RELIGION AND 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.