The First Emergence of Patriarchy

– Once or Several Times?

Author: Dr. Heide Göttner-Abendroth

Issue No: TV 96

The founder of Modern Matriarchal Studies, Heide Göttner-Abendroth, examines in detail how, where, when and why patriarchy came into being. It becomes clear that a simple answer is not sufficient, but that various factors and processes interacted at different places and times to give rise to this hierarchical and male-dominated form of society.

Preliminary remarks

The topic of the first emergence of patriarchy is now occupying the minds of many critically thinking people who are increasingly realising what patriarchy is and what it is doing to our lives, to the lives of many peoples and to the biosphere of our planet. The question is becoming louder as to how such a destructive form of society could come about, a question that is linked to the hope of being able to overcome it. But because the first emergence of patriarchal patterns dates back a few millennia, it is difficult to research. Therefore, out of impatience or inquisitiveness, many different theories have been and are being proposed to explain it – although impatience does not lend itself too well to serious research, inquisitiveness does. However, speculations cannot lead to a satisfactory answer to this important question; they exhaust themselves in pseudo-explanations that bring more confusion than clarity. So there is nothing left but to rely on the science that brings to light evidence from these early times: archaeology. Any thesis on the first emergence of patriarchy must therefore be measured against archaeological findings and scientific arguments – which is very beneficial to inquisitiveness.

The first important steps into the darkness of that early epoch were taken by the archaeologist Marija Gimbutas with her “Kurgan theory”, which has since been brilliantly confirmed by DNA analyses. I build on her research and take it further by including more recent archaeological results. Gimbutas has clearly shown how various waves of patriarchalisation from the Eurasian Steppe swept over Europe and how much destruction they brought. I will not repeat that here, but expand the focus beyond Europe to West Asia, because the earliest forms of patriarchy came from there.

But there is not just one place where patriarchal forms emerged; they emerged independently in different cultural regions of the world.

Therefore, there is not one single cause for their emergence. They arose in different ways and at different times in different cultural regions on earth, and the causes that led to them are also different. For the development of patriarchal patterns in the Eurasian steppe, Gimbutas cites the taming of the horse and the new mobility that came with it. That is, a single new technology is said to be responsible. However, Gimbutas did not claim that this applies to the whole world, yet – with all due respect to this great researcher – her explanation falls short. In their long history, matriarchal societies have also developed new, sometimes great technologies, but patriarchy never came about as a result. So the cause is to be sought elsewhere, and above all there is not a single cause, but always a whole bundle of such triggering factors comes together. Moreover, this bundle of causes for the initial emergence of patriarchal forms looks different in every cultural region on earth, so that this problem must be researched separately in each case if we want knowledge instead of speculation. I am outlining a huge research task that has only just begun to be tackled. But the further we go, the more it will completely change our understanding of the history of humankind – if only because it has so far been viewed exclusively through the patriarchal lens. But now another dimension of this history is coming to light. I will follow my words with concrete explanations, using two examples of the first emergence of patriarchy: the Eurasian steppe and Mesopotamia. For the example of the Eurasian Steppe, I rely on the research of Gimbutas, but I dig deeper for the causes – because I don’t want to put all the blame on the horse. For the example of Mesopotamia, I draw on various other researchers, as well as on written cultural history, to show how different the initial emergence of patriarchy was there. The difference between these two examples should make us cautious about explanations for other cultural regions of the world, such as East Asia, India, Africa and the double continent of America.

First example: Patriarchy emergence in the Eurasian Steppe

From the sixth millennium onwards, a long, water-rich period in the Eurasian steppe came to an end for the first time due to rapid drying up. The Neolithic peoples with permanent settlements along small rivers, who descended from the mountain ranges south of the steppe, came under pressure. The soil beneath their feet became increasingly infertile, river courses dried up, lakes shrank or disappeared altogether, leaving behind salty, cracked surfaces. We do not know how many settlement communities perished in the process. Others sought different answers to the creeping catastrophe, but only those who found new solutions carried the story forward. The result was profound changes from the middle of the fifth millennium onwards, which brought a complete upheaval of economic and social conditions. The first triggering cause was therefore widespread, incessant climate change, an ecological catastrophe that lasted for millennia.

About the author

She is a mother and grandmother. She earned her Ph.D. at Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, where she taught philosophy and philosophy of science for ten years (1973-1983). Through her lifelong research and her major work “The Matriarchy” she became the founder of Modern Matriarchal Studies. She was a lecturer at various universities (Bremen, Hamburg, Kassel), guest professor in Montréal in 1980, guest professor in Innsbruck in 1992. 1986 Founded and directed the “International Academy HAGIA for Matriarchal Studies”. Direction of the three world congresses for matriarchal research. In 2012 she received an award for her research from the “Association of Women & Mythology”. She has twice been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. www.goettner-abendroth.de www.hagia.de

This article was originally published on the German website: Die Ogdoadische Tradition

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