Wisdom from our Ancient Female Lawgiver and Judge Traditions by Carolyn Lee Boyd

Carolyn Lee Boyd

As I have witnessed both the joy of so many across the world at the nomination of Kamala Harris for Vice President and the deep sorrow at the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, I am struck by the fact that, in 2020, supremely qualified women still need to be trailblazers to hold high office. After all, goddesses and wise women gave a number of cultures their systems of laws and governance and have been celebrated for their wisdom as judges for millennia. 

Here are a few of the goddesses and wise women lawgivers:

The Goddess Themis
  • the Italian goddess Egeria gave Rome its first laws and taught the correct rules for Earth worship; 
  • the Babylonian Kadi, was goddess of Earth and justice; 
  • Ala of the Ibo people of Nigeria is both the Earth Mother and lawgiver of society; 
  • the Greek Themis, daughter of Gaia, symbolized the social contract and cohesion of people living on Earth; 
  • the Inuit Sedna both gave humanity abundance from the ocean for life from her own body and withheld it when her laws were broken;
  • Marcia Proba, whose historical reality is unclear, is said to have created the ancient Celtic system of laws known as the Marcian Statutes that may have influenced later British law;
  • past and present Women’s Councils and Clan Mothers of the Iroquois and other Indigenous peoples as well as those of Societies of Peace have brought harmony and well being to their people for tens of thousands of years.

In addition, other goddesses and wise women have also acted as judges, including: 

  • Genetaska, the Peace Queen of the Seneca Nation;
  • the Hebrew Judges Deborah and Beruryah;
  • The Scandinavian Syn, Chinese Tou-Mou and Egyptian Shait who pronounced judgment on souls after death.

I’m sure there are others, too.

What might this mean for us today?

First, clearly, lawgiving and judging is a natural sphere for female beings, mortal or immortal, throughout time and across the globe. In the face of so many barriers to women’s political advancement, it can be easy to unconsciously absorb messages that women are new to the role of governing, and, of course, not all women in politics govern in a positive way. Still, any woman who seeks to be a legislative leader or judge has a long, proud history behind her.

I also noticed that many of the lawgiving goddesses, in particular, have a connection to the Earth.  Whether they are Earth goddesses, or the daughter of an Earth goddess, or their laws relate to how humanity interacts with the Earth, all these goddesses teach us that the Earth and governing are integral to one another and inter-related. This makes sense. Earth is our life-giver, the source of the materials of our physical being that enable us to experience the joys of the universe, including love, beauty, awe, and inner peace.  Earth nurtures us while we live, and then receives and recycles our bodies when we die. Any governance that promotes community well being is naturally related to the Earth, the ultimate origin of our lives.

Further, Earth’s requirement of valuing life creates responsibility to care for those who are the most vulnerable and to place the needs of others above your own. True lawgiving  requires a sometimes very difficult life of service and entails carrying the burden of ensuring the well being of the community. It is not to be taken up lightly or for personal gain.

As I consider the greatest concerns of our time — climate catastrophe, resource inequality, gender and racial injustice — I am struck by the prescient wisdom of the cultures that connect the Earth and lawgiving.  These are all challenges that can only be overcome through global solutions because they are all inter-related; conditions in one part of the world affect all others.  A leader will only be successful to the extent that she or he can forge relationships with others across the globe and come up with planetary solutions.

The lawgiving goddesses specifically address the appropriate and healthy relationships between the Earth and humanity and between people that are necessary to solve our most pressing environmental, social justice, and resource allocation problems.  Again, time has proven the wisdom of this perspective, as it is the erosion of relationships based on respect and trust that have at least partially brought about our current disasters.  And again it is the Earth that tells us what proper relationships are — they are those that support a sustainable environment and the life that has been created by the Earth, which requires peace, equality, and justice. 

Finally, Earth is a globe, a three-dimensional circle, and can inspire us to find new council-focused forms of governance where all assume some aspect of leadership and decisions are made by consensus rather than by a few people in authority.  Circle governance has a long and successful history in women’s communities and organizations. How can we bring its wisdom to the municipal, state, federal and international level?

As we ask ourselves what we can do to solve the seemingly intractable challenges we are now faced with, our shared human history of goddesses and wise women has much to teach our present day. Understanding the value of women lawmakers and judges and Earth-based governance can help guide us out of these most dangerous times. We can all support the kind of leadership we see in these goddesses and wise women, and make it work for our own time. 

Information about goddesses and wise women is from Patricia Monaghan’s The New Book of Goddesses and Heroines.  Learn more about Societies of Peace from Societies of Peace: Matriarchies Past, Present and Future, Heidi Goettner-Abendroth, Editor.

Carolyn Lee Boyd is a writer, drummer, community builder, herb gardener, home renovator, and  past or current denizen of Michigan, New York City, and New England.  Her essays, short stories, memoirs, reviews, and poetry have been published in, among others, SageWoman, Matrifocus, The Beltane Papers, Feminism and Religionand The Goddess Pages. She would love for you to visit her at her website, www.goddessinateapot.com where you can find some of her free e-books to download as well as contact her.

Image of Themis: Pixabay free images / CC BY

Categories: authority, civil rights, Earth-based spirituality, Ecofeminism, Ecojustice, Egalitarian Matriarchy, Gender and Power, General, Goddess, Goddess feminism, Goddess Movement, Goddess Spirituality, Herstory, Human Rights, Justice, land, Matriarchy, power, Social Justice, Sovereignty, Women's Power

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15 replies

  1. thank you so much Carolyn, for researching the names of all these Goddesses and their wisdom, and telling this story. It’s lovely to hear from you.


  2. Excellent! Thanks for the list of female law-givers, both divine and human. Thanks for the detail that the earth is a three-dimensional circle, i.e., a globe, which suggests governance by consensus, which I see as meaning not rule a bunch of rich old white guys but governance by a circle of wise mothers. I think that’s one reason why we all need to vote in the upcoming election. Vote for the wise women, not the misogynists.

    Blessings to you for being back in the FAR community and blessings to your wisdom.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. “I also noticed that many of the lawgiving goddesses, in particular, have a connection to the Earth…all these goddesses teach us that the Earth and governing are integral to one another and inter-related”.

    You are so right.

    I don’t believe that its possible to be involved in sustaining lawgiving during these horrific times UNLESS that person has a strong connection to the earth. I am talking about having an intimate relationship with the earth. Does Kamala Harris have this quality? I don’t know any lawyers that do – male or female.


  4. I love knowing the goddesses and women of justice are rooted in the earth. Thank you for an inspiring post!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Love that you highlight the connection of justice to the earth. It is not all about traditions of the written word! Before enacting laws we must understand that we are all connected in the web of life.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Wonderful post, thank you Carolyn. You’ve inspired me to think about a topic I really know nothing about. Women law-givers. How fascinating. It does make me think about the many indigenous stories where the mothers and grandmothers (and other women as well) step in to stop some foolishness (usually some violence or war-monging) that the boys have perpetrated.

    Yesterday was another women’s march (the day you published as I’m a day late in reading this). I don’t know if that is enough anymore. I hope it is.


    • Thank you, Janet! Yes – the Indigenous women’s councils and mothers and grandmothers are such an essential legacy to celebrate, especially for those of us living in the Americas. I think the Women’s Marches and other similar efforts have made activists of so many women over the past four years, so their value has gone beyond just what happens on that day, but also includes all that the women who attended and were inspired have done and are doing.


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