept to a minimum. Amongst the American Plains tribes, the killing of enemy carried no specific recognition except bringing to play, the blood tabus and rites. Recognition of courage amongst the Indians went with counting “coups – the touching of an enemy with the hand.

 

The killing of other humans was a more serious matter than of animals, and the warrior was generally unclean from the time that it was known that they were to set out for battle until well after he returned, particularly if he had killed. Amongst the Maoris, warriors could not touch anyone before or after battle, for a certain period. The Nootkas could not eat for a week before hunting or fighting and were unclean afterwards for several days. Amongst nearly all the American Plains tribes special eating and drinking bowls had to be used for the hunt and the warpath and were destroyed afterwards. In nearly every hunting society, there was a ban on sex before and after the hunt or the war. Warriors who had actually killed generally had to undergo an elaborate cleaning ceremony to rid them of the blood and spirit of the dead enemy. Amongst the Natchez , the warrior was forbidden sex and meat for six months and most American natives had to undergo similar rites after killing.

 

Most unclean of all was to kill one of your own tribe. Such an act involved the blood-feud vengeance far less than people imagine. The blood-feud tends to

be a feature of a class society which has a warrior ruling class, rather than a hunting society where the hunters are warriors solely in order to protect the tribe’s production of food. Unlike a class society where warriors exist to enforce their own class rule. In a hunting society, life is rarely taken for life inside a tribe although vengeance may be sought against a killer outside the tribe.

 

Most of the American Plains peoples had customs the same as or similar to that of the Omaha. The murderer was isolated from the tribe for four years. He was not allowed to eat warm food of any kind, nor to wear shoes, nor to speak, nor to take off his robe, nor to comb his hair. His tent had to be pitched about a quarter of a mile from the rest of the tribe. After four years he would be formally forgiven by the murdered person’s relatives and would be allowed to rejoin the tribe.

 

In conclusion, it can be seen that blood was thought to be the source of life and in blood was the spirit of the living and the dead. The way that blood was treated was extremely important. The mingling of blood in ceremonies made people related by blood and responsible for each other’s welfare. The blood of an animal was treated with reverence. It may be drank to infuse the drinker with the courageous spirit of the animal, or out of fear it may be avoided. The Jewish and Islamic custom of “koshering” meat stems from this belief. Amongst the Semites generally, the blood of an animal was considered highly dangerous and had to be buried in the dust before the animal’s body could be eaten.

 

FEMALE TABUS – PUBERTY, MENSTRUATION, AND CHILDBIRTH

In the 70’s the Women’s Movement was concerned about the oppression of women expressed in terms of puberty rites, menstruation tabus, slavery, veiling and barbaric practices like excism. Unfortunately, historically these practices are very much misunderstood being seen as the result and symbol of the violent oppression of women. Matriarchalists asserted that these practices were a perversion of a previous situation – a previous practice of veneration of these female occurrences, puberty, menstruation, and childbirth. This is not to say that such practices are not in themselves oppressive and as I have said brutal and barbaric, but they do have particular historical causes which initially was wrapped up in hunting and was part of the generalised blood tabus which all were subject to in these societies.

 

In no “Neolithic” Matriarchal Agricultural society that I have examined show any signs of any evidence of any religious significance either positive or negative attached to puberty, menstruation, virginity, or child birth. Yet these rites are still fairly widespread. What is significant is that they occur only in societies based upon hunting/gathering, hunting and pastoral economic structure. They have survived only in these societies which had a strong historical component of one of these societies.

 

Even in patriarchal Greece they faded, for Greece although ruled by a warrior aristocracy was built on the foundations upon the matriarchal economy and in such an economy menstruation rites are entirely unnecessary as I hope to show.

 

These rites, although modified have survived into Judaism and Islam but not into Christianity. Where female rites occur they always have their male counterpart in form of initiation and virility rites. In all the societies where female rites exist, male ones exist also. These male rites have also survived in Judaism – again modified – in the form of circumcision and Bar Mitzvah. These rites also did not survive into Christianity. Why did Christianity which was built upon the Jewish religion specifically reject both male and female rites?

 

Christianity, from a purely religious point of view was indeed based upon Judaism but it is also based upon the matriarchal religions of the Mediterranean area, and it owes as much to them. Christianity was not formulated

as a religion for pastoral people but a religion for an agricultural based slave economy.

 

Menstruation, puberty, virility etc. are all entirely meaningless to an agricultural economy, as the evidence will show. Islam on the other hand is likewise based upon Judaism, was a religion was formulated for a pastoral people who ultimately became a military ruling class. For this reason both female rites and male initiation still form part of the Islamic fabric. Such practices and others not specified in the Koran – excision is not mentioned in the Koran or Old Testament but probably predating it are the strongest in these countries that remained nomadic and pastoral.

 

Blood – as we have seen – was very important in hunting societies and this goes back to hunter/gatherer societies too. The spilling of blood was vital to life – so vital that it did not merely symbolise life but was held to the spirit itself.

 

The spilling of blood also meant death, death for the animal, death for those who fell hunting or fell in battle, the release of blood as well as giving life also released a vengeful and death-dealing spirit from the body – the paradoxical nature of blood.

 

Thus was the mystery of women, from the very place that the woman brought forth life from her body emerged also blood, the spirit of a dead being, malevolent and vengeful – all the more so since it had not been embodied. A woman’s body, therefore, held within it, both life and death. She might bring forth a child – a new life – she might bring forth blood – a bodiless spirit which could mean death. Certainly, the fear of death in a woman’s menstrual blood was strong enough to cause death in many who accidentally came into contact with it.

 

The Australian understanding of conception seems to enforce this idea. Many people think that primitive people have no idea of paternity; but the fact that a line is traced maternally does not mean that sex and conception are not linked.

 

There are economic reasons why matriarchy existed and it has nothing to do with ignorance. The Australians, far more primitive than any patriarchal society, who depended on hunting and gathering had a logical theory to explain conception.

 

The woman’s womb contained blood, not her own, but the blood and spirit of a new life. This blood would become the flesh and blood of a child, the man’s semen, being white in colour, would become the child’s bones. When the blood and semen were combined then the child grew. If no child grew then the spirit would be released from the mother in the form of blood and was was held to be highly dangerous until it departed. The woman passed on the class of the child for she had contributed its blood, its spirit. The mixture of substances was commonly held all through the ancient world. In India, for instance, it was held that a woman could not conceive unless she reached orgasm, as she ejaculated semen internally which mixed with the male semen. It was only when patriarchal class rule became the norm that women were seen as the vessel for the male seed.

 

Examples of Puberty and Menstrual Rites

For reasons that shall be explained later, in all hunting societies, the very first menstrual flow that indicates that a girl has reached puberty was held to be more dangerous and more significant than the subsequent monthly cycles. Subsequent menstruation involved a shorter and more modified version of the very first rite.

 

1) Australian Aboriginals

In this society, as already seen, property and class relations do not exist, hunting/gathering has the seeds of both male hunting society and matriarchal society. Therefore, despite their belief in the Great Goddess they practiced puberty or menstrual rites. The girl at puberty was isolated from men only during the period of menstrual flow itself. During this time an old woman was assigned to look after her although contact with other women were not forbidden. However, she had to stay inside a hut during the hours of daylight for if she saw the sun it was believed that her nose would become diseased. She was not allowed to eat any sea food or salty food for they thought that if she did so she would be bitten by a snake – significantly both a female and male divinity in Aborigine religion.

 

2) Zulus (South Africa)

During the nineteenth century these were an extensive and mainly pastoral people with developed property relations – property being cattle. Diet was supplemented by some agriculture, gathering, and occasional hunting. Hunting was still the form of male initiation but in a girl, when the first flow appeared she hid herself in the reeds for the rest of the day so as not to be seen by men. She covered her head carefully with a blanket so that the sun did not shine upon it and shrivel her up into a skeleton. After dark, she returned home and was secluded for the remainder of the period.

 

3) New Ireland (Papua New Guinea)

Here we see a warrior society developing and the daughters of the chiefs in particular were subjected to a severe puberty rite – very much modified in the case of the rest of the population. At the age of eight, the daughter of the chief was shut inside a small hut. Inside the hut were small, conical huts each on a raised platform – so that the girls would not touch the ground. Each daughter was kept, trapped and confined in the small hut for a period of five years. Only the old woman who was assigned to look after them were allowed to see and talk to them. When the time was up, the daughter was brought out and married off more or less immediately.

 

4) Borneo

Here a similar rite to 3), above, was practiced on all girls. At the age of eight, the girl was shut into a tiny cell inside the family house, in almost total darkness. She was not allowed to leave this cell at any time for any reason. A slave woman was assigned to look after her. After seven long years, she emerged, her growth stunted and her complexion pale and waxy. When she emerged a slave man was sacrificed in her honour and her body smeared with his blood to symbolise her rebirth as a woman. This society – hunting and pastoral – had already developed property relations in cattle and slaves.

 

5) Chinook (North West United States)

A hunting, fishing society with no developed property/class relations. The girl at puberty was thought to be possessed with a malevolent spirit for a period of five days during which time she was hidden from view. It was believed that if she looked at the sky during this period, the weather would turn bad – if she picked berries it would rain or if she hung up her menstrual towel in a tree it would wither. After the five days she bathed in a creek which washed the spirit away and she could continue her life normally.

 

6) Nootka – Vancouver – Canada

A hunting, fishing society (beaver and salmon) – again no class property relations, here the girl is placed in a cage in the house, covered with mats for a few days. During this time she had to fast and not sit but squat. She could not touch her own body or hair, believed that scratches would scar and hair would fall. For a subsequent period of eight months she was forbidden to eat salmon.

 

7) Tsetsaut – British Columbia

A hunting tribe, here the girl at puberty was not confined or secluded but had to follow certain rules. She had to wear a hat so her exposed face would not cause rain. In her mouth she kept an animal’s tooth (to prevent her teeth from rotting) and had to avoid the sight of blood which would blind her. She lived in a hut specially built for her, although she was not secluded. Apart from these rules, she lived normally. After two years her hat was ceremonially thrown away by a man.

 

8) Tlingit – Alaska

This tribe lived almost exclusively by hunting and productivity was low. The puberty rite in this society was particularly severe. The girl was locked in a tiny cage with only a small air hole. Only her mother or a female slave may look after her. For a whole year she was locked up, only being allowed to drink from the wingbone of the white headed eagle. It was thought that her mere glance at a hunter would ruin his hunting for life. At the end of her confinement, her old clothes were burned and new ones made for her. She was initiated into womanhood by a slit being cut below her lower lip and a piece of shell inserted into it.

 

9) Koniag, Inuit

An exclusive hunting economy and a severe rite. The girl at puberty was placed in a tiny hut and was supposed to remain on her hands and feet. After six months like this, the hut was enlarged and she lay down for a further six months.

 

These are just a few examples of puberty rites amongst hunting and pastoral societies. Certain features can be inferred from them.

1) The more developed the relations of property or the lower the level of productivity of the society – the more severe the rite.

2) All are practiced in hunting and pastoral societies, there are no examples from agricultural societies whether matriarchal or class exploited.

3) All involve the fear of evil and its effect on the society i.e. weather, hunting.

4) All involved some kind of seclusion from contact with others – particularly men.

5) They all involve seclusion from the light. In relatively stable and prosperous societies, where property relations are undeveloped many restrictions are imposed to protect the girl from the consequences of the evil spirit escaping from her.

Apart from the sacrifice of individual men (See Next Section – Matriarchy) – in the form of a god no comparable rites were carried out in matriarchal society. There is no evidence that puberty, male or female, had any significance in matriarchal society. The reason for this has to be given, but we get a clearer answer if we put into the same context the practice of Infanticide and Geriatricide.

 

INFANTICIDE AND GERIATRICIDE

Nearly every school student knows that the Vikings had a practice of leaving some of their children out on the rocks to die just after birth. These were weak boys and surplus girls. This practice is regarded as proof of their barbarism. Yet nearly all hunting and pastoral societies have some provision in their culture for killing off old people or children under certain circumstances. Despite the civilised “horror” of such practices or blaming them on violent and aggressive men, such practices have an economic function, often vital and, therefore, incorporated into the ideology and social structure.

 

In some Polynesian societies up to two thirds of children born were killed. The Lagas, a hunting tribe in Angola, were said to have killed all their children when the tribe moved. The Mbaya of South America – the women killed all of their children except for one.

 

In the Ethiopian Highlands, the tribes who hunt wild sheep kill their old people by abandoning them in the mountains.

 

Each of these customs, there are many other examples, are regarded in these societies as perfectly normal acts and are sanctioned by their religion. It is not enough to call them “savage” or “patriarchal” for they are neither.

 

Each of these societies had a very low level of surplus production. The lower the level of social surplus the less able the society is to support non-productive members, – children, the sick, the elderly.

 

However, a constant turnover of population is absolutely essential for such societies to ensure a maximum proportion of productive members at any one time. Should the proportion become imbalanced. – too few producers, too many children and elderly then the whole society faces extinction. To maintain the proportion a constantly high birth rate and a constantly high death rate is absolutely essential. In such societies, the productive members have a priority over the others.

 

When the Lagas moved and went on the march, their production of necessities ceased altogether, they lived on accumulated surplus product. During this critical period it was essential that the productive members survived – so the children were killed. Once settled in their new hunting ground they could have more children but death of adults meant a great loss in productivity. The Lagas were much feared in Angola for when they did settle they raided other tribes and kidnapped children as a quick way of making up their own enforced losses.

.

The Significance of Puberty

The economic necessity of infanticide gives the clue to the significance of puberty in these societies. The easiest and simplest explanation for male virility initiation rites and female puberty rites is to call these societies “patriarchal” , “male-dominated” and say that men were feeding their own instinct for power and aggression and were in the business of controlling and degrading women.

 

Given the evidence of modern every day life – the aggressive “machismo” displayed by men and youths, the level of rape, sexual abuse, wife and baby battering and so on, then such an empirical explanation has a ready appeal.

 

However, such an explanation would be “biologically” determinist, that it says that this male violence exemplified in their puberty tests of courage and pain and the locking away and condemnation of women out of perverted jealousy for the creative function is in built, part of the biological structure of the human species.

 

Such an explanation may satisfy bourgeois apologists of male behaviour such as Desmond Morris, or radical feminist “anti classists”; but it does not satisfy the facts. Biologically determined behaviour has to be uniform throughout a whole species. If it is not – then it is not biologically determined. In fact, in many societies – as we shall see – puberty rites both female and male did not exist. There was neither an emphasis on masculinity, neither did the first or subsequent menstrual periods hold any significance. These rites were there because of economic conditioning in these particular societies.

 

In a hunting or pastoral society, the priority in the share out of produce – food, clothes, etc, is given to the adult population because it is they who do the producing. These societies produce a relatively low surplus product to support their non-productive members. As we have seen, in times of hardship, children may be sacrificed for the sake of the adults. Although it may offend our sensibilities, for a hunting society production takes first priority, reproduction of the species is a secondary matter and has to be fitted in at a convenient time. If the adults do not survive then the society will become extinct, if the children do not survive – then there will be time later to have more.

 

Puberty rites initiate children into adult society. From the time of their initiation onwards they receive the priority of adulthood and the responsibility as a productive member of the society. Male puberty rites are roughly aimed at ensuring that the boy can fulfil the role in production required in a hunting society to hunt and to protect the tribe from competition. Amongst the American plains peoples – the hunting ones – men who failed the initiation or refused it, had to take up the female side of the productive process, and could become wives of hunters.

 

Conversely, there were occasions when women insisted on taking male initiation rather than the female one, if they passed the test, they became warriors and were given wives. In theory, it was possible to have a female husband and a male wife. Whether this ever happened I do not know. However taking on the productive role of the opposite sex was a rarity. It proves though that male and female roles are economically not biologically determined. Female rites were also tied up with the question of menstrual blood, but the special significance of the first one, was the girl’s initiation into womanhood and the rights of an adult. In hunting society, male aggressiveness, virility, courage, strength and so on performed an economic function. Without these characteristics society would be vulnerable.

 

In capitalist society and all other forms of class society, these traits previously essential conditioning for the good of a hunting society as a whole, take on an oppressive character. Male aggression and female degradation which we witness and experience at any time today serve no function for the ordinary members of society as a whole. The function they do serve is part of an ideological structure which keeps the ruling class and its system controlling society. Male control of women benefits the ruling class -whichever society it is, society would function better without it .

 

In neolithic (matriarchal agriculture) society – a communistic system of production initiation at puberty was not necessary. Firstly, the productive power of these societies was much greater than hunting or pastoral societies. It was, therefore, better able to support none productive members. Children were given priority because they represented the productive power in the long term future – a hunting society can never plan ahead except in the short term. Also old people were venerated because experience is a productive factor in an agricultural community.

 

The Sun and the Moon

It is clear therefore that the religious significance of the two heavenly bodies, the sun and the moon are different for the two types of society.

 

The moon cycle was used in hunting and pastoral societies to measure the passage of time. The exact length of the year was not as important for hunters and pastoralists, so they tended towards a lunar cycle. So today, Islam and Judaism both use the lunar calendar – since their society stems from pastoralism. Christianity uses the solar cycle, which stems from the ancient matriarchal societies of Sumer.

 

However, Christianity has two parents, Judaism and the old matriarchy, so the moon features in order to make Easter coincide roughly with the Passover and the resurrection of Adonis. The Jewish religion itself has some matriarchal features and Passover does not move backwards every year. There are no matriarchal features in Islam, so their calendar is lunar based, thus Ramadan moves through the slowly through the solar year. I have never seen any specific religious connection with the female menstrual cycle and the lunar year.

 

Secondly, there was no particular significance attached to puberty because it had no economic significance. Children were introduced to the process of production at a very early age. At first they would be occupied in the simpler tasks, bird scaring, sowing and helping with hay making, harvests, and feeding animals. As they got older, their skills would be developed, shearing, butchering, tanning, sowing, spinning, weaving, preserving, cooking building, etc.

 

By the time any child in neolithic society reached physical puberty she/he had already been a productive member for many years and by that time had probably acquired a number of important skills. Therefore, the onset of puberty had no particular significance, growing up was a gradual process rather than the sudden achievement of adulthood.

 

Perversely, it is our modern capitalist society that has to some extent reintroduced the ideas of childhood – puberty, and adulthood in society. The technical requirements of the capitalist system means that children are banned from the productive process until a certain age, when they become producing adults.

 

Although the bourgeois rulers were slow to realize this, it is in the nature of capitalist production but it helps to lay greater ideological emphasis of becoming “a man” or becoming “a woman “ . Being banned from the production process also removes any rights from children, they are “owned” until they are initiated into earning their own “living” or having their “own” children. In the feudal village community the concepts of “childhood, “manliness , “virginity “ “chastity” and so on were issues for the patriarchs in the Manor House, not for the villagers themselves.

 

Childhood as we understand it today has a very short history. – probably a little more than 100 years, together with many other concepts like “dependency . “unemployment “ , and so on.

 

Where matriarchal agriculture formed a strong base of society, despite a patriarchal ruling class puberty rites declined and disappeared. Thus in Greece, even in Classical Mythology there is only the tiniest echo of female puberty rites once existing amongst the Greek invaders – in the story of Zeus and Danae and even that may be a misinterpretation. It is the strength at the base, that meant while patriarchal society ruled the Roman Empire and feudal Europe using Christianity as its ideology, puberty rites were not picked up from Jewish religion, in Europe it would have been alien and unnecessary and was, therefore, rejected.

 

Rinaldo Frezzato                              Religion – Marxist Analysis

Ancient Matriarchal Society

RELIGION AND SOCIETY

MATRIARCHAL SOCIETY

Ishtar Queen of Heaven

Matriarchy and Patriarchy?

Our society, being male dominated hierarchical and highly technical as it still is has a language which reflects these factors. Also there is a lot of different interpretations and use of political and social terms which often serve only to confuse and cause misunderstandings.

For instance, if we take a word like ‘socialist’. This can mean, for some people a revolutionary, someone who wishes to overthrow the capitalist order. To others, this term means almost the opposite -someone who does not wish to overthrow capitalism at all but wishes to preserve it and reform it – a topical example would be Jeremy Corbyn – a socialist to some, a reformist to others – he is “hard left” for the Daily Mail, but parliamentary reformist to others. Similarly when people are using the term ‘communist’. To some, ‘communist’ means the absence of class, of money exchange, a society where production and distribution is fair and equal, where oppression has been wiped out and classes no longer exist. This was how Marx himself understood it. To others ‘communist’ refers to the police states of the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, North Korea, China, and Vietnam.

Today these words are bandied about along with many others, ‘Marxist’, feminist’, ‘Trotskyist’ and so on, sometimes used to describe, sometimes used to insult, and or to provoke fear and to misguide.

In this paper, the words ‘matriarchy’, ‘patriarchy’ and ‘class’ will be used a great deal – as well as the word ‘communist’. Like many words in our language matriarchy and patriarchy have very wide and loose meanings. For some, patriarchy is another word for ‘male domination’ and therefore matriarchy would its opposite, ‘female domination’. This particular interpretation would have its supporters on the both left and right. For understanding the structure and history of society this interpretation is largely useless.

If one were to take a deterministic approach these terms have very precise and specific meanings and can only be understood within the context of particular societies and their system of production. Class has to be a basis upon which we consider the construction of society. Taken in this sense patriarchy and matriarchy are by no means opposites. Patriarchy does imply male domination, but not all male domination is patriarchy. On the other hand, matriarchy never means female domination. Matriarchy was described by Engels, as ‘communism’ or ‘primitive communism’.

A hunting society may give pre-eminence in its organisation and decision making to its warriors, but this is not patriarchy – because in this society, there will be a hierarchy of sorts – but no classes. Patriarchy, on the other hand, is invariably a class system of social organisation.

Matriarchy has no Classes

Class always involves the ownership of property in the form taken by that society’s means of production. This may mean ownership of sheep, cattle, slaves, land or people themselves. It always, therefore, means the exploitation of those people who actually use the means of production to produce that is to say the appropriation of the surplus product of the producing class by a ruling class. The form that this social surplus takes depends on the form of social organisation in that society.

Ownership of Property

In slave society, the slaves themselves constitute property, everything they produce automatically belongs to the property owner. The owner returns just enough to the slaves, to ensure they can continue to work and produce more slaves.

In feudal society, it is the land that is owned. The peasants produce for themselves for a period in the week, and then must work on the landowners land for the rest of the week. Later, in many places this free work was commuted to a rent, paid either in produce or money.

In the capitalist system, it is capital that is owned, the factories, farms and the machinery necessary. As Marx showed, the worker, unlike the peasant, is alienated from the means of production and simply sells his or her power to work. In employing this, the worker in a hidden way works for a period of time, not visible, because it is pro rata, for nothing. It is the production from this time that belongs to the employer, the capitalist and actually forms the social surplus. Beause capitalism is massively more productive than any previous society, this surplus inot merely manifested in profit, but provides means to build a massive superstructure. The state, schools, police, health service and so on.

What is Patriarchy ?

Patriarchy does not mean ownership of property by individual men but ownership of property by a whole family ruled by a man who is at its head. In a patriarchal society other men who are not heads are equally subject to the rule of the patriarch as are women and slaves. This does not apply today; we have a male dominated society but the ruling class, although they may have well known names, they hold their property in capital through individual right. The rich capitalist holds no authority over his family once they are adults. He holds authority over all others – not just his family because he is a capitalist, his position as a ‘head’ of a patriarchal clan is a fiction that they themselves, above all like to imagine, and which many believe. This holds true, even as is actually usually the case, the capitalist has inherited his – or her – wealth.

Patriarchy specifically means, therefore, a ruling class organised as family clans each with a ‘patriarch’ head deciding and planning the productive process and arranging his clan so that the family holding can be protected and strengthened if possible. In this system, the right of the family are expressed terms of law and religion; the authority of the ‘father’ is upheld whether his offspring are 5 years or 50 years old.

The Rights of the Individual

In a patriarchal system individual rights are not only not recognised, there would be no real concept of them applying outside the rights within the ruling class. In the capitalist system, which is admittedly, still at this time, male dominated, it is the rights of the individual to acquire property in the form of capital and to exploit by means of free exchange on the market that is protected. The banker’s old father has no say in what the banker may do with his capital.

The rights of the individual, also covers women, and corporate fictional individuals. So although capitalist society is male dominated, there in nothing intrinsic today that compels this to be so. Historically, capitalism emerged from feudalism so patriarchy is an inherited the male dominant element – capitalism bears these birthmarks. This inherited discrimination has been and is continuing to be overcome without affecting the fundamental functioning of the capitalist system.

Matriarchy is not the reverse of Patriarchy

A matriarchy, however, if it existed today, would not be the reverse of patriarchy. There has never been a ruling class organised around maternal families headed by matriarchs – such a society has never existed.

Matriarchal societies that have existed were always classless and therefore “communist”. We call such a society matriarchal because of the high and respected place that women have in such societies, perhaps in contrast to our own times and recent history – but that surely must be one of the key features of a communist society; the high and respected place occupied by women – such a society we should hope and fight for. The future version -not built upon primitive agriculture but on highly productive technology. The concept of the dominant woman as an opposite to the dominant man of our society or the patriarch of previous societies is a fantasy .

Matriarchal Social Structure

Matriarchal societies that did exist for very long periods of time, were always based around complete and settled agriculture, both in the rearing of domesticated animals and the cultivation of domesticated crops. The organisation of the production meant that the two aspects complete a cycle where cultivation helps to feed the animals and that the animals help to fertilise the soil.

In this type of economy, usually operating on a fairly small scale, but by no means always, the division of labour in the form of a sexual division of labour tends to diminish. The major tasks like feeding, sowing, ploughing, reaping, harvesting, winnowing can be carried out by both sexes equally. Other specialisations may develop but it is almost impossible to say who did what in these societies.

Men did not need to hunt, women did not need to process the raw material of the hunt. Therefore whether men or women were potters, weavers, spinners, dyers is not known, and not probably relevant as there probably was no specific division of labour.

In those societies, experience and acquired skills were at a premium and so the old would be venerated and they would do the planning and organising. The most efficientway to organise production in this economy is undoubtedly through the maternal clan or gens. Mothers are obviously mothers and the children can be easily organised. However, children were the responsibility of the gens as a whole and all women in the gens were seen as “mothers”.

Not Families but Gens

Most communities were split into two gens – at a minimum, these would subdivide as the community grew – each with a legendary female ancestor. Sexual liaisons would be organised by transferring men from one gens to another while the women stayed with their own. Thus incest was avoided. As the society grew, gens often split into subgroups, but the two legendary founders would remain pre-eminent.

No husbands – no fathers

This is one of the reasons for the existence of a double goddess in most of these societies for in religious belief, the organisation of heaven always mirrors the organisation on earth. Men, therefore, owed their authority in the clan, not through being husbands and fathers but through being brothers. There is no evidence that men were excluded from decision making processes in the same way as women were in patriarchal society, the pre-eminence of the older women in being mothers to all probably had the greatest weight.

The greatest difficulty in understanding and unravelling matriarchal society is presented by the fact that that there are no living or recent examples to draw from. Matriarchal society has to be understood indirectly by extrapolating out of the patriarchal systems built upon it.

Lewis Morgan and the Iriquois

One of the nearest approaches was obtained by Lewis Morgan, the nineteenth century author of Ancient Civilisations. He lived with the Iroquois for more than 40 years and was adopted as a full member of their tribe. The Iroquois and many other natives of the eastern seaboard (such as the Algonquins) were not hunters like those of the plains but settled agricultural and matriarchal societies. However, the profound disturbance in the equilibrium of their economy by the European invasion caused their system to degenerate. Invaders, French, British, Dutch, were threatening their society sometimes directly or beause of other natives tribes being driven into their territories by the pressure of the invasion. This forced them to do something that had been unnecessary before – to unite various tribes together under one rule and prepare for defensive war. Thus, chiefs and war-chiefs were elected and peaceful men were forced to become warriors. The tribes were united by means of ‘satchems’ from each village holding council and electing overall war chiefs.

Despite this degeneration, many of the matriarchal forms survived into Morgan’s time and thus his observations on the Iroquois are invaluable. As of old, the Iroquois lived in ‘long houses’ one for each ‘gens’ or maternal group. The old formal family relationships were maintained but only in language, not in practice. Thus, sisters of the mother were likewise called ‘mother’ as of old, but in Morgan’s day they were no longer treated as such, but treated instead like aunts – as we would term them.

While the terms ‘husband’ and ‘father’ still did not formally exist in name by Morgan’s time, and despite the long houses children were already becoming organised into mother – father – children families.

The women’s “veto”

Women still, however, retained a considerable degree of authority. Whilst allowing that men should be the warriors, war chiefs and satchems, they had counterbalanced this emerging inequality by retaining a female veto which they maintained into Morgan’s day. The women, if dissatisfied with the war chief or satchem could ‘break his horns’  – give him the sack and appoint a replacement. This still commonly occurred up until Morgan’s time, together with the power of expelling a man from the long house and sending him back to his own gens.

However, despite this example, understanding of matriarchal society takes much interpretation by way of the systems built upon it later.

No matriarchal  society has survived

Ironically , while examples of the more primitive types of society – hunter gatherers have survived – if not until the present day, then until very recently, matriarchal society did not survive. In the Old World matriarchal society flourished somewhere between 9,000 B.C. and 3,000 B.C. and then the last examples of it were obliterated by successive waves of nomadic invaders. Everywhere matriarchy flourished in what we may call roughly the Neolithic period, later they became prosperous and flourishing patriarchal class organisations built upon an economic structure of slavery and servitude. It is only through a combination of archaeology and the unravelling of the complex religious myths of the patriarchal period that we can reach any understanding of matriarchal societies.

When these peaceful and flourishing societies were taken over by the nomadic pastoralists, they did not wipe out a form of society that was, in fact, superior and more productive than their own. Instead they utilised it, becoming themselves overlords, warrior ruling classes, appropriating the surpluses of the matriarchal economy to their own uses.

Patriarchy overlays Matriarchy

As their society was therefore at best a matriarchal structure overlaid by a patriarchal ruling class, this was reflected their religious beliefs. By unravelling the combined elements of the religious structure of patriarchal slave society we can reach a reasonable understanding of the society that existed before the warriors arrived.

That matriarchal production was superior than their own form of production can be shown by the surpluses that were appropriated and put to use by the new rulers.

The Enslavement of matriarchal society

Without the basic principles of matriarchal agriculture, the enormous surpluses of production required to build the vast structures of Egypt, the great empires of Assyria, Babylon, and Persia and the flowering of classical Greece would have been impossible. Despite the importance of commerce in Greece, the Roman Empire and so on, these societies were not capitalist but agricultural. The slave was the basic instruments of production in these societies – not the household servant, but the great masses of field slaves who grew the enormous quantities of food and tended the animals required to sustain the rich ruling classes of the ancient world – using the methods perfected by matriarchy.

Therefore, when we look at Greek mythology for example, we do not see just a development accompanying the increasing wealth and power of Greece, but also a combination of religions reflecting both its current patriarchal rule and its matriarchal base, a base which had once constituted the religion of a whole class free society.

How Matriarchal Society Came About

It is only recent archaeology, concerned with the evolution of domesticated plants and animals that has revealed that matriarchal society emerged and spread from a specific area in the Old World and that it was itself the result of a fusion with two or more types of society.

It is only since the last Ice Age that the wild ancestors of the domestic food crops and animals evolved in any domesticable form – with the sole exception of dogs which were domesticated by hunting societies many thousands of years before. However, what is revealing is that the domesticated animals and domesticated crops evolved in completely separate areas but were brought together through the agency of human beings.

Gatherers/Hunters

What we have here is a period of separate development in the domestication of plants and animals during a simultaneous period. From 15,000 B.C. to 7,000 B.C. wild barbary sheep were becoming domesticated in North Africa and the people were changing from a hunting way of life to a pastoral way of life. At the same time the people beyond the Zagros mountains were domesticating first goats and then sheep and cattle and – lastly horses.

No Horses – Slash and Burn

The late domestication of the horse was to have a massive impact at a much later period and played no part in the formation of a matriarchal society. In the middle area wild wheat and, to a smaller extent, barley evolved into an edible form during the last glaciation.

The only places that they grew naturally were in an area comprising present day Mesopotamia – around the rivers Euphrates and Tigris to the coast of Palestine around Jericho. The discovery of flint edged reaping knives show that in this area, the people were gathering – and probably re-sowing the wild wheat at a fairly early date. However, for meat, they still depended upon hunting gazelles – we can therefore class these societies as moving from nomadic gatherer/hunters to semi nomadic “slash and burn” agriculture. The fact that these societies even as they were, were far more productive than the hunting and pastoral economies and is shown by the earliest settlement at Jericho.

Jericho

As early as 10,000 B.C., Jericho, situated on an oasis, a very fertile district supported a large settlement. However, the seed found there were wild varieties and the only animal remains found were hunted gazelle. It was not until about 8,000 B.C. that domesticated strains of wheat make their appearance. This could not have constituted a complete agriculture and must have still been semi-nomadic. They cleared a patch and sowed it, until it became infertile then moved on.

Sheep and Goats complete the Cycle

Around 7,000 B.C. there was an extremely rapid development in Mesopotamia. The pastoral tribes brought their sheep and goats across the Zagros mountains and the fusion between these pastoralists and the primitive agriculturists brought about the complete agricultural economy needed for a settled agricultural society and therefore the development of matriarchal society. The gazelle was displaced as the source of meat after this date in Mesopotamia in favour of goats and sheep.

The new fusion brought about a massive increase in productivity and, therefore, an equally massive increase in population. Between 7,000 and 6,000 B.C. neolithic agriculture spread into Palestine, Anatolia and the Eastern Mediterranean area. The first really major settlements were formed in this period, Byblos, Ras Shamra and Knossos on Crete.

Around 6,000 B.C. cattle herders spread from the northern Zagros region and via Anatolia and the husbandry of domesticated cattle spread into Greece and Crete.

Catal Hayuk

Quite recently, a very large neolithic settlement has been discovered in South Central Anatolia (Turkey). The settlement of Catal Huyuk dates around 6,000 B.C. The settlement was very large and occupied an area of 13 hectares. The layout of the settlement although large is typically matriarchal consisting of what were really a massive one storey houses with adjoining rooms. Seed remains show that they possessed in this settlement three different domestic varieties of wheat, a domesticated barley and very large herds of cattle. One interesting fact about this and other smaller settlements excavated is the absence of weapons of war. Neolithic society at its height had no use for war, chiefs, warriors, and the like because it was not threatened by anyone.

Between 6,000 and 5,000 B.C. there were further developments, indicating the high productivity of this system. Cattle spread throughout the whole Mediterranean region at this time. The first irrigation systems were developed and copper began to be manufactured. Between these years there began extensive maritime contact between settlements in the region and matriarchal society, taking with it wheat, sheep, goats and cattle spread into the Balkans, up the Danube into Northern Europe and south into Iran. Towards, 5,000 B.C. irrigation of the Euphrates became very extensive and the major settlements were formed, It was during this time that there was an enormous increase in population in the Fertile Crescent – Mesopotamia (Iraq). There was a marked improvement in agricultural implements – grinding and new weaving techniques evolved during this time. Agriculture recrossed the Zagros mountains – although in a modified form i.e. barley cultivation supplemented with a lot of hunting. Finally, new techniques in firing clay evolved and the pottery was greatly improved in strength and beauty.

The Ubaid Period 5,000 – 4,000 B.C.

This period is marked by a further increase in population and the development of cities in the ‘fertile crescent’. There was a further improvement in irrigation techniques and by the end there were 57 major settlements around the Tigris and Euphrates. The first large temples date from this period and without any doubt the people enjoyed great prosperity. This growth in matriarchal, classless society is rather baffling to present day scholars.

Such developments emphasise the growing need for a central authority, but neither the few Ubaid homes that have been excavated nor the grave goods from the extensive cemeteries found at Ur and Eridu indicate any degree of social stratification.’ (Cambridge Ancient Archaeology).

However, even if our 20th century scholar sees the need for a ‘central authority’ or ‘social stratification’, the inhabitants of Ur and Eridu certainly did not, and the absence of “central authority”does not appear to have brought about its collapse either.

Finally, there is evidence of extensive trade during this period, as Sumerian pottery has been discovered in Arabia.

The Uruk Period 4,000 – 3,000 B.C.

This period was the peak and also the beginning of the end of matriarchal society. Apart from further growth of the cities, ‘Sumerian’ culture advanced during this period. The first writing appeared and the first numeral system (with a base 60) also evolved. However, little is known of the actual events even here for little has been deciphered of the pictographic printing. What is for certain is that words for ‘palace’ and ‘king’ which would indicate an evolution of class society were not there. This was a period of immense wealth and however the ‘Uruk’ people organised themselves without classes there must have been a considerable division of labour given the extent of trade and manufacture at this period. The city of Uruk itself occupied an area of 400 hectares at this time.

However, the end was very near for the first Semite invaders, the Akkadians appeared during this time. These Semite people were advanced nomadic , pastoral people. They already had a warrior ruling class and well defined patriarchal property relations. They also brought with them a new devastating instrument of war – the horse – which they rode upon, and with which they had developed their pastoral/warrior society. By 3,000 B.C. they had taken over a large region north of Sumer and a few cities in northern Mesopotamia. They had established themselves as a warrior ruling class and established city monarchies.

The Early Dynastic Period (Semite Invasion)

Although not much is known it seems that the Sumerians, an unwarlike people attempted to defend themselves against the Akkadians. The Sumerians appear to have responded to the threat by forming armies and electing war chiefs in much the same way as the later Iroquois were forced to respond to pressure and threat. The Sumerian leaders do not appear as kings at this time but as war leaders only. The Akkadian infiltration appears to have been unstoppable and the first open war that we know certainly about took place around 2,000 B.C. King Sargon, the Akkadian king of Kish suddenly attacked Uruk and established himself as king over all the Sumerian lands.

This conquest meant the enslavement of the majority of the people and the end of matriarchal culture – as a dominant culture. From this time onwards the history of the Mediterranean area is one of constant war and rising and falling empires.

The Akkadians were followed by other waves of Semites, the Assyrians, Canaanites, Phoenicians, and so on the appearance of each involving new warfare as they attempted to find elbow room and power in the fertile lands and the efficient economic system that had been built long before they arrived.

The Indo-Europeans

The Semites invaded the fertile crescent, Palestine (i.e. Levant) region. Some groups wandered off into the deserts and either took up again or kept their pastoral way of life the two main examples being Hebrews and Arabs. However, matriarchal society had spread and settled many years before into Syria, Anatolia, the eastern Mediterranean area, Greece, Cyprus, Crete, and virtually the rest of Europe. These societies continued for a while longer, Crete enjoying great prosperity but they too were to succumb to even more advanced warrior societies than the Semites.

The Indo-Europeans appeared first in Anatolia around 2,500 B.C. The first wave were an Indo-European people called the Hittites. They again had well developed property relations came upon horseback introducing that animal into Anatolia. However, the Hittites constituted a small ruling class over a massive matriarchal society and in the empire they built up they assimilated a good deal of the native culture. For instance, they did not manage to eradicate the language of the natives as did the Semites (and later the Greeks) in the fertile crescent. From tablets found dating 1,200.C. (l000 years after their invasion) the two languages were both used separately. The Hittite rulers used their own Indo-European language but many of the tablets are written in Hattic, the unrelated language of the native people.

However, the power they derived from exploiting the matriarchal economy was great enough for them to attack and sack Babylon in 1595 B.C. and establish a new empire in Palestine and Anatolia. The Hittite empire collapsed around 1,200 due to more incursions from other Indo-Europeans and economic collapse from within.

The Hittites were constantly at war with other Indo-European tribes such as the Humians and Mitamnni. There is not much that needs to be told about them except their culture was very similar to the Greeks, and also they had a ruling class which they called ‘Maryannu’ (war-men). They introduced the war-chariot (with knives) into Europe, but their religion shows an interesting proof of the Indo-European link with India. The Mitanni gods were Mitra, Varuna, and Indra.

Apart from that, they also introduced body armour into Europe – the Indo-Europeans set a new scale entirely for warfare. Class society was constantly increasing the scale of warfare while under matriarchy war had been unnecessary.

The other important branches of Indo-Europeans were the Ionians who entered Macedonia and Northern Greece around 2,300 and were followed by the more warlike Achaeans who overthrew the remaining matriarchal societies in Greece, Crete, and most of the islands. The Achaeans established a warrior ruling class and a civilisation known as Mycaenean. They themselves were invaded by further Indo-European tribes around 1,200 – the Dorians who took over much of southern Greece.

At the same time further Indo-European tribes were spreading westwards into Europe. The Indo-European group known roughly as ‘Celts’ spread into Italy, France, and Britain, Ireland, and Spain. It would be pointless to enumerate the different sub groups with the Celtic group (e.g. the Stalics, Bretons, Iceni). There are a very few examples of pre-Celtic groups surviving this invasion, the Picts who remained matriarchal until the invasion of the Scots in mediaeval times are one and the Basques of Spain and France are another. As is well known, this was not the end of the constant movement westwards – there were many other Indo-European invaders to come later, the Germanic group and the Slav group plus many others who were not Indo-European like the Magyars, Finns, Balts, Mongols and so on.

Our understanding of matriarchal society comes largely from these invaders who in fact overthrew matriarchy as the dominant culture and established a new form of social evolution with constant internal contradictions – patriarchal property.

Sumerian Religion

Despite the Semitic invasion, some sketchy information exists about Sumerian religion during the matriarchal period. However, by 3,000 B.C. when the Semites appeared, the Sumerian civilisation was already very old and the mythology had a complexity that matched the complexity of their society. Only a few fragments of myth survive and none from the early period.

What appears to have happened in Sumer, was that a whole number of different settlements grew in the region and grew into each other and combined to make larger settlements. Large settlements co-operated and combined once more to form the many cities. The different settlements each had their own versions of matriarchal religion – the different versions were combined into a complicated mythology to take into account each community’s own beliefs. As the urban centres contacted, co-operated and traded with each other, then the religions of each city were combined forming an even more complicated structure. The myths that we have therefore are the result of long development even before the Semite invasion. Of the rites carried out in Sumerian religion we known nothing and can only speculate from the versions of the religion carried out after the Semite invasion. The myths therefore only give a rough guide, we have to speculate about these origins. Further, the complexity of society, the division of labour, its organisation at its highest phase would be reflected in mythology and religion. The first job of religion – of any religion – is to explain satisfactorily the origin of the world and life, the major technological achievements and so on.

Creation Myth (Nippu – Durenki)

A complete creation story has been traced to the city of Nippu although each city probable had its own. The Nippu version went like this. The goddess Nammu (the Sea) gave birth to the god An (Sky), the god Ki (Earth), the god Enlil (Air) and the goddess Cresh Kigal (Underworld).

The creation of the earth ends there but then goes on to say that Nippu was created by the earth-goddess Nunbashegam, who then had a daughter called Ninlil. Ninlil was raped by Enlil (air-god). The other gods condemned Enlil’s act and banished him to the underworld. Meanwhile Ninlil gave birth to Nannar (moon-god). However, it seemed that Ninlil forgave Enlil his sexual assault so she went to the underworld to join him. There they mated once more and produced Nergal (underworld god). Meanwhile Nannar (the moon) had set up with a goddess called Ningal and the result of their union were Innana who became Queen of Heaven and Utu (the Sun).

To unravel this myth is difficult, firstly it is a combination of several myths deriving from different settlements put into some sort of order. The oldest shrines found dating about 4,000 B.C. The one at Khafajah was dedicated to Innana (Queen of Heaven) and the one at Obeid dedicated to Ninhuasag- who is not in the Nippu myth but a myth deriving from the city of Eridu. However, the actual goddess actively worshipped was Innana – with the god Enlil. The others are different versions of the Innana and Enlil story deriving from different areas, put together to explain the creation. Nammu, the creator Anki, Nunbaishegum, Ninlil were simply acknowledged as having a role in the creation but did not have a great deal to do with active religion.

However, some typical features of matriarchal religion appear here despite the complications. The underworld in Sumerian was the same word for the ‘desert’ that lay beyond Sumer (Endin). The banishment of Ninlil and Enlil to the underworld for a period is a common feature of matriarchal religion. Ninlil is evidently a different version of Innanu herself incorporated into the myth for the sake of a component community which had previously held her to be queen of heaven. Further the moon-god (Nannu) appears frequently in matriarchal religion where the moon is often male and the earth female. The concept of the ‘Moon Goddess’ is a modern day myth created because of the connection with the menstrual cycle – but menstruation as such has no part in matriarchal religion but is the product of hunting/ pastoral male dominated societies.

For that matter measuring time by the solar year is a matriarchal feature – essential for agriculture. It was hunting male dominated societies who measured time by the moon, and it is they who are likely to link menstruation to the moon cycle and make the moon into a goddess. Those feminists in their eagerness to elevate menstruation to a significance it only had in male dominated society have got it upside down.

Eridu Version (South Sumer)

From Eridu we have a sketchier myth but which is clearer and easier to trace. This myth does not mention the original creation but begins with the creation of Eridu. Here, the earth-goddess gives a virgin birth to a god Enki (An and Ki collapsed together). She creates Eridu, the city and mates with her son and then˛ gives birth to Ninsar or Nimu – goddess of vegetation. Ninsar then mates with her father/brother Enki and produces the goddess Ninkurru although we cannot define her function. In any case Enki mates with her also and she gives birth to Ultu – goddess of plants and clothing. Enki then mated with Tutu and she gave birth to eight plants. Enki then ate the eight plants before Ninhursag could give them names. Ninhursag then cursed Enki and eight diseases attacked different parts of his body. On the door of death, Ninhursag forgave him and gave birth to eight gods and goddesses to cure him. Abu – the plant god gave him medicine, Nintual a pelvis god, Ninsutu and Nintal tooth goddess, Ninkasi heart and mouth goddess, Nazi – who seems to have married Ninsar – goddess of vexation, Dazimus – side goddess, Ninti rib goddess and Enshag – a god of nothing in particular.

According to the earliest known myth of Eridu, Enk and Ninhursag mated again and she gave birth to people and appointed gods and goddesses for each city.

From this we can derive the basic form of matriarchal religion – a theme which will be repeated many times. The earth goddess gives birth to a son, the son becomes a lover and she gives birth to vegetation and people. In the rites (that we know nothing of here), the celebration generally concentrates around this mating and the consequent growth of the crops. The goddess generally has two aspects, here Ninhursag the earth-goddess and her own daughter, the new growth of vegetation, the goddess Ninsar. This is the basic matriarchal Triad. Mother/daughter/son (lover).

The deities once again, are versions of Ninhursag, Ninsur, and Enki incorporated onto the myth from the component communities from which Eridu was formed and then given different functions to cover the various aspects (where possible) of a society of ever growing complexity. Active worship was given to Ninhursag – who is the Eridu version of Innana and Enki who is in turn the Eridu version of Enlil. Innana or her equivalent was known as Ninisinna in the city of Isin. They are Ninsun and Nintu in other cities. Finally the fall of Enki and his rebirth by his mother/lover is also a common matriarchal theme and is typical of the annual death and rebirth of the god consort (while the goddess changes her aspect) common in all matriarchal religions.

The Erech Version

Erech or Uruk was a major city in the fertile crescent and was indeed the biggest at the time of the Semite invasion. In their version, Innana once again is the earth-goddess, the creator and queen of Uruk. She has two rival lovers Enkindu (god of rain) and Dumuzi (Sumerian for ‘True and Faithful Son’). However, she chooses Dumuzi – at this time a shepherd boy – to be her mate.

Inanna decides to visit her sister Ereshkigal in Endin (underworld). In order to get there she has to pass seven gates, at each gate she has to remove an item of clothing. By the time she passes the seventh gate she is naked and brought before her sister. Ereshkigal’s gaze upon her naked body kills Inanna and the underworld goddess hangs Inanna’s body on a stake. However, Enki intervenes and sends to her the water of life which is sprinkled upon her 60 times. This brings her back to life and she leaves the underworld accompanied by seven demons called the ‘galla’.

When she returns to Uruk, she finds that Dumuzi has usurped her place so she sets her seven ‘galla’ on him. Dumuzi flees to the desert where he finds refuge with his sister Gesht-Inanna who rids him of the demons. Dumuzi returns to Urki only to find the ‘galla’ waiting for him. He takes the shape of a ram and flees again. The goddess Bellili hides him for a while but he eventually returns to Gesh-Inanna where as a ram he hides in her sheep fold. Here the ‘galla’ catch up with him and tear him to pieces.

However, Dumuzi’s mother and lover Inanna mourn for him so Dumuzi’s sister (also his mother’s daughter) goes and fetches him from the underworld. However Gesht-Inanna must act as his substitute and remain. So for six months of the year, Dumuzi comes up and Inanna and he are reunited, for the other six months he returns so that Gesht-Inanna can spend six months with her mother.

This myth is a later version, for the intervention of Enki, Bellili, Enkimdu, and Eneshkigal are later additions arising out of Uruk’s contact with other cities. Stripped of these additions we have the basic matriarchal story repeated once more. Dumuzi the sun/lover of the goddess, meets death at her hands and is raised again by Inanna in her other (winter) aspect as Gesht-Inanna. The god spends a period dead and the goddess goes to the underworld. Probably in the early rites of this religion, at springtime a rite of Dumuzi and Inanna took place where a boy was sacrificed as Dumuzi and after the harvest a festival of Inanna to celebrate Gesht-Inanna’s return to the underworld for the winter. The earliest remains of temples dedicated to Inanna at Uruk and Ur are dated about 3,000 B.C. although the rite is undoubtedly much older. Dumuzi is the Uruk’s version of Enki – but his role as shepherd may be the influence of the incoming Semites – in an earlier version is probably his rival. The lover was probably Enkimdu (god of rain) which fits better into matriarchal religion. The Lagash version of Dumuzi was called Ningiosu, this however is mere speculation. Dumuzi has survived to the modern day in the Jewish calendar – the month of Thammuz.

Relations Between The Cities

As relations between the cities grew, the mythology had to be rationalised as not everyone’s earth-goddess could be the earth goddess of all. The Nippu version mentioned first was one attempt to do this – but later versions regularise matters between the three major cities, Nippu, Eridu, and Uruk and serves to explain Uruk’s position as the major city of the region. The earlier Eridu version which credits their goddess Ninhursag and god Enki with the creation of all the cities probably did not suit the other two major cities – Nippu and Uruk.

The mythology puts things straight in this way. Enla (from Eridu) pays a visit to Enlil at Nippu. Enlil gives Enki the trees of life. Enki then plants a tree in the city of Absu, one in Ur, one in Meluhha, one in Elam, Marhashi and Martu. He fills up the rivers Euphrates and Tigris and then appoints gods and goddesses to various positions. – Nanshe – goddess of flood. Ishlar god of weather, Enkimdu – god of weather, Ashnen – goddess of harvest, Dumuzi – god of flocks, and Sumugan – wild animals, Utu – judge, Uttu – goddess of cloth.

Inanna, hearing about these goings on leaves Uruk and visits Enki at Eridu and gets him drunk. Whilst in a stupor, Inanna takes the trees of life from him and takes them all to Uruk. He attempts to stop her but fails and she succeeds in getting home. The large number of trees of life accounts for the fact that Uruk is larger and more prosperous than the other cities.

This is a late myth but nevertheless interesting. There are signs of Semitic influence in Ishku and Ashran but the appointment of Utu as a judge shows creeping patriarchal influence. Moreover, the complexity of the society is reflected with a goddess of cloth, floods and the irrigation system. The late derivation is indicated by the fact that the myth also serves to account for the superiority of the city of Uruk – Uruk was the major city right at the end of the pre-Semite period and was the major city in the area even while the Akkadians had gained possession of the northern cities. The seizure of Uruk by the Semitic, Sargon of Kish, put all the Sumerian lands into Semite hands.

Semite Religion

Although Sargon’s sudden attack and seizure of the city of Uruk was a definite event and the takeover of the Sumerian lands by the Semites, nonetheless the Semite invasion really took place over a period of 600 or 700 years. During this time, they incorporated the Sumerian religion into their own. After the invasion, they generally promoted the male gods like Enlil and Enki to supreme positions reflecting the supremacy of their own male dynasties. However, they had to accept and incorporate in a modified form the fundamentals of matriarchal religion into their own.

Even the Babylonians who brought their own supreme god with them – Marduk – and made him ruler of all the others and later made him into all the other gods in his various aspects yet they had to accept the continued existence of the matriarchal pair Dumuzi and Inanna as the main religion of the ordinary people – eventually incorporating it into their own religion.

The Semite version of Sumerian religion converted Inanna-Gesht-Inanna into Ishtar/Astarte and Dumuzi into Tammuz. In some areas Tammuz was referred to as ‘Adonai’ (Semite) meaning ‘husband’ or ‘lord’ and eventually passed into Greek mythology as Adonis. Ishtar became Astarte – queen of heaven in some Semitic areas and eventually passed into Greek as Aphrodite. In other areas Ishtar was simply referred to as the ‘lady’ (Baalath) and Tammuz as ‘the lord’ (Baal).

In the bible, the ‘monotheistic’ God is referred to as ‘Adonai’, ‘Baal’, as well as ‘Jehovah’. In Genesis Chapter 15, God is called ‘Adonai’ – translated in the authorised version as ‘Lord God’ while in Chapter 17 “He’ is called ‘El Shaddai” the ‘breasted one’. The Hebrews did not constitute a separate section of the Semites until a long while after the Semitic invasion of Mesopotamia and Palestine until the establishment of the Israelite kingdom.

In Mesopotamia, the Semitic version of the Sumerian myth was very similar to the original. Ishtar the mother goddess had for her lover – her son Tammuz. Every year Tammuz died and passed beneath the earth. Ishtar followed him to bring him back and in her absence the plants died. The goddess of the underworld Allatu sprinkled Ishtar with the water of life and she took Tammuz back to the upper world and back to life and the plants began to grow once more. The death of Tammuz was annually mourned by the women in the temple of Ishtar. An effigy of the god was anointed with oil, dressed in red and incense burnt for him. Unlike the Sumerian myths we do know the rites of the Semites as well as the myths.

Semite Rites

The Semites having established a patriarchal society and a patriarchal religion, in fact, give us the only clues as to the nature of the Sumerian matriarchal rites because they were assimilated in a modified form.

The Sacrifice of the god/consort (Adonis)

A Babylonian priest called Berosus described a festival that had taken place during the early times of the Babylonian Kingdom, early during Semite rule. Once a year, he stated, at a festival called Sacea, for a period of five days slaves were released from their servitude, the king abdicated and gave up his throne to a prisoner. The prisoner was appointed king for the five day period was given all the trappings of royal power.

The decrees that he issued were written and enacted, he had access to the king’s wife and concubines. During these five days he was known as ‘King Zoganes’. After the five days were up the ‘king’ was deposed, stripped and ceremonially impaled and the normal king took back his powers.

What was actually happening here, was that it was necessary for the Semite ruling class to conform to some extent to Sumerian/Matriarchal customs. Obviously, the ruling class could not allow members of their own class to be sacrificed in this way, but by appointing a substitute, and allowing a brief appearance of the previous slaveless society for five days, they maintained their political justification over the Sumerian population. Undoubtedly in the Pre-Semite times a man had been chosen to play the part of Dumuzi – sitting for five days on Inanna’s throne as in the myth and then sacrificed and sent to the underworld where Inanna would follow him and resurrect him in the shape of her other aspect Gesht-Inanna.

The Semite ruling class, gaining increasing hold until by Biblical times all the Babylonian king was required to go was to the temple of Marduk (who by this time had usurped all the other gods) and have his powers reaffirmed annually.

Popular Festivals

However, the rites did not die out, indeed, as a popular religion, they continued, modified but unabated through the peoples of the middle-east. The rites of Astarte and Adonis were the basic popular religion of the whole region despite the ‘Marduks’ and ‘Molochs’ and ‘Jehovahs’ of the ruling classes.

Byblos, a great Phoenician seaport became one of the great centres of the Semite version of the old religion. Here in Byblus was a great temple dedicated to Astarte, the Phoenician version of Inanna. Astarte’s (the mother goddess’s) lover/son was known here as Adonis (Semitic ‘husband’). The festival of Adonis took place in the temple of Astarte – this is another feature of matriarchal religion – the festival of the male god always takes place in his mother/lover’s temple. The festival here was identical to the popular festival of Tammuz that took place in the temple of Ishtar in Babylon.

The festival was essentially performed by the women. In Semitic times; an effigy of the god was made, anointed with oil, dressed in red and the women lamented and mourned his death. The burning of incense always accompanied this ceremonial, for Myrrh and the Myrrh tree were sacred to his mother/wife Astarte (in Byblos). Incense was burnt as the symbolic resurrection by his mother/wife – (this aspect – the burning of incense has gone straight into Christianity).

The mourning women were required to either cut their hair or to have sexual intercourse with the first male stranger they met. They were required to take the sexual alternative at least once before marriage. Any children arising out of such a union would be particularly holy – seen as being fertilised by Adonis himself. Girls of such a union were daughters of the temple their line always being traced back through their foremothers by being conceived always during the festival of Adonis. It was recorded that in Roman times, that one particular priestess in Lydia could trace her ancestresses back for many generations, and this particular woman – Aurelia Amelia by name – was regarded as the daughter of Aphrodite (Astarte) herself.

In Byblus, they considered the legendary first king of Byblus to be Cinryas, the father of Adonis, In fact Cinryas is an alternative name for Adonis which the Semites first used when they conquered for the festival of the god was always accompanied by the sacred harp (Semite emryas – harp). At first the Semites in Byblus had called him Cmryas, later Adonis, but sometimes ‘Baal’ (Lord) as they often called the Mother Goddess ‘Baalath’ (lady) as well as Astarte.

The festival of Astarte and Adonis continued in Byblus until 3rd century A.D. when it was suppressed by Constantine – the first Christian Roman Emperor, who ordered the destruction of the temple of Astarte.

The Hebrews did not constitute a separate part of the Semites in either society or religion. The Babylonians who overthrew the Jewish kingdoms saw nothing peculiar or unusual in their religion. Amongst the Jewish population the popular form of religion remained Ishtar and Tammuz. Both the goddess and the god appear in the Jewish calendar as the months ‘lyar and Thammuz’. ‘Jehovah’ the god of the Jews was invented after the Jewish kingdom was established and the books of the bible relating previous history were written then to provide a back story and justify the monolithic rule of ‘Jehovah’. A monolithic rule that he did not even have in Jersualem as the bible relates.

Ezekiel Chapt 8 v 14 ‘Then he brought me to the gate of the Lord’s House which was towards the north’ and behold there a women weeping for Tammuz.’

There is a detailed reference in Jeremiah (written after the defeat of the Jewish kingdom by Babylon) to the worship of Astarte and Tammuz.

‘For I will punish them (i.e. Jews) that dwell in the land of Egypt, as I have punished Jerusalem, by the sword, by famine, by pestilence. So that none of the remnant of Judah, which have gone into the land of Egypt to sojourn there, shall escape or remain …

Then all the men which knew their wives had burned incense unto other gods, and all the women that stood by in a great multitude …. answered Jeremiah saying, Lord we will hearken unto three. But we will certainly do whatsoever thing goeth forth out of our own mouth, to burn incense unto the queen of heaven, to pour out drink offerings to her, as we have done, We, and our fathers, our kings, our princes, in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem, for then we had plenty of victuals, and were well and saw no evil ….

 

‘And when we burned incense unto the queen of heaven, and pour out drink offerings to her, did we make cakes to worship her, pour out drink offerings to her without our men. …..

 

‘Thus saith the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel saying. Ye and your wives have both spoken with your mouths and fulfilled with your hand saying. We will surely perform our vows that we have vowed, to burn incense unto the queen of heaven and to pour out drink offerings unto her; ye will surely accomplish your vows, and perform your vows. Therefore heed the words of Lord all Judah that dwell in Egypt. Behold I have sworn by my great name, saith the Lord, that my name shall be no more named, in the mouth of any man of Judah in the land of Egypt, saying the Lord God liveth. Behold, I will watch over them for evil, and not for good; and all the men of Judah that are in the land of Egypt shall be consumed by the sword and by famine, until there shall be an end of them.’ (queen of heaven – Astarte).

The Semites In Cyprus

Despite the evolution of patriarchal deities in the Semite kingdom and empires and supremacy of the god Marduk, reflecting the supremacy of the Babylonian monarchy, the Semite popular religion was the modified matriarchal religion taken from the Sumerians. The Phoenicians, a branch of the Canaanites, spread this popular version to Cyprus and Carthage. However, in Cyprus there already existed a well developed matriarchal society together with a well developed matriarchal religion.

The situation therefore becomes more complex – a complexity which is reflected in the development of all Mediterranean society. The natives of Cyprus, before the Phoenicians took over the island worshipped their own goddess Artemis – whose image was a simple white pyramid. The Phoenicians simply identified Artemis as the native version of their own goddess Astarte. It is easy to see as Mediterranean societies became more closely connected how Astarte as Aphrodite, Adonis and Artemis all found their way into Greek mythology as separate entities. Later still Artemis was identified not as a version of Aphrodite but of Diana but who has a separate yet convergent development from Artemis or Aphrodite.

Religious rites on Cyprus were very similar to those practised at the temple of Ishtar in Babylon and the temples of Astarte in Byblus and Baalbec. However separated from the Semite mainland native matriarch religion seems to have had a greater impact on the Phoenicians on Cyprus than on the mainland.

For one thing, the King of Cyprus, at his capital in Paphos was not chosen in a patriarchal fashion but chosen from the sons of princesses who had conceived the royal candidates in the temple of Astarte during the festival of Adonis. The rite held during this festival was exactly similar to the one held at Byblus (and at one time in Jerusalem!). The Semite kings of Cyprus therefore could only be traced through the maternal line and their father was always held to be Adonis himself. Before the Semite invasion of Cyprus, boy king, consort of Artemis, met his death annually in her temple.

The myth of the foundation of Semite Cyprus also followed the Byblus version quite closely. Again the mythical first king was named Cinryas (the harp). According to the legend, Astarte had commanded Cinryas to introduce the festivals of Adonis and Astarte. Cinryas was said to have married his own daughter Myrrha and she had given birth to Adonis himself, this during the festival of Astarte. However Cinryas and Adonis are both versions of Adonis, Myrrha and Astarte are both versions of Astarte.

Basically we have a more complicated version of the old Sumerian religion. Mother/daughter/son/lover. The splitting manifestation of personalities into different entities was made necessary by the continuation of matrilineal descent in patriarchal society, father/daughter relationship was common where the daughter was the matrilineal heirs and the father had lost his right to rule because of the death of his wife.

The myth later became even more complex, for Cinryas himself was said to be Astarte’s (now called Aphrodite) lover. Another king of Cyprus, Pygmalion was later said to be Cinryas’s father-in-law, who fell in love with the statute of Aphrodite and became her lover when she came to life. Pygmalion however, was a common name amongst the Phoenicians and it is probably that there were kings called Pygmalion on Cyprus. What the myth seems to indicate though, is that during the early years of Phoenician rule on Cyprus, the Semite king had to conform to some extent with the native customs and undergo a formal wedding ceremony with the goddess. The later Phoenician colony at Carthage held Pygmalion and not Adonis to be the lover of Aphrodite.

A Summary of Aphrodite And Adonis

Despite regional variations, the myths and rites of Aphrodite and Adonis spread over large areas of the eastern Mediterranean and was incorporated into classical Greek and Roman religion and indeed is incorporated into Christianity although in a much modified form. In its basic form it derives directly from the matriarchal religion of the Fertile Crescent. Christianity took Adonis and turned him into Jesus Christ, his mother the Virgin Mary, conforming to the demands of patriarchy, no longer the reigning queen of heaven, took Aphrodite’s place, no longer the lover of her own son, and yet she is there at his death and resurrection, as Aphrodite was there at Adonis’ death and resurrection. When we see the frequent ‘pieta’ artifacts, the sad and noble virgin mourning her dead son, it is a direct descendant of Adonis’ mother who mourns for her son and resurrects him to be her lover again. Christianity could have no way been acceptable to the population of Europe without Christ’s mother being elevated to a position at least similar to that held by Adonis’s mother. The pastoral religions of Judaism and Islam – totally patriarchal, with no matriarchal foundation, found the elevation of a woman unnecessary and indeed incomprehensible .

All the variants basically agree that Adonis was born of Myrrha. Incense, which is derived from Myrrh was sacred to Astarte/Aphrodite in all areas. The myrrh tree itself was held to be Aphrodite in one of her forms, Myrrha is the daughter or winter aspect of Aphrodite. The incense was burnt during the spring festival of Adonis to resurrect the dead god and burnt at Aphrodite’s own festival – in Greece – during August. The actual day of Aphrodite’s festival was taken over by the church as the Assumption of the Virgin in the same way as they took over the death and resurrection of Adonis in the springtime.

Modified versions of the old matriarchal religion survived well into classical and mediaeval times

In Alexandria the festival of Aphrodite and Adonis took place in the summer (the period of Nile flood). Images of Aphrodite and Adonis were set on couches amongst fruits, cakes and plants, On the first day a marriage celebration was held and on the second the women loosened their hair, bared their breasts in the matriarchal fashion and weeping and lamenting took the image of Adonis to the sea where it was cast in. (Still carried out Greek Orthodox Church today casting the cross into the sea).

In Byblus the death of Adonis was mourned by the women in the temple of Astarte in springtime. The next day he was ‘reborn’ by Astarte and rejoined his mother to mate with her and so she brought forth the new crop. The women either cut their hair or loosened it and had sex with the first man passing by them outside the temple.

In Attica, the death of Adonis was celebrated by the women of each household casting an image of the god into the sea.

When the Emperor Julian the Apostate entered Antioch around 370 A.D. he found the whole city at a halt mourning for Adonis and praying to Aphrodite. Antioch was one of the main Christian strongholds of the Roman Empire and yet they found no contradiction in their belief in Aphrodite and Adonis and Christianity.

As late as 750 A.D. an Islamic invader described the scene in Syria which the Arabs had just invaded.

Tammuz (July) (also the Jewish month). In the middle of this month is the festival of el-Bugat, that is the weeping women, and this is the Ta-uz festival which is celebrated in honour of the god Ta’uz. The women bewail him, because his lord slew him cruelly, ground his bones in a mill and scattered them to the wind. The women during this festival eat nothing that has been ground in a mill, but limit their diet to steeped wheat, sweet vetches, dates and raisins and the like.

Nor is the birth of Christ at Bethlehem any coincidence. St. Jerome, the Christian scholar and father of the church deprecates the fact that at Bethlehem was the grave sacred to Aphrodite and Adonis. Jerome points out during the festival of Adonis Venus appears as the Morning Star – the Star of the Magi?. The name Bethlehem means the ‘House of Bread’ and the festival of Adonis in the region required the eating of bread to represent the body of the dead god (another Christian rite). St. Jerome was a Christian and tried to maintain that the worshippers of Aphrodite had copied these rites off the Christians despite the fact that Aphrodite and Adonis were centuries earlier than Christ.

The Great Mother (Cybele) and Attis

If we refer back to the beginning of this section, it will be recalled that before the invasion of nomadic pastoral peoples, the dominant economy of the Mediterranean and southern Europe was matriarchal communism. In the Fertile Crescent the cities combined in some complexity the basic theme of the goddess and her lover consort.

Moving around to Anatolia and Asia there were also advanced matriarchal societies which however never reached the heights of development of the Fertile Crescent. The Asia Minor area was invaded by the Indo-Europeans – particularly the Hittites who like the Semites in the Fertile Crescent did not actually destroy the basic matriarchal structure of society but rather modified it by enslaving the population and establishing themselves as a warrior ruling class. The popular structure of the religion was therefore retained and simply overlaid with the ruling class’s patriarchal warrior gods. Like Adonis and Aphrodite, at a later period Cybele and Attis was incorporated into Greek and Roman religion as separate entities from Adonis and Aphrodite and the other matriarchal deities.

Cybele was the Great Mother, the mother of the earth and all life. Attis was her lover, he was born of Nana – Cybele in another aspect – a virgin birth – she conceived him by placing a pomegranate between her breasts. The Phrygian and older version of Attis’s death (Phrygia is the area of Asia Minor opposite Greece) said that he died through self castration beneath Cybele’s sacred tree. The Greeks modified his death, giving him a death similar to Adonis (in Greece) by being gored by a wild boar.

The rites of Cybele and Attis spread particularly into Italy. According to the Roman legend, the black stone of Cybele was carried from Phrygia and installed in Rome in 204 B.C. Certainly Cybele and Attis had a strong following in Rome and right into Christian times they retained it. When Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, the Church of St Peter was built on Rome’s most sacred spot – the temple of Cybele on Vatican Hill and presumably the black stone remains somewhere under St. Peter’s. According to the legend it was Cybele’s timely intervention that drove the Carthaginian Hannibal out of Italy, also bringing a bumper harvest to Italy that year.

The Roman Rite of Cybele and Attis

According to Roman historians, the rites followed in Rome were identical to those carried out in Cybele’s earlier home in Phrygia.

The festival of Attis began on March 22nd. A pine tree decked out like a corpse was carried to the sanctuary of Cybele. The tree was set up in Cybele’s sanctuary with an effigy of Attis tied to it and 23rd of March was called the ‘Day of Blood’ -with good reason. The˛ ‘Archigallus’, the high priest of Attis cut his arms and presented the blood as an offering to Cybele. As the ceremony reached a fever the novice priests would dance themselves into a frenzy and at the climax totally castrate themselves (removing penis and testicles) and throw their severed genitals on to the image of Cybele. The genitals were later buried in the underground chamber in Cybele’s Sanctuary where they fertilised the earth mother who herself caused the crops to grow and ripen.

Castration, as part of the ceremony of the goddess was not unique to Rome and Phrygia. The rites of Artemis in Ephesus involved voluntary castration as did the rites of Astarte and Hesropolis. Here any man who was taken by the frenzy may do it. Such a man would fling his severed testicles into a house and its occupants apart from being blessed by the goddess were obliged to fit out the castrated man in the finest women’s clothes and ornaments they could afford.

In Rome, the last day of the celebration of Cybele and Attis was the 25th March. At midnight of the 24th, it was announced that Cybele had resurrected Attis and the Festival of Joy (Hilaria) had begun. This was a day of total freedom where anyone could do and dress as they liked. Finally the image of Cybele was carried from her sanctuary in solemn procession to the River Almo where it as washed in the sacred stream. Cybele’s image, decked out with flowers was returned to her sanctuary and the festival was over.

How do we interpret these rites? A feminist interpretation appeared once in ‘Spare Rib’ inclined to the beliefs that the patriarchal society of Rome adopted blood thirsty rites as an imitation of the sacred menstrual rites – carried out by women in matriarchal times. Such a ceremony as described above can be seen as typical of the necrophilia obsessed male society wallowing in blood, violence, and death out of rage of the sterility of man compared to woman.

However, if we take they myth and the rite together and add to that the fact that the myth and rite were imported from an area of strong matriarchal culture, also add that the Romans themselves at this time had recently emerged from matriarchy themselves we find a directly opposite version of the feminist theory to be true.

The Roman rite is in fact a modification of the ancient matriarchal rite. In the matriarchy a young man would have been already chosen to be Attis, he would have been tied to a tree, danced around and finally castrated and allowed to bleed to death under the sacred tree. The following day’s resurrection would have involved the appointment of his successor for the following year.

The rite of Cybele and Attis underwent less modification then that of Astarte and Adonis because in Asia Minor the Hittite ruling class was far less successful than the Semites in crushing and modifying the underlying matriarchal economy. The introduction of the rites of Cybele and Attis into Rome is an example of the increasing homogeneity of Mediterranean society, especially in the growth of Roman power. The popular rites of Cybele and Attis continued alongside (or underneath) the patriarchal Roman gods and alongside their own indigenous matriarchal pair Diana and Dianus.

Greek And Roman Matriarchy

Although Aphrodite, Artemis, Adonis, Cybele and Attis found their way into Greek and Roman mythology, they only did so at a later date when Greece and Rome were economically and politically dominant in the Mediterranean. In fact we have to go to Crete to find the original Greek/Roman matriarchal pair – Diana and Dianus.

The complex and sometimes rather bizarre tales that come down to us from Greek and Roman mythology are the result of the long development of Greek and Roman civilisation – a development which underwent many internal and external changes and came to dominate the political and economic relations of western Europe and the Mediterranean. Our own society today – although of a different and even more complex structure bears the birth marks of Greek and Roman civilisations for these civilisations were one of western capitalism’s direct ancestors. Therefore during the classical period, Greek ruling ideology – expressed mainly through religion reached a height of complexity which matched the complexity of that society.

It is necessary to be absolutely clear, that Greek and Roman religion was a class religion for Greek and Roman society was a slave holding society, slaves beings the instruments of production. This form of property organised through a patriarchal ruling class.

This society itself however owed its existence to the fusion and development of previous societies and it still bore – even at its height many features of the matriarchal society that it had been built upon. Such a feature was inevitable, for the patriarchal society to eradicate matriarchy completely would have meant the eradication of the matriarchal economy, and classical Greek civilisation would have never existed without it. The matriarchal economy continued to exist in some form or other right until the relations of agricultural production which had existed for nearly 30 centuries were finally wiped out by capitalism. Thus destroying matriarchy and patriarchy simultaneously.

For this reason matriarchal religion continued a difficult existence even during the commanding heights of patriarchy. Again this is inevitable, the patriarchal class system cannot exist at all without the base of matriarchy to support it. When capitalism destroyed the peasantry, it destroyed the matriarchal economy but at the same time it hauled the patriarchs down from their high chairs. Family ties lost their command of production and the patriarchal head of the family is a pensioned off dotard whose age is a subject of contempt and counts for nothing economically, politically or ideologically. The ‘father’ controls our society no more than the Queen, they are both relics, vestigial organs left over from a previous society.

Matriarchal society had had plenty of time to develop before the warriors enslaved it. The matriarchal economy spread rapidly from the Fertile Crescent where it emerged, As early as 7,000 B.C. domesticated bread wheat was being cultivated on Crete and between 7,000 and 6,000 first sheep and then cattle were introduced to Crete and the eastern half of Greece, presumably from Anatolia. Knossos was a very early matriarchal settlement – already flourishing around 6,000 B.C.

It as around 2,300 B.C. that the Indo-Europeans appeared in northern Greece. The first wave were the Ionians, probably a branch of the Hittites that had already settled in Anatolia. Like the Hittites the Ionians and the Achaeans which followed them were horse riding nomads, subsisting by herding sheep and cattle and by hunting – they introduced not only horses into Greece but enslaved the native people (often called Pelasgians by historians). They introduced class society into Greece by establishing themselves as a warrior ruling class over the matriarchal economy. The Achaeans particularly took over most of Greece and Crete establishing a particularly large settlement at Mycenae, the king of which was acknowledged as High King of the Achaean people. This is the Archaic or Mycenean period of Greek history.

The extent to which the free matriarchal people resisted them we do not know, but some resistance to the invaders was inevitable even if matriarchal societies had found little previous need for warfare. Theseus evidently encountered some resistance if the legend of his struggle and marriage with the Amazon queen is anything to go by.

The Myceneans themselves succumbed to yet a further wave of Indo-European invasion around 1,200 B.C., the entry of the Dorians into Greece which ended Mycenian control over Greece and Crete.

Apart from archaeological remains, the matriarchies that existed for 5,000 years before the Indo-European invaders imposed a class system on matriarchy, left little direct record. However, religious ideology they did leave, that matriarchal ideology that is the reflectionof matriarchal society and if we can unravel it form the complexitites of patriarchal society in which it is thoroughly interwoven we can get some idea of what matriarchal society was like.

In terms of matriarchal society we cannot differentiate between Crete and eastern Greece for they were probably in maritime contact and it would appear that matriarchy spread from Crete though the islands to the Greek mainland at a fairly early date. Crete more than Greece maintained a stronger matriarchal base (and therefore ideology) until its overthrow by the Myceneans around 1,600 B.C.

Finding The Goddess

In the settlements of the Fertile Crescents the basis of matriarchal religion was the matriarchal pair – the double goddess of the son/lover god. This basis was multiplied into many manifestations by the growth of society and its greater complexity. To find the matriarchal basis of Greek religion we therefore have to work backwards from patriarchy and derive the various manifestations of the same personalities back to their original forms.

However, from Greek religion we can make may exclusions to start off with. From matriarchal religion of Greece and Crete, Aphrodite, Adonis, Artemis, Attis, Cybele can immediately be excluded – not because of matriarchy but because they originate outside Greece. Their inclusion into the Greek pantheon under whatever form was due to the political and economic dominance of the later Greeks in the Mediterranean area. Then we can exclude the Titans. Uranus, Cronos and his crowd are not matriarchal deities but come with the Indo-European invaders and their defeat . Greek mythology would show that the warriors were forced to compromise with matriarchal religion – none of the Titans had shrines in Greece. Zeus’s later wife Hera we can also exclude for she is Hepa the Indo-European consort to Teshup the patriarchal sky god. In her place, we can reinstate Zeus’s original wife Diana to her original position. Many others are later creations taking up economic positions matching the division of labour in late Greece.

We will start with the paramount pair – Zeus and Diane – for here is the basis of matriarchal religion.

According to W. Mannhardt, the original Cretan word for ‘barley’ is ‘deai’. The matriarchal ‘barley mother’ was therefore ‘Deia’. Her consort was originally ‘Deius’. From this root, we derive ‘Zeus’ (‘Deius’) ‘Gaia’ (mother-earth) ‘Dia’ (also mother earth), Demeter and Dionysus (Eleusinian), exported to the mainland, Deia and Deius became Zeus and Diane, in Eleusis they became Demeter and Dionysus. By the time they reached Italy they had become Diana and Dianus, in Alba Longa, Jan and Janus in Etruscia – Juno and Jupiter in Latium yet all these different forms although later to take on independent characteristics are derivations of the same Cretan matriarchal pair Deia and Deius.

Minoan Linear A writing which could probably tell us a great deal about matriarchal religion in Crete, apart from a few words has never been deciphered so there is little direct evidence about matriarchal society in Crete. We do know that the Cretans worshipped Diane and Zeus and that in Crete that was a grave of Zeus which implied that Zeus underwent the death and resurrection common to the male consort/son in matriarchal religion. Further more, we know that even in later times even the Minoan ruling class (which was Greek) worked out their clans according to matrilineal principles and not patrilineal ones. Further, from archaeological remains it can be see that women in Crete enjoyed an extremely prominent place even amongst the ruling classes until it finally succumbed to Mycenean invasion from the mainland. We can judge, therefore, that amongst the native Cretans, matriarchal economy and religion remained predominant.

Demeter And Dionysus

Demeter and Dionysus were the version of the Cretan pair Zeus and Diane predominant in the North Eastern corner of Greece and some of the matriarchies in nearby islands. The Achaean invaders compromised with the native matriarchies adopting Zeus as their own but promoting him from consort to king of the gods and later head of the Olympian council.

However, in Eleusis – a fertile plain cut off from Athens by mountains, Demeter and Dionysus continued in their basic form until much later. Demeter became the subject of the Homeric Eleusian Mysteries, Hymn to Demeter. The Eleusian religion became interesting to the patriarchal rulers of Athens around 700 B.C. because the slave population of the countryside for miles around continued to send corn and fruit tributes to the shrine of Demeter at Eleusis during her festival. Neither Dionysus nor Demeter or Persephone had been included in the patriarchal mythology at this point.

However, the strength of Demeter in the area surrounding Athens forced the inclusion of Demeter and Dionysus into the ruling class ideology and the Athenian rulers themselves took part in the Eleusine Mysteries which originally had been the business of women. However, the enactment of the drama of the Eleusine Mysteries continued until the end of the second century A.D. which gave Demeter a 5000 period at least.

The Hymn To Demeter

According to the Homeric version, i.e. the Achaean interpretation of the rites of Demeter, Persephone, Demeter’s daughter, was captured by Pluto – lord of the dead to be his bride in the underworld. Demeter mourning for her daughter’s loss took the form of an old woman and lamented at the Maiden’s Well in Eleusis. In her grief she refused to allow the corn seed to grow and vowed that it would never grow again until her daughter was returned to her. The people of Eleusis ploughed their fields nonetheless and yet nothing grew. Famine struck and the whole of humankind was threatened with destruction. Zeus therefore intervened and ordered Pluto to give up Persephone and restore her to her mother. However, Zeus stipulated that Persephone should spend two thirds of the year with her mother in the upper world and one third with Pluto in the underworld. The daughter therefore returned and so Demeter commanded the corn seed to grow.

Now when Persephone is with her mother the corn grows, but when she returns to the underworld, Demeter’s grief prevents it from growing and winter descends upon the earth. In the Eleusive Mysteries this drama was enacted every year during the festival of Demeter (at the end of summer) and Clement of Alexandria described it taking place in the second century A.D.

This mystery survived into patriarchal society because the ordinary population remained matriarchal and the ruling class were forced to acknowledge it. Stripped of its patriarchal modification – the intervention of Zeus, the double manifestation of the goddess as the new growth – Persephone and the matured cut corn, Demeter as the ‘crone’ or old mother is identical to the old Sumerian pair Inanna and Gesht-Inanna or to their Semite modifications Ishtar and Adonis and so on. The reenactment of the drama which constituted the Eleusian Mysteries although in later times enacted by men and women originally was probably enacted by women only.

Dionysus

The springtime festival of Demeter at Eleusis brought in her son and consort Dionysus. Again the rites were similar to that of Astarte and Adonis, and the matriarchal Sumerian Inanna and Dumuzi. Again the patriarchal ruling class having promoted Dionysus (in the form of Zeus) to king had to allow the original form of Dionysus to continue for a time.

Dionysus became extremely popular throughout the whole of Greece after 700 B.C. He does not appear as a separate entity from Zeus in Archaic and classical myths until after this time, he is not mentioned in the Hymn to Demeter as the Eleusive Mysteries celebrated the summer festival which was always in all matriarchal societies concerned exclusively to the goddess.

Amongst the ordinary people of Greece, right through classical times, Dionysus was the most popular god in Greece. Only the ruling class were concerned with Apollo And Zeus. The nature of the festival of Dionysus, carried on right into the Christian era points vividly to the matriarchal and popular nature of this rite. The rites of Dionysus always principally involved women and the wild ecstatic frenzy of women during this rite was a repeat of the frenzies of matriarchal Sumer during the rites of Dummuzi and Adonis.

Dionysus was later exclusively associated with the vine and wild ecstasies therefore assumed to be drunkenness. This however is a patriarchal modification and his Roman equivalent – Bacchus – is a mere shadow of the original Dionysus. The wild ecstasies are associated with the death and resurrection of the god and his mating with Demeter/Persephone which fertilised the earth. In matriarchal times this would have involved the death of a young man appointed for the purpose followed by the appointment of his replacement for the coming year.

In patriarchal times, the rite was modified to the death of an animal in his place either a sheep or a goat, and later still his death in effigy. Everywhere in Greece he is called ‘Dionysus of the Corn’ indeed his very name means ‘corn-god’ the consort of Diane (Demeter) the ‘corn-mother’. The different areas he had other specialities too. In Boetia (the area of original matriarchal settlement) he was also called ‘Dionysus of the Tree’ and ‘Teeming Dionysus’ i.e. of the rain. In Corinth he was ‘Pine Tree Dionysus’. in Archaea a he was ‘Ivy Dionysus’, also in Achaea he was ‘Flowering Dionysus’ in Lacedaemon he was ‘Fig Dionysus’. The emblems of Dionysus were a winnowing farm which was said to have been placed in his winnow cradle at his birth. Indeed we need look no further than Dionysus’s cradle to find the origin of Christ’s manger.

The conflict between the old matriarchy and the new patriarchal ruling class who enslaved and exploited them is clearly shown by the Greek story of Orchemenus which derives from the oldest matriarchal area in Greece – Boetia – an area which included Eleusis.

The story goes that during the reign of King Minyas (Minos of Crete} that the ordinary women were indulging in the wild ecstasies of the festival of Dionysus, roaming the hills with their hair loose, wreathed in flowers, playing tambourines, etc. The King’s three daughters, good women of the patriarchal ruling class, remained indoors and refused to have anything to do with the celebrations of their slaves. As women of the patriarchy they remained working at their distaffs and looms. However, as the festivities went on throughout the day, the three princesses became infected with the fervour of their sisters outside. Throwing down their work, they decided to imitate the other women and to sacrifice their own ‘Dionysus’. They drew lots to see which princess’s son was to play the part of the god. Leucippe’s son Hippasus was chosen and following the rite the boy was torn to pieces and eaten at the climax of the festivity. This story probably derives from the earlier period of Achaean conquest when the full form of the matriarchal rite (. the tearing to pieces of a young man as Dionysus) was still carried out; inevitably the Achaeans would attempt to keep their own women away from it.

The Myth of Dionysus

By the classical period of Greek history Dionysus and Demeter had been thoroughly incorporated and woven into Greek mythology. Demeter, through the continued enactment by the Athenian ruling class of the Eleusian Mysteries managed to remain relatively intact but Dionysus was altered to suit the times and the various localities. Consequently he was much embellished and three different versions of the myth (at least) existed by classical times.

Dionysus according to Honnus

Zeus in the form of a serpent mated with Persephone who gave birth to Dionysus – who emerged horned (goat-horns). As soon as he was born, he mounted Zeus’s throne and flung Zeus’s lightening bolts around. He was attacked by the Titans who eventually succeeded in tearing him to pieces (in the form of a bull).

Dionysus of Crete – according to Firmicus Maternus

Here, Jupiter was the king of Crete and was Dionysus’s father by the goddess Semele, Jupiter handed his throne over to Dionysus as soon as he was born. Juno, being jealous, bribed his guards and handed him over to the Titans who cut him into pieces and boiled his body and ate it. Minerva, however, had rescued his heart and had given it to Jupiter. Jupiter killed the Titans and made an image of Dionysus around his heart thus resurrecting him. According to the Roman historian Proclus ‘Dionysus was the last king of the gods appointed by Zeus for his father set him on the kingly throne and placed in his hand the sceptre, and made him the king of the gods.’ Pomegranites were supposed to have sprung from the blood of Dionysus. By the Delphic oracle besides Apollo lay the inscription ‘Here lies the heart of Dionysus, son of Semele’.

Dionysus of Thebes

This version was essentially the same as Honnus except that Dionysus was the son of Zeus and Demeter. Here Demeter gathered up the pieces of her son’s body and reassembled them and restored him to life. In one version she ate Dionysus’s heart and conceived and gave birth to him again. In many versions Dionysus was torn to pieces having taken the form of an animal, sometimes a goat, a ram, or a bull.

These three basic versions, although emerging from different localities at different times share the essential features. Firstly, the basic matriarchal original form the myth is apparent in all three and similar adaptations to suit the ideological requirements of the patriarchal ruling class appear in each version.

In the other two versions that of Thebes and the one recounted by Honnus, Dionysus is the son of Zeus and Demeter/Persephone. There is little adaptation as far as this goes for Dionysus and Zeus originally are the same god, except the patriarchs have promoted the Zeus version to be their sky god. However, the extent to which they have to compromise to the popular matriarchal festivities is shown in all three versions by the temporary elevation of Dionysus in his original form to the kingship. In all three versions his reign is short and is ended by being torn to pieces.

The patriarchy, while the festival of Demeter and Dionysus was in full swing were temporarily forced to concede – at least during that period – the supremacy of the old matriarchal pair, Demeter and Dionysus and allow their own modification of Zeus to be held in abeyance. Undoubtedly in the pre-Greek matriarchal period and indeed for a long while afterwards the young man who impersonated Dionysus was torn to pieces and his heart torn out and offered to the goddess for his resurrection.

The version of Maternus is the same in the essentials except as a Roman adaptation bringing in the Roman pantheon instead of the Greek. However, the Roman version does correctly acknowledge Crete as the birthplace of the myth.

The strength of matriarchy amongst the ordinary population is shown not merely by these myths but also the fact that a boy was torn to pieces as Dionysus in some areas until a relatively late date. Old Mycenean stories recount how King Penteus of Thebes and later Lycurgus were torn to pieces during the festival Dionysus. These rites were recorded to have been carried out in later times in Potniae in Boetia and on the islands of Chios and Tenedos.

The temporary promotion of a matriarchal consort in a patriarchal society has been seen in other places at other times – in Babylon for instance. The changing form of Dionysus i.e. into goat, bull, or ram is another patriarchal modification of later times. Probably the practice of tearing a boy to pieces was forbidden and for a long period an animal was substituted. This myth was therefore altered to include this modification in practice by having Dionysus changing his form prior to his death.

Also, in the older versions, Dionysus is resurrected by his mother – which would have been the case in the original and he is no longer allowed to mate with his mother as he would have done originally. Hence Zeus the father and Dionysus the son are split but are the same – the common feature of God the father and Christ the son is obvious. In the later versions – as patriarchy was more firm and entrenched, the role of resurrection was passed on to Jupiter or Zeus instead of his mother.

The Classical Greek Economy

In the fertile areas of north and eastern Greece where matriarchy had flourished the new patriarchies flourished there also. Centralised direction of the highly organised matriarchal economy produced enormous surplus product to enrich the patriarchal warrior class and enable them to lay the foundations of classical Greek democracy – or more accurately – oligarchy. The surplus enabled men to trade and also colonise and thus Greek civilisation became prosperous and dominant in the Mediterranean especially after it threw off the competition from Persia.

The old warrior patriarchs the aristocracy – were overthrown and replaced by the merchant oligarchy of classical Greece. Likewise in heaven, the gods formed themselves into an oligarchy – the Olympian Council. As on earth labour amongst them was strictly divided. (Note needed on division of labour in Olympus???)

Whilst, at the base, the wealth of classical society depended upon the slave masses in the land, slaves were more oppressed under the oligarchy than under the patriarchy and society turned away from the fundamentals of matriarchy and towards patriarchy.

Slaves became saleable instruments of production, rather than a part of a society basically matriarchal forced to hand over its surplus product as a tribute to its patriarchal masters. In the old form slaves were not alienable there was no market in which they can be bought and sold.They would therefore have no exchange value.

The basic tribal and clan structure in Athens was broken down and people were organised according to economic function rather than tribal connection. The position of women in Athenian society therefore became further degraded – for previously patriarchy had depended upon matriarchy and this to some degree protected women – at least in the villages and farms.

The mercantile economy degraded women to such an extent that they were held in a purdah that a Saudi woman would have regarded as unusual. In ideology that is to say religion this development was also reflected on Mt Olympus. The Olympian council removing a goddess and elevating a god gave men a majority legal degradation was also recognised on Olympus in the story of the trial of Orestes.

Orestes killed his mother to avenge his father. The council, depending upon Athene’s casting vote. Athene representing the city state of Athens exonerated Orestes from the previously serious crime of matricide thus reflecting the lowering of women’s status in Athens.

However, not all Greek city-states achieved the prosperity of Athens. It is worth comparing the economic structure of Sparta and Athens. During the patriarchal Archaic period Sparta and Athens were on equal terms. Sparta never enjoyed the vast surpluses of Athens and was in any case a more recent acquisition to the patriarchy than Athens.

Sparta was not taken by thewarriors until 1,200 B.C. – it was a Dorian city rather than an Achaean one. In classical times, although patriarchal, Sparta retained the basic form of matriarchal organisation. The Spartans retained the original matriarchal ‘gens’ – although the two ‘gens’ had been subdivided – although the two matriarchs were replaced by two ‘kings’ ruling side by side.

Also despite male domination the ‘gens’ were still matrilineal, the man marrying into his wife’s ‘gens’ and leaving his own. The king held office by virtue of matrilineal right and not patrilineal descent. Also the requirement of physical perfection the kings reflected the old requirements of physical perfection in the King-consort of matriarchal times. (See also High King of Ireland)

In Sparta there were fewer slaves than in Athens in proportion to the free population and nor were slaves alienable – bought and sold – as they were in Athens and were permanently attached to a family. The position of women was vastly different in Sparta, there being no laws governing or concerned with virginity or restrictions generally on women’s sexuality which were introduced into Athens in the oligarchic period.

Women were also trained to fight like the boys and Sparta was unique in expecting its women to be as athletic as the men, the only women’s games held in Greece were held in Sparta.

Most of our understanding of classical Greece is understood through nineteenth and twentieth century bourgeois historians. Athens was far more like bourgeois society than Sparta and even today Athens is held to be the ‘birthplace’ of (bourgeois) democracy. While Sparta’s retention of ‘communistic’ forms was held up to restrictive, oppressive and austere (Spartan has entered the language as meaning ‘austere) In actual fact despite the dynamism of its thinkers and artists and so on

Athens was an extremely oppressive society ruthlessly exploiting its massive slave population – presumably the bourgeois exploiters of the nineteenth century and the present day science and philosophy built on slave economy see nothing to remark upon in this as such exploitation and degradation of women is a high ideal and perfectly ‘natural’ to them.

Matriarchy In Italy

Diana the Virgin Huntress

During the pre-Indo-European period, neolithic, matriarchal society spread into Italy – although at a slightly later date. The communities of Italy had close connection with the communities of Crete and Greece. The original matriarchal pair Deia and Deius were adopted by the Italian communities – in various forms such as Diana and Dianus.

However, Diana the Virgin Huntress survived into classical mythology. In this form she was queen of the woodland and would allow no man to touch her – on pain of death.

In this form Diana is something of a feminists’ delight, despising and eschewing the company of men. Unfortunately this form of Diana is the result of a long period of patriarchal ideology. In matriarchal society virginity, like puberty, had no meaning – or at least no significance – much as virginity has no social significance amongst men today. Female virginity and maritial chastity go together and they are concepts invented for the benefit of a patriarchal society. The ‘pure’ Diana was revered in patriarchal society in much the same way as the Virgin in Christianity and various virgin female saints. But Diana as queen of the wood does have a matriarchal origin.

Woodland has a very close association with matriarchal religion and Diana, the original queen of the earth had her home in a sacred grove. Inevitably, therefore the animal life of the woodland were under her direct control. The aspect she kept when she was converted into Diana the Virgin Huntress. However, the association with trees was retained – even into the patriarchy. Diana in her other forms was not specialised. In the Latin dialect Diana was Juno and she remained queen although demoted to be consort to her husband Jupiter who was the Latin version of Diana‘s consort Dianus.

To understand the significance of trees in matriarchal and post-matriarchal religion it is necessary to see the economic significance of trees during that period. The north of Italy and Greece were very heavily wooded during this period. Trees were an important source of natural food, figs, fruit, olives also it had other important economic purposes. Fuel for fire, timber for building. The old word for fire and wood were the same and found their specific religion expression in the goddess Vesta.

However, the goddess was regarded as queen of the woodland and both her and her consort were closely associated with trees as well as corn. From this derives the importance of oak, laurel, cypress olive, pine to the gods and goddesses and later to the rulers of Rome.

The Founding of Rome and Ancient Latium

According to the legend Romulus and Remus, the founders came from Alba Longa. Insomuch as a founding pair represented to the two original matriarchal ‘gens’ and not actual people and they came from Alba Longa the legend is probably true. That the emigrants actually built the settlement is probably untrue although it is possible.

The history of early Rome has been incredibly distorted by late patriarchal historians both ancient and modern. Yet without realising that the Italics of both Alba Longa and of Rome lived in a matriarchal society – the history of early Rome makes no sense at all without understanding this.

According to patriarchal and bourgeois history early Rome was a monarchy. The eighth, king Tarquin, was the last, being driven from Rome because of the intolerable tyranny of the monarchy. In its place they decided on a Greek style ‘Republic’. Historians who interpret Roman history like this are in fact imposing the history of bourgeois Europe on ancient Latium.

If this interpretation is to be maintained, how do we account for the fact of the eight kings of Rome who were supposed to be patriarchal tyrants – not one of them was succeeded to the throne by his own son – or indeed by any male relative? How is it that each of the eight kings of Rome has an unknown father? Not one of the fathers of the early kings of Rome is recorded, yet the the names of the mothers were?

Three of the kings – Tatius, Tarquin the Elder and Servius Tullus were succeeded by their sons in law – who were foreigners – rather than their own sons. Although the question was not answered by bourgeois historians it baffled the historians of the Roman Empire. They could only conclude that the early kings of Rome were born of virgin mothers – otherwise they could see no explanation of their ancestors not holding the fathers of these kings as being important.

In fact, the explanation is perfectly simple. The early kings of Rome were not monarchs as the bourgeois historian would understand it, they were impersonators of Dianus – the consort of Diana. They were chosen matrilineally, their biological fathers were irrelevant, they inherited their position through female descent and while the names of their mothers are known, the name of their fathers is irrelevant. Like the Spartan, the man in early Rome married into his wife’s ‘gens’.

We may go a step further, none of the eight kings of Rome had a natural death. Without exception, they ‘disappeared’. They ‘disappeared’ because their time was up, the death of the god and his resurrection by the goddess was a necessary part of matriarchal religion.

The Flight of the King

After the expulsion – or death – of the last king, the warriors were more firmly in control, however chief offices of Rome were still strongly marked by matriarchal tradition. Like the two kings of Sparta, the two consuls of Rome represented the original matriarchal ‘gens’. Further, although the Romans ceased to appoint a king to be Dianus (or Jupiter) they had to, nonetheless, to allow the matriarchal religion to continue.

The function of Dianus, although somewhat demoted was replaced by a man appointed to be ‘King of the Sacred Rites’, whose religious functions at least were similar to the old kings of Rome. One may assume therefore that the method of appointing the King of the Sacred Rites was identical to the method of choosing the king originally. The celebration in February, called the Flight of the King was assumed to be a public celebration of the expulsion of the monarchy from Rome.

The Flight of the King was, in fact, an athletics contest organised from amongst the legitimate candidates to decide which one was to be the matriarch’s consort. Athletics contests originated not as the patriarchal idealisation of male strength and virtue but as a kind of beauty contest to decided which man was actually the god consort, resurrected after the previous one had been torn to pieces. Early Rome, however, was not wholly matriarchal and so the current holder was permitted to attempt to gain himself another term by running – literally – for re-election and thus saving his life. Moreover as time grew his chance of a longer reign were increased because the current king was given a start over his rivals. Finally however, he would be too old to win even with a start, a sign that the youthful virility which the goddess obviously demanded from her consort was at an end – it was time for resurrection.

The older king would then by taken off by the women to the goddess’s grove and there would ‘disappear’. For certain no man ever knew what happened to him. After the appropriate period of lamentation the winner of the race would be duly married to the goddess, his office symbolised with a crown made from her tree (the oak wreath).

Although in Republican times, the whole business became rather ritualised, the original consort had to be physically perfect – according to the women’s judgement. There is no doubt that it is the true origin of the athletic contests in Greece also. Such an institution was easily converted into a patriarchal contest although it was useful to note that even in classical times, athletics did not involve the use of horses, the ultimate weapon of the warrior class. The May Day races to choose a May-King for the May-Queen held in many parts of feudal Europe have the same matriarchal origin.

The Saturnalia

The two Saturnalias (the true one at the winter solstice) and the midsummer festival are both well known, for they continued into classical times and were ultimately taken over by Christianity. However what was significant about them was not the unbridled drunkenness and love making that took place but the fact that they were continuations of old matriarchal festivals.

Perhaps the free love making itself was significant but more significant was the temporary suspension of class society. During the festivals which were popular, slavery was suspended – it was a slaves’ holiday – probably the only ones they had and during the year. They talk to their owners in any way they liked i.e. as equals. Again this concession to slavery was initially probably necessary as a compromise allowed to the enslaved people during the period of Italic conquest.

The midsummer festival particularly had strong matriarchal overtones and held on the banks of the Tiber and held in honour of the goddess Egeria. The existence of this goddess whose speciality was childbirth and was particularly associated with water – the river – is interesting in itself. The original immigrants from Alba Longa brought with them Diana. However, the local community centred their concept of fertility on to the water. Most likely the two goddesses were joined into one, the imported Diana or Juno and the native Egeria.

Egeria therefore became a specific form of Juno – of water and childbirth. The immigrants continued Egeria’s rite during the midsummer festival. It is also notable that – as in Greece laterthe Christians acknowledged the importance of these two festivals. The first became dedicated to the birth of Christ (instead of the reawakening of the goddess) and the summer festival to John the Baptist because of his association with water as substitute for Egeria.

The Origin of the Thunder God

The matriarchal god or consort – Deius, Dionysus, Adonis, was always closely associated with springtime. The death and resurrection of the god was a springtime festival held almost universally in areas of matriarchal settlement (with the exception of Egypt). For this reason alone, the Christian church decided to put the festival of the death and resurrection of Christ at this exact time for it overlaid the death and resurrection of Cybele’s Attis, Aphrodite’s Adonis, Demeter’s Dionysus, Diana’s Zeus, and so on.

From the springtime we get the important ingredient of rain. In matriarchal society, wholly dependent upon agricultural production the weather has a vital significance. If it does not rain at the correct time of the year, if the sun does not shine at the right time or the weather misbehaves in any other way, disaster can be the result in a small, self-sufficient community. The economic significance of the weather is therefore expressed through religion.

For an agricultural society it was necessary to be able to predict in order to plan ahead. Indeed every practical act in agriculture is, in fact, a prediction for the seed is planted at a certain time of the year as a prediction that conditions will be to enable it to grow and prosper and come to fruition at another time of the year. It was economically essential to predict correctly. Therefore when the seed is planted, warm rain must germinate it, the hot summer sun must ripen the grain, and so on.

Early agriculture not knowing the specific laws that govern the weather and the seasons through the medium of religion attempted to ensure that their predictions should come true – that the rain should come and not frost or snow. Also, despite their primitive methods they saw humankind far more as part of an interwoven system than bourgeois society does being obsessed with the ‘liberty’ and ‘free will’ of the individual as it is.

However, the system seen in neolithic society was not governed by laws but by the whims of powers who controlled the system. To see the earth as a power itself – a living womb which nurtured seed was natural. The warm rain which germinated the seed as the semen which fertilised it was also perfectly natural. The earth mother was always there but she was powerful, she could choose whether to nurture the seed or to keep it sterile – as the myth of Demeter shows.

The earth mother was always there, she grieved in winter and came to life in spring, flowered in summer, became old in autumn but she was always there. Her consort came in spring fertilised her and went again only to be reborn by his mother earth in order that he could come again to fertilise her. When he came, he came with noise, thunder and lightening and then died away again – occasionally he would wreak havoc with his storms and lightening bolts.

The consort – in Europe at least was always associated with rain, thunder, and lightening – as in ‘Teeming Dionysus’. However, with the Indo-European invasion and the establishment of a patriarchal class system built upon the matriarchal economy, the god-consort was promoted to warrior chief – despite the fact that he had to give way to the matriarchy at certain times of the year. The thunder and lightening he kept, now not as a bringer of fertility but as a weapon in the hands of a warrior. The circle of oak leaves, once signifying his relation and dependence upon the goddess became a crown in its own right a symbol of rule and victory over enemies.

In nearly every European society, the chief god was a thunder god, wielding lightening bolts, but originated as a matriarchal consort. Matriarchy carried out their rituals and ceremonies, not to implore the powers, not to pray to them.

Representation and symbolism is a feature of class rule. The earth was not represented by a goddess, the earth was a goddess, if she found expression in a living person, then she, that person was the goddess. However, it was not often that the goddess took human form in this way, for she did not die. However, the matriarchs heading society were close to her.

The boy who was to be torn to pieces in the spring rite, likewise did not represent the god, he was actually the god and therefore had to die. If he did, not then the system of which human beings were part would be disturbed. He must die to be perpetually reborn and so to be perpetually virile, otherwise the rain that he brought would become less and eventually cease.

The similarity between the matriarchal gods and goddesses in different communities of Europe and Asia produced a far more unified system of religion than modern historians think. As civilisations like the Greek and then Roman grew albeit as class structured civilisation it was easy to accept other people’s gods and goddesses as equivalent – because they were equivalents. Zeus, Odin, Thunor, Perkunos, Woden, and Perun were all recognised as the same gods and thus were incorporated into the pantheon. As the society grew the number of gods and goddesses was useful to be a heavenly society itself reflecting the same division of labour as on earth. The same gods and goddesses were reincorporated with slightly different functions and uses.

Thus in classical Greek religion, the original Deius became Zeus and Dionysus, one bearing his new patriarchal function as warrior leader and then chairman of the council and the latter still carrying out his old matriarchal functions. The division of the god into two merely reflects the new division of society. The patriarchal/warrior ruling class headed by Zeus and the matriarchal slaves headed by Demeter with her original consort Dionysus. As Greek civilisation expanded the equivalent gods and goddesses were incorporated and given slightly differentiated functions in a society where labour was becoming more divided.

Thus Artemis and Aphrodite both exact equivalents of the original goddess joined the Greek pantheon of Diane, Dia, Gaia, and Demeter all of them already equivalents arising out of ‘Deia’ from Crete. Although all the goddess were in fact exact equivalents and even the same goddess to start off with they were given different functions. This was not the end of the process for gods and goddesses joined the pantheon as Greek civilisation continued to expand and colonise.

The Romans also derived their religion and their matriarchy from the Aegean and developed in a similar way. Deia becoming Diana, Jana, Juno and Deius becoming Dianus, Janus and Jupiter. Some of these equivalents had to be sent into oblivion – there being no separate function for them, thus Dianus and Jana disappeared. Diana became specialised into hunting while Juno represented the mother goddess. Janus although demoted in favour of his Latin equivalent Jupiter was a bit of a conundrum for the Romans, for although he was not king of the gods he was a god of the sky and wielded lightening and thunder like Jupiter. It baffled later Romans because they did not realise that Janus and Jupiter were at one time the same god. With the dominance of Rome rather than Greece in the Mediterranean rather than incorporate all the Greek gods and goddesses into the pantheon, the Romans simply drew up a list of equivalents. This was not difficult as the original matriarchs had connected roots and the ruling classes had a similar Indo-European origin, the Italics and the Achaeans were branches of the same Indo-European conquerors.

In this way Zeus and Hera were made equivalents to Jupiter and Juno although strictly this was not true for Zeus and Jupiter were the same but Hera was Indo-European in origin. Zeus’s original queen was the matriarchal goddess Diana, the equivalent of Juno. Likewise, with Artemis and Diana. They were equivalents of course, in their original forms they were both mother-goddesses except the Roman Diana was the Greek Dione and the Greek Artemis was Cyprian. Thus most of the equivalents were not direct but economic, the similar economic systems brought similar economic categories and thus it was the categories that were matched up and not the original gods and goddesses themselves.

As economies developed so did the gods. Take two examples, Hermes the winged messenger and Hephestus the blacksmith. Neither of these two gods would be necessary in a society where communities were not interconnected and unified and therefore messages were a necessary part of economic life, or the blacksmithing was not a specialised trade.

Egypt – Religion and Society

Egyptian mythology was described by Homer and later by Plutarch. Even at the time of Homer, Egypt was already a long established society. The mythology, was one of great complexity and was the result of very long development. Like many historians before and since, the growth of the mythology together with the growth of the society is ignored. Homer and Plutarch, at least have some excuse, they believed in the mythology. Their concern was to draw a parallel with Egyptian mythology and their own Greek mythology. Today’s historians make the same mistake with Christianity, they assumed that Christian belief emerged ready made, and few see the need to ask why a new religion should enter upon the Roman world and displace the old religion. If you are a believing Christian, you have some excuse for ignoring the facts – as faith has nothing to do with objective fact.

Egyptian society underwent a great number of changes – although no particular change was critical. Egypt’s unique geographical position left it open on all sides to continuous immigration. Surrounding the fertile areas of the Nile was open desert on all sides, inhabited by nomadic hunters and later pastoralists. These tribes were always likely to stay in the fertile areas and eventually stood a chance of becoming dominant.

As this was a frequent occurrence, there were frequent changes in rulers and dynasties in Egypt as it was taken over by different groups at different times. Each new group came with its own religion. As each new group became absorbed in the society its gods were fitted into the pattern of the previous ones, usually in a dominant position. This meant changes in the roles played by mythological figures and the occasional collapsing of figures into each other.

A good example of this is the fusion of Amon and Ra two separate gods, deriving from two separate societies being fused into Amonra when the pastoralists whose god Amon became the new dynasty.

However, despite the frequent changes in dynasty and the development of a complex society – fundamentally in terms of social organisation of production it remained the same. On the production level, methods did not develop, except for who was doing the exploitation, the religion on the lowest level therefore did not change either.

Before the domestication of animals on the Nile, societies were already cultivating wild grasses. Domesticated grasses only reached Egypt from the Fertile Crescent around 5,000 B.C. Domesticated animals did not reach there until much later. The pattern is similar to that already followed by Sumer i.e. the separate domestication of plants and animals. In 5,000 B.C. we have a similar pattern.

One would expect therefore, that before the incursion of nomadic pastoralists into Egypt, a primitive agricultural society was developing supplemented by hunting – Nile animals and gazelles. In religious terms, therefore one would expect the development of a religion of the similar matriarchal type as in Sumer. With the appearance of domestic animals one would expect also a completion of this process with the development of a self-sustaining agricultural, matriarchal society.

However, this is probably not the case with Egypt. By cultivating on the banks of the Nile, a complete agricultural economy is possible without domestic animals. The flooding of the Nile basin itself completes the cycle and makes animals unnecessary for fertilisation of the soil. A ‘slash and burn’ stage was therefore unnecessary. By the time domestic animals arrived in Egypt, the societies on the banks of the Nile were already fully developed matriarchal societies,

In this case, the appearance of nomads with the herds would not significantly alter the organisation of that society except that pastoralists would be male dominated and warlike. Thus on the one hand we have the early development of class rule, without referring to any particular nomadic invasion – as in the case of Sumer and the immigration of the Semites – and on the other the continual maintenance at ground level of the old matriarchal forms of society.

Therefore, despite the complexity of Egyptian religion on the ruling class level, the need to adapt the popular religion with their own, the frequent changes in dynasty which added to its complexity, religion on the popular level remained one of simplicity this was the belief in the goddess Isis and her son/lover Osiris.

Despite all the changes and development, accelerated by the vast surplus product that the Egyptian ruling class was able to appropriate, the religion of Isis was maintained in essentially the same form throughout Egyptian history. The enormous surplus that could be appropriated by the Egyptian ruling class is attested to this day by the pyramids and palaces they erected to justify and glorify their rule. Even during Roman times, Egypt was providing the corn for a large proportion of the Roman Empire, yet the methods of cultivation did not change during that time.

Isis and Osiris – The Myth (Frazer)

The myth of Isis and Osiris are convergent with and equivalent to Ishtar and Tammuz, Dumuzi and Innana, Astarte and Adonis, Cybelle and Attis, etc. The myth as it was understood in the general population was probably far more simple. The version we have today is that described by Plutarch and was the official version = which relegated Isis and Osiris to an inferior place in the heavenly hierarchy – below the male gods of the ruling class and moreover assigned them specific roles reflecting to the division of labour in the real Egyptian hierarchy.

The goddess Hut’s husband was the sun-god Ra, but she had a lover who was the earth-god Set by whom she conceived. Ra, on discovering this, decreed that her child should be born on no day, in no month, in no year. However, Thoth another lover of Hut, managed to steal from Ra 1/72 of every day in the year. Hut puts all these segments together to make five days which were added in to the end of the year. This was the mythological explanation for the five days added on to the Egyptian calender which brings it more closely in line with the solar year. On the first of the five days, Osiris was born, on the second she gave birth to Herus, on the third Set on the fourth Isis and on the fifth Mepthis.

Isis and Osiris, however, came down to earth and reigned jointly as queen and king. This pair converted the Egyptians from savagery and cannibalism. Isis discovered wild wheat and barley whilst Osiris discovered grapes and showed the Egyptians how to cultivate them. Isis remained in Egypt to govern the people while Osiris went off to show the rest of humankind their discoveries. In places where wine could not be grown, Osiris taught people how to make beer instead. Osiris returned to Egypt where he and Isis continued to rule the Egyptians.

Their brother, Set , however was jealous of their success and popularity amongst the Egyptians and plotted their ruination. Building a coffin, he persuaded the rather gullible Osiris to get into it for a joke. Once in, Set nailed and soldered the lid down and threw the coffin into the Nile. This event took place on the 17 Athyr (October)

When Isis found out what had happened, she searched for him in a papyrus boat. Accompanied by Seven Scorpions she searched the Delta swamps, one of the Scorpions stung and killed a small boy whom Isis brought back to life. At one point in her search, she turned herself into a hawk and unknowingly fluttered over him. In doing this she conceived and later gave birth to the younger Horus (usually known as Hippocrates). One of her scorpions stung him also, and with the help of Ra and Thoth this time she brought him back to life.

In the meantime Osiris’s body had floated out to sea and drifted to the port of Byblus. It drifted ashore where it grew into a tree. As it happened, the king of Byblus had the tree chopped down and made it into a pillar for his house.

Eventually, Isis arrived at Byblus in search and recognised the coffin despite its transmutation. She cut the coffin out of the tree and anointed the remainder and gave it back to the king and queen. According to Plutarch, the tree was still at Byblus holding up the temple of Isis (probably Astarte).

Isis put the coffin on board her boat and sailed away. Out at sea, she opened it and joyfully kissed her lover/brother. However, when she got home, Set found the body and, determined to succeed this time, cut Osiris into fourteen pieces and scattered the pieces as far and wide as he could. Isis, however, remained undefeated and went in search of the pieces. Each piece she found, she buried (thus accounting for the many graves of Osiris in Egypt). Eventually she discovered thirteen parts but Osiris’s genitals were still missing. She gave up the search for this, preferring to make him a new penis.

This phallic image was used by the Egyptians in their Isis/Osiris rites. Isis went on to make many images of wax and spices of Osiris, burying them in different places and telling the people that it was the body of Osiris. She also instructed them to dedicate an animal to Osiris. Plutarch recounts that these animals are consecrated as Osiris himself and when they die, they are mourned as the dead god. Examples are the sacred bulls Apis and Mneluis.

Isis lamented Osiris’s death with a hymn.

‘Come to thy house, come to thy house o’ god, who had no foes. O fair youth come to thy house so thou mayst see me. I am thy sister who thou lovest, thou shall not part from me, O’ fair boy come to thy house, I see thee not, yet doth my heart yearn after thee and mine eyes desire thee. Come to her who loves thee, who loves thee good being, thou blessed one! Come to thy sister, come to thy wife, thou whose heart stands still, Come to thy wife, I am thy sister by the same mother, thou shall not be far from me. Gods and men have turned their faces toward thee and weep for thee together. I call after thee and weep, so that my cry is heard in heaven, but thou hearest not my voice; yet I am thy sister, whom thou didst love on earth; thou didst love none but me, my brother, my brother!’

Ra, hearing these lamentations sent Anubis and Thoth to help Isis. Together they managed to piece the thirteen real parts and one Isis has made one together. They wrapped him in linen bandages and Isis turned herself into a hawk once again and fanned life into him with her wings. Thus Osiris came back to life and he and Isis reigned as queen and king of the dead. Osiris presided at the Hall of Two Truths where the dead were judged. The mummifying of the body by ruling Egyptians was supposed to have the same effect as it had on Osiris i.e. the mummy became Osiris and therefore lived beyond the grave.

This version of the myth contains a great deal of embellishment, but the core of the original belief stemming from the matriarchal society as maintained by the mass of the population remains within it. Plutarch tells us that Isis and Osiris were by far the most popular of the Egyptian deities despite their relatively inferior position in the Egyptian mythological hierarchy. Plutarch draws a parallel between the rites of Osiris and the rites of Dionysus in Greece – and indeed they are very similar. For any analysis of this myth it will be first necessary to examine the rites, of which, significantly, two, the popular rite and the official rite and to examine the context, -. the economic base upon which they are founded.

Unlike most other areas, the growing of crops in Egypt did not depend upon rainfall which is insignificant but upon the flooding of the Nile. The role of weather in the economy and therefore the mythology is nil. The ruling class had the particular important role of coordinating production by regulating and controlling dams, irrigation channels, etc. They did this to ensure the greatest maximum surplus product – not for benevolent, philanthropic reasons which school text books would have us believe. Obviously they had an interest in making sure the productive population was not starved out of existence too. The economy was therefore at the mercy of the depth of the flood, too little or too great a flood could result in famine and a domestic drop in the population.

Early in June the Nile began to rise and started to flood towards the end of July. The flood reached its highest level in September – the towns and villages built on high ground became islands. Towards the end of October the flood level began to fall but it was not until the end of December that the Nile had returned to its normal bed. As the year went on, the Nile continued to recede and during the summer fell rapidly, being only half its width in June. By this time the earth is scorched and dry as the desert around about.

During August, the dams had to be cut to allow the flood water to flow into the channels and fields. Not much was done until the flood began to subside. In November, the sowing of wheat and barley began.

In upper Egypt the harvest usually took place at the beginning of March and a month later in lower Egypt. The Egyptian seasons were therefore different from the European ones, the agricultural year beginning in June with the rising of the river, sowing in November and December and the harvest in March and April.

The rites of Isis and Osiris were linked to these events – in the popular form. Most important the popular rites did not involve any intervention from the official priesthood.

The festival of Isis was held in June (when the Nile begins to rise). Osiris is dead and the tears of Isis’s lamentation bring the flood. The signal for the festival to begin was the appearance of the star Sirius on the eastern horizon – at about mid-June. This star was called by the Egyptians ‘Sothis’ (i.e. the ‘Star of Isis’.)

The cutting of the dams in August was the time of the next important rite. In front of the dam, a cone was erected, a symbol of Isis. The cone was called the ‘bride’. On the dam a handful of corn was sown. As the water rose the corn and cone were washed away. Frazer points out that a similar rite was carried out in Egypt until his time by the peasantry, in this case the throwing of money into the rising flood water.

Plutarch describes the November rite (sowing) by drawing a parallel with similar rites carried out in Boetia in N.E. Greece an old stronghold of matriarchy in the Pelasgian times.

‘For the Greeks perform many rites that resemble those of the Egyptians and are observed about the same tine. Thus at the festival of Thesmophania in Athens women sit on the ground and fast. And the Boetians open the Vaults of the Sorrowful One, naming that festival sorrowful because Demeter is sorrowing for the descent of maiden (i.e. Persephone). The month is the month of sowing about the setting of the Pleiades. The Egyptians call it Athyr, the Athenians, Pyanepsis, the Boetians, the month of Demeter for it was at that time of the year they saw some of the fruits vanishing or falling from the trees, while they save the others grudgingly and with difficulty, scraping the earth with their hands and huddling it up again, on the uncertain chance that what they deposited on the ground would ever ripen or come to maturity. Thus they did in many respects like those who bury and mourn their dead’

In both the rites and the myth we see the basis of the matriarchal religion common to all complete agricultural societies. One can assume therefore that the social structure on the productive level before and into Pharonic times was fundamentally communistic / matriarchal.

What is also evident is that Egypt developed a class society over a longer period of time and in a more gradual way than in Sumer, Greece, and the Aegean. There was no invasion of a particular male nomadic people, rather a continuous infiltration of these tribes from both east and west, bringing with them the already domesticated animals. This gradual infiltration although producing a class structure never succeeded – in my view – in seriously undermining the matriarchal structure at the base – but utilised it, From this point of view, we can see that despite the colossal surpluses expropriated by this class – which itself was never permanent – they never attempted to undermine and change certain rules, although often they were bent.

An example would be the matrilineal descent practised in Egypt right up until the period of the Roman conquest. Despite the male dominated society, descent would only be determined through the female line, producing the necessity of brother/sister incest to ensure a male heir. This practice was carried on in the nobility and royal family and given the myth and rites of Isis and Osiris could be ideologically justified as they were brother and sister.

A better example of the ruling classes’s necessity to adapt to some extent to the customs and the economy of those they exploited lies in the existence in Egypt of an official rite of Isis and Osiris, quite distinct and yet related to the popular one.

The Official Rite

In the cases of all the male gods, the religious rites were conducted officially. In the case of Isis and Osiris it appears that for some considerable period these two were not recognised and no official rite for them existed. Given this obvious ideological divergence at some point it must have become necessary for the rulers to incorporate the popular religion into the official structure if only to exert some control over popular ideology. By incorporating it, they could fit Isis and Osiris into the official mythology and assign them a place in the heavenly hierarchy according to the division of labour operating in the Egyptian ruling class. Thus Osiris was appointed a judge beneath the authority of Ra.

The official Egyptian year started on the 29th August. The year began with the priests mourning for the death of Osiris. An image of a cow made out of wood, with the sun between its horns was carried to the temple. This cow represented Isis, During the official festival torches were attached to the houses to burn overnight. This was a vigil for Osiris and of dead ancestors. This vigil lasted for four days. At the end of the four days a priest went down to the water with a gold casket and raised a shout ‘Osiris is found’. An image of Osiris was made from paste and spices. The priests would lament and beat their breast until someone, dressed as Anubis – the jackal god – came in with a young boy representing the resurrected Osiris.

The three forms of Osiris were given different names. The dead Osiris was called Chent – Ament, the Osiris cut into fourteen pieces was called Osiris – Sep and the resurrected Osiris – Sokari. There were a great number of complicated ceremonies surrounding each stage involving the carrying of coffins, images, etc. However, the obvious similarity between this ritual and Christian rites are striking – a similarity noticeable in all matriarchal based religions.

As there is no actual account of the popular myth of Isis and Osiris and as there is no description of how society was organised, to a large extent these have to be unravelled from the official ones.

Despite the twists and turns of the complicated story, the myth concerns the goddess Isis who makes the corn grow, The corn grows to maturity and then dies. Fertility is provided by water, not in this case the spring rain, but the Nile flood. The Nile floods, fertilises the land (Isis) and dies back. Isis resurrects the dead Osiris once a year to be her lover.

In the official myth and rite, Osiris and Isis are represented by an animal. In the case of Osiris the animal is sacrificed. Here we have possibility for confusion for the sacrifice of animals is also a feature of male, hunting and pastoral societies. The point here is that the animal in question is not sacrificed to a god or to Osiris but is Osiris. Both the goat and sheep representing Osiris and the cow representing Isis are later modifications. In the official rite Osiris resurrected is represented not as an animal but a small boy. Here is the clue. In the remote matriarchal past, before there were any domesticated animals in Egypt, Osiris was personified – not represented – as a young man who would be sacrificed. His resurrection would be personified by a young successor who would have been sacrificed the following year.

The introduction of domestic animals and the development of a male dominated ruling class either discouraged or forbade this practice and an animal was substituted. In the case of a resurrected Osiris, then a young boy could take this role quite safely. One can safely assume that previously the man who was Osiris was cut into 14 pieces and buried in different parts of the growing area. What happened to the man’s genitals is a point of conjecture – in the myth they ‘disappear’. Perhaps in the early period they were eaten by the women or more likely they were ‘lost’ and an edible representation was consumed. Generally the actual fate of the male sacrifice in Egypt and elsewhere will never be known, as it was carried out by the women alone as a mystery and never revealed, hence the ‘disappearance’ of Osiris’ genitals, the ‘disappearance’ of the early kings of Rome.

The similarity of the beliefs of Isis and Osiris with Christianity – the same fundamental roles are laid out. Mary/Christ/Spirit accounts for the ready acceptance of Christianity in Egypt and also the resistance of the Christian Egyptians to the official Christian ideology. The fundamental matriarchal type of organisation in Egypt survived until it did suffer a real invasion by a pastoral class structure in the much later invasions of the Arabs and the imposition of Islam.