"Sophie," Langdon said, "the Priory's
tradition of perpetuating goddess-worship is based on a belief that
powerful men in the early Christian Church 'conned' the world by
propagating lies that devalued the feminine and tipped the scales
in favour of the masculine."
Sophie remained silent, staring at the words.
"The Priory believes that Constantine and his male successors
successfully converted the world from matriarchal paganism to patriarchal
Christianity by waging a campaign of propaganda that demonized the
sacred feminine, obliterating the goddess from modern religion forever."
(Chapter Twenty-eight, p. 124)
the fact that 'the Priory' is a modern hoax, the idea that it supposedly
had a 'tradition of perpetuating goddess-worship' is entirely out
of keeping with even the claims Pierre Plantard made about his fictional
'secret society'. Plantard never claimed that the 'Priory' preserved
a 'sacred bloodline' stretching back to Jesus and Mary Magdalene
- that was added to the Priory Myth by the authors of Holy Blood,
Holy Grail. And those authors, in turn, never claimed this 'sacred
bloodline' had anything to do with ancient 'goddess-worship' - that,
in turn, was added by Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince, authors of
The Templar Revelation: Secret Guardians of the True Identity
of Christ; a work which took the whole 'Priory'/Jesus/Mary myth
to new levels.
what Brown has Langdon claim above, the 'Priory' invented by Plantard
seems to have been far from any feminist, 'goddess'-worshipping
cabal of pagan New Agers. As a vehement anti-Semite, arch-conservative
and monarchist, Plantard's crazy ambitions seem to have been aimed
at some form of traditionalist, royal takeover of France and/or
Europe, with himself as absolute monarch. There was little in this
man's background or beliefs to indicate any great reverence for
So much for
the so-called 'Priory' as a group of egalitarian 'goddess'-worshippers
devoted to the 'sacred feminine'.
There are further
problems with the idea that the Roman Emperor Constantine 'successfully
converted the world from matriarchal paganism to patriarchal Christianity'.
The idea that 'paganism' was 'matriarchal' or even highly disposed
to egalitarianism and women before Constantine's time is simply
not supported by the evidence.
and Goddesses in 'Paganism'
To begin with,
to talk about pre-Christian 'paganism' as though it was one single
thing or set of beliefs is highly problematic. It is hard enough
to speak in general terms about 'Christianity' because, despite
the fact that it is a single religion, it is made up a vast variety
of separate denominations, divisions, cults and sects as diverse
and widely separated as Catholicism is from Mormonism.
about 'paganism', however, is difficult to the point of being utterly
impossible. Pre-Christian beliefs were not one religion, but a vast
and bewildering variety of them. They were not discrete, separate
and exclusive (on the whole) but allowed someone to believe in other
cults and devotions, all of them or none of them as they saw fit.
A devotee of Isis could attend a sacrifice to Capitoline Jupiter
without any problem. A woman could be as devoted to Apollo as she
was to Demeter. Someone could pray to Neptune before a sea voyage
while having a special personal devotion to Mithras. Gods could
and did drift, shift and evolve in their attributes, names and images.
'Foreign' and exotic gods could suddenly rise in popularity while
ancient cults could dwindle and disappear. So to call this mass
of possible, interchangeable and potentially mutual beliefs 'paganism'
and to pretend it had any clearly defined common attributes - eg
a 'matriarchal' nature - is totally impossible.
to pretend that these pagan cults were 'matriarchal' or even generally
more in tune with the 'sacred feminine' is a complete misreading
of ancient religion and society. There is no doubt that there were
goddesses as well as gods. There is also no doubt that some of these
goddesses had powerful and popular cults. But this is a function
of the nature of pre-Christian polytheistic religion. The sacred
world was a reflection of the human world. Just as there were human
functions, attributes and concerns that were considered more 'feminine'
in nature, so there were goddesses that reflected these. Thus the
deity of love, sex and beauty was a goddess, while the deity of
war, conquest and violence was a god. This principle applied to
every tiny detail of pre-Christian life, with deities, demi-deities
and spirits devoted to particular trades and enterprises, certain
cities and locations, individual groves, rivers and crossroads or
even particular houses and households.
statements fall down is in the idea that the fact that ancient pre-Christian
polytheistic paganism had goddesses as well as gods meant that these
societies were more egalitarian, 'matriarchal' and in tune with
'the sacred feminine'.
Age Matriarchal Religion
are highly attractive to modern thinking. As a society striving
for egalitarianism and gender-equality, the concept of a time, long
ago, where men and women were as equal in society as gods and goddesses,
supposedly, were in religion is highly appealing to us. For some
modern feminists the further idea that goddesses were once dominant
and that society was once - in distant prehistory - actually matriarchal
and dominated by women is even more appealing. This idea has become
a mainstay of some modern feminist theory and has, via the New Age
movement, come to be widely accepted. It is, however, not well supported
of an ancient, prehistoric, late Stone Age matriarchal society has
a strange history in modern religious studies. Initially, this concept
was suggested by male, Nineteenth Century theorists, who
believed that religion 'progressed' in keeping with Nineteenth Century
ideas of 'development'. It made sense to them, therefore, that the
earliest forms of religion were 'inferior' and 'undeveloped' and
so it had to be that they were originally female-oriented and devoted
to 'fertility goddesses'. As religion 'developed' and improved,
they argued, it 'progressed' through ancient polytheism, with gods
and goddesses, to monotheism, with a dominant and exclusive male
god to a more a 'modern', 'developed' and 'reasonable' conception
of God as gender-neutral.
Looking at the
archaeological evidence from the late Stone Age - the Neolithic
Period - these male researchers found 'evidence' of this evolution.
Female figures found at Neolithic sites were interpreted as 'goddesses'.
The ones that were fat and/or pregnant in their depictions were
obviously 'fertility goddesses'. All this was interpreted as evidence
that, at this early stage in the 'development' and 'progression'
of religious evolution, religion was female-oriented and 'matriarchal'
by merit of its 'primitive' nature.
This idea of
an inferior and undeveloped matriarchal/goddess-oriented Neolithic
religion was then taken up by feminist researchers and theorists
in the 1960s and 70s. In their interpretation, this religion was
not an 'undeveloped' or primitive set of ideas, but ones that represented
a pure golden age, where women ruled society, the genders lived
in harmony, war was unknown and people - male and female - devoted
themselves to the 'sacred feminine'. According to this reading of
the Neolithic evidence, this perfect matriarchal, sacred and entirely
feminist society was shattered forever by the arrival of warlike,
'sky-god'-worshipping, patriarchal invaders from the Russian steppes
at the beginning of the Bronze Age. These violent and greedy interlopers
destroyed the perfect, peaceful matriarchal Neolithic society, imposed
their gods and ushered in thousands of years of male oppression,
exploitation and war.
of prehistory has now become unquestioned orthodoxy in some branches
of feminist theory and has, from there, spread into other disciplines
and the general consciousness. As a reaction to the male-dominated
elements of much traditional Western religion, the idea of an ancient,
matriarchal 'Goddess' who once united all people in peace, unity
and tranquility is highly empowering and appealing. New Age bookshops
have shelves of books on 'the Goddess' and many modern religions
like Wicca and other forms of Neo-Paganism are devoted to this idea
and its implications.
feminists, however, are familiar enough with the actual evidence
and the history of how this modern set of ideas arose to know that
it is based on very shaky evidential foundations.
of this whole idea within feminism is best summarised in The
Myth of Matriarchal Patriarchy: Why an Invented Past Won't Give
Women a Future by Cynthia Eller. A feminist and academic specialising
in women and religion, Eller examines the origin of the modern myth
of the 'Neolithic Matriarchy' and the evidence on which it is based.
She finds this concept deeply flawed and based on uncertain and
misinterpreted evidence and presumed conclusions, largely driven
As Eller and
many recent prehistoric specialists make clear, any conclusions
about Neolithic and Bronze Age religion are always going to be highly
speculative. Given that we have no written sources or any other
clear sources of information; we are left with archaeological artefacts.
The interpretation of artefacts to form conclusions about something
as ephemeral as religious ideas is about as uncertain as one can
get and it is something archaeologists tend to avoid.
surveys the evidence and compares it to the statements made by feminists
who believe in the idea of Neolithic Matriarchy. She points out
that the heavy emphasis on female figures found in Neolithic sites
is unfounded. There is an assumption that these carvings are 'goddesses'
or 'figures of the Goddess'. We actually have no idea what they
are. Few are found in any kind of religious context (ie a temple,
sacred space or associated with offerings) and they could just as
easily be other things - art, childrens' toys, portraits, doodles,
medical votive figures or even Stone Age pornography. Eller also
points out that while there are many Neolithic artistic depictions
of humans which are clearly female; there are many others which
are clearly male. And, more importantly, there are many more which
have no clear gender attribution at all. To focus on the clearly
female figures, ignore the others and then assume a 'Goddess'-focused,
matriarchal society is to argue from highly selective and uncertain
There are other
problems with the standard theory of 'Matriarchal Feminism'. It
is often claimed that there is no evidence of war in these supposedly
idyllic Neolithic societies. The problem with this assumption is
that war rarely leaves much of a trace in any archaeological record,
especially in a period where weaponry would usually be made of perishable
substances rather than metal (eg war clubs) and where offensive
weapons doubled as or can be mistaken for hunting weapons (eg flint
arrow heads and spears). Despite this, there is clear evidence of
conflict and warfare in Neolithic society. Stone mace heads are
evidence of warfare, since maces are next to useless as hunting
weapons. And large, complex and consistently maintained Neolithic
complexes of defensive walls and V-shaped ditches show that war
existed long before the Bronze Age.
as the idea of a prehistoric, Neolithic, 'Goddess'-worshipping matriarchy
may be to modern thinking, the evidence for such a thing is flimsy
and its interpretation is often driven more by modern gender-political
ideology rather than cogent analysis.
and Religion in Ancient Society
If the idea
of a prehistoric matriarchal society is dubious at best, Brown's
description of 'matriarchal paganism' in the Roman Empire is completely
ridiculous. Roman women certainly had more freedom and independence
than most of their Greek sisters - who were in many city states
second-class citizens, confined to a special women's section of
the home, never allowed to venture into public without their husbands.
But to describe Roman paganism as 'matriarchal' is flatly wrong.
and religion was rigidly patriarchal. There were influential empresses,
but no women ever ruled the Empire and women were totally excluded
from all areas of political life. The home, society and the state
were all based on the concept of the 'pater familias': the 'Father
of the Family' who ruled without question.
were some cults which were for women only. Vesta, Venus, the 'Great
Mother', Isis and Cybele were all Roman goddesses or religious imports
from the East which focused on the affairs of women. Only women
- the Vestal Vigins - could preside over the cult of Vesta; the
ancient goddess of the hearth. And only women could take part in
the annual mysteries of the 'Great Mother'. But the dominant and
most important Roman religious cults were centred on the male gods
- Jupiter, Mars, Apollo and, later, Mithras - and their priesthood
was exclusively male. Mithraism, an imported religion from Persia,
was particularly popular with soldiers, had an exclusively male
membership and seems to have been the religion of Constantine himself
before he inclined towards Christianity.
The idea that
the sexes were equal and that the pagan, Pre-Christian, Roman society
was egalitarian or even matriarchal is completely incorrect. Women,
in fact, were regarded as being semi-men, or even semi-human. Unlike
men they did not develop deep voices, facial hair, external genitalia
or heavy musculature. They were considered more or less human, but
not 'fully developed', since this concept was based on how males
mature post-puberty. They were above slaves and animals, but only
of an idyllic, feminist, egalitarian or even matriarchal paganism
is appealing to the modern mind and is a mainstay of some New Age
conceptions of the past. The evidence, however, indicates strongly
that paganism was every bit as sexist and misogynist as Christianity
was to become. If anything, Christianity was far more egalitarian
even after it became the Roman state religion than misogynist paganism
had ever been.
Inquisition, Witches and the Malleus Maleficarum
The Catholic Inquisition published the book that
arguably could be called the most blood-soaked publication in human
history. Malleus Maleficarum - or The Witches' Hammer - indoctrinated
the world to "the dangers of freethinking women" and instructed
the clergy how to locate, torture and destroy them.
(Chapter 28, p. 126)
Brown is wrong in most of his details here. The 'Catholic Inquisition'
did not publish the Malleus Maleficarum. It was written by
two German Dominican friars, Jacob Sprenger and Heinrich Kraemer,
who were inquisitors themselves, but it was not any kind of 'official'
handbook of 'the Inquisition'. Sprenger and Kraemer tried to get
their book awarded the official imprimatur of the University
of Cologne's Faculty of Theology on May 9, 1487, but their book
was rejected as stupid superstition. Not daunted by this, they simply
faked official endorsement. The book was quickly rejected by the
Catholic Church as idiotic peasant nonsense and bad theology. In
1538 the Spanish Inquisition cautioned its members not to take the
Malleus seriously. Until around the period in which it was
published in 1487, witchcraft had not been considered heresy and
was definitely not considered devil worship. Magic and witchcraft
could be malign or benign in its effects, and malicious magic was
certainly condemned, but witches per se were not regarded
as evil or threatening. It was only at the very end of the Middle
Ages - in the late Fifteenth Century - that this view began to change
amongst theologians, with some coming to argue that all witches
derived their powers not from 'natural magic' but from Satan. Catholic
opinion on the matter was divided however.
This new theology
was definitely the view of Sprenger and Kraemer, and they spend
the whole first section of their book arguing for it. Not all churchmen
were convinced, but the book obviously tapped into irrational fears
about witches and Satanism. It became a bestseller and continued
to sell well even after the Reformation; in Protestant countries
as much or even more than in Catholic ones.
The book certainly
does detail how to identify and question suspected witches, including
a chapter on torture - which was, it should be remembered, a common
technique for extracting a confession in many types of criminal
trials in the period, however bizarre and abhorrent that seems to
us now. However the phrase in quotation marks in Brown's passage,
above, - "the dangers of freethinking women" - does not
appear in the work at all and seems to be another product of Brown's
Witch Craze: Protestant or Catholic?
Brown also implies
that the persecution of witches was largely a Catholic affair. The
evidence indicates completely otherwise. The vast majority of witches
convicted and executed between 1300 and 1800 AD (there were actually
few such convictions in the Middle Ages proper: 500-1500 AD) were
actually in Protestant countries. With some regional exceptions,
the Witch Craze never really caught on in Catholic areas. The popular
idea of the 'Witch Burnings of the Middle Ages' is a strong and
widespread one, but the Witch Craze was actually largely a Protestant
and post-Medieval phenomenon. The idea that Christian institutions
(ie 'the Catholic Inquisition') were largely responsible for witch
trials is also completely incorrect. Not only were the overwhelming
majority of witch trails not 'Medieval', 'Catholic' or by 'the Inquisition',
but the bulk of the witch trials in Protestant countries were held
by non-church, secular legal authorities.
Were the Accused?
Those deemed witches by the Church included all
female scholars, priestesses, gypsies, mystics, nature lovers, herb
gatherers and any women "suspiciously attuned to the natural
(Chapter 28, p.125)
Brown is perpetuating some New Age myths here. Witch trials tended
to be well-documented and so it is possible to analyse who exactly
was accused of witchcraft. It is simply not true that 'freethinking
women' were particularly targeted and those accused of witchcraft
tended to be either (i) marginalised loners or (ii) high status
women. It seems that jealousy, community disputes, irrational fears
and property were the real motivations for accusations.
were as rare in the Witch Craze period as they were in any pre-modern
time, but there is absolutely no evidence that the ones that did
exist were targeted in the hysteria about witches. Brown's reference
to 'priestesses' is odd, considering that no pagan priestesses existed
in this period, despite a New Age desire to believe otherwise. There
is also absolutely no evidence that gypsies were targeted and here
Brown seems to want to tap into a parallel between the Witch Craze
and the Nazi Holocaust. 'Mystics' were common in the late Middle
Ages, though the vast bulk of them were devout or even fanatical
Christians. Once again, there is no evidence whatsoever that they
were targeted. Brown's statement that 'nature lovers' were targeted
is also without any foundation.
The idea that
'herb gatherers' were targets is ridiculous; since herbs were the
basis of all pre-modern medicine and grown for seasoning in cooking.
If 'herb gatherers' had been targeted then virtually everyone in
Europe would have been arrested. Brown seems to be saying that traditional
healers who used herbs for their cures were accused of witchcraft.
Once again, analysis of the evidence shows that this is not true.
The use of herbs in medicine was widespread and there is no evidence
that the country 'wise women' who administered them were represented
in any disproportionate way amongst those who were accused of witchcraft.
In his use of
the quoted phrase "suspiciously attuned to the natural world"
Brown seems to be implying that either this phrase is actually used
in the Malleus Maleficarum (which it is not) or was a criterion
by which witches were identified. This, again, is a phrase which
seems to spring from his imagination.
Myth of the Midwife Witch
Midwives were killed for their heretical practice
of using medical knowledge to ease the pain of childbirth - a suffering,
the Church claimed, that was God's rightful punishment for Eve's
partaking of the Apple of Knowledge, thus giving birth to the idea
of Original Sin.
(Chapter 28, p. 125)
Yet again, Brown
perpetuates New Age myths which are not supported by the evidence.
In 1973 Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English published Witches,
Midwives, and Nurses; a book which suggested that most executed
witches were healers and midwives. This study was subjected to critical
analysis in later decades and found to be deeply flawed. Ehrenrich
and English had taken a few isolated cases, assumed they were the
norm and then extrapolated from them to conclude, as Brown says,
that healers and midwives were a particular target of the Witch
Crazes. In fact, the evidence indicates otherwise.
systematically examined the evidence in his article "Historians
as Demonologists: The Myth of the Midwife-Witch" (Social
History of Medicine 3 (1990), pp. 1-26.) and found that being
a midwife actually decreased the chances of being charged with witchcraft.
Many accusations of witchcraft centred on still-births and infant
deaths, with the blame for these occurrences being put on the malicious
magic of witches. Far from being more likely to be accused of witchcraft,
midwives and village healers were more likely to be the accusers,
or to be witnesses summoned to support such accusations. In The
Witch in History, feminist historian Diane Purkiss writes "midwives
were more likely to be found helping witch-hunters" than as
victims of their inquiries.
Witch Craze Holocaust
During the three hundred years of the witch hunts,
the Church burned an astounding five million women.
(Chapter 28, p. 125)
This is indeed
an astounding figure, largely because it is complete fantasy. Until
the last few decades there was little to no systematic analysis
of precisely how many people were actually executed in the Witch
Craze between 1300 and 1800 AD. Estimates varied widely, though
the figure of 'nine million women' caught the imagination of feminists
and, in turn, found its way into New Age and Neo-Pagan folklore.
More recent analysis, by feminist historians and others, has revealed
and very different, less lurid, story.
Since the trials
of witches were actually generally well documented, it is possible
to get some idea of how many people were executed for witchcraft
between 1300 and 1800 AD. In fact, there are only 30,000-40,000
actual documented cases of people being executed in this entire
period. Even taking into account the fact that some executions were
not documented - there were cases of mob lynchings, even on a grand
scale, during the hysteria - any estimate which is above 100,000
people over five hundred years is totally out of the question. The
figure of 'nine million' which is still bandied around in some New
Age books is utter fantasy. And Dan Brown's slightly lower figure
of 'five million' is also total nonsense.
It is also completely
wrong to pretend that the Witch Craze was aimed purely at women.
There is no doubt that women formed the majority of those targeted
in the Witch Craze, but analysis of the available data indicates
that they actually made up 80% of the victims. The remaining 20%
were men. In some places almost all of the accused and executed
were women. In others, Finland and Iceland for example, almost all
were actually men. In most, both women and men could be executed
for witchcraft, though overall the vast majority of victims were
Paganism and the 'Hieros Gamos'
Women, once celebrated as an essential half of
spiritual enlightenment, had been banished from the temples of the
world. There were no Othodox rabbis, Catholic priests, nor Islamic
clerics. The once hallowed act of Hieros Gamos - the natural sexual
union between a man and a woman through which each became spiritually
whole - had been recast as a shameful act.
(Chapter 28, p. 125)
Yet again, Brown
is harking back to a religious past which never existed. As monotheistic
and utterly patriarchal Semitic religions from the Middle East,
Judaism, Christianity and Islam certainly were male-centric. But
the idea that non-Judeo-Christian religious traditions were somehow
vastly more egalitarian is pure nonsense. Greco-Roman paganism was
also highly patriarchal.
The idea that
any ritualized 'Hieros Gamos' ritual sex was a mainstay of pre-Christian
religion is also utter fantasy. Even in the few religious environments
where such a ritual was enacted, to pretend that it represented
equality between the sexes is to project modern ideas back onto
a completely misogynistic pre-modern world.
Brain, Right Brian and the 'Sacred Feminine'
Not even the feminine association with the left-hand
side could escape the Church's defamation. In France and Italy,
the words for "left" - gauche and sinistra - came to have
deeply negative overtones, while their right-hand counterparts rang
of righteousness, dexterity and correctness. To this day, radical
thought was considered left wing, irrational thought was left brain,
and anything evil, sinister.
(Chapter 28, p. 125)
Brown claims here, any 'association' between the feminine and the
left-hand side is entirely modern. The ideas of 'left' and 'right'
brain thinking only arose in the last 50 years and the association
of the left hand etc with anything 'sinister' came from the fact
that most people - male and female - are right handed.
did not come to refer to radical thought because of any association
with 'the feminine'. In 1789, the French National Assembly was created,
with radicals, revolutionaries and reformers sitting on the left
side of the room and conservatives and nobles sitting on the right.
This is where the expression 'left wing' came about. It had nothing
to do with women or the 'Divine Feminine'.
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