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

Lecturers of the Congress

Panel 1:

Theory and Politics of Matriarchal Societies

Dr. Heide Goettner-Abendroth  (Germany)

Matriarchal Societies and Modern Research on Matriarchy

The lack of a viable, scientific definition and the misunderstanding that "matriarchy" means "rule by women" has contributed to an ideological prejudice towards the term, which leads to a serious  distortion of, and blindness towards, this subject. In consequence, matriarchal societies – predominant in early history and still existing today – have not been recognized in most  cases, or have not been adequately distinguished from those that are merely matrilineal. Matriarchal societies are always matrilineal, and in these societies the means of livelihood rest in women's  hands. Women's strong position in these cultures is counterbalanced  by that of the men, so that no gender dominates the other one. 

In my presentation I will outline the new definition of matriarchy, which characterizes the deep structure of this form of society; that is, the way it affects all levels of society as well as its economic, social, political, and spiritual contexts. I have developed this characterization based on my cross-cultural research into still existing matriarchies all over the world. Matriarchies will be shown to be economically balanced, egalitarian in the relationship between genders and generations, and as consensus-based societies in their politics. Matriarchal peoples have  developed a system of very wise principles and social codes allowing humans to live in peace with each other and in harmony with nature.

Prof. Claudia von Werlhof  (Austria)

The Utopia of a Motherless World - Patriarchy as 'War-System'

At the "1st World Congress on Matriarchal Studies" in Luxemburg in 2003, I presented a paper on "Patriarchy as Negation of Matriarchy. The Perspective of a Delusion". Starting from there I want to concentrate on the fact that patriarchy did not appear in the world as such, but did develop in time and is still developing today. The typical mechanisms that have been and are used for the development of patriarchal society are defined as such that seem to overcome and "replace" matriarchal societies by something supposedly "better", "more developed", and spiritually "higher". This way we can define patriarchy as the utopia of a motherless world that wants to become "concrete" and is indeed becoming concrete in modernity and with capitalism, especially.  The analysis leads to the idea of patriarchy as a social "system" in contrast to matri- archal societies that did not develop into "systems". Furthermore, patriarchy finally has to be defined even as "war- system", in which war has always more become the main principle of social organization, economy, policies, technology, science and the relationship with nature, gender and the future. The dynamics of especially western society's development into a closed war-system is felt today more than ever before, as globalization, the last phase of patriarchy, turns always more into globalized war on all levels of life. This fact is confronting us with the necessity to break with patriarchal thinking, feeling and acting immediately, if we want to continue life on earth.

Genevieve Vaughan (USA)

Matriarchy vs. the Market

Mothering has been contrasted with fathering, due to the binary reasoning of our society. However, perhaps an even more significant, though less familiar, contrast exists between mothering and market exchange.  Two opposing logics are involved, a transitive logic of gift giving and an intransitive logic of giving to receive an equivalent: exchange. Behaving according to these logics creates subjectivities, which are socially identified with gender, but can actually be located in either male or female bodies. The manhood agenda in Patriarchy imposes goals, which are consonant with the market and opposed to gift giving/mothering. The female identity is directed towards caring for the artificially constructed male identity. The interactions between the socially constructed genders are transposed into the market interactions between invisible  gift giving and exchange. While exchange appears to be fair and equal it is actually supported by many disguised gifts. A recent book by psychiatrist Stephen Ducat, The Wimp Factor,  emphasizes the psychological syndrome of hyper masculinity and femophobia, which motivate the destruction of mothering policies, which might be seen as paths towards Matriarchal ways. It is important to understand and heal these pathological patterns in order to eliminate them from electoral politics as well as from the distribution of goods in order to create societies of peace.


Panel 2:

Present Matriarchal Societies - North America and Oceania

Dr. Barbara Alice Mann, Bear Clan of the Ohio Seneca, Iroquois (USA)

 "They Are the Soul of the Councils."

                            The Iroquoian Model of Woman-Power

Woman-power may be a new cultural idea among Europeans and their descendants, but it is an old and mature idea among the Native Americans, especially those east of the Mississippi River. All eastern Nations recognized the political, economic, spiritual, and social roles of Clan Mothers as the power brokers of their people, but, in the twelfth century, the Iroquois wrote those roles directly into their Constitution. In fact, by law, the men's councils may not consider a matter that has not been discussed by the women and forwarded to them by the women's consensus. Given the boggling implications of this power structure, the Iroquoian Constitution is careful to clarify that men have the same rights as women. When the early American feminists learned of this legal set-up – and they picked up on it in colonial times – they held up the Iroquoian Gantowisas, of Official Woman, as their model of the possible. She remains the model of the possible, to this day, as my talk will show.

Jeannette C. Armstrong, Syilx, Okanagan (Canada)

The Syilx (Okanagan) Principles of Coexistence 

In my own reflections and research into the traditions of my Syilx (Okanagan) People, I have come to some insights about the society of my people, both in the contemporary sense as well as in the historical sense.  I wish to share information on the principles imbedded within our traditional cultural process that I believe allows us to survive intentional annihilation as a culture.  I perceive those principles as a process that continues to guide our recovery and mend our interactions with each other as individuals, as family, as community and as a part of the land, however fragmented by being continuously colonized.  It is my observation that a conscientious attending to the principle of N'ha'ils, as a practice of total respect and the recovery and practice of it allows a culture to grow and the people to flourish.  I have come to understand that "respect" as an English word is inadequate to describe a philosophical worldview perfected over millennia of healthy coexistence with other life forms in an extremely fragile ecosystem.  I have come to understand that "reverence" may be a word which more closely describes the principles of an "enlightened" interaction with all other life forms and which sustains peace, egalitarianism and reciprocity.  I also wish to share the principle of  "En'owkinwixw" as a societal imperative for N'ha'ils to be a reality through a collaboration seeking process when applied by family or community and a critical framework for unbiased inquiry when applied by the individual.

Mililani B. Trask  (Hawaii)

About the Polynesian People

Taimalie Kiwi Tamasese, Samoan (Samoa, New Zealand)

Restoring Liberative Elements of our Cultural Gender Arrangements

This presentation will explore the notions of "Gender Arrangements" and "Cultural Liberative Elements" on which we can grow cultures of respect and honour for generations to come. The exploration will identify historical impacts and the consequent devaluation of the status of women. It will also explore the restoration of Liberative Gender Arrangements within families, communities, cultures and societies.

Panel  3:

Present Matriarchal Societies - Central and South America

Prof. Veronika Bennholdt-Thomsen (Germany)

Matriarchal Principles for Today Economies and Societies:

                                                               What We Can Learn from Juchitán

Juchitán is a town in southern Mexico. Its 100 000 inhabitants belong to the ethnic group of the Isthmus Zapotecs, with about 350 000 people living in the coastal plains of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. My knowledge about this group is based on empirical research during several visits since 1983 including a one year lasting research period in 1990/91. The juchitecan society is a matriarchal one. Despite of being an indigenous group, juchitecans are well nourished and relatively wealthy, whereas normally ‘indigenous' and ‘poor' are nearly synonyms. This wealth is due to a well functioning regional economy which is the result of the work of the woman traders.

How is the maintenance of a regional market exchange system possible in times of such an aggressive globalization of every market like we are confronted with today? This question arises more so, as Mexico is a pilot third world country concerning the internationalization of a national economy and even more so, as the Isthmus is already geographically very open to world trade routes.

In my lecture the principles that reproduce the juchitecan economy and society as matriarchal ones will be described and it will be asked whether and in which form this example could be valid for the transformation of the globalized society in other areas of the world into non patriarchal regional ones.

Rosa Martha Toledo, Juchiteca (Mexico)

The Life Cycle of the Juchiteca


Dona Enriqueta Contreras, Zapoteca (Oaxaca, Mexico),

The Sierra Juarez Zapotecs of Oaxaca as a Cultural Matriarchy

When the Spanish first arrived in Oaxaca, Mexico in 1521, they brought along with their firearms, horses and diseases a worldview that would virtually destroy and subdue the matriarchal society that was known as the Zapotecs, self referred to as "the Cloud People." Our pre-columbian culture was devoted to the reverence of Nature and the equality of gender, as evidenced by the presence and respect for female as well as male shamans. And, primogeniture included females in the lineage. Our Gods were aspects of nature such as clouds "Za" and lightning "Pitao." Despite the fact that our respect for the divinity of nature was overlaid by European Christian ideals that were male-centered and patriarchal, our regard for the sanctity of Nature, and our imperative connection to it has survived the holocaust of that first fateful meeting five centuries ago. We continue to revere Nature and renew our bond as a commitment to the Sacred Mother Earth. Inspite of our ostensible poverty and extremely limited resources, we the Zapotecs continue to live close to the Earth on a daily basis and we honor the Mother, the Clouds, Lightning and Rainbows through our medicine ways of midwifery, spiritual healing and Nature consciousness.

Antje Olowaili (Germany)

"Goldmother Created her Children on Earth" – The Kuna Culture

They live on small Caribbean islands at the coast of Panama. Their songs are about prophetesses who had been descending to the earth on golden plates, bringing culture to them. That's why the Kuna name themselves "the Golden People". They form a very close, politically semi- independent community, which celebrates every single girl.

Although the Kuna men go hunting and fishing and provide all the food, it's the women who
distribute it and rule the house. Since matrimony is matrilocal, the eldest mother in the clan has most of the power. A woman will never lose her home. Due to the absence of privacy, there is no domestic violence. Children are in the center of family life. Old people get a lot of respect. The puberty rite, or other rites for girls, is always held by wise women. Men gather in the prayer house called "congress"and do politics. They become chieftain, arranger or ritual translater. It's a strictly seperated power sphere where both women and men have their own

Mariela de la Ossa, Kuna (Kuna Yala, Panama)

The Role of Women in Kuna Society


Carolyn Heath

Women and Power: the Shipibo of the Upper Amazon

The matriarchal society, which has been shaped largely by women, has long been a neglected area for academic study. Such a group is exemplified by the Shipibo, an indigenous group of the Upper Amazon. My presentation will explore the power relations between Shipibo men and women to discover contributing factors to the unique self-confidence of Shipibo women. Angelika Gebhart-Sayer (1984 : 22) asserts that "Shipibo women enjoy more rights, freedom, individual fulfilment and spontaneity than women of other cultures may ever dream of." To test the veracity of this affirmation I propose to explore the spheres of power of Shipibo women on four levels : family power, economic power, political power and spiritual power. One of the aims of this exercise is to determine in what way Shipibo women might contribute to enriching Western concepts of what it means to be a woman.

Evening  program:

Uschi Madeisky and Gudrun Frank-Wissmann (Germany)

"Societies in Balance": Film documentation of the

 First World Congress on Matriarchal Studies, Luxembourg 2003


Panel 4: 

Present Matriarchal Societies - North Africa

Prof. Hélène Claudot-Hawad  (France)

"Woman the Central Pillar of Society"

The Representation of Gender among the Tuareg (Imajaghen), Sahara

What does it mean today in Tuareg society to be a woman or a man? What images, roles and standards, what reciprocal rights ad duties, what social and symbolic functions, are evoked by these categories?

This lecture will try to convey their nature, their significance and their modern manifestations by replacing them in the contexts from which  they grew and changed, an original nomadic society that gives to the "feminine" a pre-eminent role. The Tuareg promote a woman-centered pattern based on several principles - the necessity of diversity, contradiction and balance creating social dynamism - that finally contradict the theory of an universal male dominance over women.

Fatimata welet Halatine, Imajaghen, Tuareg (Central Sahara)

Renouncing Privileges: a Tuareg Woman in Modern Times

Dr. Malika Grasshoff, Kabyle, Berber (Algeria/Germany)

The Central Position of Women among the Berber People of Northern Africa, exemplified by Kabyle Women

The Berbers are known as the oldest people of Northern Africa and are still today living in Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. For a time, they were Christianized, but later became Moslems due to the conquest of Northern Africa by the Arabs. However, the Berbers of Kabylia (Algeria) have retained many of their pre-Islamic customs. The traditional arts of the Kabyle women, such as pottery and weaving, are still accompanied by rites and practices which do not emphasise the differences between humans and nature, but serve to build and contribute to the magical relationships and unity of the two. Social life is based on a model of mutual support which requires relatives to accept responsibilities for each other, which extends across the entire community. The difference between genders and their different tasks and roles do not result in a power-relationship between men and women.

The cosmology of the Kabyle women is closely connected to their art, and is expressed in the ornamentation of ceramics and weavings. Through their alignment the ornaments constitute a secret language among women, for the motifs are directly related to femininity and fertility. This secret script is exclusively passed on from mother to daughter.


Panel 5:

Present Matriarchal Societies – West and South Africa

Dr. Wilhelmina J. Donkoh, Akan (Ghana)

Female  Leadership  among the Asante

The Asante constitute one of the principal groups of the matrilineal Akan-speaking people of the modern state of Ghana. An identifying characteristic of the Akan is descent through the female line. Traditionally, such important social and economic institutions as ownership property and inheritance are based on blood affiliation to the matrilineage. Females among the Akan thus are expected to play a unique role in ensuring the perpetuation of the lineage and in identifying who qualifies to be a member. At the same time, as could be found in other traditional societies, social, economic and political responsibilities usually tend to be gender-bound.
This lecture confirms that female leaders among the Asante indeed play a central role within the Asante socio-political system. An examination of specific cases in the history of Asante reveals that where female leaders transcended the gender boundaries, as diplomats or political heads, their actions tended to foster greater social cohesion. Also, through literature review and theoretical analysis the lecture establishes that despite stereotypical views that women only play mundane roles and are mere reproductive units, where women leaders have exerted themselves they have brought distinction and honour upon themselves as well as on their entire lineage and the wider community that they belonged to.

Gad Agyako Osafo, Akan (Ghana/Germany)

Akan Healing Heritage – an Overview

The traditional medicine of the Akan of Ghana is traceable as far back as 4000 years. Together with the traditional medicine of the other ethnic groups in the country, today it is the only readily available help for over 50% of the population in cases of imbalances in health (dis-ease). This ancestral medicine is not only closely  bound to and integrated in the culture, but it is also intrinsically  associated with the Akan religious believes. Characteristically it  exhibits two procedural components: the spiritual/psychic aspect  and the actual process of applying material medicine.  The custodian of this heritage in the matrilineal group is the Obaapanying / Aberewa (the elderly woman) who simultaneously is the direct or indirect spiritual head of the family. 

In this lecture I will give an overview of the main pillars of the traditional  Akan medicine, explain how it has survived and why it still plays an invaluable role in the lives of many Ghanaians despite the onslaught from foreign cultures.

Pract. med. Cécile Keller (Switzerland)

Medicine in Matriarchal Societies

In matriarchal societies medicine is holistic and is based on experiential knowledge. The methods include both the treatment of the body and the guidance of the soul and consciousness. Within the context of a healing ritual, medical substances and physiological techniques find application. On the other hand self-healing processes of psycho-somatic and spirit-soul based orders are being stimulated through the medium of the "soul-search". In this process the whole mythology and cosmology of the prevailing matriarchal culture is being activated which will reconnect persons seeking healing positively to their own world view. Reinforcing this process is the fact that the healing ritual is integrated within the social community which participates in a sympathetic and active manner. This not only conveys an experience of security, but collective problems can be treated.

The medical organisations in matriarchal societies will be portrayed with examples, especially the example of the women's medical associations of the Iroquois. These associations do not only protect medical wisdom and knowledge, but each of them has a particular cosmological correlation and a specific kind of healing ritual which corresponds to the cosmological  concepts.  This produces a spiritual-cosmological order among all of the associations which expresses their matriarchal world view.

Dr. Yvette Abrahams, Khoekhoe (Namibia, South Africa)

Living in Our Natural World: Indigenous Women, Power and Knowledge

One of the problems with researching gender relations amongst the Khoekhoe (South African indigenous people) is that there is surprisingly little in source material, such as contemporary diaries, travel writings, and archived government documents, about gender relations.  Nor is there much oral history. Here, 250 years of slavery lie like a sword between our knowledge of who we were before colonialism and who we are now.

Another reason is that Khoekhoe society was classless at the time of colonization. This means, for instance, that there were no developed systems of cheiftaincies and therefore no highly visible women chiefs or queens with whom the colonizers were forced to interact. A classless society was practically invisible to the people who left written records, because they had grown up in a society where the principle of hierarchy was so ingrained so as to render any other system unthinkable. If you cannot think it you cannot see it or speak it, and indeed there is a tendencyamongst the written records to read hierarchy into events and people where there is none.

At this point you can reach conclusions about Khoekhoe matriarchies deductively but seldom through direct evidence. In this sense what we need to do is much more like archeology, than history: we need to develop far-reaching conclusions on comparatively scanty evidence.  My lecture is part of an exploration towards a different methodology. It will look at Khoekhoe women and indigenous plants.  There is quite a lot of source material on the uses of various economic plants. Because most of the plants, except those having to do with hunting, were the domain of women's knowledge, we can find out quite a lot about Khoekhoe women by studying what they knew. In this way we shall get a more exact picture of women's position in Khoekhoe society.

Bernedette Muthien, Khoisan (South Africa)

Beyond Patriarchy and Violence: the Khoisan and Partnership

Violence and inequity are inextricably tied to patriarchy, and the dominator system. Cultural systems of patriarchy and domination are very prevalent at this time, but are not inevitable. Pre-patriarchal societies, such as the Khoisan of Southern Africa, are examples of harmonious, gender-continuous, nonviolent lifestyles, which can be used to construct alternative models to violence and inequity. This research will harness lessons from partnership societies like the Khoisan, and show how we can move forward from our present conditions to a more equitable and less violent society.

My presentation will draw on the many lessons embedded in Khoisan culture which can be adapted to reduce current violence and improve present society. Historical records, and modern texts, reflect numerous examples of the Khoisan's originally peaceful, non-violent and egalitarian ways of life. A deeper understanding of Khoisan culture can lead directly to models and methods for change in present Southern African society, and how going back to some of the best aspects of our roots can, in fact, lead us forward into a future that is both economically and culturally healthy.


Panel 6:

Present Matriarchal Societies – Asia: India, Sumatra, China

Patricia Mukhim, Khasi (Megalaya, Northeast India)

Khasi Matrilineal Society - Challenges in the 21st Century

In the Khasi matrilineal system, descent or lineage is based on the female line and ancestral property passes through the youngest daughter whose role is that of a custodian. With the ancestral property the youngest daughter also inherits huge responsibilities. She has to care for her aged parents until their death. After that she has to conduct all the religious rituals connected with deaths in the family. Before the advent of Christianity, the Khasis paractised their indigenous religion. In Khasi society the youngest daughter or the Khatduh is herself an institution. Her unmarried brothers and sisters continue to live in the parental home. If any of her elder sisters should die then her children would usually live and be brought up by the Khatduh.

Khasi society is fairly egalitarian. There is no caste or class system as prevails in other Indian societies. Marriage as an institution came in only after Christianity.  Otherwise Khasi society recognizes co-habitation between a man and woman to be as good as a marriage.

In my lecture I will try and study the underpinnings of Khasi matriliny and how it has survived over time despite being surrounded by patrilineal and patriarchal societies. It will also attempt to analyse the disruptions if any which threaten to displace matriliny and  to replace it with some other system which is seen as more gender-balanced, and to see how such attempts play themselves out in the face of stiff resistance from society. 


Dr. Savithri Shanker de Tourreil, Nayar (Kerala, Southwest India/Canada)

Nayars: Matrilineal or Matriarchal or  a bit of both.

                                           How do they fit into a South Indian Matrix?

I shall be illustrating  my  statements from my own field work among Nayar and other South Indian groups of women both matrilineal and other and also drawing on earlier  extant ethnographic work. I have interviewed three generations of Nayar women, mother, daughter and grand daughter groups. I provide first hand information on how  girl babies were wanted, welcomed and prayed for, by the oldest male generation in the  kin group. I also  show the distinctive configurations among Nayars in the  dynamics of power, control and privilege among both male and female  members of the extended family.

Prof. Peggy Reeves Sanday  (USA)

Divine Queenship: Considerations from the Minangkabau of West Sumatra

Although there is a long and venerable scholarly tradition analyzing divine kingship including names like Sir James Frazer, A.M. Hocart, Georges Dumézil, and others, there is very little on divine queenship outside the work of  J.J. Bachofen, Marija Gimbutas, and Heide Goettner-Abendroth. In this talk I examine the meaning of queenly sovereignty in West Sumatra through an analysis of the symbol of Bundo Kanduang, the legendary Queen Mother of the Minangkabau people, whose story is told in their state myth. I suggest that the theory of divine queenship inscribed in this famous text is a philosophy of social life. To illustrate this assertion, I demonstrate the ramifications of this philosophy by reference to women's ceremonial activities in village life.

Ibu Ita Malik M.A., Minangkabau (Sumatra, Indonesia)

The Role of Minangkabau Women


Prof. Lamu Gatusa, Mosuo (Southwest China)

A Sacred Place of Matriarchy: Lugu Lake –

                                                  Harmonious Past and Challenging Present

The society of the Mosuo people provides a pronouncedly equal relationship between men and women. They regard the relationship between "source" and "course" as that of female and male. The mother is considered to be the origin of  life and society, which is expressed in ethnic concepts and the concepts of love.

In the Mosuo people's matriarchal culture and marriage patterns, the  female's function is emphasized, but the male's function is not underestimated. This can be seen in family patterns, emotional patterns, property patterns and likewise in the marriage patterns.  Monogamy and polygamyare the forms of the known marriage patterns. The history of the origin of these patterns, especially the monogamous one, is complicated and is related to interference by powers from outside.  However, the most characteristic form is the Mosuo people's "visiting marriage", which allows the partners to remain independent in many aspects, including personal independence, emotional independence and benefits independence. They do not have either sexual privileges or economic privileges. As a result, their relationship is a purely natural one of equal association. This kind of matriarchal culture and marriage pattern is still full of vigorous vitality in Lugu Lake region today.


Hengde Danshilacuo, Mosuo (Southwest China)

Mosuo Woman – Environment, Pullulation, and Views on Own Culture

I was born into a very typical Mosuo family. Mosuo is regarded as a unique ethnic group mostly because we follow a matriarchal system, where the common people live their whole lives in the maternal family home and never marry our lovers. Consequently, Mosuo family structure is very different from others. As one of the very few Mosuo people who received higher education, I experienced various lives from very remote Mosuo village to modern Chinese cities, even life in United States. In my speech, I would like to introduce Mosuo family structure from my perspective through analyzing us Mosuo people's living environment, our life styles, belief, the practice of "walking marriage", to see how the current Mosuo family structure looks like and how it came into being. In the end, I will compare Mosuo family structure with the modern family structure in China to conclude what advantages and limitations lie in the Mosuo family structure. Finally, I will touch on my views on how to preserve Mosuo culture.


Panel 7:

Historical Matriarchal Societies – Research in the USA


Joan Marler   (USA)

Old Europe through a Matriarchal Lens

The concept of matriarchy as a nuanced model of  "society in balance" provides an insightful lens through which to view the pre-Indo-European cultures of Old Europe. While archaeologist Marija Gimbutas rejected the term matriarchy to describe Neolithic Europe because of its common association with "female rule"  (preferring the terms "gylany"and "matristic"), the redefinition of matriarchy brought into focus by contemporary scholars, articulates a cultural configuration largely unrecognized in the nomenclature of Western anthropology.  This presentation examines this refined concept of matriarchy as a  possible model for interpreting Old European ritual life, symbolism and social structure.

Prof.  Lucia Chiavola Birnbaum  (Italy/USA)

Black Madonnas, Cathars, and Witches – Peaceful Societies and Violence

Ancient African migration paths are marked in Europe by black madonnas, heresy, and witches.  In France  this pattern is characterized by black madonnas with african features, Cathar heretics so threatening to the church it tried to extirpate them with a domestic crusade, and witches whose rituals in France, as elsewhere, transmitted memory and values of the ancient African dark mother.   

 This contribution to matriarchal studies concentrates on these regions of  France:  (1) the Auvergne (reached in prehistory  by Africans going upriver from Marseilles) which has a very high concentration of black madonnas and is renowned for its witchcraft. And (2) Cathar country of southwest France sharing Pyrenees culture (on another African migration path) with Spain.  Cathars, under persecution in France, fled to Italy where the memory of the dark mother was alrady present; ancient Africans early migrated to Mediterranean islands and up both coasts of the Italian peninsula, leaving a collective memory of the dark mother that was deepened, in the period before Mary and Jesus, by Semites (who also venerated a dark mother) in migration from Sardinia (Danites, Canaanites) and from Sicily (Canaanites).

Vicki Noble (USA)

Those Without Husbands: How the Amazons Got Their Name

Ancient civilizations, as documented by Marija Gimbutas, were composed of Goddess-worshipping clans governed by women. In matriarchal clans, marriage as we know it probably didn't exist. Like the contemporary Mosuo in China, women would have been free to take lovers and their children raised by the clan. Every mother's brother was the male authority and nurturing role model for his sister's children, as biological fatherhood was not institutionalized or deified.

When patriarchal tribes entered territories occupied by matriarchal peoples, the lack of obvious roles for husbands and fathers was a glaring difference that distinguished them from their neighbors. The Scythians, for instance, lived next door to the matriarchal Sarmatians among whose women were warriors and priestesses, and even ordinary women were buried at the center of their kurgans in honor of their centrality within the community. The Scythians would have no doubt named the Sarmatians "Amazons," meaning, "no-husband-ones."

It is time to lay to rest the tired mythology of the Amazons as male-hating females living in all-women tribes, burning off one breast in order to shoot better, and maiming or giving away their boy children. While colorful and sensational, these stories do an injustice to the many matriarchal tribes trying to sustain their original way of life in the face of great danger during the patriarchal transition.

Marguerite Rigoglioso M.A. (USA)

In Search of the Libyan Amazons: Preliminary Research in Tunisia

Ancient historian Diodorus Siculus writes of various female warrior tribes of North Africa known as "Amazons," and Herodotus provides ethnographic detail on possible such matriarchal tribes of antiquity. The region corresponding most closely with their geographical descriptions has been identified as contemporary Tunisia. In my lecture, I share preliminary archeological, ethnographic, semiotic, and linguistic evidence gathered from my recent research expedition to Tunisia that may attest to the historical existence of the "Libyan" or North African Amazons.
I present information gathered from Southern Tunisia, where particular places are conjectured to be locations of the ancient Lake/Bay of Tritonis, the mythological birthplace of the Amazonian goddess Neith/Athena and a homeland of the African Amazons. I consider whether certain matriarchal aspects of Imazighen/Amazigh (Berber) cultures, local religious practices and legends, and ancient Berber symbols could be remnants of Amazon culture. I look at how the stories of two major female leaders associated with Tunisia could similarly be clues to a repressed Amazon history there. Finally, I address the broader question of the complexity that the "warrior woman/Amazon" concept poses for the field of matriarchal studies.


Dr. Susan Gail Carter  (USA)

The Matristic Roots of Japan

and the Emergence of the Japanese Sun Goddess, Amaterasu-o-mi-kami

A strong case can be made that matriarchy (matristic culture) preceded patriarchy in Japan.  Using a set of seven matristic cultural indicators, the hypothesis is set forth that Japan's prehistory (and proto-history) was matristic and provided fertile ground for the myth of Amaterasu-o-mi-kami and her emergence in female form.  Her spiritual reign and survival today as the preeminent deity in the Shinto pantheon can, in part, be attributed to the remaining characteristics of this earlier matristic culture.  It can also be argued that her continuing spiritual presence might again make possible a female's ascendance to the Chrysanthemum throne.



Panel 8:

Historical Matriarchal Societies – Research in Europe

Prof. Annette Kuhn  (Germany)

Transitions of Matriarchal Power in the Symbolic and Social Sphere in History

When women in the past and in the present tell their life stories, they very often without much thinking  disregard the limits of the patriarchal symbolic world. In their story telling they most often make use of an older more universal pattern of thought based on women's experiences within matriarchal societies of the past and present, and on later experiences with matriarchal and patriarchal mixed societies. In my feminist approach to history I am trying to decipher this older pattern of female thinking, which continually renews itself and is therefore a force in history, which continually contributes to a more human and universal view of society , politics and power.

Based on my own rereading and retelling of  three well known patriarchal versions  of creation myths – the story of Isis, Hesiod's creation myth in his Theogony, and the two biblical creation stories in the Genesis – within a feminist view of history, I wish to argue my leading assumptions on the transmissions of matriarchal power.

Dr. Kurt Derungs  (Switzerland)

Landscape of the Ancestress. Principles of the Matriarchal

Philosophy of Nature and the Mythology of Landscape

Besides developing a balanced social structure, 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. Examples from still existing matriarchal societies and traces in the history of cultures depict the veneration of an ancestress or Great Goddess as creatress. She was regarded as the goddess of the landscape itself and was thus venerated. The mythology of landscape reveals numerous traces of the goddess cult which can also be found in European archaeology
and ethnology.

The "landscape of the ancestress" is the primary key for the recognition of many cultic sites and sacred places which would otherwise be overlooked or destroyed by the isolating patriarchal viewpoint. In this lecture, the matriarchal philosophy of nature is made evident by different examples from South-East-Asia and Europe, and it is shown how the mythology of landscape
can bring new ideas to other fields of knowledge.

Dr. Kaarina Kailo  (Finland)

The "Ritvala Helka Fest" --Traces of a Finno-Ugric Matriarchy and Worldview?

The purpose of my lecture is to consider the historical possibility of a gynocentric Finno-Ugric matriarchy based on cross-cultural Northern materials from archaeology to ethnography and cultural studies (folklore studies, anthropology). I argue that one cannot get radically new glimpses into matriarchal times without a bold shift of methodological paradigms and theoretical attitudes. It is clear that research on matriarchies has been blocked or prevented by patriarchal attitudes, epistemic politics and desire – the ideological attempts to deny the very possibility of more peaceful, eco-socially sustainable societies. Because one of the ways to strengthen Christian patriarchy in Finland has been to rename and/or devalue female "haltias" (guardians of game and nature) and replace them with male gods or Christianized female characters, one gynocentric method consists in revisiting these various embodiments of "pollution" or impurity (eg. the Finnish Hiisi, sacred grove and being).

I will apply and test Heide Goettner-Abendroth's theory of matriarchy by revisiting the Finnish studies on the Ritvala Helka Fest, showing how this and other archaic rituals can help us reconsider and discover the (matriarchal) worldview of Northern European peoples.

Dr. Christa Mulack  (Germany)

Matriarchal Structures in the Hebrew Bible

We all know the bible as one of the most patriarchal texts of Western tradition. Yet, the thorough study of these texts in combination with matriarchal studies brings forward some other aspects of biblical literature. We then come across old cultic passages with definite matriarchal contents.  The discovery of these textural treasures allows us to identify a pre-Israelite Goddess underlying many texts coming from the culture of ancient Palestine which had a strong influence on the Israelite tribes immigrating into the area. As a consequence, the conviction that Israel began with a patriarchal culture and society possessing a primordial monotheism has to be abandoned, even though the belief in an original patriarchy is actively promoted in ecclesiastical teachings and sermons from the pulpit. The prerequisite for this insight is a wide interdisciplinary knowledge which the theological research on the Hebrew Bible is lacking.  This situation must be strongly criticized by contrasting the one-sided patriarchal dedication to "transcendence" with the matriarchal world view that can also be found in the bible.


Dr. Heide Goettner-Abendroth  (Germany)

Notes on the Origin of Patriarchy

This presentation developed out of my research on matriarchy. My studies have firmly convinced me that it is impossible to hypothesize about the historical origin of patriarchy without first having researched the structure of matriarchy, which was prior to patriarchy. Otherwise false  assumptions will be made about the constituent causes that brought patriarchal structures into existence; if the structures of matriarchy remain unknown or unclear, unconscious patriarchal assumptions are likely to creep into the explanation. To clarify how this happens, I will challenge some of the popular - but wrong - hypotheses about the rise of patriarchy.

Then I will address the question of why the matriarchal form of society gave way to the patriarchal form. An answer is only possible if the many different constituent causes leading to such a complex and enduring transformation are taken into account. The change took place in different ways all over the world, and is still going on today. At different times during this process, new and different constituent causes have produced multiple changes. I will briefly outline the most important steps in this transformational process.

Evening  program:

Max Dashu

Mother-Right and Gender Justice

Matrix societies are not patriarchy in reverse, but an entirely different paradigm. I draw on my 14,000-slide archive to illustrate the egalitarian gender politics encoded in the social system of these indigenous cultures. Reckoning descent in the female line means no "illegitimate" or homeless children. Matrilocal residence effectively prevents battering and rape in the home. Social motherhood spreads out responsibility for child-rearing and caring for old and disabled people. Values based on the life-support network protect all people and the Earth, and encourage sharing, consensus, and harmonious relations. Surveying aboriginal cultures in Niger, Yunnan, Ontario, Surinam, Vietnam, Micronesia, India and New Mexico, Dashu explores the implications matrix cultures hold for a future of gender equality.

Lydia Ruyle

Icons: Sacred Images of the Divine Feminine Around the Globe

Goddess Icons Spirit Banners are sacred images of the divine feminine from the many cultures of the world. Life is about connections between humans, the world of nature and the world of the spirit. Icons connect to the deep soul expression of the divine mystery of life. Each image was created and revered at some time in human history. Each image has a Herstory. Some Goddess Banners flew for the 1st World Congress on Matriarchal Studies in Luxembourg and some will fly for the 2nd World Congress on Matriarchal Studies in Texas.