BOOK REVIEW: THE MYTH OF MATRIARCHIAL PREHISTORY
Before I begin singing the praises of this book, I would like to give a brief overview of its content. The book was written by Cynthia Eller in an attempt to show that a universal matriarchal pre-historic society that worshipped an ubiquitous Goddess is almost certainly a myth, and that the myth is very likely more harmful than it is helpful. She begins by giving a general over-view and run-down of the situation at hand, then she proceeds to discuss the archaeological evidence and why it isn’t even close to being conclusive, and then she proceeds to talk about why the artistic evidence is nowhere close to even helping anyone ascertain as to whether ancient societies were Goddess worshipping and matriarchal.
Now, let me start out by pointing out the biggest flaw in the work as a whole. Eller makes no secret that she disdains and abhors the matriarchal myth and finds it more than a tad silly. While this does not necessarily color her interpretation or presentation to a large degree, it does come across as hostile in the tone, this aside, the information and assertions are quite solid.
One of the stronger moments in the book where when she pointed out the fact that even if the societies were Monotheistic-Goddess societies, that doesn’t mean that they would have demonstrated gender egalitarianism. Eller’s examples included some Hindu sects who highly revered Goddesses yet said that the difference between Goddesses and women are similar to the differences between the stone you worship and the stone you defecate on. Another example that she provides is that of the plight of women in Ancient Greece, specifically Athens where Athena was venerated very widely yet women were treated harshly, deprived of the right to vote, and were essentially “legal minors” even after marriage.
The argument as a whole is wonderfully constructed. Eller carefully burns the tethers which would suggest the myth as having any sort of truth, and demonstrates why it is useless as a myth (mainly, because it relies on gender stereotypes, sexism, assumptions about gender, and has more than its share of generating misandry among its adherents.) She also obviously thoroughly researched the subject and is a great example of scholarly work if one would only thumb through her references and her discussing the references and how she reached her conclusion.
Overall, if you can get past the, at times, caustic tone of the author, you will find a wealth of information which will most certainly enhance one’s understanding of Indo-European cultures, and of how to sort the chaff from the grain when it comes to interpreting archaeological finds and when peering into pre-history (spoiler alert: Almost everything is chaff)