In Crete we are always being given gifts—fresh cherries, ice cold bottles of raki, yogurt swimming in honey, and so much more. Over the years it finally hit me that this spirit of great generosity is a living remnant of the ancient Cretan egalitarian matriarchal tradition of gift-giving.
In egalitarian matriarchal cultures gift-giving is not something reserved for birthdays and holidays. It is a way of life rooted in the primary understanding that life is a gift that is meant to be shared.
Our lives are a gift from our mothers. Our individual lives have are not something we create or created for ourselves. We all emerged from the body of a mother. We were all given the gift of care and feeding by a mother or others. Our mothers did not create themselves. They emerged from the bodies of mothers and were cared for and fed by mothers or others. And so on back to the original mother of the human race, known as the African Eve.
Our lives are a gift from the original African Mother. Our individual lives can be traced to an African Mother who lived some 200,000 years ago and gave birth to daughters whose mitochondrial DNA has been passed on to every human being living today. But even the African Mother did not create herself. Her birth is the product of the evolution of early hominds and mammals, which is part of the evolution of life, during four and a half billion years of evolution on planet earth.
Our lives are a gift from Life Itself. Our individual lives on planet earth are rooted in an evolutionary process began four and a half billion years ago on planet earth. But even that is not the beginning. The atoms and particles of atoms that swirled together to become our planet were born in a great pang of birth that scientists unimaginatively call “the big bang.” And even that was probably not “the” beginning, but only the beginning of this universe.
Egalitarian matriarchal peoples honor the Mothers who have given us the “gift of life.” They imagine the Source of Life as a Great and Giving Mother. You can read more about egalitarian matriarchal cultures in Heide Goettner-Abendroth’s Societies of Peace and you can savor images of the Source of Life as female in egalitarian matrifocal cultures in Marija Gimbutas’s The Language of the Goddess.
In egalitarian matriarchal societies, both boys and girls are taught to be as loving and giving as the mothers who raised them. There is no sharp distinction between “feminine” and “masculine” attributes or personality types.
Rituals in egalitarian matriarchal cultures focus on gift-giving. The seeds to be planted are blessed on the altar of the Source of Life with prayers that life will sprout up again in the fields which are Her Body. First fruits of every harvest are given back to the Source of Life on altars dedicated to Her Great Generosity. At the end of the rituals, these gifts are shared in community feasts.
Gift-giving is a way of life in egalitarian matriarchal cultures. In these cultures you neither give “in order to receive” nor do you give with “no expectation of receiving.” When giving to others is understood to be the highest value and when everyone is taught to give to others, giving is neither a calculated risk nor self-sacrifice. It is quite simply a way of life. You do not need to save “for a rainy day” because you trust that if you are in need, someone will give to you. You can read more about gift-giving economies in Genevieve Vaughn’s For-giving: A Feminist Criticism of Exchange. This book can be downloaded “as a gift.”
I have to admit it. When I began leading the Goddess Pilgrimages to Crete 25 years ago, I was not particularly grateful for what I had been given. I was angry and frustrated that I had not been given “my true love” or “my true job.” I had worked very hard all my life. I thought I “deserved” both.
On the first pilgrimage, I lost my voice. I could not say everything I thought I needed to say as tour leader. Back home but still not able to speak, I realized that I was being taught a deeper lesson. “I” could not control everything. This meant that I could not “make things happen” exactly as I wanted them to happen in my life.
When I returned to Crete the next spring, I was overwhelmed by expressions of love for me from our helpers along the way—especially from Christina who cooks for our group and from Mr. Nikos who guided us for many years into the depths of the Skoteino Cave. I who thought I was unloved was being shown love in the pilgrimage of my life–in the most unexpected places.
Through the process of the pilgrimage my heart has been opened to the love I do receive, and I have learned that it is everywhere. This once small opening in my heart now overflows with gratitude for the gifts of life I am given by others every day and for the Gift of Life of which my individual life is one small part.
When we recognize that life is a gift, we realize that nothing is “ours” and that everything we have been given is meant to be shared. You may be nodding your head as you read this, but to truly embrace the idea that nothing is ours is a very far cry from the values inculcated in our culture which are based on “mine” vs. “yours” and the idea of that we have the right to own things because we or our ancestors worked for the right to own them.
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Carol’s new book written with Judith Plaskow, is Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology.
Join Carol on the life-transforming and mind-blowing Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete. A few spaces available on the fall tour. Sign up now for 2018! It could change your life!
Carol’s photo by Michael Honegger