The Bronze Age
The whole culture of the Bronze Age is named for the image of conquest, and for its technology, used for weapons, not for communal sharing. This time period is very rich, and is also known for the development of astronomy, math, and writing. Hieroglyphics and other written images join with pictures to bring to life the stories of ancient people.
The primal unity of The Great Goddess, the origin of all things, becomes complicated into many goddesses and gods, which reflects the patterns of human consciousness, evolving. The great myth of the Bronze Age is structured on the distinction between the whole, (Zoe) — personified as the Mother Goddess, and the part, (Bios) — personified as her daughter, or, her son-lover.
All these millennia later, Zoe and Bios still exist to tell the story of the moon, and the cycle that is always changing and always the same. What we cannot see, the invisible parts, must be reflected in our limited human perspective of the whole. We could only understand through our imaginations, that when something goes away, a loved one, an animal or plant, it will return after a time, like the moon.
The story is the same, over and over, everywhere on earth. The Goddess becomes separated from the one she loves, who dies or seems to die, and falls into a darkness called The Underworld. The separation is reflected in nature as a loss of fertility and light. The Goddess descends to the underworld and overcomes the darkness so that her loved one may be returned to the light, and life may continue. This is the first heroic quest. These stories are accompanied by festivals, so that all people in the society can personally participate, and so, partake of the myth.
In Sumeria, she is Inanna, and she goes to meet her sister, Ereshkigal, Queen of the Underworld. In Babylonia, she is Ishtar, and yearly she journeys to awaken her son-lover, Tammuz from the underworld and bring him up to the light. In Egypt, she is Isis, married to her brother-husband, Osiris, and she loses him through their brother, Seth killing him. The whole earth is barren till she finds him and brings back his dismembered pieces.
In Canaan, the god, Baal goes to the underworld to confront his death, personified by his brother, Mot. Mot kills him, and their sister, the goddess Anath goes down to fetch his body. She kills the evil Mot, and scatters him like grain to fertilize the fields.
In Greece, the goddess, Demeter, loses her daughter, Persephone to Hades— god of the underworld, who seizes her to be his wife. Demeter’s mourning leaves the earth without food and light, and only when her daughter is returned to her in spring does the earth grow fruitful again.
In the later Iron Age, the goddess Cybele loves a shepherd, Attis, but he falls in love with a nymph, and Cybele makes him crazy so that he castrates himself. When the goddess mourns him, flowers and trees rise from the blood of his castration. In Greece, the goddess Aphrodite loses her lover, Adonis, Lord of Vegetation, who’s gored by a boar, but now, in the misogynistic Greece, she has been so weakened by patriarchy that she cannot save him, but must ask Zeus to allow him to return to life from spring to autumn.
Finally, Jesus, son of the goddess Mary, dies and descends into Hell for 3 days, the length of the dark moon, and returns on a day that coincides with the earth’s regeneration. Easter is celebrated on the Sunday following the first full moon after spring equinox, so that Jesus’ resurrection also reflects the turning of winter to spring, which was most likely taken from the earlier global myth that preceded it.
In the Paleolithic, the moon gave people time, sequence, duration, and recurrence.
In the Neolithic, the cycles of the moon were experienced in the cycles of the crops, where the phases of light and dark were reflected in the fertile and barren earth.
In the Bronze Age, the moon’s phases are given dramatic form in the great myths, lived by goddesses and gods in their changing relation to each other, to humans, and to life on earth.
This is how myth allows humans to learn to drop into the experience of the great cycles that rule life—the moon, the seasons, and mortality. This is how these cosmic occurrences are personified to represent the mysteries of life to humans—through myth. People see every part of the cycle through understanding a symbol of the eternal cycle of the whole, which unifies all. The great myth of the Bronze Age is structured on the distinction between Zoe—the whole, the mother goddess— and Bios —the part—her daughter, son, or lover.
Zoe and Bios. The embodiment of 2 dimensions co-existing in life— the infinite and the finite, the eternal and the individual. Zoe is the infinite being. Bios is the living- and-dying manifestation of the eternal world of The Great Goddess, in time.
Zoe is the total lunar cycle; bios is the individual phases. Zoe is both transcendent and immanent. Bios is only immanent. We say that Bios is contained in Zoe. But bios cannot contain Zoe. For example, the Paleolithic myth of the Goddess contained the myth of the hunter, but the myth of the hunter could not contain the myth of the Goddess.
Together, these image the 2 faces of life, which can be understood as the unmanifest and the manifest. The son and daughter personify the ever-dying and ever-renewed forms of life—animal, vegetable, mineral, and human. By the Bronze Age we have indeed separated the human from the animal world in which we grew up, and became conscious. The son and daughter, consort or husband, all incarnate the life of the earth. And these forms of life are manifest, visible, until they die and are transformed, in a magical experience of dissolution and rebirth that defies our understanding, and they become unmanifest, invisible. These are high concepts which drove the human psyche to a deeper evolution.
The moments of transition in the agricultural cycles are commemorated with festivals of mourning and rejoicing, and in the great mythic dramas that express the relationships between human, plant, and animal. They speak of survival in the harshness of The Bronze Age, and the wars that engulfed earth’s humans.
Participating in these rituals created a trust in times of suffering, death, and darkness, that, much as the moon’s and the seasonal darkness’s are always followed by light and life, so death is always followed by rebirth. The archetype of The Sacred Marriage, where the Mother Goddess is reunited with her son as lover, symbolically reconnects the 2 worlds of zoe and bios, and it is this union that regenerates the earth.
Crete, Sumeria, and Egypt are the principle areas of Bronze Age culture. These same symbols spread from Old Europe to India and across the Middle East, the Mediterranean, and the Aegean. The same symbols—The Goddess as cow and lioness, the Tree of Life, and the god-consort, symbolized by the bull— flourish in all the cultures of these disparate and diverse regions.
Nature was still experienced as numinous in The Bronze Age, as being both sacred and alive. “It is not that the divine is everywhere, it is that the divine is everything. “ (Joseph Campbell) We see an uncanny repetition in all these cultures of the Bronze Age, that the sun, moon, rivers, stars, the grapes and corn and fruits, the storm, sexuality, and even, increasingly, wat— all these forces were named and so, understood, as gods and goddesses.
Because of agriculture, there was a need for counting, and there was surplus.
Because of this, there was an astounding synthesis of astronomy, math, and writing that created an inspirational vision of the relationship between The Above and The Below, or the manifest and the unmanifest.
Towering temples, called ziggurats, were the first examples of monumental architecture in history, and the heaven-gazing priesthood invented science through observing the skies. All our images of months, hours, and seconds that mark the passage of time come from Sumerian discoveries some 5,500 years ago.
The temple was where the rites happened that renewed the earth’s fertility, and also was the place of safest storage for the surplus produce. The temple belonged to the goddess, and the priest or priestess of the temple was the custodian of the land. The earliest kings were shepherds of the people and caretakers of the land on behalf of the Goddess.
Possibly the greatest social change for human consciousness, after the evolution of the image of The Goddess, was the transition from village to city to state to empire. Patriarchy is based on hierarchy, and it was the accumulation of food surplus that led to the rankings, or hierarchy of priests, farmers, craftspeople, and, for the first time, warriors. Surplus led to defense, which led to war. There were constant invasions in this era, which have never really stopped since, and the communities were forced to re-organize.
The movement from the countryside to the cities became irreversible as the population was continually threatened with attack. This is the same excuse for The War on Terror (TWOT), for the needs of security and repression. This is when the Goddess recedes into the background, and father gods/warriors move to the center.
The invaders had a totally different vision of life. The Goddess fell, or was pushed, back—unable to inspire peace and unity in the face of constant war. Male gods and the principles of male dominance increased in power. An elaborate system of divine relationship and intermarriage connected the new discoveries of the human realm with new gods and goddesses, and new creation myths, in which the Father God plays the central role.
In Sumeria and Egypt, the first myths of the separation of earth and heaven begin. These will become the foundation for the Iron Age theologies. The emphasis is no longer on creation emerging from a mother goddess, but on a god separating his parents, or killing and separating the body of the goddess, and so initiating the process of creation. Why? Perhaps it is because men can’t give life, but they can force elements to separate. Is this the beginning of science?Also, we see that the male gods can speak power through words. Birth becomes words that speak all things into being.
A god separates his parents. In Sumer, Nammu, The Goddess of the Primordial Waters brings forth the cosmic mountain, An-Ki, heaven and earth. An and Ki have a son, Enlil, God of Air or Breath, who separates heaven from earth and carries off his mother, Earth (Ki) to be his bride. Enlil then takes the place of the goddess as supreme creator.
In Egypt, Nun is the primal waters, imagined as the father, not the mother, making earth male and sky female. Atum rose out of the waters and created Shu and Tefnut, male and female, by masturbating. Shu and Tefnut gave birth to Nut, (Sky) and Geb, (Earth). Shu, like Enlil, instigates the next stage of creation, which is separating earth and sky. As Air, he creates space between them. This is an image of the birth of consciousness, lifting away from earth and bringing duality into being. This birth of consciousness separates humanity from nature, and the immanent from the transcendent. This new understanding finds symbolic/mythic expression in the god who orders from beyond, rather than the Goddess who moves from within.
Now all our gods will be sky gods, instead of earth goddesses. Nature becomes seen as lower and spirit as higher.
The Bronze age is the first time we learn there are individual names and personalities of mythic gods and goddesses. All these are differentiations that reflect the growing awareness of the individual’s power to shape events. This gives rise to the Hero —the myth of a person of greater wisdom, power, and strength, who responds to a whole new dimension of endeavor, and offers a model for the rest of the tribe to emulate. Govern a city, kill a monster, stop a river, defend the tribe, win a war. The ancient hunting instinct is diverted away from a hunt for an animal to the new demands of survival. The myth of the Hero shifts our human attention away from the round of nature, expressed in the myth of the Goddess, and exclusively towards the world of man as the center of the universe. Man, not woman, becomes the central figure now.
back to list