Landscapes of the Ancestress.
Principles of Matriarchal Natural Philosophy
and Landscape Mythology
1. Landscape Mythology as research method
The method of landscape mythology is a result of storytelling research
and all fields of knowledge which deal with "layers of time" and
therefore with the oldest, deductible cultures, as the author has explored
and taught for the past twelve years.
In the field of history of language there is a whole branch of research: "archaeology
of language", i.e. the etymological research which reconstructs the
cultural origin and original meaning of a word. In the same way research
into myth and fairytales has a long tradition of bringing out the oldest
layers of a story, enhancing the structure of the storytelling and its
archaic motives. This shows up the consistent interpretations and brings
them once again to consciousness. Next to language etymology, this is why
we can also speak about a story telling etymology.
Geographical names as well as mythological tales have a strong reference
to local landscapes and regions. Until now this has not received a lot
of attention as mythological and social backgrounds of myth have not been
considered. But these landscapes have an even older substratum, with totally
different patterns of thought behind it, which is not accessible to conventional
methods. By researching the human environment relationship of the myth
the author makes a pioneering step, by combining language and story telling
etymology into the etymology of landscape. Through Landscape Mythology
we reach the roots of a culture in a given geographical area, which was
shown in different examples of regions and brought about the discovery
of the mythical landscape of the Old Testament.
The author systematically enlarged the field of Landscape Mythology or
Landscape Ethnology and created an integral system of knowledge. It contains
mainly three traditional specialist fields:
In the way of interdisciplinary research, they are connected with many
new multi-layered challenges, so as to not to allow the old way of isolated
approach come through again. New is also the fact of integrating Modern
Matriarchal Studies into the field of Landscape Mythology, leaving behind
old patriarchal modes of knowledge and patterns of thought.
In this way Landscape Mythology is a branch of modern matriarchal studies,
or depending on one's viewpoint and emphasis, matriarchal studies
an important building block of landscape mythology.
Added to the specialist fields listed above the following fields of knowledge
are also of importance:
- totemistic traditions
- shamanistic traditions
- matriarchal mythology and customs
These explain many phenomena within the landscape mythological approach
in an integral circle of understanding. Especially in matriarchal myths
and customs, we can find sociological traces and social coherence of the
culture under discussion. All three fields are influenced by principles
of matriarchal societies and mythology, meaning these principles explain
and give reason to the remnants of archaic layers or customs in kinship
totemism, in shamanism and the mythology of matriarchal peoples.
Matriarchal societies are sacred societies, because they do not make a
distinction between the sacred and the profane. In this vein there is also
no artificial distinction made between humans and nature, or culture and
nature. Furthermore matriarchal societies are socially and politically
kinship societies. This principle is also expressed in the kinship-like
approach to the environment and the phenomenon of nature. The principles
of the matriarchal kinship group are not only assigned to the clan or tribe,
but also to nature and the landscape. The landscape, or more precisely
the worldview derived from the landscape, reflects in many ways mythological
knowledge and viewpoints, which have been informed or still are informed
by matriarchy. Therefore it is possible using this method of landscape
mythology, to re-discover this old knowledge and natural philosophy.
This has revolutionary consequences for traditional customs and archaeological
finds: the primacy of the landscape. For example, archaeological digs will
concentrate not so much on the individual habitat, but will look for the
connections and speciality in the landscape which serve as a pattern of
From the principles of the matriarchal mother clan and it's traditions
(mythology and customs) further characteristics and attributes can be deduced,
which are visible again and again in landscape mythology:
- direct veneration of nature
- ancestral veneration and in particular the adoration of a godlike ancestress
- body analogies
Especially in reference to the last two characteristics, one can see the
relationship between kinship relations and appearances in the landscape.
This will be shown with three examples: 1. the Black Woman in Vietnam,
2. the Woman Island in Malaysia, 3. the Landscape Ancestress of Lenzburg,
Switzerland. The first two examples are both in South-Eastern Asia, and
therefore ethnologically and sociologically within the classical area of
2. Landscape-Mythological Examples
2.1. The Black Woman of Vietnam
When looking at the history of landscape and language in South Eastern
Asia, we can find traces of matriarchal mythology and a natural philosophy.
The name of the river "Mekong" literally means "Mother
of all water-bodies" and this signifies the appearance and attribute
of the great ancestress in South East Asia. In the mythology of the Mosuo
in South Western China, the Mekong is in consort with the rivers Salwen
and the Jang tse kiang. All three of them are mythologised and referred
to as three sisters, who are emanating in the geographical area of their
springs in the "Nest of the Mother", which means the lap of
the landscape goddess of the region.
In the north of Vietnam we discovered close to Hanoi a large delta, which
is fed by three rivers: the White, the Red and the Black River. These names
go back to the appearance of the rivers, but are also the cult colours
of matriarchal societies per se (clothing, textiles, ceramics, symbolism).
The rivers assign the three-fold landscape ancestress, a goddess-triad.
The three are uniting as one, the Red River and disembogues into the ocean.
This is a concrete example how the content of matriarchal mythology has
been transferred into the landscape.
In the southern part of Vietnam, in the Mekong delta we find a holy mountain,
called Ba Den. This name means literally "Black Woman" and this mountain
is revered as a holy landscape ancestress in the area. The cultural roots
of this region are extended even to the indigenous Cham people, a people
partly organised according to matriarchal patterns who revered this holy
goddess mountain at first. In the process of takeover through patriarchy
the ancestress mountain was occupied by Buddhist monks, they transformed
the Black ancestress of the suppressed Cham people into a Buddhist Mother-Goddess,
which shows a black face in her depiction.
In the centre of Vietnam we find the Black Woman once again. Close to
the seaport of Nha Trang we find a consecrated mount used for cult purposes,
which is situated in a temple district. The ancestress is sometimes addressed
as Ba Den or Po Ino Nagar. The word Nagar is indicative of an animal symbol
of the black landscape ancestress, it means "snake" or "dragon" – the
classical animal of the underworld of the Earth- and Sea-Goddess.
Po Nagar or Ba Den are venerated inside the temple district, but she can
actually be seen from there in the landscape. To the question where the "reclining
woman of the heavens" could be seen we were told that she did not
exist at all in this area and we would to better to go inside the temple
and pray. By sheer tenacity we finally ended up talking to an invalid beggar
who makes his living by hanging around the temple, who gladly showed us
a hill, which showed easily visible the body of a reclining woman – the
sea goddess Po Nagar or Ba Den. This Po Nagar in central Vietnam also comes
originally from the matriarchal Cham people.
The Cham, like the Fu-Nan-people inhabiting the Mekong-Delta are austro-asiatic
in descent. The Fu-Nan are described as dark, curly haired and naked by
Chinese travellers in the first century. They worshiped standing stones
(menhirs) as ancestress and ancestor and were skilful tillers. There is
proof of a snake cult (Naga) and totemism, as well as a Naga-Queen called
Liu Yeh, who was conquered and married by an Indian Brahman. After this
he founded his dynasty. This report describes how the Fu-Nan and their
Queen were taken over by patriarchal Indian cultures. The Indian Brahmans
changed the aristocratic Fu-Nan and the Cham into a God-Kingdom including
a ruling dynasty, the cast system, Indian Gods and widow burning (suttee).
In spite of that the people stayed true to their matriarchal traditions
for a long time and Brahmanism did not play a very important role. In the
southern part of Vietnam compounds of the Cham can still be found. They
are surrounded by fences of mounds and the dwellings of the daughters are
grouped around the dwelling of the mother. The men move into the house
of the women. On compound includes kitchen- and store rooms and the house
with the rice barn, the wedding room and the living quarters for the kin-group
of the youngest daughter.
The veneration of nature of the Cham in pre-Buddhist and pre-Hinduist
times include the ancestral stones, the Naga-snake cult, as well as totem-
and shamanistic practices. Furthermore the worship of holy mounts and mountains,
the Black Woman and the Po Nagar. She is Earth- Mother-goddess, the great
ancestress of the country, who also makes her appearance as Uroja. The
name Uroja means verbatim "Mothers Breast", a motive which
appears repeatedly on jewellery and décor of any kind. Po Nagar
is the creatress of the world and appears even in the form of the Naga-snake.
She is also a rice goddess and a protective goddess of the city Nha Trang,
furthermore she reigns over all mountain tops and table lands of the region.
The Brahmans tried to turn her into a Hindu goddess by subordinating her
and turning her into a Uma, the Shakti of Shiva, or into a Durga, meaning
a Muk Juk or Black Mistress. In spite of this, the mythology of the Uroja
and Po Nagar remained:
Po Ino Nagar is the highest revered goddess. She arose
out of a heavenly cloud and the sea. Among the 97 men she married, Po
Yan Amo is her lover. From the union with her lover she bore 38 daughters
all of who have become goddesses like their mother. Po Ino Nagar is the
goddess who created the earth, the costly incense, the plants and the
grain. The heavens like the incense, the grain and the sandalwood, thus the
goddess throws a grain of rice during a ritual offering to honour the
heavens and the grain, equipped with cloud-white wings, goes up to the
heavens. She disperses her gifts and favours everywhere.
The Black Woman – Uroja, Ba Den or Po Nagar – is not only
worshipped in Vietnam as a mountain or as a female body mound, but also
in the caves as a black stone. We find one of these cult-stones approx.
50 km south of Hanoi, in the perfume-pagoda, which is situated significantly
in the landscape of the White, the Red and the Black River. Here the Buddhist
monks haven't got the slightest idea of the local veneration and
mythology or cover it over with unconnected stories of fairies. Locals
and again "simple people" tell us that a black stone can be
found in the cave, furthermore two stalactites hanging down with the following
names "Milk-breast of the Mother " (also Lap of the Mother)
In this way the two stalactites and the black stone embody the former
matriarchal ancestress of the region and her male partner, the uncle on
the mother's side. Societal order and worldview as well as nature
and culture are merging, and the principles of matriarchal mythology can
be touched in stone.
2. 2. The Women
Island in Malaysia
In the north of Malaysia, a country of matriarchal people, we find a group
of islands called Langkawi,in the border region with Thailand.
In the south of this group we find an island which is called "The
Island of the Pregnant Woman". On this island there is a holy lake,
which looks from above like an almond shaped glory (Mandorla), meaning
a large vulva and represents the lap of the ancestress. Many women of the
area take pilgrimages to this lake and drink from the water of the lake
to become pregnant. On this island, highly visible from the sea, there
is also a range of hills which has the shape of a reclining woman. Interestingly
this can also be said of the whole island, if one looks at the island from
a macro perspective, we recognize the outline of a female body, which is
doubtless the goddess ancestress of the region. Clearly one can see the
head, two legs and the distinct buttocks. The lap-lake is situated in the
generative area of the body of the landscape ancestress, also very significant
a small meandering river, the vulva and uterus of the goddess.
We have thus re-discovered one of the largest body-analogy of the ancestress,
for in the mythology of the people this island has always been the island
of a godlike fairy. Only after patriarchy took hold of the island through
Brahmanism, Buddhism, Islam and modern industrialization, the island
has been disenchanted, desecrated, and direct nature worship of the goddess
is prohibited in order to force the people into an abstract belief in the
3. The Landscape Ancestress of Lenzburg
In central Europe in the heartland of Switzerland, we can find a most
unusual range of hills near Lenzburg, approx. half and hour to the West
of Zurich. A great number of stone chest graves were found close to the
hills, judged by archaeologist to be about 6000 years old. The people buried
in the stone chest were all found to be in the foetal position, the so-called
squatting position. All were also laid on their left side. The archaeologists
were able to dig up and research very precisely the exact place of the
funeral site, but it still remained a query why so many people were
buried so uniformly at this particular place.
The landscape mythological research found out that this place were people
were buried in the foetal position was by no means chosen by chance, but
3 hills in the macro-view of the landscape formed a female body which also
lies on its left side. The entombed are exactly in the place in the landscape
body, where in analogy to the female body the vulva and the holy lap of
the ancestress would be.
In this way the people of the Neolithic age have seen their mythology
depicted in the landscape and buried their deceased close to their ancestress
and in the exact place from where they once emerged. Here they return to
the clay lap of their ancestress in order to be reborn by her. In this
way the old matriarchal re-incarnation mythology is portrayed.
3. Relevance of landscape mythology
Just like modern matriarchal studies, landscape mythology is a very innovative
science. Within cultural history it leads us to the matriarchal roots of
the culture, which have been not been researched by the previous single
research subjects of patriarchal specification. These one-dimensional sciences
claim that we have no way of finding out about such old knowledge. But
as a matter of fact, with the holistic approach of landscape mythology
we continue to find old traces of traditions, which clearly indicate a
matriarchal mythology, a goddess culture and the worship of the great ancestress.
Landscape mythology shows up and gives evidence of the fact that the earliest
societies were matriarchal and remnants and traces can still be found today.
The historical-cultural depth structure of the landscape was and is the
landscape of the ancestress. At the same time landscape mythology points
out – even here in Europe – that matriarchal traces and traditions
are not only found in the Far East, but are also nearly on our door step.
This delineates the huge area of European ethnology. It is worth doing
pioneering work in this field as we are dealing with an almost lost cultural
inheritance. This describes our ancestry and a different way of relating
to the natural world, which is especially pertinent in view of the present
destructive relationship between humans and the natural world.
(translation by Jutta Ried)
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Bern 1995, Amalia-Verlag.
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zu den Mosuo. Stuttgart 1998, Kohlhammer-Verlag.
Heide Göttner-Abendroth und Kurt Derungs (Hg.): Mythologische
Landschaft Deutschland. Bern 1999, Amnalia-Verlag.
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in Europa. Bern 2000, Analia-Verlag.
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Kraft und Mythos der schwarzenMadonna. Zürich 2003, (Verlag?)
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in: AutorInnengemeinschaft (Hg.): Die Diskriminierung der Matriarchatsforschung.
Bern 2003, Amalia-Verlag.
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