Tag Archives: Female-Centered Societies

Coming Back to Mountain Mother

By Jeanne F. Neath

Mountain Mother, I hear you calling me.
Mountain Mother, we hear your cry.
Mountain Mother, we have come back to you.
Mountain Mother, we hear your sigh.

Lyrics by Carol P. Christ [1], Sung to tune of “Ancient Mother” (origin unknown)

Mountain Mother vessel

What do a bunch of feminist women do while riding a tour bus around the Mediterranean island of Crete? If they are on the Goddess Pilgrimage started by Carol Christ over 20 years ago, they sing songs honoring the Goddess. The song that drew me most from the first time I heard it on the fall 2022 Goddess Pilgrimage was “Mountain Mother.” Not surprising since the rocky, sparsely vegetated, yet hauntingly beautiful mountains of Crete surrounded us much of the time as our trusty bus wound its way up and down and around the island. The Pilgrimage leaders regularly pointed out double mountain peaks, suggestive of women’s breasts and therefore sacred to the ancient matriarchal peoples of Crete.

We were traveling to experience various sites sacred to the ancient Minoan culture, a matriarchal civilization that thrived on Crete from 3000 BCE to 1450 BCE when Mycenaeans from the Greek mainland invaded. We trekked through the stone ruins of large sacred centers such as Knossos and Phaistos (called “palaces” by patriarchally-inclined archaeologists) and climbed up to mountain peaks and caves that were once ritual sites of the Minoan people. We swam and lazed on sandy and stony beaches on the Cretan and Libyan seas where Minoan ships once sailed on trading missions to nearby Africa, Asia and Europe. We even visited Christian churches now standing on the same grounds that once drew the Minoan people to celebrate the Goddess.

Our two and a half weeks on Crete were enlightening, at times awe-inspiring and, perhaps most of all, challenging for two 70+ year old women. Paula dislocated and broke her left shoulder on the first day of the Pilgrimage and continued on the tour anyway with her arm in a sling. I became both personal attendant and pilgrim. I climbed up rough paths to sacred mountain peaks and caves. Near the top of Mt. Juktas, the peak sanctuary of ritual importance to the ancient Minoan pilgrims of Knossos, I braved a wild wind that was so powerful and so erratic I had to deeply concentrate on every step I took to stay in control of where my foot would land. The trail we were following was a little too close to the mountain’s edge for my comfort in these conditions. At the Libyan Sea on the south coast of the island overwhelming waves knocked me off my feet repeatedly as I attempted and finally succeeded in moving from the shallows into deeper waters.

Juktas peak sanctuary

Despite all this, I’ve encountered what is perhaps my biggest challenge now that I am home again, here in the Ozarks.

I have left the mountains of Crete behind, almost certainly forever. Going on pilgrimage to Crete was the only time I have ever flown overseas and, for many reasons, I doubt I will ever fly anywhere again. Yet, the “Mountain Mother” song is staying with me, playing over and over again in my head. I am even singing it out loud to myself, despite the fact that I am one of those people who can’t ever stick to the tune.

The mountains here in the Ozarks are very different than the ones in Crete – not so high and ours are covered by an oak hickory forest. When we got home from Crete after over 24 hours of listening to jet engines and sitting in airports, I was immensely relieved to be back in ‘our’ verdant mountains, with all the familiar sights and sounds. I couldn’t help but hear and feel these Ozark mountains calling me: “Mountain Mother, I hear you calling me.” I had in no way left the Goddess of the Minoans behind me.


I couldn’t help but hear and feel these Ozark mountains calling me: “Mountain Mother, I hear you calling me.” I had in no way left the Goddess of the Minoans behind me.


Carol P. Christ, the now deceased author of the “Mountain Mother” lyrics and the founder of the Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete, wrote in the preface to her book, Rebirth of the Goddess:

“…the Goddess is the power of intelligent embodied love that is the ground of all being. The earth is the body of the Goddess.” (p. xv)

If the earth is the body of the Goddess – and I like thinking of both the Goddess and the Earth this way – then what does it mean to be promising, “Mountain Mother, we have come back to you.”? Is this just a spiritual commitment that entails embracing the Goddess or another Earth-connected spirituality? Or are we talking about material reality – coming back to the Earth herself – too?

The obvious answer to these questions from the perspective of any Earth-based spirituality is both. The very idea of a dichotomy (dualism) between spirit and nature originates in the patriarchal worldview of the Western world. As Carol Christ explained:

“…neither the history nor the contemporary meaning of the Goddess can be understood unless we develop holistic modes of thinking, abandoning the categorical distinctions between ‘God’, ‘man’, and ‘the world’ and transforming the classical dualisms of spirit and nature, mind and body, rational and irrational, male and female, that have structured the worldview we know as western thought.” (p. xiv, Rebirth of the Goddess)

According to C. Christ the spiritual understandings of a culture – its mythos or “culturally shared system of symbols and rituals that defines what is real and valuable” – are deeply connected to the way of life of that culture – its ethos. She explains:

“A mythos supports an ethos, telling us that certain ways of living and acting are appropriate because they put us in touch with what is real and valuable” (p. 160, Rebirth of the Goddess)

And,

“Conversely, the living of an ethos reinforces the sense that the mythos to which it is connected is true” (p. 160, Rebirth of the Goddess)

When I sing “Mountain Mother, we have come back to you” I am embracing the symbols and rituals, feelings and understandings of a Goddess/Earth-centered spirituality, but at the same time I am reaching for an altered way of living that brings me and others back to the Earth, “Mountain Mother”, in very real physical ways.

Our mountains in the Ozarks

Here is that “biggest challenge” I mentioned earlier. I’ve spent most of a lifetime working to change my own ways of living and the way of life promoted and enforced by the capitalist, colonizing patriarchy that is dominating the Earth. Yet, can I truthfully say to Mountain Mother that I have come back to her? That I have already come back to her?


Can I truthfully say to Mountain Mother that I have come back to her? That I have already come back to her?


Paula and I watched one of the recent online Maternal Gift Economy salons and I was delighted when some of the speakers brought up the need to “exit the market” economy and live within the gift (and, I would say also, subsistence) economy. As things stand now in the dominant society, many, many people have been made dependent on the market economy for their basic physical needs. Corporate influences largely determine people’s “wants”, as well.

A key part of the needed transformation of society is to end the dependency on the market by returning to a gift (and subsistence) relationship with the Earth where our human gifts to the Earth would include great care for Her, great care of Her. If we want to come back to Mountain Mother, then receiving our sustenance directly from the gifts of the land and waters we live on is of primary importance, as is the physical care we give to the land and waters that are our home. Our own roots to the land can become deep like the trees living with us on Mountain Mother.

Of course, we don’t have to do all this alone. Other women (and men) are returning to Mountain Mother too and coming to live and work, at least in part, outside the market economy. We strengthen our women’s (and other) communities as each member uses the gifts from the Earth to create more gifts (e.g. making jam from native huckleberries) that then circulate within our communities.


A key part of the needed transformation of society is to end the dependency on the market by returning to a gift (and subsistence) relationship with the Earth where our human gifts to the Earth would include great care for Her, great care of Her.


I hope you aren’t finding talk of the gift/subsistence economy intimidating. Everyone on earth already participates in that economy! We are born into it and rely on it every day. When our mothers give birth to us, they are not paid to do this. Instead they are giving us the gift of life. When we cook dinner for friends or family members or they cook dinner for us we are participating in the gift/subsistence economy.

Almost everyone on earth also participates, to greater or lesser extent, in the market economy. The key here is making the shift away from the the market economy and further into the gift/subsistence economy (until the market economy is ended altogether). Those in the global North who may be deeply trapped in the market economy can perhaps learn from the Indigenous peoples and others in the global South whose original gift/subsistence-based ways of living often survived colonization, at least to some extent.

I will keep singing to Mountain Mother and telling her that “we have come back to you,” because we must come back to her and many of us are trying to come back. The tension I feel from singing what is not yet fully true for me, not yet true for many others keeps me motivated in the work I do for Earth and all of us, her diversity of creatures (including the human ones). The challenge of creating a way of life that is good for us and good for the Earth is one that I choose. What could be more satisfying (and fun) for any of us than getting to know Mountain Mother really well and dumping capitalist colonizing patriarchy at the same time we transform our lives and our communities!

Mountain Mother, I hear you calling me.
Mountain Mother, we hear your cry.
Mountain Mother, we have come back to you.
Mountain Mother, we hear your sigh.

Notes

1. The lyrics given here are adapted by me from two different versions, one on page 128 of Carol Christ’s book The Serpentine Path and the other from the song sheet handed out on the fall 2022 Goddess Pilgrimage.

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Women’s Revolution! Ending the Crisis of Patriarchal Civilization

By Jeanne Neath

“My friends, do we realize for what purpose we are convened? Do we fully understand that we aim at nothing less than an entire subversion of the present order of society, a dissolution of the whole existing social compact.”
(Elizabeth Oakes Smith, September 8 1852, 3rd National Women’s Rights Convention)

Elizabeth Oakes SmithMillions of women have worked over centuries for the “subversion of the present order of society, a dissolution of the whole existing social compact.” We have wrought vast changes to women’s situation in many parts of the world. Yet now the decades long right wing driven backlash has been joined by runaway misogyny on the Internet and in the real world, as well as “transgender” males trying to take on and take over the identity of “woman.” Transactivists want to define real women out of existence and make it impossible for women to meet in public in groups that exclude males. With the misogynist support of many of the Left, transactivists are fighting to end the revolution of women. Women now face backlash from the right and Left!

How unsurprising that women and the movement for Women’s Liberation should be under such strong assault right at the moment in time when the fate of an entire civilization is twisting in the wind. You know the list of evils that have shaped the world we are living in – from patriarchy and capitalism, to racism and colonialism and on and on. The immediate repercussions for us are growing at exponential speed – from police assaults in Black communities, to the COVID-19 pandemic, to pipeline and other land grabs on indigenous and public lands, to anti-immigration atrocities, to the loss of jobs and homes in a nosediving economy, to climate chaos bringing us record-setting wildfires, floods, and more.


How unsurprising that women and the movement for Women’s Liberation should be under such strong assault right at the moment in time when the fate of an entire civilization is twisting in the wind.


Perhaps the men (mostly white) in power could have continued their exploitation of other humans indefinitely, but their exploitation of the Earth has irrevocable consequences. This civilization faces an ultimatum from the Earth and will either undergo a paradigm shift and end its practices of domination and exploitation or crumble under the pressures of climate chaos and other ecological failures.

Eco-Disaster! Scientists Call for Society’s Basic Structures to Change

Wickedary by Mary DalyAfter reading a recent report about the global state of the natural world, the word “necrophilia” began to haunt me. Defined by Mary Daly as the “hatred for and envy of Life,” Daly considered necrophilia to be the “most fundamental characteristic of patriarchy.” (Wickedary, p. 83 or online) The report, the “Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services: Summary for Policymakers,” was released in 2019 by IPBES, a U.N. international panel of 150 experts who, with the help of another 350 scientists, reviewed 15,000 publications on the state of nature. (IPBES stands for the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.)

A kind of scientific horror story, the report details the destruction of Life. We learn, for example, that globally, “natural ecosystems have declined by 47 per cent on average, relative to their earliest estimated states” and “the global biomass of wild mammals has fallen by 82 per cent.” (p. 25) If patriarchal hatred and envy of life is not at play, it is certainly difficult to understand how we have come to create this Sixth Extinction of life on earth.

Climate change is the ecological disaster we hear the most about, but IPBES found that the two “direct drivers of change in nature with the largest global impact” were humans 1) taking over land and sea (through agriculture, building infrastructure and expanding urban areas) and 2) direct exploitation of “animals, plants and other organisms, mainly via harvesting, logging, hunting and fishing.” (p. 12) The climate crisis was the third ranked destroyer of nature, though its impacts will inevitably increase. (See cropped Figure SPM 2 below, from the IPBES report.)

IPBES Figure SPM 2, partial

What surprised me most was that these 150 experts recognized that the only way out of this ecological crisis is “transformative” and “structural” change to the economy and society: “Goals for conserving and sustainably using nature and achieving sustainability cannot be met by current trajectories, and goals for 2030 and beyond may only be achieved through transformative changes across economic, social, political and technological factors.” (p. 14) The authors explain what they mean by “transformative”: “A fundamental, system-wide reorganization across technological, economic and social factors, including paradigms, goals and values.” (p. 14, IPBES report’s footnote 4) They continue: “Since current structures often inhibit sustainable development and actually represent the indirect drivers of biodiversity loss, such fundamental, structural change is called for.” (p. 16, italics above are mine)


What surprised me most was that these 150 experts recognized that the only way out of this ecological crisis is “transformative” and “structural” change to the economy and society.


You can be sure that the IPBES authors did not call for structural change without an overwhelming reason to do so. They made projections for the earth’s and humanity’s future by considering three scenarios. The earth fared better in the global sustainability scenario (proactive environmental policy, low consumption and low carbon emissions) than in the economic optimism (rapid growth, low environmental regulation) and regional competition scenarios. In all three scenarios almost all regions of the world did have an increase in nature’s “material contributions to people” (providing food, feed, timber, bioenergy).

But, all three scenarios, including even the “global sustainability” scenario, proved to be deadly for humans and the natural world. Both biodiversity and the ability of nature to provide “ecosystem services” essential to human societies spiraled downward. (See p. 38, IPBES report, Figure SPM 8 for comparisons of the three scenarios for different regions of the world.) Don’t let your eyes glaze over at mention of the term “ecosystem services.” Yes, this is a very human-centric way of looking at Earth’s activities, but these “services,” including crop pollination, crop pest control, natural carbon storage, and protecting the soil from erosion and loss of carbon and nitrogen, are critical to human survival.


Even the “global sustainability” scenario proved to be deadly for humans and the natural world. Both biodiversity and the ability of nature to provide “ecosystem services” essential to human societies spiraled downward.


The important point here is that IPBES is calling for a paradigm change as this is the only way to keep ecosystems functioning well enough to support human life and curtail the Sixth Extinction of life on earth.

Patriarchal Civilization in Crisis: The Paradigm Must Shift

Nafeez Ahmed, a perceptive male journalist, speaks bluntly about the IPBES report: “The report concludes that human civilization is systematically destroying its own life-support systems…” He continues: “The report is by far the most comprehensive to hit home how the collapse of biodiversity ultimately entails the collapse of human civilization.”

Ahmed points out that civilizational collapse is already underway: “Our democracies are in a state of collapse: incapable of addressing the systemic complexity of the crisis of civilization.” What is this systemic complexity? There are the climate and ecological crises we’ve been talking about. Then there is the question of how society can do away with the unending growth and exploitation that drives these crises when its worldviews, value systems, political and economic structures are deeply based in a paradigm of domination and profit-taking. The problems become impossibly complex as ecological and climate disruptions spawn social problems like wars and conflicts, large scale human migrations, and losses in communities wracked by wildfires and floods. As Ahmed explains, “our political leaders are preoccupied with the surface symptoms of this fundamental crisis of civilization rather then the crisis itself.”


“Our democracies are in a state of collapse: incapable of addressing the systemic complexity of the crisis of civilization.”


Ahmed argues that even the most forceful non-violent resistance cannot force fundamental changes on a system that is incapable of handling the extent and complexity of change required: “To break this paradigm requires far more than making demands of broken institutions.” He says that a paradigm shift must overturn the very basis of society, from the economic system to people’s deeply held values and beliefs to how we relate to others and live our everyday lives. Ahmed believes this paradigm shift can be brought on by individuals taking responsibility for changing ourselves, asking “how can I actually mobilize to build the new paradigm,” and taking “radical action in our own place-based contexts to build the seeds of the new paradigm, right here, right now.”

La Via Campesina Campaign to End Violence Against women

And Now…Sisterhood of Women and Earth

I don’t think the IPBES, Nafeez Ahmed, or the vast majority of radicals from the Left are looking for a women’s revolution when they call for paradigm change. It has become very clear with its pandering to the transgender movement that the Left is very willing to toss women and Lesbians under the bus. Any shift in paradigm that is not driven primarily by women would keep patriarchy in place and we know what that would mean for the Earth and for women.

As I see it, we must go further than what Ahmed suggests. Any new paradigm must move out of patriarchy and be based in Female and Earth centered societies. The tasks for women will depend on our what society or societies we are part of. We may be deeply embedded in the dominant society (globalized capitalist patriarchy) or belong, primarily or to a lesser extent, to Indigenous or other societies outside the dominant society.

Existing Matriarchal and Indigenous societies are already living in the new/old paradigm, yet women within them struggle against incursions by the dominant society and, in some societies, with a degree of male domination within. (Male domination within Indigenous societies is often the result of past and present colonization by invading patriarchal societies, but can also derive from “ancestral original patriarchy.”[1])

Women trapped within the dominant society can learn from Indigenous and Matriarchal societies and provide support for those cultures and the women in those cultures, as it is requested. Additional key tasks for women ensconced in the dominant society are to work to stop that society and all its oppressive practices and begin actively creating new Female and Earth centered systems and societies to replace the dominant global patriarchy.


Earth, the most powerful female force, is speaking clearly with every raging wildfire, hellish hurricane, or seething flood tearing at this man-made civilization. Nothing less than an equally fiery movement of women can turn the paradigm that is patriarchy into ashes.


The movement for Women’s Liberation lacks power now, thanks to decades of backlash and the divisions amongst us. The continued belief of many women in reform has always hobbled the movement, but now many reform-minded feminists are supporting transactivists and actively turning against radical feminists. The transactivists’ attempts to erase women and Lesbians and their campaign to label radical feminists as “TERFs” and cancel us are proving to be both an obstacle for Women’s Liberation as well as a consciousness raiser that draws more and more women to radical feminism.

In order to build up the international Women’s Liberation movement we must step up our organizing against queer and transgender ideologies and end the Left’s love affair with transactivism. We must stop the runaway misogyny. At the same time, our focus on a decolonizing ecofeminism, the power of our female bodies and spirits, the wisdom of women from every race and culture, and the creation of new – and defense of existing – Female and Earth centered subcultures, cultures, and societies serves as inspiration and refuge, as well as helping create the needed shift in paradigm. As women’s movement and power builds and ecological understandings come to the fore, support for transgender attempts to use excessive medical (Earth) resources and disregard biological realities will fade.

The Earth herself is now demanding “nothing less than an entire subversion of the present order of society,” the goal of women in 1852 and the goal of radical feminists today. Earth, the most powerful female force, is speaking clearly with every raging wildfire, hellish hurricane, or seething flood tearing at this man-made civilization. Nothing less than an equally fiery movement of women can turn the paradigm that is patriarchy into ashes. Yes, time is short as Earth’s temperature rises, but women are rising too. With the sisterhood of women and Earth teamed up against it, I don’t think capitalist patriarchy stands a chance. As Susan B. Anthony told us, “Failure is Impossible!”

Sisters in Spirit book plus Black Matriarchy Project

*****

Footnotes

1. Here’s a quote from Betty Ruth Lozano Lerma: “Latin American feminisms question both Western patriarchy and the subordination of non-heterosexual women and persons within indigenous and Afro-descendant cultures. They affirm the existence of pre-Hispanic patriarchies, giving rise to concepts such as ‘ancestral original patriarchy’ and ‘low-intensity patriarchy,’ which show how women within the colonial context experienced an entanglement of patriarchies –entronque de patriarcados and, for the Afro-descendant case, ‘a black-colonial patriarchy’…” In “Latin American and Caribbean Feminisms” by Betty Ruth Lozano Lerma, an article in Pluriverse: A Post-Development Dictionary.