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that the so-called “age of the Goddess” is not a more “primitive” or “unconscious” stage of culture that needed to be superseded or overthrown by more “evolved” or more “rational” patriarchal warrior cultures.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.