Article: Mothering and Matriarchy

Article: Mothering and Matriarchy

By Isa Gucciardi, Ph.D.

Matriarchal societies are organized by maternal priorities, meaning all members are cared for in a nurturing and supportive way. To create communities rooted in these values, both men and women must change their fundamental relationship to mothering and motherhood. This shift must go beyond the rhetoric of early feminists who decried the second-class position mothering placed on women, and who sought to liberate women from the prison of the culturally-defined institution of motherhood. Instead, we must recognize the power of motherhood independent of any cultural value systems where mothering becomes a pawn of dominance and ownership. To do this, we must understand how our inability to nurture ourselves and others has weakened us, both on a societal and an individual level.

Heide Goettner-Abendroth’s work on matriarchal societies helps us understand how these priorities of nurturing serve as a basis for the organization of community. Her book, Matriarchal Societies, provides a new and non-dual definition of matriarchy as a true gender-egalitarian society. Goettner-Abendroth’s 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 societies are socially egalitarian, economically balanced, and politically, they are based on consensus decision-making. These matriarchal values were created by women, and they are founded on both maternal and earth-based values.

To understand this value system better, consider the organizational dynamics of the Iroquois of North America. This society is one of hundreds of communities around the world that are organized within a political and economic system 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 around 1150 AD to 1750 AD.

Like other matriarchal societies, there was no concept of private property. Property belonged to the social group, and houses were the property of the clan. Economic power had a deeper significance than just profane economic power. Economic principles were based in spiritual values, and the economy across the members of the League consisted of gift giving circles. Gantowisas, highly respected grandmothers, held feasts where they redistributed goods, ensuring that no one remained in poverty. Gift giving created bonds of peace, and arguments were put to rest.

Politically, consensus building was the foundation of the system. Each clan had two chiefs, one male and one female. Alliance building and confederations were the overarching method of interacting with foreign groups. Culturally, the priesthood was exclusively female, or was shared with males, and there was no hierarchy. Socially, women were considered to be the sole keepers of Mother Earth because, as mothers, they were identified with her. The whole social organization of the group was built on this identification with the priorities and principles of the Earth, which were also understood as the priorities of matriarchy.

The matriarchal worldview 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 determine the cycle of life.

In establishing a stronger connection with earth-based values in the current time, we can build spiritual and social communities that sustain every member of society. We can create a society that is abundant, adaptable, nurturing and supportive of the growth and flourishing of all its members.