Aims and contents of the congress
One purpose of the first "World Congress on Matriarchal
Studies" was to initiate and encourage a multi-cultural scientific
dialogue, along with networking and collaboration between scholars who are
occupied with non-ideological research on what can be described as matrilineal,
matrifocal, and matriarchal societies. While "matrilineal" and "matrifocal" are
clearly defined anthropological terms, the significance of "matriarchal" as
a specific cultural concept was further investigated.
The topics, which are the focus of interest in research
on matriarchy, were presented by scholars from all over the world, including
those from several European nations, from China and North Africa, and from
the United States. Most of them have worked a lifetime in this field, both
inside and outside of official institutions, and their research covers cultures
on every continent. They have compiled a large amount of material and knowledge
concerning the regions they are working in, as well as in their branches
of science, and they have demonstrated the social and political implications
of their findings. In this way, they have brought to light a new socio-cultural
science; they constitute an alternative scientific community.
The knowledge presented by their studies of matriarchal
cultures is not widely known, nor is it accessible to many people. Therefore,
the first "World Congress on Matriarchal Studies" provided the
first major forum for exploring the existence of such balanced societies.
Matriarchies are not at all characterised as "women's
rule," as the usual bias would have it. On the contrary, matriarchal societies
have implemented the principle of complementary equality where
people take part in society, with their various gender and aged based functions,
on an equal basis.
The social order of matriarchies is based on highly
intelligent principles that have been cultivated over thousands of years
of human experience. One of these is the perfect balance between the sphere
of action of women and the sphere of action of men. This balance is continuously
created by bringing about the consensus or unanimity of all members of society.
Following this principle, suppression of one gender by the other is not
possible. Furthermore, this is a non-violent social order, without the exploitation
of humans, animals and nature, in which all living creatures are respected.
In this sense they are truly SOCIETIES IN BALANCE.
The intriguing social order characteristic of matriarchies
is not a marginal or "exotic" phenomenon, as has been claimed
in error. Rather, it represents the longest period of early human history
and cultures on all continents – from the beginning of the Neolithic
until the beginning of Iron Age. It is the origin of all subsequent cultures
and civilizations. Up until the present, matriarchal societies have continued
to exist in remote regions worldwide, a continuity that has allowed their
social patterns to be explored in detail. This establishes that the this
form of social order is the oldest, the most stable, and the most durable
way of life for human beings.
These social patterns and historical circumstances are
being explored by a new socio-cultural science that combines history, archaeology,
paleo linguistics, anthropology, sociology, history of religions, as well
as narrative studies in mythology,symbols and oral traditions.
It is called modern Matriarchal Studies, and – even though its roots
go back over 140 years – it has only today been under-girded by socio-cultural
scientific theory and methodology, and extended to the investigation of
cultures all over the world.
Human cultural development has a long history, and Modern Matriarchal Studies
makes it possible for us to reclaim the part of that development –and
it is, after all, the longer part of history – that was crafted by
women. Women have always been creators of culture, especially in matriarchal
societies, so the first Congress celebrated women's multi-dimensional
contributions to culture in the past and present. But women's great
history - or herstory - is often invisible, and many women still do not
know about it today: this restricts considerably their possibilities for
the future. Women's culture was buried by the patriarchal interpretation
of the "history of civilization." This was accomplished by the
traditional socio-cultural sciences, which are patriarchally biased and
fragmented into various narrowly-focused branches. In modern Matriarchal
Studies, the traditional patriarchal interpretation of society and history
is critically analysed and transgressed.
Another major intention of the Congress was to foster
a worldwide awareness and appreciation of the many marginalized and threatened
ethnic peoples that have preserved matriarchal patterns up to the present
day. Western ignorance affects indigenous peoples, especially indigenous
women, who live in societies that they themselves call, to one degree or
another, "matrilineal" or "matriarchal." People
in these societies are situated exceptionally in relation to the nations
surrounding them – which are characterized by patriarchal social patterns.
This implies twofold suppression: firstly as indigenous peoples, secondly
as matriarchal ones. Furthermore, this form of society has been widely
misunderstood. It has not been explored objectively and impartially,
nor has it been adequately represented in the Western social sciences model.
Therefore indigenous women and men from extant matriarchal
societies were invited to the Congress and heard in public. They spoke about
their indigenous societies, and of their own experiences in living with
the surrounding patriarchal societies. It was an important step for intercultural
understanding in the best sense, as it included not only the understanding
of marginalized peoples, but also of non-patriarchal patterns in general.
At this time, many indigenous scholars, both women and men, are scientifically,
as well as politically, engaged in their societies.
Furthermore, the political relevance of modern Matriarchal
Studies in general was emphasized, and concrete alternatives and practical
solutions for unsolved social and political problems of today were suggested.
If we distinguish between what is historically past and what is still valid
today, the new knowledge about matriarchal societies can guide us towards
the creation of balanced societies in which women and indigenous peoples
will be regarded equal citizens, and their cultural contributions encouraged
In this way, the Congress is part of creating a new
paradigm of research and cultural development.
The development of the Congress
As a result of the continuous and consistent preparation
that started in the year 2000, it became possible to hold the First World
Congress on Matriarchal Studies in 2003. It was an unprecedented step, and
one with great historical implications for modern Matriarchal Studies. It
grew out of the international contacts of the "International Academy
HAGIA", especially those of Dr. Heide Goettner-Abendroth (Director
of the academy).
In the year 2000, Mrs. Marie-Josée Jacobs, the
Minister of Women's Affairs of Luxembourg, agreed to be "matron" of
the Congress, which was at that time still in the planning stage. Her ministry
sponsored the greater part of the financial contribution needed for
this World Congress. During 2001-2002, several European ministries for women
and for the development of science, as well as EU-Committees and private
sponsors, were approached for additional financial support. Starting in
February 2003, financial commitments were made by the "Hans Boeckler-Stiftung" in
Duesseldorf, the "Maecenia-Stiftung" in Frankfurt, the "Gerda
Weiler-Stiftung" in Ulm, the "UNNA-Stiftung" in Duesseldorf,
and the "Fonds National de la Recherche" in Luxembourg. An in-kind
donation of support in the form of advertising, was made by the "Mediengruppe
Kulturell Kreative" in Berlin.
From all spheres of society, leading personalities who
are familiar with the subject matter and follow its development with interest,
lent their names to the advisory board to raise the social significance
of the event. Numerous personalities from political lobby groups, NGO's,
the sciences, the arts and the media, as well as from churches and from
non-European cultures agreed to participate on the advisory board. Mrs.
Maddy Mulheims, a governmental advisor from Luxembourg, must be mentioned
here in particular, as in her advisory function she was able to facilitate
the financial support of the Congress from the Ministry of Women's
Affairs in Luxembourg. The Institute for Political Science of the University
of Innsbruck, Austria, which has a professorship in Women's Studies,
along with the "Centre for Information and Documentation of Women" in
Luxembourg co-sponsored the World Congress.
At this point it was possible to send out the invitations
to scholars all over the world, and without exception all of them accepted
the invitation to this event. The broad spectrum of scholars from Europe,
China, North Africa, and the United States delivered highly qualified lectures
on the following subjects:
and Politics of Modern Matriarchal Studies,
Societies in Past and Present,
Spirituality and Medicine,
Origin of Patriarchy.
In the area of "contemporary-life," presentations
and films of extant matriarchal societies in Asia, Africa and the Americas
were shown. Overall, the creative impact of women's contribution to
human development was presented splendidly. A culture based on an egalitarian
form of organisation became visible, one with its own social, economic,
political and religious patterns.
The World Congress was received with great enthusiasm
by the participants. There were between 450 and 500 people present, filling
the distinguished and very well appointed Hémicycle-Hall of the congress-centre
in Luxembourg. Participants came from Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Luxembourg,
France, Italy, England, Poland, the United States, among others. Among them
were a many scientists. The other participants were academically educated
or self-educated, and can all be considered as multipliers. The group was
85% women , 15% men. Adults of all age groups were present. It was this
totality of organizers, speakers, and participants who made this Congress
such a successful event.
This demonstrates that – at the beginning of the
new millennium – there exists a lively interest in this new research.
The reason is that it describes a form of society which is balanced, not
only in regard to gender but also in regard to the generations, and it shows
a way of life that is ecologically fitted to the natural surroundings.
This causes more and more women and men of our Western civilization to consider
how far the patterns of such a form of society could inspire us to find
better social and cultural models.
Furthermore, modern Matriarchal Studies can substantially
contribute to the current political discussion about gender
mainstreaming, because it has been, from its beginnings, gender study
in the best sense. At the same time it transgresses gender studies, because
it integrates the development of history of cultures. We cannot understand
our present time without a deeper knowledge of history. This is a decisive
factor, especially for the situation of women.
The selected papers of the Congress
The Congress papers published here are a representative
selection addressed to the various subjects surrounding the subject of matriarchy.
The first two papers represent the beginning lectures
of the Congress dedicated to the subject Theory and Politics of
Modern Matriarchal Studies. In her paper: Modern Matriarchal
Studies. Definitions – Scope – Political Relevance Heide
Goettner-Abendroth (Germany) presents a new definition of the concept "matriarchy";
one that developed from her cross-cultural research on existing matriarchies
worldwide in terms of their economic, social, political and spiritual contexts.
She demonstrates that matriarchies are economically balanced, exhibit egalitarian
relationships between genders and generations, and are consensus-based in
their politics. Furthermore, she outlines the range of modern Matriarchal
Studies and its relevance for social and political issues.
The paper of Claudia von Werlhof (Austria) is titled: Patriarchy
as the Negation of Matriarchy. Aspects of Cultural Madness, in which
she presents a theory critical of patriarchy. Her core thesis is that
patriarchy has not made an independent contribution to civilisation but
exists, in specific aspects, as the negation of matriarchy. She points
out that the "genuine" inventions of patriarchy consist mainly
in breaking the taboo against violence, and in systematic uses of violence:
war, domination as a universal rule, private property and exploitation,
and mechanization and machinery.
The following papers reflect the second part of the
Congress in which still existing matriarchal societies from all over the
world were represented. It started with the section Present Matriarchal
Societies with regard to Asia. Peggy Reeves Sanday
(USA) presents in her paper: Matriarchy and World Peace. Lessons from
the Minangkabau/Sumatra a conceptual framework for rethinking matriarchy,
based on her long term ethnography of the Minangkabau of West Sumatra, Indonesia.
The Minangkabau are unique in that they self-identify as a matriarchy, and
their culture is characterized by an ethic of gender balance and a dedication
to negotiation and the peaceful resolution of conflict. In addition to their
women-centeredness the Minangkabau are proudly Islamic; this points to some
of the lessons we can learn from the Minangkabau in relation to world peace.
Ruxian Yan (China) exemplifies the matriarchal structures
of the Mosuo in her paper: The Kinship System of the Mosuo/China.
The extended families of the Mosuo are mostly headed by women, and consist
of members who have purely matrilineal blood ties. The lineages are traced
through females, and property is passed down through females as well. The
sexual life of adults takes the form of a "visiting marriage" and
the relationship between men and women is a "sexual partnership." The
children are affiliated to the group of their mothers only. This matrilineal
cultural system has a long history in the local communities, and exerts
a strong impact on aspects of social life.
Lamu Gatusa (China), who is Mosuo himself and an indigenous
researcher, gives in his paper: Matriarchal Marriage Patterns of the
Mosuo an authentic report on his people's matriarchal culture
and marriage patterns. With the Mosuo the female's function
is emphasized, but the male's function is not underestimated. The
most characteristic form is the "visiting marriage", which allows
the partners to remain independent in many ways, including personal independence,
emotional independence and benefits independence. They have neither sexual
privileges nor economic privileges. As a result, their relationship is a
purely natural one of equal association.
This section of the congress was closed by Shanshan
Du (China/USA). She presents in her paper: Frameworks for Society in
Balance. Gender Equality from a Cross-Cultural Perspective a comparative
theory of gender equality, with the Lahu people serving as an ethnographic
example. She proposes several socio-cultural frameworks that foster balance,
harmony, and equality between the sexes in certain non-industrial societies:
The first model, "maternal centrality", is typically manifested
in matriarchal societies. In contrast, within the model of "gender
triviality," the symbolic elaboration of "men" and "women" is
scarce and socially insignificant. In the third framework, "gender
unity," men and women are identified with each other as members of
higher social categories.
In this section of the Congress Present Matriarchal
Societies with regard to Africa andAmerica were
represented. Hélène Claudot-Hawad (France) lectured about: "Woman-shelter
and man-traveller". The Representation of Gender among the Tuareg
(Imajaghen) / Central Sahara, Africa. In her paper she analyses therelationship
of the two genders and the remarkable position of the women in this society,
their matrilineal context, as well as patrilineal influences. Among the
Tuareg the representation of the feminine and the masculine, as a way
of understanding and conceptualising the world, is quite different from
what we are used to in the West. In their social roles and in their institutions
and rituals, the Tuareg participate in a continuous balancing of these
less or more harmonious connections.
Malika Grasshoff (Algeria/France/Germany), of Kabyle
lineage and also an indigenous anthropologist, presents a paper titled: The
Central Position of Women among the Berber People of Northern Africa, Exemplified
by Kabyle Women. She shows that the Berbers, known as the
oldest people of North Africa, have retained their pre-Islamic customs,
especially the women of the Berbers of Kabylia (Algeria). Their traditional
arts, such as pottery and weaving, are still accompanied by rites and practices
that serve to build and contribute to magical relationships between humans
Veronika Bennholdt-Thomsen (Germany) contributes a paper
about: A Matriarchal Society at the Time of Globalisation: Juchitàn
/ Southern Mexico, in which she shows that the indigenous society of
Juchitàn on the Isthmus von Tehuantepec, a hub of globalised trade,
has preserved strong matriarchal characteristics. The women of Juchitàn,
a city of 100,000, work in all occupations, but have taken on trading, in
particular, as second nature. The men are peasants and craftsmen, and they
hand over their products and wages to the women. So the latter have managed
to maintain their own economy, one that is independent and dominant in this
As one representative of the subject Matriarchal
Spirituality and Medicine, which formed a special section at
the Congress, Cécile Keller's (Switzerland) paper on Medicine
in MatriarchalSocieties is included here.
It is based on several ethnographic examples, especially on the women's
medicine societies of the Iroquois. She points out that in matriarchal
societies medicine is holistic and is based on experiential knowledge.
It includes both the treatment of the body and the guidance of the soul
and consciousness. In the healing process the whole mythology and cosmology
of the prevailing culture is activated, and this positively reconnecs
persons seeking healing to their own matriarchal world view.
The following papers represent the section of the congress
called Past Matriarchal Societies, Theory of History and Symbolism. Here
theories and research in matriarchal societies of early history (the beginning
of Neolithic until the beginning of the Iron Age) were presented. The section
was opened by the lecture of Riane Eisler (USA) titled: The Battle
over Human Possibilities: Women, Men, and Cultural Transformation. Her
presentation looks at cultural evolution from the perspective of two underlying
possibilities for structuring social systems: the domination model and the
partnership model. It traces the cultural evolution of Western societies
from prehistory to the present. It outlines the cultural transformation
theory, which proposes that shifts from one model to the other are possible
in times of extreme social and technological disequilibrium; and that in
our time another fundamental shift is possible, to a world orienting more
to partnership rather than domination.
The her paper: Dark Mother, Dark Others, and a New
World,Lucia Chiavola Birnbaum (Italy/USA) goes still farther back
in early history. She argues that the oldest divinity worshipped by homo
sapiens is that of a female deity from Central and Southern Africa.
Prehistoric signs of thisbelief were transmitted after
50,000 b.c.e. by African migrants to the caves and cliffs of all continents. Later,
ca. 25,000 b.c.e., these signs were transmuted into venerated female images
found on all continents. In the Christian epoch these became "black
madonnas," but the legacy of the African female deity is evident
in all women divinities on every continent.
Joan Marler (USA) presents in her paper: The Iconography
and Social Structure of Old Europe. The Archaeomythological Research of
Marija Gimbutas the pioneering work of archaeologist Marija Gimbutas
(Lithuania/USA, 1921-1994). In her study of the symbolic imagery of the
earliest farming peoples of Southeast Europe (ca. 6500-3500 BC), Gimbutas
found evidence of ritual activities within the seasonal realities of agrarian
life. A vast body of Neolithic imagery rendered primarily in female forms
indicates the centrality of women's activities and their roles as
creators of culture. Utilizing the archaeomythological method she
developed by herself, Gimbutas described these early Neolithic societies
as non-Indo-European and "matristic".
Michael Dames (Great Britain) also uses a combined method
in his research. In his paper: Footsteps of the Goddess in Britain and
Ireland he shows that the abundant archaeological evidence for pre-Christian
goddess worship in Britain and Ireland is supported by folk narrative, folk
customs, place names, and medieval writings. Each strand of evidence can
be scientifically analysed. However, if the original quality of the
goddess mythology is sought, a poetic synthesis of all these strands should
A combined research method is also used in the investigations
of Kurt Derungs (Switzerland). In his paper: Landscape of the Ancestress.
Principles of the Matriarchal Philosophy of Nature and the Mythology of
Landscape, the matriarchal philosophy of nature is made evident by
different examples. For matriarchies have also produced an outstanding ecology
and mythology of landscape. In the naming of landscapes (mountains, rivers,
lakes, hills and so on), in burial site symbolism, in architecture, in rituals
and mythology, they have documented ancient knowledge in which the principles
of the matriarchal philosophy of nature can be read.
The last section of the Congress was dedicated to the
question of The Origin of Patriarchy. Here James DeMeo
(USA) lectured about his theory which is represented in his paper: The
Origins of Patriarchy in Ancient Desertification: Saharasia. He
demonstrates that, first, native cultures residing within the "Saharasian" desert
belt (Sahara, Middle East, Central Asia) were possessed of the most strongly
violent patriarchal elements and, second, that regions very far removed
from "Saharasia" (Oceania, New World) were mostly matristic
culture types. Thus, he suggests a source region for patristic dominator
cultures within "Saharasia" – predominantly after ca.4000
b.c.e., when "Saharasia" began to change from a semi-forested
savannah into desert, with subsequent famine-driven migrations outward – the
mechanism of the great Indo-Aryan and Semitic cultural migrations.
A documentary film about the Congress is available at Academy HAGIA, please