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Matriarchal Society: Definition and Theory
By Heide Goettner-Abendroth
The relationship between Modern Matriarchal Studies and
the Gift Paradigm
There are important analogies between modern matriarchal studies and the gift paradigm.
The subject of matriarchal studies is the investigation and presentation of non-patriarchal societies of past and present. Even today there are enclaves of societies with matriarchal patterns in Asia, Africa, America and Oceania. None of these is a mere reversal of patriarchy where women rule -as it is often commonly believed -instead, they are all egalitarian societies, without exception. This means they do not know hierarchies, classes and the domination of one gender by the other. They are societies free of domination, but they still have their regulations. And this is the fact that makes them so attractive in any search for a new philosophy, to create a just society.
Equality does not merely mean a levelling of differences. The natural differences between the genders and the generations are respected and honoured, but they never serve to create hierarchies, as is common in patriarchy. The different genders and generations have their own honour and through complimentary areas of activity, they are geared towards each other.
This can be observed on all levels of society: the economic level, the social level, the political level and the areas of their worldviews and faiths. More precisely matriarchies are societies with complementary equality, where great care is taken to provide a balance. This applies to the balance between genders, among generations, and between humans and nature.
The differentiated rules of matriarchal societies have been meticulously researched regarding existing societies of this type. Merely historical facts will not reveal how matriarchal people thought and felt, how they conducted their politics and how they lived their faith.To be able to research this is an advantage of anthropology. In my principal work "Das Matriarchat" I presented matriarchal societies throughout the world and was able to deduce from these examples their rules and functioning on all levels of society. I base my arguments on my research of twenty years.
In order to show up the analogies between matriarchal research and the gift paradigm, I will give you a brief overview of some of the rules and regulations of matriarchal economy. This economy is a subsistence economy. It is usually based on agriculture using animals for labour, (Mosuo in Yƒnnan/China, or the Minangkabau of Sumatra/Indonesia) although in some instances there are societies using animal husbandry (such as the Tuareg in Northern Africa). There is no private property and no territorial claims. The people simply have usage rights on the soil they till, or the pastures their animals graze, for "Mother Earth" can not be owned or cut up in pieces. She gives the fruits of the fields and the young animals to all people, and therefore the harvest and the flocks can not be owned privately. Parcels of land and a certain number of animals belong to the matriarchal clan (matrilineal and matrilocally organised clans) and are worked on communally. Parts of flocks can be united with other parts and land often changes hands within the peasant community as chosen by lot.
The women, and specifically the oldest women of the clan, the matriarchs, hold the most important goods in their hands, for they are responsible for the sustenance and the protection of all clan members. The women either work the land themselves or organise the work on the land; the fruits of the fields are given to them and the milk of the flocks as well. The big clan houses also belong to them or the tents in case of nomadic tribes.
Matriarchal women are managers and administrators, who organise the economy not according to the profit principle, where an individual or a small group of people benefits; rather, the motivation behind their action is motherliness. The profit principle is an ego-centred principle, where individuals or a small minority take advantage of the majority of people. The principle of motherliness is the opposite, where altruism reigns and the well being of all is at the centre. It is at the same time a spiritual principle, which humans take from nature. Mother Nature cares for all beings, however different they may be. The same applies for the principle of motherliness: a good mother cares for all her children in spite of their diversity. For example with the Mosuo, the woman who is elected to be the clan mother from among her sisters, is the one who most clearly displays the attitude of care for the other clan members.
Motherliness, as an ethical principle pervades all areas of a matriarchal society, and this holds true for men as well. If a man of a matriarchal society desires to acquire status among his peers, or even become a representative of the clan to the outside word, the criterion is "He must be like a good mother." (Minangkabau)
On the economic level this principle prevented the development of the exchange economy as Genevieve Vaughan defines it:
Exchange is giving in order to receive. Here calculation and measurement are necessary, and an equation must be established between the products. (Vaughan is talking here about the invention of money. HGA) In exchange there is a logical movement, which is ego-oriented rather than other-oriented. The giver uses the satisfaction of the other's need as a means to the satisfaction of his own need. [...] In capitalism, the exchange paradigm reigns unquestioned and is the mainstay of patriarchal reality. (1997: 31)
Compared to this, matriarchal economy is exactly what Genevieve Vaughan defines as the gift economy:
It is a way of constructing and interpreting reality that derives from the practice of mothering and is therefore women-based. [...] The gift paradigm emphasizes the importance of giving to satisfy needs. It is need-oriented rather than profit-oriented. (Ibid. 30)
This is not a romantic idea of motherliness, however, as it has been portrayed so often in patriarchy, leading to the concept of motherliness being devalued and made to appear just sentimental. It is a case of systematic obscuring of the fact that motherliness is caring and nurturing work, which is still the basis of every society, including all patriarchies. In this respect it does not matter whether caring and nurturing work is done by mothers, who do it most often, or by other people. Without this work of daily care, there would be no help for the sick, for crisis situations of any kind, or for elderly people. In particular, there would be no children, which means any society would cease to exist in a short while. Motherly work is the most important work of all, work for life itself, work for our future. Because of its great importance this work is intentionally made invisible by patriarchy.
Matriarchies are building their existence consciously on this work, which is why they are much more realistic than patriarchies, not to mention the fact that they have much more vitality. They are on principle need-oriented. Their regulations aim to meet everybody's needs with the greatest benefit.
This could be demonstrated in many different areas of matriarchal societies, but it would be beyond the scope of an introduction, so I will limit myself to a few aspects of matriarchal economy. In matriarchal economies, gift giving is not just a coincidental, arbitrary act, which is confined to the private sphere. Moreover, gift giving is not forced from all mothers and care-giving people, by the denial of recognition of their work. This forced giving is the pattern of patriarchal exploitation, in particular of women's work. The principle of matriarchal economy contrasts with that kind of "gift-giving." In the matriarchal economy goods circulate as presents. Generally money is not known, because it has no purpose. The seasonal folk festivals of the agricultural year are the main economic motor of matriarchal economies. Added to this are the lifecycle festivals of the individual clans, festivals that are also celebrated together with the whole village or town. In all these festivals the goods are being "moved around" not in the sense of exchange to make a profit, but as a gift. For example there is one rule that a clan that has had a bumper crop and is able to collect a great harvest will give this fortune away at the first opportunity. At the next festival this lucky clan will overextend itself by inviting everybody in the village or town or district and will entertain them all and give out presents. The clan will hold the festival and not hold back anything. Within a patriarchal society this would be suicidal behaviour and would ruin the giving clan. But in matriarchal societies it works according the maxim "Those who have shall give." And at the next big festival another clan, who is by comparison better off than the rest of the community, will take on this role. Now the others are invited and gifts are lavished upon them.
So round and round it goes in the community, and it is always the well off clans who have the responsibility for the festivals. Individual clan festivals on the other hand, concern all clans, according to the lifecycles, such as birth, initiation, and funerals; they are held by the individual clans who are celebrating one of these events. Here again it is the rule that better off clans support the clans who are not so well off, so that they too can invite the people of the community to a worthy festival.
It is apparent that in this economic system an accumulation of goods with a view to personal gain and enrichment is not possible. Matriarchal economy is not based on accumulation, as is patriarchy. The opposite is the case; the economic actions are geared towards a levelling of the differences in living standards, which achieves an economy of balance.
This matriarchal economy of balance is not a hidden exchange, where one gives goods in order to receive an equivalent amount. This would be a calculation but not a gift. Less fortunate clans could not give the same amount back even if they wanted to, but then the action of balancing out would be void and not achieve the equilibrium, which was intended. This is why the gift of the clan, which is temporarily wealthy, is always a present. This matriarchal economy of balance is not "primitive" because it does not know the symbolic instrument of money. Far from it, it is principally not interested; it has no need of money, for money would destroy the economy of balance.
A generous clan, which has overextended itself in the described manner, never gains any demands of goods from the other clans, but it wins honour. "Honour" in matriarchy means that the altruism and pro-social action of this clan gains great admiration from the other clans, and that this act verifies and strengthens the relationships between the clans. Honour is like a counter-value on a much higher level, for it is the priceless and invaluable value of friendship and human contact. Such a clan will always be supported by the other clans, should it have need of anything or even fall on hard times. This in turn is also a question of honour.
In matriarchal societies, in this sense, the economy of balance is also a mutual support system, but without being a billing institution. Economy of balance is a synonym of the gift economy and liberates the most honourable human feelings such as unreserved giving, true devotion, benevolence and friendship. It's intent is the care and deepening of human and societal relationships, by fulfilling needs free of ulterior motives. This enables love to grow. It is the principle of unreserved motherliness, in the physical as well as in the spiritual sense.
Genevieve Vaughan said it in her book For-Giving in this way:
Giving to needs creates bonds between givers and receivers. Recognizing someone's needs, and acting to satisfy it, convinces the giver of the existence of the other, while receiving something from someone else that satisfies a need proves the existence of the other to the receiver. (1997: 30)
Modern matriarchal studies are adding an important step. The gift economy as presented by Genevieve Vaughan and called "gift paradigm" is not only a vision, but is of the highest value and a practical
reality of whole societies, past and present. For this reason I would like to give a brief presentation of all areas of this new research, it's scope and the basic characteristics of matriarchal societies.
English translation: Jutta Ried
Matriarchal Society: Definition and Theory
Developing a new science
After I had completed my Ph.D. in philosophy at the University of Munich on the subject of the "Logic of Interpretation," I taught philosophy and theory of science there from 1973-1983. Then I left university system, because I had found a much more important and socially relevant task. Ever since 1976, I had been doing pioneer work, along with my female colleagues, in founding Women's Studies in West Germany, and in this context I presented an outline of my "theory of matriarchal societies" for the first time. I had started to develop this theory as a young student of 25 years, using all the libraries of the different disciplines for my interdisciplinary research and traveling widely to visit many archaeological sites. These were my unofficial studies, in addition to the official ones in Analytical Philosophy, Theory of Science, and Formal Logic. It was in 1976 that I first presented it in public, and in 1980 my first book in this field was published (See: The
Goddess and her Heros, in German 1980, in English 1995). From 1983 on, I devoted myself completely to this task, one that was not acknowledged by any university in Germany. But another audience was very interested: my book marked the beginning of the discussion about women-centered societies and matriarchy in the New Feminist Movement in West Germany.
I was well aware that this discussion had a long tradition in German-speaking Europe (Switzerland, Austria, Germany), going back as far as the famous work of J.J. Bachofen: Myth,
Religion and Mother Right, which came out in 1861. For more than a century, the discussion on "mother right" and "matriarchy" continued: the subject now was used and abused by all the intellectual schools of thought, and all political parties, each with its distinctly different point of view. What worried me most about this reception of Bachofen's ideas was the complete lack of a clear definition of the matter at hand, and furthermore, the huge amount of emotion and ideology that was involved in the discussion. This combination of unclear definitions and excessive emotionality already occurs in Bachofen's work itself.
Bachofen's work is in the field of history of cultures, and it represents a perfect parallel to the work of H. L. Morgan (in the field of anthropology/ethnology), who did research in the matriarchal society of the Iroquois of his time (1851, 1871/77). But the works of these scholars have been evaluated very differently: the differences cast light on just how political the subject of "matriarchy" is in the midst of our patriarchal society. Scholars of the humanities and social sciences, who should be extremely interested in Bachofen`s findings, ignored or ridiculed the majority of them. Morgan was praised and called "the father of ethnology," because he founded the new science of anthropology/ethnology; meanwhile Bachofen, who also founded a new science: the "science of non-patriarchal societies," or "matriarchy-ology," was not honoured in the same way. The reason is simple: if his work had been taken seriously, it would have caused the beginning of the breakdown of patriarchal ideology and worldview. It marks the beginning of the development of a new paradigm of human history. That is why it is too dangerous to be acknowledged adequately!
After these insights, I decided -building on the foundation of my philosophical tools -to give the matriarchal studies, i.e., the research into all forms of non-patriarchal societies in both past and present, a modern scientific foundation. I value this field of research as too important to be neglected in this respect; furthermore I am involved as a researcher myself. "To give it a modern scientific foundation" means to formulate a definition, that integrates its vast material, and to develop a supporting theoretical framework. In the light of a theoretical framework, the many excellent special studies that have already been done in this field, would more clearly exhibit their mutual interconnections, and future research could be inspired and guided by it. Developing such a universal theory does not at all mean to lock it into a closed system (a traditional philosophical attitude that has become obsolete), but rather it means to give it an open structure that is clarifying and helpful for each specific piece of research, including my own.
When I started to work on this task, I first spent ten years developing a research methodology for matriarchy, one that is basically interdisciplinary and relies on criticism of ideology. One part of the task was to relate the different disciplines used in this research to each other, and to do this systematically (and not only arbitrarily, as is often done). Another part was to develop a special method of ideological criticism to investigate all the different aspects of patriarchal ideology, and not just reproduce them unconsciously anew. Step by step, I developed the framework of a "theory of matriarchy"; I would like to present it now in a short outline. Then I want to give a sketch of the structural definition of "matriarchal society," which is the core of the "theory of matriarchy." Both sketches are the result of 30 years of research in the field of matriarchal societies, developed through a long process of trial and error. They are in no way presupposed deductive axioms, although I am presenting them here in a concentrated, abstract way.
I want to begin with some notes concerning my use of the term "matriarchy." In spite of the difficult connotations of this word, I call all non-patriarchal societies "matriarchal" for several reasons:
1. The term "matriarchy" is well known from the discussion that has gone on since Bachofen (1861), and it is by now a popular term.
2. Philosophical and scientific re-definitions mostly refer to well-known words
and redefine them. After that, scholars can work with them, but they do not lose
contact with the language of the people. In this process, the word often takes
on a new, clearer and broader meaning even in the popular language; this is also
influenced by the re-defining activities of scholars. In the case of the term "matriarchy," this redefinition would be a great advantage, especially because for women, reclaiming this term means to reclaim the knowledge about cultures that have been created by women.
3. It is my opinion that it may not always be helpful to create new scientific
terms like "matrifocal," "matricentric," "matristic," "gylanic," etc. Some of these terms, like "matrifocal" and "gylanic," are very artificial and have no connection to popular language. Others like "matricentric" and "matristic" are too weak, for they suggest that non-patriarchal societies have no more to them than just being centered around the mothers. The result can be a somewhat reduced view of these societies -by the researchers as well as the critics -a view that neglects the intricate network of relationships and the complex social networks that characterize these cultures.
4. We are not obliged to follow the current, male biased notion of the term "matriarchy" as meaning "domination by the mothers." The only reason to understand it in this way is that it sounds parallel to "patriarchy." The Greek word "archè" has a double meaning. It means "beginning" as well as "domination." Therefore, we can translate "matriarchy" accurately as "the mothers from the beginning." "Patriarchy," on the other hand, translates correctly as "domination by the fathers."
5. To use the term "matriarchy" in its re-defined, clarified meaning is
also of political relevance. It doesn't avoid the discussion with professional
colleagues and the interested audience, which is urgently necessary. This might
easily happen with the other terms, which have the tendency to conceal and to
belittle. Researchers should not shy away from the provocative connotation of
the term "matriarchy," both because research in this field is so important and
because only continued political provocation will bring about a change of mind.
The Scope of Modern Research in Matriarchy
Following the argumentation of my main work "The Matriarchy," which is in the process of being published in several consecutive volumes, I briefly want to present my
theory of matriarchal society. It shows the scope of modern research in matriarchy. Important research, which already exists about the topic, has been, and will continue to be, included in this framework.
In the first step of developing this theory I give an overview of the previous research in matriarchy. Therein I follow the course the research has taken, using examples of the scientific as well as of the political discussion. What becomes obvious is the lack of a clear and complete definition of "matriarchy." Furthermore, in this book I put the method of ideological criticism in correct terms. This method is necessary in this area of study, because most of the early and contemporary writings about the topic contain a massive amount of patriarchal ideology. (See: Das
Matriarchat I. Geschichte seiner Erforschung, Kohlhammer 1988-1995)
In the second step of the development of this theory I therefore formulate the complete structural definition of "matriarchy," a definition we urgently need. This definition specifies the necessary and adequate characteristics of this form of society. It is not formulated abstractly, but is arrived at by investigating an immense amount of ethnological material.
The systematic step of my ethnological research becomes visible now. I have dedicated the past ten years to this research, because we cannot get a complete definition of "matriarchy" from cultural history alone. There we are only dealing with the remains and fragments of former societies. That is not sufficient for an overall picture.
It remains without question that these fragments may well be very numerous, and that they may well be extremely important; still they can give us only scattered information. Through historical research alone we cannot know how matriarchal people thought or felt, or how they organized their social patterns or political events, that is, how their society was structured as a whole. In order to gain this knowledge, and consequently to achieve a complete definition of "matriarchy," we have to examine the still living examples of this form of society. Fortunately, they still exist on all continents except Europe.
I have considered these cultures in the second step of my theory, in which I present all of the world's extant matriarchal societies.
(See: Das Matriarchat II,1. Stammesgesellschaften in Ostasien,
Indonesien, Ozeanien, Kohlhammer 1991/1999, and see: Das
Matriarchat II,2. Stammesgesellschaften in Amerika, Indien, Afrika, Kohlhammer
In the third step of the development of my theory I use the complete definition of "matriarchy," which I have now extracted, as a scientific tool for a revision of the cultural history of humankind. This history is much longer than the four to five thousand years of patriarchal history. In its longest periods, non-patriarchal societies were developed, in which women created culture and embodied the integral center of society. Extant matriarchal societies are the last examples.
Fortunately, in this field some excellent research is already available. It has been developed recently. What is still lacking, however, is the systematic framework of connection, that is, the overall picture of the long history of matriarchy. (Project: Das Matriarchat III. Historische Stadtkulturen, in the process of development)
It is obvious that such an immense task is impossible without a complete definition of "matriarchy." After it has been formulated in the ethnological part of my theory, we now have, for the very first time, the chance to adequately write the complete history of humankind, and to do so without the distortions of patriarchal prejudices. This new interpretation of history is urgently necessary today, because the patriarchal interpretation of history more and more turns out to be wrong and out-dated.
In the fourth step of the development of this theory I write about the problem of the rise of patriarchy. Two important questions have to be answered: 1. How could patriarchal patterns develop in the first place? 2. How could they spread all over the world? The latter is by no means obvious.
In my opinion neither question has been sufficiently answered yet. Instead, a lot of pseudo-explanations have been offered. If we want to explain the development of patriarchy we first of all need clear knowledge about the form of society that existed previously -and that was matriarchy. At present, this knowledge is in the process of being developed. It is the absolute precondition for explaining the development of patriarchy. Otherwise, we begin with false assumptions.
Secondly, a theory about the development of patriarchy has to explain why patriarchal patterns emerged in different places, on different continents, at different times and under different conditions. The answers will be very different for the different regions of the world. This task has not yet been done at all. (Project: Das
Matriarchat IV. Entstehung des Patriarchats, in the process of development).
In the fifth step of the development of this theory, I write about the analysis and history of patriarchy. Until now, the history of patriarchy has been written down as a history of domination, as a history "from the top." But there also exists the perspective of the history "at the bottom" which shows a completely different picture. It is the history of women, of the lower classes, of the marginalized and the sub-cultures. It shows that patriarchy did not succeed in destroying the ancient and long matriarchal traditions on all continents. In the end, it parasitically lives on these traditions.
The task is to show that these traditions (oral traditions, customs, myths, rites folklore, etc.) have their roots in preceding traditions, in matriarchy. But we can recognize this only with the help of the complete definition of matriarchy. If we can manage to follow the traces backwards through the history of patriarchy and to connect them, this means nothing less than regaining our heritage. (Project: Das
Matriarchat V. Matriarchale Traditionen in patriarchalen Gesellschaften, in the process of development).
Definition of the Matriarchal Society
Now I shall give the structural definition of "matriarchy," which means that not one criterion can be left out, if the definition is to be valid. I will present the criteria of matriarchal society on three levels: on the economic level, on the level of social patterns, and on the cultural level.
On the economic level, matriarchies are most often agricultural societies. The technologies of agriculture they developed reach from simple gardening to full agriculture with plowing (at the beginning of the Neolithic Age, about 10.000 before our time), and, finally, to the large irrigation systems of the earliest urban cultures. Simultaneously, the social forms of matriarchy continued to become more differentiated in the course of the millennia. The rise of matriarchy is directly connected with the development of these new technologies.
Goods are distributed according to a system that is identical with the lines of kinship and the patterns of marriage. This system prevents goods from being accumulated by one special person or one special group. Thus, the principles of equality are consciously kept up, and the society is egalitarian and non-accumulating. From a political point of view, matriarchies are societies with perfect mutuality. Every advantage or disadvantage concerning the acquisition of goods is mediated by social rules. For example, at the village festivals, wealthy clans are obliged to invite all inhabitants. They organize the banquet, at which they distribute their wealth to gain honor. Therefore, on the economic level I call matriarchies societies
On the social level, matriarchies are based on a union of extended clan. The people live together in big clans, which are formed according to the principle of matrilinearity, i.e. the kinship is exclusively acknowledged in the female line. The clan's name, and all social positions and political titles are passed on through the mother's line. Such a matri-clan consists at least of three generations of women: the clan-mother, her daughters, her granddaughters, and the directly related men: the brothers of the mother, her sons and grandsons. Generally, the matri-clan lives in one big clan-house, which holds from 10 to more than 100 persons, depending on size and architectural style. The women live permanently there, because daughters and granddaughters never leave the clan-house of their mother, when they marry. This is called matrilocality.
What is most important is the fact that women have the power of disposition over the goods of the clan, especially the power to control the sources of nourishment: fields and food. This characteristic feature, besides matrilinearity and matrilocality, grants women such a strong position that these societies are "matriarchal." (Anthropologists do not make a distinction between merely matrilineal, and clearly matriarchal societies. This continues to produce great confusion.)
These matri-clans in their clan-house on their clan-land are self-supporting groups. How are the people in such self-supporting groups connected to the other clans of the village? This is effected by the patterns of marriage, especially the system of mutual
marriage between two clans. Mutual marriage between two clans is no individual marriage, but a communal marriage leading to communal matrimony. For example, the young men from clan-house A are married to the young women clan-house B, and the young men from clan-house B are married to the young women in clan-house A. This is called mutual marriage between two clans in a matriarchal village. The same takes place between fixed pairs of other clan-houses, for example the houses C and D, E and F. Due to additional patterns of marriage between all clans, finally everyone in a matriarchal village or a matriarchal town is related to everyone else by birth or by marriage. Therefore, I call matriarchies societies
The young men, who have left the house of their mother after their marriage, do not have to go very far. Actually, in the evening they just go to the neighboring house, where their wives live, and they come back very early -at dawn. This form of marriage is called visiting marriage, and it is restricted to the night. It means that matriarchal men have no right to live in the house of their wives. The home of matriarchal men is the clan-house of their mothers. There, they take part in the work in the fields and gardens; they take part in the decisions of the clan. There, they have rights and duties.
In this system of clans a matriarchal man never regards the children of his wife as his children, because they do not share his clan-name. They are only related to the woman whose clan-name they have. A matriarchal man, however, is closely related to the children of his sister: his nieces and nephews. They have the same clan-name as he does. His attention, his care for their upbringing, the personal goods he passes on are all for his nieces and nephews. Biological fatherhood is not known, or no attention is paid to it. It is not a social factor. Matriarchal men care for their nieces and nephews in a kind of social
Even the process of taking a political decision is organized along the lines of matriarchal kinship. In the clan-house, women and men meet in a council where domestic matters are discussed. No member of the household is excluded. After thorough discussion, each decision is taken by consensus. The same is true for the entire village: delegates from every clan-house meet in the village council, if matters concerning the whole village have to be discussed. These delegates can be the oldest women of the clans (the matriarchs), or the brothers and sons they have chosen to represent the clan. No decision concerning the whole village may be taken without the consensus of all clan-houses. This means, the delegates, who are discussing the matter, are not the ones who make the decision. It is not in this council that the policy of the village is made, because the delegates function only as bearers of communication. If the council notices that the clan-houses do not yet agree, the delegates return to the clan-houses to discuss matters further. In this way, consensus is reached in the whole village step by step.
A people living in a certain region takes decisions in the same way: delegates from all villages meet to discuss the decisions of their communities. Again, the delegates function only as bearers of communication. In such cases, it is usually men who are elected by their villages, since the clan-mothers do not leave their clan's houses and land. In contrast to the frequent ethnological mistakes made about these men, they are not the "chiefs" and do not, in fact, decide. Every village, and in every village every clan-house, is involved in the process of making the decision, until consensus is reached on the regional level. Therefore, from the political point of view, I call matriarchies egalitarian societies or societies of consensus. These political patterns do not allow the accumulation of political power. In exactly this sense, they are free from domination: They have no class of rulers and no class of suppressed people, i.e., they do not know enforcement bodies, which are necessary to establish domination.
On the cultural level, these societies are not characterized by "fertility cults" -such a simplifying view distorts the fact that these cultures have a complex religious system. The fundamental concept matriarchal people have of the cosmos and life, the belief they express in many rites, myths and spiritual customs, is the belief in rebirth. It is not the abstract idea of the transmigration of souls, as it later appears in Hinduism and Buddhism, but the concept of rebirth in a very concrete sense: all members of a clan know that after death they will be re-birthed -by one of the women of their own clan, in their own clan-house, in their home village. Every dead person returns directly as a small child to the same clan. Women in matriarchal societies are greatly respected, because they grant rebirth. They are renew and prolong the life of the clan. This concept is the basis of the matriarchal view of life. Matriarchal people have adopted it from the natural world they live in: in nature, the growing, flourishing, withering, and the returning of the vegetation takes place every year. Matriarchal people are convinced that every plant that withers in fall is reborn next spring. Therefore, the Earth is the Great Mother granting rebirth and nurturing all beings.
In the sky, they observe the same cycle of coming and going: all celestial bodies rise, set and return every day and every night. They perceive the cosmos as the Great Goddess of Heaven and Creation. She is constantly creating everything, it is she who grants the ordering of time. She gives birth to all stars in the east, lets them move over the sky, until they die through her power in the west. A good example of this matriarchal concept of the cosmos is the Egyptian goddess Nut, the Goddess of Heaven. She gives birth to her son Ra, the sun, every morning, and devours him every evening, only to give birth to him again at the next sunrise.
In the cosmos and on the earth, matriarchal people observe this cycle of life, death and rebirth. According to the matriarchal principle of connection between macrocosm and microcosm, they see the same cycle in human life. Human existence is not different from the cycles of nature; it follows the same rules. Their concept of nature and of the human world lacks the dualistic, patriarchal way of thinking that separates "spirit" and "nature" or "society" and "nature."
Furthermore, it lacks the dualistic concept of morality that defines what is "good" and splits off what is "evil." From the matriarchal perspective, life brings forth death, and death brings forth life again -everything in its own time. If everything is necessary in its own time, the drastic opposition of "good" and "evil" makes no sense. In the same way, the female and the male also are a cosmic polarity. It would never occur to a matriarchal people to regard one sex as inferior or weaker to the other, as it is common in patriarchal societies.
The entire view of the world of matriarchal people is structured non-dualistically. They make no essential distinction between the profane and the sacred. The entire world with all 'her' appearances is divine and, therefore, sacred to the people. They respect and venerate nature as holy, and they would never exploit and destroy it. For example, every house is sacred and has its holy hearth as a place where the living and the ancestors meet together. And each daily task and common gesture has a symbolic meaning, every action is ritualized. Therefore, on the cultural level, I call matriarchies sacral
societies or cultures of the Goddess.
Summary of the criteria of the matriarchal society
- Economic criteria: societies with self-supporting gardening or agriculture; land and house are property of the clan: no private property; women have the power of disposition over the source of nourishment; constant adjustment of the level of wealth by the circulation of the vital goods in form of gifts at festivals -societies of reciprocity.
- Social criteria: matriarchal clans, which are held together by matrilinearity and matrilocality; mutual marriage between two clans; visiting marriage with additional sexual freedom for both sexes; social fatherhood -non-hierarchical, horizontal societies of kinship.
- Political criteria: principle of consensus in the clan-house, on the level of the village, and on the regional level; delegates as bearers of communication, not as decision-makers; absence of classes and structures of domination -egalitarian societies of consensus.
- Cultural criteria: concrete belief in rebirth into the same clan; cult of ancestresses and ancestors; worship of Mother Earth and the Goddess of Cosmos; divinity of the entire world; absence of dualistic world view and morality; everything in life is part of the symbolic system -sacral societies as cultures of the Goddess.
English translation: Solveig Göttner, Karen Smith
Bachofen, Johann, Jakob (1861) Das Mutterrecht, [Myth, Religion and Mother Right] Stuttgart.
Goettner-Abendroth, Heide (1995 ). The Goddess and
her Heros, Anthony Publishing Company, Stow, MA .
Goettner-Abendroth. Heide (1988) Das Matriarchat I. Geschichte
seiner Erforschung, Kohlhammer, Stuttgart.
________ (1991) Das Matriarchat II,1. Stammesgesellschaften
in Ostasien, Indonesien, Ozeanien, Kohlhammer, Stuttgart.
________ (2000) Das Matriarchat II,2. Stammesgesellschaften
in Amerika, Indien, Afrika Kohlhammer, Stuttgart.
Morgan, Henri Lewis (1901 ) League of the Ho-de-no-sau-nee
or Iroquois, H.M.Lloyd.
In 1986, Heide Goettner-Abendroth founded the INTERNATIONAL ACADEMY HAGIA for Modern Matriarchal Studies and Matriarchal Spirituality (situated in Western Germany), and since then she has served as the director. In 2003, she organized and led the first World Congress on Matriarchal Studies in Luxemburg.
INTERNATIONAL ACADEMY HAGIA
Weghof 2, D-94577 Winzer - Germany