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The Divine Female: Part 2

In The Divine Female: Part 1, we examined the archaeological evidence suggesting a wider-spread worship of a female-mother god dating back some 25,000 years. How then, in the intervening centuries, have we come to live in ‘a man’s world’?

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Gender Tables A-Turning

20,000 years ago, give or take, revolutionary new beliefs were taking shape. Mesopotamian polytheism – the world’s oldest written religion – paved the way, influencing both its near contemporaries as well as the monotheistic, male-led systems that would follow. The Great Mother figure was joined by myriad other deities, all of whom – somewhat disconcertingly – were related to one other.

The Burney Relief, 19th - 18th century BC
The Burney Relief,
19th – 18th century BC

However, it seemed that not all deities were created equal, and increasingly, certain immortals – mostly sons, male lovers and brothers – took precedence over those original goddesses of old. Heavenly hierarchies took shape, with male entities at their helm. It’s not really clear why that happened, although inevitably, theories abound.

For one, men and women’s place in society was becoming increasingly defined and segregated. Where the hunter-gatherers of prehistory were fairly egalitarian in their division of labor, more-organized approaches to agriculture played to men’s strength and physicality. Gradually, women became relegated to baby makers, so ensuring longevity and lineage to bolster communities’ farming futures.

Another theory places responsibility for the turning of tables from female worship to male squarely with knowledge – somewhat perversely, if you ask us. In The Alphabet Versus the Goddess, Leonard Shlain suggests that the advent of writing in around 3000 BC effectively rewired the human brain, strengthening the linear and predominantly masculine left hemisphere. It seems farfetched – not to mention sexist in today’s feminist age – but there you go.

A more plausible explanation behind the rise and rise of male personifications of deities to the detriment of that once-lauded goddess figure links back to female fertility. Simply put, women got dragged back down to Earth.

Associated with birth, growth and maternity – all pleasingly mortal affairs – they became downgraded over time, whilst their male counterparts ascended to sky god status, ruling the heavens and becoming, well, celestial. Women – their bodies, bleeding, and mystery – got unceremoniously grounded. Boo.

Would You Adam and Eve It?

God the Father Creating Eve from Adam's Rib, Illustration from the 'Liber Chronicarum'
God the Father Creating Eve from Adam’s Rib, Illustration from the ‘Liber Chronicarum’

That, the story goes, filtered through time and regions to effectively reposition male entities at the fore of bygone tales. Case in point: according to Mesopotamian legend, it was the first woman (we’ll call her Eve) who created a mate: the first man (he sometimes goes by the name of Adam). And yet, Genesis – the first book of both the Torah and the Bible – sees God enact precisely the reverse.

Likewise, was the Christian Father a convenient substitute for a pre-established Mother? Was he an acceptable shoo-in for the ever-so pious Mary figure, sans sex, periods, and well, womanliness? And if farming – of all things – sparked this shift, what future repositioning of our communities and world could trigger a reset?

Faith is a personal thing, and not to be meddled with. Likewise, these are my opinions and mine alone. And they prompt me to wonder: what if? In so many ways, ours isn’t a “man’s world”- at least not exclusively. But in spite of all of our efforts, a huge chunk of life still moves to the beat of an established patriarchy, much of which, inevitably, is cemented in religion.

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About Donna Turner

Donna is a Volonté contributor and freelance writer who lives in San Francisco with her husband and two sons. Her work has appeared in Psychology Today, Go! Magazine (Australia) and is regularly featured in the San Francisco Herald.

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