meanwhile I’m attempting to understand the vision of history which underlay matriarchal/goddess based explorations of the past.
While such approahces have been rather summarily dismissed as hopelessly reductionist and relying on essentialism, when read closely it becomes quite clear that these feminists were asking many of the same questions as historians.
For example, Merlin Stone asks, in When God Was A Woman, published in the U.K. as The Paradise Papers,
How did it happen? How did men initially gain the control that now allows them to regulate the world in matters as vastly diverse as deciding which wars will be fought when to what time dinner should be served?
In other words, it is the search for the origins of women’s oppression that so occupied others in the women’s liberation movement. However, as opposed to the historical narrative that located women’s original oppresison in reproduction, which then led to her economic oppression, these authors reached back to the prehistorical to argue that rather than reproduction leading to oppression, it was a source of religion.
In prehistoric and early historic periods of human development, religions existed in which people revered their supreme creator as female
a contemporary consciousness of the once-widespread veneration of the female deity … may be used to cut through the many oppressive and falsely founded patriarchal images, stereotypes, customs and laws that were developed as direct reactions to Goddess worship by the leaders of the later male-worshiping religions. … it was the ideological inventions of the advocates of the later male deities, imposed upon that ancient worship with the intention of destroying it and its customs, that are still, through their subsequent absorption into education, law, literature, economics, philosophy, psychology, media and general social attitudes, imposed upon even the most non-religious people of today
This is not intended as an archaeological or historical text. It is rather an invitation to all women to join in the search to find out who were really are, by beginning to know our own past heritage as more than a broken an buried fragment of a male culture. We must … explore the past for ourselves … as we compile the information, we shall be better able to understand and explain the erroneous assumptions in the stereotypes that were initially created for women to accept and follow … as women we will be bale to view ourselves as mature, self-determining human beings.
That means that her standard of evidence is different that academically oriented publication. In fact in Stone’s version of history, lack of evidence is the evidence.
“In the difficulties I encountered in gathering material, I could not help thinking of the ancient writing and statuary that must have been intentionally destroyed. Accounts of the atnatgonistic attitudes … towards the sacred artifacts of the relgiions that preceded them reveald that this was so … the bloody massacres, the demolition of statues (i.e. pagan idols) and sanctuary are recorded in the pages of the Bible (xvii)
So the difficulties here are two fold. One activists who offer historical accounts that tie women’s reproduction to power in the past undo the narrative that justifies women’s liberation emerging from the New Left. However, in doing so by going “beyond” history, into the prehistorical, these narrative are outside or other than the emerging field of women’s history. They cannot be adjudicated in the same way that accounts of women’s status under known historical periods can.