Legacy of Carol P. Christ: Reading Plato’s Allegory of the Cave as Matricide and Theacide

This was originally posted on October 22, 2012

When I read Plato’s allegory of the cave as an undergraduate, I was told it had something to do with the idea that the “form” of a table is more “real” than the table itself. I must confess that I had no idea what this could possibly mean.

As a graduate student, I struggled with philosophical and theological ideas rooted in Platonism.  Rosemary Radford Ruether named the flawed worldview created by a “classical dualism” that separates mind from body, spirit from the world, rationality from emotion, and male from female.  Her ground-breaking essay “Mother Earth and the Megamachine” clarified the difficulties I was having.

Western philosophy, described by Alfred North Whitehead as a series of footnotes to Plato, had gotten off on the wrong foot. At its very beginnings, western philosophy had attempted to sever mind from the body and nature, alleging that “man’s true home” was not life in the body on planet earth. Platonic ideas spawned the ascetic movements of late antiquity and early Christianity.  They are also at the root of the modern scientific worldview that alleges that the body and nature are “mere matter” “without soul” to be entirely controlled by the rational minds of men.

Ruether pointed out that women were identified with the despised body and nature and the realms of emotion and feeling.  She called upon feminists and ecofeminists to restore the severed connections between mind and body, spirit and nature, reason and emotion, male and female.  These ideas have informed all of my work.

It was not until I began to write She Who Changes that I realized that the Platonic worldview can accurately be said to be rooted in matricide (mother murder) and theacide (Goddess murder).  I am not exaggerating.

In the allegory of the cave Plato describes human beings as prisoners shackled to the walls of a cave in such a way that they cannot see the light at its mouth, but only the shadows flickering on its inner walls.  Socrates himself interprets this allegory for his student. Its meaning, he says, is that the light of reason is shackled by the “prison house of sight.” The meaning of this, we are told, is that the world we see—the physical world we sense through our bodies—is not the real world. The “real” world is an “intellectual world,” a world of ideas untainted by the body or nature, and to this world Socrates asks his pupil to turn.

Like Socrates, many teachers ask their students to question conventional ideas about the meaning of life. As a feminist teacher, I ask my students to question the inevitability of patriarchy. Am I not following in Socrates’ footsteps?  Why then do I insist that the allegory of the cave is matricidal and theacidal?

On the Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete, from which I returned only a few days ago, we descend into caves where the ancient people of Crete lived, buried their dead, and poured libations to the Source of Life.  We understand that the ancient Cretans honored mothers as the source of human life and Mother Earth, Sky, and Sea as the Source of All Life.  For them caves were the womb of the Mountain Mother, place of emergence, return, and transformation.

When they lived in caves, people sat around fires and told stories of their ancestors.  Surely they saw the shapes of deites, humans, and animals who featured in their stories in the lights and shadows cast on the stalagmites and stalactites and the cave walls.  This tradition must go back to the origins of human life; it is clearly documented in the Upper Paleolithic (50,000-10,000 BCE) .   As this painting of a pregnant horse shows, the rituals of the Upper Paleolithic were not only “hunting magic,” but also expressed a desire to communicate with the Source of All Life, human and animal.

In light of this, it seems certain that Plato did not “just happen” to choose a cave as the location of his “prison.”  Like the Genesis story in the Bible, his was a “tale with a point of view.”  The point of view Plato was challenging was the view that this world is our true home, that we should enjoy life in the body, and that we should honor the mothers and the Mother who have have given us life.  The view he was propounding was that this world is not our true home, that we should rise above the body, and that we should honor male teachers and the light of transcendent reason.  Because “the language of the Goddess” that connected caves with the womb of Mother Earth was still known in his time, Plato did not have to “spell out” the implications of his comparison of the cave to a prison any more than the authors of Genesis 2-3 had to “clarify” for their readers that trees, snakes, and women were considered sacred in the religions they were trying to eradicate.

In order for his new view to take hold, Plato had to dethrone the mothers who birth us into life in the body and the Mother of All Life from whose womb all physical life emerges. Plato teaches us that rather than feeling gratitude for the gifts of birth and life, we should learn to distrust and despise the body and nature.  He tells us that we should not honor the mothers and the Mother who birth us into this world, but rather the teachers who offer us a way to escape it.

Matricide and theacide stand at the very beginning of our traditions.

Let us learn again to bless the Source of Life and the circle of birth, death, and regeneration!  Let us cherish our life on planet earth.

BIO: Carol P. Christ (1945-2021) was an internationally known feminist and ecofeminist writer, activist, and educator. Her work continues through her non-profit foundation, the Ariadne Institute for the Study of Myth and Ritual.

“In Goddess religion death is not feared, but is understood to be a part of life, followed by birth and renewal.”  — Carol P. Christ 

Author: Legacy of Carol P. Christ

We at FAR were fortunate to work along side Carol Christ for many years. She died from cancer in July, 2021. Her work continues through her non-profit foundation, the Ariadne Institute for the Study of Myth and Ritual and the Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete. To honor her legacy and to allow as many people as possible to read her thought-provoking and important blogs, we are pleased to offer this new column to highlight her work. We will be picking out special blogs for reposting, making note of their original publication date.

4 thoughts on “Legacy of Carol P. Christ: Reading Plato’s Allegory of the Cave as Matricide and Theacide”

  1. I feel pure rage as I read this most excellent post because I spent half of my life duped by patriarchal lies – lies that taught me to despise my body – lies that told me only spirit mattered – lies and more lies passed down by mothers like my own who were taught by those before them… duped by a world full of lies. I have said many times how I grew up in a sea of lies – nothing was what it seemed – I blamed my mother most of all – that she did not have much use for a daughter isn’t really the point. Much of her an abuse was generated by ‘his – story’. I do hold her accountable mostly because she never was accountable for her own behavior….but I live in the bigger picture now and can see through the ruse – the terrible shadow that history has cast over us as women and how hard it is to be female in a culture that if possible despises women more than ever. I don’t even know where to go with this beyond recommitting to seeing through the lies…and refusing to separate my mind from my body…it is body that guides me…. spirit often manifests in nature as an animal or bird that appears to reinforce a point as a deer did last night when I was in spontaneous prayer for my dogs, my bird, my home….letting me know I am on the right track and spirit even manifests as animal!


  2. I’ve worked with Carol’s insights for a long time, and here I would like to add a comment about working to overcome mind-body dualism. Buddhism has thousands of years in an anti-dualist tradition and strategies to overcome dualism and to find nirvana in the here & now. That said, it was at its inception, & in many practice groups still is, deeply sexist.

    As a feminist I have felt myself impoverished by being excluded from major traditions. Those traditions have a vast cultural wealth. But the sexism makes that culture toxic to self-aware feminists.

    it’s an on-going project to reclaim spirituality rooted in the body and also free of misogyny. I wish Carol were still with us to guide us.


  3. We women of the Goddess are each in the process of reversing the reversals! We willfully reclaim the ancient traditions that “honored mothers as the source of human life and Mother Earth, Sky, and Sea as the Source of All Life” as Carol wrote in this post.

    For our ancient mothers the caves were the womb, a sacred location of myriad
    transformations. Descending into caves, or other dark enfolding spaces, can be a ritual of dying and being reborn again and again. We observe the moon, the sun, and the cycle of the year as each dies and reappears. We know we, too, are deeply embedded in this trusted cycle. Sometimes I have to remind myself I can trust that this magical cycle includes me and all I love.

    Spring is my ideal time to assert that all life begins in the dark! The womb of Earth is her soil where each seed embraces the dark, sending roots into the nutrient-filled soil to anchor life before sprouting stem and leaves to receive the light.


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