Carol P. Christ’s Legacy: Patriarchy as a System of Male Dominance Created at the Intersection of the Control of Women, Private Property, and War, Part 1 by Carol P. Christ

Moderator’s Note: We here at FAR have been so 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, as well as 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. This blog was originally posted February 18, 2013. You can read it long with its original comments here. It was the first in an important 3 part series. We will be posting the next 2 parts in subsequent weeks (or you can read it earlier by going to the original post).

Recently feminist scholar Vicki Noble commented that this is the best definition of patriarchy she has read–but she hadn’t read it earlier. I am reposting it now in the hopes that all of you will share it with your social media so that it will be more widely known.

Patriarchy is often defined as a system of male dominance. This definition does not illuminate, but rather obscures, the complex set of factors that function together in the patriarchal system.  We need more complex definition if we are to understand and challenge the the patriarchal system in all of its aspects.

Patriarchy is a system of male dominance, rooted in the ethos of war which legitimates violence, sanctified by religious symbols, in which men dominate women through the control of female sexuality, with the intent of passing property to male heirs, and in which men who are heroes of war are told to kill men, and are permitted to rape women, to seize land and treasures, to exploit resources, and to own or otherwise dominate conquered people.*

Continue reading “Carol P. Christ’s Legacy: Patriarchy as a System of Male Dominance Created at the Intersection of the Control of Women, Private Property, and War, Part 1 by Carol P. Christ”

What’s Your Feminism I.Q.? by Barbara Ardinger

Let’s begin a new year by finding out what we know about feminist history and goddess scholarship. Take this little quiz and find out where you stand as a Feminism/Goddess Scholar. (It’s okay to laugh at some of the choices. Laughing shows you’re paying attention.)

1. Who wrote When God Was a Woman?

            a. Ernest Hemingway                         b. Merlin Stone

            c. Sharyn McCrumb                           d. Isabel Allende

Continue reading “What’s Your Feminism I.Q.? by Barbara Ardinger”

Book review: Merlin Stone Remembered: Her Life and Works by Barbara Ardinger

Barbara ArdingerWhen Merlin Stone’s book, When God Was a Woman, was published in 1976, it was a lightning bolt of feminist scholarship that told the world that before there was a Judeo-Christian god there were goddesses, and before there were goddesses, there was the Goddess. If you’re reading this review and you have not read When God Was a Woman, buy the book. Right now. As you sink into Stone’s book, try to imagine what it was like before we knew about Isis or Inanna or Astarte, before we knew that the tree in the Garden of Eden was probably a sacred fig and that the serpent was a symbol or aspect of the Goddess and that people (mostly women) who ate figs or worked with serpents were honored priestesses and prophets. Just imagine! The work of the second wave feminists added to the work of scholars like Merlin Stone and Marija Gimbutas, but it didn’t begin until the second half of the 20th century. Before that? All there was, was God the Father, maker of heaven and earth. Yes, Merlin Stone hurled lightning bolts into our hearts and minds and bookshelves.

Merline StoneMerlin Stone Remembered is a new book edited by Dr. Carol F. Thomas, Dr. David B. Axelrod, and Stone’s life partner Leonard Schneir, with an introduction by Gloria Orenstein, professor emerita, USC. Orenstein opens the book by putting Stone’s work in context. Before the 60s and 70s, she writes, no one was ever taught anything about the matristic cultures. Yes, a few books had been written. She cites G. Rachel Levy’s The Gate of Horn (published in England in 1948, republished in the U.S. in 1963), Helen Diner’s Mothers and Amazons (1973), and Elizabeth Gould Davis’ The First Sex (1971). These books gave us some of our foundational myths, but, Orenstein writes, “we can see that although there was some writing that had already attempted to reconstruct a history of women …, much more expertise and authority were needed” (p. 8). “Once Merlin Stone provided us with her careful scholarship and a truly feminist (not biased, patriarchal) accounting of ancient Goddess cultures, I and all who found Merlin’s work were finally able to understand our herstory…” (p. 9).

Continue reading “Book review: Merlin Stone Remembered: Her Life and Works by Barbara Ardinger”

An Archaic Trinity of Goddesses? Not Necessarily. by Barbara Ardinger

Barbara ArdingerIn her comment following my last post which was about mythology, my friend, Carol Christ, expands on my paragraph about how the so-called “ancient triple goddess” was really invented in 1948 by Robert Graves in his book, The White Goddess. (Thanks, Carol.)

Back in the 1970s and 1980s, when the Goddess movement was just getting up on its feet and our ovular books were being published, the idea arose that if “they” have a holy trinity, “we” have one, too. And ours is older and holier. We see it in the three phases of the moon, new (Virgin), full (Mother), and dark (Crone). Here’s a tiny sample of these books that changed the lives of so many women and men:

  • Woman’s Mysteries Ancient and Modern by M. Esther Harding (1971, but first published in 1933)
  • The Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe (1974) by Marija Gimbutas
  • When God Was a Woman (1976) by Merlin Stone
  • Lost Goddesses of Early Greece: A Collection of Pre-Hellenic Myths (1978) by Charlene Spretnak
  • The first edition of The Spiral Dance (1979) by Starhawk
  • The Chalice and the Blade (1987) by Riane Eisler
  • Laughter of Aphrodite (1987) by Carol P. Christ
  • The Holy Book of Women’s Mysteries (1989) by Z. Budapest
  • The Reflowering of the Goddess (1990) by Gloria Feman Orenstein
  • Whence the Goddesses: A Source Book (1990) by Miriam Robbins Dexter

Triple goddess? ’Tain’t so. Our beloved triple goddess is one of our foundational myths. It’s nice and it’s perhaps inspiring, but it’s only a myth. Anyone who looks at a calendar or almanac—or up into the sky every night for a month—can easily see that the moon doesn’t have three phases. It has four: waxing, full, waning, and dark. And since the late 20th century, women have lived long enough to go through more than three stages of life. Continue reading “An Archaic Trinity of Goddesses? Not Necessarily. by Barbara Ardinger”

Patriarchy as a System of Male Dominance Created at the Intersection of the Control of Women, Private Property, and War, Part 1 by Carol P. Christ

carol p. christ 2002 color

Recently feminist scholar Vicki Noble commented that this is the best definition of patriarchy she has read–but she hadn’t read it earlier. I am reposting it now in the hopes that all of you will share it with your social media so that it will be more widely known.

Patriarchy is often defined as a system of male dominance. This definition does not illuminate, but rather obscures, the complex set of factors that function together in the patriarchal system.  We need more complex definition if we are to understand and challenge the the patriarchal system in all of its aspects.

Patriarchy is a system of male dominance, rooted in the ethos of war which legitimates violence, sanctified by religious symbols, in which men dominate women through the control of female sexuality, with the intent of passing property to male heirs, and in which men who are heroes of war are told to kill men, and are permitted to rape women, to seize land and treasures, to exploit resources, and to own or otherwise dominate conquered people.*

Marx and Engels said that the patriarchal family, private property, and the state arose together. Though their understanding of the societies that preceded “patriarchy” was flawed, their intuition that patriarchy is connected to private property and to domination in the name of the state was correct.  It has long seemed to me that patriarchy cannot be separated from war and the kings who take power in the wake of war.  Many years ago I was stunned by Merlin Stone’s allegation that in matrilineal societies there are no illegitimate children, because all children have mothers. Lately, I have been trying to figure out why the Roman Catholic and other churches and the American Republican party are so strongly opposed to women’s right to control our own bodies and are trying to prevent access to birth control and abortion. In the above definition of patriarchy, I bring all of these lines of thought together in a definition which describes the origins of patriarchy and the interconnections between patriarchy, the control of female sexuality, private property, violence, war, conquest, rape in war, and slavery.  Continue reading “Patriarchy as a System of Male Dominance Created at the Intersection of the Control of Women, Private Property, and War, Part 1 by Carol P. Christ”

Awakening to the Mystery of Absolute Beginnings by Carolyn Lee Boyd

carolyn portrait

As I rise at 5:30 each morning, my spirit reawakens in a between-the-worlds realm of absolute beginnings. For those few minutes of quiet and slowly revealing dawn light, I revel in mystical newness, endless possibility, a horizon that is only the future.  By 7 am, when I can hear cars on the road and see television screens through windows as I walk to work, normal, plodding space-time has taken over, leaving just a shimmer to linger in my memory.

I remember living all day with this feeling of being at the very beginning of my world when I was a young child and everything that I did and thought was for the first time. I believed this sense was lost forever when I was later taught by society, as so many of us are, that I was only the tiniest, most ordinary mite in a world already built many eons ago by people with a much brighter genius than me.  Continue reading “Awakening to the Mystery of Absolute Beginnings by Carolyn Lee Boyd”

REMEMBERING MERLIN STONE, 1931-2011 by Carol P. Christ

“In the beginning…God was a woman.  Do you remember?”  Feminst foremother and author of these words Merlin Stone died in Feburary last year.

I can still remember reading the hardback copy of When God Was a Woman while lying on the bed in my bedroom overlooking the river in New York City early in 1977.  The fact that I remember this viscerally underscores the impact that When God Was a Woman had on my mind and my body.  Stone’s words had the quality of revelation:  “In the beginning…God was a woman. Do you remember?”  As I type this phrase more than thirty-five  years after first reading it, my body again reacts with chills of recognition of a knowledge that was stolen from me, a knowledge that I remembered in my body, a knowledge that re-membered my body.  My copy of When God was a Woman is copiously underlined in red and blue ink, testimony to many readings.

Though I could then and can now criticize details in the book, the amassing of information and the comprehensive perspective When God Was a Woman provided was news to me when I first read it.  Despite having earned a Ph.D. in Religious Studies from Yale, I did not “know” that Goddesses were worshipped at the very dawn of religion.  I had not heard of the theories of Indo-European invasions of warlike patriarchal peoples into areas already settled by peaceful matrilineal, matrifocal cultures in Europe and India.  I had written my undergraduate thesis on the prophets, studying their words in the original Hebrew, but I did not understand that their constant references to the Hebrew people “whoring” after “idols” and worshipping “on every high hill and under every green tree” referred to the fact that many of the Hebrew people were choosing to worship Goddesses in sacred places in nature.  Nor did I understand that the Genesis story which I had studied and taught took the sacred symbols of Goddess religion– the snake, the tree and the fruit of the tree, the female body—and turned them upside down.  Continue reading “REMEMBERING MERLIN STONE, 1931-2011 by Carol P. Christ”

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