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In Chapter 1, I revealed the fundamental malaise (uneasiness) to which we are currently confronted. It is like a death energy that paralyzes us. This “war on Nature” is really a war on ourselves, as the Director of the UNESCO rightly said. In going to war on Nature, we succeeded in turning our violence against ourselves, against our children, and against the future generations.
So how do we get beyond this war? How can we help humankind choose life values?
For a long time, I searched in theological libraries for an intelligent reflection on the values of life and death, as well as on violence. I only found reflections on sin, indeed the original sin, which explained violence and death as real constituents of Man or even as the consequence of the original sin
The Christian religion, like the other great religions of today’s world, seems to have participated in the anointment of violence and violent death by engraving them deeply in the founding myths of humankind. The only hope allowed to believers is that they will be compensated (“redeemed”) by the salvation brought by another violent death of a non-violent individual.
But did Jesus’ message, and those of the great wise men of humanity, truly endorse the anointment of violent death and of suffering? Didn’t they offer another way? And, along the way for many centuries, didn’t we somehow distort their first and fundamental intuition?
Before talking of the death of patriarchy, we must first understand its origin. Where does it come from? Did it always exist or did it appear relatively recently in the history of humankind?
The answers to the questions I posed above came to me in the form of a revelation and a face. The face was that of Nicou Dubois Leclercq14, who helped me discover the writings of Riane Eisler15, Marija Gimbutas 16, and other women writers. The discovery of these wise women is that patriarchy, which influenced the narratives and origins of most contemporary religions, presents itself as always having existed when, in fact, it is of relatively recent appearance after thousands of years of matrifocal17 civilizations.
These discoveries are based on recent archaeological research by Gimbutas, who demonstrated that civilizations far less violent and more centred on life values than those presented in the Bible did exist in Europe, India, and China before 3500 B.C.E. These civilizations, called “matrifocal” civilizations, were based on a different relationship between woman, man, and the sacred.
The principal creed of these civilizations revolved around a Mother-Goddess who exercised her authority by giving life and by helping growth. Her action was felt even in death, which was conceived as a passage to another way of life. In these civilizations, the sacred was centred on the values of the gift of life, fertility, and thus also on sexual pleasure, artistic creation, and aesthetics. Power was a positive concept centred on life. It meant to make grow, live, bloom and, because of that focus, establish favourable norms.
Among these very ancient civilizations, the Minoan civilization (from King Minos) in Crete is the closest to us. Malta, where important excavations are currently under way, is also mentioned. Their main characteristics are as follows.
Women played an important role in sacred rites. They were on equal footing with men. Furthermore, they did not employ our current domination paradigm—that is, men were not dominated by women, as in the later patriarchal civilizations where women were (and are) dominated by men.
These matrifocal societies were more peaceful than those that were (and are) patriarchal. Their art does not show “heroic battles” where men kill each other and rape women. The concept of power was to give life and help it grow.
Social structures were more egalitarian. Everything points to the absence of great social inequities, even though there are some social-based differences in the tombs.
These civilizations do not seem to have built great defensive walls or to have employed important armies. (This is perhaps the reason why they were vulnerable to invasions, and why they disappeared around 3500 BC.)
These civilizations did not create significant breakthroughs in technology. For instance, they did not invent writing—which makes it difficult today for historians and archaeologists to know exactly how they functioned.
It is significant that all over the world, at about the same time—in India, China, and Europe—the matrifocal civilizations described above, centred on life and the pleasure to exist, were replaced by a patriarchal paradigm (civilization) focused on command, death, and suffering. Almost everywhere, there were conquests and violent invasions. And because these civilizations did not possess armies, they were rapidly subjugated and trampled down.
In the “new” world, of which we are the last heirs, “power” is no longer viewed as the ability to give life, but is construed as the power to bring death, destroy life, subdue others, and control and be obeyed at all cost. In modern terms, this is expressed as “command, conquest, and control.“ In this patriarchal world view, sexuality has been degraded from its sacred position, pleasure has been sullied, and woman is presented in the foundation myths as the “temptress” and reduced to an object of reproduction and/or pleasure. Even the sacred ability to give life is debased and reduced to a form of punishment—“You will give birth in pain.” The sacred is also displaced in such societies—from now on its place is in the blood of violent death and in the suffering, which rescues. The concept of the “sacred” undergoes a complete reversal, and connects itself with renouncement of sexuality, mortification of the body, and devaluation of life in its entirety. Present life becomes a “valley of tears” and has no more value by itself. It is there only to be the anteroom of an afterlife where all tears will be” wiped off.”
This cultural transition of the myths occurred gradually by a systematic subversion of the sacred symbols and myths. The Goddess-Mother, for example, progressively became the Goddess-Mother with a spouse, then the spouse of God the Father, then the Mother of the Father-God, and finally, the Mother of God, without even a divine rank, against God the Father Almighty. Francoise Gange beautifully describes this subversive transformation of original myths18. She shows, in quite a brilliant way, that this transition evidently is not unique to the Christian tradition, but that it is found in almost all the great myths on earth around 3500 B.C. A book printed by the Social Sciences Academy of Beijing shows that the same happened in China at the same time19.
Thanks to these authors, I also discovered a totally new interpretation of the beginning of Genesis, in the Bible. This story of Adam and Eva would not only be the narration presenting the story of the original sin. This text could be more deeply a transition between the “old” matrifocal myths and symbols and the “new” patriarchal symbols. And this same transition can be found almost in all myths and in all holy books of that period. The transition irremediably demonises and degrades the most sacred rites and symbols of the primordial feminine narration and makes sacred the symbols of the new patriarchal narration.
In light of these discoveries—the research of which appears to be solid—it remains to be seen what will be done with the story of the original sin itself. If the original sin is not the central message, but a detail of the mythical transition, then Christian tradition would be cleared of an enormous individual and collective guilt which has been rampant in our Western civilization for almost two thousands years20. We would then need to rethink in depth our interpretation of Jesus’ message. If he is not the one who “saves us from our sins,“ then what is he bringing to us? Perhaps in asking that question, we could rediscover that Jesus brought us a simpler and more interesting message. Perhaps then we could rediscover Jesus as teaching us a new means of going beyond violence and moving toward a superior way of life centred on the divine source that is in each of us—and a way of manifesting his words that “ the kingdom of God is in us.”
All of this induces a fundamental reinterpretation of Christianity, which might be enriching and opening new roads.
It is instructive to analyze in detail the text of the Christian story of original sin. Its initial setting, for example, in the Garden of Eden, a terrestrial paradise, presents four of the most important and sacred symbols of the Religion of the Mother-Goddess.
The woman is the sacred sex and the symbol of wisdom and sacred duty. She also is the symbol of supreme divinity, the Mother-Goddess. She is the symbol of life and giving. She gives life and wisdom. She is the great priestess of Life, sexuality, and sacred pleasure. Her power is a power of Life.
The snake is the principal attribute of the Mother-Goddess and a symbol of her strength. It is also the symbol of eternal wisdom, and of Life, which renews itself again and again, much like a snake renews itself by changing its skin.
The tree of life is one of the main symbols of life. It is life-giving by making the connection between heaven and earth. Its roots plunge into the earth and its branches touch the sky. The tree is explicitly presented as “good to eat, fascinating to look at, able to make one wise.“ (Genesis 3:6)
The relationship between man and woman is the heart of the sacred. Sexuality and the pleasure are sacred. Through the love of the man and woman for each other, they each reach ecstatic experiences, which open for them the doors of mystical knowledge.
Then, in less than one page, the narrative totally inverts and subverts the deep meaning of all these symbols, one after the other. It desacralises them and demonises them or, at the least, slanders them.
The woman is cursed forever, and is from that point forward considered an inferior being—a sinner dragged by her sexuality and her perverse curiosity. She leads the man toward the “fall” which will be the single-most catastrophic event in the history of humankind. Her sexual desire is, therefore, negative and dangerous, since it is the reason for humankind’s misfortune thereafter. The text explicitly states that the man will rule over her. And regarding the power to give life, it is transformed into a malediction and a scenario of suffering. “You will give birth in pain,” says the text.
The snake is cursed. Tradition will even go further than the story itself—it will transform the snake into a symbol of the Devil. Therefore, what was once one of the principal attributes of the Goddess becomes hostile to the woman who will crush its head. The snake becomes vile.
The tree of life and wisdom becomes an evil to be avoided. To eat the fruit of the tree of life, to know the good and the evil was the ultimate goal of the wisdom in the prior religion. From now on, it is a mortal danger, announced by God himself and sanctioned by the facts. (The tree of life will ultimately be replaced by the cross of dead wood, symbol of death and of the redeeming suffering of the Saviour.)
The sacred Eros between man and woman is replaced by a couple where the man rules and the woman becomes subservient forever. ”And they became ashamed because they were naked.” For a few millennia thereafter, sexuality and culpability are associated. There is no more room for a positive vision of Life, and, thus, of the woman, the body, and sexuality.
Thus, the sacred undergoes a complete reversal. All symbols are degraded one-by-one, and transformed into their opposite.
Table 1: From matrifocal society to patriarchy
FROM 7000 B.C.E. TO 3500 B.C.E.
MATRIFOCAL CIVILIZATIONFROM 3500 B.C.E. TO 2000 A.D.
LIFE = Sacred
Birth = Joy, songs, beauty
Death = Transition to another life
DEATH = sacred
Life = Sad valley of tears
Birth = Suffering and pain
Goddess-Mother gives life
Her Power is beneficial
God the Father Almighty with power of death (Abraham, Isaac). He will save through violent death
Woman = symbol of Life and the Sacred
Woman is the Great Priestess of Life and 2symbol of Sacred, because she is giving Life, she saves and heals
Man rules the woman and the universe. Man has total and exclusive hold of the sacred. Woman is impure and dirty. Gift of life is punishment. Woman totally excluded from the sacred.
Tree of Life = tie between earth and heaven. Gives knowledge of life and of evil and good. This beneficent tree brings Wisdom and Life.
Tree of Life = deadly danger.
Tree of death = Saves, Cross of Jesus
Sexuality and couple = Sacred
Through Sacred Love the couple may reach the divine. Human Love is thus a way toward the divine Light.
Sexuality and pleasure = suspicious and guilty.
Suffering = sacred.
Celibacy and asceticism = the path to Divine Light.
Snake = symbol of life and wisdom
Snake = tempter and liar = Devil
Power = to give life & love
Power enables creativity and growth of life
Power = to give death,
Power = domination through guilt and fear
Submission and obedience are the way to spiritual progress.
Creativity, art, beauty, and harmony with the cosmos are sacred.© Marc Luyckx Ghisi, 2008
With the story from the Bible, as in the other stories from that same period, the crime is perfect—there is no alternative since the prior civilizations were perfectly wiped out. Indeed, as with any myth of the origin, it determines the state and meanings of things “at the origin“—that is, before any other thing or system existed. Therefore, all that might have come “before” is perfectly erased, and the matrifocal civilizations can be treated as if they never existed. One still hears this today, because many people still doubt the existence of these matrifocal civilizations.
Thus, we remain prisoners of the patriarchal narration of the origins, which has defined our individual and collective lives for thousands of years—rooted in the idea that the patriarchal model has “always been so.”
The matrifocal vision is not only interesting, it is useful in that it allows us to open the graves of the past and exhume ”primitive” prior civilizations. It therefore removes the legitimacy of the violent and death-centred patriarchal narrations which are presented to us as the only possible narrations of the origin. By opening the past, these pioneering women writers open the future. They open for us the door of a “transmodern” and planetary paradigm and of the post-patriarchal knowledge society.
The discovery of the matrifocal civilizations suggests that, one day, patriarchy might be seen to have only been a transitional period in the history of humankind, and a heavy burden will be lifted from our shoulders. No, the violence that has infested our societies is not part of the original human nature. No, patriarchal values are not eternal. No, they did not always exist. No, they are not “part of human nature,” having “been there at the origin.”
When one realises these things, it becomes suddenly apparent that the emperor has no clothes and that patriarchy can be seen, after all, as only one period of our history. In fact, the patriarchal values might ultimately be seen to characterise a rather sad period of the history of humankind, even though they have enabled extraordinary developments. Even though the patriarchal values have created prodigious leaps in science and technology, they are incapable of helping us move toward a sustainable future. Thus, one must to conclude that these values are already dead as a forward-looking reference system. Their vision of “conquest, command and control” no longer corresponds with the visions and aims of our worldwide civilization, which is in danger of collective death.
Or, to present matters in slightly different way, one can say that our society suffers from an excess of patriarchal values. And that it is time also, as Riane Eisler suggests, to rewrite these original narrations in the direction of a true partnership between female and male values.
Patriarchy as an unconscious structure in the world may be seen as already dead if we choose instead to look toward values of care and respect in order to survive. Our civilization is currently moving toward a new, more-feminine set of values—a new cocktail of values, as it were. This cocktail is composed of both patriarchal values and pre-patriarchal (matrifocal) values. And its making is already taking place invisibly in the world—in the subconscious of millions of people on Earth today.
Thus, we may reasonably hypothesise that patriarchal values by themselves are dead as future values. They no longer have any meaning, precisely because they are incapable of yielding constructive solutions to the world’s problems and resulting in our collective survival. They have been effective and useful in the pre-modern and modern paradigms—for example, in the many conquests, expansions, and colonisations that have taken place over the years, and, finally, in the “conquest“ of space. And they have been useful in the development of science and technology. But they are not useful when it comes to survival and protect the “blue planet“ on which we live and which is in danger, because they are too much centred on death, and not on Life.
It is important to understand that, although the patriarchal and pyramidal model is dead and dying in the world, most of our current institutions are still 95% patriarchal and pyramidal. These institutions are like dinosaurs that sense their impending extinction and do not know how to respond.
One should not attack nor criticise the structures of the past; they were useful in their times. Likewise, we should not try to tear them down—they will fall under their own weight in time. For us the most urgent matter is to start constructing alongside them a network of non-pyramidal structures—supple and transparent new enterprises and institutions. This will require an enormous amount of creative work and that is the great challenge facing us.
Unlike the dinosaurs, whose extinction was caused by a sudden event that they could not sense or prevent (a meteor hitting Earth), those who adhere to the patriarchal model can sense their impending extinction and attempt to prevent it. The idea of a world that values non-pyramidal, matrifocal values threatens those who currently are responsible for the management of most religious, political, economic and other institutions and structures. This sometimes renders them aggressive and even dangerous. They strike out in anger and desperation, resulting in the excesses that we presently observe.
This is what I call the “dinosaur syndrome.” They are dinosaurs that become more and more aggressive because they feel trapped and condemned to death and they have thus nothing more to lose. Indeed, one witnesses the return of the most barbarian obscurantism. Some men in Afghanistan, for instance, use the pre-modern and patriarchal interpretation of Islam to oppress women. This is a typical mix of pre-modern and patriarchal paradigms.
But patriarchy, for many years, has also been reinforced by modernity—by the modern way to think and act. The connection of patriarchy and modernity favours a civilization centred even more clearly on death, and even less on life values—and, in the extreme, a civilization totally disconnected from life.
But modernity, too, is ending.
Ces messieurs ont appelé dame Bess, dit-il; mais dame Bess n’est pas au cottage