The Cynthia Eller Brickbat

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  April 16, 2011 — 57 Comments

In 2001 Cynthia Eller, Associate Professor of Women’s Studies and Religious Studies at Montclair State University in New Jersey, published “The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory: Why An Invented Past Will Not Give Women a Future”, a book that picked apart a theory that had found favor within academia, largely in the field of Women’s/Feminist Studies. Eller’s work fit into a larger trend of scholars taking a more critical look at historical claims within modern Paganism, the Goddess movement, and related groups, receiving quite a bit of mainstream press attention on its publication. However, Eller’s book was documenting a phenomenon that was already on the decline, or at least transforming itself in the face of new evidence, as evidenced by an Atlantic article published that same year.

“…both Starhawk and [Riane] Eisler, along with many of their adherents, seem to be moving toward a position that accommodates, without exactly accepting, the new Goddess scholarship, much as they have done with respect to the new research about their movement’s beginnings.”

The nuances of feminist spirituality and modern Paganism accommodating new scholarship was largely lost on journalists and scholars unfamiliar with the topic. Eller’s book became the go-to brickbat of choice for anyone wanting to take an easy swipe at feminists, Goddess worshipers, or Pagans.  Writers like Ross DouthatPaul Nathanson, Katherine K. Young, and Mark Oppenheimer, have all directly or indirectly referenced Eller to take make cases against Wicca, feminism, or even Dan Brown. Now anthropologist Peter Wyatt Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars (an organization that fights “liberal bias” in academia) invokes Eller’s work to take aim in the Chronicle of Higher Education’s blog at the trouble theologically conservative Christians allegedly have in obtaining tenure in various departments.

“…higher education’s relaxed attitude about appointing faculty members who not only believe but who actually teach this moonshine demonstrates the hypocrisy of those who say that faculty members are acting out of the need to protect the university from anti-scientific nonsense when they discriminate against conservative Christian candidates for academic appointment. The possibility that a candidate for a position in biology, anthropology, or, say, English literature might secretly harbor the idea that God created the universe or that the Bible is true, is a danger not to be brooked. But apparently, the possibility that a candidate believes that human society was “matriarchal” until about 5,000 years ago is perfectly within the range of respectable opinion appropriate for campus life.

The problem with Wood’s screed is that he provides no evidence, aside from a book written in 2001 (that’s a whole decade ago), that this double-standard is indeed currently rampant. A fact that is pointed out to him in the comments section.

“Wood’s assertion that this paradigm is all-pervasive in contemporary Women’s and Gender Studies programs is false. It was never all pervasive and teaching it today, detached from the context of histories of feminism–where you are most likely to still find it, is *rare* not common.”

Cynthia Eller herself even pops up in the comments to emphasize just how out-of-style matriarchal theory is today.

“It’s my sense that approximately zero archaeologists and anthropologists teach the matriarchal theory as a sound, evidence-based hypothesis these days. Women’s studies programs are probably more tolerant of the occasional believer in the matriarchal theory, just as religious studies programs, even at public universities such as the one where I teach, are more tolerant of the occasional devout evangelical Christian. But I feel quite certain that there are far more gainfully employed academics who are evangelical Christians than there are those who embrace the matriarchal theory, let alone teach it as fact to their students. As myths go, the matriarchal theory is remarkably sturdy and versatile, popping up in all sorts of places in the social fabric, which is why it’s so fascinating as a topic in the history of ideas. It comes and goes, but right now, I’d say that in academic circles, it’s going. I just wish I knew where it was going to pop up again!”

Indeed, the biggest issue within Feminist/Women’s Studies may be its own decline, not that its been infiltrated and taken over by adherents to matriarchal theory. Wood’s argument constructs a straw man (or perhaps matriarchal straw woman) to concoct an illusory double-standard, one not even supported by the source he quotes. As Pagan scholar Chas Clifton points out, the power differential alone strains the comparison.

“…serious peaceful ancient matriarch-ists are tiny in numbers compared to biblical creationists. They do not turn up in state legislatures trying to thwart the teaching of evolution and the choice of school textbooks. They are invisible to the news media.  Having little political power outside Academia and para-Academia, they are treated more gently within its walls.”

One would hope that the revelations found here would trickle down (or up, depending on how you see it) to all the writers who have Eller packed away in their anti-Pagan/anti-feminist arsenal, but I somehow doubt it. For all that Pagans are accused of clinging to outdated scholarship, their critics seem just as, if not more, willing to do the same.

Oh, and for those who might be Eller fans, she has a new book out. “Gentlemen and Amazons: The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory, 1861-1900”. Since this one stops in 1900, it probably won’t ignite the press and pundits, but it might be an interesting read.

Jason Pitzl-Waters


  • Jonathan Hamm

    Jason, anyone who adheres to these so-called "matriarchal" theories would never actually use the word "matriarchal" anyway. Not even 30 years ago. So when prominent scholars like Eller continue to use this word, it betrays the fact that no one is even listening to these theorists long enough to take them seriously. These ideas are completely defined by those who oppose them. The entire field of inquiry has become a "straw woman".

    • Baruch Dreamstalker

      The term I ran into when I first encountered these ideas in 1986 was "matrifocal."

  • No problem with accepting this or any other ideas. History is consistently and constantly rewritten from one generation to the next, and in each case, all will swear they are right. This is because history is a human construct, not relevant to nature itself. In fact, all the true history of nature is finally carried in the DNA of living things, and as it develops itself for the future.

    For me one of the unhealthiest things Pagans do is this deep occupation on a past and very little thought of the future. I am a individual who explains and teaches about the future of our community, and developing resources that allow us to find our own truth. Of course, I will here that it must be rooted in the past, and tradition requires that we do things a certain way. That is nice, and I love some traditional ideas, but I would not give them all value or even current relevance. We must at some point consider shedding the outdated systems of our search for meaning in th past, and begin finding our search for meaning in the future. After all, someday soon, we will be history ourselves, and maybe we will be worthy of being debated on what we really meant.

    • Anna Helvie

      "For me one of the unhealthiest things Pagans do is this deep occupation on a past and very little thought of the future. " THANK YOU.

      History is important, but I think we fetishize the ancient, the old. Certainly the predominant thinking is that something must be ancient, and (nowadays), historically-verified to be considered valid. If believe that when one speaks of historical matters, one should be as carefully accurate as is currently possible — but historical 'facts' *do* change from one generation to the next. We are the children of the Ancestors; our bones are their bones, our blood is their blood, our spirit is their spirit. We are just as capable of the connections and the insights about the Divine they had, if we work at it, and ask Them to help us.

    • "history is a human construct"

      Ahem. I believe your metanarrative is showing.

      • Jonathan Hamm


    • whateley23

      "For me one of the unhealthiest things Pagans do is this deep occupation on a past and very little thought of the future. I am a individual who explains and teaches about the future of our community, and developing resources that allow us to find our own truth. Of course, I will here that it must be rooted in the past, and tradition requires that we do things a certain way. That is nice, and I love some traditional ideas, but I would not give them all value or even current relevance."

      Are you taking a stand against ancestor reverence, then? Or, if not, how do you square that stance with ancestor reverence?

      • Me personally, I treat it the same way that I treat my profession as a surveyor: a foot in the past, and eye to the future. You must know where you are coming from in order to have any idea where you are going. Use those things from the past that work, discard those that do not, and honour those who have come before you, but recognize their mistakes and try not to make the same ones.

    • That which has not foundation cannot have a future.

      • In fact, anything with no foundation in the past doesn't even exist in the here and now!

  • kenneth

    The whole neoconservative movement is based on a persecution narrative which says that decent, white Christian men are the victims of relentless "liberal" oppression. It has no basis in fact beyond sporadic incidents on university campuses over the years, but it sells well among angry white Christian men who feel that only getting their way 90% of the time constitutes oppression. The academics who have been drummed out of their profession for "being Christian" are, in every case I have seen, creationists who are attempting to insinuate junk science into their work.

  • I don't care if there was a matriarchal society in the past or not. I worship Goddess now, in the present and hopefully in the furture. I am proud of the fact that I do. We all have the right to choose what we believe.

  • Christopher Chase

    Not to belabor my comment at Peter Wood's column website too much, but the issue of Christian evangelicals and their alleged discrimination is far more pervasive in private academic settings. Scholars in a variety of fields, including but not limited to religious studies, often are asked during prospective interviews about their Christian religious commitments. In these situations, it is *not enough* to be a Christian. Several of my own well-qualified colleagues have thus been dismissed from employment consideration in their job search simply because they do not ascribe or foreground to the "correct" dogmatic principle or attend the "correct" church. Yet such practices, routine as they are for sectarian institutions receiving taxpayer funds, grants and student loans, are accepted as normative. Unless such pervasive intra-religious discrimination is at least challenged to some degree within the Christian community, I fail to see why secular institutions, which already accommodate a much wider variety of ideological and religious perspectives should care to take such 'victimhood complaints' terribly seriously. My own state-school departments have had Calvinists, Methodists, Hindus, Muslims, Catholics, Buddhists, Wiccans and Atheists. When sectarian Christian institutions take "the plank of their own eye," regarding religious litmus tests for employment, perhaps they will see clearly enough to "remove the speck from the eye" of secular institutions. If people want to misuse Eller to extend suspect political arguments (remember the original study didn't examine professional, medical, engineering or business faculty) about liberals in social-science, its probably a reflection over the long-standing anxiety issues among Christian academia regarding the "Historical Jesus" movement.

  • My first exposure to the whole matriarchy idea came waaaay back in 1976 when I went to a talk given by Gloria Steinem. She stated right up front that the important thing wasn't the historical veracity of the idea, which she strongly implied was on shaky ground if taken too literally/simplistically. Rather, what was important was to realize that oppression is not inevitable, it might not even be natural.

    It's important to realize that the unnaturalness and non-inevitableness of human inequality was one of the great insights of the Enlightenment and is one of the founding principles of the United States of America.

    As to Eller, debunkery is the lowest form of scholarship, and it rarely amounts to real scholarship anyway. It is to genuine research what FOX News is to genuine journalism. And like FOX's "journalism", debunkery is inevitably ideologically motivated, as this most recent episode with the National Association of Tea Party Scholars well illustrates.

    People might be interested in Joan Marler's 2003 critique of Eller: The Myth of Universal Patriarchy: A Critical Response to Cynthia Eller's Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory

    • Thank you for linking Joan Marler's excellent repost to Eller!

      I wonder what would happen if neocon Christians were expected to come up with the archaeology to justify and "prove" their beliefs.

    • Thriceraven

      Amen to your first paragraph. The 'historical' matriarchy idea is a myth, and clearly a powerful one for many people. And the purpose of this myth is to explore the concept that, exactly as you say, oppression of any one group is not an inevitability.

      Most even truly historical stories we have of inspiring deeds by real people are highly mythologized to emphasize the lesson or the thought experiment inherent in them. And it's an incredible useful practice for thinking about life and truth. We need to be sure we understand what is historical veracity and what is not, but the practice of myth-making is also very important for human growth.

    • Jennifer Parsons

      Interesting. Thanks for the post, Apuleius. I'm still digesting it and haven't finished reading it yet.

      I read Eller's Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory about a year ago, and it only confirmed what I already knew simply from my laywoman's knowledge of world history. It certainly didn't make me any less Pagan.

      From what I found, Eller's main criticism of "the myth of matriarchy" was the way it was being used by academic feminists and woman's studies departments, not that it was being taught as actual history by historians. She also had some interesting points about the myth's reflections of our (very modern, Victorian) assumptions about gender differences.

      I just have to roll my eyes at, "You know there's no evidence for matriarchal rule at any point in history, right? This renders your faith an invalid fabrication." The Pagan community as a whole has known this for some time, just was yes, we really are aware that modern Paganism is a creation of the 20th century (and some late 19th century experimentations). I'll be we even found out about that before you did.

      • "we really are aware that modern Paganism is a creation of the 20th century (and some late 19th century experimentations). I'll be we even found out about that before you did."

        Actually, nearly all of modern Paganism is of ancient origin. Modern Paganism is no more "a creation of the 20th century (and some late 19th century experimentation)" than Christianity is. In fact, many elements of modern Paganism (such as pantheism, polytheism, belief in reincarnation, sympathetic magic, and all of our Gods and Goddesses) long predate Christianity.

        The Pagan community as a whole has known this for some time now.

        • Jennifer Parsons

          I haven't seen too much reliable evidence on this, so if you could point me to source, I'd appreciate that. Most of the criticisms I've found break down into how "modern Paganism" is defined.

          I HAVE seen evidence in the West that occasionally people turn to worship of other deities or other understandings of divinity in rejection of the mores of Christianity and a seeking of alternatives– this was why modern Paganism was invented, after all. I've also seen evidence for a pervading belief in witchcraft and sorcery that was not even dented by the advent of Christianity– if anything, Christian institutions preyed upon this belief to their advantage during the witch hunt craze of Western Europe and in persecution of heretical religious communities and Jews. What would we consider the "prayer warriors" of the New Apstolic Reformation to be, for example, if not Christian sorcerers? Witchcraft as an activity is not necessarily the same thing as Pagan worship, however much we Pagans love to claim the word "witch" for our own.

          And isolated groups venerating the Signora Oriente, for example, is not the same thing as the modern Pagan community having an unbroken pedigree of worshippers stretching back generations, if not centuries. The thriving Pagan community of today bears little to no resemblance to what records we can find of things like the Friulian benandante, for example.

          It could certainly be claimed that the Western tradition had certain elements of thought that made the development of modern Paganism inevitable. When Paganism as we know it was developed (in fits and starts, like most religions), I suspect that it drew on the resources of the past.

          • Christianity was very effective in terms of stamping out visible, organized forms of Pagan religion. No one can deny that. By definition, any and all Pagan survivals must be in the form of beliefs and practices that were somehow able to go undetected or unrecognized as "Pagan". The situation is even more complex than that, though. There are many cases throughout European history of people who were accused of being Pagan apostates, but who loudly protested that they were good Christians. We cannot take their protestations at face value, nor can we simply dismiss those who consistently made such accusations. In Byzantium there are three well documented cases of likely Pagan "movements", not just lone individuals, and these movements are separated from each other by many centuries, but share many characteristics. The last of these movements was in the area of Peloponnese during the 15th century, and several people associated with this movement are known to have had contacts with western Europe, especially Italy.

            Paganism does not require real estate and elaborate organizations with hierarchies and formal ritual that are carefully preserved generation after generation, although those kinds of things can play a part in Paganism. Some forms of Paganism are like ancient majestic trees that live for centuries, others are like the weeds that sprout up between the cracks in the sidewalk.

          • Jennifer Parsons

            The remark you make about trees and weeds is particularly accurate: by the early medieval period in Europe, most of the trees had been cut down, to speak. That left the weeds that would sprout up– and like most weeds, some went unpulled because it was difficult to tell what was a weed and what was a good plant.

            A pervasive belief in the reality of magic, as we've both pointed out, predates Christianity (I've yet to find a single culture that DIDN'T have a belief in magic, including our own "secular one") and was easily incorporated into the Christian belief systems. Even the Bible, after all, did have sorcerers in it. Similarly, folk beliefs concerning nature spirits or superstitions for tasks such as hunting, childbirth, or farming could have been derived from earlier paleo-Pagan beliefs, but without widespread documentation, we really just can't know for sure.

            But it's very easy to see how a simple combination these two pervasive beliefs that were very much NOT eradicated by Christianity (why not, when Christians could theologically benefit from them?) could have led to radical incidences of what Isaac Bonewits loosely terms "Mesopaganism" that were influential but short-lived: the weed was pulled when it got too big.

            But even though you can try to kill off the gods, you can't kill off what made humans love and worship them to begin with. Modern Paganism has been nourished and sustained in the religious freedom only recently enjoyed by your average Westerner over the past few hundred years.

            So that's why I roll my eyes at brickbats like, "Wicca is a new religion! It was only invented in the 1940s! Therefore it's a lie and you should become Christian again." Yes, I know Wicca was a new experimentation and I know that most semi- and possible Mesopagan experimentations were shortlived. None of that makes modern Paganism a lie; the vast majority of Pagans are aware of the facts that are available. Let's move on (and not bother with the subtle, nuanced fact that I'm not personally Wiccan).

  • Pagan Puff Piecs

    Doesn't feminist theory these days say that Goddess worship is a step backwards into essentialism, anyway? That would at least make this protest anachronistic.

    (That's what I got from mine, anyway.)

    • Probably, but then in my experience, Feminism is as anti-woman (if not more so) than anything they've ever blamed the Patriarchy for.

      • Pagan Puff Pieces

        Eh, I think the only truly anti-woman feminist sentiment I ever picked up was from a male feminist theory teacher who referred to babies as fleshbags

        Philosophy often comes off as screwy, grouchy, anti-experience stuff, anyhow. A lot of angry mathematics.

    • Jonathan Hamm

      If "feminism" is seen as purely academic, then you might be right. But i don't think any "theorist" could speak for the feminist movement as a whole.

  • Malaz

    I believe the point is not whether tribes were matriarchal, but matrotheological.

    While I consider myself a rather staunch feminist, I would defy anyone to dismiss the fact that
    males of our species are more often than not physically larger and more prone to violence and therefore
    are natural leaders in this respect. However, I feel this can be balanced (and was balanced previous to
    approx. 2500BCE) specifically because human religious structures were Goddess centered.

    IOW, I believe the male tendency to cause harm is offset if that male is worshiping a Divine Feminine.

    • Tom

      I find this notion that if only men honored the Divine Feminine then all would be well absurd. It's just as ridiculous as the propisition that if only everyone accepted Christ, then people would be more moral and there would be peace in the world.

      To return to one of my points of criticism of Myers' essay, ancient pagan civilizations afforded great honor to goddesses. In fact, civilization rested on the power of goddesses. Just consider that every essential element of civilization–peace, justice, harmony, good order, arts and sciences, commerce, law, etc.–was a goddess in most pagan civilizations. Despite this, these civilizations were very much patriarchal and those of the Greeks, Romans, Germanic tribes, and Persians were constantly involved in warfare, conquest, and expansion. Patriarchy existed side-by-side with the acknowledgement and due honor to the divine feminine. Even today in extant pagan societies where goddess worship is vibrant–India and Japan, for example–many feminists would consider these societies still rather patriarchal.

    • Tom


      Why all this is, I think, may be because pagan civilizations, past and present, acknowledge an ontological difference between divinities and humans. Therefore the exalted existence of goddesses does not immediately translate into a higher dignity for women because goddess and woman are not the same. While goddesses may be represented by female forms and feminine qualities, they are still a different and higher sort of being that is not continuous with the female human on earth. Perhaps this is why modern feminist and goddess spirituality has attempted to immanentize the goddess by making her consubstantial with the women, i.e. women are "the goddess embodied/ incarnate," in an attempt to remedy this ontological difference and separation. Some have criticized this–including other feminists and goddess spiritualists–as reinforcing gender essentialism, however. Personally, my experience of the gods and goddesses does not lead me to make direct indentifications or continuities with human men and masculinity and women and femininity, despite how they may be respresented and how I interact with them based on those representations.

      • Malaz

        Tom, your argument is excellent and well thought out, but if you're looking for a round of verbal fisticuffs, you won't find it here. When I post opinions, they are usually scientifically and historically unprovable.
        This is because these opinions are founded on divination.

        I disagree that the wimyns movement has had a tendency to apotheocize the Goddess as a result of behavior disparity. I believe they have done so because they were 'lured' into it by the Mary Phenomenon…that it, "make the Divine Feminine into a person…that way…sex is all you need to worship the Goddess…"
        But this opinion is based solely upon what I've divined and I believe it unflinchingly, so while I appreciate your reflections on my comment, arguing this worldview is pointless.


        • Malaz,

          Like you, when I post my "opinion" it is just that, my "opinion" Can I prove it? No. What I know is from my dreams and intuition. I have learned to "listen".

    • Malaz, I frankly find your comment to be sexist and offensive.

      Women are just as capable of violence, if not more so, than Men.

      Oh, it is true enough that women may on average be smaller than me, but thanks to the invention of weapons and martial arts, size is not really much of an issue in the ways of violence. Women, also, tend to be more cunning and psychological with their violence than men. I've read several places that there is roughly an equal amount of domestic abuse done by women against their families as there is by men. Probably more at this point, as women tend not to be reported, and men face heavy consequences and are always reported, even when the accusations are false.

      Perhaps men are more prone to physical violence, but that doesn't mean women aren't as well, and women as I have said, are far better at psychological and emotional violence, often which has harsher and longer lasting results.

      It is said that the only thing more frightening, more violent, and more bloodthirsty than a Norsman, was his Wife!

      And what of Freyja and Sif, Frigga and Morrigan, Athena and Hel, and so forth? Were they not goddesses of war and death? Were they any less quick to battle than Ares, Mars, Odin, Tyr, Thor, and hundreds of other Gods and Goddesses? You say men were tempered by the Divine Feminine, as if it was a single, mono-deity of love and peace and wholeness, but you do disservice to the multiple Goddesses there are who embody the sacredness of woman with all it's inherent violence.

      • Crystal7431

        From one stereotypical generalization to another; out of the frying pan, into the fire.

        • Malaz

          Hi Crystal,

          My response is not stereotypical…ask anyone on the board…;)
          Please see my reply to Tom.

          • Crystal7431

            My response was to Norse, actually. But I suppose I need to explain my comment. I think it is a bit stereotypical to say men are more prone to violence. This isn't always the case, and I believe even when it is the case, it tends to be the result of nurture as opposed to nature. But what I was actually nitpicking was Norse's reference to women's supposed psychologically violent tendencies. I just thought it was funny that he found your comments, Malaz, to be sexist but then proceeded to make remarks about women that are equally sexist. We shouldn't take notes on psychology from Hollywood. Most women I know are not Joan Crawfords or Alex Forrests. "Women, also, tend to be more cunning…" just like foxes, snakes, and coyotes. Lol! Okay, enough ragging.

          • Tom

            I don't think that stating that men are more prone to violence (I think a better way of putting it is that men are more quick to engage in violence in matters of conflict) is a stereotypical statement, but more or less consistent with observed patterns of behavior across time and cultures. This behavior most likely has some biological basis, too.

            Despite claiming their religions and worldview to be "nature-based," many modern pagans readily discount the presence and influence of nature in human life.

          • Crystal7431

            I know a lot of men who break this mold. It has lead me to question how much is nature (yes, I know about testosterone) and how much is simply habituated through culture.

          • Tom

            Exceptions don't necessarily disprove the rule (if there is such a rule, that is).

            Human behavior is incredibly complex. It's not so much a matter of nature or nurture, but of nature AND nurture. Alcoholism is an interesting and illustrative case. Some people may be born with a genetic predisposition towards alcoholism but that behavior might be activated only under certain environmental conditions, otherwise it might lay dormant. Other people might not have such a disposition for alcoholism, but by their heavy consumption of alcohol they may pass on a genetic predisposition for such behavior to future offspring (Lamarckism, as it's called).

          • Okay, apparently sarcasm doesn't come across well in print.

            That said, I was being sarcastically honest. Perhaps your experience is different, but from my own life I have seen everything I've talked about.

            Crystal, you seem to be essentially doing the same thing that Malaz did, only in this case you are denying the violence that lies withing both genders. I also fail to see where I'm being stereotypical. Are you saying that everything i said was a false? that women do not tend to use psychological violence? Certainly it would seem the case in the many arguments I have seen between women and their families or enemies. Would you say that women are not cunning?

            I also fail to see why it is so bad to be cunning like a fox, snake, or coyotes. coyotes were folk heroes of the Native Americans, Foxes were much the same in Japan and Europe, and the Norse prized cunning as much as we did strength.

            As for my being sexist, I fail to see how i was being that too. Then again, I never said that these violent natures were bad, so perhaps that was assumed? I personally think the nature of violence is fine and dandy, and just because certain genders have certain areas they are better at, doesn't make them better or worse than anyone else.

            Perhaps it is your own assumptions you should question, and where they come from.

          • Crystal7431

            "Perhaps it is your own assumptions you should question, and where they come from."
            Okay, point taken. But can we leave out the jabs? A disagreement to opinion is not necessarily a personal insult.

      • Malaz

        Hey Norse'

        I apologize if you find this offensive. This is not my intent.
        Please see my reply to Tom above.


  • freemanpresson

    "IOW, I believe the male tendency to cause harm is offset if that male is worshiping a Divine Feminine." Yeah, those sons of the Morrighan are such creampuffs … (SORRY COULDN'T HELP IT COYOTE MADE ME DO IT)

    • Who ever said Goddess was all lolipops and unicorns. Like any mother, she'll kick your ass if you get out of line. Yes, the Morrighan is a war goddess, but She is also so much more. Besides, humans have been misusing diety since the Dawn of Time.

      • Nick_Ritter

        Who says that war is a misuse of deity?

        • When it is done in the name of God. There is nothing holy about Holy Wars, IMO.

          • Morwyn wrote:
            When it is done in the name of God.

            Boy, those war gods must be pretty pissed to have their portfolio reduced again. I mean, seriously, with the exception of reality TV, what's Ares going to do with himself now?

          • paosirdjhutmosu

            I think there needs to be a distinction between a god of war and war in the name of God. War is something that exists. It has been part of the human experience, for ill or for good. Naturally, polytheistic religions, as religions that naturally grew from human experience of life and of the gods, include or address war in some way, such as a god of war.
            War in the name of God, or "Holy War" is something different. Of course, it'd depend on whether or not you think war is (at least sometimes) necessary or not. I personally find myself inclined to answer in the (qualified) affirmative. (Doesn't mean I'm a saber-rattling war hawk, just that war may sometimes be necessary in some situations, not all or even most of the time) I'd also add that "Holy War", in the way the term is usually understood, is an alien notion to our family/umbrella of religions.

          • Nick_Ritter

            I think that's all quite well said.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            Alas, we cannot enter the understanding of a warrior from a Pagan society going off to fight for his people. He was no doubt animated by the thought of his war god, but we have no way of knowing how that compares with what animates a modern soldier in a modern war. I suspect the interior experience of the Moslem is closer than that of the Westerner because the concept of holy war is closer to the surface in Islam, but that is an accident of social evolution. We really don't know. (FWIW I have never been in combat.)

          • Nick_Ritter

            "There is nothing holy about Holy Wars, IMO."

            I'm not sure if you are distinguishing "Holy Wars" from the kind of holiness found in war by all sorts of pagan religions that pre-date the Abrahamic monotheisms. If you are not making this distinction, then I would like to stress those last three letters: this is only your *opinion*

            As Eran Rathan points out, there are gods of war. I take this as fairly good evidence that people used to worship such gods, and that, therefore, people found something holy in war. Certainly, there's a great deal of evidence to suggest that Germanic religion, the religion of my own ancestors and the one I do my best to practice, became quite focused on war in the early Iron Age, to the extent that my ancestors discovered connections between certain gods and warfare that they hadn't known of previously: for instance, it seems to me that Týr became associated with warfare through his connection to law and therefore trial-by-combat: warfare could be seen as such trial-by-combat writ large.

            There is a great body of evidence that many pagan religions of the past saw something holy in war. I think we must assume that those people, on the whole, knew more about their gods than we today can claim. Therefore, I do not think that any of us have the standing to say that this was a "misuse of deity."

            However: I do not know much about modern warfare, having never participated in it myself; I must fall back upon the words of those who have. Much of what I have read has given me the impression that, over the last century or more, warfare has become less a matter of gods and the soul, and more a matter of raw technology: it has become Titanic. Or, to quote Ernst Jünger, who put it more poetically than I ever could:

            "When Ares is no longer in charge of wars, the shacks of flayers multiply, and the sword becomes the slaughterer's knife."

      • Malaz

        Hey Morwyn,
        Please see my response to Freeman

    • Malaz

      Hey Freeman'

      Yah…that's part of the point. I'm not saying tough guys become sissies (I'm queer…I'm allowed to say sissies) when they worship the Goddess…I'm saying the intent changes…when the intent changes, the outcome changes.

      • Morwyn

        Well said Malaz. Thank you.

    • Jonathan Hamm

      Love it!

  • Dennis Nock

    altho the matriorical theory has been disproved , the idea that prior to the now dominate monotheisms taking over , equality between the sexes in religion and the general power structure was more common . the abrahaic belief systems are enherantly male dominatated and controled . the earlier pagan ways were more balanced w/ gods and godesses worshipped , and w/ both men and woman included in the general power structure. niether sex dominated or controled the other, as is now the case. in my opinion a either patriarical or matriorical society is ideal , equality of the sexes is what we need .this idea is part of what is helping modern paganism rebound and grow .wicca in general is fem dominated , a problem altho not hard to understand , a rebound from 2 millenia of male dominance under monothiesm , a situation they need to work on .pagan theology in general is gender nuetral , niether male or female dominated. Kilm

  • Crystal7431

    And for the record, most men I know are not modern versions of neanderthal man.

  • Except that those same historians you read are also Manufacturing the past, in their own way. You think the monotheistic dominated society would dare say that Pagan societies were more equal than our current one?

    For instance, you say you would not want to live as a Greek Woman. However, I suspect this is based on the treatment of Athenian women, which was not all that egalitarian. That said, Spartan women were considered the equal of their men, could pretty much live as they pleased, and could walk naked down the street and take their own lovers, and were trained to fight off any Spartan man that might want to rape them. (which basically means they could kick everyone else's butt and not break a sweat.)

    As for slaves, in the Roman and Germanic societies, slaves actually had much social mobility. In the Roman Empire, one could start out as a slave, and by the end be a fairly wealthy merchant, and the slaves ate as well as their Masters. In the Norselands, slaves could have their own land and buy their freedom. It is also important to remember that the average man also didn't have all that much over women in the area of rights and such. Again, Athens, Greece is generally the worst offender, but most other Greek City states, the Romans, and the Germanic and Celtic peoples had much more equality. It may not appear so by our modern standards, but we shouldn't really judge the past with "modern" eyes since those eyes taint our view thanks the teachings of the Christ god.

    Are modern Pagan theologies gender neutral? No, for we recognize the differences in the genders. What we strive to be, however, is gender equal. There is a difference. You complain about women being put on a pedestal, but I think what we are trying to do is put both women and men on a pedestal and reclaim the sacredness of both.

    I disagree on your view of the war goddess. I don't think it was to whip men into a protective frenzy. I think it was to give women as much of the sacred power found in war as went to men. That said, I'll agree they didn't create a peaceful society due to their gender.