The Patriarchal Lie
In my course readings this past week, the theme that stood out to me the most was the notion of “The Patriarchal Lie” and what that lie has done to women, nonbinary, and transgender individuals throughout history. I also took notice of the ways in which society supports and upholds this patriarchal lie through their denial of the Goddess. In the chapter, “Our Sacred Past,” in Transgender Warriors by Leslie Feinberg, it is easy to trace the patriarchal lie in the denial of both matrilineal communal societies, and genders that live outside of the two gender (male, female) binary. Feinberg tells us that the Great Mother was emblematic of pre-class communalism and that there are copious records of transexual male-to-female priestesses. (pg. 40) Plutarch also described the Great Mother as “… an intersexual (hermaphroditic) deity in whom the sexes had not yet been split.” (pg. 40) And, while there is some scholarly debate about the reason behind self-castration in order to serve the Goddess, (pg. 41) the fact remains that it was women, or those who identify as intersex, or non-binary, that were in service to the Goddess in religious spheres. Feinberg asserts that “…our earliest ancestors do not appear to have been biological determinists… and that transsexuality, transgender, intersexuality, and bi-gender appear as themes in creation stories, legends, parables, and oral history.” (pg. 43)
Carol Christ continues the theme of the patriarchal lie in Rebirth of the Goddess. In the chapter titled, “History of the Goddess”, she asserts that paleolithic people had a reverence for the Goddess due to the fetal positions Neanderthals would be buried in along with the connection to the cave as the womb of the Great Mother. Christ says that they “… understood the cave to be the womb of the Creatress, the Great Mother, the Earth… Rituals performed in her center would have reflected people’s desire to participate in the creativity of the Mother.” (pg. 51) What I find to be most important and visible throughout all three of the chapters I read from Rebirth of the Goddess were the stories men told and re-wrote that shifted the way in which societies viewed women and Goddesses. As new, patriarchal warrior civilizations took over the matrilineal or egalitarian societies, whole creation myths, Goddess stories, and more received re-writes in order to erase the power and influence of Mother Goddesses and women in general. The story that stood out to me the most was that of Tiamat’s destruction in the Enuma Elish.
As with many other epics meant to usher in new patriarchal warriors and civilizations, the Goddess, Tiamat, is vilified in order to justify her murder. In this tale, Tiamat gives birth to a race of evil monsters filled with venom, "... snarling dragons wearing their glory like Gods." (pg. 62) What many people gloss over, is the fact that she birthed these creatures in order to protect herself and defeat the god, Marduk, who was attempting to usurp her. The author uses this dreadful depiction of Tiamat in order to instill fear in the reader. This is a patriarchal lie. The violence enacted upon Tiamat by Marduk disturbs me most deeply. Marduk shoots his net to entangle her, beats her in the face, sends wind into her swelling (pregnant?) stomach, blowing her body apart. Even after all this, he shoots an arrow "... that pierced the gut and cut the womb." (pg. 63) After taking her life, Marduk flings her body down and straddles her carcass. The God then celebrates his victory and legitimates the violence done to women. Echoing Christ's words, "When warfare become a part of life, men and boys are trained to become aggressive, violent, and dominant. The spoils of war, offered to men as a reward for killing, are the wealth of other cultures and the right to rape and capture "enemy" women."(pgs. 61-62).
The reason I find this story so important is because it aids in cementing patriarchal notions of violence and control that are still with us today. Christ asks the question of, “Can Written Records Lie?” on page 74 and continues to highlight how the “Goddess hypothesis”, as she calls it, continues to challenge “… biblical and traditional ideals about the nature of God.” (pg. 78) There is a great deal of resistance when we start to go against the grain of the patriarchal lie and examine who’s telling the story, what the overall message is, and who is the intended audience. “Once we recognize the myths of the patriarchy for what they are, we can begin to look again at the familiar images of the Goddesses that come to us through later patriarchally influenced cultures.” (pg. 67)
I ask you to consider this question in your own meditations this week:
What images of the Goddess have you noticed in your own life, or in the religion you grew up with that have permeated through time? For example, in one of the oldest Stave churches in Norway, there is a sacred wooden cat face representing Freya in the church walls.
I leave you with these words I wrote through tears:
Tiamat. Mother. Forgotten Mother. Lost Mother. Defiled and Forsaken Mother. Discredited Mother. Usurped Mother. I see you. I hear you. I feel you. I know you. I love you. You are not Forgotten. You are not Misplaced. You are not Lost to the Unknown. I carry you in my heart, in my bones, in my blood. You are the water that runs through me. You are my flesh and my body. I honor you as I bleed. I honor you as I speak. I honor you as I scream. I will scream for you and every other woman that has been defiled. I will scream and rage against those that would defile us. As my blood pumps through my veins and pour itself out onto the sacred Earth, I will speak your name. I will speak your name for all of the women throughout all timelines and spaces that have been lost, forgotten, defiled, and usurped. I am your child. I am your sister. I am your mother. I am your blood. I am you. As I take breath, you live within me. As I release my last breath, your mystery sustains me and carries me into the salty waters of Creation. Thank You Mother. Thank You.
Feinberg, Leslie. “Our Sacred Past,” in Transgender Warriors.
Christ, Carol. Rebirth of the Goddess.