When I look at the two chapters on Goddess history in my book Rebirth of the Goddess (1996), there is very little I would change, but there is new evidence I would add.* Before discussing that, I would like to underscore two important points I made in discussing Goddess history that are often overlooked or ignored by other writers. The first is that women were the likely inventors of three new technologies at the beginning of the Neolithic age: agriculture (because they were the gatherers of plants and the preparers of plant foods), pottery (primarily used for food storage and preparation), and weaving (women’s role in almost all traditional societies). The second is that the so-called “age of the Goddess” is not a more “primitive” or “unconscious” stage of culture that needed to be superseded or overthrown by more “evolved” or more “rational” patriarchal warrior cultures.
Cultural theorists like the archetypal psychologist Carl Jung assert that “the feminine” represents the unconscious and nonrational ways of knowing such as intuition. From this it follows for them that the age of the Goddess was the age of the unconscious. This sounds good to some women and even to some feminists who have experienced aspects of so-called rational philosophical, theological, and scientific traditions as dogmatic, authoritative and wrong! Wrong about women and wrong when they exclude other than narrowly defined “rational” ways of knowing. However, there are important reasons to reject Jung’s theory.
The theory that earlier more “feminine” or pre-patriarchal cultures are unconscious or pre-rational has been used by Jung and his followers to justify the overthrow of earlier cultures by patriarchal warrior groups in order to allow humanity to develop so-called rational ways of thinking which are identified as “masculine.” That the so-called rational men of these cultures were warlike, subordinated women, seized other people’s lands, and held slaves is rarely counted against their alleged superiority. Moreover, the theory that the pre-patriarchal Goddess cultures of the Neolithic can be categorized as unconscious in no way accounts for the technological inventions that define the Neolithic era. Women did not wake up one morning with the intuition that if they planted seeds and watered them, crops would grow. The invention of agriculture involved a long process of observation and testing. Nor did women invent pots when they unconsciously fiddled with snake coils or invent firing when they accidentally dropped a pot into a burning fire. These things may have happened, but they would have led to the invention of fired pottery only if someone “thought about” what had occurred and made a conscious decision to test the ideas that occurred in her mind, and then to repeat the process until it was perfected. The same is true of the even more counter-intuitive idea that wool or flax could be spun into thread and that thread could be woven into cloth. The invention of agriculture and pottery and weaving came about through long processes of observation of nature (scientific observation) and trial and error (scientific experimentation). Intuition was probably involved (as modern scientists are increasingly admitting about their own discoveries), but it was complemented by what we must call rational thinking and scientific methods. Women have never been “mired in” the unconscious or “limited” to nonrational ways of knowing. We have always used both rational and non-rational ways of knowing in order to improve the conditions of life for ourselves and our families.
The fact that women were the likely inventors of agriculture, pottery, and weaving, has important implications for understanding Neolithic religion. Women would have encoded the techniques they discovered in song and story and dance in order to pass their knowledge down to the next generations. (“This is the way we plant the seeds, plant the seeds…”) In other words, women were not only the inventors of agriculture, pottery, and weaving, they were also the creators of the religious rites related to their inventions—such as planting and harvesting rituals—that would have been central in Neolithic cultures. If women invented agriculture, pottery, and weaving, it strains belief to imagine (as is usually assumed) that male priests or shamans were the primary creators of Neolithic religion. Though I believed that women were the creators of Neolithic religion when I wrote Rebirth, I am even more certain about this now. In the 1930s Marija Gimbutas recorded more than 5000 folk songs in the Lithuanian countryside, many of them sung only by women, and most of them having to do with planting and harvesting, birth and marriage. Research on living matriarchal societies such as the Minangkabau and the Mosuo shows that women orchestrate and pass on major rituals to do with planting, birth, and coming of age. Many of these rituals involve special foods and clothing, a reflection and celebration of women’s work and intelligence.
* This blog is excerpted from the new preface to the Korean reader of the forthcoming Korean translation of Rebirth of the Goddess.
Carol P. Christ is an internationally known feminist and ecofeminist writer, activist, and educator who will soon be moving to Heraklion, Crete. Carol’s recent books are Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology and A Serpentine Path: Mysteries of the Goddess. Carol has been leading Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete for over twenty years: join her in Crete. Carol’s photo by Michael Honneger.
Listen to Carol’s a-mazing interview with Mary Hynes on CBC’s Tapestry recorded in conjunction with her keynote address to the Parliament of World’s Religions.
10 thoughts on “Women Invented Agriculture, Pottery, and Weaving and Created Neolithic Religion by Carol P. Christ”
Reblogged this on Project ENGAGE.
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Oh yes, oh yes, oh yes……! Thank you, Carol.
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As usual, brava! And phooey on Carl Jung, another patriarch whose fantasies (which too many people call theories and truths) are just more patriarchal nonsense. (I almost used an unprintable word.)
Of course women did all that good and useful work of inventing the ways humanity learned to survive. It wasn’t unconscious. It was hard, serious work. Women didn’t just shoot arrows and throw spears at people. They tested and tried ways to do things that helped us grow and eat and observed the results of their work. Going to battle is primitive; women’s work is conscious and productive.
Your books are all lined up on one of my shelves. They’re all worth rereading. Thank you for all your hard and conscious and productive work. .
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Thanks, Carol, for this wonderful post! Jung’s theories are of very little use to us. But they come f rom and live on in the common understandings or Western men and women about which characteristics are feminine or masculine. Of course, these are stereotypes, but they haven’t disappeared.
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In 1983, Demaris Wehr took Jung severely to task re his stunted, and just plain wrong theories of the feminine. Wehr’s book, Liberating Archetypes, has just been republished. Many other feminists have reimagined, built on and otherwise added to his ideas. Many concepts of Jungian thought arising from the work of women such as Sylvia Perera, Descent to the Goddess: Initiation of Women, were instrumental in my healing from clinical depression and subsequent Leaving my Father’s House (Marion Woodman) … the healing energies of the Queen of the Heaven, Inanna and her sister, Ereskigal, Queen of the Underworld, go deep in my psyche. In dreams, I too have been stripped and hung from a peg. And the work of Carol Christ, and many many many other women all adds to the world of The Divine Feminine. There are no perfect right theories. There are many steps along the way as there as many women still struggling to emerge from the mess that is the patriarchy.
Thanks for this excellent post, Carol. It provides much food for thought. The process of inventing farming evokes even more astonishment when one considers the conversion of a grass–wheat–into a loaf of delicious, life-sustaining bread. How did Neolithic women look at grasses waving in the wind and decide to harvest them, separate the wheat from the chaff, grind the wheat, add yeast and water, knead the resulting dough, and bake the bread? How did they gather and domestic the yeast? What gave them the idea to do this?
How did they discover the process of brewing beer? And pounding papyrus into paper, and turning flax into cloth? We take all of this for granted, but what a thrill of discovery it must have been to them. How they must have grinned in triumph as they sat around the fire at night, eating the good bread and drinking the beer. And when dinner was done perhaps they sang about their work.
Let’s remember them with gratitude. And thanks, Carol, for reminding us of our Neolithic foremothers.
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Indeed! The invention of bread is one of the great inventions of culture. And no I don’t think men invented it!
Thank goodness for the clarity inherent in this most excellent post. As a former Jungian I applaud your critique of Jung’s work and the “unconscious feminine”- ugh. You articulate exactly why I left the profession. When I realized how destructive this kind of thinking was for women – sadly – it took a long time – I took what I had learned about mythology and the concept of archetypes with me and moved on…
I also deeply appreciate the way you highlight HOW it was that women invented agriculture, pottery, weaving etc.
Natural Science is always undercut in western culture – Women did THINK about what they were doing and they EXPERIMENTED… they thought creatively and used all their senses and intuition. That women invented agriculture seems quite obvious to me even from a western logical perspective…
Many are drawn to Jung’s work – it is so important to be able to critique it – thank you.
This is wonderful! Boy are we on the same page these days, eh?
Date: Monday, May 11, 2020 at 12:03 AM
To: Vicki Noble
Subject: [New post] Women Invented Agriculture, Pottery, and Weaving and Created Neolithic Religion by Carol P. Christ
Carol P. Christ posted: “When I look at the two chapters on Goddess history in my book Rebirth of the Goddess (1996), there is very little I would change, but there is new evidence I would add.* Before discussing that, I would like to underscore two important points I made in dis”
Modern matriarchal studies has changed the way we see the world!