Extracts from the book: Transcendir més enllà de l’Olimp.

Barcelona: Octaedro, 2017 de Dolors Reguant i Fosas.


Nowadays, we already know with great certainty that, before the universal institution of patriarchy, there existed an egalitarian, associative society based on respect for the diversity of human beings and the common good, that is, harmonious and peaceful society. While generally called a”matriarchy”, this word creates confusion because the name comes from the Greek root archos, which means ‘monarch’, and refers to a dominant society […].

 As early as 1975, Ernest Bornemann, in his work Das Patriarchat, avoided the term matriarchy and used the word matristic, which better orientates its meaning […].

In historical and religious texts there is often talk about “garden of Eden” or “golden age” societies which represented the myth of well-being and that didn’t correspond to a specific place, but symbolized a form of primitive community life […].

To verify the existence of a matristic society in the Palaeolithic period, we can rely on various sources. We have references in texts from the Greek poet Hesiod (850 BCE) who tells us about a golden race that lived in peace and tranquillity until a “lesser” race conquered them and introduced their god of war. It is very likely that he was inspired by the oral tradition and the Minoan culture of Crete island society, before it was invaded by the Achaeans […]. The history of Cretan civilization begins around 6,000 BC, when Anatolian immigrants probably arrived for the first time. The Cretan Minoan era is described by Plato as a culture in which the entirety of life was imbued by faith in the goddess nature, source of creation and harmony. Although it was discovered that they possessed some weapons, their art did not idealize war.

In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Anthropology also learned of and studied many illiterate societies in which surviving cultural patterns could be in line with the early matristic societies. It refers to matrilineal or matrilocal organizations, where the paternal affiliation goes through the mother, as well as for the residence, although a certain family authority is exercised by the mother’s brother. In some of these residual societies, women have authority in terms of social and family control; however under no circumstances is power exercised over the community […].

Concerning archaeological evidence, it is worth highlighting the findings of a Neolithic civilization that existed over 8.500 years ago, initially discovered in 1958 in Çatal Hüyük (Anatolia); although they had no worldwide impact until James Mellaart’s excavations, carried out between 1961 and 1965.

However, it has been the feminist perspective of women which has provided the most content for both for texts and archaeological information. We could mention many cases, such as the British archaeologist and writer Jacquetta Hawkes, the archaeologist Margaret Ehrenberg, Margaret W. Conkey and also the American anthropologist Ruth Tringham. It should be noted , however, the important findings from the American archaeologist of Lithuanian origin Marija Gimbutas, and the Catalan archaeologist Mª Encarna Sanahuja Yll, who focuses her work from both a feminist and historical materialism perspective.

Another principal contribution is made by the anthropologist Riane Eisler in her book The Chalice and the Blade, a very comprehensive narrative where she gathers evidence of art, archaeology, religion, social sciences and history, among other fields of inquiry, in order to tell the history of our cultural origins and verify that the exploitation of one sex by the other has no divine or biological character. She makes parallels between the symbology of the chalice and the sword. The chalice, as a sacred vessel, represents a peaceful society of generative, nurturing and creative powers that contrasts with a later society that worships the deadly power of the sword […].

The reasons why this historical phase has been ignored until today are mainly due to the patriarchal acculturation which, as we will see, has erased the past in order to attribute to man the creation of the Universe and life in a cosmological event. Therefore, it is not surprising that scientists, due to the androcentric cultural unconscious, find it difficult to see everything they think has never existed, as is explicit in some examples. Thus, the information has been distorted, and it must also be said that there has been a lack of scientific interest, to investigate what didn’t correspond to the “official story” […].

The first female representations that appear during the Upper Palaeolithic until the Bronze Age are associated with the existence of the mother goddess, starting from a society closely linked to the fecundity of Mother Nature. They are figurines called Palaeolithic Venus’, with protruding forms that show very visible sexual attributes; some appear in a state of gestation. On the other hand, when the first observers discovered these feminine images, they interpreted them using misogynistic stereotypes and considered them obscene, thinking in dual terms: virgins or prostitutes. As Sanahuja says: “When these images appear – figurative representations of sexed bodies – the androcentric thinking considered they were made by men and, in addition, they conceptualized and defined them as the exclusive product of their imagination and libido.” Another erroneous characteristic linked to the study of origins in prehistoric archaeology has been to consider the analysis of social relations or institutions that exist today as universal categories. They confuse archaic domestic units, family clans or hordes with the current nuclear family. Or they imagine female subordination and sexual division of labour from the point of view of current patriarchal patterns […].

When Mellaart excavated the Catal Hóyük, where the systematic reconstruction of the life of the inhabitants of the city was the main archaeological objective, he concluded that due to the size of the constructions, the data of the equipment and the offerings in the burials, he did not observe a notorious social inequality. On the other hand, the later burial mounds of Indo-European leaders clearly showed a pyramidal social structure […].

As we have said, the first human representations that have been found during the Upper Paleolithic (between 35,000 and 10,000 years ago), and part of the Neolithic periods, are iconographic figures of the female body or anthropomorphic figures. There seems to be unanimity that these feminine representations and symbols expressed some form of primitive fertility cult religion and, in particular, Catal Hóyük was a prominent place for the mother goddess cult, as a universal symbol of fertility.

In 1974, when the archaeologist Gimbutas first published a compendium of the findings of his own excavations and those of some others, he studied more than thirty thousand miniature female sculptures of clay, marble, bone, copper and gold, preserved in a cave for twenty thousand years These figurines are characterized because they are represented without attributes or objects that could be used as weapons […].

Pre-patriarchal matristic civilizations were societies based on family order, not political power, and based on reciprocity rather than asymmetry. Mothers did not exercise coercive power as a group, since both daughters and sons were born from them and, therefore, if they gave life to both sexes, they were assumed to manage the family with the same generosity and equity for both. On the other hand, due to patriarchal order we are accustomed to the iconographic representations of a mother with a son, and never a daughter, since the importance lies in the act of producing a male […].

From the patriarchy’s perspective, man has established himself as the architect of all progress and has transmitted the following vision about the origins of our civilization: the human couple as the first cell of society, formed by the hunter man (the most valued activity culturally) and by woman, dedicated to reproduction and gathering. This is a labour division founded on a biological basis – framework that has remained static.

Both ethnographic and archaeological data contradict this biological vision. Primitive societies didn’t consider the disparity of physical strength, initiative and resilience between men and women […].

The issue of immobility that, for reasons of reproduction and upbringing, is attributed to the sexual division of labour, could also collapse as a theory. Firstly, there seems to be consensus that, initially, there was a type of cooperative hunting, a small hunt or scavenger that didn’t represent the main food source […]. Many times it only represented 30% or 40% of the total food diet. Therefore, the over-evaluation of hunting is only a cultural measure, since it is not expressed either by the economic contribution it represents or by being the main means of food. The same approach occurs today with the devaluation of domestic and care work, which do not enter into economic quantification as they are not included in the dogma of productive work […].

Furthermore, it should also be noted that the primitive industries were the household industries developed by women, such as cooking, the preparation of skins for clothing and ornamentation, the manufacture of ceramics and other techniques related to agriculture and medicines. This data contradict the equation according to which the labour division promotes hierarchies […].

There is unanimity that the transition from one model of society to another was a gradual process. This is to say, it didn´t occur suddenly, but was a long gestation process and, until it definitively took form in classical Athens, it was not the same everywhere […].

Throughout this period, in addition to the sexual labour division, the control of women, the establishment of the nuclear family and the formation of the first states, what was fundamental was the transfer of deities: from goddesses to gods [ …]

In the words of Bornemann, “the most dramatic thing about patriarchy is not the self-destruction of men, as a result of their attempt to make women their slaves, but the destruction of women’s conscience by erasing all the memories of eras before the patriarchy, the blocking of the knowledge of what it was, of what it is today and of what it could be tomorrow”.

And this is where the success of patriarchy lies, in the act of erasing all traces. That is why in different narratives, whether of mythology or religions, all the cosmogonies of the world lead us to patriarchy. Thus, the Bible erases the original mother and replaces it with the first man. In this way she is excluded from symbolic imaginary […].

What Victoria Sau calls primitive matricide appears in Greek mythology represented by Zeus, when he proclaims himself sovereign of all the gods and goddesses and appropriates the maternity of his wife Metis, causing Athena to be born from his head and from Semele’s maternity to make Dionysus be born from his thigh. Regarding this, Apollo of Aeschylus reserved the right to pronounce the “scientific” base when he said: «The mother is not a parent of this child, but a nanny of the newly sown seed» […].

The final step in the arena of the patriarchal family could materialize when the paternal law had integrated the children into the father’s clan. And unlike what happened in the maternal clan, where the children were integrated into the community to avoid their alienation, with the patriarchal family the fear of authority is created, the obedience subject to the right to inherit the assets of the property and the punishment according to the established justice formula […].

Lévi-Strauss, in the book The elementary kinship structures, talks about the circulation of women from one group to another. In the change of structure, the matrilocal residence becomes patrilocal, that is, the women will live at the husband’s residence. And a pact is established between men (fathers -in-law or brothers-in-law), in which they are the only ones with legitimate decision-making powers and is they who share the product of their appropriation. Therefore, women become the collective that men share among themselves. Thus, a primary factor related to the rules of affiliation and residence and, therefore, linked to exogamy, is the exile of women from their central nucleus.

Just as in the gynecofocal clan group, men did not lose their relevance when changing residential groups; in women’s case, the exile generates isolation and division among women when a patriarchal authoritarian system is established. Maternal descent and matrilocality gave women a certain status, since relatives in their clan reinforced their authority. Then man continued to belong to the mother’s clan and in this structure the balance of all the members of the group was enhanced. At the time when the woman separates from the mother’s clan, there is a turning point in history. The “brotherhood of men” is generated, which is mutually reinforcing and they reproduce genealogically through their lineage and create their own morals […].

The patriarchy meant the power of the father, the pater families, over the life and property of the other family members. The word family began to be used legally in ancient Rome and comes from famulus, which means ‘slave’, since in Roman society the pater families owned women, slaves, boys and girls. We have another very current cultural “survival” in the legal word parricide, which is used when someone kills the father, mother or children, since they are all part of the same father unit.

Consequently, it is these pater families or delegated patriarchal institutions who, in their exclusive thinking, decide who the legitimate or illegitimate children are; what the first or second category citizenships are, and, according to the term civilization, who are the civilized in opposition with the savages to be colonized, always within the master / slave dialectic.

The same dichotomy exists in the concept of self-attributed male honour and that of the obligatory virtue assigned to women. The persistence of this anachronism in today’s society is the source of the most abject crimes. The false concept of sexual purity and in its absence a man is dishonoured – be it by women, sisters or daughters – makes the woman a punitive object, widely used in wars to punish and avenge the enemy. The rape of the women by a conquered group, turned into war booty, is a fact that has occurred since the eighth century until the present day. Yet this issue will not be resolved if we do not get rid of the symbolic violence that we keep reproducing […].

Although it seems surprising, after at least four millennia of patriarchal domination, in the world today we can find vestiges of isolated societies that are governed by other parameters. These societies are usually called matriarchies. Rather, these are matrilineal or matrilocal communities where women have a leading role, a certain authority (which isn’t power) over the community.


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