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Thread: Agrarian Goddess worship question page

  1. #1
    jaye's Avatar
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    Agrarian Goddess worship question

    So I am reading The Chalice and the Blade.

    The premise of this book is that the first agrarian communities were characterized by goddess worship and cooperative communities. There is no archaeological evidence of war or class or sexual hierarchy in these first cultures. From the archaeology, it looks they were very sexually free and had lots of art. Then the war-like herders (kurgan and hittite I think) come in and kill the men and children at these sedentary cultures, taking the women as property, destroying the arts, etc. The society regresses, the culture changes and is the precursor of so-called Western Civ.

    This is a very different picture of the beginnings of Ag than what I gleaned from Jared Diamond in Guns, Germs, and Steel. I'm paraphrasing - He says that annual grains became temporarily abundant (This makes sense to me since annual grasses love disturbance, flooding/drought = bare soil). People started using them and realized they could prepare the ground to get more, started hoarding food and then had to protect it. This eventually causes the culture we see today with sexual inequality, class systems, war, slavery.

    So Diamond's description is accurate for the most part but Eisler makes it all seem not so simple. She blames the war-like herders (even demonizes them imo) where, before, I thought that the tendency towards class and war were coming from inside these first agrarian cultures.

    Ok. so I can get that H-G societies might transition to full-on goddess worship in light of some huge environmental catastrophe that left grass seeds as the only real source of calories. Two reasons - First women were the primary gatherers and so a plant saving the day sort of equates to the feminine coming to their rescue. Second, the increased human population (fertility) that results when people start tilling ground rather than limiting themselves to what their landbase naturally supports (as H-G cultures do) lends itself to goddess worship.

    I can get my head around the first agrarian societies being very much like H-G societies in being egalitarian, cooperative, sexually free, etc. That wouldn't change overnight. And being sedentary opens them up to being attacked but if that wasn't the norm, why would they worry?

    It's these herders I'm trying to understand. Eisler sort of leads you to think that domestication of animals was somehow worse for our psyche (and, in my words, broke humans out of an H-G worldview) than tilling ground. I don't really buy that.

    The herders came from two places - one was coming from the north and one was coming from the desert. One hypothesis of why Chimps and Bonobos are so culturally different is the availability of food. Chimp aggression from not enough food/ Bonobo chill from abundant food. So could northern latitude and desert living mean they were ultra violent? There are a lot of H-G groups who lived in those environments who were very peaceful. If people who were suddenly tilling large areas of ground kept major parts of their H-G worldview, why wouldn't small nomadic herding groups?

    Or were the herders just pissed because the village was located in their traditional seasonal pasture and they were just conducting normal territory raids?

    I guess the only real way to know what is up with these herders is archaeological evidence to show if there was sexual inequality or class structure.

    So, was the cultural transition to violence, class, sexual inequality with ag due to...

    1. Herders that were somehow extra violent due to their relationship with herding animals. They already had the idea of owning other creatures - animals, women, children.
    2. The coming together of normal H-G (herder) territory dispute with new-on-the-scene sedentary cultures making for a very violent mix. In other words, there was something to get violent for since the villages were easy picking for resources but, if raided, would wipe out a whole culture (which wouldn't be true if one raided another H-G/herder camp). Many times the refugees from these destroyed villages became raiding groups themselves.
    3. something else?

    I have a hard time buying that the herder groups already had developed a domination culture? I think it may be the second scenario. What do you think?

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    SarahW's Avatar
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    Eh, I don't really know enough to do a full critique - but, I think it sounds like a bunch of crap.

    From my own (limited) study of anthropology and taboos, herders did not have a "violent" relationship with their animals. This sounds like a bunch of Peta-influenced crazy-talk. The reason why animal sacrifice and hence ritualized slaughter existed was to overcome the inherent violence of slaughtering the domesticated animal to eat. It seems that every act of slaughter was a religious ritual among some groups (hence why every bronze age village in Palestine had its own goat-size altar and temple), with the Divinity being acknowledged and some sort of taboo being followed (such as pouring the blood into the soil). Whether this translates into them being more violent in general is difficult, I think. IMO a culture which acknowledges a problem and seeks to solve it with elaborate rituals is less likely to wantonly engage in that behavior.

    And I'm not sure about the idea of goddesses being signs of female empowerment, that also seems to be a bunch of feminist inspired crazy-talk. If you read the earliest existing religious texts even the most powerful goddesses are recipients of some form of subjugation. In the Egyptian creation myth the ancient sky-goddess had to go to long and violent lengths just to bear some children, but, of course, this is only by continuously having sex with her brother. Lovely.

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    I did a lot of studying on this kind of thing many years ago, while studying roots of Marxism and political correctness.

    Fact is, there is NO evidence of a goddess worshipping culture. Anywhere.

    Where there were many gods some would be female and obviously fertility is always celebrated but I'm afraid the whole concept of some peaceful, happy time when god was a woman and we lived in perfect harmony with nature..? False. Never happened.

    There was a period when virtually anything that wasn't obviously male was instantly seized upon as proof of female worship, goddess worship or "Mother Earth" worship. The most bland little squiggle, anything with rounded corners, virtually anything was looked at through this "goddess" prism. It took a long time forming and then rapidly the whole concept faded away from academia.

    Today you'll have a hard time finding any CURRENT researchers agreeing with the goddess thing. Plenty of ideological support in universities of course but very little actual evidence.

    Bottom line, humans have always been a predator ape, sharp-toothed tool-using hunter-killers, with religion following a clear 'alpha male' trend. Yes, we've always had alpha females too but no, the utopia described by early communists just didn't happen.

    Now I'm afraid in fairness I can't give you sources and all that, as my research was many many years ago and I've moved country and everything. I can assure you though that the whole peaceful time of the goddess thing is ideological, not archeological.


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    Lewis's Avatar
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    There's probably a degree of "picture thinking" at the bottom of a prehistoric people's view of the world.

    So you would often get something like Father Sky and Mother Earth. He rains on her seedbed and the corn comes up.

    Warfare you said? Am trying to read this on a handheld. There's more in the way of what would appear to be anti-personnel weapons in the Bronze Age. One imagines the frequency of warfare increasing as pressure on resources increases with population. And again leisured classes may become captivated by combat as a way of life.

    I don't know where you're posting from but there are obviously plenty of Americans here, as this is a US-based site, and any American would be able to tell you that war was something of a cultural obsession with people who'd never turned the sod in their lives. Someone like Lowie would list and discuss the cultural traits that went along with that.

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    Quote Originally Posted by SarahW View Post
    Eh, I don't really know enough to do a full critique - but, I think it sounds like a bunch of crap.

    From my own (limited) study of anthropology and taboos, herders did not have a "violent" relationship with their animals. This sounds like a bunch of Peta-influenced crazy-talk. The reason why animal sacrifice and hence ritualized slaughter existed was to overcome the inherent violence of slaughtering the domesticated animal to eat. It seems that every act of slaughter was a religious ritual among some groups (hence why every bronze age village in Palestine had its own goat-size altar and temple), with the Divinity being acknowledged and some sort of taboo being followed (such as pouring the blood into the soil). Whether this translates into them being more violent in general is difficult, I think. IMO a culture which acknowledges a problem and seeks to solve it with elaborate rituals is less likely to wantonly engage in that behavior.

    And I'm not sure about the idea of goddesses being signs of female empowerment, that also seems to be a bunch of feminist inspired crazy-talk. If you read the earliest existing religious texts even the most powerful goddesses are recipients of some form of subjugation. In the Egyptian creation myth the ancient sky-goddess had to go to long and violent lengths just to bear some children, but, of course, this is only by continuously having sex with her brother. Lovely.
    Sarah - I totally agree with you on the herders relationship with their animals. I think she is wrongly demonizing them.

    The Goddess worship part of this is fairly secondary; the most important thing is that their is no evidence of war, class structure, slavery.

    I agree that this woman has a bit of an agenda but I think her worldview was formed by these archeaological finds. She just goes too far with it. By the way, the Egyptians came much later than the time she is talking about. She is talking about the paleo to neolithic transition.

  6. #6
    jaye's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by AlanC View Post
    Fact is, there is NO evidence of a goddess worshipping culture. Anywhere.
    As I mentioned to Sarah - the Goddess worship thing is not really that important to me - It's the behavior of the first ag culture that I am wondering about.

    Quote Originally Posted by AlanC View Post
    but I'm afraid the whole concept of some peaceful, happy time when god was a woman and we lived in perfect harmony with nature..? False. Never happened.
    I never said that they were in perfect harmony with nature. This is the beginning of crop ag we are talking about. They are coming out of balance with nature compared with H-G groups.

    Quote Originally Posted by AlanC View Post
    There was a period when virtually anything that wasn't obviously male was instantly seized upon as proof of female worship, goddess worship or "Mother Earth" worship. The most bland little squiggle, anything with rounded corners, virtually anything was looked at through this "goddess" prism. It took a long time forming and then rapidly the whole concept faded away from academia.
    Yes - I could see this being a phase but you have to admit that there's been a male-hierarchical-violent-hunter bias for much longer. We are automatically going to see the data through our own cultural bias.

    Quote Originally Posted by AlanC View Post
    Today you'll have a hard time finding any CURRENT researchers agreeing with the goddess thing. Plenty of ideological support in universities of course but very little actual evidence.
    Yes. I'm going to be looking into this farther and find what's been written since this book.

    Quote Originally Posted by AlanC View Post
    Bottom line, humans have always been a predator ape
    Yes, mostly. Some people say we started out as scavengers.
    Quote Originally Posted by AlanC View Post
    sharp-toothed
    Our teeth aren't that sharp but I don't totally get why this is important. We obviously are omnivorous.
    Quote Originally Posted by AlanC View Post
    tool-using hunter-killers
    Yes. We were also tool-using gatherers.
    Quote Originally Posted by AlanC View Post
    with religion following a clear 'alpha male' trend. Yes, we've always had alpha females too but no, the utopia described by early communists just didn't happen.
    I'm not talking about a utopia. And if you study H-G religions a little more and I don't think the alpha male or female religion thing stands up.
    Last edited by jaye; 10-07-2012 at 08:23 AM. Reason: quoting error

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    Quote Originally Posted by Lewis View Post
    There's probably a degree of "picture thinking" at the bottom of a prehistoric people's view of the world.

    So you would often get something like Father Sky and Mother Earth. He rains on her seedbed and the corn comes up.

    Warfare you said? Am trying to read this on a handheld. There's more in the way of what would appear to be anti-personnel weapons in the Bronze Age. One imagines the frequency of warfare increasing as pressure on resources increases with population. And again leisured classes may become captivated by combat as a way of life.

    I don't know where you're posting from but there are obviously plenty of Americans here, as this is a US-based site, and any American would be able to tell you that war was something of a cultural obsession with people who'd never turned the sod in their lives. Someone like Lowie would list and discuss the cultural traits that went along with that.
    Thanks Lewis! I will look up Lowie. These sites are located in Turkey and also include the Old Europe Culture and earliest Crete.

    I'm in the states myself. I did think about the Plains indians. It seems there are a lot of similarities except that our culture was actively taking over their territory and offering a new cultural paradigm simultaneously. But I think you are right. I'm coming to think that the switch to warring as a way of life was probably started by territory disputes between the herders (who had horses) and sedentary agrarian communities (who were expanding and who's resources were easy to take).

  8. #8
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    Male violent hierarchy? Lol that implies women are innocent victims/bystanders and that's the last thing they are.
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    Just jumping in with another thought -

    Violence between herders and agriculturists is, I believe, largely economic.

    Herders largely lived on "marginal" land, the highlands and scrubby lands where you can't sow seeds, but goats can do well. But if there is an ecological problem, drought, pests, monsoon, etc., it's these marginal lands that are the hardest hit. So then the herders look down from the mountains and see the green valleys and say "hey, we should take our goats there so we don't starve!" But if the agriculturists disagree (because they're also just barely surviving) you have war. Males and females on both sides trying to stay alive.

    So, Marx was right, feminists are wrong.

    I brought up Nut because she seems to be the oldest sky-goddess we have good evidence for, but as for how old her mythology actually is...anthropologists can argue that one out. But - what evidence we do have for paleolithic goddesses don't give me very much comfort on the whole females-are-humans-who-should-be-respected scale.

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    Quote Originally Posted by SarahW View Post
    Just jumping in with another thought -

    Violence between herders and agriculturists is, I believe, largely economic.

    Herders largely lived on "marginal" land, the highlands and scrubby lands where you can't sow seeds, but goats can do well. But if there is an ecological problem, drought, pests, monsoon, etc., it's these marginal lands that are the hardest hit. So then the herders look down from the mountains and see the green valleys and say "hey, we should take our goats there so we don't starve!" But if the agriculturists disagree (because they're also just barely surviving) you have war. Males and females on both sides trying to stay alive.
    Yes! Exactly.

    Quote Originally Posted by SarahW View Post
    I brought up Nut because she seems to be the oldest sky-goddess we have good evidence for, but as for how old her mythology actually is...anthropologists can argue that one out. But - what evidence we do have for paleolithic goddesses don't give me very much comfort on the whole females-are-humans-who-should-be-respected scale.
    Gotcha. It doesn't seem like their is monotheism (god or goddess) until there is agriculture. Maybe that's not correct but it seems so from what I've read on the subject. It also seems to me that IF there was a society with a goddess as the primary deity, it was a blip and a lead-in to the coming of a single male deity.

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