The Mystery of Women’s History
By: Anya Robyak & Lisa Garrett
Many women are wise and canny enough to realize that much of what we have been told about the possibilities in our lives is false. Not so many years ago, women in this country were not able to vote, own property, or have even minimal control of our bodies, because it was widely believed we weren’t capable of such responsibility. Many of us now have a better understanding of our own potential, because we know our origins: we each know the struggles we have gone through to create meaningful, vital lives; we know the Bigness we are capable of.
As women in modern American culture, though, we’re often still told that we want too much; we’re silently and sometimes loudly encouraged to settle for less, to not call attention to ourselves or to be overly ambitious. Sometimes we obey: we stay in relationships that don’t allow our fullest selves to emerge, we pursue jobs that don’t really feed us, we tacitly agree to put the needs of others before our own. Other times, though, we’re ready to take serious steps to begin to truly own our lives; we’re moved to wonder why, for example, ambitious, “pushy,” high-achieving women are so often mocked and maligned in the media. We start to doubt, sometimes, the stories we have been told about who and what we are, and what we are worth. We start to suspect there may be much more to us after all.
One of the most pervasive lies that we have been told throughout our lives is that it is simply a matter of historical fact and destiny that men are in control – politically, socially, spiritually, and in virtually every domain of our lives. This system is called patriarchy, and it has always been this way, we’re told. There’s nothing we can do. And we see it played out over and over again in so many spheres; it’s so commonplace as to be almost invisible.
In fact, archaeological evidence uncovered through the efforts of women, notably Marija Gimbutas, who were not afraid to challenge the academic and political dominance of men, indicates that for thousands and thousands of years, our planet was matrilineal and matriarchal. Our foremothers were community and spiritual leaders, and had equal standing with men in woman-honoring cultures of Europe, Asia, and Africa. All over the world, artifacts have been uncovered dating back 30,000-plus years telling the story of small communities and tribes of peaceful folk who lived in Partnership societies, who understood and revered the Earth’s life-giving, cyclical power as female, and called it Goddess.
Since the 1960’s, women historians, archaeologists, and scholars have been finding new evidence and refiguring what we know about the cultures of prehistory. Gimbutas, Joslyn Gage, Rianne Eisler,Merlin Stone, Max Dashu, to name just a few, have revealed the truth about cultures such as Catalhoyuk—an earth-based, female-honoring settlement of an estimated 10,000 residents in Turkey that was technologically advanced and entirely without military fortification, and existed without war or armed conflict for 1500 years. It is hard for us as modern people living in patriarchy to even imagine a community living in peace for so long. Because throughout the world now we exist in what Eisler calls “dominator” societies —some small group of individuals with economic, social, and political privilege control the resources to greater or lesser degrees. We do not all have the same access to resources or the mechanics of power, the way we once did. Archaeologists have made it clear that woman-honoring partnership societies were not about women being more powerful than men, or dominating others. They were about living peacefully with no need to horde resources or guard against attack.
So the question is, of course, what happened? What happened over the course of thousands of years to so completely change the way we live on this planet? What happened back then so enormous that the reverberations are still felt today by so many women who don’t feel as competent, as confident, as qualified in any given realm as men? It’s a complicated story, and it’s been pieced together through archaeological evidence, geological study, and scholarly readings of the complex myths, artifacts, and art that the vanished cultures left behind. Since the 1960s and the beginning of awareness of all that had been covered up or redacted from the “official” record of our prehistory, women have been attempting to fill in the blanks and recover some of what has been lost to us. An entire world has emerged, an interdisciplinary field of study that connects psychology, goddess spirituality, art, archaeology, women’s studies, feminism, sociology, and agriculture.
Not only has the history been unearthed, both ancient and modern, but women have also begun to piece together what it means for us to live in harmony with the earth and with our internal cycles, to live as goddess-honoring people whose own physical and psychological processes are echoed in the outer world, in nature. For example, so many women talk about feeling a need to be solitary or quiet during certain points in their menstrual cycles, which often coincide with the cycles of the moon. Often we feel the seasons acutely – very active and full of energy at the height of spring or summer, but more withdrawn and protective in deep winter. This revelation about the level of our connectedness often empowers women deeply, as we find we are not as alone or isolated as the larger culture of the modern world would have us believe.
Here in Western North Carolina over 20 years ago, Priestess Kim Duckett, Ph.D, founded one of the first Women’s Mystery Schools in order to help women explore these lost parts of themselves —our own long-buried archaeologies, both personal and historical. Duckett, along with Barb Lutz, continues to teach classes locally and across the country about the Wheel of the Year and advanced classes in the Year and a Day Sacred Mystery School for Women. Lisa Garrett, M.A., an ordained priestess and a graduate of the Mystery School, now carries on the tradition in teaching Women’s Spiritual Journeys, the Mystery School’s first-year introductory class that begins the exploration of the Big Idea that our lives, bodies, and experiences are intricately connected to the Earth, and that there is historical evidence that our ancestors, our foremothers, lived this way for thousands and thousands of years.
Classes begin every few months, meeting weekly or bimonthly in sacred space to reflect on books, articles, and documentaries, and to learn some of our remarkable history that has been ignored and neglected. Women are exposed to selected readings about our archaeological roots and our more modern feminist foremothers who paved the way for us to “see” another kind of truth about ourselves. Participants also take part in more “right brain” activities like art, meditation, and ritual, which provide a felt sense of goddess culture. We create a safe space for women to tell the truth about their lives, truths that are also often ignored and neglected in the larger culture, although they often contain the very core of who we are. Wresting ourselves back from the stories in our lives that no longer serve us, and learning to powerfully create and inhabit lives that do, all in the tradition of thousands and thousands of generations of foremothers who did the same—that’s a genuinely Big Idea.