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

Kurt Derungs

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:

  • ethnology
  • archaeology
  • mythology

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 interpretation.

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 matriarchal societies.

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) and "Mother-Brother".

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 afterlife.


           2. 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)




Isabelle My Hanh Derungs und Kurt Derungs: Forschungsreise nach Vietnam 1996.
      (not published)

Isabelle My Hanh Derungs und Kurt Derungs: Forschungsreise nach Thailand und Malaysia1999 und 2001. (not published)

Kurt Derungs: Struktur des Zaubermärchens I+II. Bern, Stuttgart 1994, Olms-Verlag.

Isabelle My Hanh: Kinder Küche Karma. Die Frau im Buddhismus und Konfuzianismus.Zwischen Matriarchat und patriarchaler Ideologie. Bern 1995, Amalia-Verlag.

Kurt Derungs (Hg.): Mythologische Landschaft Schweiz. Bern 1997, Amalia-Verlag.

Heide Göttner-Abendroth: Matriarchat in Südchina. Eine Forschungsreise zu den Mosuo. Stuttgart 1998, Kohlhammer-Verlag.

Heide Göttner-Abendroth und Kurt Derungs (Hg.): Mythologische Landschaft Deutschland. Bern 1999, Amnalia-Verlag.

Kurt Derungs: Landschaften der Göttin. Avebury, Silbury, Lenzburg, Sion. Kultplätze derGrossen Göttin in Europa. Bern 2000, Analia-Verlag.

Kurt Derungs: Kultplatz Zuoz-Engadin. Die Seele einer alpinen Landschaft. Bern 2001, Amalia-Verlag.

Kurt Derungs: Mythen und Kultplätze im Drei-Seen-Land. Bern 2002, Amalia-Verlag.

Kurt Derungs: Magisch Reisen Bern. Sagenhaftes Wandern zu Kultsteinen vom Jura bis zumBerner Oberland. Bern 2003, Amalia-Verlag.

Sigrid Früh und Kurt Derungs: Die Schwarze Frau. Kraft und Mythos der schwarzenMadonna. Zürich 2003, (Verlag?)

Kurt Derungs: "Matriarchatsforschung und Diskriminierungsspirale",

in: AutorInnengemeinschaft (Hg.): Die Diskriminierung der Matriarchatsforschung. Bern 2003, Amalia-Verlag.

Kurt Derungs: "Die Natur der Göttin", in: Edwin O. James: Der Kult der Grossen Göttin. Bern 2003, Amalia-Verlag.