Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory: Why an Invented Past Won't Give Women a Future

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory: Why an Invented Past Won't Give Women a Future

Article excerpt

The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory: Why an Invented Past Won't Give Women a Future. By Cynthia Eller. Boston: Beacon, 2000. 276 pp. $26.00 (cloth); $16.00 (paper).

Cynthia Eller, Professor of Women and Religion at Montclair State College, has already established herself as one of the foremost scholars of the goddess spirituality movement in the United States with her 1993 book, Living in the Lap of the Goddess: The Feminist Spirituality Movement in America. In this new book she sets out to demolish one of the most cherished myths of some of the feminist spirituality groups that see themselves as "returning" to the worship of an ancient goddess: the myth of matriarchal prehistory.

The roots of this myth probably lie in ancient puberty rites in which men warned boys against women by telling them that once women had ruled, but their rule was oppressive and had fortunately been overthrown. Some of these ancient myths became embedded in the literature of the ancient Greeks and thus were familiar to European students of classical literature. In the midnineteenth century, a classically trained German scholar, J. J. Bachofen, claimed this myth for human prehistory; but he was far from idealizing this time as a paradise to which humanity should return. Rather he saw it as a primitive "instinctual" stage of human life, representative of lower female nature, happily superceded by the higher principle of rationality typical of males.

Anthropologists in the 1920s rejected this idea of a matriarchal "stage" of prehistory, in favor of a belief in a diversity of local human social patterns. But Bachofen continues to be a major source for feminists who attempt to reclaim this theory, despite his unflattering view of female nature. In the 1960s, with a new wave of feminism, this idea was rediscovered and given apparent "scientific" validity by the work of archaeologist Marija Gimbutas. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.