Reframing the Patriarchy – The Goddess in Winter

For approximately the past five thousand years, Western culture has been dominated by the values of the masculine, what Joseph Campbell calls a “masculine accent” to the culture and what is popularly called the patriarchy.  The elevation of the masculine and the suppression of the feminine in culture has led to the same state within the psyche; it has become an internal dynamic that many of us, if not all of us to some degree, have to reconcile in our personal lives.

Both men and women experience the consequences of our masculine-accented culture, as both men and women have a masculine aspect, what Carl Jung called the animus, and a feminine aspect, the anima.   One consequence to this imbalance is the denigration of qualities of the feminine: connection, intuition, emotion, stillness, receptivity, and a bias towards qualities of the masculine: individuality, linearity, action on the external world, reasoning.  Neither set of qualities is better than the other; in an integrated individual they can be utilized and expressed as best fits circumstances.  Another consequence is a prevalent disharmony between men and women and a diminished understanding of how our masculine and feminine natures can mutually support and enhance each other.  A third consequence is that we have been missing the benefits of connection to the feminine, which include the capacity to experience peace, connection, and ecstatic states.  Both men and women would benefit from an empowered and vital feminine nature.

Many people have expressed pain and confusion around why our culture has become so skewed toward the masculine.  While any answers to this question are theoretical, some further context may help in understanding our current cultural situation and affect how we relate to it.

The patriarchy is a relatively new development in history.  Although archaeological evidence from neolithic and paleolithic eras is sparse and interpretations of the evidence is made through current cultural filters, it is likely that most of humankind’s history was not defined by a strong patriarchal or matriarchal framework.  Though there seemed to be a feminine accent to earth-goddess oriented neolithic and paleolithic cultures, there is no evidence that it was women-dominated in a hierarchical sense.  It was not until about 3500-5000 BCE that patriarchal cultural structures started to predominate the Western world.  If the human species has been around for approximately one million years, that is a very small portion of the historical scope of the species.

Then, in most ancient civilizations, whereas the masculine may have become the accent they still maintained a reverence for the feminine.  Sumerian, Babylonian, Ancient Greek, Roman, and Egyptian cultures, for example, remained connected to the feminine, and still exalted the feminine within the masculine-dominated pantheons and social structures.  It was not until the monotheistic religions took hold, religions that not only took the divine out of the feminine but actively denigrated it, that the feminine experienced the level of suppression that we are living today.  So it was relatively recently, albeit a couple thousand years, that the suppression of the feminine became so extreme.  Even so, the feminine can never be fully suppressed, not even in the religions that denigrate it, as is evident in the exaltation of Mother Mary.

So how could the patriarchy happen?  An answer to that may be found in a quality of the feminine itself.  Since ancient times the feminine (which I will now sometimes refer to as the Goddess) has been related to the cycles of the moon, the turning of the seasons, and the cycles of descent and renewal.  In each of these cycles there is an “underground” phase, a phase in which her energies appear to be dormant; the moon’s dark phase and winter are examples of this phase of the cycle.   Is it possible we are simply experiencing the winter of the Goddess over a long span of time?  Has her energy simply gone “underground”, lying dormant, preparing for renewal and regeneration?

The Taoist yin-yang symbol exemplifies this concept.  If we look at the Taoist yin-yang symbol, the “feminine winter” phase of the cycle would be where there is mostly yang (masculine) and little yin (feminine), but what happens when yang reaches a maximum point is that the system reverts to growing yin.  If we apply this cyclical dynamic over the course of historical eras, then we are currently in the phase of growing yin/receding yang after a minimum yin/maximum yang point has been reached.  As the yin-yang symbol illustrates, when yang recedes and yin grows we would approach a mid-point of balance, or androgyny.  This place of balance may be evident in the increasing sense of gender ambiguity and fluidity in recent generations.

One implication of the above theory is that the predominance of the masculine is the result of a natural cycle, a natural cycle that will resolve itself.  As the Goddess emerges from a winter state into spring, the feminine will re-emerge naturally, and as it re-emerges we will all be able to access that energy within ourselves to a greater extent.  Another implication is that the feminine is never truly gone, the masculine and feminine exist together, always, and we can unite those energies in mutual support and harmony at any point.

This theory in no way justifies any of the individual acts of masculine domination or the suffering and oppression that has been enacted as a result.  A predominance of the masculine does not automatically lead to any particular expression of behavior, there is choice within the system, so the dormancy of the feminine did not inherently lead to the denigration and oppression of women.  The above theory can, however, change the framework through which we view the past and its influences on our present.  If we see that the masculine accent could happen only when the feminine receded, then it takes the perpetrator-victim context out of the larger dynamic.  Then the feminine was not suppressed by the masculine, but the masculine rose naturally as the feminine receded.  Again please note I am not at all implying that acts of suppression and victimization did not happen, that is of course not true, but it does mean that the recession of the feminine in our culture was not the result of suppression, it was already happening and simply allowed room for the masculine, both light and shadow aspects, to arise.

If we are indeed moving into the spring of the Goddess, then the qualities of the feminine will be emerging and growing in ever increasing amounts in our personal lives and psyches.  The effects of the lack of feminine values in our culture will diminish, and the poverty of experience we have been suffering without a strong connection to the feminine will be transforming into states of greater richness and fulfillment.  As the feminine re-emerges we will all benefit from what it brings to our culture, our personal lives, and our relationships.