Truth and evidence

Author: fraise

Saturday 10 September 2011, in Education

One of the things that came up when writing my thesis was the immense amount of unsupported claims of goddess myths themselves being “unsupported”. In one case, Mircea Eliade went so far as to use a logical fallacy to support his claim that male gods had always ruled alone, and that women gods were secondary, if not entirely overestimated (emphasis is in the original): “we cannot deduce, from the presence of Paleolithic feminine figurines, the inexistence of worship for a divine male Being.”* It’s worth noting that this quote is in the context of a few meagre paragraphs brushing aside physical evidence of goddess worship, in the midst of Eliade’s book-long theory that male gods had reigned alone and supreme from the beginning of humankind. His statement is basically like saying, just because some people today worship a masculine god, doesn’t mean that a supreme spaghetti god doesn’t exist. But I digress. As a matter of fact, if I may be allowed a generalization that can be supported by reading any number of scholarly works on matrilineal societies from the Paleolithic to contemporary days, goddess worship went, and goes (it still exists), hand in hand with egalitarian values, in large part due to the idea of hieros gamos, sacred marriage between goddess and god. So yes, gods did exist, on an equal plane with goddesses. In all my readings, I have not yet found a single example of goddess-worshipping cultures that devalued or disempowered men. Every gender (many of these societies recognized more than two genders) was valued for its unique contribution to society. It was not utopia, but it was egalitarian.

There is a wealth of commentary that could be made on this; for now, I’d like to focus on two relatively simple factual examples that, in spite of their simplicity, dismantle two widely-held, widely-documented “truths” about the “evidence” for denigrating feminity (I specify “feminity” and not “women” because any man who has ever been targeted for “feminine” behavior knows that it doesn’t just affect women).

A statement you often hear when looking at goddesses (this is my paraphrase of a wealth of texts): “there may have been warrior goddesses and myths of warrior women, but there has never been an archeological find of women buried with war goods. Furthermore, there is a long history of women having lower status than men in warrior societies, so it seems their natural weakness prevails in historical fact.”

When you look at archeology, it so happens that in the vast majority of cases, bones are difficult to sex, and so archeologists revert to the rule of war goods equating to a man, and jewelry to a woman. Do you think that any women buried with war goods are ever going to be discovered that way? For a cite, look into Gender and the archeology of death, go to the preview and browse to p.90, in the chapter VIII article on “The Position of Iron Age Scandinavian Women” by Anne-Sophie Gräslund.

Thankfully we are in a world where things such as this are starting (just starting) to be questioned, and in July of this year (2011), the results of a study came out: Viking women buried with swords and shields. Some archeologists returned to a previously-excavated site where all remains had been sexed as male. They looked at the bones and… half of them were actually female. Women warriors existed, just as they exist now, in our own contemporary societies, where women are no longer forbidden from warfare. (I am not, by the way, endorsing warfare for either men or women. However, since it is so often used as an argument to “protect” women by reducing our rights, it is eye-opening to see that it’s based on smoke and mirrors – or rather, war goods versus jewelry.)

As for the “warrior societies” argument, in the cases I looked at, the statements all referred to Occidental societies in which women had been forbidden from scholarly education, independent careers, property ownership, inheritance – taken together, all of that equates to a state of having no wealth – and physical education. Any other cultures were ignored, such as the Iroquois, who were matrilineal, valued male and female contributions to society equally, and were warrior societies. (As a reminder, “Iroquois” is not a tribe but a league of first five, then six nations. There are also Iroqouian – linguistically related – tribes such as the Huron and Cherokee who shared similar beliefs and cultural characteristics.)

In essence, whenever you hear a “rule” about such-and-such category of people being “naturally” oppressed and having “no evidence otherwise”… look into the rules and assumptions that lead to those “truths”, because they are very often, if not always, biased and incomplete, whether by design or by ignorance. A few of the authors I read were clearly approaching their subjects with interest and a genuine desire to report what they found, but did not look beyond the findings, and so repeated information that had been deduced from faulty research methods.

*From Eliade’s “Mythes, rêves et mystères”, p.214. Translated from the French.

3 responses to “Truth and evidence”

  1. Sasho Says:

    Excellent. And congratulations on finishing your thesis so quickly.

  2. Steven Says:

    Fascinating. That’s my evening’s reading sorted…

  3. foxglove Says:

    Very interesting. Thanks for sharing.

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