Early Planting Societies

   Very late in the history of human life on Earth the arts of plant and animal domestication were developed, and with these a shift of authority followed from the male to the female side of the biological question.  No longer hunting and slaughtering, but planting and fostering, became the high concerns; and since the Earth’s magic and women’s are the same – giving both life and its nourishment – not only did the role of the Goddess become the central interest of mythology, but the prestige of women in the villages became enlarged as well.  If there was anything like a matriarchy (which I doubt), it would have to have been in one or another of the early planting centers – of which there now seem to have been originally three:

1.      In Southeast Asia (Thailand, etc.), about 10,000 B.C., or perhaps earlier.

2.      In Southeast Europe and the Near East, also about 10,000 B.C. 

3.      In Middle America and Peru, some four or five thousand years later. 

   The plants domesticated in the Southeast Asia area, from where this myth seems to have originated, such as the yam, taro, and the sago palm, are reproduced not by seed but by slips and cuttings.  The animals were the pig, the dog, and barnyard fowl, familiars of the household.  The episodes of the myth take place in a timeless mythological age, the Age of the Ancestors, when there was no distinction between female and male, or even between human beings and beasts.  It flowed on, and undifferentiated, dreamlike epoch, until at a certain moment – the end moment – a murder was enacted.  In some of the myths the whole group slew the victim.  In others the act was of one individual against another.  In all, the body is cut up, the pieces are buried, and out of those buried parts grow the food plants by which human life in this world is now supported.  We are living, that is to say, on the substance of the body of the sacrificed god.  Moreover, at the moment of sacrifice, when death came into the world and with it the flow of time, there occurred also a separation of the sexes; so that with death there came also the possibility of procreation and birth.   (G xvii)

There are (2) major orders of primal mythology.  One is that of planting agricultural people, and it is with this order that the Goddess is primarily associated; the other is that of the masculine gods, who are usually associated with herding nomadic people.  In early socieites, the women are generally associated with the world of the plant.  In very early hunting and collecting traditions, the women are the ones who typically collect the plant food and the small game, while men are associated with the major hunting.  So the male becomes associated with killing and the female with the bringing forth of life.  That’s a typical A-B-C association in primal mythologies.   G1

… since the biological functions of a woman orient and associate her in a mythological way with the Earth itself, bringing forth life and nourishment, her magic is the magic that is particularly powerful in the tropical zone.   G2

   In general, then, where you have the hunt accent you have a male-oriented mythology, and where you have the plant accent you have the female orientation.   G2

   Now, the two areas in the Old World where plant domestication and animal domestication first emerged are Southeast Asia, on the one hand, and Southwest Asia and Asia Minor, on the other, and the first cities emerged in Mesopotamia and in Egypt.  G 22

It seems now that the dates for agriculture, horticulture, and animal domestication along the river valleys that run down through Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam go back to 11,000 B.C. and perhaps even earlier – the exact date is a matter of some dispute.  These were fishing people; apparently the women of these populations were the first to cultivate plants.  Now, the plants cultivated there are reproduced not be seeds but by propagating slips and cuttings.  These include such crops as sago palm, taro, and sweet potatoes.  The animals domesticated were the dog, the pig, and chickens – familiars of the household.  G 23

   Following the agricultural diffusion up into the area of South China, into the Abyssinian and the Near Eastern and European zones, we have a transition from that kind of agriculture to seed agriculture, and the use of the plow to furrow the earth for planting.  In the first kind of planting, the work is women’s and digging sticks are used: a little hole is made in the earth, and the slips are put in.  With the coming of seed planting and the plow, however, the obvious analogy to the sexual act is recognized, and the act of planting is turned over to the males.  In fact, the early plows in Mesopotamia seeded while they furrowed – a restatement in a sort of cosmic way, as it were, or the human act of procreation.   G 23