This series focuses on the region from where the roots of Western Judaic and Christian civilization of today are traced: the northeastern, eastern, and southeastern region surrounding the Mediterranean  from Greece, Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Israel, Palestine,  Jordan, Iraq, (western) Iran, and Egypt).  A similar evolution and change happened in the (farther) East that became dominated by Islam and Hinduism. 

Note: The term androcracy is used to describe a social system ruled through force, or threat of force by men. This term derives from Greek root words Andros or “man,” and kratos (as in democratic), or “ruled.”

For the complete series and other commentaries by Janet Wise, go to http://www.janetwise.net/category/zeitgeist-commentary/

 

PART VI: PUNISHING EVE 

The Transformation of Egypt

While the Sumerian civilization has roots that date back to 7500 B.C.E. and is in the heart of the region in which scholars consider to be the ‘cradle of civilization,’ other Goddess worshipping dynasties emerged in nearby regions.

In ancient Egypt (3100 to 332 B.C.E.), from earliest times a matrilineal society was clearly in evidence, with the early dynasties ruled by queens, not kings. It was a center of high civilization; for centuries the library of Alexandria was the largest collection of books and scholarship in the world, their universities and hospitals where other cultures went to study and learn.

Nineteenth Century American scholar and women’s suffrage leader, Matilda Joslyn Gage writes, “Ancient Egyptians recognized a masculine and feminine principle entering all things both material and spiritual. Egyptians worshipped two classes of gods; one purely spiritual and eternal, the other secondary but best beloved, were believed to have been human beings who from the services they had rendered to humanity were upon death admitted to the assembly of the gods. Isis, the best beloved and most worshipped of the secondary gods, was believed by them to have been a woman who at an early period of Egyptian history had rendered the people an invaluable service. She was acknowledged as their earliest lawmaker, through whose teaching the people had risen from barbarism to civilization. She taught them the art of bread from the cereals that had theretofore grown wild and unused, the inhabitants at that earlier day living on roots and herbs. The science of medicine was believed to have originated with Isis; she was also said to have invented the art of embalming,[1] established their literature, and founded their religion. The whole of Egyptian civilization was ascribed to the woman-goddess, Isis, whose name primarily Ish-Ish signified Light-Life.[2] Isis and Nepthya – the Lady of the House – were worshipped as the Beginning and the End. They were the Alpha and the Omega of the most ancient Egyptian religion. Isis was believed to contain germs within herself for the reproduction of all living things. Her worship throughout Egypt was universal, her temples magnificent. Her priests, consecrated to purity were required to bathe daily, to wear linen garments unmixed with animal fiber, to abstain from animal food, and also from those vegetables regarded as impure (leeks, garlic, onions and beans.) The most sacred mysteries of the Egyptian religion, whose secrets that were unknown to any person except the highest order of priests, owed their institution to Isis, and were based upon moral responsibility and belief in a future life. The immortality of the soul was the underlying principle of the Egyptian religion. Moses, who is said to have learned all of his wisdom from Egypt, borrowed much from Isis.”[3]

According to Herodotus, by approximately 450 B.C.E., Egyptian Goddesses, including Isis, had become the consort of male gods and religion and prostitution became closely associated. Isis, from among her earlier exalted status, was transformed over millennia by later male hierarchy, so that by the time of Egypt’s downfall, she was fashioned into a whore. Whereas, in early Egyptian periods, prostitutes were barred from religious precincts, by the time Egypt had fallen to the Greeks prepubescent girls were being served up for men’s pleasure: To Amun, the Egyptian name for Zeus, they consecrated the most beautiful girls of the most prestigious families in the temple. She became a prostitute and had intercourse with whoever wanted her until the purification of her body by menstruation took place – meaning that female children of nine and ten were serving as temple prostitutes. After her menstrual purification she was given in marriage to a man.[4]

 

The Story of Minoan Crete: The Last to be Destroyed

While these violent and demeaning atrocities against women were gradually becoming the cultural norm during the 3rd and 2nd millenniums B.C.E. onward on the mainland of the north, eastern, and south-eastern European continent surrounding the Mediterranean, as these previously advanced cultures fell under male Semitic speaking androcratic rule, the women of Minoan Crete were still living an entirely different existence. A more stark contrast between civilizations in the role and relationship of women and men within a culture cannot be found than between the Minoans of Crete and all those cultural states surrounding them.

The story of Crete civilization begins around 6000 B.C.E. (some scholars say earlier) when a small colony of immigrants, probably from Anatolia – what is now Turkey – first arrived on the island’s shores. The Goddess and Neolithic agrarian technology came with them. Though the Minoan culture advanced in all the high arts of civilization as had the Sumerians and later the Egyptians, due to their geographical isolation they were not to be over-run by invading Indo-Europeans until the Mycenaean Achaean Greeks managed it in 1500 B.C.E.  Even then, the Mycenaean Minoans – as they would evolve into being known – would retain much of the more civilized customs of the Goddess-centered, woman-centered, nature-centered Minoans for centuries.  It is hypothesized that it was earthquakes and volcanoes on other Mediterranean islands causing giant tidal waves that weakened this great civilization; this coupled with the time when the Mycenaean Greeks were simultaneously conquered by the Dorian Indo-European invaders from the north on the Greek mainland. Because the Minoan’s culture lasted for as long as it did (finally destroyed about 1100 B.C.E.), and because there is such an array of archaeological evidence, including their architecture and infrastructure, magnificent artwork and four evolutions of script, it is through them that we get the most insight into what life was like before male rule-by-force domination. Crete has amazed and dumbfounded archaeologists in that such a highly developed Neolithic Goddess-worshipping civilization had existed as they unearthed the frescoes, sculptures, vases, carvings, and other works exhibiting an artistic joyfulness and lively creativity totally unique in the annals of all other cultures.

Though Crete is an island, it is a large landmass; it had well developed cities in all regions. Nicolas Platon, renowned Greek archaeologist and Superintendent of Antiquities for many years in modern-day Crete, wrote of “vast multi-storied palaces, villas, farmsteads, districts of populous and well-organized cities, harbor installations, networks of roads crossing the island from end to end, organized places of worship and planned burial grounds,”[5] all of which have been archaeologically brought to light.

There is also ample evidence of a well-developed centralized government administration.  During the period – by now well into the Bronze Age – when the surrounding mainland civilizations were displacing the Goddess with male gods of war and mountains, warring on one another, and subjugating women with cruel practices and laws, on Crete, the Goddess remained supreme, and there was no sign of war between township jurisdictions. Their economy and arts flourished.  Everywhere was evidence that it was the Cretan queen and her priestesses, not priests in long women’s robes, who stand in the center with approaching processions of men bearing tribute to her. And everywhere, one finds female figures, many of them with their arms raised in a gesture of blessing, some of them holding serpents or double axes as symbols of the Goddess. According to Platon, it was a society in which “the whole of life was imbued by an ardent faith in the goddess (which was) Nature, the source of all creation and harmony.” In Crete, for the last time in recorded history, a spirit of harmony between women and men as joyful and equal participants in life appears to pervade.[6]

Riane Eisler, in The Chalice and the Blade, quotes other historians and archaeologists in remarking on the spirit that seems to shine through Crete’s artistic tradition and culture as a whole. Platon: “it is a tradition unique in its delight in beauty, grace, and movement and in its enjoyment of life and closeness with nature.” Archaeologists Hans-Gunther Buchholtz and Vassos Karageorghis write: “all the artistic media – in fact, life in its totality as well as death – were deeply entrenched in an all-pervasive ubiquitous religion. But in marked contrast to other high civilizations of the time, this religion – centering on the worship of the Goddess – seems to have both reflected and reinforced a social order in which the fear of death was almost obliterated by the joy of living.” Scholar, Sir Leonard Woolley, on Minoan art: “the most inspired in the ancient world.” Other archaeologists and art historians use phrases like “the enchantment of a fairy world” and “the most complete acceptance of the grace of life the world has ever known.”[7] (And this world lasted for 5000 or more years.)

As was evidenced from excavations of other Neolithic cultures mentioned earlier, even in the later highly evolved Minoan periods, there was no sign of great wealth for some and poverty for others; the wealth seemed to be equitably divided, even among those who did the physical labor. And there was no such thing as slavery. While Minoan Crete’s economy was basically agrarian – both in the cultivating and harvesting of crops as well as domesticating of animals – it is important to note that they were traders of the finest order, operating a large mercantile fleet that commanded the entire Mediterranean, thus adding greatly to their prosperity.

Sir Arthur John Evans, British archaeologist most famous for unearthing the palace of Knossos on Crete wrote of how government revenues from the culture’s increasing wealth were used to improve infrastructure and living conditions for all, which he describes, even by Western standards, as extraordinarily modern: perfect drainage systems, sanitary installations, indoor plumbing, water pipes, fountains, viaducts, paved roads, look-out posts, roadside shelters, reservoirs, etc. In addition to their highly advanced design for functionality, they were architecturally pleasing in how they blended with nature rather than being monuments to authority and power characteristic of male-dominated (later era) Sumer and Egypt, and as would be the case in Greece and Rome.

In Minoan Crete, there was absolutely no evidence of manly pride manifesting in unthinkable cruelty. Certainly, Minoan women were not going about veiled and subjugated as property to men. Cretan clothing was designed for aesthetics as well as practicality, allowing freedom of movement and exercise and sports – for both men and women. One of the most telling and unique features of this equalitarian culture was the bull-games at religious ceremonies in which young women and men performed together and entrusted their lives to each other. They would work in teams, in taking a turn in grasping the horns of a charging bull and somersault over its back.

Also of note is the vastly different attitude toward sensuality and sex represented in Minoan art, symbology, and writing. Clothing sometimes depicted bare-breasted women and skimpy covering emphasizing the genitals for men, indicating a frank appreciation of sexual differences; even pleasure being denoted by their differences. The culture emphasized a natural attitude and approach to not only female sexuality but of human sexuality, with no evidence whatsoever of denigration or control of feminine sexuality. Instead it was the opposite: their love of music, dancing, sports, creativity and their liberated attitudes toward sex were all dominant contributors to the spirit of peacefulness and life in harmony so indicative of Crete.

Eisler writes, “It is important to stress that Crete was not an ideal society or utopia, but a real human society, complete with problems and imperfections. It was a society that developed thousands of years ago, when there was still nothing like science as we know it, when the processes of nature were still generally explained – and dealt with – through animistic beliefs and rites. Moreover, it was a society functioning in the midst of an increasingly male-dominated and warlike world. Example: we know that the Cretans had weapons – some beautifully adorned daggers of great technological excellence. Probably as warfare and piracy increased in the Mediterranean they also fought sea battles, both to preserve their vast maritime commerce and to protect their shores. But in contrast to other high civilizations of the time, Cretan art does not idealize warfare. Even the double axe sword symbolized the bounteous fruitfulness of the earth. Shaped like the hoe axes used to clear land for the planting of crops, it was also a stylization of the butterfly, one of the Goddesses symbols of transformation and rebirth. Nor is there any indication that Crete’s material resources were – as they were in other societies of the time as well as in our modern world – heavily invested in technologies of destruction. On the contrary, the evidence is that Cretan wealth was primarily invested in communities living harmoniously and aesthetically.”[8]

Two last notes about the legacy of Minoan Crete, the first a reminder: historians have traditionally equated the rise in a culture’s technology as in the Bronze Age’s metallurgy advancement as motivated for making weapons for war, and for allowing the most successful to dominate and rule. Using this logic, war and domination was in turn a natural evolutionary ingredient of even greater technological advancement – in other words, the Darwinian theory of the strongest survived and thus emerged as the rightful rule with evolution ever progressing. In contrast, and counter to that culturally androcratically biased hypothesis: Crete’s civilization advanced to an even higher level than the surrounding mainland before, during the Bronze Age, and later, but did not focus on war. And men did not subjugate and rule over women as property. Rather, they invested ever increasingly in a civilization that focused on a joyous lifestyle centered on harmony with one another and with nature.

The second note: a further revisionism of male patriarchal scholarship is that it was the Greeks who were the first to experiment in democracy, and to which Thomas Jefferson and James Madison looked to as a model when influencing the drafting of the American Constitution, and Bill of Rights. While Jefferson and Madison did look to the Greeks (as well as the Iroquois Indian Nations who were heavily influenced by their women), the Greeks looked to the Minoan Cretans – a woman-centered matrilineal partnership culture whose civilized society modeled democracy in its finest form, and which has not been comparably matched since. For in Crete, there was no preferred status of one race over another or of gender discrimination in law, opportunity, or freedom. Women were not considered intellectually or spiritually inferior to men, instead they partnered equally in all areas of society. Slavery did not exist. Domination was not exercised over women or over nature, rather quite the opposite. Both nature and women were revered.

But with the final destruction of Minoan Crete, women would more and more become chattel; property of males for production and reproduction.  The end of the era had come. The power of the feminine would not appreciably raise its head again until the 19th century A.D. However, before today’s fragile rise of the feminine would occur, as increasingly violent as androcratic cultures had made women’s existence between the 3rd millennium B.C.E. and before B.C.E. turned to A.D., it would grow much darker and more violently murderous in centuries to follow. Therefore, in order to fully understand our modern-day Western culture, more history is needed before we arrive to this present 21st century assault on women and women’s sexuality – a backlash against the audacity of women’s attempt to rise to equality in a fledgling democratic society also under assault.

 


[1] Note: One of the great Egyptian innovations in medicine was their knowledge of human anatomy that was a result of their art of mummifying the deceased. Medical students, physicians, and scholars came from the world over to study at the Egyptian hospitals.

[2] Note: (quote from Isis mythology): “I am nature, the parent of all things, the sovereign of the elements, the primary progeny of time, the most exalted of the deities, the first of the heavenly gods and goddesses, the queen of the shades, the uniform countenance who dispose with my rod the innumerable lights of heaven.”

[3] Matilda Joslyn Gage, Woman, Church and State, pp 31-32.

[4] Herodotus, Book II.

[5] Nicolas Platon, Crete (Geneva: Nagel Publishers, 1966) p. 148

[6] Riane Eisler, The Chalice and the Blade, p. 31

[7] Ibid. p. 32

[8] Ibid. p. 36