Book Review: The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory

January 17th, 2010

Book Review: The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory by Cynthia Eller

This book was an interesting, fact heavy read which intended to inform the reader about some common misconceptions regarding the role or existence of a prehistoric matriarchal society. The author was faced with several instances of renowned speakers who, for whatever reason, touted the theory of matriarchal prehistory as fact. I certainly don’t blame her for wanting to set the record straight, but I feel that her book could have done with a little less venom.

Eller makes some rather convincing arguments to back her case, but she begins her book fairly by asserting that because none of us actually lived during the prehistoric period, all we have to go by are our theories of what was. She is highly critical of specifically FEMINIST matriarchalists, which she openly criticizes throughout the book. Despite her emphasis on fact and the work she put into developing the feminist matriarchal belief structure, Eller is sometimes prone to making sweeping generalizations. For example, she often cited examples of Goddess worship and equated that with Feminist Matriarchalists interchangeably. Certainly not all religious paths that find themselves worshipping a Goddess, or feature a Goddess centered spirituality buy into the feminist theories.

Still, Eller does provide us with many of the leading theorists and what they have said to bolster their theories. She often finds herself touching on the work of Marija Gimbutas as the primary mother scholar of Feminist Matriarchal theory. Gimbutas has provided us with theories about, if a matriarchal society existed and a patriarchal revolution occurred, how and who the patriarchal revolution started with based upon her own archaeological/anthropological evidence. In a sense, she provided the evidence most matriarchal theorists were looking for to prove their insubstantial theories that females have long been oppressed by patriarchy, which they insist is against the natural human order. Feminist matriarchalists believe that in the beginning, women were the priestesses and rulers of society, revered as the mysterious and peaceful life bringers because men did not understand their role in reproduction. Then one day the patriarchal and nomadic “Kurgan” invaders came in from somewhere in modern-day Russia and introduced war and oppression to the female gender. It’s quite fanciful, and conveniently paints all men as the bad guys.

Despite all of the sarcasm Eller includes in her writing, I am inclined to agree with her. Feminist Matriarchalists are impractical and often seek to cherry pick evidence to back their theories rather than accepting the whole of the evidence presented. For a theory to be substantially considered, ALL of the evidence must support the theory, not just some of it. To quote the author, “Looking for religion is a near guarantee that one will find it, even if it is not there.” It would seem also that Feminist Matriarchalists have added religion to the mix by suggesting that they have faith in the theories as part of their spiritual belief. As a spiritual belief alone, this may work, but the theory does not stand up to archaeological evidence.

Would I recommend that anyone should read this book? Surely, provided they have a love for history and are capable of abstract thought. It’s a lot of information to take in at one sitting, so I’d recommend allowing a month for yourself to read and reflect.

(word count: 545)

This entry was posted on Sunday, January 17th, 2010 at 3:34 am and is filed under Book Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Leave a Reply