The Evolution of Patriarchy (The Great Cosmic Mother)

I taught a Women’s Studies class in The Evolution of the Great Goddess for a decade, and I always capped it off with this lecture, given over 3 class periods.  It’s inspired by The Great Cosmic Mother, by Monica Sjoo and   Barbara Moore, (Harper and Row, 1987), one of the best books I’ve ever read about how women and nature got to this place we  now find ourselves in.


The Evolution of Patriarchy                      
When activists point to the world’s most terrible problems, people respond, “How did this happen?” Well, here is an analysis detailing how the root cause of all modern human misery came about. This is a way to begin to understand, and thereby break through to the brokenness of human alienation.

“The downside of Feminism is taking on a political system so pervasive that it’s still confused with nature.” (Gloria Steinham)

It’s no longer valuable to view politics as merely existing in space, but also, politics exists in time. It’s not just geopolitics, but also, chrono-politics.  

Interruptions, oppressions and power structures are in the realm of Time. And that’s where our resistance should be. If we fight in space, instead of time, we will not find the enemy. Because the enemy exists in time, 4,000 years ago. We are about to destroy the world because of a profound mistake made in Bronze Age patriarchal ontology. A mistake, or a deliberate lie, for you conspiracy buffs. But biology also dreams, and in its dreams it outleaps time as well as space. To evolve in time to save ourselves and all life, we need to activate our genetic capacity for magic. We need to go back in time, and understand the relation to all life that has been denied by every patriarchal religion for 4,000 years.

The female principle is the Source of all Being; A celebration that we are one with Life.   The lies of patriarchy rest on these assumptions:

1. The world was created by a male god.

2. Existing cultures and world orders were made by and for men with god’s sanctions.

3. Females exist to serve and populate these male orders.       

4. The autonomous female poses a wild and lethal threat to these orders and must be controlled and repressed.        

5. God’s existence as a male sanctions this repression.

It’s the perfect circular bullshit model. Wherever we go on this earth, every institution is built on the solid slabs of these assumptions.

Patriarchal religions and systems suppress, damn and hoard ecstasy, nature, matter, pleasure, and connection. They practice world-hatred, separate the inner and outer worlds, and revere abstraction, which is presented as somehow superior to immersion in Life. Their religions lock us in the prison of dualism. The earth-based religions of the goddess, on the other hand, are about union with all manifest energies.

Women, Race, and Class
Women’s Liberation is about the liberation of all the women in the world who are oppressed. Womyn suffer the most from the global system of capitalism. Endless work for economic and military domination under the cloaks of The War on Terrorism and “Free Trade”. Womyn in the military in the U.S. were pushed in by economic privation. They’re hurt by budget cuts as the economy shifts to military priority. Others will suffer at the hands of their men returning from battle. Women in other countries bear the brunt of our violence and young women are the majority of sweatshop slaves in Mexico and Asia. Most of the women in the world are womyn of color and they do most of the world’s work. To achieve equity, we need to feed the hungry. Consumer culture is a weapon of mass destruction. The feminist movement needs to focus more on race and class. We need an analysis of institutional racism, as well as interpersonal racism.

Fundamentalist Christianity
“You are what is female. You shall be called Eve. And what is masculine shall be called God, and from your name, Eve, we shall take the word, evil, and from god’s name, the word, good.  Now you understand patriarchal morality.”  (Judy Grahn)

Patriarchal Religion
Teach humans to believe in a hereafter and they will put up with all manner of tyranny, poverty, and pain. To concentrate on heaven is to create hell. The rain of missiles, the great thunderclap of war; babies born smelling of sulfur. But the time of refreshing shall come, say the orthodox religions of male rule. The cliché of the end of the world is the king of all clichés and came down through organized religion to limit people to second hand experiences.

Christians longing for heaven, for The Rapture, long to transcend the disorder and chaos of an uncontrollable world. The apocalypse is the driving force in U.S. politics today. The delusional is no longer marginal- it sits in the Oval Office, or did for many many years, and it’s biggest constituency was actively praying for the end of the world.

“After the last tree is felled, Christ will return.” (Bush’s head of the Environmental Protection Agency. ) It’s not only not important to protect nature, but the sooner it’s destroyed, the better. The war with Islam is welcomed by these people as an essential piece on the road to redemption. In 2002, 45 Senators and 186 Representatives were Born Again Christians, who believe that we’re living in the End Times. If time doesn’t run out soon, they’re gonna run it out. They see signs that the end is near; the same signs their ignorant ancestors saw millennia ago. They believe they’re in spiritual warfare on earth, and that this is the time of the immanent second coming of Jesus Christ. They want purity and order, not friction and unpredictability, secured by angels in the final, gated kingdom. The messy unpredictable imperfection of life solidifies into a perfectly ordered and totally controlled monolith.

Abortion foes aren’t “pro-life”, they’re pro-fetus. Well, it’s easy to champion a fetus when the womin is doing all the work. What is hard is to change the world so millions and millions of children have a chance for some kind of goodness in life after they’re born. This is the ony real pro-life work. Fundamentalists aren’t involved in a religion of life, but in a religion of male control, which is about a male’s exclusive rights to make life and death decisions.  Abortion represents a womin’s right to make life and death decisions. It’s one way to regain our ancient power and intuitive skills by making these decisions. This is how god becomes female again. Even primates nurse their babies for 3-6 years before becoming pregnant again. This much suffering, starvation and poverty from overpopulation is Not Natural, is Not “life”- it’s a condition traceable solely and specifically to patriarchal religions. These religions support nuclear proliferation, the death penalty, and war against other humans and the Earth. There is nothing “pro-life” about them.Life does not “begin” or “end”. Life is always here. Life does not emerge from us. We emerge from life.

Ecstasy was once our original state of being as we perceived ourselves connected to all of creation. Now it’s been reduced to the momentary delusion of poets, madmen and lovers. Patriarchy harnessed this ecstasy and then began to control it.   Ecstasy means standing outside oneself.  Ecstasy is our original state of being, union. The cosmic passion of the universe experienced through the thought-forms of the universe —" the flesh, the cells, biology and spirit, unified in the imagination of the earth.” (M0nica Sjoo) The earth is a living, intelligent system connecting us all. The earth-based religions were the celebration of the recognition that we are One with all Life. The celebration of the female, who can give birth from her body and create food to feed that life from her body is magical, is holy, and is the earliest link to the goddess. from the beginning, the human community loved, thanked, and sang praises to this earth, which like a woman, makes food enough for her offspring from her own body. The realms of the goddesses were, for 400,000 years, about celebrating oneness with intense joy, intoxicating ritual, and illumination of boundarylessness. There’s no border between me and not me. That’s the ecstasy all religions talk about, but patriarchy patrols the borders of all our minds and bodies, completely controlling womyn and nature both.

Yes, we long to know the divine, but we must do this by enlarging our souls and lighting up our brains, activity which runs against the aspirations and apparatus of commerce and politics. Politics, the science of domination, finds illumined and enlarged people way too hard to control. Politics usurped religion a very long time ago. Kings bought off priests and fed the people ignorance, superstition and fear to keep them small and under control. Rulers disconnected the masses from the earth and the waters. Soul, heavy and hot, was traded for spirit, cool, abstract, detached, connected to the sky, to gasses and fire, and the fire power of war. Mysticism was criticized, direct participation with divine creation and knowledge was belittled as exotic and inferior. Religion is organized, controlled mysticism which kills it. Religion is a denial of all that’s divine in people. So, of course we want to do drugs!

Patriarchy is the repression of this energy. Patriarchy set out to banish ecstasy, to control people’s minds. Patriarchy tells us that the body is dirty, women are “a temple standing over a sewer”. Patriarchy is all about the opposite of ecstasy- alienation and domination and suffering. The machinery of patriarchy runs on those ecstatic energies, totally repressed and converted to piety and drudgery. The masses of people are forcibly retrained, retained and maintained at the level of the reptile brain- the brain of ritualized repetition and benumbed violence. The reptile brain is kept hypnotized from the outside by means of mass produced dreams and longing for things, and the commercial hallucinations of transcendence. The luminosity is on the screens, projected at us, while our evolutionary brain sits in darkness.

Orgasm is linked to original sin, to the I/Thou experience of intrinsic connection, compassion and the loss of the mind and the ego. Linked also with the goddess realms of intense joy and illumination that cross the border from the wastelands of despair, sin, suffering and alienation.  One may only love god, divinely, abstractly, and so Christians face chronic guilt. Nowhere has sex been so debased, and porn so prolific. Non-reproductive ecstasy, the goddess’s initiations and rituals, is forbidden. The fanatic misogyny of Judeo/Christianity and Islam as patriarchy sets out to destroy our psychic relationship with the earth and the cosmos. Ecstasy is what’s needed, to tear down the isolated ego, to merge again with knowing that we are connected to all life. That and only that will save us.

Ancient womyn were the undivided ones: the human female, designed by evolution as the link between flesh and spirit. The mother’s womb is a condensed experience of the cosmos. Prenatal life is the original state of ecstatic consciousness within a sexual/spiritual universe. A bodily reciprocity, a taste of the undivided world and we never forget it. The longing to return to this is not a backward craving but an urge to expand, to re-establish the cosmic connection. This is the core of all mystical experience. No leaders. No followers. No hierarchy. We are connected to the earth as biological/spiritual beings. Life and earth haven’t changed. Our definitions of reality have changed. In dreams, in sex, in art, and when we’re tripping, we experience biology and spirit as unified. Male theology is a spectator sport. The hero’s journey exemplifies this, with it’s insistence individuation from the unity of the mother, and individual suffering and alienation.  In male theology and the hero’s journey, we see illustrations of Her silent presence and his noisy history.

The continuous eternal wisdom cycle of coming from nothing and returning to nothing are seen in womyn, the moon, and the snake. All these were seen as  miraculous inter-connected transformations. Even in Catholicism we see the icon of the great mother who stands on the horned moon, and awaits the rebirth of the world.  The goddess is first of all earth. The dark, nurturing mother who brings forth all life, she is the power of fertility and generation. She is also the receptive tomb, the power of death. All proceeds from her and all returns to her. As earth, she is plant life, she is trees, grains, herbs that sustain life. She is the body and the body is sacred.

“While the anthropologists were off somewhere else, busily mapping the evolution of Tarzan, the first god was female.” (Monica Sjoo)

Patriarchal Sexuality
In Christianity, god never has sex. He is literally above life. He lives in the sky. Mary’s a virgin who doesn’t have sex. Jesus is a celibate. Eve is condemned, and through her, all womyn, condemned by god to leave the garden forever, and to follow her dumb-ass husband over the barren, male controlled earth; condemned specifically to unwanted pregnancies and painful childbirth, and ignorance. In all patriarchal religions, womyn are controlled by men, tamed and broken, dominated property of fathers and husbands and sons.

The goddess only appears three times in the Old Testament: patriarchalized as Eve, the Virgin Mary, and The Whore of Babylon. The mouthpieces of Judeo-Christian were too freaked out by her openness, her variability, her magic and her carnality to even write down her name: Astoreth.

Male dominated agriculture evolved the concept of the earth as inert, and the life seed (the father’s seed) as containing the child. Ploughing was the rape of the earth’s dumb matter by the enlightened spirit, sowing the life force of his seed. The female ovum wasn’t discovered by science till 1827, so for 4,000 years of patriarchy, all religions, philosophies, and biological theories were based on the assumption that the male was the sole generative physical and cosmic force. This set humans up for complete alienation from connection; nothing makes any sense separate from the earth. Judeo-Christians were anti- earth, anti-body, anti- woman, anti-pleasure. Sex was just for reproduction and the training in sexual paranoia is still an all pervasive. Above all, women must not enjoy sex.

Since the dawn of consciousness, the light of the world was the Divine Mother, who all male gods usurped. She, the most ancient mother of god, the mother of all- was lifegiving and nurturing, the only acceptable qualities of womynhood remaining, but also the mistress of chaos and destruction- the abyss that is the source and the end, the ground of all being. Because she was changeable and playful, because she loved natural chaos as much as natural order, because her feminine intuition was at odds with masculine reason, because she could give life while they could only take it, resentful Hebrew priests led a coup against her 4,000 years ago and Western Civilization is the result. Life still begins in the womb and the earth, but men control the divine channels now. And even though their control is an illusion, their laws, institutions, weaponry exist to maintain it.

So here’s an important question —why do womyn continue to serve male dominated and male defined institutions which are based, structurally and ideologically, on a searing contempt and hatred of womyn? After 2 or 3 millennia of serving a male god, of this brainwashing, could womyn ever take ourselves seriously enough to serve the sacredness of ourselves, of each other, of the earth and her holy wild creatures?

Under patriarchal religion, maleness is made, invented, mass produced, while femaleness is unmade, de-evolved, extincted. For 2,000 years, womyn have been conditioned out of our natural powers and wisdoms, taught to disregard the effects of our own rhythms, our bodies, while Judeo-Christianity and Islam and even Buddhism gained their energies by co-opting and distorting the goddess, womyn, birth, and blood.

Mary is utterly meek, passive, she is the captured goddess, metaphysically cannibalized, domesticated and tranquilized. She gives birth in silent bliss and tranquility, while Christ is the one who suffers, twists on the cross in labor giving birth to a redeemed human race. Blood pours from his body in a parody of the female experience, while womyn, who really do these things, have been forced to hide our bleeding, our childbirth, our breastfeeding, our messiness out of sight in shame and inferiority. “The deified male martyr flaunts his “sacrifice” everywhere, while we are required by “decency” to hide ours.” (Monica Sjoo)  Womyns bodies, womyn’s powers, womyn’s cycles were excluded because we are politically subversive.

Matriarchy means “rule by the mothers”. In matriarchal societies, a man stood in relation to his mother. He was the son; she was the divine. All the ancient male heroes receive their beauty, strength, and their creative-destructive powers from their mothers, all of them chopped-up forms of the Great Goddess.

Perpetual war
Perpetual war is necessary to maintain perpetually exploitable humans. Man’s social and economic institutions exist to provide continuous cannon fodder and spoils for continuous war. The city began as a fortress. And it doesn’t even matter if war occurs, it is the PREPARATION for war that drains all resources and keeps the hierarchy in place. Whether we are fighting others, ourselves, or just chronically getting ready to fight, it makes no difference. The result is that we live and die in a structural, habitual state of war.

The state of preparation for war and of war is unconsciousness, but consciousness is the aim of evolution. “Evolution is the biological epiphany of consciousness.” (Barbara Moore) No wonder the fundamentalists want to dispute evolution’s existence. They just want war without end, not world without end. The war god exists to drag us back into a state of oblivion, to before consciousness began, but without all the magnificent potential.  The god of patriarchy has always been a god of war and economic exploitation. He is a dominator, a god of money and hierarchy and power, a controller of nature’s bodies and womyn’s bodies.

“We need a god who bleeds now/ not wounded but who bleeds to life/ a god who’s wounds are not the end of anythingthe planet mourns our ignorance.” (Ntozake Shange)

Communalism and Capitalism
For hundreds of thousands of years, womyn and men participated in shared work and ritual celebration of communalism. But the last 3,000 years have created patriarchal economic systems of state, military, business, court, and religious ruling elites who collude in mutual empowerment to exploit human labor and earth’s resources. All historic revolutions have done is add more, new economic groups to the collusion —slaves, womyn, the working classes.

Capitalism is incapable of working if it pays a living wage. The capitalist system is parasitic rather than actually productive. It “uses business to co-opt and take credit for the accumulated knowledge, experience, inventions and discoveries, and sells it all for its own profit, at a gross loss to the planet, all animals and all but the most elite humans.” (Monica Sjoo) It monopolizes and distributes all wealth and resources to keep us in need, for all the course of all our lives. All the world locked down in an obsolete male power dance of capitalism, politics, and religion.           

By setting itself against evolution, “the continuous epiphany of biological consciousness”, patriarchy had set itself against life, and plundered its way toward the complete construction of a substitute life — The global shopping mall, a manmade mechanical paradise. Shop till you drop, and shop till the world’s life-support systems drop too. That’s the dictum of modern capitalism.

Capitalist theory fits perfectly with patriarchal religion. Organic, celebratory links to the earth and the body are gone. Neolithic goddess religions that supported and taught this way of life are politically destroyed. That is the story of the Old Testament — it’s one, long coup against the pagans. Now all we have to work with are habitually repressed energies, functioning on mere subsistence levels, capable only of piety and drudgery, incapable of revolutionary ecstasy, expansion and illumination, and no time or energy to escape. No time or energy to even see what’s happened to us, or why or who is served. What is served. Where all our potential and all our sacred, shining energy has gone. All potential buried beneath the almighty dollar.

We live today on a dying planet undergoing prolonged torture. A fully sensate being subjected to an infinite amount of murders. Dynamited and clear cut and strip-mined and gassed with poisons. The sea, her brain, the air, her breath — all thick with toxins. All the heavy metals leaching into her womb to be drunk by a million tongues of roots. Instead of cosmic energy and creative power, we are addicted to false poisonous energies- electricity, sugar, mass entertainment, shopping, driving, war.

The Machine
All the fabulous little machines we’re surrounded by are substitutes for living flesh and our connection to the living world.  What is the machine but man’s baby/ man’s transformational ritual, his magical uterus of mass production. The machine converts buffaloes into dogfood, ancient forests into toothpicks, the black blood of the earth’s veins into nuclear missiles, plastic shit, beer cans, and air pollution. Now he too can be a mother.

All machines run on fuel, and all fuel is originally organic energy. Running capitalism today are the fully-repressed energies of orgasmic sexual ecstasy, delight in connection with nature, and authentic spiritual epiphany. The masses of people everywhere forcibly retrained, retained, and maintained at the level of the reptile brain. This is the brain of ritualized repetition and benumbed violence. The reptile brain is kept hypnotized from the outside by systems of patriarchy and capitalism, that re-train and re-create in us a mass produced dreams and longing for things. These  commercial hallucinations of transcendence rule our lives. We are lost in the commodities we live for and devour. The luminosity is all on the screen projected at us, while our evolutionary brain sits in darkness.

Today’s heroes — Superman, James Bond, The Terminator, are skilled in one thing: —machinery. They are not erotically/sexually connected, or heart connected at all. They are too busy, too patriotic, too dangerous, or moving too fast for a real relationship. Their primary relationship is to their machines — guns, cars, planes — the wildness in these heroes is embodied in man-made metal objects. There’s not a tree or moon in sight. Totally disconnected, like Jesus, their prototype. We are living beings embodied in a living earth. All patriarchal heroes are designed, consciously or unconsciously, to deny that memory and practice, and to turn us into numb mechanical workers. That’s capitalist theology. The mother is gone; we have only the machine.

Cities and Deserts
Rome started the struggle for freedom from Nature and natural needs that marks the historical trend of Christianity, and replaces it with the political idea that overruns everything and molds all the world to its own needs.  Rome carried on a ruthless struggle to raise the patriarchal political state above religion, and imposed a historical-linear view of the universe instead of the former cosmic-cycle view.  Rome cast off “natural law” and eradicated every trace of the great matriarchal cultures. Everywhere, the Roman male regards himself as the first factor in historical life.  Among Rome’s first edicts was the subjugation of women and children to the complete control of the father, who was given life and death powers over all members of the family.

So, the city emerges as man’s ultimate attempt to become manmade, born from himself rather than from Mother Nature. The feeling of self-sufficiency he achieves through the city is abstract, because the sources of our biological lives remain the same as they always were — they come from the land and matter.  But city-man maintains contact with his natural life sources, not from immediate body experience, but through the artificial medium of exchange — money.  He no longer works with the earth.  He buys it and sells it.  The ancient energy exchange between humans and nature becomes a money exchange between humans only.

“Money is at the heart of the new accumulation complex: the capacity of money to bear interest is its energy, its body is that fundamental institution of civilized man, the city.  The archeologists note the complete rupture with the previous style of life which marks the foundations of the first cities.  A city reflects the new masculine aggressive psychology of revolt against the female principles of dependence and nature.” (Sjoo)

The famous Roman roads were built by slaves, and meant to transport armies and weaponry, as well as slaves,  outward into tribal territories.  The wealth of the plundered earth was then transported back into Rome to support the increasingly complex way of life at its imperial urban heart.   And so we hear and we repeat, unknowlingly, “All roads lead to Rome”.

The city broke down the organic life of the tribe and the agricultural village.  It brought about the final destruction of the matriarchy and instituted the patriarchal rule of abstract urban “law and order”.  Life materials, life styles, and life energies were raped from nature by technical and mechanical means.  All this was understood as the conquest of male mind over female matter.

“The ego has definitely arrived on the scene of history, and it is screaming out against its cosmic isolation.” (Barbara Moore)  Before, all the processes of culture were connected with the cycles of nature; in death, tribal man simply returned to the Great Mother.  But when civilized man sets up walls between himself and the forest, and when he sets up his personal name against the stars, he ensures that the now-isolated ego will cry out in painful recognition of its complete alienation in the fear of death. Men are so much more afraid of death than women, and maybe this is why.

p.s. Significantly, the murder of forests always leads to deserts.  Deserts always seem like ancient environments, but in fact they are the youngest environments on earth.  Most deserts are man-made.  They are what’s left after everything else has been conquered” or used up.

To evolve in time to save ourselves, we need to recognize the relation of human life to That Which Is. All patriarchal religions have denied this relationship. They practice world hatred, and seek to transcend matter. They separate the inner and outer worlds, and they revere abstraction as superior somehow to full immersion in life. They suppress, damn, & hoard ecstasy, nature, matter, pleasure, divinity, and connection. They have created the prison of dualism.

The mission handed down from a male deity to the forefathers was a command to control. A compulsion, a coersion, a bombing mission, a phallic outward thrusting explosion from one single source. Under patriarchy, the history of the world is weighted down with this burden of violence. It’s time to move from rape to reciprocity.

We need to feel this wonder of givenness — the beautiful gift we’ve been born into. We need an ever more conscious participation on the community of Being. The earth is with us, not for us. The return of the goddess is not focused on transcendence, but on the embodiment of the sacred, here and now in life and in relationships. The matriarchal deity is not the mother in heaven or anywhere else. She is physical and always present; she surrounds us. She is the earth we are living on and she is the cosmos we see above us shining. And, she is also within us. So, she is not alien or elevated, not ever.

“I am a waste dump site, like much of the earth; my stream of consciousness is thoroughly polluted. I do not trust anything. Still, the moon began again last night.” (Susan Griffin)

How might our lives have been different, how might the lives of a thousand generations of womyn been different, if there was a place for us? A holy, true place?  If there was, as there once, no distinction between the Primordial Goddess, the earth, and the earth’s daughters?          

“Let us say the time of our waiting is over. That the silence has been broken. Let us say there can be no forgetting now.” (Olga Broumas)

The Eco-zoic Era
This life, the time we have to live on this planet could shift everything. Here and now is the only time we have for action, if we grasp the opportunity for compassionate survival. Here and now is where we can break the brokenness of human alienation.

We need a new global spirituality that acknowledges our earthly roots as evolutionary beings. We need a new ontology that acknowledges earth as a conscious and spiritual being we need to evolve or die. We must remember the bio-chemical connections between our cells and the stars, between the beginning of time and now. We must return to that time, in our genetic memory and in our dreams, when we were born to live together with all species, all of us related. These are things humans have known for most of our time. “For at least 500,000 years of human time, we have known them. For 5 billion years of earth time we have known them. For 13 billion years of galactic time we have known them. Set against this time of knowing our Oneness, the past 4,000 years are merely an aberration. Just a brief forgetting.” (The Great Cosmic Mother)

The end of patriarchy is our rapture. Nothing burning but our souls, minds, freedom, creativity, and our passion for this world.

back to list