10 June 2009

The Great Mother Goddesses

Or, How Our Own Death Wish is Causing Many of Us to Return to the Old Ways.

Let me preface the following by saying I know nothing of genetics and very little of hardcore science in general. I'm probably going to use various, or many, terms incorrectly and miss the intended point of an important theory. So, if any of you science-y people out there spot errors I encourage you to correct me. Okay, on with the wild ramblings.

Have you heard of the Toba Catastrophe Theory? It states that roughly 70,000- 75,000 years ago a volcano on what is now Sumatra, in Indonesia, blew the Hel up and set in motion a series of environmental effects that caused a pretty drastic bottleneck in the human population. What's a bottleneck in population? That's when something pretty big, nasty and scary, like a plague, earthquake, ice age, volcanic eruption, etc., brings about the deaths of so many beings of a certain species that the descendants of the survivors are incredibly close genetically because so few were left to perpetuate the species. In the case of the Toba eruption it's estimated that perhaps as few as 1,000 breeding pairs of humans survived. There are also estimates that go as high as 10,000 pairs but either way, it was a pretty big damn drop in population. And it got me thinking.

It got me thinking about how many people look to religion and spirituality in hard times. Before I started learning about population bottlenecks, and the Toba disaster is just one of many, I had always wondered about the Great Mother Goddesses. Why were they so important to our ancestors? Why were they most likely the first to be crafted into statuettes? Why were they among the first divinities to be worshiped? Why were they, in many lands, cultures and times, the most loved? Why did they, above so many others, spread out from their homelands and find adherents over many continents? What's so special about them? And the most obvious, and somewhat unsatisfying, answer was that they were in charge of the continuance of human life. They were in charge of sexuality that led to conception, pregnancy, birth and growth leading eventually back to sexuality. They were the ultimate creators, the supreme progenitors, they were the mothers of us all.

Seems pretty simple, right? Why then, I ask you, did the worship of said Great Mother Goddesses die out and eventually become despised? What made them so important and then, at best, meaningless and, at worst, evil? I know, I know. It's the fault of the Judeo-Christians and their comparatively new religions. But things must have changed to allow for such a male-centric mythos to take hold. What could it have been? Answer: The population had long since stabilized and the need for Great Mother Goddesses had waned. Which means something major must have happened long, long before that to make the production of children an extremely high priority for nearly everyone alive. But what could that have been? Answer: An extraordinary drop in the population and the resultant desperation.

Now skip ahead a couple thousand years. People began returning to the old ways and the old gods about the time of the Industrial Revolution. Just about the time factories began spewing poison into the air, the water, earth and the bodies of every living creature on the planet a few folks here and there started looking back to the ancient religions. The Great Mother Goddesses become more and more important just as pollutants, pesticides and other chemicals started invading every aspect of life. It's not the same as a massive volcanic eruption, a meteor plowing into the Earth or the plague but we may be creating our next population bottleneck. As the human-made problems of global climate change, industry-induced cancer and infertility, and our own medicines poisoning our drinking water begin to weigh on us more people are turning back to the ancient ways. As our human situation grows ever more precarious the number of Great Mother Goddess, and other pagan, adherents has risen. Coincidence? I think not.

I don't think it's about simple fear either. If it were then many people would just turn to whatever religion is handy, whichever religion is acceptable i.e. the dominant religions, that of the Judeo-Christians. No. More and more people are turning to a form of religion and spirituality that is very much not acceptable to the majority of our fellow citizens. Why? Why would this current threat to our race cause such a thing? It's because the situation is radically different this time. It's something that hasn't happened ever before in the history of our race and our planet. Instead of a volcanic eruption or a plague or other disaster that we have no control over we are putting ourselves at risk. We are killing ourselves.

Our own technological advancement, our "progress" is putting our very existence as a race at risk. And because said progress involves a would-be domination of the Earth, untold and unnecessary cruelty, unparalleled waste and monumental greed many of us are not just turning away from the mainstream way of living, eating, consuming and working. We are returning to the ancient ways because we feel and know, at least subconsciously, that the ways of the Great Mother Goddesses, and their cohorts, are the only things that can save us. If we don't return to living in balance with the land and learn to embrace life, and all its joys and indignities, as sacred then we are doomed to destroy ourselves. If we don't return to the Great Mother Goddesses we are doomed to create the next human population bottleneck.


RetroKali said...

wow. That is amazing. You got me thinkin'.

Livia Indica said...

Cool. That's what I like to hear (read).

Anne said...

Well expressed and very thought-provoking!

jaz said...

hi...just found your blog and it is VERY interesting. you might enjoy visiting mine when you have time. hope you enkoy it.

Griffin said...

It wasn't the fault of Judeo-Christian myth... and I can't believe as an atheist I just said that!! The dominant male gods in Greco-Roman myth were sky gods, not earth/mother goddesses.

Perhaps it was a turning away from the natural living with the earth to a use of the abstract mind to connect with the sky (blue-sky thinking?!) that led to a dominating nature mindset rather than a living with and being sustained by nature mindset.

As the great prophet Arbuthnot once said, 'Oo knows, mate, oo knows?'

Jenavira said...

This is one of those things that, while it makes a certain amount of intuitive sense, doesn't quite hold up under the evidence. Fertility actually became much *more* important with the development of agriculture, because agriculture requires much more human investment than hunting and gathering or pastoralism does, so you need lots of children to keep the work force up. (Pre-agricultural societies, on the other hand, are overrepresented in terms of infanticide: if the population gets too high, you're putting too much strain on the environment and you'll all die. Marvin Harris actually argued that some of these kinds of societies created their own mini population bottlenecks in order to maintain their way of life.)

I do think you're right in saying that the modern turn toward Paganism and earth religions is connected to dangerous and ultimately planet-threatening developments in technology (just look at the boom in both nuclear proliferation and Paganism in the 60s), but I don't think any of it's fertility-related. I think it's more...connection. People who wouldn't think to stop driving so much to save "the environment" might still fight to save a beloved local park or tree, because they have a connection to that particular place that they don't have to "the environment" in general. But Paganism -- pretty much all forms, as far as I can tell, although some obviously more than others -- provides that sense of connection on a much wider scale.

Moonroot said...

Love this! Excellent.

Livia Indica said...

Hi Anne, thanks. I try to be clear and I'm glad I got my point across.

Hi Jaz, yes I enjoy your blog very much! Thanks for visiting.

Griffin, I know it wasn't the "fault" of the Judeo-Christian mythos. I oversimplified intentionally and dismissed it from the discussion because I didn't consider it all that important to my intent.

Livia Indica said...

Hi Jenavira, I see what you mean. The point I was trying to make, and didn't make too clear apparently, was that after an event like Toba when not only the people were nearly wiped out but the animal and plant life were devastated too that people would be desperate for life of any kind. If almost everyone is dead that leaves fewer people to hunt and gather. But if the animals and plants have suffered like the humans plenty of people would be needed to search far and wide for the remaining available food. I do see what you're saying about agriculture requiring many to make it possible and I totally agree. But when a natural disaster has killed many living things in an area/planet what little is left needs many people who are fit and able to go to greater than usual lengths to catch/kill/find it.

Moonroot, hey thanks!

Yarrow said...

Here! Here! Bravo! Very well said, and though I am no science person, I found it fascinating and most probably right on the money. Blessings.

Griffin said...

I've noticed that there are two drives that for want of a better way of putting it are technophilia the love and the drive for more technology in opposition to and with a part of pastoral romanticism.

In the 18th century when the Industrial Revolution kicked off in Britain, you also see the rise of Romanticism in which we are mere pretenders in the face of Nature.

When the 'white heat of technology' was on in the 1960s you have the hippie movement. And so on. Perhaps the drive to consume and create technology is countered by the desire to remember our natural/animal roots and our connection to the land?

Livia Indica said...

Hi Yarrow! I'm glad you liked this!

Griffin, I think you're right. The call to return to nature by some is definitely, at least in part, a reaction against technology and industrialization.

Riverwolf, said...

I think you're on to something! For me, it was a realization that Christianity offered nothing of relevance to most modern problems and situations; instead, it simply said they weren't important because the world was going to end anyway.

Great! Well, I needed more hope and connection. And I did look around and see how we were/are destroying and neglecting our home. I had similar connections as a child, and those brought me joy.

I don't know about an afterlife, but I do have this one world, right now. And whatever god is out there, I'm sure she wants us to take care of what we've been given.

MouseDemon said...

Check out this blog, http://godmotherascending.blogspot.com/ and then her book, Switching To Goddess. It makes a very interesting read, and echoes a lot of your thoughts. (You probably know it already!)


Livia Indica said...

Hi MouseDemon! Yes, I'm am familiar with Radical Goddess Thealogy. In fact, I used to follow it and also had it in my blogroll. After a time though I culled it from the blogs I follow as well as the blogroll. I'm all for a serious study of goddess religion, past and present and future, but I found her philosophy too exclusionary for my tastes for the same reason I'm not Dianic: I think excluding the male is just as counterproductive and counter-intuitive as excluding the female. I don't have anything against those who follow/practice/study such a path but it isn't for me.