From Goddesses to gods

   In the mythologies of a number of very primitive societies (the Pygmies of the Congo, the Ona of Tiera del Fuego, etc.), we find a legend of the following kind: Originally all magical power resided with the woman.  The men then murdered them all, keeping alive only the youngest girls, who were never taught what their mothers had known, the men having taken the knowledge for themselves.   

(Regarding the story of Marduk killing Tiamut, “the great-great-grandmother of them all”) … In the older view the goddess Universe was alive, herself organically the Earth, the horizon, and the heavens.  Now she is dead, and the universe is not an organism, but a building, with gods at rest in it in luxury: not as personifications of the energies in their manners of operation, but as luxury tenants, requiring service.  And Man, accordingly, is not as a child born to flower in the knowledge of his own eternal portion but as a robot fashioned to serve.   G xxiii  

When the Semites moved in as conquerors, then, they dislodged deities to make way for their own, and the Hebrews are the most extreme in turning against the Goddess, who represents the powers of the Earth.  In the Old Testament, the local goddesses of Canaan are called the Abomination, and this hangs on in our Christian tradition.  G 16

   There is a sequence here that it quite characteristic of the period, and which works for both the Semitic and the Aryan invasions.  First, these nomads come as warrior conquerors, and then they begin to pick up the much more elaborately developed culture system of the conquered peoples, and the invaders’ mythology comes right along and gets grafted on top of the indigenous Goddess-oriented mythology, which becomes transformed into the later god-oriented mythologies of the Classical era.  This sort of absorption of the older, higher culture and the transformation of its mythology to suit the purposes of the newer, less-developed culture is particularly conspicuous in the Bible, in the Books of Exodus and Joshua.   G66

   The same process happened in the Mycenaean world.  Gradually, however, the Goddess began to reassert herself so that by the seventh century B.C. in Greece, around the date of the Homeric Hymns – that is to say about five hundred years after the final invasion – the Goddess is coming back again.  The same thing happens in India almost simultaneously. 

   With the meeting of the Indo-Europeans and the Neolithic Old Europe cultures, the matriarchal system was not replaced by a patriarchal world that arose from the same area, as some scholars have tried to state in classifying European prehistory and its transformations.  Rather, the Indo-European culture super-imposed itself upon the Old European culture.

   As Gimbutas writes:

The study of mythical images provides one of the best proofs that the Old European world was not the proto-Indo-European world and that there was no direct and unobstructed line of development to the modern Europeans.  The earliest European civilization was savagely destroyed by the patriarchal element and it never recovered, but its legacy lingered in the substratum which nourished further European cultural developments.  The Old European creations were not lost; transformed, they enormously enriched the European psyche.  G 67

   We have seen the deep archaeological roots of the Goddess in Old Europe, where from the very earliest times of the agricultural community she’s the dominant figure as both the cosmic center and the surrounding protector.  The Indo-European warrior people invaded in the fourth, third, and second millennia B.C., bringing a collision of two totally contrary mythologies – one in which the matrilineal or mother line is dominant and one is related primarily to the mother, and the other, the patrilineal line, in which one marks one’s identity through one’s father. 

   In the Greek tradition, this collision comes to a climax in the Oresteia story, in The Eumenides, when Apollo and Athena, representing the male line, cleanse Orestes of the guilt of his matricide.  G 107

In The Odyssey, we will see the female power coming back, increasing in power and glory.  Looking into the Classical Greek pantheon and its evolution, we will see how divinities changed character and were recombined in new guises as the society itself changed.  A mythological pantheon is fluid and as needs and the realizations of the society change, so do the relationships and the gods.  Deities are really time- and space-conditioned; they are shaped from inherited ideas, inherited traditional imageries, but they are put together in terms of a local context of time and space.    G 107