dedication and organization

opening words


the program

literature of the lecturers






press releases

1st World Congress on Matriarchal Studies
Luxembourg 2003
Selected Papers


Center for the Study of the Gift Economy

International Academy Hagia


Aims and contents of the congress

    One purpose of the first "World Congress on Matriarchal Studies" was to initiate and encourage a multi-cultural scientific dialogue, along with networking and collaboration between scholars who are occupied with non-ideological research on what can be described as matrilineal, matrifocal, and matriarchal societies. While "matrilineal" and "matrifocal" are clearly defined anthropological terms, the significance of "matriarchal" as a specific cultural concept was further investigated.

    The topics, which are the focus of interest in research on matriarchy, were presented by scholars from all over the world, including those from several European nations, from China and North Africa, and from the United States. Most of them have worked a lifetime in this field, both inside and outside of official institutions, and their research covers cultures on every continent. They have compiled a large amount of material and knowledge concerning the regions they are working in, as well as in their branches of science, and they have demonstrated the social and political implications of their findings. In this way, they have brought to light a new socio-cultural science; they constitute an alternative scientific community.

    The knowledge presented by their studies of matriarchal cultures is not widely known, nor is it accessible to many people.  Therefore, the first "World Congress on Matriarchal Studies" provided the first major forum for exploring the existence of such balanced societies. 

    Matriarchies are not at all characterised as "women's rule," as the usual bias would have it. On the contrary, matriarchal  societies have implemented the principle of complementary equality where people take part in society, with their various gender and aged based functions, on an equal basis.

    The social order of matriarchies is based on highly intelligent principles that have been cultivated over thousands of years of human experience. One of these is the perfect balance between the sphere of action of women and the sphere of action of men. This balance is continuously created by bringing about the consensus or unanimity of all members of society. Following this principle, suppression of one gender by the other is not possible. Furthermore, this is a non-violent social order, without the exploitation of humans, animals and nature, in which all living creatures are respected. In this sense they are truly SOCIETIES IN BALANCE.

    The intriguing social order characteristic of matriarchies is not a marginal or "exotic" phenomenon, as has been claimed in error. Rather, it represents the longest period of early human history and cultures on all continents – from the beginning of the Neolithic until the beginning of Iron Age. It is the origin of all subsequent cultures and civilizations. Up until the present, matriarchal societies have continued to exist in remote regions worldwide, a continuity that has allowed their social patterns to be explored in detail. This establishes that the this form of social order is the oldest, the most stable, and the most durable way of life for human beings.

    These social patterns and historical circumstances are being explored by a new socio-cultural science that combines history, archaeology, paleo linguistics, anthropology, sociology, history of religions, as well as narrative studies in mythology,symbols and oral traditions. It is called modern Matriarchal Studies, and – even though its roots go back over 140 years – it has only today been under-girded by socio-cultural scientific theory and methodology, and extended to the investigation of cultures all over the world.

Human cultural development has a long history, and Modern Matriarchal Studies makes it possible for us to reclaim the part of that development –and it is, after all, the longer part of history – that was crafted by women. Women have always been creators of culture, especially in matriarchal societies, so the first Congress celebrated women's multi-dimensional contributions to culture in the past and present. But women's great history - or herstory - is often invisible, and many women still do not know about it today: this restricts considerably their possibilities for the future. Women's culture was buried by the patriarchal interpretation of the "history of civilization." This was accomplished by the traditional socio-cultural sciences, which are patriarchally biased and fragmented into various narrowly-focused branches. In modern Matriarchal Studies, the traditional patriarchal interpretation of society and history is critically analysed and transgressed. 

    Another major intention of the Congress was to foster a worldwide awareness and appreciation of the many marginalized and threatened ethnic peoples that have preserved matriarchal patterns up to the present day. Western ignorance affects indigenous peoples, especially indigenous women, who live in societies that they themselves call, to one degree or another, "matrilineal" or "matriarchal." People in these societies are situated exceptionally in relation to the nations surrounding them – which are characterized by patriarchal social patterns. This implies twofold suppression: firstly  as indigenous peoples, secondly as matriarchal ones.  Furthermore, this form of society has been widely misunderstood. It has not  been explored objectively and impartially, nor has it been adequately represented in the Western social sciences model.

    Therefore indigenous women and men from extant matriarchal societies were invited to the Congress and heard in public. They spoke about their indigenous societies, and of their own experiences in living with the surrounding patriarchal societies. It was an important step for intercultural understanding in the best sense, as it included not only the understanding of marginalized peoples, but also of non-patriarchal patterns in general. At this time, many indigenous scholars, both women and men, are scientifically, as well as politically, engaged in their societies.

    Furthermore, the political relevance of modern Matriarchal Studies in general was emphasized, and concrete alternatives and practical solutions for unsolved social and political problems of today were suggested. If we distinguish between what is historically past and what is still valid today, the new knowledge about matriarchal societies can guide us towards the creation of balanced societies in which women and indigenous peoples will be regarded equal citizens, and their cultural contributions encouraged and respected.

    In this way, the Congress is part of creating a new paradigm of research and cultural development.

The development of the Congress

    As a result of the continuous and consistent preparation that started in the year 2000, it became possible to hold the First World Congress on Matriarchal Studies in 2003. It was an unprecedented step, and one with great historical implications for modern Matriarchal Studies. It grew out of the international contacts of the "International Academy HAGIA", especially those of Dr. Heide Goettner-Abendroth (Director of the academy).

    In the year 2000, Mrs. Marie-Josée Jacobs, the Minister of Women's Affairs of Luxembourg, agreed to be "matron" of the Congress, which was at that time still in the planning stage. Her ministry sponsored  the greater part of the financial contribution needed for this World Congress. During 2001-2002, several European ministries for women and for the development of science, as well as EU-Committees and private sponsors, were approached for additional financial support. Starting in February 2003, financial commitments were made by the "Hans Boeckler-Stiftung" in Duesseldorf, the "Maecenia-Stiftung" in Frankfurt, the "Gerda Weiler-Stiftung" in Ulm, the "UNNA-Stiftung" in Duesseldorf, and the "Fonds National de la Recherche" in Luxembourg. An in-kind donation of support in the form of advertising, was made by the "Mediengruppe Kulturell Kreative" in Berlin.

    From all spheres of society, leading personalities who are familiar with the subject matter and follow its development with interest, lent their names to the advisory board to raise the social significance of the event. Numerous personalities from political lobby groups, NGO's, the sciences, the arts and the media, as well as from churches and from non-European cultures agreed to participate on the advisory board. Mrs. Maddy Mulheims, a governmental advisor from Luxembourg, must be mentioned here in particular, as in her advisory function she was able to facilitate the financial support of the Congress from the Ministry of Women's Affairs in Luxembourg. The Institute for Political Science of the University of Innsbruck, Austria, which has a professorship in Women's Studies, along with the "Centre for Information and Documentation of Women" in Luxembourg co-sponsored the World Congress.

    At this point it was possible to send out the invitations to scholars all over the world, and without exception all of them accepted the invitation to this event. The broad spectrum of scholars from Europe, China, North Africa, and the United States delivered highly qualified lectures on the following subjects:

                     Theory and Politics of Modern Matriarchal Studies,

                     Matriarchal Societies in Past and Present,

                     Matriarchal Spirituality  and Medicine,

                     The Origin of Patriarchy.

    In the area of "contemporary-life," presentations and films of extant matriarchal societies in Asia, Africa and the Americas were shown. Overall, the creative impact of women's contribution to human development was presented splendidly. A culture based on an egalitarian form of organisation became visible, one with its own social, economic, political and religious patterns.

    The World Congress was received with great enthusiasm by the participants. There were between 450 and 500 people present, filling the distinguished and very well appointed Hémicycle-Hall of the congress-centre in Luxembourg. Participants came from Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Luxembourg, France, Italy, England, Poland, the United States, among others. Among them were a many scientists. The other participants were academically educated or self-educated, and can all be considered as multipliers. The group was 85% women , 15% men. Adults of all age groups were present. It was this totality of organizers, speakers, and participants who made this Congress such a successful event.

    This demonstrates that – at the beginning of the new millennium – there exists a lively interest in this new research. The reason is that it describes a form of society which is balanced, not only in regard to gender but also in regard to the generations, and it shows a way of life that is ecologically fitted  to the natural surroundings. This causes more and more women and men of our Western civilization to consider how far the patterns of such a form of society could inspire us to find better social and cultural models.

    Furthermore, modern Matriarchal Studies can substantially contribute to the current political  discussion  about gender mainstreaming, because it has been, from its beginnings, gender study in the best sense. At the same time it transgresses gender studies, because it integrates the development of history of cultures. We cannot understand our present time without a deeper knowledge of history. This is a decisive factor, especially for the situation of women.

The selected papers of the Congress

    The Congress papers published here are a representative selection addressed to the various subjects surrounding the subject of matriarchy.

Part I

    The first two papers represent the beginning lectures of the Congress dedicated to the subject Theory and Politics of Modern Matriarchal Studies. In her paper: Modern  Matriarchal Studies. Definitions – Scope – Political Relevance Heide Goettner-Abendroth (Germany) presents a new definition of the concept "matriarchy"; one that developed from her cross-cultural research on existing matriarchies worldwide in terms of their economic, social, political and spiritual contexts. She demonstrates that matriarchies are economically balanced, exhibit egalitarian relationships between genders and generations, and are consensus-based in their politics. Furthermore, she outlines the range of modern Matriarchal Studies and its relevance for social and political issues.

    The paper of Claudia von Werlhof (Austria) is titled: Patriarchy as the Negation of Matriarchy. Aspects of Cultural Madness, in which she presents a theory critical of patriarchy. Her core thesis is that patriarchy has not made an independent contribution to civilisation but exists, in specific aspects, as the negation of matriarchy. She points out that the "genuine" inventions of patriarchy consist mainly in breaking the taboo against violence, and in systematic uses of violence: war, domination as a universal rule, private property and exploitation, and mechanization and machinery.   


Part II

    The following papers reflect the second part of the Congress in which still existing matriarchal societies from all over the world were represented. It started with the section Present Matriarchal Societies with regard to Asia. Peggy Reeves Sanday (USA) presents in her paper: Matriarchy and World Peace. Lessons from the Minangkabau/Sumatra a conceptual framework for rethinking matriarchy, based on her long term ethnography of the Minangkabau of West Sumatra, Indonesia. The Minangkabau are unique in that they self-identify as a matriarchy, and their culture is characterized by an ethic of gender balance and a dedication to negotiation and the peaceful resolution of conflict. In addition to their women-centeredness the Minangkabau are proudly Islamic; this points to some of the lessons we can learn from the Minangkabau in relation to world peace.

    Ruxian Yan (China) exemplifies the matriarchal structures of the Mosuo in her paper: The Kinship System of the Mosuo/China. The extended families of the Mosuo are mostly headed by women, and consist of members who have purely matrilineal blood ties. The lineages are traced through females, and property is passed down through females as well. The sexual life of adults takes the form of a "visiting marriage" and the relationship between men and women is a "sexual partnership." The children are affiliated to the group of their mothers only. This  matrilineal cultural system has a long history in the local communities, and exerts a strong impact on aspects of social life.

    Lamu Gatusa (China), who is Mosuo himself and an indigenous researcher, gives in his paper: Matriarchal Marriage Patterns of the Mosuo an authentic report on his people's matriarchal culture and marriage patterns. With the Mosuo the  female's function is emphasized, but the male's function is not underestimated. The most characteristic form is the "visiting marriage", which allows the partners to remain independent in many ways, including personal independence, emotional independence and benefits independence. They have neither sexual privileges nor economic privileges. As a result, their relationship is a purely natural one of equal association.   

    This section of the congress was closed by Shanshan Du (China/USA). She presents in her paper: Frameworks for Society in Balance. Gender Equality from a Cross-Cultural Perspective a comparative theory of gender equality, with the Lahu people serving as an ethnographic example. She proposes several socio-cultural frameworks that foster balance, harmony, and equality between the sexes in certain non-industrial societies: The first model, "maternal centrality", is typically manifested in matriarchal societies.  In contrast, within the model of "gender triviality," the symbolic elaboration of "men" and "women" is scarce and socially insignificant.  In the third framework, "gender unity," men and women are identified with each other as members of higher social categories.

Part III

    In this section of the Congress Present Matriarchal Societies with regard to Africa andAmerica were represented. Hélène Claudot-Hawad (France) lectured about: "Woman-shelter and man-traveller". The Representation of Gender among the Tuareg (Imajaghen) / Central Sahara, Africa. In her paper she analyses therelationship of the two genders and the remarkable position of the women in this society, their matrilineal context, as well as patrilineal influences. Among the Tuareg the representation of the feminine and the masculine, as a way of understanding and conceptualising the world, is quite different from what we are used to in the West. In their social roles and in their institutions and rituals, the Tuareg participate in a continuous balancing of these less or more harmonious connections. 

    Malika Grasshoff (Algeria/France/Germany), of Kabyle lineage and also an indigenous anthropologist, presents a paper titled: The Central Position of Women among the Berber People of Northern Africa, Exemplified by Kabyle Women. She shows that the Berbers,   known as the oldest people of North Africa, have retained their pre-Islamic customs, especially the women of the Berbers of Kabylia (Algeria). Their traditional arts, such as pottery and weaving, are still accompanied by rites and practices that serve to build and contribute to magical relationships between humans and nature.

    Veronika Bennholdt-Thomsen (Germany) contributes a paper about: A Matriarchal Society at the Time of Globalisation: Juchitàn / Southern Mexico, in which she shows that the indigenous society of Juchitàn on the Isthmus von Tehuantepec, a hub of globalised trade, has preserved strong matriarchal characteristics. The women of Juchitàn, a city of 100,000, work in all occupations, but have taken on trading, in particular, as second nature. The men are peasants and craftsmen, and they hand over their products and wages to the women. So the latter have managed to maintain their own economy, one that is independent and dominant in this region.

    As one representative of the subject Matriarchal Spirituality and Medicine, which formed a special section at the Congress, Cécile Keller's (Switzerland) paper on Medicine in MatriarchalSocieties is included here. It is based on several ethnographic examples, especially on the women's medicine societies of the Iroquois. She points out that in matriarchal societies medicine is holistic and is based on experiential knowledge. It includes both the treatment of the body and the guidance of the soul and consciousness. In the healing process the whole mythology and cosmology of the prevailing culture is activated, and this positively reconnecs persons seeking healing to their own matriarchal world view.

Part IV

    The following papers represent the section of the congress called Past Matriarchal Societies, Theory of History and Symbolism. Here theories and research in matriarchal societies of early history (the beginning of Neolithic until the beginning of the Iron Age) were presented. The section was opened by the lecture of Riane Eisler (USA) titled:  The Battle over Human Possibilities: Women, Men, and Cultural Transformation. Her presentation looks at cultural evolution from the perspective of two underlying possibilities for structuring social systems: the domination model and the partnership model. It traces the cultural evolution of Western societies from prehistory to the present. It outlines the cultural transformation theory, which proposes that shifts from one model to the other are possible in times of extreme social and technological disequilibrium; and that in our time another fundamental shift is possible, to a world orienting more to partnership rather than domination.

    The her paper: Dark Mother, Dark Others, and a New World,Lucia Chiavola Birnbaum (Italy/USA) goes still farther back in early history. She argues that the oldest divinity worshipped by homo sapiens is that of a female deity from Central and Southern Africa. Prehistoric signs of thisbelief were transmitted after 50,000 b.c.e. by African migrants to the caves and cliffs of all continents.  Later, ca. 25,000 b.c.e., these signs were transmuted into venerated female images found on all continents. In the Christian epoch these became "black madonnas," but the legacy of the African female deity is evident in all women divinities on every continent.

    Joan Marler (USA) presents in her paper: The Iconography and Social Structure of Old Europe. The Archaeomythological Research of Marija Gimbutas the pioneering work of archaeologist Marija Gimbutas (Lithuania/USA, 1921-1994). In her study of the symbolic imagery of the earliest farming peoples of Southeast Europe (ca. 6500-3500 BC), Gimbutas found evidence of ritual activities within the seasonal realities of agrarian life. A vast body of Neolithic imagery rendered primarily in female forms indicates the centrality of women's activities and their roles as creators of culture. Utilizing the  archaeomythological method she developed by herself, Gimbutas described these early Neolithic societies as non-Indo-European and "matristic".

    Michael Dames (Great Britain) also uses a combined method in his research. In his paper: Footsteps of the Goddess in Britain and Ireland he shows that the abundant archaeological evidence for pre-Christian goddess worship in Britain and Ireland is supported by folk narrative, folk customs, place names, and medieval writings. Each strand of evidence can be scientifically  analysed. However, if the original quality of the goddess mythology is sought, a poetic synthesis of all these strands should be attempted.

    A combined research method is also used in the investigations of Kurt Derungs (Switzerland). In his paper: Landscape of the Ancestress. Principles of the Matriarchal Philosophy of Nature and the Mythology of Landscape, the matriarchal philosophy of nature is made evident by different examples. For matriarchies have also produced an outstanding ecology and mythology of landscape. In the naming of landscapes (mountains, rivers, lakes, hills and so on), in burial site symbolism, in architecture, in rituals and mythology, they have documented ancient knowledge in which the principles of the matriarchal philosophy of nature can be read.

Part V

    The last section of the Congress was dedicated to the question of The Origin of Patriarchy. Here James DeMeo (USA) lectured about his theory which is represented in his paper: The Origins of Patriarchy in Ancient Desertification:  Saharasia. He demonstrates that, first, native cultures residing within the "Saharasian" desert belt (Sahara, Middle East, Central Asia) were possessed of the most strongly violent patriarchal elements and, second, that regions very far removed from "Saharasia" (Oceania, New World) were mostly matristic culture types. Thus, he suggests a source region for patristic dominator cultures within "Saharasia" – predominantly after ca.4000 b.c.e., when "Saharasia" began to change from a semi-forested savannah into desert, with subsequent famine-driven migrations outward – the mechanism of the great Indo-Aryan and Semitic cultural migrations.


A documentary film about the Congress is available at Academy HAGIA, please contact: AkademieHagia@aol.com