Matriarchy, Mother Right and Vindication of the Female Principle

 1.  Prolegomena

 2.  Woman’s Evolution and Mitochondrial Eve

2 a.  Women in Prehistory

2 b.  Mitochondrial Eve

2 c.  Stages of Social Evolution

3.  Matriarchy

3 a.  Matriarchy and History

3 b.  Matriarchy and Feminism

3 c.  Matriarchy and Myth

3 d.  From Matriarchy to Patriarchy

 4.  Matrilinear Descent and Clan Exogamy

4 a.  Matriliny

4 b.  Clans

4 c.  Exogamy

 5. Mother Right

5 a.  Bachofen and Mutterecht

5 b.  Principles of Mother-Right

6.  The Female Principle in Antiquity and Myth

6 a.   Amazons and Warrior Women

7. The Mother Goddess

 7 a.  Goddess Archaeology

7 b.  The Goddess and Religion

7 c.  The Goddess and Witchcraft

8.  Epilegomena

 References Cited and Sources consulted

1.  Prolegomena.

It was Bachofen and Morgan who discovered independently that “…in primeval society the relations of the sexes differed vastly from those prevalent during historic times and among modern civilised nations.” (Bebel, 1904).  Matriarchy is group power residing with the women or mothers of a community. Sometimes confused, sometimes deliberately, the term is derived from the Latin matri (mother) and archon (governor or ruler). Matrifocality is distinct from matriarchy and means women hold a pre-eminent place in kinship structures. It occurs in societies where maternal authority is prominent in domestic relations. This is due to the husband joining the wife’s family, rather than the wife moving to the husband’s village, clan or tribe. Existing matrifocal cultures include the matrilineal Bunts of Mangalore, the Udupi in South India, and the system is common in Kerala but now rarely practised. In China the Mosuu of Lake Luga are matrifocal. Semi-matriarchal customs still exist in the Western Sahara. The custom is found in the Polama archipelago of Guinea Bissau. In South America the Guajaro tribes of Colombia and the Caribbean coast of Venezuela are matrifocal, and their children are raised by the mother’s brothers (avunculism). In Judaism the religion is traditionally inherited through the mother. If the mother is Jewish the child is Jewish, but if the father is Jewish and not the mother then the child is not considered to be Jewish.

Society organised along the lines of matrilineal kinship is known as Mother-Right and when at its fullest development possesses certain characteristics (Hartland, 1921). These certain features are: (1) descent and kinship are traced exclusively through the mother; (2) the matrilineal community is typically organised in clans. Every clan of men and women believes itself united in blood through their mothers; (3) No clan member may marry of have sexual intercourse with a member of the same clan; (4) the clan is the basic unit of society; (5) each clan is rules by women; (6) even when the clan is ruled by men descent is still reckoned through the female line; (7) in Mother-Right societies marriage is usually matrilocal; (8) property inheritance is usually from maternal uncle to nephew or niece. Not all of these features were present however. Often, when women ruled they were usually able to transmit and hold as well as high office.

2.  Woman’s Evolution and Mitochondrial Eve

2.a  Women in Prehistory

In terms of the archaeological record of women (Kessler, 1976) little is known of women in Australopithecine populations or those of Homo erectus during the Lower Palaeolithic. The Middle Palaeolithic Neanderthals provide evidence of an established division of labour, care of the aged and infirm, and funerary rituals. For women in the Palaeolithic age it was not ‘man the hunter’ but ‘women the gatherer’, who was responsible for the emergence of humanity. The first hominids to use tools regularly were females accompanied by their offspring. Palaeolithic burials have flint and bone tools placed near the bodies and seem to be the same for both women and men. Numerous feminine figures with exaggerated secondary sexual features were fashioned during the Upper Palaeolithic. Stone and ivory figurines, or ‘Venuses’, have been found that date from the Gravettian of between 25,000 to 20,000 BC. Also there occur occasional representations of women in association with animals. This may indicate that they participated in the symbolism and supernatural thinking of the Palaeolithic Period.

Indo-European speakers expanded over a period of some 3,500 years, a migration that started with the Hittites of Anatolia around 1,650 BC (Mallory, 1989). Assemblages of artifacts couple with linguistic evidence show the introduction of an alien cultural tradition into the European hinterland (Drews, 1989). These barbarian societies were typified by horse and chariot warfare. Many anthropologists believe there are no known societies that were, or are, unambiguously matriarchal, but concede that the Iroqouis were a possible exception (Goettner-Abenderoth, H.  2013; Leprowsky, M. A. 1993). However, the matriarchal system was recognised as egalitarian  

With regard to a long standing tradition of evolutionary thinking between 1861 and 1903 the main idea was that a goddess worshipping matriarchy existed at one time in the ancient past. Evolutionary anthropologists attempted to explain the variations seen in contemporary and ancient cultures. At the time they still tried to maintain the belief in the alleged superiority of late 19th century culture. Many evolutionary scholars regarded the origins of civilisation, and the modern state, in the newly developed terms of kinship anthropology through the mechanism of descent and marriage.

Social organisation was created out of the mother-child relationship based on the matrilineal clan system (Reed, 1975). The early ‘primitive’ communities were economies based upon hunter-gathering and simple agriculture. In hunter-gatherer communities women gathered for their children and themselves, whereas men hunted food for themselves (Reed, 1975), this therefore engendered a division of food consumption as well as labour. Communities were therefore centred around a group of women and their children. The male members would be the brothers of the women and therefore the children’s maternal uncles. However, the men were not the biological fathers because of the enforced rules of exogamy sanctified by totemism and taboo. There was thus a double taboo that did not allow sexual relations within associated groups of kin

2 b.  Mitochondrial Eve

The evolutionary history of ancient populations can be inferred or deduced from modern populations (Cavalli-Sforza, 1994), this forms the basis of the hypothesis that we all share a common female ancestor (Cann, 1987), an African woman, the common African mother. All mitochondria are descended from a person’s maternal grandmother’s mitochondria (mtDNA) therefore “…mitochondria constitute an independent record of the past, uncontaminated by the main nuclear DNA…” (Dawkins, 2001). Fundamentally, unilineal inheritance combined with occasional mutation is “…sufficient to allow geneticists to reconstruct ancient genetic prehistory from extant mtDNA types.” (Foster, 2004). Human mitochondrial genetics is the study of human mitochondrial DNA contained in human mitochondria. The human mitochondrial genome is the entirety of hereditary information contained in the human mitochondria. Mitochondria are small structures within cells that generate energy for the cell to use. Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is not transmitted through nuclear DNA (nDNA). In humans, and most multicellular organisms, mitochondrial DNA is inherited only from the mother’s ovum. Some 80% of mtDNA codes for functional mitochondrial proteins. In humans mtDNA forms closed circular molecules and each molecule normally contains a full set of mitochondrial genes. Each mitochondrion contains five mtDNA molecules. Each human cell contains approximately 100 mitochondria, some 500 mtDNA molecules per cell. Small compared to nuclear DNA. The entire human mitochondrial DNA molecule has been mapped (Schwartz, 2002).

Mitochondria “…play a role in energy-capture physiology and perform several other functions.” (Weiss, 2008).  In the remoteness of time the ancestors of mitochondria were free living bacteria that became part of other bacteria or within larger cells creating, thereby, a community of prokaryotic (non-nucleate) bacteria or the large eukaryotic (nucleated and complex) cells which are an “…enclosed garden of bacteria…” we call our own, (Dawkins, 2001). Importantly mitochondria contain their own genes (Weiss, 2008), thus have their own DNA (mtDNA), sixteen and a half thousand bases in length, confined to a single ring chromosome, as in other bacteria. Each mitochondrion, containing all the enzymes for final aerobic metabolism, are not inside the nucleus but enclosed in a membrane in the cytoplasm (Sykes, 2002). These within cell organelles are not only power cells or energy factories, but also contribute to anthropological genetics (Weiss, 2008), with modern DNA “…particularly maternally inherited mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), is now routinely used to trace ancient human migration routes and to obtain absolute dates for genetic prehistory.” (Foster, 2004). We get our mitochondria from our mother only because it is passed on only through the maternal line – no sperm mitochondria makes it into the ovum because it is lost on fertilisation  (Dawkins, 2001; Weiss, 2008). It follows that, for all individuals whether male or female, their “…mitochondria are all descended from an initial inoculation of…mother’s mitochondria. (Dawkins, 2001).

The human species originated in Africa some 150,000 years ago which means most mtDNA sequences found outside of Africa are closely related to the sequences found within the continent (Weiss, 2008). In Africa around 100,000 to 140,000 years ago there occurred the transformation of archaic to modern Homo sapiens (Lewin,1987). All modern-day human beings are descended from that African population. Homo sapiens arose some 200,000 to 80,000 years ago and the fossil record confirms that this was the period when archaic forms of genus Homo made the transition to anatomically modern humans. It is Africa which is the likely source of the human mitochondrial gene pool, and it was the prevailing ice age conditions during the last 100,000 years that substantially determined the routes and occasions for prehistoric humans to migrate and settle the world. (Foster, 2004). The initial and modest spread of humans within Africa occurred more than 100,000 years ago, with a re-expansion within Africa around 60 to 80,000, with the eventual “…out-of-Africa migration of a single, small group which settled in Australia, Eurasia and America during windows of opportunity at least partly dictated by fluctuations in sea levels and climatic conditions.” (Foster, 2004). These populations that moved out of Africa eventually completely replaced all existing archaic sapiens groups (Lewin,1987). The theory of a Mitochondrial Eve, as the grand-ancestress of us all and who lived in Africa, implies we are all “…descendants of an African diaspora within the last quarter of a million years.” (Dawkins, 2001). This common ancestress, who existed some 140,000 to 290,000 years ago, possibly in or near present-day Tanzania, must be linked to all surviving mtDNA types.

The ‘Eve’ or ‘African Eve’ label is applied to the hypothesis of a recent African origin for all human-kind with the implication that an ‘African Eve’ is the single and sole female ancestor of all people (Cann, 1997). This African or Mitochondrial Eve probably lived much earlier than the Out-of-Africa migration which is thought to have occurred between 95,000 to 45,000 years before the present (Endicott, 2009), therefore existing around 180,000 years ago as the single maternal ancestor of all mankind.” (Richards, 2001). It is the science of “…molecular biology that has given us the charismatic African Eve.” (Dawkins, 2001), and the concept of this “…hypothetical female ancestor…, this “…last mother of us all…” (Cann, 1987), based on the study of maternally inherited genes. The mitochondrial clade as defined by African or Mitochondrial Eve is the species, our species known as Homo sapiens sapiens, and the current population known as the chronospecies (Dawkins, 2004). A clade is a species which is extinct or extant, that contains one ancestor, and is a grouping of that ancestor plus living and deceased descendants. It follows that a sub-clade is a sub-group of a sub-genus or haplogroup. It is the variations detected in mtDNA between different people that is used to estimate the time between now and that of the common ancestor. The time is based on the molecular clock technique of correlating elapsed time with observed genetic drift. The African Eve hypothesis states that earlier Asian populations left no surviving descendants and therefore all surviving humans are ‘Africans’ (Dawkins, 2001). With the rise of Homo sapiens the maternal “…lineages of all human beings coalesce in mitochondrial Eve, born in South or East Africa more than 130 ka.” (Foster, 2004), implying the mtDNA is possibly derived from an archaic sapiens species who is not yet an anatomically modern human (Lewin, 1987). In this scenario Mitochondrial Eve is an archaic sapiens which raises certain questions. Firstly, did modern humans arise in one location and then migrate throughout the rest of the world?  Secondly, because mtDNA variation would require 180,000 to 360,000 years to attain modern population levels, what is the actual time since the divergence from the common ancestor?  If we “…humans are all definitely descended from the same single individual…(Dawkins, 2001), then we also share common descent, by matrilineal reckoning, with all other humans.

The mitochondrial group that has become known as the Seven Daughters of Eve are considered to be the ‘founding mothers’ or seven ‘clan mothers’ of Europe (Sykes, 2001). In this context it is best to stress that Mitochondrial Eve, of anything back to 200,000 years ago, is neither our common ancestor nor common genetic ancestor.  No, she is the most- recent common ancestor or MRCA, and this means that the MRCA of all humans is derived from Mitochondrial Eve. However, via the mtDNA pathway she is not the unqualified MRCA of all humanity. Mitochondrial Eve is the MRCA of all humans alive on earth with respect to matrilineal descent. The genetic genealogy of mtDNA is inherited maternally which means matrilineal lineages of individuals can be traced by means of genetic analysis. Human mtDNA “…is the female equivalent of a surname…” (Foster, 2004), which is passed down from the mother to her offspring in each and every generation. It follows, therefore, that the more offspring a mother and her female descendants produce “…the more common her mtDNA will become.” (Foster, 2004).

The so-called founding mothers of Europe are the mitochondrial group known as the seven clan mothers. A haplotype is a combination of DNA sequences at adjacent locations (loci) on a chromosome that are transmitted together (Sykes, 2001). A haplogroup, therefore, is a group of similar haplotypes that share a common ancestor. Seven European clan mothers have been identified and designated. Their names awarded according to their haplogroup and these are: Ursula, haplogroup U (U5) from 55,000 years ago; Xenia (X) of 30,000 years ago; Helena (H) of 12,000 years ago; Velda (V) of 12,000 years ago; Tara (T) of 10,000 years ago; Katrine (K) of 12,000 years ago; and Jasmine (J) of 45,000 years ago.

According to the determinations of Sykes (2001; 2006) clan Ursula (Latin for ‘she-bear’) originated in the Greek mountains at the beginning of the Ice Age and had an average life expectancy of 35 years. One of the first permanent representatives of Homo sapiens and first modern humans in Europe she left the highest proportion of descendants in Scandinavia, Germany, and the United Kingdom. The clan Xenia (Greek for ‘hospitable’) is the second oldest of the seven European clans and is estimated to be 25,000 years old. One of the second wave of human beings just prior to the coldest part of the last Ice Age. Her descendants comprise 7% of native Europeans. The third maternal clan (or haplotype H) is that of Helena (Greek for ‘light’) and the largest group known so far and now distributed in the Scottish highlands, Norwegian fjords, the Urals, Russian steppes, and also the Pyrenees some 20,000 years ago between France and Spain in the region of Perpignan. Clan Helena is the most common haplogroup in Europe and is also common in the Middle East and North Africa. Evolved in West Asia and arrived in Europe from the Middle East. Migrated along the Mediterranean from west Asia into Europe some 25-35,000 years ago, and reached England around 12,000 years ago. The clan’s arrival is contemporary with the Gravettian Culture. The clan remains are known from Gough’s Cave in Somerset and therefore 3000 years older than those in Cheddar Man cave, with other evidence from excavations in Italy dated to 28,000 BP. The clan Velda (Scandinavian ‘ruler’) is the smallest of the seven European clans comprising 4% of Europeans. The clan originated 17,000 years ago in the wooded plains of north-east Italy and the southern cliffs of the Alpine region. From there clan Velda spread through central and northern Europe. This haplogroup has high concentrations among the Saami and the Basque’s with 10.4% and 16.3% with the Berbers of Tunisia.

The clan Tara (Gaelic ‘rocky hill’), or haplotype T, comprises slightly fewer than 10% of modern Europeans and has a wide distribution in the south and west. Tara is known 17,000 years ago in north-west Italy and Tuscany and has high concentrations in Ireland and west Britain, and thought to have originated in Mesopotamia and the Fertile Crescent (modern Syria) and Turkey around 45-50,000 years ago. The haplotype of clan Tara was carried by migrants to north west Europe about 10,000 years ago. Tara herself arose in Tuscany about 17,000 years ago. It is assumed the group during the Neolithic ‘revolution’ brought agriculture and pastoralism to Europe and is thus a main genetic signature of Neolithic expansionism. Haplogroup K, the most common sub-clade of haplotype U8, or Khatrine (Greek ‘pure’) is a medium sized clan and comprises some 10% of the population of Europe. Khatrine originated 12-15,000 years ago in the wooded plains of north-east Italy and spread from there to central and east Europe making up a sizeable fraction of the European and West Asian lineages. It comprises 6% of European and Near East populations, 16% of the Druze, 12% of the population of Kurdistan, and 32% of Askenhazi Jews. Ancient DNA shows a presence in pre-pottery Neolithic B in Syria circa 6000 BC and skeletons of early European farmers around 5500-5300 BC. A woman from an Amorite tomb at Tell Ashara in Syria is dated at 2650-2450 BC. The indication is that Neolithic culture spread from its points of origin by migration. European distributions of clan Khatrine show 17.5 to 15.3% of the French in Perigord, 13.3% in Norway and Bulgaria, some 12.5% in Belgium, 11% in Georgia, and 10% in Austria and Great Britain. The clan Jasmine (Persian ‘flower’), or haplogroup J, is the second largest of the European clans and the only one with an origin outside Europe. Arose some 45,000 years ago in the Near East and the Caucasus and associated with peoples who migrated into Europe. Comprises 12% of the European population and were among the first farmers (Neolithic) bringing agriculture and herding from the Middle East around 8,500 years ago. Have 12% distribution in the Near East, 11% in Europe, 8% in the Caucasus, and 6% in North Africa. The foregoing are the seven major mitochondrial lineages for modern Europeans, but may now constitute 10 to 12 with the addition of haplotypes I, M, and W. Some 29 additional clan mothers have been identified (Sykes, 2001) and these are named (Fufei, Ina, Aiyana/Ai, Yumi, Nene, Naomi, Una, Uta, Ulrike, Ulla, Ulaana, Lara, Lamia, Latasha, Malxshmi, Emiko, Gaia, Chochmingwu/Chie, Digigonasee/Sachi, Makeda, Lingarine, Lubaya, Limber, Lila, Lungile, Latifa, and Layla.

Haplogroup U originates with a woman from haplogroup R around 55,000 years ago. This group has several sub-groups or sub-clades. Haplogropu U1, or clan Una, is mostly from the Middle East and Mediterranean with a scattering in Europe plus Georgia in the Caucasus. Haplogroup U2, called Uta, is common in south Asia but with a low frequency in central and west Asia. Among 30,000 year old hunter-gatherers in southern Russia. Haplogroup U3, called Uma, has very low levels in Europe of only 1%, with 2.5% in the Near East, central Asia with 1%, the Caucasus 6%, Georgia 4.2%. However, the Lithuanian, Polish, Spanish Romany populations Uma shows between 35-56.6%. Haplogroup U4, or Ulrike, has its origin in the European Upper Palaeolithic of around 25,000 years ago. Its wide distribution is the result of the expansion of modern humans into Europe before the last Glacial Maximum. The level in the Caucasus is 8.3%. Haplotype U5 is an extremely ancient clan found in European remains of Homo sapiens. The oldest in Britain is Cheddar Man of 30-50,000 (possibly 65,000) years ago. Europeans are 11% with 10% amongst European Americans. This haplogroup predates the end of the Ice Ages and the expansion of agriculture in Europe. The group is calculated to have arisen at Delphi in Greece some 45-50,000 years ago. Date human remains from the mesolithic have been found in England, Germany, Lithuania, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Sweden, France, as well as the far north Saami, Finns, and also Estonians. Haplogroup U6, called Ulla, is common in north Africa with a maximum of 29% amongst Algerian Berbers. Europe levels are at 10% with the Canary Islands at 18%. The group entered north Africa from the near East some 30,000 years ago, having arrived from west Africa. The estimate of its origin is between 25,000 and 66,000 BP but it appears to be specific for north Africa. Haplogroup U7, called Ulaana, is lacking in many European populations. The possible homeland of the group is the Indian Gujarat and Iran with Gujarat showing 12% and Iranians 10%. The group shows some 4% in the near East and 5% in Pakistan. The clan of Ulrike (German ‘Mistress of All’), who was not one of the original seven ‘mothers’, lived about 18,000 years ago in the cold refuges of the Ukraine. It European population numbers 2% and are found mainly in the east and the north with high levels in the Baltic region and Scandinavia.

Haplogroup A is the clan of Aiyana, founder of the four major maternal clans that colonised north and south America, originated in east Asia 18,000 years ago. They crossed the land bridge across the Bering Straits and thence to the Great Plains. The descendants of the four clans, were the initial population of the Americas. These four clans were Chochmingwu, Djigonasee, Aiyana, and Ina. Some 1% of native Americans are clan Xenia which originated on the borders of Europe and Asia. All four clans are still found in modern Siberia and Alaska but clan Ina is only found in south and central America. In the far east of Asia the predominant clan is Djigonasee. The far east of Asia also has representatives of the clans Ina, Aiyana, Fufei, Yumi, Nene, Malaxshmi, Emiko, and Gaia. Haplogroup X diverged from Haplogroup N and further diverged some 30,000 years ago. The group comprises 2% of the population of Europe, the Near East, and north Africa. The population expanded after the last glacial maximum some 21,000 years ago. The greatest concentration is found amongst the Druze who are a minority people in Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria.  In north America haplotype X totals 3% but for the Algonquin clan it is 25%, the Sioux at 15%, the Nuu-Chah-Nulh are 11-13%, the Navajo at 7%, and the Yakama are 5%.

The term ‘Eve’ is a “…cute and newsworthy but badly misleading way that mixed religion and science as mitochondrial Eve.” (Weiss, 2008). As has been made known mitochondria are “…found in all nucleated cells of the body and are concerned with the production and transfer of energy within cells and the production of RNA that is involved in the process of making proteins.” (Foster, 2004). The concept of ‘Eve’, even true in a restricted sense, can also be muddled and misleading (Lewin, 1987). Mitochondrial or mtDNA is used to reconstruct family or phylogenetic trees. Those family trees can be inferred from the data derived from mtDNA studies which in essence trace maternal inheritance. The problem is that mitochondrial Eve of African origin, some 200,000 years ago, is not necessarily the same thing as the last common ancestor (Lewin, 1987). A number of misconceptions have arisen out of the mitochondrial Eve concept. Firstly, a major misconception is that (a) if all women alive today are descended in a direct unbroken female line then (b), it is ‘Eve’ that was the only woman alive at that time (Dawkins, 2004). Secondly, mitochondrial Eve is not the most recent ancestor shared by all humans. The actual fact is that mitochondrial Eve is the most recent common matrilineal ancestor, and not the most recent common ancestor or MRCA, making all humans “…alive today share a surprisingly recent common ancestor, perhaps within the last 5,000 years…” (Rohde, 2004). There has arisen confusion of most recent common ancestor with the concept of most recent common ancestor in the purely female line. To be correct it must be stated “…only that Mitochondrial Eve is the most recent woman of whom it can be said that all modern humans are descended from her in the female line only.” (Dawkins, 2001).The ‘Eve’ sobriquet is somewhat unfortunate because it assumes that the only woman on earth would create an evolutionary bottle-neck. This original ‘Eve’ could not have been the only woman because she would have had numerous companions of both sexes.

It is established that we all share “…descent from a common African gene pool…this gene pool probably existed between 200,000 and 100,000 years ago.” (Cann, 1997). It is from this ancestral source that anatomically modern humans arose, and whose migratory waves into other continents eventually replaced older populations of humans. New Guinea was originally colonised some 40,000 years ago by a group of 18 cIans founded therefore by 18 different females. Within clan variation would have arisen after each founding clan mother arrived in the region which begs the question what connection has mitochondrial Eve have with the origin of modern humans? Tentative interpretations seem to fit the known fossil record thus “…mitochondrial Eve would also be the first modern human female, and the date of 200,000 years would mark the origin of Homo sapiens sapiens.” (Lewin,1987).  In genetic terms there is a need to identify the lineages of humans that are basal to the mtDNA tree. The problem becomes one of proving that a “…mitochondrial mother gave rise to an unbroken line of female descendants, whose genes we carry in us today.” (Cann, 1997). Consideration can be given to the development of totemism through prehistory in relation to the social evolution of matriarchy, mother right, and totemic clan society, recognising the basis of  woman’s evolution is “…the priority of the maternal clan system or matriarchy.” (Reed, 1978).      TheMitochondrial Eve’ gene pool is supposed to have originated in Africa around 200,000 to 100,000 years ago (Cann, 1997) and thence modern humans around 150,000 years ago (Weiss, 2008), with the transition to modern humanity in Africa between 140,000 and 100,000 years ago (Lewin, 1987). The Out of Africa migrations of these modern humans occurred between 95,000 and 45,000 years ago (Endicott, 2009). In the case of Europe the seven founding clan mothers migrated into Europe between 55,000 and 10,000 years before present (Sykes, 2001). Other maternal clans were in Australia circa 55,000 BP, hither Asia around 45,000 BP, in New Guinea 40,000 BP, and the Americas around, if not before, 30,000 years ago. It is now possible to relate these maternal clans, and their migrations to an archaeological timescale.

Matrilineal surnames, or matrinames, are mother-line surnames inherited from mother to daughter, to daughter, and are similar to the more familiar patrilineal surnames or patrinames (Sykes, 2001). The matrinames existed before patrinames since even before 1600 BC. Maternal surname means mother’s surname not matriname. It has been established that mitochondrial DNA or mtDNA is handed down from the mother to her child whereas the Y chromosome (Y-DNA) is from father to son. It follows that a patriname is handed down from father to son with their built in Y-DNA, and the matriname is handed down from the mother to daughter with their built in mtDNA

2 c.  Stages of Social Evolution

The tribe can be compared to a multicellular organism that evolved from a primitive horde. This process occurred on the basis of a sexual division of labour that was determined by the laws of production. This evolutionary development was effected by the rule of exogamy which was supplemented by mimetic magic, and “…projected ideologically in the form of zoomorphic ancestor worship.” (Thomson, 1978). The fundamental rules of totemic society are those that regulate marriage and sexual intercourse. There are three social elements of totemism which are the blood feud, the rule of exogamy, and descent. However, blood kinship destroys rather than generates the phenomenon of totemism, which makes it necessary to get behind blood kinship to find the origins of totemism. In the beginning therefore “…rudimentary totemism was the basis of a social system founded on artificial associations with an animal or plant…kinless in haracter…” (Gomme, 1908).


Lewis Henry Morgan.

Lewis Henry Morgan (1818-1881) was an American ethnologist and anthropologist was the first to discover the correspondence between native American totem groups and the ancient Roman gentile organisations (Bebel, 1904). Morgan’s analysis of the social evolution of culture was a theory of unilineal evolution comprising three basic phases of development. Morgan divided the history of mankind into three epochs of savagery, barbarism and therefore lower, medium, and higher stages (Bebel, 1904). For Morgan the savage stage corresponded to the hunter-gatherer mode, the barbaric stage with agriculture and metal working, culminating with civilisation with writing. These stage themselves were further sub-divided. The sub-divided stages comprised Lower Savagery, Middle Savagery, Upper Savagery, Lower Barbarism, Middle Barbarism, Upper Barbarism, and Civilisation. These stages were then correlated with patterns of family, marriage and political organisation he stated “…it is undeniable that portions of the human family existed in a state of savagery, other portions in a state of barbarism, and still others in a state of civilisation, it seems equally so that these three distant conditions are connected with each other in a natural as well as necessary sequence of progress. (Morgan, 1977). The epoch of Lower Savagery corresponded to the Lower (5000,000 – 1.75 million YA), and Middle Palaeolithic (400,000 – 70,000 BP), the 99% primeval condition of humankind, where the basic feature of existence was dependence on wild sources of food supply (Clarke, 1946). Modern populations of neanthropus lived in the epoch of higher savagery during the Upper Palaeolithic (35,000 BP – 12,000 BC) The lithic cultural periods were the Chatelperronian to the Aurignacian of Cro-Magnon man to the Gravettian, on to the Solutrean and thence the Magdalenian.

It was Lewis Henry Morgan who discovered that all “…existing peoples have family relations and systems of relationships that differ markedly from our own…but which must have prevailed generally among all peoples at a remote period of civilisation.” (Bebel, 1904).  Furthermore, the similarities shown by Amerindians, Aborigines of India, and Hindustan indicate that similar systems must have existed everywhere originally. Moreover, studies in the Americas and Australia proved that “…social and sex relations constituted the foundation for the development of all nations of the world.” (Bebel, 1904). Lewis Henry Morgan argued that during the epoch of Savagery, all women were polyandrous and all men were polygamous, implying that wives and children were held in common ownership. For Morgan the evolutionary sequence started with the epoch of savagery, in which promiscuity and brother and sister incest was common (Harris, 1968). Morgan therefore postulated that the consanguinous family, as a higher form of sexual relationship, developed out of the general promiscuous state (Bebel, 1904).  However, in the later stages of savagery, promiscuity and incest were replaced by group marriage. The period of Barbarism saw the creation of more advanced technology, domestication of animals and the matrisib. The matrisib was a form of social organisation in which clans, phatries, and confederacies were established through matrilineal descent (Harris, 1968). This arrangement permitted marriage groups on a generational basis. Examples can be seen in the Indian and Amerindian systems of kinship where a sister or brother can never be the mother and father of the same child. A similar arrangement existed for the ancient Etruscans, Lycians, Cretans, Egyptians, and Athenians. I regard to the ancient Semitic mythology Adam and Eve were not actual individuals but were the names of the gentes constituting the Jews in prehistoric times. The family forms of savagery and barbarism were characterised by singular social and sex relations and it was Bachofen and Morgan who discovered independently that “…in primeval society the relations of the sexes differed vastly from those prevalent during historic times and among modern civilised nations.” (Bebel, 1904). It was Morgan’s notion that the origin of civilisation was derived from marriage and kinship. It was the conflict between the various formulations posited by Morgan that came to known as the mother-right/father-right controversy.

According to Morgan (1907), therefore, descent within the ancient gens is through the female line with a supposed female ancestor implying a common gentile name. The gens came into being upon three main conceptions: (1) a bond of kin; (2) pure lineage through female descent, and; (3), non-intermarriage between clan members. It is possibly worth distinguishing clans of matrilineal descent, the possible older system, from the gens where the offspring belong to the father’s group, and within clan subdivisions of a social, educational, and religious duties to the community, and where invariably “…clans and gens are exogamous.” (Hawkes, 1965). Further evidence for the gens was found in Greece and Rome where the gens was found to be extremely ancient. Such was the antique and obsolescent character of the gens that they comprised all persons of the same gentile name, as in Australia, America and Africa all persons “…bearing the same totem name belong to that totem kin.” (Lang, 1893).

3.  Matriarchy           

Matriarchy is group power residing with the women or mothers of a community. Matriarchy is a society in which women, especially those who are mothers, have the central roles of leadership, especially political and moral, as well as control of property. Etymologically the term is derived from the Greek mater and archein which means ‘to rule’ and so “…matriarchy means government by mothers, or more broadly, government and power in the hands of women.” (Adler, 2006). More accurately matriarchy can be construed as meaning, “…a shorthand description for any society in which women’s power is equal or superior to men’s and in which the culture centres around valuses and life events described as feminine.” (Eller, 2000).

Sometimes confused with gynocracy the term is derived from the Latin matri (mother) and archon (governor or ruler). Matriarchy is sometimes called gynarchy, gynocracy, gynaecocracy, or gynocentric society (Eller, 1995; Geottner-Abendroth, 2003; 2005), with gynocentrism meaning “…dominant or exclusive focus on women…” as opposed to androcentrism (Young, 1985). These terms are taken to mean ‘government by women over men’ , plus ‘women’s social supremacy’, or ‘government by one woman’, ‘female dominance’, even ‘women as the ruling class’, with some matriarchies being “…a strong gynocracy.” (Diner, 1965), with ‘…women monopolising government.” (Diner, 1965).  The term gynaecocracy, in use since the seventeenth century, means ‘rule by women’ and is derived ultimately from Aristotle and Plutarch. Matriarchal societies “…are often described as egalitarian.” (Le Bow, 1984).

Matrifocality is distinct from matriarchy and means women hold a pre-eminent place in kinship structures. It occurs in societies where maternal authority is prominent in domestic relations. This is due to the husband joining the wife’s family, rather than the wife moving to the husband’s village or tribe. Existing matrifocal cultures include the matrilineal Bunts of Mangalore, the Udupi in South India, and the system is common in Kerala but now rarely practised. In China the Mosuu of Lake Luga are matrifocal. Semi-matriarchal customs still exist in the Western Sahara. The custom is found in the Polama archipelago of Guinea Bissau. In South America the Guajaro tribes of Colombia and the Caribbean coast of Venezuela are matrifocal, and their children are raised by the mother’s brothers (avunculism). In Judaism the religion is traditionally inherited through the mother. If the mother is Jewish the child is Jewish, but if the father is Jewish and the mother not then the child is not considered Jewish.

Matriarchy is a gynocentric form of society with power residing in the mothers of the community and is the opposite of patriarchy. Often confused with gynococracy the concept was discovered by Joseph Francis Lafiteau (1681-1746) who named it ‘ginocratie’. The term is derived from the Greek mater (mother) and archein (to rule). The word gynecocracy means ‘wife’s rule’ but the implication is not only ‘power of female’ but also ‘power of female as a mother. In matriarchy what is termed the ‘uterine family’ is the elementary social group consisting exclusively of mothers and children (Reed, 1954).. The term ‘matriarchy’ emerged into common usage after the publication of the studies on ‘Mother-right’ (Bachofen, 1861), which stressed: (a) children’s descent was traced only through the mothers; that (b) property was passed only from mothers to children; and (c) this gave women their ‘mother-right’ and dominant social status. The implication is not only ‘power of female’ but also ‘power of female as mother’, and therefore women’s power as motherhood and maternal status in the community. Among nineteenth century scholarship there developed the hypothesis of matriarchy representing an early stage of human development that is now mostly lost in prehistory. There is no consensus on the proposition and it has been, and still is disputed, even though its existence was proven by Morgan and Engels.

Matriarchy has near synonyms in matrifocal and matricentric implying a community having a mother as head of the family or household. Both Bachofen and Morgan confined the concept of ‘mother-right’ to within the household, and regarded it as the basis of female influence upon the whole of society. Twentieth century opinion refer to are gynocentric formations and gynocentrism from gyno- for gynaeco-, where the dominant or exclusive focus is on women. Gimbutas spoke of a women centred society surrounding Goddess worship in Neolithic Europe and coined the term matristic to describe communities exhibiting influence or dominance by the mother figure.

3 a.  Matriarchy and History

The archaeological hypothesis of the theory of ancient matriarchy was recognised by Bachofen (1861) and investigated by Morgan. Jane Ellen Harrison studies myths, oral traditions, and the female cult figures of the Neolithic. Marija Gimbutas developed the theory of the ‘Old European Culture’ in Neolithic Europe. On this basis it has been postulated that matriarchal traits were replaced by the patriarchal system of the Proto-Indo-Europeans that spread from the Bronze Age.


Marija Gimbutas

Some theories argue that all past human societies were matriarchal (Diner, 1930; 1965), and that the ancient Great Goddess was worshipped widely (Eisler, 1987). It will be seen that there are two institutions common to matriarchal society and its customs and they are (a) totemism and (b) the primitive kinship system  following on from the fact that “…matriarchy was the necessary first form of social organisation because women were not only the procreators of new life but also the chief producers of the necessities of life.” (Reed, 1978). Furthermore, wherever matriliny is still in force we find that patriarchal institutions were either non-existent or only weakly developed. This raises three important issues (Reed, 1978) and these are: (1) opponents of matriarchy do not deny the existence of the matrilineal kinship system which then begs the question of origin. The conundrum becomes “…if not from the ancient matriarchal epoch.” (Reed, 1978), then from when?; then (2) why has the passage from matrilineal to patrilineal always been in that singular direction and never the other way around?; and (3) why is the ancient matrilineal descent system only found today in primitive regions but never in patriarchal advanced societies? It is because modern patriarchal societies have long forgotten and lost their matriarchal origins (Reed, 1978), because it was not until the patriarchal family “…made it appearance in history that the individual father and mother emerged from the undifferentiated clan collective.” (Reed, 1986).

The original prehistoric appearance of the matrilineal family and the practice of exogamy implies also that “…the original and persistent association of the social and cultic aspects of totemism must be accepted (Hawkes, 1965). When the mother was considered the head of the family the evolved matriarchate determined the foundation of family relations and inheritance (Bebel, 1904). In anthropological and archaeological terms there is a strong case to recognise that the “…entire totemic life of…surviving Stone Age cultures perpetuates something of what was evolved by Palaeolithic man between ten and fifty thousand years ago.” (Hawkes, 1965). The Lycians, whose practices were part Cretan, part Carrian, recognised maternal law and reckoned descent through the female line. The powers of the matriarchate was recognised in all “…social relations of the ancient peoples…the Babylonians…Egyptians…Assyrians…Greeks before the Heroic Age…Italic tribes before the founding of Rome, the Scythians…Gauls…Iberians…Cantabrians, the Germans and others.” (Bebel, 1904). The existence of the matriarchate means logically the existence of a matrimonium rather than a patrimonium therefore of mater familias rather than pater familias. It was, at the time, a motherland where the gens were founded on the common ownership of property, and where matricide was considered a heinous crime.

The history of matriarchy in the Bronze Age of Minoan Crete and Sumer shows that “…many scholars are convinced that Crete was a matriarchy ruled by a queen-priestess.”  (Rohrlich, 1984), which was overrun and colonised before 1500 BC, whereas in the early Sumerian city states matriarchy left more than a trace (Thomson, 1965). In the Roman Empire with regard to the Germanic tribes Tacitus believed “…that there resides in women an element of holiness and prophesy, and so they do not scorn to ask their advice or lightly disregard their replies. In the reign of deified Vespasian we saw Veleda long honoured by many Germans as a divinity, whilst even earlier they showed a similar reverence untouched by flattery or any pretence of turning women into goddesses.” (Tacitus, 98 AD), as well as saying the nations of the Sitones where women were the ruling sex. The Iroquois League between 1000 and 1450 AD was a confederacy of five or six tribes, where decisions were taken through what may have been a matriarchy or gynaecocracy (Jacobs, 1991). During the nineteenth century the notion of matriarchy was defined by Joseph-Francois Lafiteau (1681-1746) who referred to it as ginecocratie. The controversy over ‘primal’ or preghistoric matriarchy began as a reaction to the works of Johan Jakob Bachofen  (1861). It was suggested that Neolithic female cult-figures suggested that many ancient societies might have been matriarchal. Therefore it was Bachofen who put forward the concept of a “woman centred society” (1861) which impacted on the views of Jane Harison, Sir Arthur Evans, Walter Burkert, Lewis H. Morgan, and James Mellaart.

3 b.  Matriarchy and Feminism

Early human society was certainly organised along matrilineal lines with descent traced through ties of kinship and motherhood. Nevertheless, matriarchy is not some form of a ‘lost paradise’. Women excluded men from social life rather than exerting control over them. Many historical and mythological examples reflect the transition from matrilineal to patriarchal organisation. This transition is clearly shown in the Greek myth of Orestes who killed his mother Clytemnestra in revenge for her killing his father Agamemnon.   Women in ancient Egypt, according to Diodorus, had command over their men (Stone, 1976), and Elamite documents after 200 BC detail mother to daughter inheritance. Ancient Minoan portraits of priestesses show that ancient sexual customs in female religions encouraged matrilineal forms of descent and gave women power over men stone, 1976).

Mother right in a matriarchal society means “…the centrality of women in an egalitarian society…” (Rohrlich, 1984) where is therefore a “…non-alienated society: a society in which women, those who produce the next generation, define motherhood, determine the environment in which the next generation is reared.” (Love, 1983). However, with the matriarchal Amazons we can see them as “…an extreme feminist wing.” (Diner, 1965). The most well known archaeological arguments in favour of the Goddess and the existence of the ancient Goddess religion appeared in the 1970’s with the works of Marija Gimbutas, Merlin Stone, and Starhawk. Gimbutas was an eminent Eastern Uropean archaeologist (Hutton, 1997), and her important works were Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe (1996) and Language of the Goddess (1991). Both of these works interpret the Upper Palaeolithic (30,000 to 7,000 BC) and Neolithic (7,000 to 3000 BC) using the evidence of carved figurines, ceramic figures, pottery, shrines, and cave art.  The essential argument is that Neolithic society was woman centred. The main claim is that the Indo-Europeans invaded these matristic cultures during the Bronze Age an proceeded to suppress the Goddess religion.

 3 c.  Matriarchy and Myth

Evidence from mythology indicates that certain ancient myths do expose ancient matrilineal customs existing prior to historical records. Translations of the Greek Myths (Graves, 1979) attest to the ancient Lycians reckoning by matrilinear descent as did the Carians. In Greek mythology the royal function was a male privilege, but the devolution of power was passed through women, and thus the future king only inherited his power by marriage to the queen heiress. The Homeric myths illustrate this where the noblest Greek men compete for the hand of Helen for the throne of Sparta.  Matriarchy  and its message were used by Bachofen (1815-1887) to prove the existence of prehistoric matriarchy.  The work Bachofen’s Das Mutterecht or Mother Right, claimed it was possible to prove the existence of ancient matriarchies by comparing the historical record to the Greek myths (Bachofen, 1992). Bachofen viewed myths as reflections of a prehistoric stage of thought and that social life began in an age of primordial promiscuity (Harris, 1968). The claim was that only maternal kinship could be demonstrated and that women were subject to the sexual whims of men. Women’s attempt to liberate themselves ushered in the era of Mother-right or gynaeocracy, using Lycian and Amazonian myths, plus Athenian cults of the nature-mother, to prove the point (Bachofen, 1992). This led to the establishment of women-led families and the rule of gynocrats.

Sir Henry Maine was a harsh critic of the theories of Bachofen and put forward the Father-Right hypothesis. In the view of Maine (1861) the theory of the evolutionary sequence was not valid, thinking it sufficient to generalise from the history of European nations (Harris, 1968). In the view of Maine the original European family had been patrilineal, and that modern states evolved from as era of lawlessness with the patriarchal family as the model. John McLennan put forward ideas on evolution that synthetised the conflictiing arguments of the mother-right/father-right controversy. In so doing he contributed to the ideas about the beginnings of goddess archaeology. McLennan saw early populations (1865) as living under harsh conditions and struggling to survive which included competition for shelter, food etc that led to an increase in female infanticide. The resulting shortage of women led to them being shared amongst men. This led to speculations about polyandry and the first matriarchies. The era of primitive mothers came to an end with the transition from polyandry to polygyny as various groups began to practise wife capture. Jane Harrison (1903) was a British classical scholar who used the model proposed by McLennan to propose the idea that a peaceful, women centred culture pre-dated Classical Greece (Hutton, 1997).

It is known that women hunters and warriors are frequently found in folktale and myth. In mythological terms the Palaeolithic savagery of the Pleistocene hunter gatherers was also referred to as the ‘Golden Age’ (Hesiod, 1981; Bullfinch, 1965). The myth of the Golden Age reflects the tradition of tribal subservience to the Bee-goddess (Graves, 1979), and savagery of course being pre-agricultural. However primitive man “…did not share the disdain of modern men for the work of women. It was precisely through the technological advances made by women that men were finally liberated from reliance on hunting and moved to higher forms of labour activities.” (Reed, 1986). Similarly, the ‘Silver Age’ correlated with Neolithic barbarism with its pastoralism, agricultural cultivation, and sexual division of labour (Bullfinch, 1965; Hesiod, 1981). Indeed the Neolithic crafts “…have been presented as household industries. Yet the craft traditions are not individual, but collective traditions. The experience and wisdom of all the community’s members are constantly being pooled…The occupation is public; the rules are the result of communal experience…And the Neolithic economy as a whole cannot exist without cooperative effort.” (Childe, 1951). The myth of the Silver Age reflects matriarchal conditions which persisted into classical time with the Picts (Graves, 1979). The “Brazen Age” corresponded to time of archaeology with the beginnings of civilisation and class society with the surviving priestesses and priesthood of the Neolithic

The Amazons accepted the leadership of an elected Queen, Hippolta among them, whilst they conducted raids in Asia Minor and the nearby islands (which indicates a seafaring capability).  As such they were accomplished horse riders and skilled archers.  In peaceful times these warrior women built their gracious capital of Themiscyra as well as cultivating their lands and hunting. Sarmatian warrior women hunted on horseback alongside their husbands and took to the battlefield in times of war.  They wore the same attire as their men and adopted the maxim that no girl shall marry until she has killed a man in battle. These Amazon women displayed the cultural and social practices consistent among Sauro-Sarmatian nomads.  Their main occupations were hunting and fighting with their bows and their Amazonian crescent shaped shields, axes and spears.  All were skilled horse riders.  According to Herodotus the women of the Sauromati did not constitute a separate people like the Thermodon Amazons. As nomads the Sarmatians had no fixed habitation.  Nonetheless they still had a defined social organisation that divided them into nobles, vassals and many slaves.  Social stratification is evident in the Ural burial sites.  The domestic status of Sarmatian women was reduced and they were little better than slaves in the matrimonial home.  With regard to marriage they were divided into exogamous tribes for marriage purposes, with marriage within the tribe seen as incestuous.  Despite their ferocious warlike attitudes to tribal enemies these sarmatian women did all the outdoor work.  They tended the sheep, ploughed and reaped the land, herded the cattle, but when attacked they fought as savagely as the men.  The Sauro-Sarmatian warrior nomads practised the typical clan and tribal cults of pre-Zoroastrian Iran. Their personified deities were those of nature, the sky, the earth, and fire.  Some of the cult practices may have been inversions (reversal of gender roles) of ritual initiations reserved for maidens.  Their deities were related to social concepts pertaining to war or the domestic hearth.  With regard to burials fire cult practices are in evidence, and Sarmatian graves are representative of a military oriented nomadic existence.  Social stratification and a more defined class structure developed and was accelerated by contact with Greek and Roman trade, industry, and agriculture.

Matrilineal patterns are discernible in the Celtic myths of the Welsh Mabinogi stories, especially that of Cullwch and Olwen, as well as the Irish Ulster Cycle where Cuchulain is trained by a warrior woman called Scathach, and whereby he becomes lover to her and her daughter. While king Ailill may wear the crown of Connacht it is his wife Medb who holds the real power. Similar motifs are found in Breton stories, as well as the legends of King Arthur. Similar echoes of ancient matrilinearity lie behind the plots of various fairy tales and vestiges of folk tradition. Other ancient matrilineal culture patterns were found in ancient Elam where the succession to the throne was matrilineal, with the nephew succeeding the maternal uncle. In ancient Egyptian dynasties royalty was carried by women. There is evidence that matrilinearity existed in pre-Islamic Arabia, as well as among the Yemeni Amorites, and some Nabateans of north Arabia. The Tuaraeg are a Berber ethnic matrilineal people. In South Africa dynastic descent and inheritance of the Rain Queen are subject to matrilineal primogeniture. Also in west Africa the Akan and their sub-group the Ashanti are traditionally matrilineal. In China original Chinese surnames are derived matrilineally but by the time of the Shang Dynasty they had become patrilineal. Archaeological data from the Neolithic period indicates that Chinese matrilinear clans evolved into patrilinear property owning families (Sykes, 2001). It is obvious that matrilineal structures still survive in many regions of the globe. It is the very persistence that “…formerly matrilineal descent and matrilineal marriage were general and the status of women very much higher.” (Hawkes, 1965) as shown in north America, Africa, Dravidian India, as well as relics and echoes in Melanesia, Micronesia and Indonesia where the “…widespread prevalence of various combinations of clan structure, exogamy, totemism and matrilineal descent encourages a belief in their extreme antiquity” (Hawkes, 1965).

3 d.  From Matriarchy to Patriarchy

Despite patriarchal theories, which tend to be Eurocentric and western views, there are a number of matriarchal societies among contemporary observed peoples. Examples include the Nagovisi of Bougainvillea in the South Pacific, the Khasi of Meghalaya of India, and the Machingnenga in Peru. In addition there are a large number of societies where women enjoy full sexual and economic control. These include several Pacific and Native American cultures such as the Pueblo Indians (Zuni, Laguna, and Hopi); as well as pre-nineteenth century Iroquois and Innu, as well as in Vanatinai and Hawaii. It needs noting that those patriarchal theorists who reject matriarchy are also those who fail to understand totemism because “…it was the female sex that instituted it.” (Reed, 1978). Certain contemporary views in anthropology have decried matriarchy as a non-subject with theories of kinship and totemism relegated to a type of limbo, which has led to a “…vaporisation of primitive institutions.” (Reed, 1978 – from subject to non-subject. The patriarchal system has sometimes been referred to as the so-called male-preference primogeniture.

The fratriarchy was the cooperative association of men which “…represents the growing achievement of the totemic system which was instituted by women.” (Reed, 1978). Within the matriarchal system the fratriarchal  brotherhood have way eventually to a new social order that had new relations of production at is basis, thus a “…new kind of competitive struggle for private ownership of wealth and property.” (Reed, 1954).`This process was a transitional phase in the movement from the totemic matrilineal clan proper to the advent of class society (Lindsay, 1965). At the beginning, when unrecognised individual parenthood was not a significant issue, it was the “…progressive definition of individual parenthood, determined by the growth of individual rights of property that destroyed collective marriage.” (Thomson, 1978). Eventually blood kinship became antagonistic to totemism and replaced it in time with the rise of property owning class society. If the appearance of blood feud destabilised the clan and tribal structure then the researches of Morgan, Bachofen, and McLennan confirm “…that such a wavering marks a transition from female to male descent and not conversely.” With totemism the “…tribal order and the natural order were parts of one another. Thus totemism is the ideology of savagery, the lowest stage in the evolution of human society.” (Thomson, 1977). It was during the period of Palaeolithic savagery that the “…persistent affirimation of primitive man in the totemistic stage that he is an animal or plant…has in fact obscured the other main factor in totemism, the unity of the human group.” (Harrison, 1927). The wider view must include the fact that the “…individualism of early woman from which originated the domestication of animals, the cultivation of fruits and cereals, and the appropriation of such trees and shrubs as were necessary for primitive economics.” (Gomme, 1908).

Property and inheritance had developed and family structure was undergoing transition to the patriarchy which meant for men, once they had achieved ownership of their own transmissible property, “…they could affect the full transition from the matrifamily to the one-father family…the new social order founded upon private property and the father family vanquished the matriarchy.” (Reed, 1986). The development of the patriarchal and therefore monogamous family was according to Engles (1972) “…the first form of the family to be based not on natural but on economic conditions – on the victory of private property over primitive, natural communal property.” It is interesting to note at this juncture that the origin of the “…word chattel, which means any object of personal ownership is derived from the Old French chattelcattle has the same origin. Chatel has its ultimate etymology in the Latin caput, or head. Chatel in ancient France referred to the property of the greatest value, head property. Cattle were so much the chief form of property among our pastoral ancestors that our specialised word for personal property grew from the same root.” (Hoebel, 1949). Morgan also believed that human society has originated as a “…horde living in promiscuity.” (Morgan, 1877) with no real family structure, and therefore regarded humankind as developing from a common origin to a common destiny. Morgan was one of the first to investigate systematically the kinship structure as the basic organising principle in pre-urban societies. For others the merit of Morgan’s work is that it “…has shown us totemic society in its highest form of development.” (Gomme, 1908). Over time Morgan’s three stages of social evolution, which was a comprehensive evolutionary approach, was substitutes by descriptive and empirical studies of contemporary primitive peoples in various parts of the world (Reed,

4.  Matrilineal Descent and Clan Exogamy

4 a.  Matriliny

Matrilinearity is a more common form of female pre-eminence in society and is distinct from matriarchy. With matrilinearity children are identified in terms of their mother rather than their father. Matrilineality is a system in which lineage is traced through the mother and maternal ancestors with a matriline or a mother line. A matriline is a line of descent from female ancestor to a descendant, of either sex, in which the individuals in all intervening generations are mothers. Matrilineal descent, therefore, is in contrast to patrilineal descent. The matriline of historical nobility has females of enatic (related on the mothers side) or uterine ancestry which matches patrilineal agnatic ancestry. Several anthropologists prefer the terms matrifocal and matricentral to matrilineal societies. Some even introduce the term avunculocal when referring to indigenous American, Asian, African tribes, as well the Berbers, Tuaregs, and Sardinians. Matrifocal or matricentral is used to describe societies where the mother is the head of a family or household. This scenario does not necessarily imly domination by women or mothers but one where the kinship structure of the system is one where mothers assume structural prominence (Smith, 2002).

With hunting indicating a division of labour within matrilineal descent groups the clan is centred on women with children members of the clan of their birth (Thomson, 1978). As clan membership is determined by descent and reckoned originally through the mother, and this instances matrilineal to patrilineal not the reverse, then matrilinearity could preponderate among hunting peoples of ancient times. In addition it becomes obvious that, in a matrilineal society descent implies that “…where the mother is the nearest of kin to her children in a sense quite different to that in our society, they share in and inherit from her all her possessions.” (Malinowski, 1961). In such societies the basis of social organisation was, indeed, the woman, her children and thence their children. The old women were the elders and heads of society though eventually men developed a warrior caste, a fighting organisation accompanied by techniques which eventually swallowed up the pre-existing matrilineal kinship system. Group membership in some cultures is inherited matrilineally and includes many ancient and contemporary cultures. In North America matrilineal peoples include the Huron, Cherokee, the Iroquois Confederacy, Hopi, Navajo, and the Gitksan. Old World cultures included Ancient Egypt. It is found among the Minangkabau of West Smatra in Indonesia, among the Nairs and Kurichiyas of Kerala in India. Also among the Billavas, and Majaveeras of the Kamchatka peninsula. The Pillai caste in Tamil Nadu, as well as the Khasi, the Jaintia and Garo of Meghalaya are also matrilinear. Other examples of matrilineal cultures are found with the Nakhi in China, the Basques, the Alan, and the Tuaregs. The Indo-European peoples were mainly patriarchal and patrilinear.

4 b.  Clans

A clan is a group of people united by an actual or assumed kinship and descent even though actual lineage patterns may be unknown or obscured. A clan shares a stipulation or agreement that there was, or is, a common ancestor who symbolises clan unity, against a background where “…the maternal clan system, which gave an honoured place to women, was also a collectivist order where the members of both sexes enjoyed equality and did not suffer oppression or discrimination (Reed, 1975). When the posited ancestor is not human the totem is referred to as animalian and clans in indigenous societies are likely to be exogamous. In different cultures the clan may mean the same thing as other kin groups such as band or tribe, or be a smaller part of a larger social group.  Examples of clans existing as kin groups are Scottish and Irish clans, Chinese and Japanese clans, Rajput clans, the Nair Clan in India, the Malayala Clan in both India and Pakistan.

The original human communities comprised groups of people who were related to each other, shared a common origin, and during this earliest stage of “…development that a blood relationship is often a figment of the imagination, an imagined relationship to justify the association of people in a tribe.” (Porshnev, 1970). It is at this particular juncture of the process that “…the clan had identified itself with all the species on which it fed…it had no consciousness of itself as distinct from the rest of nature…” (Thomson, 1977). It has been stated that totemism is a “…complex of beliefs and distribution which is based on the mystic self-identification of a human group or individual with some non-human natural kind.” (Marett, 1935). This allows many to claim that they are descendants of some animal of a particular species, the descendants of an imaginary ancestor implying “…the concept of blood relationship, even at the lowest totemism stage is not as natural as it seems.” (Porshnev, 1976). The family at large, the tribe, the clan or sept developed on the basis of a brotherhood under some totemic relationship.. The members of the clan have respect for one another’s lives and claim “…a common mother or a common father.” (Reinach, 1909), but where matriarchy was also “…the necessary first form of social organisation because women were not only the procreators of new life but also the chief producers of the necessities of life.” (Reed, 1975). Archaic humans have a social outlook or instinct that goes beyond that of the species and eventually a similar principle protects clansman and totems against violence or caprice.

Clans had their origins as small nomadic bands that migrated to the breeding ground of a useful species of animal or plant. It is assumed that a clan identified with the animal, plant or species it utilised for food. The development of permanent relations between two clans was on exchanges of food, one clan supplying the other, and with the passage of time, it followed that “…with the development of economic and social relations between the two clans, each asserted its distinctive identity in opposition to the other by identifying itself with the species which formed its distinctive contribution to the common food supply (Thomson, 1977). However, for ancient peoples what was also “…common to all of them, what appears to have existed everywhere, is the clan and totemism. The clan is composed of individuals who recognise a common ancestor. It is an extension of the family.” (Renard, 1929). The relationship, the economic arrangement between clans, was one that “…puts them as far as he can on a footing of equality with himself and with his fellows, the members of the same totemic clan.” (Frazer, 1927). Clans were also bands of magicians. Therefore their function as such was to control the phenomena and viscitudes of nature for the common good. This implies the existence of an elaborate social organisation. It is an arrangement based on mutual cooperation involving several clans. Its purpose is nothing less than the systematic control of the surrounding natural world, therefore  under the totemic system “…the various clans or stocks do not live isolated from each other, but are skilled up together within a narrow area, and exert their magic powers for the common good.” (Frazer, 1899).

4.c.  Exogamy

Concerning the origin of exogamy it was McLennan’s eight point hypothesis which postulated (Wake, 1891) that: (1) primitive groups were assumed, when consanguinity was first thought of, to be one stock; (2) marriage was at first unknown; (3) special attachments of children to mothers made for rude family groups, and the rise and consolidation of the system of kinship through women only; (4) a want of balance between the sexes; (5) the practice of wife capture may have given rise to exogamy; (6) the system of capture and female kinship led to the destruction of group homogeneity; (7) stock groups became local tribes, having within them many gentes of different stocks; (8) many groups disappeared in the struggle for existence. A totemic group is usually exogamous stipulating that it is only permitted to marry into another totemic group (Lewis, 1969). Exogamy is the obligation to find a marital partner outside the group of which one is a member. In this way links are formed between clans, tribes and lineages, as well as between village groups. Descent is essentially limited to the regulation of membership of the family, social group of clan, being most pronounced in clan organisation. In other words the practice of exogamy separates the social groups called clans (Rivers, 1926). Friendship and mutual relations are therefore established between such groups because exogamy not only means amity between spouses but also between their kin. In exogamous societies, therefore, a man or woman may not marry who they like because they are involved in a mate selection process according to well defined rules. More especially a man and a woman may not marry anyone within their own totemic group. Exogamy therefore means that marriage outside the group or clan is obligatory. This denies to prospective mates a segment of their society from which they can obtain a husband or a wife. Likewise, the rules of exogamy define a segment of society from whence a spouse must be sought. In general, lineages and clans are exogamous in mating practice, and such a mating and marriage pattern serves a double purpose. In the first place exogamy prevents complications arising from sexual relations with closely related persons or groups. In the second place, and of great importance, exogamy establishes co-operative and amicable relations with other clans, tribes and lineages. In turbulent times this established mutuality can afford much succour and peaceful reception. Mutual co-operation is a characteristic of most totemic and pre-literate societies, and seen in the activities of hunting, food gathering and sharing, as well as protection, support and comfort, thus among “…peoples who possess the clan organisation, kinship carries with it a large mass of social duties…” (Rivers, 1926). Marriage in such situations and societies is seen as an exchange between two clans – for example we can recognise the system of bride price. As a method of exchange of marital partners bride price was described as a pump that forces women, or men, out of their consanguineous groups and redistributes them amongst their affines. Exogamy implies that the occurrence of marriage within a clan is regarded with the same revulsion as an incestuous union or act within the particular society concerned. Exogamous marriage means that with regard to wealth property owning societies marriage alliances become a consideration for individuals, families and lineages. The implication is that in prehistoric societies and cultures that exogamy is inherent in the structure of the totemic clan. Therefore if they were totemic they must have been exogamous. It follows that the tribal system was the initial stage in the social evolution of humankind.

5.  Mother-Right

5 a.  Bachofen and Mutterecht

Johann Jakob Bachofen (1815-1887) was a Swiss antiquarian jurist and anthropologist, who as professor of Roman law at Basel University, demonstrated motherhood was the source of human society as well as postulating the  archaic existence of “mother-right”. In 1861 Bachofen proposed four phases of cultural evolution referred to as Das Mutterecht.  The first stage was haeterism which was a wild nomadic “tellurian” phase regarded as a form of primitive communism and polyamorous. By haeterism was meant a general system of temporary or continued sexual relations outside marriage or the holding of women in common. As for tellurian it is implied that these ancient people were earth inhabitants or hunter gatherers. The dominant deity of this phase was an earthy proto-Aphrodite. The second stage of Das Mutterecht or matriarchal “lunar” phase was based on agriculture and characterised by the emergence of chthonic mystery cults with the dominant deity being an early Demeter. It was Bachofen who stated succinctly that every woman’s womb “…the mortal image of the earth mother Demeter will give brothers and sisters to the children of every other woman; the homeland will know only brothers and sisters and sisters until the day when the development of the paternal system dissolves the undifferentiated unity of the mass…” (Bachofen, 1967).

The next or Dionysian stage was a transitional phase when the preceding traditions became masculinised as patriarchy began to emerge. The dominant deity was now Dionysos. The fourth, or Appollonian period, was the patriarchal “solar” phase where all trace of matriarchal and the Dionysian past is eradicated and modern civilisation emerges. The views of Bachofen were then analysed by Frederick Engels (1891) in the following way. Firstly, man originally lived in a state of sexual promiscuity rather than Bachofen’s mistaken concept of haeterism or concubinage. Secondly, as such promiscuity excludes certainty of paternity, then descent could only be reckoned through the maternal line. This was according to mother-right and the original case amongst all peoples of antiquity. Thirdly, since women as the only recognisable parents of all of the younger generation, they held a highly respectful position that there existed a regular, in Bachofen’s view, a rule of women the gynaecocracy. Fourthly, for Engels, during the transition to monogamy the women belonged to one man exclusively. This involved the violation of primitive religious law, or the traditional right of other men to the same woman, which therefore demand expiation by surrender or purchase of the woman’s indulgence. Bachofen had been inspired by the functional and holistic theories of culture and, for him, descent from the mother only could be recognised as the biological foundation of kinship (Diner, 1965).

5 b.  Principles of Mother-Right

According to Rivers (1926) mother-right is a form of social organisation where the “…rights of a person in relation to other members of his community and to the community as a whole are determined by relationship traced through the mother.” As such the phenomenon is very complex and involves a number of social elements that include descent, kinship and marriage. Some principles of mother-right have been attempted (Kohler, 1897; 1975) and listed as: (1) naming after mother at birth; (2) there is historical evidence of mother-right progressing to father-right; (3) mother-right is factually more probable; (4) that father-right was supposedly brought about by the abduction of women and bride purchase; (5) full mother-right is vital in totemic societies; (6) ancient examples are found among Amerindians and shown by (6a) the rights of mother’s brothers; (6b) if no sons then inheritance passes to brother or sister etc; (6c) marriage prohibitions are not limited to the agnatic (coming from the father) line. It is the fact that the mother gives birth that provides the grounds for mother-right and therefore “…the relation to her is regarded as decisive is so natural that the contrary must seem highly improbable.” (Kohler, 1975; 1897). In terms of exogamy mother-right groups are those where women in a local group are the sexual companions of males from outside the social group of the women (Gomme, 1908). The question arises of what is a ‘mother’? To modern society a ‘mother’ is a woman who gives birth to a child and is not a mother until she has done so but “…in primitive society motherhood was a social function of the female sex; thus all women were actually or potentially ‘the mothers of the community,.” (Reed, 1978).  Often the central structure of a human group would actually be the grand-mother, the core ancestress with her children and grandchildren forming an extended family cluster.

Again it was stated quite succinctly by Frazer (1910) that “…we confuse our word ‘mother’ with the corresponding but by no means equivalent terms in the languages of savages who have the classificatory system. We mean by ‘mother’ a woman who has given birth to a child: the Australian savages mean by ‘mother’ a woman who stands in certain relation to a group of men and women, whether she has given birth to any of them or not.” Mother-right is found among Australian Aboriginal tribes as well as the branches of the Iroquois nation of north America. For them the child belongs to the clan of the mother and to which clan the father does not belong. For example, British Colombian tribes have mother-right and the child has the name of its mother and among the Amerindians of the far north, the Aleuts, Kutchin, and Kenai, mother-right prevails, but the Inuit show a mixed system whereby though father-right exists in theory divorce means the children stay with the mother (Kohler, 1975; 1897). Survivals of mother-right among the Omaha occur as the avunculate, various marriage prohibitions and some subsidiary inheritance rights. Among the Australian Aborigines women look outside their class or totem structure for the sexual mates which leads to localised males moving from female group to female group with the “…development into a system of one of the results of the enforced migratory conditions of early man…” (Gomme, 1908). For Australian Aborigines and mother-right a man “…will call his actual mother Mia, but at the same time he will apply the term not only to other grown women, but to a little girl child, provided they are all belong to the same group…the term Mia expressed the relationship in which she stood to him.” (Spencer, 1889). For one scholar the origin and principle of totemic society was that in was not a kinship system, but was kinless in the sense that “…totemism is essentially a system of social grouping, whose chief characteristic is that it is kinless – that is to say, the tie of totemism is not the tie of blood kinship, but the artificially created associated with natural objects or animals: it takes no account of fatherhood and only reckons with the physical fact of motherhood.” (Gomme, 1908).

6.  The Female Principle in Antiquity and Myth

In the prehistoric Aegean the Minoan ‘Great Goddess’ was worshipped in a society whose women and men were apparently equals. Greek mythology contains numerous traces and references to earlier matrilinear systems. On the periphery of Greek culture there existed the legendary gynocracy of the Amazon society. Earliest Egyptian writings support the concept that there had been a previous egalitarian social organisation. Ancient Egyptian women held property, had positions of power and in religious and social organisations, as well as the right to divorce. Ancient Egyptian lineages could be traced along maternal lines with some Egyptian roots apparent in Palaeolithic culture.

            With regard to goddesses and agriculture of later times it is seen that female deities are conspicuously connected to the agricultural cycle. It can be posited that the Neolithic era was the zenith of the matriarchy and the position of the goddess. Among hunter-gatherer societies women are the gatherers. Rounds of agriculture are seasonal and cyclic in nature, which resembles the female pattern where both women and the earth are potentially fertile (Kessler, E. 1976). Women, like the earth, also have dormant seasons, but still reproduce in due time. In this scenario it is easy to transfer images from the woman to the earth. Virtually every agrarian has such a goddess figure that include among others Isis and Demeter. Each one was accompanied by a “…legend to account for the barren season.” (Kessler, 1976). In one myth Isis travels through Egypt seeking parts of the body of her destroyed husband. Again, for example, Demeter travels to the Underworld in the hope of finding her missing daughter. In ancient Greece and similarly in Rome, women were housebound and took little part in public affairs which provides the paradox “…seen in the fact that those societies which worshipped female deities and had castes of priestesses and female oracles did not necessarily give higher status to the ordinary women.” (Kessler, 1976).

Ceramic artifacts that show sculpted and painted designs that resemble snakes, as well as deer, eggs show that prehistoric Europeans were deeply concerned with various aspects of fertility such as rain, vegetation, and pregnancy (Gimbutas, 1996). It has been argued that the goddess religion, which was presided over by naked priestesses, was worshipped in cave temples (Starhawk, 1989). It has been postulated (Gimbutas, 1991) that some caves were decorated or painted with red ochre to be reminiscent of the womb. Catal Hayuk (6500-5700 BC) in Anatolia is the site excavated that shows the clearest evidence of a prehistoric matriarchal society (Starhawk, 1989). The site contained shrines dedicated to bulls, the heads assumed to symbolise the female reproductive system (Gimbutas, 1991), with some figurines in many birthing positions.

 6 a.   Amazons and Warrior Women

The  Amazons were a fabled nation of warrior women, a fabulous race of warlike women who were always located on the borders of the known ancient world.  The Amazons were eventually associated with a number of historical peoples in Late Antiquity. Called androktones or ‘killers of men’ by Herodotus and he also stated that they were called oiorpata or ‘killers of men’ in the Scythian language. Onwards from the Early Modern Period their name has become synonymous with women warriors in general.  In Scythia the existence of women warriors has been confirmed archaeologically.

The common explanation of the word Amazon is of doubtful etymology.  The usual explanation is ‘without breasts’ from the Greek a ‘without’ and mazos or ‘breasts’.  According to legend each girl had her right breast amputated or burned off to facilitate the handling of weapons.  From this mistaken interpretation arose the common and ancient fallacy of the name a-mazos.  No early artwork or representation supports the claim. The word is derived possibly from the ancient Iranian term ha-mazam which means warriors.  The word in Persia ‘to make war’ is hamzakaram and is probably connected to its etymology.  This view is derived from Heschius of Alexandria.  Certainly the term contains the Indo-Iranian root kar which means ‘to make’.  This indicates the naivete of the ancient Greek etymology as meaning a-mazos, without breasts.  Purportedly breast removal was assumed to facilitate the use of the bow but no contemporary representation of Amazons supports this view. Herodotus affirms that the Sarmatians were descended from Amazons and Scythians, and that Sarmatian females continued to observe their ancient maternal customs.  It is thought that an Amazon group was blown across the Sea of Azov into the Scythian lands situated in the modern southwestern Crimea.  On the condition they did not follow Scythian female customs they agreed to marry Scythian men.  Thence they migrated northwest, and settled beyond the Tanais (Don) river thereby becoming the progenitors of the Sauromatians.  The Amazon queen Thalestris visited Alexander and became a mother by him.  The Volscian warrior maiden Camilla is characterised by Virgil who refers to the Amazonian myths.

Women warriors are known from the archaeological record. In 1997 the earliest known female warrior burial mounds were excavated in southern Russia.  They were buried with swords, daggers, saddles, and arrowheads.  From the 6th century BC to the 4th century BC women buried with weapons have been located on the Kazakhstan and Russian border.  Graves of women warriors dating from the 3rd century BC have been found near the Sea of Azov.  In 2004 the 2000 year old remains (1st century AD) of an Iranian female warrior with a sword were found in the northwestern city of Tabriz.  Moreover, some 20% of Scythian-Sarmatian ‘warrior graves’ on the Lower Don and Lower Volga contained females dressed for battle in the same manner as men.  Elsewhere, in 2006, a Moche woman was buried with two ceremonial war clubs and twenty-eight spear throwers.  This south American grave from Peru was the first known burial of a Moche woman to contain weapons.

In Homer’s Iliad the Amazons were called Antineira or those who fight like men.  Amazons appear during the Greek Archaic Period in representative art connected to several legends.  Also in the Iliad Amazons are killed in combat by Bellerophon after invading Lycia, the defeat occurring at the river of Sangerias (near Pessinus).  Queen Myrine led her Amazons to victory in Libya and Gorgon but her tomb is outside Troy.  Amazons attacked the Phrygians who were aided by Priam, which did not prevent them taking his side against the Greeks at Troy.  Antiope died fighting alongside Theseus after which he marries the Amazon queen Hippolyte.  The Amazons also mounted an expedition against the island of Leuke, at the mouth of the Danube, where the ashes of Achilles were placed by Thetis.  There are numerous legends that connect the Amazons with founding places in Ionia.

In ancient Greek mythology there are a number of conflicting lists of Amazons.  There are the warriors  attendant on Queen Penthsilea which include Clonie, Derinoe, Polemusa, Thermodora, Evandre, Antandre, Antilorote, Bremusa, Alcibie, Hippothoe, Derimacheia, and Homothoe.  Other Amazons include Ainaan (or ‘swiftness’) and one of the twelve who went to the Trojan War.  Antibrote was another at Troy, as was Cleite, whose ship was blown off course and she landed in Italy to found Clete.  Another Amazon was Antiope, and Antinera, the successor to Queen Penthesilea and who is known for ordering the crippling and castration of her male servant on the basis that the lame best perform the sex act.  It was Queen Hippolyte who owned the magic girdle given to her by her father Ares.  Queen Thalestris is the Amazon mentioned in Alexander The Great legend.  Asteria was another and the sixth killed by Heracles.  Another, Helene, the daughter of Tityrus, fought Achilles and died of wounds inflicted.  Otera was an Amazon who, as the consort of Ares, was the mother of both Hippolyte and Penthesilea.  Melanippe was also a sister of Hippolyte who was captured by Heracles who then demanded Hippolyte’s magic girdle in return for her freedom, whereupon she complied. The Amazons were said to have come into contact with the Argonauts of Jason who landed at lemons on their way to Colchis.  They found Lemnos inhabited entirely by women with Queen Hypsipyle.  They called the island Gynaekokratume which means ‘reigned by women’.  The Amazons met Jason and his crew in full battle array as they were wont to kill male visitors.  One of the tasks or labours imposed on Heracles by Eurystheus was to obtain the magic girdle of the Amazon queen Hippolyte. This ninth labour resulted in another Amazonomachy whereby the Amazons attacked Heracles in force, thereby reaching Attica and beseighed him at Athens.  Heracles was joined by Theseus who came to help defeat the Amazon invasion as told in 6th century BC.  A great battle took place on the date of a later festival called the Boedromia where the Amazons were defeated. A ritual ceremony in Pyanopsion has been interpreted as a sacrifice to Amazon dead.  Theseus carried off princess Antiope, sister of Hippolyte, after the battle.  In a poem in the Epic Cycle the Amazons, led by their queen Penthesilea who, according to Quintus Smynaeus, was of Thracian birth, came to aid Priam in the Trojan War after the death of Hector.  This Penthesilea was a daughter of Ares, the Amazon deities being Ares and Artemis, but she is killed by Achilles.  Achilles also kills Thyrsites because he alleged Achilles loved Penthesillea.

There are numerous and worldwide examples of Amazons and women warriors both historically as well as in mythology, legend and folklore.  Many goddesses have mythological origins portraying them as warriors and huntresses.  Today the role of these women warriors or Amazons often remains embedded in many cultures even if disguised by the passage of time.  Despite added layers of new legends the ideals and myths still cannot be obscured totally.  From this palimpsest it is possible to create a timeline and geographical origin of Amazons and women warriors as characters and individuals in myth, legend, folklore and history.   In ancient Egypt circa 1600 BC Ahhotep battled the Hyksos thereby facilitating the re-unification of Egypt and thereupon founded a matriarchal lineage and dynastyWomen warriors are found among the myths and folktales of the peoples of India.  King Vikramaditya dreams of the man-hating princess Matiayavati.  There are warrior women examples from Arabia, England, and among the Makurep of upper Guapore River in Brazil.  On Kodiak Island in Alaska the Konig Inuit have many tales of warrior women.  The Dahomey Amazons or Mino are an all female regiment in the Kingdom of Dahomey (now Benin) which lasted until the end of the 19th century, and were founded around 1645 to 1685. The Shield Maidens were warrior women in Scandinavian folklore and often mentioned in sagas.  The Valkyries may have been based on the Shield Maidens.  In the Greek epics Amazons exist in order to be fought and defeated by men in the Amazon-battle or Amazonomachy.  Amazons of Greek tradition are briefly mentioned in the Irish Labor Gabala or Book of Invasions.  The characters cited are more often in the role of female martial arts teachers such as Aife, Scathach and Buanann.  In Russia there were the Slavic Polenitsa or the female warriors led by Vlasta.

7.  The Mother Goddess

7 a.  Goddess Archaeology

Goddess archaeology posits that the European Palaeolithic and Neolithic societies were matriarchal and worshipped a female deity – the Mother Goddess. Goddess archaeology arose out of the evolutionary theories and folklore research current in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The distribution of Mother-Goddess figurines throughout Europe to Russia, to the Atlantic borders and northern Siberia, through Italy and the Iberian peninsula seem “…to indicate the existence of a belief system and a ritual which involved aspects of womanhood.” (Kessler, 1976). What does become apparent is that sexuality is an integral part of ancient female religions. Archaeological criticism of the Goddess argue that prehistoric figurines are merely examples of palaeo-eroticism. Others argue that the meaning of Upper Palaeolithic and Neolithic female images remains inconclusive. Some suggest that Upper Palaeolithic female figurines were merely created as self-portraits by pregnant women (McDermott, 1996). Nonetheless, during the Upper Palaeolithic and Neolithic periods, images of nude women with prominent breasts, markes vulvae, protuberant buttocks  and bellies, all indicate an association with fertility ritual. The Venus figurines of Willendorf and Lespugue are the most famous examples of probable Goddess images (Gimbutas, 1991). Female figurines have been found seated on altars and thrones (Gimbutas, 1996) whilst they handle animals like snakes similar to statues found as Knossos. Statues with the heads of animals show that women were also associated with the fertility of animals and held leadership positions in the religions of ancient Europe (Gimbutas, 1996). Goddess archaeologists claim that the Goddess religion was organised and associated with matriarchal societies, some postulating that the heads of bulls at sites of worship resemble the female reproductive system and organs. Others disagree and believe the Neolithic figurines did not dominate Neolithic archaeological assemblages. The claim is that there were equal numbers of sexless, male and zoomorphic figures (Meskell, 1995). Other archaeologists have also questioned the extension of the ancient matriarchy premiss to Western Europe and Britain (Hutton, 1997).

The modern European folk traditions gave been linked to the Neolithic Goddess religion. For example the mythological figures embodied in the Witch and Old Hag were possible created during the Neolithic as symbols of death (Gimbutas, 1991). The images in the Neolithic include ‘stiff nudes’ and old women or crones that also symbolised death. It follows therefore that modern mages of witches and crones are possible survivals from prehistoric religious practices and beliefs. Palaeolithic and Neolithic Mother-Goddess figurines have been interpreted in terms of a cult “…which is perhaps linked with the matrilineal clans and the concept of the woman as ‘mistress of the home and hearth, protectoress of the domestic fire, responsible for the well-being of the household and bearing of children.” (Kessler, 1976) Some scholars attempted to compare the mythologies of surviving non-Indo-European with the sites and found artifacts of European Neolithic societies. Whereas others tried to associate Mari, the goddess of the Basques, with the Neolithic goddess. This theory of survival assumed a similarity in form meant the same as similarity of function and, indeed, some goddess-worshipers do assume similarity means identity. Other examples are the Classicists and scholars studying the Near East. They examined the nature of the myths used by goddess archaeologists in reference to ancient matriarchal societies. Their contention was that patriarchal myths cannot be used objectively to make hypotheses about matriarchal culture (Hackett, 1989).

7 b.  The Goddess and Religion

With regard to the religious cults of the Amazons, their tombs in central Greece are frequent. They are found in Megara, Athens, Chaeronea, Chalais, Thessaly at Scotussa, and Cynocephalia.  Moreover, in Athens, there was an annual sacrifice to the Amazons on the day before the Thesea.  It is possible that the Amazons who overran Asia Minor were also priestesses of the Great Goddess as well as the celebrants and initiates of her cults.  Whether they belong to the realm or mythology or represent literal history, most likely both, the Amazons bequeathed an indisputable effect on classical literature.  The ancient and primitive form of worship was the aniconic reference to idols and symbols not in human or animal form.  This preceded the worship of anthropomorphic deities.  For example, the worship of Cybele in the form of a black stone at Pessinus in Phrygia is an aniconic survival.  Indeed, in later mythology, Aphrodite is a love goddess but originally a war goddess. The worship of the Great Mother of Phrygia as Cybele is germane to the study of Amazon religion.

The Amazons were worshippers of the Mother known both as Rhea and Cybele.  In Phrygia (west central Anatolia) the rites of the Cretan Mother were introduced and established at Pessinus where she was known as Dindymene.  Appollonius showed the Amazons practising a ritual very similar to that at Pessinus where they venerated a black stone in an open temple on an island of Samothrace off the coast of Colchis (modern western Georgia).  The Amazons consecrated the island of Samothrace to the Mother of the Gods. The worship of Phrygian Cybele was in Samothrace.  The goddess in Samothrace is closely allied to the form of Cybele – hence the consecration.  In Lemnos the Great Goddess is the Thracian Bendis, the fierce huntress of two spears who entered the Greek pantheon as the Thracian Artemis being closely allied to Cybele and Hecate.  The cult of Cybele seems to have been indigenous in Phrygia and Lydia.  Hippolyte and her Amazons set up a bretas (old wooden effigy of Artemis) at Ephesus.  They then established an annual circular dance with weapons and shields.

Universal assumptions exist concerning the idea of the great or mother-goddess (Christ, 1979; Puttick, 1997), and many actual goddess images are often based on European deities, even if ethnically different like the Black Madonna worship of Southern France and Spain (Morgan, 1996; Rose, 1998), which implies that the Goddess religion is Eurocentric.  Indeed, some feminist standpoints actually argue against the concept of the Goddess, postulating that there is no evidence for prehistoric women’s religion (Ruether, 1980). Nonetheless, the evidence is that matristic societies are women centred that incorporated Mother Goddess worship throughout the Palaeolithic and Neolithic eras of European and other ancient civilisations (Eisler, 2011).

7 c.  The Goddess and Witchcraft

A number of folkloric and historical arguments centred around the Goddess and witchcraft between 1859 and 1968. The discussions were concerned with the existence of an ancient Goddess cult time to show that Euopean witchcraft was a descendant of a prehistoric religion. One scholar credited with the hypothesis that witchcraft was an organised religion prior to Christianity was the Italian author Girolamo Tartarotti (1706-1761). He claimed in 1749 that witchcraft was a descendant of the Dianic cults of Roman antiquity (Valiente, 1973). The French historian Jules Michelet (1798-1874) argued that witchcraft was a survival of a North European pre-Christian fertility cult (Jordan, 1996).

Similar claims to those of Michelet were advanced by the folklorist and Egyptologist Margaret Murray. A pioneer for the rights of women, her works became the blue-print for the contemporary pagan and Wiccan religion based on witch-cults in Western Europe (Murray, 1921; Murray, 1931). Murray’s argument was that witchcraft was proven an ancient religion by comparing Palaeolithic rock art from Ariege and Dordogne, depicting masked and horned dancers (Murray, 1970). These images were compared to those from Roman, Greek, Celtic art, and Christian images of the Witches Sabbath  The conclusion was that witchcraft was indeed an old religion dedicated to the worship of the Horned God (Murray, 1970). The nature of the god supposedly worshipped by witches was invented by Margaret Murray, but there is no archaeological or documentary evidence that the Horned God existed as a synonym for the Devil (Thomas, 1997). Margaret Murray further developed her principles (1954) and applied them to the kingship of Britain. It was claimed that this kingship was inextricably bound up with the murder of the sacred king demanded by the old religion of witchcraft (Valiente, 1973). The work of Marija Gimbutas had a political element added to it by Merlin Stone who wrote When God was a Woman (1976).  Stone interpreted the art of Neolithic societies and the written documents of the Levant and Mesopotamia to show the matrilineal nature of prehistoric women’s religion. Stone also showed why that religion was eventually attacked and suppressed by patriarchal Indo-European and Semitic cultures.  A feminist Wiccan called Starhawk Popularised the works of Merlin Stone. She wrote The Spiral Dance (1989) which claimed witchcraft was a descendant of prehistoric European religion implying that Wicca was the original religion of Europe.

 8.  Epilegomena

Nineteenth century western scholarship hypothesised that matriarchy represented an earlier stage of human social organisation. A stage in human development that was then lost in prehistory except for contemporary so-called primitive societies. Modern academia now claims the theory is discredited and some scholars claim it never existed (Love, B. 1984). In the Marxist tradition matriarchy usually refers to a pre-class society “…where women and men share equally in production and power.” (Adler, B. 2006). Matriarchy is also seen as a public formation in which the woman occupies the ruling position in the family. A situation often found in modern times in the USA where a quarter of black families are headed by single women.

Some 25,000 to 30,000 thousand years ago, all across Europe, the “…evidence shows that culture recognised and incorporated the woman and her cyclic regularity in a complex belief system.” (Kessler, E. 1976). In the Bronze Age, between 2600 and 1000 BC, cultures that worshipped the Goddess were violently invaded by war-like patriarchal Indo-Europeans (Gimbutas, M. 1991). These eventually emerged as the Slaves, Germans, Celts, Myceneans, Greeks, and Romans. Artifacts from the Palaeolithic and Neolithic, which resemble those found in the art of the Minoans , circa 1930 to 1400 BC, as well as that of the Indo-European Myceneans and Greeks. This shows that the religion of goddess worship had survived beyond the Neolithic age and Indo-European invasions. Later Judaism and Christianity continued the breakdown of the goddess centred religion begaun by the Indo-European invasions, with patriarchal Christianity reducing the Goddess to a symbol of perverse sexuality and debauchery by a patriarchal conspiracy (Stone, 1976). In later times Starhawk (1989) and Merlin Stone (1976) made a connection of the prehistoric mother goddess with modern witchcraft. In the field of post-processual and feminist archaeology there is a conflict between mainstream and Goddess archaeology, with the idea advanced that archaeology must engage with feminist thinking (Conkey, M. 1998). Archaeology, it is claimed, is trapped within the confines of patriarchal sciences which controls and categorises the matter. The empirical and positivist basis of contemporary archaeology is challenged by post-processual archaeology, and it is thus claimed it is not possible to separate data-collection from interpretation (Bender, B. 1998). The post-processualists argue that there are a number of ways for people to interpret an archaeological site, and this implies that multivocality destroys testing, scientific method and hypothesis making.

References Cited and Sources Consulted

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