ISSUE #015 - Jun 05, 2019

Mothering and Matriarchy

Isa Gucciardi

The priorities of maternal concerns – caring for all the members of the society in a nurturing and supportive way inform the way matriarchal societies are organized. If we are going to be able to create communities that are informed by these same values, we have to – both men and women – change our fundamental relationship to mothering and motherhood. This shift must go beyond the recognition and rhetoric of the early feminists who decried the second-class position mothering placed on women and sought to liberate women from the prison of the culturally defined institution of motherhood.

We must instead recognize the power of mothering and motherhood in and of itself – independent of any cultural value systems where mothering becomes a pawn of dominance and ownership. To do this, we must do our part to heal what has become a state of power loss rooted in a collective mother wound. We must understand how and why we have been weakened by our inability to nurture ourselves and others.

This wounding comes out of a misunderstanding about the power and importance of motherhood as a value system on a societal level, but it also comes out of our own relationship to our own mothers, many of whom were mothered by motherless mothers. The largest mother wound of all, of course, is the one we all share as we try to wrap our hearts and minds around the demise of this beautiful blue planet which has nurtured and cared for us from the moment of our birth.

Heide Goettner-Abendroth’s work on matriarchal societies helps us understand how these priorities of nurturing and caring as a basis for the organization of a community function in real time. Her research, outlined in her book Matriarchal Societies, provides a new, very non-dual definition of matriarchy as a true gender-egalitarian society.

Her work shows that matriarchal societies should not be regarded as mirror images of patriarchal ones, as they have never needed patriarchy’s hierarchical structures of domination to function. On the contrary, matriarchal patterns are socially egalitarian, economically balanced, and based on consensus decision making politically. They have been created by women and are founded on maternal values that are informed by a close connection to earth-based values.

To understand this better, let’s look at the organizational dynamics of one matriarchal society – the Iroquois of North America. This is just one of hundreds of communities around the world that have organized themselves within a political and economic system which is governed by matriarchal values:  consensus, mutual welfare and even distribution of resources.

The Iroquois are a Native American people of eastern North America who formed highly sophisticated confederations with other groups to maintain social, spiritual and economic prosperity for all members. The best known of these confederations was the Iroquois League which was active over a period of hundreds of years – from about 1150 AD to 1750 AD. Here are some of the core social and spiritual values of the Iroquois League which can inform those seeking to establish organizational principles based on a mothering-centric value system:

  • Like other matriarchal societies, there was no concept of private property. Property belonged to the social group, and the house was the property of the clan.
  • Economic power had a deeper significance than just profane economic power. Economic principles were based in spiritual values.
  • The economy was based on generous gift giving. Sharing and gift giving were the outstanding qualities of the Iroquois League. Gantawisas, highly respected grandmothers, held feasts where they redistributed goods in a giveaway that ensured that everyone had access to goods. No one stayed poor.
  • Gift giving created bonds of peace, and arguments were put to rest with gift giving. The economy across the members of the League consisted of gift giving circles.
  • Politically, consensus building was the base of the system.
  • Each clan had 2 chiefs – one man and one woman.
  • Alliance building and confederations were the overarching method of interacting with foreign groups.
  • Culturally, the priesthood was exclusively female or shared with males. There was no hierarchy among themselves.

Socially, women were considered to be the sole keepers of Mother Earth because, as mothers, they were identified with her. And the whole social organization of the group was built on this identification with the priorities and principles of the Earth, which are also understood as the priorities of matriarchy.

The matriarchal world view is non-dualistic and does not contain the theological concept of good and evil. Instead there is parity between different but complementary energies. They represent the two sides of the world – the cosmos and the earth and so determine the cycle of life.

In establishing a stronger connection with these natural processes today, we can build spiritual and social communities that are, like the Earth, self-sustaining and other sustaining, abundant, adaptable, nurturing and supportive of the growth and flourishing of all its members.


ISSUE #015

On Healing & Intimacy
Image: On Healing & Intimacy

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