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The birth of civilization

The story of the birth of civilization begins more than ten thousand years ago with two radical steps towards man’s creation of an artificial environment - the agricultural revolution, which then led to the urban one. With gathering, women unconsciously took nature into culture: in striking the stalk of wild wheat with her sickle she helped to scatter the wild-blown seeds; in carrying the grasses home she increased the proportion of grains with large heads that stuck to the stalk. Their gathering began to produce more and more food, and the storage of it required a new kind of sedentary life. The domestication of wild plants and animals was the single most important breakthrough in the material technology of our species.

The period of 8000-6000 B.C. saw the rise of domestic architecture and permanent villages. This shift from the seasonal round to permanent settlement was inspired by religious as well as economic or environmental reasons. The new techniques also spread rapidly, and the success of agriculture necessitated its physical expansion which led to a rapid increase in population. Small villages comprising perhaps two to three hundred people developed where man’s mental powers could flourish and bear the fruits of human civilization.

Meanwhile, male hunting required greater distances and longer-lived seasonal camps. Storage in the granaries produced wealth, and this would require male presence to protect it. In other words, wealth and possessions engendered the need for defense; the subculture of the hunt became male competition and aggression as men came to understand that they need not stop at defense, but could not include hunting for other people’s wealth. Population pressures also forced them to exploit other lands in order to create larger communities. And yet as Thompson puts it, “every culture which has ever created a class to protect itself has ended up having to protect itself from the protectors” (1981: 133-134).

For hundreds of thousands of years the culture of women and women’s mysteries was the dominant ideology of humanity. The distance and tension between the female and the male patterns of life became increasingly pronounced. With the accumulation of property, of herds, fields, irrigation systems, walls and temples, there was no going back: the supremacy of the male over the female had begun. By the fifth millennium B.C.E. there is evidence of invasions causing large- scale destruction and dislocation (Eisler, 1987: 43). From about 4300 to 2800 B.C.E., the ancient world was battered by wave after wave of barbarian invasion. The warriors conquered the people and brought with them their powerful priests, as well as their fierce and angry male gods of war. The land was being changed by a culture that developed and devoted themselves to the art of war. It is in this psychological climate that humanity opted for violence and rigid order over egalitarianism.

The transition from matriarchal to patriarchal was accomplished through violent aggression, brutal massacres and the conquering of territories (and this is how institutionalized violence became the shadow of the Neolithic revolution). The enantiodromia created by the discovery of cereals by women is that it created warfare for men who discovered a new way to be powerful. In a self-reinforcing process, conquering increased the size of the settlements, and as a consequence greater technological and organizational efficiency was demanded. A warlike tendency of conquering, cruelty, killing and might developed as civilization evolved. Civilization and warfare spelled the end of the Great Mother, and by 4000 B.C. the world became decidedly masculine. A striking fact is that in matriarchal times humankind lived as food-gatherers for tens of thousands of years, but it took only three thousand years, from around 6000 B.C. to the later part of the third millennium, for the institution of patriarchal values to occur (Huxley, 1966: 205).

Ancient cultures were urban, male, literate, agricultural and militaristic. Village settlements changed into organized, hierarchical cities run by classes of knights and priests. The culture of custom and authority gives way to a culture of power. Monumental buildings were erected, and a socially shared system of writing developed. Rivalry among economic elites for control over scarce resources led to increased centralization of the state and to militarism. The form of the city itself is an expression of the power of the rational mind to repel chaos, manifesting the triumph of mind over matter, male over female. There is a shift from the religious and magical authority of the Goddess to masculine military power, the way of death that becomes a way of life. The male body’s greater physical strength became the basis for social oppression, organized warfare, or the concentration of physical property in the hands of the strongest man. In the face of all the technological wonders of male civilization, woman’s ways appeared simple and primitive.

A conflictbetweenthe sexes arises withwoman’s accidental discovery of gathering and gardening that led to the shift from the Neolithic matrilineal order to the civilized, patriarchal one. The archetypal foundation for civilization appears to be the displacement of the maternal feminine: “whether he is challenging Mother Nature in flying away from her in rockets, or in changing her on earth through genetic engineering, man has not given up in the attempt to take away the mystery of life from the Great Mother and the conservative feminine religion” (Thompson, 1981: 163). Women became private property in the new trading and raiding society: “Mesolithic society may have seen the domestication of animals, and Neolithic society may have seen the domestication of plants, but the age after the Neolithic sees the domestication of women by men” (p. 155).

Humanity has shifted from the simplicity of the custom-bound life of the intimate matrilineal village to the law-ruled life of the complex patrilineal state. The both monotheistic and polytheistic mother goddess was displaced by a single and all powerful father god. Through a subtle but consistent erasing process, the goddess was demythologized so that the numinosity that once belonged to her imbues other deities. Technologies of destruction are given the highest priority. Golden figurines are melted down and fashioned into chariots. Their precious stones are embedded in the hilts of shields and swords. Patrons of agricultural enterprises became patrons of war, and then the warrior gods drive the Goddess people out. The Goddess is murdered and from her raped body the new state is constructed. The earth is a possession to be plundered by mankind for the benefit of civilization. The instrument which rendered man able to change his relationship to the earth is the plow, new technology that performs like a great phallus, taking gardening away from women and turning it into agriculture.

The period of warfare placed a heavy burden on the development of human culture. Transformations, being imperceptible in culture, do not take place in history; revolutions take place through myth, and it is due to this that they render the invisible visible (Thompson, 1981). Civilization itself is merely an external- ization of consciousness, a fact which makes this transition not only a cultural evolution but also an evolution in consciousness. Egohood dawned with civilization in the same way it emerges in the development of the infant in its frustrations and separation from mother. And as humanity moved forward in a process of increasing individuation we paid a high price for that ego: repression and a great divorce between the ego and the soul. In the shift from village life to civilization there was psychological shift in archetypes.

In the revolution to patriarchal civilization woman becomes victim, and the Great Mother is diabolized through her eyes. First depicted without facial features, she eventually becomes the Terrible Mother with the Evil Eyes, or even just eyes (Ayers, 2003: 110-118). Mankind attempts to conquer her too. One example is Hathor, an Egyptian Winged Cow of Creation who is now sent out in the form of a large all-seeing eye by the sun god to spy on the human race. Fiercely aroused, she becomes savage and begins to destroy humanity. Hathor’s malevolence takes the form of the Evil Eye, when she is solely a destructive figure (Husain, 2003: 135). Inanna, the most beloved of Mother Goddesses whose eyes of love adorned her temple (see Figure 2.2), was transformed into a goddess of war whose glance could kill. In the following passage from the Ninmesarra Hymn, Enheduanna depicts Inanna as a strong and ferocious warrior whose rage was contained in her eyes. This rage was then co-opted by mankind to ensure victories:

Frieze of Inanna's Eye Temple. Courtesy of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago

Figure 2.2 Frieze of Inanna's Eye Temple. Courtesy of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.

That you totally destroy rebellious lands - be it known!

That you roar at the land - be it known!

That you kill - be it known!

That like a dog you eat the corpses - be it known!

That your glance is terrible - be it known!

That your glance flashes - be it known!

At those who do not obey - be it known!

That you attain victories - be it known!

(quoted in Frymer-Kensky, 1992: 65)

The Terrible Mothers’ Evil Eyes appeared on the helmets of warriors as badges of honor (which is intimately linked to shame, for the face is a synonym for both shame and honor) (see Figure 2.3) , and/or was used to strike fear into their enemies, the ones with whom they came face-to-face. The face of Medusa, the Gorgon who shamed and castrated men upon eye contact, was used on shields and helmets to possess the power of this vengeful being. Acts of violence, war and aggression formed an effort to subvert and subsume her power.

Patriarchy dug in with pure military power to stay for a long time to come. Even today, defense departments still use the powers of the Terrible Mother for military might. The largest and most powerful high explosive ever built by the U.S. has been named the “Mother Of All Bombs” (after which the Russians announced a larger one which they named “The Father Of All Bombs”). The MOAB is a lethal cocktail of explosives weighing “9.5 tons of sheer hell” with a blast radius of 150 square yards, or nine city blocks. It is the mother of all bombs because it will cause the mother of all damage. It has also been called a man-made earthquake. In 1991, Saddam Hussein conquered Kuwait and postured with threats to deliver the “Mother of All Battles” (Umm Al Ma’arik). This turned into among other things the “Mother of All Retreats,” “The Mother of All Blowouts,” “The Mother of all Marine Operations” and the “Mother of all Briefings.”

Thracian gold ceremonial helmet from Romania

Figure 2.3 Thracian gold ceremonial helmet from Romania. (Getian princely helmet, discovered at Cotofenesti (Varbilau commune, Prahova county, Romania), 4th - 3rd centuries BC), copyright © National History Museum of Romania, Bucharest, photo: eng. Marius Amarie.

And yet there can be no conquering of the Terrible Mother. A basic psychoanalytic tenet is that repression always creates pathological potential. So, like any psychic content that is repressed and only grows more powerful, the Great Mother will remain extremely and progressively terrible so long as patriarchy oppresses the maternal feminine. The dark side of the mother, a place of massive collective repression, only grows in negativity as she is silenced and banished from expression. The unconscious gets projected onto the feminine, and, thus ensnared, man becomes victim. The masculine entered culture by splitting off the Great Mother, relegating her to the depths of the unconscious. This throws the sexes, heretofore in a balanced relationship, into opposition. “Man cut the umbilical cord to the Great Mother with a sword, and the sword has been hanging over his head ever since” (Thompson, 1981: 156).

In the shift from one mentality to another, humanity begins to become separated from nature, divide subject and object, split value from analysis, and knowledge from myth. And women, as a result of these material conditions, are systematically subordinated in a pattern that is to recur over and over again throughout history. Intellect replaces heart. Reason replaces feeling. Throughout this conversion process the image of the succubus - that mask for men’s shame - has played a pivotal role. It is through her that a deliberate reversal of reality as it has formerly been perceived is effected: the Great Goddess is transformed into a symbol of pure evil, and woman is blamed for all the misfortunes of humanity (or the weaknesses of men).

I want now to quote from Eisler who in her writings on this omnipotent militaristic takeover and dominance of the patriarchy depicts precisely the place where cultural shame enters and petrifies in our history:

But concealed within this purportedly grand and glorious beginning was the flaw that has widened into the most dangerous of chasms in our time. After millennia of upward movement in our technological, social, and cultural evolution, an ominous split was now underway. Like the deep cracks left by violent movements of the earth in that time, the breach between our technological and social evolution on the one hand and our cultural evolution on the other would steadily widen. The technological and social movement toward greater complexity of structure and function resumed. But the possibilities for cultural development were now to be stunted - rigidly caged in a dominator society.

(1987: 56)

Eisler is writing of the moment where the communal world view of humanity started to break down, and the alienations of civilization with a “codified hero system” (Becker, 1973: 7) begins to reshape history. Shame is the affect that is concealed and threatens to erupt in the chasm that splits the advances of civilization from culture, law from custom, military power from religious authority, the individual warrior from the cohesion of the collective. The maternal feminine has been, however, “rigidly caged” or petrified by the domination of women who are seen as intrinsically hostile to the aims of civilized life. It is in this crack that shame takes its hold, the dark, blinded maternal feminine out of which attempts at an ordered social and political life are made. Today, the cry of shame threatens to split the crevice in the earth even wider.

History speaks to the fact that the idea of woman began to change when humankind entered what is called high civilization. Symbols of femininity are eventually reversed under the patriarchy; once revered as sacred, awe-inspiring and fertile, the idea that the female element is now evil is forcibly expressed in the earliest written material of Western culture. This is the phenomena that will be explored for the remainder of this chapter, and it will be shown that the shadow of the succubus has fallen on women from its first conception to the present day, and that the underside of this potent image is the affect of shame.

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