Matriarchal Studies

From Anarchy In Action

by Barbara Alice Mann and Heide Goettner-Abendroth.

Retrieved from [1].

Introduction and Definition

Evidence of matriarchy had always existed in Western chronicles, albeit scattered or hidden amidst other ethnographic tidbits, all of them filtered heavily through the androcentric lens of Christian missionaries or European travelers. Most of these old European sources were either puzzled or horrified by women-led cultures, having had nothing to attach them to but scary stories from Herodotus about the ferocious Amazons as “men-slayers” or the Christian theological depictions of sinful Eve, resulting in the “burning times” (witch hunts). Moving out from Europe in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, especially into Africa and the Americas, home to many matriarchal cultures, was very unsettling to the patriarchal paradigm of Europe. Until quite recently, this culture shock combined with colonialism ensured that scholarship on matriarchy was crafted exclusively by elite, Western scholars, nearly all of them male and coming from nothing remotely resembling a matriarchal culture. Nineteenth-century scholars were all infiltrated by the unilinear, universal evolution theory, as a part of European-American colonialism, sporting racist and sexist roots. These disabilities distorted comprehension of the matriarchal form of society, allowing Western scholars either to dismiss it outright as a fantasy or to portray it crudely, as a wicked, Amazonian domination of men. This background left enduring marks on the scholarship around matriarchy until new interest was piqued among German and American scholars in the nineteenth century, moving thought from the Amazonian conception to the definition of matriarchy as a “mother right.” These scholars remained mired, however, in the racist and sexist premises of European colonialism, well into the twentieth century. As colonial Eurocentrism lifted in the mid- to late-twentieth century, scholars from non-Western, matriarchal cultures worldwide began chiming in on the conversation, in order to revamp old ideas together with Western female scholars. The “maternal values” in matriarchal studies do not indicate Western sentimentalism, but principles formulated by Indigenous, matriarchal societies themselves, in their sayings (e.g.: Minangkabau) and in their social rules (e.g.: Iroquois), based on the prototype of Mother Nature, as conceptualized in mythology, proverbs, songs, etc. Collating all the evidence of non-Western and Western, twenty-first century scholarship, matriarchy is here defined as mother-centered societies, based on maternal values: equality, consensus finding, gift-giving, and peace-building by negotiations. Gift-economies, defined by modern Matriarchal Studies as a transitive relation in closed communities, is a core concept of all matriarchies. The result is a gender-egalitarian society, in which each gender has its own sphere of power and action. All these societies are characterized by matrilinearity, matrilocality, and women as keepers of the land and distributors of food, based on a structured gift economy. As derived from inductive studies of singular matriarchal societies and in collaboration with Indigenous scholars writing on their own communities, the current definition of matriarchy is a mother-centered, gender-egalitarian society that practices the gift economy. Modern matriarchal studies primarily assesses the patterns of those cultures, past and present, in their unique displays of gender egalitarianism and generally social egalitarianism.

Historical Development of Matriarchal Theory

Aside from Herodot was Lafitau 1724 one of the first to describe matriarchy, acting as a prelude and, perhaps, a prod to succeeding theorists, including Adair 1775, who was astounded by “petticoat government.” Committed, academic inquiry into matriarchal societies started with U.S. anthropologist Morgan 1851 in his study of the Iroquois League. Independently of Morgan, the Swiss historian Bachofen 1861 discussed the structure of “mother right.” Morgan 1877 returned to decry Indigenous matriarchies as primitive, with anthropologist Carr 1884 closely describing Iroquoian matriarchy, but with a shudder.

Herodotus. Hrsg. William Below. 2. Ausg. 4 Bde., London: Luke Hansard, 1806.

In discussing the women warriors of the ancient world, Herodotus recounted scary stories about Amazons as self-mutilating “men-slayers” (3: 12), seeding and cementing a long-standing Western resistance to considering the topic. Originally published in Greek, ca. 425.

Lafitau, Joseph-François. Customs of the American Indians Compared with the Customs of Primitive Times. Ed. and trans. William N. Fenton and Elizabeth L. Moore. 2 vols. Toronto: The Champlain Society, 1974.

A Jesuit missionary, Lafitau described daily Iroquoian life, recording that “nothing was more real” than the “superiority” of the women in northeastern North America (1: 69). Comparing Iroquoian matriarchal society to ancient, “classical” texts, led Lafitau to present the matriarchal Iroquois women in terms of the European ancients, starting an unfortunate but long-lasting habit. Originally published in French in 1724.

Adair, James. History of the American Indians. Ed. Samuel Cole Williams. Johnson City, TN: Watauga Press, 1930.

In the process of attempting to “prove” that Native Americans were the “Ten Lost tribes of Israel,” James Adair necessarily encountered the matriarchies of the eastern Woodlands. His shocked characterization of Indigenous matriarchies popularized among settlers his slur of “petticoat government” as a wanton and immoral way to live (Adair, 232). Originally published in 1775.

Morgan, Henry Lewis. League of the Ho-dé-no-saunee or Iroquois. 2 vols. New York: Burt Franklin, 1901.

Heavily advised on Iroquoian culture by renown Seneca chief Häsanoanda (“Ely S. Parker”), Morgan helped found the social science of anthropology with his landmark study of the North American Iroquois League. The League of the Ho-dé-no-saunee study made possible, for the first time, a systematic look into the world of a highly developed, contemporary matriarchal culture. Originally published in 1851.

Bachofen, Johann Jakob. 'Myth, Religion and Mother Right. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1967.

With Das Mutterrecht, or “mother right,” Bachofen worked from classical antiquity, laying the groundwork of the cultural-historical branch of matriarchal research. His significant contribution lay in comprehending his topic as “mother right,” creating a theoretical understanding of its features and development. But his theory remained problematic, shaped by the patriarchy of his own time and place. Originally published in German in 1861.

Carr, Lucien. “On the Social and Political Position of Woman among the Huron-Iroquois Tribes.” Peabody Museum of American Archaeology and Ethnology, Reports 16 & 17, 3.3–4 (1884), 207–32.

Carr described to denounce Iroquoian matriarchy. Declaring the system a “pure mockery of the man's helplessness,” Carr lamented that, “From the cradle to the grave, there was never a time when the Iroquoian man was not subject to some woman” (Carr, 222–23). His review of the powers, rights, and duties of the Clan Mothers nevertheless described a functioning matriarchy.

Western Feminist Usage of Matriarchy

Indigenous matriarchies became Exhibit One of Western feminists, including Fletcher 1888 and Wagner 2001.

Fletcher, Alice. “The Legal Conditions of Indian Women.” In Report of the International Council of Women. Washington, D.C.: Rufus H. Darby, 1888, 237–41.

Fletcher upended racist stereotypes in her report on traditional Native American women's strengths. The Seneca Falls feminists appreciated the political powers of Clan Mothers, but failed to grasp the economic, spiritual, and social aspects of matriarchy.

Wagner, Sally Roesch. Sisters in Spirit: Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Influence on Early American Feminists. Summertown, TN: Native Voices, 2001.

Wagner's history of the Seneca Falls and nineteenth-century U.S. feminist movement examines its appreciation, appropriation, and illustrative use of the contemporary Iroquoian matriarchy in demanding social, political, and economic rights for Euro-American women.

Marxist Use of Matriarchy

Marxists, especially Engels 1884 in the nineteenth century and Reed 1975 in the twentieth century, turned the existence of matriarchy into the earliest stage of the stages of Marxist history, as delineated economically.

Engels, Friedrich. The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State. New York: Penguin Classics, 2010.

Using Marx's notes, post-mortem, as well as his own, Engels argued that control over private property enabled men to overthrow matriarchy to seize control of the home, formerly a female domain. Not only a social institution, monogamy also had an economic basis, rooted in the patriarchal victory of private property over matriarchal, communal property. Originally published in German in 1884.

Reed, Evelyn. Woman's Evolution: From Matriarchal Clan to Patriarchal Family. New York: Pathfinder Press, 1975.

Reed argued that all culture had sprouted from the mother-child relationship. In the process, she biologized matriarchy, re-presenting many Engelian arguments. Because she was a Marxist, her representation of matriarchy was confined to Marxist preconceptions.

Rightist Usage of Matriarchy

Rightists recognized but scorned matriarchies, politically, racially, sexually, and psychologically. Returning to the topic, Morgan 1877 now scorned matriarchy as residing in the lower levels of cultural development, while Powell 1897 confined it outright to “savagery.” With Sigmund Freud famously claiming that “anatomy” was “destiny” (and Freud was quoting Napoleon), it became popular to view matriarchy as physiologically based, as in Briffault 1927, so that Western biases about “savagery” and physiological dismissal of women continued to define the analysis of matriarchy into the twentieth century.

Morgan, Henry Lewis. Ancient Society, or Researches in the Lines of Human Progress from Savagery through Barbarism to Civilization. Chicago: Charles Kerr & Company, 1877.

Morgan's problematic work constructed a unilineal, stages-of-history theory (savagery→barbarian→civilization), a form very popular among European theorists in the nineteenth century. His strict and universal theory of cultural evolution lurched forward through set steps, culminating in patriarchy, with Morgan categorizing matriarchy as “barbarian,” and necessarily also primitive, stage. This heavy interpretive framework was to prevail in Western culture over the next century.

Powell, John Wesley. “Report of the Director.” Fifteenth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology to the Smithsonian Institution, 1893–'94. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1897, xvii–cxxi.

Director of the U.S. Bureau of Ethnology, Powell's annual report recognized that matriarchy existed, but (following Morgan) admitted its presence only at the most “primitive” levels of culture. He asserted that matriarchy was properly replaced by patriarchy as the supposed advancement, the step before “civilization”, following the racist-sexist schema of then-Western science (Powell, civ–cv).

Briffault, Robert. The Mothers: A Study of the Origins of Sentiments and Institutions. 3 vols. 1927. New York: Johnson Reprint Corporation, 1996.

Briffault traced all basic patterns of social behavior and institutions back to the instinctual conduct that he supposed was characteristic of female, rather than of male, actors. A fundamental female influence, based on motherhood, was incomprehensible in regard to patriarchal societies, so Briffault concluded that development of large-scale social institutions was matriarchal in their early stages, but has to be understood as preliminary, not final.

Modern Development of Matriarchal Theory

At this point in the discussion, no scientific or agreed-upon definition of the matriarchal form of society existed beyond Bachofen’s vague “mother right,” nor did examinations consider the independent structures, mechanisms, or functions of female leadership by category. Instead, researchers presented what were often denigrations of female-led culture, expressing little more than their personal levels of culture-shock and denial. Alternatively, matriarchy was used for European polemics. This absence of scientific rigor opened up the door to emotional and ideological entanglements, constituting a burden on this field of research that only lifted in the 1990s.

Mid-Twentieth-Century Development of Matriarchal Theory

Diop 1959 created a significant definition of African matriarchy, but without recognition in Western discourse. The seminal work of archaeologist Marija Gimbutas 1989, 1991 shook loose the encrustation around Western mindsets but without contributing any new definition of matriarchy. Adler 1982, O'Brien and Tiffany 1984, and Eisler 1987 attempted some definition.

Diop, Cheikh Anta. The Cultural Unity of Black Africa. Trenton, NJ: Karnak House Publ. 2000.

Creating a substantial definition of African mother-centered societies, the Senegalese historian Diop argued that Africa's cultures, continent-wide, had matriarchal roots going back to the earliest times. He argued that Africa's matriarchal roots formed the source of the unity among African cultures, although colonization by Arabs and Europeans had obscured this unity, engendering cultural heterogeneity. However, former internal African transformations are omitted by him. Originally published in French in 1959.

Gimbutas, Marija. The Language of the Goddess: Unearthing the Hidden Symbols of Western Civilization, San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1989.

Gimbutas referred to the 30,000 female statuettes, usually glossed as “idols,” as goddess figurines, seeing them as symbols of ancient beliefs and social practice. However, she explicitly labelled the social and religious orders of these early cultures “matristic” and did not contribute to a new definition of the term “matriarchy.” (See also below, “Studies of Historical Matriarchal Societies, Mythology.”)

Gimbutas, Marija. The Civilization of the Goddess: The World of Old Europe. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991.

Tracing women's social significance from Palaeolithic through the Neolithic, Gimbutas argued that women had held the rank of priestess in cultures venerating a variety of goddesses. In a broad overview, she documented the rich, urban cultures of Old Europe in the diverse cultural regions from the Danube valley to North Europe, labelling them “matristic,” or mother-centered, and additionally, created the “Kurgan theory” as a theroy of the rise of patriarchy in Europe. (See also below, “Studies of Historical Matriarchal Societies, Archaeology.”)

Adler, Margot. “Meanings of Matriarchy.” In Charlene Spretnak, ed. The Politics of Women's Spirituality: Essays on the Rise of Spiritual Power within the Feminist Movement. Garden City, NY: Achor Books, 1982, 127–37.

Adler summarized matriarchal studies, to date, without breaking new ground. She did offer at starting point for late-twentieth-century Western feminists, however.

O'Brien, Denise, and Sharon W. Tiffany, eds. Rethinking Women's Roles: Perspectives from the Pacific. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1984.

An anthology, Rethinking criticized anthropology's then-male-dominated perspective while showing that female anthropologists had had an easier time than men in making contact with women of Indigenous cultures, hinting that much had, thereby, been omitted from the story of culture. Since the anthology's authors all came from different perspectives, however, they offered divergent and not necessarily compatible conclusions on matriarchy.

Eisler Riane. The Chalice and the Blade. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987.

A cultural historian and theorist, Eisler tried to upend the patriarchal imprint on the field of social and cultural history by applying her new terms, “andocracy” and “gylany,” to disrupt any lingering rubrics of male superiority vs. female inferiority that might have been distorting perception (Eisler, vii, 105). But her starting point was without any lasting effect on terminology, as “Matriarchy” remained the preferred term in the debate.

Modern Development of Matriarchal Theory

Modern, systematic definitions of matriarchy were established, independently of one another, by Goettner-Abendroth 2012 (starting 1988), Sanday 2002, and Mann 2000, with Vaughan 1997 defining the gift economy, since offered by Mann in workshop in Italy, 2005, as the common feature of all matriarchies. By this point, modern Matriarchal Studies was taking off as a discrete field of study with its own methodology and critical scholarly standards. It was presented to a broad public in conferences, at World Congresses on Matriarchal Studies, in 2003 and 2005, as anthologized by Goettner-Abendroth 2009. A third Congress on Matriarchal Studies and Matriarchal Politics followed in 2011.

Goettner-Abendroth, Heide. Matriarchal Societies: Studies on Indigenous Cultures across the Globe. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2012/2013 (Origially in German 1988, 1991, 2000).

German philosopher of science Goettner-Abendroth founded modern Matriarchal Studies in 1988. She articulated a systematic, comprehensive definition of “matriarchy”, and by using an explicit methodology and a thorough critique of ideologies she gave the field a scientific base. From her long-time, cross-cultural research she inductively identified the “deep structure” of the matriarchal form of society: gender- egalitarian and consensus-oriented; manifesting maternal values in matrilinearity and matrilocality; and gift-giving food distribution. In her rich work, recent and still extant societies of this type are presented.

Sanday, Peggy Reeves. Female Power and Male Dominance: On the Origins of Sexual Inequality. 1981. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Sanday's large-scale, cross-cultural study of Indigenous societies disputed the dominant and then-popular argument even among feminists of universal female subordination. She argued instead that male dominance had come about as a solution to various kinds of cultural strains. She showed the full range of variation between male and female power roles and developed a theoretical framework for explaining this variation.

Sanday, Peggy Reeves. Women at the Center: Life in a Modern Matriarchy. Ithaca-New York: Cornell University Press, 2002.

Sanday began to develop an adequate definition of matriarchy from field work based on her observations of the Indigenous society of the Minangkabau in Sumatra (as discussed further in the section, Pacific Islands, below).

Vaughan, Genevieve. For-Giving, a Feminist Criticism of Exchange. Austin: Plain View and Anomaly Press, 1997.

In her provocative look at the connection between economics, mothering and language, Vaughan saw the gift economy as arising from the prototype of a mother's nurturance, as an economic and socio-cultural, not a biological, function. She posited that gift-giving permeates the whole of society lifelong, as a hidden economy that is exploited and fed on by the Western capitalist exchange economy.

Mann, Barbara Alice. Iroquoian Women: The Gantowisas. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2000.

Indigenous Ohio Seneca Mann analysed the cultural history of the Iroquois and explicitly labelled the cultural type as “matriarchy” (63), describing its characteristics as expressed in the political, social, economic, and spiritual realms of culture, paving the way toward a full definition of matriarchy, independently of Sanday and Goettner-Abendroth. (See, also, Mann in “The Americas, North America, the Iroquois.”)

Goettner-Abendroth, Heide (ed.). Societies of Peace: Matriarchies Past, Present and Future. Toronto: Inanna Press, York University, 2009.

Goettner-Abendroth edited the proceeding papers of two World Congresses on Matriarchal Studies, which she organized and guided, 2003 in Luxembourg and 2005 in Texas. The proceedings include the work of indigenous researchers commenting on their own matriarchal cultures in the Americas, in Africa, and in Asia. Published in German in 2006: Gesellschaft in Balance, Stuttgart: Kohlhammer Verlag. The 2011 Congress papers were published on the internet:

Studies of Recent and Extant Matriarchal Societies

Functioning, matriarchal societies presently exist or once existed on all the continents. Not all of the works cited below refer directly to matriarchal patterns, but they all contributed valuable studies since used by this field of research. Besides the research of Western scholars, Indigenous researchers have started to investigate their own cultures, allowing an awareness of matriarchal patterns as undistorted as possible by colonial assumptions.


Modern paleontology and archeology see all humanity as coming out of Africa, with the oldest forms of human culture therefore arising on that continent. Because of European colonialism and racism, however, it was not until the mid-1950s that Africans, themselves, began to gain a voice in discussions of African culture, with Diop 1959 (discussed above) entering importantly into the conversation.

Central Africa

Richards produced two foundational works on the Bantu-speaking, matriarchal peoples, particularly the Bemba 1950, 1956, while Lebeuf 1963 analyzed the socio-political equilibrium of African queendoms, which for her time constituted revolutionary insights about the political power of African women. Mair followed on African marriage 1969, while Poewe 1981 looked at matrilineage as social structure. Sweetman's study 1984 presented a considerable number of African queendoms.

Richards, Audrey I. “Some Types of Family Structure among the Central Bantu.” In Alfred Reginald Radcliff-Brown and Daryll Forde, eds. African Systems of Kinship and Marriage. London: Oxford University Press, 1950, 207–251.

Richards analyzed familial patterns among the Bemba people, which together with the neighbouring Luapula people, shared a common pride in a glorious history of the once-powerful queendoms of the area. But, given the prejudices of her day, she did not directly identify their historical queendoms as matriarchal. Although many Indigenous structures were damaged by colonialism, the matriarchal patterns remained.

Richards, Audrey I. Chisungu: A Girl's Initiation Ceremony among the Bemba of Northern Rhodesia. London: Routledge, 1956. <b;ockquote> Chisungu laid out what Richards identified as the most important festival in Bemban extended families and villages, a girl's initiation into adulthood. The ceremony stood in the context of the cult of female and male ancestors, as it had in each society of this type. Again, she did not directly identify the structures as matriarchal.

Lebeuf, Annie. “ The Role of Women in the Political Organization of African Societies.” In Denise Paulme, ed. Women of Tropical Africa. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1963, 93–119.

Annie Lebeuf analyzed the different types of female-male double regency in the African queendoms 1963, forcefully showing that both heads of the realm exercised power in a complementary way, maintaining equilibrium in all spheres of their actions.

Mair, Lucy Ph. African Marriage and Social Change. London: Frank Cass and Co., 1969.

The problematic study of African marriage by Lucy Mair 1969 was unfortunately influenced by Claude Levi-Strauss's theory, in which women lacked any sphere of action of their own, being nothing more than objects of economic exchange between men. Because of her generalization using Levi-Strauss's unsubstantiated theories, Mair's non-cooperating material presented confusing and contradictory assertions about women's roles.

Poewe, Karla O. Matrilineal Ideology: Male-Female Dynamics in Luapula, Zambia. London-New York: Academic Press, 1981.

Poewe jettisoned the anthropological fiction of universal male dominance that had so disturbed Mair's work. Using the example of the Luapula people, she showed that matrilinearity was not only a line of inheritance but also the structure of an entire social system. Nevertheless still commodating Western anthropology's discomfort with the word “matriarchy,” Poewe termed this social form “sexual parallelism.”

Sweetman, David. Women Leaders in African History. London-Ibadan-Nairobi: Heinemann, 1984.

In this well documented book, Sweetman gave an overview of the various queendoms of Africa, presenting them as permanent institutions and demonstrating that they were found all over sub-Saharan Africa, from West to East Africa, down to Central Africa, and even reaching all the way to South Africa. He showed that, in many cases, African queen-mothers had resisted colonial conquest.

North Africa

A pioneering study by Laoust-Chantréaux 1937-1939 examined the lives of Berber women, followed by Marcy 1941 on remnants of matrilinearity among the Berber. The Tuareg Berber formed the topic for two studies from Claudot-Hawad 1984 focusing on mythology in the first and politics in the second, as sources of women's power. Referring to the Berber symbology, Servier 1985 wrote a classic about the traditional religion, ceremonies and customs of the Berber people, with much attention on women. An excellent source on Kabyle Berber women are the two works by Makilam both 2007, herself Kabyle Berber.

Laoust-Chantréaux, Germaine. Kabylie coté femmes: la vie féminine à Aït Hichem, 1937–1939. Aix-en-Provence, France: Edisud, 1990.

This pioneering study performed in the late 1930s examined the lives of Berber women in the Kabyle. Laoust-Chantréaux researched at a time before great cultural disturbance, enabling her to discover much about women's traditional lives. Unfortunately, her study was not well known until published as Kabylie coté femme (meaning “the female side of Kabylie life at Aït Hichem ”).

Marcy, Georges. “ Les vestiges de la parenté maternelle en droit coutumier Berbère.” Revue Africaine 85 (1941): 187–211.

Marcy's study “ Les vestiges de la parenté maternelle ” (meaning, “traces of the matrilineage”) identified many remnants of an early matrilinearity among the Berber. It thereby contradicted the many early studies, which had typically presented the Berber as purely patrilineal.

Claudot-Hawad, Hélène. “Femme Idéale et Femme Sociale chez les Touaregs de l'Ahaggar.” In Production pastorale et société 14 (1984), 93–105.

Anthropologist Claudot-Hawad produced “ Femme ” (meaning “Woman, Ideal and Social, among the Tuaregs of the Ahaggar”) on the high status of women among the Saharan Tuareg of southern Morocco and Algeria, demonstrating the mythological, sexual and social roles of Tuareg women in stabilizing the nomadic culture.

Servier, Jean. Tradition et Civilisation Berbères: Les Portes de l'Année. Monaco: Du Rocher, 1985.

Ethnologist Jean Servier's work (whose title means “Berber Tradition and Civilization”) is a classic on the traditional religion, ceremonies, and customs of the Berber peoples, touching on many aspects of women's lives as peasants. This richly documented study references the symbology of the Berber, including an attentive and careful look at the women's elaborate decorations of their homes.

Makilam. The Magical Life of Berber Women in Kabylia. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2007.

Here, indigenous Kabyle author Makilam presented traditions of crafts of the Kabyle women, such as pottery-making and weaving, both regarded as magical, lending women a significant role in traditional religion. She emphasized the pre-eminent roles of women, as defined by the Kabyle. The study confirmed that a special kind of matrilinearity existed and still exists among the Berber peoples, and Makilam explicitly placed her culture in a matriarchal context.

Makilam. Symbols and Magic in the Arts of Kabyle Women. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2007.

Published simultaneously with Magical Life, Kabyle Makilam focused here on the the stages of life of women and again showed their intrinsic connexion with magic and religion and the unity of the ritualized lives of Kabyle women in the traditional society.

West Africa

A tremendous amount of attention has been focused on West African matriarchal cultures.

Early West African Matriarchal Studies

The medieval Muslim historian, al-Hasan ibn Muhammad al-Wazzan al-Fasi 1550, remains a vital historical benchmark on western African cultures. Not until the early twentieth century was serious work undertaken on matriarchy in West Africa. Rattray 1923 and 1932 described the matrilineal Akan/Ashanti, around the same time that Bernatzik 1933 offered a traveller's report on the “mother right” of Bissagos Islanders. Meyerowitz 1951, 1952 began her series of six crucial studies of the Akan of the “Ivory” and “Gold Coasts,” albeit without uttering the word “matriarchy” specifically to describe the Akan society.

Africanus, Leo [al-Hasan ibn Muhammad al-Wazzan al-Fasi]. The History and Description of Africa. 3 vols. 1550. London: Hakluyt Society, 1896.

The glories of the sixteenth-century cultural centers of Timbuktu and Jenné in West Africa still go largely ignored by Western scholars. Nevertheless, al-Hasan al-Wazzan records remain a vital primary resource, including accounts of important Ashanti states since seriously impacted by colonial invasion.

Rattray, Robert S. Ashanti. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1923.

Scholarly work on the matrilineal Ashanti, a subgroup of the Akan peoples of west Africa, was begun by Rattray. Although an old work from a one-sided, Western male perspective, Ashanti richly documented the matrilineal Ashanti culture of the Ghanese coast.

Rattray, Robert S. The Tribes of the Ashanti Hinterland. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1932.

Continuing his focus on the Ashanti, Rattray considered the fragmented groups of the tribes of Ghana's interior. Examining their matrilinearity, sacred kingship, and Akan languages, Rattray identified the remaining structural elements of the once-rich Bono-Mansu realm. Using dated terminology, such as “primitive,” he seemed unaware of the area's illustrious history or that the culture had been seriously eroded by internecine warfare and following colonialism.

Bernatzik, Hugo Aldoph. Geheimnisvolle Inseln der Tropen Afrikas: Frauenstaat und Mutterrecht der Bidyogo. Berlin-Wien: Deutsche Buch-Gemeinschaft, 1933.

Bernatzik offered a traveller's report (whose title translates as, “Mysterious Islands in the Tropics of Africa: Women's State and Mother Right of the Bidyogo”), describing the people of the Bissagos Islands on the coats of Guinea-Bissau. He recalled witnessing social patterns, which he described on the basis of the Bachofenian concept of “mother right.”

Meyerowitz, Eva Levine-Richter. The Sacred State of the Akan. London: Faber and Faber, 1951.

Meyerowitz incorporated Indigenous oral tradition in her study of the gold craft, the mythology, and queenly statescraft of the Akan people of the so-called “Gold Coast” of Africa, revealing the matriarchal patterns and glorious history of the Akan queendoms. The queen-mother was held to have been the founder and owner of the state.

Meyerowitz, Eva Levine-Richter. The Akan Traditions of Origin. London: Faber and Faber, 1952.

Publishing at a time when Indigenous peoples' oral histories of themselves were slighted or scorned by Western scholars, Meyerowitz made bold in this volume to take the people seriously on the subject of themselves. She reviewed their praise-chants, family genealogies, sagas and traditions of war, as well as their stories of descent from heroes in mythical times and of the original ascent from underground to aboveground.

Modern West African Matriarchal Studies

Meyerowitz 1958, 1960, 1962, and 1974 finished the last four of her six important anthropological volumes on the matriarchal Akan of the “Ivory” and “Gold Coasts,” although—p erhaps because she was writing in the mid-twentieth century— never directly identifying the culture as “matriarchal”. Nigerian scholar Amadiume 1987 emphasised matriarchal patterns of western Africa. Responding to Diop, Amadiume 1989 reprised yet softened his classic theory, making room for Islam. She was followed by Ghanese scholar Donkoh 2009, demonstrating traditional female state's leadership among the Ashanti/Asante.

Meyerowitz, Eva Levine-Richter. The Akan of Ghana: Their Ancient Beliefs. London: Faber and Faber, 1958.

In this volume, Meyerowitz concentrated on the early realms of the Akan world, much of her information deriving from valuable oral sources dating back to the 1940s. This time working from the Brong country of the northwestern Akan, she further explored the structure of the queendom in the four “cult phases” of it that she claimed to have found.

Meyerowitz, Eva Levine-Richter. The Divine Kingship in Ghana and Ancient Egypt. London: Faber and Faber, 1960.

In this volume, Meyerowitz considered the connections between the Akan concept of kingship and that of ancient Egypt, spying vestiges of ancient Central African concepts in ancient Egyptian practices and suggesting that the Akan had originated in Ethiopia, among other eastern realms.

Meyerowitz, Eva Levine-Richter. At the Court of an African King. London: Faber and Faber, 1962.

Again leaning on oral traditions, Meyerowitz depended upon high-ranking officials to act as her “informants,” including the then-sacred king of Bono-Tekyiman and publishing invaluable and rare pictures of the people in the 1940s. She documented thirty-six office-holders.

Meyerowitz, Eva Levine-Richter. The Early History of the Akan States of Ghana. London: Red Candle Press, 1974.

Citing al-Wazzan al-Fasi among her sources, Meyerowitz returned for the last time to the Akan queen states. At the time, hers was the only history specifically focusing on the Akan. Sustaining backlash in the mid-twentieth century for her use of oral tradition and for, generally, upsetting the applecart of Western lore, her later works were mostly ignored until recently.

Amadiume, Ifi. “Cheikh Anta Diop's Theory of Matriarchal Values as the Basis for African Cultural Unity.” Introduction. The Cultural Unity of Black Africa: The Domains of Matriarchy and Patriarchy in Classical Antiquity. London: Karnak House, 1989.

Nigerian scholar Amadiume appreciated Diop's theory, but looked to temper his critique of the invasions of Africa by hinting that the prehistoric cultures of Africa were not exclusively matriarchal, but that patriarchal patterns had also developed as an African impulse.

Amadiume, Ifi. African Matriarchal Foundations: The Case of the Igbo Societies, 1987. London: Karnak House, 1995.

Here, Amadiume emphasised the matriarchal patterns of West Africa by presenting her own people. As exemplified by the Yoruba, Igbo, and other West Africans, she showed that, in spite of patriarchalization and Islamification, the women still control the markets and rule the female sphere. Expressed in various ways, the matriarchal roots of these societies can still be felt.

Donkoh, Wilhelmina J. “Female Leadership among the Asante.” In H. Goettner-Abendroth, ed. Societies of Peace: Matriarchies Past, Present and Future. Toronto, Inannna Press, 2009, 117-128.

Demonstrating that female leadership among the Ashanti was not exceptional, but typical, due to the double female-male reign of the Akan/Ashanti states, Ghanese scholar Donkoh, showed the tradition of age-old and continuous female leadership among the Akan/Ashanti (Asante). In their queendoms, each Ashanti state in the past had had a female-male reign by the queen-mother and the sacred king.

The Americas

Central, North, and South America have long been havens of matriarchal cultures, which puzzled or outraged the Europeans recording it, depending on their level of cultural flexibility. Toward the end of the twentieth century, besides increasingly serious and reliable studies from Western scholars, Indigenous American scholars began offering studies of their own cultures.

Central America

In the mid- to late-twentieth century, as matriarchy was being taken seriously, as opposed to sustaining cat-calls, a number of interesting studies of Central American matriarchies were performed. Keeler 1956 focused on the matriarchal Kuna (“Cuna”), but he 1960 made an unfortunate cross-cultural comparison in his second book. Howe 1978 offered a sturdy look at matriarchal control of Kuna chiefs by their people. Chiñas 1987 did not quite claim matriarchy for Juchitán, settling for “matrifocality.” Bennholdt-Thomsen 1992 argued for the central economic role of women in Juchitán, and in 1994, analyzed this society in light of modern Matriarchal Studies. Bennholdt-Thomsen, Suhan, and Müser 2000 returned to the economy of Juchitán, defining it in light of the gift economy of Juchitán's festivals. Moeschk- Olowaili 2009 reinterpreted the Kuna using the modern definition of matriarchy.

Keeler, Clyde Edgar. Land of the Moon-Children. 1956, reprint. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2010.

Keeler boldly described the Kuna people of Central America as a “primitive matriarchy” (7), noting the role of the mother as final arbiter and power in the family.

Keeler, Clyde Edgar. Secrets of the Cuna Earthmother:A Comparative Study of Ancient Religions. New York: Exposition Press, 1960.

Continuing his theme, Keeler brought out this comprehensive study of Kuna religion, arts, and social life. However, he offered a fraught line of thought in his comparison of the Kuna culture to unrelated Middle Eastern cultures, while, as a personalized account, his study displayed all the foibles of such an approach.

Howe, James. “How the Cuna Keep Their Chiefs in Line.” MAN 13 (1978), 537–53.

Using a more academic approach than Keeler in this unsensationalized view of Kuna women's power, Howe's article studied the matriarchal control of Kuna chiefs by their people, describing a sophisticated and intentional matriarchal structure behind the Kuna's egalitarian system.

Chiñas, Beverly L. Matrifocality: The Essence of Isthmus Zapotec Culture. Chico, CA: Dept. of Anthropology, California State University at Chico, 1987.

Chiñas again attempted to define the social form of Juchitàn, this time by dubbing it “matrifocality,” but her new definition remained shaky due to her continued reliance on outdated terminology and Western analyses.

Bennholdt-Thomsen, Veronika. “Die Würde der Frau ist der Reichtum von Juchitán: Kulturelle Barrieren gegen die Verarmung durch Entwicklung.” In J. Möller, ed. Das Ei des Kolumbus? Bielefeld: Reihe AMBOS, no. 31, 1992, 88–100.

German ethnologist Bennholdt-Thomsen stepped into the discussion from a matriarchal perspective. In “ Die Würde ” (translating as, “The Dignity of Women is the Wealth of Juchitàn”), she showed the central role of women in resisting the impoverishment of the so-called “Third World” by forced capitalist development.

Bennholdt-Thomsen, Veronika. Juchitàn Stadt der Frauen. Vom Leben im Matriarchat, Reinbek bei Hamburg 1994, Verlag Rowohlt (meaning: Juchitàn, City of Women. Life in a Matriarchy)

Bennholdt-Thomsen provided an insightful analysis of the society of Juchitàn, reinterpreting its economic and social organization of women in light of the gift economy and modern Matriarchal Studies, showing the reciprocal economy, a mixture of men's agrarian labor, women's locally markets, and gift-giving during festivals. The gift economy is described by her as the engine of this wealth-creating economy.

Bennholdt-Thomsen, Veronika, Cornelia Suhan, and Mechthild Müser, eds. FrauenWirtschaft: Juchitàn – Mexikos Stadt der Frauen. Munich: Frederking & Thaler, 2000.

In FrauenWirtschaft (meaning, “The Women's Economy”), co- edited with Suhan and Müser, the authors illuminated the essential role of women in Juchitàn's intentionally independent subsistence economy. Additionally, they investigated the conception and practice of “gender,” in its variety of ways of life in Juchitàn.

Olowaili, Antje Moeschk. “Goldmother Bore Human Children into the World: The Culture of the Kuna.” In H. Goettner-Abendroth, ed. Societies of Peace. Toronto: Inanna Publications, 2009, 80 − 91.

German Moeschk-Olowaili gave a traveller report on the Kuna, in which she reinterpreted Kuna culture in a modern, matriarchal context.

North America

The many matriarchies of the Native North America have been variously examined in the last century, with four primary groups garnering attention below: the Iroquois, Cherokee, Choctaw, and Pueblos.

The Iroquois

The Iroquois have formed a favorite topic of matriarchal studies since Morgan's 1851 look at the Iroquois (see “History,” above). The Tuscarora linguist and ethnologist Hewitt 1915, 1927, 1933 included the female interface in Iroquoian government in the three works pertinent here. Seneca anthropologist Parker 1916 dealt with women within the structure of the League. Kurath examined women's dance ceremony, while Brown 1975 considered the impact of their economic power on their status. Mann and Fields 1997 included women's centrality in the founding of the League, while Mann 2000, 2010 severally examined the sources of Iroquoian women's traditional authority.

Hewitt, John Napoleon Brinton. “Some Esoteric Aspects of the League of the Iroquois.” Proceedings of the International Congress of Americanists 19 (1915), 322–26.

Grasping the traditional interface of the twinned cosmos in the rich and complex worldview of the Iroquois, Tuscarora scholar Hewitt referred to its replication in the “Mother” and “Father” sides of the League (325).

Hewitt, John Napoleon Brinton. “Ethnological Studies among the Iroquois Indians.” Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections 78 (1927), 234–47.

Tuscarora scholar Hewitt again explicitly discussed the “Mother” and “Father” sides of the League (240–41).

Hewitt, J. N. B. “Status of Woman in Iroquois Polity before 1784.” Annual Report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution for 1932. Washington, D.C.: 1933, 475–88.

Hewitt examined here the traditional role of women, before the disempowerment of the League by the American Revolution and the attacks following the establishment of the U.S.

Parker, Arthur C. The Constitution of the Five Natives or the Iroquois Book of the Great Law. Albany: The University of the State of New York, 1916.

Parker's Constitution is, perhaps, the best-known, and certainly the most accessible version of the Constitution of the Iroquois. A Seneca scholar, Parker listed the all-important women's portion of ancient League law, “Clans and Consanguinity,” sections 42–54, which recognized that the women, alone, possessed the land, giving them sole economic control, while outlining their jurisdiction over governmental positions.

Kurath, Gertrude. “Matriarchal Dances of the Iroquois.” International Congress of Americanist's Proceedings, no. 29, vol. 3. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1952, 123–30.

In this paper, Kurath looked at the way women's ceremonial dances reflected and supported their high cultural prestige.

Brown, Judith K. “Iroquois Women, An Ethnohistoric Note.” In Rayna R. Reiter, ed. Toward an Anthropology of Women. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1975, 235–51.

In this article, Brown surveyed economics as the key to Iroquoian women's high cultural standing.

Mann, Barbara Alice, and Jerry L. Fields. “A Sign in the Sky: Dating the League of the Haudenosaunee.” American Indian Culture and Research Journal 21.2 (1997), 105–63.

The Ohio Seneca scholar Mann shows that the Iroquoian matriarchal structure was seeded by the Head Clan Mother, Jigonsaseh, one of the three founders of the Iroquois League in 1142 C.E., particularly in connection with her insistence on the use of an agricultural subsistence base of corn.

Mann, Barbara Alice. Iroquoian Women: The Gantowisas. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2000.

In Iroquoian Women, now considered a classic, the historian and Ohio Seneca Mann gathered up every possible source, for her lavish definition of Iroquoian matriarchy. Using Indigenous traditions as well as written documentation to present an Indigenous view of Iroquoian women at the social, political, economic, and religious levels of traditional society, she corrected the on-going misinformation about Iroquoian society.

Mann, Barbara Alice. Spirits of Blood, Spirits of Breath. The Twinned Cosmos of Indigenous America. Oxford U.S.: Oxford Univeritsy Press, 2016.

Here, the Ohio Seneca scholar Mann presented a traditional view of the Native North Americans' rich twinned cosmology, composed of the female and male halves, from which women derived their high status, as keepers of the “blood” or “water” half.

The Cherokee

Cherokee author Awiatka 1993 looked at women's traditions, while Purdue 1998 and Carney 2001, 2005 looked at the functions of the Beloved and War Women.

Awiakta, Marilu. Selu: Seeking the Corn Mother's Wisdom. Aurora, CO: Fulcrum Publishing, 1993.

In 1993, Marilou Awaitka offered an insightful presentation of the female-friendly and eco-friendly development of Cherokee cultural philosophy. Awaitka, herself Cherokee, examined the cultural content traditions of the female cultural first-mover of Cherokee tradition, Selu. She was able to trace out their impact on Cherokee philosophy.

Purdue, Theda. Cherokee Women: Gender and Culture Change, 1700–1835. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1998.

One of the best historical discussions of the woodlands Cherokee women came from Purdue in this work. Carefully distinguishing between the Cherokee elites and the ordinary people, she showed that traditional women retained many of their original roles and rights, despite invasion, removal, and attempts by white settlers to force Christianity on the Cherokee.

Carney, Virginia Moore. “Woman Is the Mother of All: Nanye'hi and Kitteuha: War Women of the Cherokee.” In Barbara Alice Mann, ed. Native American Speakers of the Eastern Woodlands: Selected Speeches and Critical Analyses. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2001, 123–44.

The historian Carney, herself Cherokee, discussed the duties and rights of women of the traditional Cherokee, here looking at the centrality of War Women in their duties as speakers to the settlers.

Carney, Virginia Moore. Eastern Band Cherokee Women: Cultural Persistence in Their Letters and Speeches. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2005.

Cherokee scholar Carney gathered up three centuries worth of significant letters, speeches, and other writings of female Cherokee leaders, demonstrating their centrality to the cultural and political survival of their people.

The Choctaw

Eggan 1937, 1966 sought for the inception of Choctaw matrilineage. Choctaw authors McGowan 2001 and Pensatubbee 2005 examined colonial damage to this culture.

Eggan, Fred. “Historical Changes in the Choctaw Kinship System.” American Anthropologist 39 (1937), 34–52.

Eggan attempted to identify the derivation of the Choctaw matrilineal systems in this article.

Eggan, Fred. “The Choctaw and Their Neighbors in the Southeast: Acculturation under Pressure.” In Fred Eggan, ed. The American Indian. Chicago: Aldine Publishing, 1966, 15–44.

Eggan looked at the forcible changes to Choctaw culture, including matrilineage.

McGowan, Kay Givens. “Weeping for the Lost Matriarchy.” In Barbara Alice Mann, ed. Native American Speakers of the Eastern Woodlands: Selected Speeches and Critical Analyses. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2001, 53–68.

A Choctaw, McGowan traced th e settler devastation of the Choctaw matriarchy, from invasion into the present. She looked at the despoliation of the once-strong Choctaw matriarchy by forced patriarchal assimilation imposed by the U.S., assessing the poverty that replaced the former plenty.

Pensatubbee, Michelene E. Choctaw Women in a Chaotic World: The Clash of Cultures in the Colonial Southeast. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2005.

Indigenous scholar Pensatubbee traced the impacts of colonialism on Choctaw women's roles.

The Pueblos

Looking at the southwest were Parsons 1939 and Benedict 1969 on the Pueblo peoples, with Benedict particularly examining the Zuñi. For the first time, Titiev 1944 focused on the important women's roles in Hopi Kachina rituals, while Waters 1966 collated traditional Hopi stories, and Washburn 1980 looked especially at Hopi social organization and arts. Laguna Pueblo scholar Gunn Allen 1986 provided a sumptuous and unapologetic examination of southwestern women's spirituality.

Parsons, Elsie Worthington Clews. Pueblo Indian Religion. 2 vols. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1939.

Since matriarchy as a concept was still being defended, not defined, Elsie Parsons urged in 1939 that none of the perceived male supremacy in Pueblo cultures existed other than in the wish-fulfilling stories told by the men (40–41).

Titiev, Mischa. Old Oraibi. A Study of the Hopi Indians of Third Mesa. Cambridge, Mass.: Peabody Museum of American Archaeology and Ethnology, 1944.

Titiev reported that Hopi life was shaped by ceremonies, giving a detailed overview of the seasonal ceremonies of the Kachina cult, noting that all life-cycle feasts were carried out exclusively by women in the home, with men not present, a fact missed by earlier ethnologists, men, themselves, focusing on other men. Titiev also gave some valuable insights into the women's ceremonies.

Waters, Frank. Book of the Hopi. New York: The Viking Press, 1963.

Waters offered rich material in his source book on the myths, legends, ceremonial festivals, and history of the Hopi, as gleaned from the reports of thirty traditional leaders, including women, thus providing perspectives missing from standard, male-only reports.

Benedict, Ruth. Zuni Mythology. 1935. New York: AMS Press, 1969.

Anthropologist Benedict closely looked at the matriarchal Zu ñ i people and offered one of the first comprehensive studies on Pueblo mythology, astounding some readers by reporting, among other things, that murder was unheard-of and that peace was the set-point of the culture.

Washburn, Dorothee K., ed. Hopi Kachina. Spirit of Life. San Francisco: California Academy of Sciences/The University of Washington Press, 1980.

Washburn's anthology provided a condensed overview of Hopi history, arts, crafts, and social organization, including as they touched women. Although all Western studies of Kachina lore remained hampered by the one-sided view stressing men's activities, Washburn included photos of traditional Hopi life, giving some indications of the long-ignored women's roles.

Allen, Paula Gunn. The Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Traditions. Boston: Beacon Press, 1986.

The most important recovery of Pueblo women's traditions was undertaken by the Laguna Pueblo scholar, Gunn Allen, in this pivotal work. Throughout, Gunn Allen retrieved specific stories of female spirits, resituating them in an Indigenous interpretation that focused on the women's power and position in the culture. Allen's breakthroughs are still reverberating in Native North American scholarship.

South America

The Arawak have been notably studied in their matriarchal aspects. One of the first examinations of “mother right” among them came from Schmidt 1913. Goeje 1943 reconstructed Arawak mythology, while Rouse 1948 considered Arawak matrilineage. Armstrong and Métraux 1949 narrowed themselves to just one group, the Goajiro. More generally that these authors, Divale zeroed in on matrilocality, using the Arawak as examples 1974/1984, while the historical Amazons of the Amazon-River were Leite's topic 1989.

Schmidt, Wilhelm. “Kulturkreise und Kulturschichten in Südamerika.” In Zeitschrift für Ethnologie, 45 (1913), 1014–30.

Schmidt's article (whose title translates as, “Regions and Layers of Culture in South America”) offered one of the first examinations of “mother right” among the Arawak of South America. Schmidt applied Bachofenian principles to his discussion.

Goeje, Claudius H. de. Philosophy, Initiation, and Myths of the Indians of Guayana and Adjacent Countries. Internationales Archiv für Ethnographie. V ol. 44 (1943), 1–136.

From any perspective, Goeje's monograph is an excellent reconstruction of the endangered mythology of the Indigenous cultures of South America, especially that of the Arawak.

Rouse, Irving. “The Arawak.” In Handbook of South American Indians, vol. 4., The Circum-Caribbean Tribes. Ed. Julian H. Steward. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1948, 507–46.

Rouse surveyed the different matrilineal groups comprising the Arawak in this article.

Armstrong, John, and Alfred Métraux. “The Goajiro.” In Handbook of South American Indians. Vol. 4: The Circum-Caribbean Tribes. Ed. Julian H. Steward. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1949, 369–83.

In this focused study of one group of the Arawak, Armstrong and Métraux provided considerable detail on the Goajiro way of life and world view, although, due to their era, they did so without directly recognising that the culture was matriarchal.

Divale, William. Matrilocal Residence in Pre-Literate Society. 1974. Ann Arbor, Michigan: UMI Research Press, 1984.

Divale looked at matrilocality in its diverse social forms, the Arawak inclusive. An instructive dissertation, this work did not become generally available until 1984.

Leite, Marcelo. “Die Spur der Amazonen.” In Bild der Wissenschaft, no. 11, Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlags Anstalt, 1989.

In this article, whose title translates as “Traces of the Amazons”, Leite traced and summarized the historical material on the warrior women of the Amazon-River, who are in all probability related to the Arawak.


Especially Asia is rich for the topic presented here, it has hosted numerous examples of matriarchal cultures, which suvived until today.


The Indigenous peoples of western and southern China, who are not Chinese, all together number about thirteen million people. Many of them preserved the matriarchal structure or, at least, some matriarchal elements of their ancient cultures. Several Indigenous nationalities of China were presented in Beauclair 1970. Goettner-Abendroth 1998 presented her field work on the Mosuo, while Mosuo scholar Shi, in his Indigenous language: Lamu, 2002, 2009 focused on mother-centering of his own society, and Yan 1986 and 1995 homed in on matrilineage among the Mosuo. Another ethnic minority is the Lahu people (related to the Tibetans), today numbering about half a million. The Lahu people practice a special form of matriarchy, as discussed in Du 2002.

Beauclair, Ines de. Tribal Cultures of Southwest China, Taipeh: Orient Cultural Service, 1970.

Many of the Indigenous nationalities existing at the margins of China were presented by Beauclair. Although she described the matriarchal aspects of the cultures, she did not explicitly label them as matriarchies, in this period before such discussions were credited.

Yan, Ruxian, ed. Marriages and Families of Chinese Minorities, Bejing: Chinese Women's Publishing House, 1986.

The Mosuo people, related to the Tibetans, were described here by the Chinese anthropologist Yan. Analysing the matrilineal kinship system of the Mosuo, she showed their ancient origins, providing all the Mosuo relationship terms in detail.

Yan, Ruxian, ed. Women of Ethnic Groups: Tradition and Development, Yunnan People's Press, 1995.

Because of its mother-centeredness, Yan termed the Mosuo society a “living fossil,” calling it “backward,” which is in accordance with the patriarchal Chinese government's disparaging evaluation of these traditional cultures.

Goettner-Abendroth, Heide. Matriarchat in Südchina. Eine Forschungsreise zu den Mosuo. Stuttgart: Kohlhammer Verlag, 1998.

In this study (whose title means, “Matriarchy in Southern China”), Goettner-Abendroth presented her field work on the Mosuo, elaborating on the classical matriarchal patterns of this society at its social, economic, political, and cultural levels, using her definitions elaboratd in Modern Matriarchal Studies. Her positive view of this society includes numerous statements from Mosuo women and men, regarding their own culture.

Shi, Gaofeng (Lamu, Gatusa). Lugu Lake. Mother Lake: A Trip Back to Lugo Lake, the Last Matriarchal Society. Beijing: Zhongguo lü you chu ban she, 2002.

Here, Lamu Gatusa (his name in Mosuo language; in Chinese it is “Shi Gaofeng”), an Indigenous Mosuo and anthropologist of the Yunnan Academy for Social Sciences, elucidated the mother-centering of his traditional Mosuo culture.

Lamu, Gatusa (Shi Gaofeng). “Matriarchal Marriage Patterns of the Mosuo People of China”. In Goettner-Abendroth, ed. Societies of Peace, Toronto: Inanna Publications, 2009, 240–47.

Presenting at the First World Congress on Matriarchal Studies in 2003, Lamu outlined the marriage patterns of the Mosuo people, labelling his own culture “matriarchal”.

Hengde, Danshilacuo (He Mei). “Mosuo Family Structures.” In H. Goettner-Abendroth, ed. Societies of Peace, Toronto: Inanna Publications, 2009, 248-255.

A student of Lamu, the Indigenous scholar Hengde Danshilacuo (her name in Mosuo language; in Chinese it is “He Mei”) provided a comparison of the variants of clan-based, matriarchal family patterns and monogamous, patrilinear ones that co-exist among the Mosuo, putting her positive emphasis on the traditional matriarchal patterns.

Du, Shanshan. Chopsticks Only Work in Pairs: Gender Unity and Gender Equality among the Lahu of Southwest China. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002.

Chinese anthropologist Du took a close look at the Lahu in Chopsticks Only Work in Pairs, the study's title borrowing a Lahu aphorism that captures the spirit of their cultural parallelism, which practices an egalitarian form of society without being mother-centered. Instead, male and female counterparts have exactly balanced roles in an overall spirit of exact equality. In this sense the Lahu socitey is non-patriarchal and might have had matriarchal patterns in the past.


In a study of the close sister-brother relationships of the Japanese Islands culture, Mabuchi 1964 showed that there existed a brother-sister regency among the Ryukyuan people. Among the Ainu of northern Japan, female shamans enjoyed a long tradition, as shown by Ohnuki-Tierney 1973. Carter twice 2005, 2009 quizzed matriarchal traces in larger Japanese culture.

Mabuchi, Toichi. Spiritual Predominance of the Sister in Ryukyuan Culture and Society. Allan H. Smith, ed. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1964.

Japanese scholar Mabuchi documented the sister-brother double regency existing in the Ryukyu Islands, Japan's most remote Southern islands. Such sister-brother alliances were not limited to aristocratic women, for all the women of the Ryukyu Islands were worshipped by their brothers, in a pattern typical of the Indigenous cultures of the Pacific.

Ohnuki-Tierney, Emiko. “The Shamanism of the Ainu.” In Ethnology 12.1 (1973), 15–29.

In this paper, Japanese scholar Ohnuki-Tierney emphasised the eminent role of female shamans in the traditions of the Indigenous Ainu people on Hokkaido, the Northern main island of Japan. The Ainu preserved one of the most ancient cultures of the Japan.

Carter, Susan Gail. Amaterasu-o-mi-kami, Past and Present: An Exploration of the Japanese Sun Goddess from a Western Feminist Perspective. Ph.D. dissertation, Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Press, 2005.

Here, Carter outlined the matriarchal elements intrinsic to the Japanese traditions of the Sun Goddess in the Shinto religion. The formalized, state-run Shinto of the emperors was separate from popular Shinto, in which the traditions of the female shamans of Japan survived.

Carter, Susan Gail. “The Matristic Roots of Japan and the Emergence of the Japanese Sun Goddess, Amaterasu-o-mi-kami.” In H. Goettner-Abendroth, ed. Societies of Peace, Toronto: Inanna Publications, York University, 2009, 394–404.

Carter further explored Shinto Goddesses in traditional Japanese religion and hinted at their matriarchal background.


High ranking Korean women had traditionally been shaman-queens, according to Kim 1976. Harvey 1979 biographically treated Korean female shamanism.

Kim, Yung-Chung. Women of Korea: A History from Ancient Times to 1945. Seoul/Korea: Ewha Womens University Press, 1976.

Korean scholar Kim reviewed the history of Korean women, demonstrating that, in Korea's earliest epochs, women had been shaman-queens, guiding their matrilineal clans and leading their people. Kim sketched of the debilitation of women's status through diverse epochs, up to 1945.

Harvey, Young-sook Kim. Six Korean Women. The Socialisation of Shamans. St. Paul, MN: West Publishing Company, 1979.

Harvey examined traditions of exclusively female shamanism in Korea, as seen through the biographies of six women. Originating in the most ancient of Korean history, female shamanism continued into the present, although it became a phenomenon confined to the lower classes.


Acharya 1979 analyzed the high position of early Newar women, while the Nepalese goddess cultures were reviewed by Kooij 1978 and Deep 1978. Also studying the Newar Nepalese were Trilok and Gupta (1981) and Koch and Stegmüller 1983, who looked closely at the central goddess festivals.

Kooij, Karl R. van. Religion in Nepal. Leiden: Brill,1978.

Kooij gave a generalized overview of the religions of Nepal, deepening the focus on the rich cycle of festivals of the Newar of the Katmandu valley, with specific attention to the mother goddess, Kali, as ancient.

Deep, Dhurba K. The Nepal Festivals. Katmandu: Ratna Pustak Bhandar, 1978.

A Napalese scholar, Deep, continued the conversation on the Nepalese Festivals, demonstrating that the worship of Kali constituted the oldest layer in the syncretic religion of the Newar, in a cult of nature worship exclusively dedicated to the mother goddess. Ancient Newar Indigenous traditions continued to have been practiced into modern times by rural farmers and the urban lower castes.

Trilok, Chandra Majapuria, and Gupta, S. P. Nepal. The Land of Festivals. New Delhi: S. Chand, 1981.

Indian scholars Trilok and Gupta focused on Newar religious practices, particularly in the Katmandu valley, paying special attention to the Durga Puja, the festival of the goddess Durga, and women-led practices.

Koch, Pitt, and Stegmüller, Henning. Geheimnisvolles Nepal. Munich: List, 1983.

Meaning, “Mysterious Nepal,” Geheimnisvolles Nepal described the religion of the Katmandu Newar, also emphasizing the important festival, Durga Puja, during which all aspects of the great goddess Durga coalesce. Durga as a living goddess takes the form of a pre-pubescent girl, called “Kumari.” The archaic festivals of the Newar have matriarchal roots, although a clear idea of this coherence is lacking with all these authors.

Acharya, Meena. The Status of Women in Nepal. Kathmandu: Tribhuvan University, 1979.

Acharya provided a comprehensive study of the high position of the Nepalese Newar women in early times, as reflected in the goddess festivals. However, despite the vivid goddess tradition in Nepal, she found that cultural encroachment by the Nepal's patriarchal Hindu neighbor, India, had fundamentally changed social organization, to the detriment of Nepalese women.


Briffault led off with an influential trilogy 1927/1996, in which, among many other subjects on women's status worldwide, he elaborated on polyandrous Tibetan marriage customs. Hermanns 1953, 1959 produced two works on women and family in Tibet, but his Catholic vantage point damaged his grasp. L ess prejudiced in his study was Seirksma 1963. Majumdar 1962 likewise considered multiple marriage.

Briffault, Robert. The Mothers. A Study of the Origins of Sentiments and Institutions. 3 vols. 1927. New York: Johnson Reprint Corporation, 1996.

Throughout his trilogy, Briffault examined older sources regarding the traditionally high status of women. Concerning Tibet, he clarified that with Tibetan multiple marriage, in which a group of sisters from one clan marries a group of brothers from another clan, it was a question of noting how many sisters or brothers were connected by the two families, usually not many.

Hermanns, Matthias. “The Status of Woman in Tibet.” Anthropological Quarterly, 26.3 (July 1953), 67–78.

A Catholic missionary, Hermanns tried to sort out the source of Tibetan women's status.

Hermanns, Matthias. Die Familie der A-mdo Tibeter. Freiburg-Munich: Alber, 1959.

Translating as “The A-mdo Tibetan Family,” the text drew on Chinese chronicles (905–581 B.C.E.) describing vast realms along the Tibetan-Chinese border as being ruled by matriarchal-style queens. Falsely concluding that the chronicles necessarily implied male inferiority in these queendoms, which would have been very atypical of Tibet, Hermanns decided that the Chinese histories of Tibetan queens' realms lacked credibility.

Majumdar, Dhirendra Nath. Himalayan Polyandry: Structure, Functioning, and Cultural Change, A Field Study of Jaunsar-Bawar. Bombay-New Delhi-London: Asia Publishing House, 1962.

Majumdar followed Briffault with this statistical study of the distribution of Tibetan polyandry, establishing that it was the preferred, legal form of marriage, found in the old, respected families, who maintained it as a national heritage.

Sierksma, Fokke. “Sacred Cairns in Pastoral Cultures.” History of Religions 2.2 (1963), 227–41.

Sierksma evaluated the same Chinese chronicles of queendoms as Hermanns, but treated them as reliable reports.


The Khasi in northeast India and the Nayar in southwest India have provided special matriarchal societal forms. Besides the Nayar, there exist a number of other peoples with matriarchal elements in the region of Kerala and other regions of southwestern India.

Peoples of Kerala

Working from the concept of “mother right” in considering the history of the southwestern Nayar was Ehrenfels 1941. Iyer 1948, 1961, 1968 focused on the whole region of Kerala in southwestern India, where there exists a dense concentration of peoples with matriarchal elements.

Ehrenfels, Omar Rolf von. Motherright in India. Hyderabad-Deccan-Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1941.

Ehrenfels worked from the Bachofenian concept of “mother right,” but his comprehensive work remains one of the best studies on the history of Indian matriarchies, especially of the complex Nayar culture. His insights into social and religious patterns accompanied an analysis of the problematic relationship between patriarchal Hindu Brahmins and the matriarchal Nayar and a thorough critique of women's oppression in Hinduized areas.

Iyer, L. A. Krishna. Kerala, Past and Present. Vol. 1: Prehistoric Archaeology of Kerala. Trivandrum, India: L. K.B. Ratnam, 1948.

Iyer's first volume on the region of Kerala was a preliminary look at the ancient traditions there, trying to piece together the complex past from archaeological evidence.

Iyer, L. A. Krishna. Kerala and Her People. Palghat, India: Educational Supplies Depot, 1961.

Here, in search of origins, Iyer focused especially on the hill peoples of the region of Kerala, considering them as pre-Dravidian.

Iyer, L. A. Krishna. Social History of Kerala. Madras: Book Centre Publications, 1968.

In reviewing customs, religious practices, and beliefs, Iyer here gave numerous indications that matriarchal patterns once prevailed over all Kerala and other regions of Southern India, including all the Malabar Coast, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Sri Lanka.

Nayar Culture

Schneider and Gough 1961 focused on festivals, while Indigenous Nayar and scholar Shanker de Tourreil 2009 emphasized the modern challenges, which the Nayar face.

Schneider, David M., and Gough, Kathleen, eds. Matrilineal Kinship. Berkeley-Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1961.

Schneider and Gough described matrilineage among the Nayar, including much on typical Nayar festivals, of which the initiation celebrations for girls were the most elaborate.

Shanker de Tourreil, Savithri. “Nayar of Kerala and Matriliny Revisited.” In Heide Goettner-Abendroth, ed. Societies of Peace, Toronto: Inanna Publications, 2009, 205–16.

The Indigenous scholar Tourreil anaylzed the decline of the Nayar matrilineality and matriarchal culture as a result of modern, outside, economic and social pressures.

Khasi Culture

Gurdon's 1907 was one of the oldest and hence least defined texts on the Khasi of northeastern India, but it provided much information. Roy 1981 went into exquisite detail on the female-male double reign with the Khasi. Pakyntein 2000 and Mukhim 2009 put the Khasi in the context of modern pressures.

Gurdon, Philip Richard Thornhagh. The Khasis. 1907. Delhi: Cosmo Publication, 1975.

Related to the Tibetans, the Khasi were first described in Gurdon's old, but still important work. Gurdon not only provided much information about the classical, matriarchal patterns of the Khasi people, but also reflected on the structures of the culture as “matriarchy.” Lacking a clear definition of matriarchy, however, he was unable to come to any solid conclusion about it.

Roy, Hira Lal Deb. A Tribe in Transition: The Jaintias of Meghalaya. New Delhi: Cosmo Publication, 1981.

Roy studied Khasi social and religious patterns and the spiritual-political organization of their female-male double reign in “Syiemship.” The Syiem of each region was the son or nephew of the high priestess, the “Syiem Sad.” The mother (aunt) allowed her son (nephew) to act as her delegate, a widespread pattern in matriarchal society.

Pakyntein, Valentina. “Gender Preference in Khasi Society: An Evaluation of Tradition, Change and Continuity.” Indian Anthropologist, 30: 1&2, 2000, 27–35.

An Indigenous Khasi as well as a scholar, Pakyntein evaluated the changes to her traditional, matriarchal Khasi-Pnar culture under modern pressures.

Mukhim, Patricia. “Khasi Matrilineal Society—Challenges in the 21th Century.” In H. Goettner-Abendroth, ed. Societies of Peace, Toronto: Inanna Publications, 2009, 193–204.

The Indigenous Khasi and scholar, Mukhim, considered the modern challenges to the matrilinearity and matriarchy among the Khasi people, finding both to have been in decline. She saw the cultural transition in progress as disadvantageous, especially to Khasi women.


Particularly riveting to scholars for their Western paradigm breaking challenges have been the Minangkabau of Sumatra, six million strong, who are simultaneously Muslim and matriarchal, retaining the matriarchal Adat, their Indigenous traditional laws. Scholarship offers a bevy of contradictory opinions on the Islamification of the Minangkabau. Maretin 1961 saw Minangkabau matriarchy as doomed, while Bachtiar 1967 tried to assess the cultural competitions arising from divergent social systems. Schrijvers and Postel-Coster 1977 also considered the changes wrought on women's social position by Islam. Benad 1982 considered what agricultural change did to rural cultural patterns, with Benda-Beckmann 1983 describing the changes in terms of property relationships. Gura 1988 directly questioned what happened when women's economic power was disrupted. More summary work followed, with Kato 1982, on the historical changes and cultural conservatism, and Sanday 2002, who provided the single most important study, describing the structure of the traditional Minangkabau matriarchy and developing a definition of matriarchy simultaneously with, but independently of, Goettner-Abendroth and Mann. Dhavida 2009 reinforced Sanday's conclusions.

Maretin, J. V. “Disappearance of Matriclan Survivals in Minangkabau Family and Marriage Relations.” Bidjragan tot de Taal-, Land- en VolkenKunde 117, (1961), 168–95.

Maretin waxed glum on Minangkabau women's prospects, seeing primarily “survivals” instead of intact traditions.

Bachtiar, Harsja W. “Negeri Taram: A Minangkabau Village Community.” In Koentjaraningrat, ed. Villagers in Indonesia. Ithaca-New York: Cornell University Press, 1967, 348–85.

Bachtiar assessed the cultural competitions arising from divergent social systems, one traditional and one Islamic.

Schrijvers, Joke and Els Postel-Coster. “Minangkabau Women: Change in a Matrilineal Society.” Archipel 13 (1977), 79–103.

Schrijvers and Postel-Coster considered the changes wrought on women's social position in the modern world. They emphasized that land and trade in the hands of women were the economic basis of the matriarchal Adat, or traditional laws, of the villages, a situation which they regarded as being endangered by modern encroachments.

Benda-Beckmann, Franz von. “Property in Social Continuity: Continuity and Change in the Maintenance of Property Relations through Time in Minangkabau, West Sumatra.” In L'Homme 23.1 (1983), 167–69.

In thoughts first published in 1979, Benda-Beckmann considered the impact on the social order of changes in property relationships among the traditional Minangkabau.

Gura, Susanne. “Wie Frauen ihren Grundbesitz verlieren. Die matrilineare Gesellschaft der Minangkabau" in Sumatra Modernisierung der Ungleichheit: Beiträge zur feministischen Theorie und Praxis 23 (1988), 21–28.

In this paper (whose title means, “ The Way Women Lose Their Land”), Gura directly questioned what happened when women's economic power, based on land-holding, was disrupted.

Benad, Annette. Grüne Revolution in West-Sumatra: eine Studie über die Bestimmungsgründe des bäuerlichen Innovationsverhaltens. Saarbrücken: Verlag Breitenbach, 1982.

In her contribution to the discussion (which translates as “Green Revolution in Western Sumatra”), Benad considered what agricultural change did to rural cultural patterns.

Kato, Tsuyoshi. Matriliny and Migration. Evolving Minangkabau Traditions in Indonesia. Ithaca/London: Cornell University Press, 1982.

In this excellent historical study, including the original Malaysian Adat, or traditional, matriarchal law, Kato showed that the Minangkabau of the rural heartland are mutually linked to those outside the heartland, in all of Sumatra's and Indonesia's large cities. Each half support the other through long-standing gift economies, contributing significantly to the adaptability and vitality of the Adat, up to Kato's present.

Sanday, Peggy Reeves. Women at the Center. Life in a Modern Matriarchy. Ithaca- New York: Cornell University Press, 2002.

Anthropologist Sanday offered a densely detailed study of the Minangkabau lives. Whether rural or urban, the Minangkabau were known not only for their egalitarian male-female relationships, but also for their literary flair and business acumen. In the final chapter of Women, Sanday critiqued the conceptual confusions around the term “matriarchy” and re-defined matriarchy as a set of interdependent relationships.

Dhavida, Usria. “The Role of Minangkabau Women.” In H. Goettner-Abendroth, ed. Societies of Peace, Toronto: Inanna Publications, 2009, 228–229.

Sanday's conclusions were reinforced by the Indigenous Minangkabau author Dhavida, who set forth the pre-eminent role of Minangkabau women in her society.

Pacific Islands

Melanese Trobriand islanders, and Polynese Hawai'ian and Samoan islanders have attracted matriarchal scholars. An interesting hypothesis is given about the Menehune, the fairy people of Polynesia.

Trobriand Culture

Anthropologist Malinowski 1923, 1926, 1935 first detailed Trobriand matrilinearity and its wide-ranging consequences, but Weiner 1976, 1980 challenged his male-oriented analysis. Brindley 1984 also revised Malinowski on matriarchal structure of this society, while Tiffany and O'Brien 1984 critiqued anthropology's male-domination as detrimental to Melanese studies.

Malinowski, Bronislaw. Argonauts of the Western Pacific: An Account of Native Enterprise and Adventure in the Archipelagoes of Melanesian New Guinea. New York: Paul R. Reynolds, 1923.

This classic of ethnography focused on the extensive, oceanic trading and gift giving system, the “Kula ring,” established by the Trobriand islanders.

Malinowski, Bronislaw. The Sexual Life of Savages in North-Western Melanesia. An Ethnographic Account of Courtship, Marriage and Family Life Among the Natives of the Trobriand Islands, British New Guinea. New York: Paul R. Reynolds, 1926.

Women played a large role in community life, taking the lead not only in deciding the course of human relationships but also in enjoying erotic life, which Malinowski regarded as much more elaborate and developed in Trobriand society than in so-called “civilized” societies.

Malinowski, Bronislaw. The Coral Gardens and their Magic: Soil-tilling and Agricultural Rites in the Trobriand Islands. 2 vols. New York: American Book Company, 1935.

Malinowski's imposing study of Trobriand matrilinearity found wide-ranging consequences of matriarchy in this culture. Despite his grasp of the culture, Malinowski nevertheless insisted on presenting Trobriand economics as a male domain.

Weiner, Annette. Women of Value, Men of Renown: New Perspectives in Trobriand Exchange. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1976.

Anthropologist Weiner revised the Malinowski literature on the Trobriand Islanders finding a solid and healthy, male-female balance in Trobriand society by her research.

Weiner, Annette. “Stability in Banana Leaves.” In Mona Etienne and Eleanor Leacock, eds. Women and Colonization. New York: Praeger, 1980. 270–89.

Weiner here analyzed the complementary nature of the oceanic “Kula ring,” the men's communal canoe expeditions to circulate gifts made from mussel shells, and the woman-run, reciprocal system of gift-giving to enhance their reputation. Women circulated the “Doba” or skirts of colored grasses and hand-worked banana leaves.

Brindley, Marianne. The Symbolic Role of Women in Trobriand Gardening. Pretoria: University of South Africa, 1984.

Brindley corrected the one-sided male perspective on Trobriand gardening in Malinowski's Coral Gardens by showing the significant role of women in the Trobriand economy.

O'Brien, Denise/Tiffany, Sharon W., eds. Rethinking Women's Roles: Perspectives from the Pacific. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1984.

In this anthology the contributions by Tiffany, “Feminist Perceptions in Anthropology,” and O'Brien, “Women Never Hunt: The Portrayal of Women in Melanesian Ethnography,” offered excellent critiques of anthropology's male-dominated perspective, which they argued had distorted reporting on the roles of Melanese women.

Hawai'ian Culture

Luomala 1951 looked at Melanese and Hawai'ian mythology, with Casey 1978 zeroing in on Hawai'ian women's power. Knipe 1989 took an unfortunate Jungian tack on Hawai'i, while Indigenous Trask 1999 remained rooted in modern, Hawai'ian political structures.

Luomala, Katharine. The Menehune of Polynesia and Other Mythical Little People of Oceania. Honolulu/Hawai'i: Bernice P. Bishop Museum Press, 1951.

One of the first matriarchal studies of Hawai'i, Luomala's interesting hypothesis that the “Menehune,” or “Little People,” of the Polynesian islands were real and queen-ruled was confirmed by her presenting the stories and archaeological relics of the legendary first inhabitants of the Hawai'ian and Polynesian islands. The Little People had been driven out by the warrior chiefs of the later population of the Pacific.

Casey, Linda. “Mythological Heritage of Hawaii's Royal Women.” Educational Perspectives, 16.1 (1978), 3–9.

Casey traced the pre-eminent role in religion and social life taken by the noble women of the Indigenous Hawai'ian culture.

Knipe, Rita. The Water of Life: A Jungian Journey through Hawaiian Myth. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1989.

Knipe trekked through Hawai'ian stories, taking a Jungian-inspired look at the Hawai'ian matriarchy, but her psychological lens tended to deflate the matriarchal content of the traditions. For her mythic materials, Knipe leaned heavily on Luomala.

Trask, Haunani-Kay. From a Native Daughter: Colonialism and Sovereignty in Hawai'i. Honolulu, HI: University of Hawaii Press, 1999.

Coming from a socio-political vantage point as a Hawai'ian native as well as a credentialed political scientist, Hawai'ian scholar Trask argued that Western naming had “co-opted” essential Hawai'ian identity in “a theft of matrilineal by Western patriarchal descent” (104). She showed the damage done to understanding by determined, colonial redefinitions of Hawai'ian culture.

Samoan Culture

Tamasese 2009 considered Samoan sibling relations.

Tamasese, Taimalieutu Kiwi. “Restoring Liberative Elements of our Cultural Gender Arrangements.” In H. Goettner-Abendroth, ed. Societies of Peace, Toronto: Inanna Publications, 2009. 108–113.

The Indigenous author Tamasese emphasized the centrality of the sister-brother-relationship in her Samoan culture, placing it in a matriarchal context.

Australia and Tasmania

The extent of work done on matriarchal culture in Australia and Tasmania lags behind that for the other continents. Work on the Indigenous Tasmanians is even more scarce. The few modern investigations that exist, do so largely through the auspices of Australian governmental anthropologyical studies. Elkin 1934 regarded matrilineality as totemic, while Lane and Lane 1962 saw simultaneous matri- and patrilineality. Gale's anthology 1975 collated materials, as Peterson 1978 examined residence patterns in marriage. Langton 1981 considered the damage to traditional systems caused by Western modernity, and Hrdy 2009 noted the discontinuity between Aboriginal classifications and lived reality. Ryan 1996 offered the only significant work to date on Tasmania, reviewing scant colonial documents to find that Tasmanians did not share Australian features, as casually assumed.

Elkin, Adolphus Peter. “Cult-Totemism and Mythology in Northern South Australia.” Oceania 5.2 (December 1934): 171–92.

On the mythological bandwagon, Elkin considered matrilinearity in term s of totemism in his field work.

Lane, Barbara S., and Robert B. Lane. “Implicit Double Descent in South Australian and the Northeastern New Hebrides.” Ethnology 1.1 (1962), 46–52.

The Lanes connected Australian and Melanesian social patterns, generally, ex amining what they called “double descent” systems in Australia, including matrilineage alongside of patrilineage.

Gale, Fay, ed. Women's Role in Aboriginal Society. Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, 1975.

Gale collated a number of studies on aboriginal women's powers and position.

Peterson, Nicolas. The Importance of Women in Determining the Composition of Residential Groups in Aboriginal Australia. Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, 1978.

Originally published in 1969, this became an influential piece, consisting of Peterson's anthropological field work on post-marital choices of residence, including the compositions and inter-relationships of the group members.

Langton, Marcia. “Urbanizing Aborigines: The Social Scientists' Great Deception.” Social Alternatives 2.2 (1981), 16–22.

Australian Aborigine and activist Langton noted the destructiveness of forced urbanization on the matrifocal cultures of aboriginal Australia.

Hrdy, Sarah Blaffer. Mothers and Others: The Evolutionary Origin of Mutual Understanding. Boston: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2009.

Hrdy argued that, although Australian groups are classified as patrilineal, “the women still manage to line up matrilineal assistance” (245).

Ryan, Lyndall. The Aboriginal Tasmanians. 2nd ed. 1981. Crows Nest, NSW, Australia: Allen & Unwin Pty, Ltd, 1996.

Although the society still counts as patriarchal, historical Tasmanian women were the primary functionaries in providing shellfish and abalone food provisioning, while the men had no interest in learning Western farming. Women's parties, travelling alone, ridiculed French explorers, exhibiting no shame in their sexuality. Although unremarked by Ryan, food provisioning and sexual freedom of women are basic aspects of matriarchal or matrilineal cultures.

Studies of historical matriarchal societies (Prehistory)

The new definition of “matriarchy” derived from anthropological-ethnological research can be applied as a scientific tool to cultural history, in this case to the history of the cultural regions in West Asia and Europe. Together with a detailed knowledge of the form of matriarchal society it is compared with the archaeological finds in order to determine whether these finds could reveal more or something different than previously assumed, which could lead to a change in perspective and interpretation. If only the form of the patriarchal society is known, there will always be unconscious or conscious projections of patriarchal patterns back onto the cultural history, a situation that is criticized and revised by Modern Matriarchal Studies.

In recent archaeology, findings from ethnology are occasionally included to better understand early historical patterns. However, the choice is arbitrary and random, so that even patriarchalized, indigenous societies are considered in an attempt to understand certain phenomena that, nevertheless, cannot be understood in this way. In the following section only older and more recent studies contributing to matriarchal cultural history will be mentioned, although they might not use the term and the new definition of matriarchy, as well as critical voices of male and female archaeologists regarding their own research area. These are relevant for the further development of Modern Matriarchal Theory and Studies and are being incorporated within them. At the same time, this different perspective on cultural history focuses on answering the question of the origin and spread of patriarchy and the reasons for this, which differ from one cultural area to another.

West Asia

Until recently, on most continents there were or there still are matriarchal societies which have been explored using anthropological-ethnological methods. Although many of them have been destroyed today, they had still been ethnologically recorded, which means there were eyewitnesses of how they used to live. This does not apply to West Asia and Europe, however, as the patriarchalization processes began very early in these areas, and the matriarchal cultures of earlier epochs collapsed under their pressure, so that even the original names of these cultures were lost. In archaeology they use to be known as “substrate.” Both female and male matriarchal researchers focus to discover the traces of matriarchal societies using various methods of cultural history. These methods are necessarily indirect and at the same time interdisciplinary. They not only combine the insights and interpretations of the archaeology of West Asia and Europe, but also research in the fields of mythology and religion, of oral tradition from local folklore, of landscape mythology, palaeo-linguistics and other disciplines. Instead of a complete list of all the sources related to research on matriarchal societies of the past, here we only refer to some exemplary works from these scientific disciplines.


The “Fertile Crescent”

Already in 1986, O. Bar-Yosef disagreed with the predominant perception of Neolithic walls as a “defensive system.” Ian Kuijt/Nigel Goring-Morris 2002 criticized, in principle, the conception that Neolithic way of life arose from competition and the formation of “elites.” In the informative anthology of 2007, Die ältesten Monumente der Menschheit (The oldest monuments of humanity), a rchaeologists presented the latest research on Neolithic sites in the so-called “Fertile Crescent,” such as Harald Hauptmann/Mehmet Özdoğan, Trevor Watkins, Olivier Aurenche, Harald Hauptmann/Klaus Schmidt, and many others, although the traditional perception remained in part. Klaus Schmidt 2007 provided a revised, less patriarchal interpretation of the monumental buildings of Göbekli Tepe. The egalitarian matriarchal epoch of West Asia in the various cultural regions of West Asia was presented by Heide Goettner-Abendroth in 2019, based on archaeological evidence (see Europe - Archaeology).

Bar-Yosef, O.: “The Walls of Jericho: An Alternative Interpretation,” in Current Anthropology 27, No. 2, 1986.

By means of closer investigation, Bar-Yosef pointed out that the famous Walls of Jericho, which had been interpreted as “defenses” to protect the “profit” amassed by the “elite” were actually not a fortress, but served as flood protection. This undermines the belief that there were any “fortifications” for war purposes at all in Neolithic times.

Kuijt, Ian/Goring-Morris, Nigel. “Foraging, Farming, and Social Complexity in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic of the Southern Levant: A Review and Synthesis,” in: Journal of World Prehistory, Vol. 16, No. 4, December 2002.

The authors criticized the hypothesis that “social competition and rivalry” with the formation of “elites” had led to the emergence of the Neolithic way of life. In their opinion, the social cohesion of communities, established through cooperation, and the creation of religious buildings to consolidate a collective identity, was crucially important to these people.

Hauptmann, Harald/Özdoğan, Mehmet. “Die Neolithische Revolution in Anatolien,” and Watkins, Trevor: “Der Naturraum in Anatolien.” In Die ältesten Monumente der Menschheit. Vor 12.000 Jahren in Anatolien. ed. Badisches Landesmuseum Karlsruhe-Stuttgart: Konrad Theiss publisher, 2007.

In their articles, the authors looked at the initial development of agriculture and sedentarism in the area of the Levant (Israel/Palestine, Lebanon, and Syria), southeastern Turkey and western Iran, the so-called “Fertile Crescent.” The factors of climate, environment, and resources were considered, but the crucial contributions made by women were not addressed.

Aurenche, Olivier. Das “Goldene Dreieck.” In: Die ältesten Monumente der Menschheit. Vor 12.000 Jahren in Anatolien. ed. Badisches Landesmuseum Karlsruhe-Stuttgart: Konrad Theiss publisher, 2007.

Aurenche presented the Neolithic of the “Fertile Crescent” based on specific sites and types of houses. Unlike the earlier conception of larger buildings being the “chieftain seats,” he interpreted them as community houses, although only used for men's ceremonies (“men's houses”).

Hauptmann, Harald/Schmidt, Klaus. “Anatolien vor 12.000 Jahren. Die Skulpturen des Frühneolithikums,” and Schmidt, Klaus: “Die Steinkreise und die Reliefs des Göbekli Tepe.” In: Die ältesten Monumente der Menschheit. Vor 12.000 Jahren in Anatolien. ed. Badisches Landesmuseum Karlsruhe-Stuttgart: Konrad Theiss publisher, 2007.

In their articles, Hauptmann and Schmidt presented the monumental temples of Göbekli Tepe and comparable sites as examples of advanced civilization and interpreted the complex itself and the reliefs on the stone pillars. Initially, these buildings had been interpreted as an expression of the dominance of a male elite that created monumental memorials and worshiped a purely male cult. The authors revised this conception of patriarchal elites by interpreting the buildings as temples for the communities' ancestors.

Central Anatolia

James Mellaart 1967, 1975, who excavated Çatal Höyük, was the first to revise the image of the Neolithic era as “primitive.” He called Çatal Höyük an “urban culture,” whilst also paying attention to the prominent position of women. Ian Hodder 2004 investigated the social patterns in Çatal Höyük, pointing out the egalitarian way of life, but got entangled in contradictories. The female archaeologists Theya I. Molleson 2007, Jane Peterson 2010 and Diane Bolger 2010 got to the heart of the matter and demonstrated the gender equality in the Neolithic cultures of West Asia. Heide Goettner-Abendroth 2011 criticized Hodder's argumentation concerning Çatal Höyük and pointed out that the equality of a society referred to matriarchy.

Mellaart, James: Çatal Hüyük. A Neolithic Town in Anatolia, London: Thames & Hudson, 1967.

Archaeologist Mellaart excavated the Neolithic city of Çatal Höyük and, based on his finds, provided a completely different picture of the so-called “stone age” from his contemporaries. He concluded that the culture was clearly woman-centered and its development was at a much higher level than admitted previously. Rejecting the criterion of size as too superficial to define an urban culture, he also referred to the extensive division of labor and to trade, as well as to the highly developed craft industry, politics, and religion in Çatal Hüyük.

Mellaart, James. The Neolithic of the Near East. London: Thames & Hudson, 1975.

Widening his research area from Çatal Hüyük to the whole Middle East, Mellaart presented archaeological findings related to various cultures.

Hodder, Ian: “Women and Men at Çatalhöyük, ” in: Scientific American, January 2004.

Based on previous research, Hodder studied the social order in Çatal Höyük more closely, concluding that the same size of the houses as well as the same burial practices for both sexes indicated an egalitarian society. Contradicting himself, he also claimed that there were more pictures of men than women, thereby downplaying the importance of women and proving male dominance.

Molleson, Theya I. “Bones of Work at the Origins of Labour,” in: Hamilton/Whitehouse/Wright, ed.: Archaeology of Women: Ancient and Modern Issues, Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast, 2007.

Based on the typical bone deformations of female skeletons, Molleson found that the tasks of gathering or growing grain and grinding grain were carried out by women and this remained the case for millennia, which indicates that women invented agriculture.

Peterson, Jane: “Domesticating Gender: Neolithic patterns from the southern Levant.” In: Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, Vol. 29, 1, September 2010, Elsevier.

From signs of wear on bones, Peterson deduced that women generally hoed the fields and milled the grain, as well as producing textiles and weaving. Men were generally engaged in heavy earthwork, such as clearing, digging and constructing. Despite this variety in areas of activity, Peterson was unable to find out that one area was worth less than the other, or that one gender bore the bulk of the work while being controlled by the other.

Bolger, Diane: “The Dynamics of Gender in Early Agricultural Societies of the Near East.” In: Signs, Vol. 32, No. 2, Winter 2010.

Using Domuztepe in southeastern Anatolia (6,500-5,500) as an example, Bolger suggested the burial practices attest to social equality until the late Neolithic / Copper Age in West Asia.

Goettner-Abendroth, Heide: “Gab es eine matriarchale Gesellschaftsordnung in Chatal Hüyük? Eine kritische Analyse der jüngsten Argumentation zu diesem Thema,” in: Goettner-Abendroth, Heide: Am Anfang die Mütter. Matriarchale Gesellschaft und Politik als Alternative, Stuttgart: Kohlhammer publisher, 2011.

In her essay (“Was There a Matriarchal Societal Order in Chatal Hüyük?”), the author criticized Hodder's ideological argument for Çatal Höyük, pointing out that both the general equality and gender equality noted by Hodder in this urban culture attest to a matriarchal society.


For a very long time, the archaeology of Mesopotamia focused on reconstructing vast ruins and lists of kings and dynasties, being caught up in the view that the first towns and civilizations arose here. This perspective was based on Gordon Childe's 1952 problematic definition of a city. It was only in the second half of the 20th century that more attention was paid to earlier cultures in this area, briefly by Seton Lloyd 1978 and, in more detail, by Charles Keith Maisels 1999/2001. Hans J. Nissen 2012 not only included Mesopotamia, but the entire region within the dynamic development of advanced civilizations, although he could not free himself from the “elite” idea.

Childe, Gordon. “The Urban Revolution.” In: The Town Planning Review, 21, 1, 1950.

To define “city,” Childe not only used the criteria of size, specialized professions and technical skills, but also the concentration of profit, a ruling class and hierarchy, organized into a permanent state. However, the latter characterize patriarchally organized city-states, indicating that Childe had deduced his criteria from late Mesopotamia and improperly generalized this one-sided definition.

Lloyd, Seton: The Archaeology of Mesopotamia, London: Thames & Hudson, 1978.

Lloyd provided a comprehensive history of Mesopotamia, including the early civilizations, but mainly focusing on architecture and art.

Maisels, Charles Keith. Early Civilizations of the Old World. The formative histories of Egypt, the Levant, Mesopotamia, India and China. London, New York: Routledge, 1999/2001.

In this extensive work, Maisels also described the early development of Mesopotamia, including its economic, ecological and social factors. He showed that civilization began here much earlier than the first hierarchical city-states.

Nissen, Hans J. Geschichte Alt-Vorderasiens. Munich: Oldenbourg Verlag, 2012.

In Geschichte Alt-Vorderasiens (“History of Ancient Near East Asia”), the author not only included the late advanced civilizations of Mesopotamia, but also early civilizations from the entire region. Nonetheless, he read “leading elites” into these pre-patriarchal civilizations with egalitarian characteristics, erroneously equating a greater division of labor and complexity with hierarchy.

Mythology and Religion

Edwin O. James 1959/2003 presented the Indian, Persian, Egyptian, and European sources regarding the worship of Mother Goddesses, including the ancient religions of West Asia. Based on James, Miriam Robbins Dexter 1990 added the detailed study of sources regarding goddess religions, in 2009 focusing on the goddesses of Anatolia.

James, Edwin O.: The Cult of the Mother Goddess, London: Thames & Hudson, 1959.

In this prolific work, James gave a detailed review of sources regarding cults of Great Mother Goddesses in a wide range of cultures, extending from India through Persia and the Middle East to Egypt, the Mediterranean and Europe.

Dexter, Miriam Robbins. Whence the Goddesses: A Source Book. New York: Athene Series, Teachers College Press, 1990.

Dexter took up this focus on goddess religions and presented a vast collection of original sources, including the cultural areas of India, West Asia, the Mediterranean and Europe, thereby enhancing the field of investigation.

Dexter. Miriam Robbins. “Ancient Felines and the Great Goddess in Anatolia: Kubaba and Cybele.” In: Proceedings of the 20th Annual UCLA Indo-European Conference, Los Angeles 2008, Published: Bremen 2009, Hempen publisher.

Dexter did not follow the repeated, controversial downgrading of the great goddess reliefs of Çatal Höyük, in which these figures are referred to as “animals.” Instead, she created a cultural-historical connection between the Neolithic female figurines with big cats and the later Great Goddesses of West Asia.

Rise of Patriarchy

Gerda Lerner 1986/1991 focused on the situation of women in Babylon and Assyria and claimed to explain the creation of patriarchy in West Asia. Heide Goettner-Abendroth 2019 gave an explanation for the creation of patriarchy in Mesopotamia based on archaeological and ecological factors, diverging from the stereotype that the invention of artificial irrigation alone would have led to patriarchy in this cultural region (see Europe – Archaeology).

Lerner, Gerda: The Creation of Patriarchy. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986.

Lerner wrote an excellent study on the situation of women under patriarchal conditions in Babylon and Assyria, when those conditions were already established. Contrary to the book's title, however, she gave no explanation for the creation of patriarchy in West Asia (Mesopotamia).

Warrior women and Amazons

The question whether Amazons actually existed has long time occupied research. Nonetheless, the answers given tended to be ideologically distorted. Only recently has the topic been seriously examined based on archaeological research. Back in 1975/1979 Pierre Samuel pointed out the difference between warrior women and Amazons. Jeannine Davis-Kimball 2002 was the first to draw on archaeological finds in the steppes, while Gerhard Poellauer 2002 used an interdisciplinary approach to reconstruct the history of Amazons in West Asia. Natalia Berseneva 2008 revised the understanding of gender roles in this regard, and Renate Rolle 2010 and Elena Fialko 2010 provided the latest archaeological findings on this subject. Adrienne Mayor 2014 contributed a rich collection of stories from the Eurasian steppes.

Samuel, Pierre. Amazonen, Kriegerinnen und Kraftfrauen, Munich: Trikont Verlag, 1979 (Originally published in French, Grenoble 1975).

In this book, (“Amazons, Warrior Women and Power Women”), Samuel explained the difference between warrior women, who fought together with men, and the Amazons as purely female societies, moving on to differentiate, from the Amazons, what he called “power women”, such as female athletes, competitive riders and others who are inappropriately called “Amazons” in modern language.

Davis-Kimball, Jeannine. Warrior women. An archaeologist's search for history's hidden heroines, New York 2002, Warner Books.

Davis-Kimball was the first to present grave finds of armed women in the Black Sea steppes. She correctly described them as “female warriors” and did not call them “Amazons,” because there was no evidence of purely female fighting units.

Poellauer, Gerhard. Die verlorene Geschichte der Amazonen, Klagenfurt: AT Verlag, 2002. Also an unpublished manuscript by Gerhard Poellauer: Auf den Spuren der Amazonen, Klagenfurt, May 1994.

In these two works (“ The Lost History of the Amazons,” and “In the Footsteps of the Amazons”), Poellauer used an interdisciplinary approach, based on little-known archaeological excavations by Italian and Turkish archaeologists and his own archaeological observations, including historical written sources by the Greeks and other peoples. In this extremely interesting study, in which he clearly distinguishes “female warriors” from “Amazons,” he succeeded in reconstructing the history of the Amazons as women-only societies in the Eastern Mediterranean and Anatolia.

Berseneva, Natalia. “Women and Children in the Sagat Culture,” in: Linduff/Robinson, ed.: Are all Warriors Male? Gender Roles on the Eurasian Steppe, Lanham 2008, Altamora Press.

Berseneva criticized the long held view in archaeology that all graves with weapon finds were male graves, contrasting this with recent finds.

Rolle, Renate: “Tod und Begräbnis. Nekropolen und die bisher erkennbare Stellung von Frauen mit Waffen.” Renate Rolle: “Bewaffnung und mögliche Kampfesweise skythischer Kriegerinnen.” Both articles in: Exhibition catalogue: Amazonen. Geheimnisvolle Kriegerinnen, ed.: Historisches Museum der Pfalz, Speyer-Munich: Edition Minerva, 2010.

The German archaeologist Rolle showed in her articles on warior women how, through refined analysis of female skeletons, typical deformities from the constant use of weapons were revealed. She used this method to examine women's graves in the steppes to the north of the Black Sea. According to Rolle, the combination of female work tools, jewelry and cosmetic utensils along with weapons as burial objects is always considered a typical female warrior grave by archaeology today.

Fialko, Elena. “Skythische ‘Amazonen' in den Nordschwarzmeersteppen.” In: Ausstellungskatalog: Amazonen. Geheimnisvolle Kriegerinnen, ed.: Historisches Museum der Pfalz, Speyer-Munich: Edition Minerva, 2010.

Fialko, the Ukrainian colleague of Rolle, completed Rolle's research with statistical studies of the frequency of female warrior tombs, whose percentage is low, and the age of the female warriors when they died. Since both archaeologists limited themselves to the Black Sea area with a mixture of male and female graves, they were of the opinion that there had been no Amazons in the form of purely female societies.

Mayor, Adrienne. The Amazons. Lives and Legends of Warrior Women across the Ancient World, Princeton & Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2014.

Mayor's book is a rich collection of stories by Eurasian peoples about female warriors throughout the entire Eurasian steppe area from Ukraine to China. Nevertheless, the title of the book is misleading since, through literary sources, she presented the phenomenon of female warriors who lived in mixed societies and were therefore not Amazons.

Europe and the Mediterranean

The traditional world view, which tends to assume patriarchal conditions existed throughout Europe since time immemorial, is looking increasingly shaky. Recent studies from various cultural historical areas prove it to be an ideological construct and therefore untenable.


Just as the pioneer Heinrich Schliemann, in his search for ancient Troy, took the mythical tales seriously and was successful with them, Sir Arthur Evans 1931 also believed the stories of Cretan mythology had a historical basis. He used their information and found the palaces of the Minoan culture on Crete. Like Evans, Alexander Marshack 1972 believed that women had a central position in early cultures. Pierre Mohen 1989 presented the abundance of megalithic cultures in Europe, but only Marija Gimbutas 1989/1991 provided a comprehensive interpretation of it, bringing about a breakthrough in terms of a mother-centered era in Old Europe, labeling them “matristic.” This caused a sensation in archaeology, although matriarchal culture patterns had been known for quite some time in religious studies. Gimbutas was heavily criticized by both male and female academics who still assumed that early Europe was patriarchal. The anthology of Joan Marler 1997 supported the conclusions of Gimbutas, and Joan Marler 2003 rejected the criticisms of her work. A cultural history of the emergence of egalitarian (“democratic”) patterns in various types of societies, extending to the present and thus going beyond the archaeological framework, was published by R. M. Glassman 2017. Heide Goettner-Abendroth 2019 described the matriarchal epochs in West Asia and Europe based on a critical review of the patriarchal ideology among archaeologists and recent archaeological finds, providing viable explanations for the emergence of patriarchy in these cultural regions.

Evans, Arthur. The Earlier Religion of Greece in the Light of Cretan Discoveries. London: Macmillan, 1931.

Against the background of his knowledge of the cultural history of the ancient eastern Mediterranean region, Evans, also a pioneer in archaeology, generally concluded that a female deity had occupied the highest place in Cretan religion, as was also the case for goddesses in Anatolia, Palestine, and Syria. Evans was the first to document Minoan culture as women-centered and demonstrated its continuing power around the eastern Mediterranean, albeit still assuming a central royal figure of the “Minos.”

Alexander Marshack: The Roots of Civilization, New York 1972, McGraw-Hill, S. 90.

Marshack pointed out the central position of women in early cultures since the Palaeolithic era and examined different aspects.

Jean-Pierre Mohen: Le Monde des Mégalithes, Paris: Castermann/Tournai, 1989.

In this work (“The World of Megaliths”), Mohen presented the extraordinary abundance of different forms of European megalithic cultures in the Neolithic and Bronze Ages, but without addressing the social or religious significance.

Gimbutas, Marija. The Civilization of the Goddess: The World of Old Europe. San Francisco, 1991).

In this comprehensive work, the archaeologist Gimbutas presented the different Neolithic cultural regions of Old Europe, documenting in particular the rich urban cultures of southeastern Europe, which were little known until then. She described the social order as mother-centered or “matristic” and the religious order as sacral, characterized by goddesses and priestesses. She therefore opened up a new perspective in archaeology for a general mother-centered epoch prior to the emergence of patriarchy, earning her fierce criticism from her peers.

Marler, Joan, ed.: From the Realm of the Ancestors: An Anthology in Honor of Marija Gimbutas. Manchester: Knowledge, Ideas & Trends, 1997.

Marler's collection of scientific papers from various socio-cultural disciplines supported Gimbuta's theory of cultural development in Old Europe.

Marler, Joan. “The Myth of Universal Patriarchy. A Critical Response”, 2005, in: Prehistoric Archaeology and Theoretical Anthropology and Education.

Marler analyzed the criticism of Gimbutas and rejected it in principle, using the example of the pamphlet by Cynthia Eller: Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory.

R. M. Glassman: The Origins of Democracy in Tribes, City-States and Nation-States, Cham/Switzerland: Springer International Publishing AG, 2017.

Glassman explored the origin and evolution of the egalitarian patterns of different types of society, such as tribes, city-states, and nations. But the term “democracy” can only be applied to all of these to a limited extent, since egalitarian patterns do not resemble the later democratic patterns. He partly included the situation of women, but without recognizing cultures shaped by women as particular social systems. Nevertheless, the work contains interesting perspectives that undermine the glorification of the classic victorious powers.

Goettner-Abendroth, Heide. Geschichte der matriarchalen Gesellschaften und Entstehung des Patriarchats. Vol III: Westasien und Europa, Stuttgart: Kohlhammer publisher, 2019.

Goettner-Abendroth rewrote the cultural history of West Asia and Europe from a matriarchal perspective. She provided new interpretations of archaeological sites and depicted egalitarian, matriarchal societies, based on archaeological evidence and by comparison with living societies of this type, with their economic, social, political and cultural patterns. She gave detailed, archaeologically-based explanations for the emergence of patriarchy in West Asia and Europe, occurring in different ways in the various cultural regions.

Special Regions: Greece, Southern Germany, Minoan Crete, Etruscan Italy

Critical archaeologists have increasingly moved away from the concept of “elites” and “hierarchy” in Neolithic Europe. Consequently, Stella Souvatzi 2007 criticized, using an example from Greece, the general confusion in archaeology of greater complexity with hierarchy. Helmut Schlichtherle 2010 and 2014, demonstrated egalitarian mother-centered patterns in southern Germany and beyond, on the basis of a new find from Lake Constance. Regarding the Cretan Minoan civilization, a critical discussion has developed over the last two decades, revising t he conventional image of a central monarch in the form of a “Minos”, as well as his “naval supremacy” in the Bronze Age, coined by Evans. In fact, Peter M. Warren 1972 had already pointed out that Crete's Bronze Age society was egalitarian. By means of new investigations, Thomas F. Strasser 1997showed that there was no centralization of goods in the so-called “royal palaces.” Yannis Hamilakis 2001 confirmed this by pointing out that the goods from this material culture were in circulation and not hoarded by “elites.” Ilse Schoep 2001 also criticized the centralism hypothesis, pointing rather to a regional independence, seeing “parties” as groups at work and in competition with each other 2002. Jan Driessen / H. Fiasse 2011 focused on the evidence of matrilocal clan households in Minoan Crete. Joan Marie Cichon 2013 used modern Matriarchal Studies to map out the egalitarian matriarchal structure of society in Minoan Crete. In relation to Etruscan Italy, L. Bonfante 1990 documented the high social status of women in this society, and Leonie C. Koch 2012 fundamentally questioned the existence of a hierarchical system in the Etruscan social order.

Souvatzi, Stella. “Social complexity is not the same as hierarchy.” In: S. E. Kohring/S. Wynne-Jones, eds.: Socialising Complexity. Structure, Interaction, and Power in Archaeological Discourse, Oxford: Oxbow Books, 2007.

Based on her archaeological work on the Dimini site (eastern Greece), where she did not discover a ruling “elite,” Souvatzi criticized the widespread belief that higher complexity immediately relates to hierarchical organization. She showed that economic differentiation and specialization cannot be equated with social differentiation, inequality, and political centralization.

Schlichtherle, Helmut: “Kultbilder in den Pfahlbauten des Bodensees,” in: Jungsteinzeit im Umbruch. Die “Michelsberger Kultur” und Mitteleuropa vor 6.000 Jahren. Karlsruhe: Badisches Landesmuseum, 2010.

Schlichtherle, Helmut: “Weibliche Symbolik auf Hauswänden und Keramikgefäßen: Spuren frauenzentrierter Kulte in der Jungsteinzeit?,” in: Roeder, Brigitte, ed.: Ich Mann. Du Frau. Feste Rollen seit Urzeiten? Freiburg-Berlin: Rombach Verlag, 2014.

In these articles on female symbolism, archaeologist Schlichtherle published his extremely interesting find of a Neolithic mural painting from a pile dwelling on Lake Constance: the “mothers' wall.” He rightly described the figures depicted as female ancestors, primal mothers from the beginning of the clans organized along the maternal line. The equal size of the figures from this house for worshipping ancestors demonstrates an egalitarian, mother-centered society. Schlichtherle also pointed out other fragments with similar symbolism which are widespread in southern Germany.

Warren, Peter M. Myrtos: An Early Bronze Age Settlement in Crete. London: Thames and Hudson, 1972.

Using the example of the social organization of Myrtos, Warren showed that Crete's Bronze Age society was egalitarian, given that the large buildings were clan houses and the elaborate burial structures represented communal tombs.

Strasser, Thomas F. “Storage and States in Prehistoric Crete: The Function of the Koulouras in the First Minoan Palaces.” In: Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology, No. 10 (1), 1997.

Strasser pointed out that no large storerooms could be found in the so-called “royal palaces” where tributes would have been hoarded; those storerooms were rather small. Even the exquisite, artistic ceramic crafts, assumed to be “export bestsellers” that had enriched the “elite” in Knossos, were by no means centralized, but produced by female artists in southern Crete and could be found all over the island.

Hamilakis, Yannis. “Too Many Chiefs?” In: Jan Driessen/Ilse Schoep/Robert Laffineur, eds.: Aegaeum 23: Monuments of Minos: Rethinking the Minoan Palaces, Louvain-la-Neuve/Belgium: Université Catholique de Louvain, 2001.

Hamilakis confirmed that other material goods of Minoan Crete were also in circulation, as goods from sea trade were also found in general distribution. That meant there were no elites keeping and hoarding exotic luxury goods.

Ilse Schoep: “The State of Minoan Palaces or the Minoan Palace State?” In: Jan Driessen/Ilse Schoep/Robert Laffineur, eds.: Aegaeum 23: Monuments of Minos: Rethinking the Minoan Palaces, Louvain-la-Neuve/Belgium: Université Catholique de Louvain, 2001.

Schoep argued that, in the Minoan culture, there was no “palace state” and no political centers could be discerned. Architecture, settlement patterns and administration in the so-called “hinterland” of the palaces indicate that there was a lot of regional independence and autonomy. Nor were the Cretan “colonies” on the Aegean islands military bases, but rather commercial settlements.

Schoep, Ilse. “Social and Political Organization on Crete in the Proto-Palatial Period: The Case of Middle Minoan II Malia,” in: Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology, No. 15, 2002.

Despite her excellent criticism of the constellation of power assumed by the centralism hypothesis, Schoep brought “parties” into her interpretation as groups that competed with each other, thereby suggesting that “complex power relations” existed.

Driessen, Jan/Fiasse, H. “‘Burning down the House:' Defining the Household of Quartier Nu at Malia Using GIS.” In: Kevin T. Glowacki/Natalia Vogelkoff-Brogan, eds.: Stega: the Archaeology of Houses and Households in Ancient Crete, Hesperia Supplement 44, Princeton NJ: American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 2011.

Using the example of the “Quartier Nu,” a block of buildings in Malia / Crete, which reveals that living units were closely connected, with a single kitchen and a central place for ritual, Driessen und Fiasse proved it was the residence of a matrilocal clan. For it has been repeatedly shown that matrilocal societies have much larger buildings than patrilocal ones, namely clan houses instead of family houses.

Cichon, Joan Marie. Matriarchy in Minoan Crete: A Perspective from Archaeomythology and Modern Matriarchal Studies, San Francisco: California Institute of Integral Studies, 2013, (still unpublished).

In this important study, Cichon, based on recent literature on Crete and using the modern definition of “matriarchy,” examined the Minoan culture for its matriarchal traits, mapping it out in terms of its economy, social order, politics and culture, showing in detail that, until the Bronze Age, Crete was an egalitarian matriarchal society based on consensus rather than power relations.

Bonfante, L. “Etruscan.” In: L. Bonfante: Reading the Past, London: British Museum Press, 1990.

Bonfante analyzed the grave paintings of the Etruscan civilization which show that women were entirely free to appear in public and prove their high position in society. He therefore concluded that there was an egalitarian relationship and partnership between the two sexes.

Koch, Leonie C. “Die Frauen von Veji – gegliederte Gesellschaft oder befreundete Gemeinschaft?” In: T. L. Kienlin/A. Zimmermann, eds.: Beyond Elites. Alternatives to Hierarchical Systems in Modelling Social Formations, Vol. 2, Bonn: Rudolf Habelt Verlag, 2012.

Koch fundamentally doubted that Etruscans had a hierarchical society of “elites” and “dependents.” She showed that the priests and priestesses, officials, architects and engineers were highly respected, as well as the male specialists in blacksmithing and the equally respected female specialists in producing ceramics and textiles.

Mythology, Symbols and Religion

Early Authors on Mythology

The idea of matriarchal societies that worshipped goddesses emerged very early in research into mythology and religion. As far back as 1890, James Georg Frazer had already described a basic pattern of archaic religions: the pattern of a cosmic goddess and her mortal king. Jane Ellen Harrison 1908 focused on the goddess pattern, which had been neglected by Frazer, and assigned it clearly to matriarchal societies. Influenced by Frazer and Harrison, Robert Graves 1955 examined the sources of Greek mythology in order to reveal older matriarchal layers. Edwin O. James 1959 continued this goddess research, extending it from the West Asian cultural area to India (see West Asia – Mythology and Religion). Marie Koenig 1973 devoted herself to researching Palaeolithic symbol systems and their religious content.

Frazer, James George. The Golden Bough, New York, NY: Saint Martin's Press, 1990, 3rd edition, 9 vols., (first published 1890).

Using a wealth of material from mythology and ethnology, Frazer determined a basic pattern of archaic religions: the worldwide pattern of the goddess and her sacred king, ritually expressed in seasonal celebrations. However, his highly influential work suffers from being one-sided, as Frazer only dealt with the male side of this pattern.

Harrison, Jane Ellen. Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion, and Themis. New York: University Books Inc., 1962 (first published 1908).

Harrison's discussion of Mediterranean religion suggested pre-existing cultures based on goddess worship. She was the first to suggest that Geek culture was not monolithic, but contained a wealth of patterns from pre-existing matriarchal cultures, which could be discovered by analyzing Greek mythology.

Graves, Robert. The Greek Myths, New York: Penguin Books 1955.

Graves examined Greek mythology based on the sources, stripping their later patriarchal layers to reveal older matriarchal layers which he openly referred to as such. His interpretation of mythology from a socio-political perspective succeeded in discovering not only the original matriarchal worldview, but also in showing how these cultures were destroyed by later patriarchal Hellenes. His work strongly influenced research into goddess worship and the feminist movement on culture in the mid-20th century.

Koenig, Marie E. P. Am Anfang der Kultur. Die Zeichensprache des frühen Menschen. Berlin: Gebr. Mann Verlag, 1973.

In this work (At the Beginning of Culture. The Language of Signs of Early Humans), the prehistorian and cave explorer, Koenig devoted herself to decoding Ice Age symbolic systems found in both the residential and ritual caves of Central Europe, interpreting the worldview of Palaeolithic people in ways that jettisoned the image of the Ice-Age with “Man the Hunter” as the sole creator of prehistoric culture.

Recent Authors on Mythology

Heide Goettner-Abendroth 1980/2011 provided a structural representation of matriarchal mythology, showing that these patterns continued in later times in the context of “fairy tales” and of medieval literature. Marija Gimbutas 1989 decoded Neolithic symbolism and the religious worldview of the Neolithic era on the basis of thousands of figurines. Miriam Robbins Dexter 1990 published the original sources related to goddesses from India throughout West Asia to Europe (see West Asia – Mythology and Religion), and 1999 she explained the connection of Neolithic symbolism to later goddess cults. Moving north, Kailo 2001, 2009 looked at Finnish-Ugric culture, identifying matriarchal patterns, while Kuokkanen 2009 examined the role of women in the gift economy of the Sami (“Laplanders”). Annine van der Meer 2015 created a typology of the postures in Neolithic figurines.

Goettner-Abendroth, Heide. The Goddess and her Heros: Matriarchal Mythology. Stow MA: Anthony Publishing Company, 1995. (First published German: Munich 1980)

Following Ranke-Graves and James, Goettner-Abendroth presented matriarchal mythology from India throughout West Asia and the Mediterranean to Europe and developed a special method by systematizing its matriarchal patterns and analyzing their transformation in early patriarchal periods. She showed that these patterns continued in later times in the context of European fairy tales and of medieval literature.

Gimbutas, Marija. The Language of the Goddess: Unearthing the Hidden Symbols of Western Civilization, San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1989.

Lithuanian-American archaeologist Gimbutas has carried out five important excavations in south-eastern Europe, yielding numerous Neolithic figurines, and she has examined thousands of these which had previously not been understood and had been slumbering unnoticed in museums and storerooms. She decoded their symbolism and described the religious worldview of the Neolithic people. She established a connection to the later goddess worship in Europe and called her method “Archaeomythology.”

Gimbutas, Marija /Dexter, Miriam Robbins. The Living Goddess, Berkeley-Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1999.

Dexter continued Gimbutas' work posthumously, taking up the archaeomythological method to make further connections of Neolithic symbolism to later goddess cults.

Kailo, Kaarina. “Gender and Ethnic Overlap/p in the Finnish Kalevala.” In Himani Bannerji, Shahrzad Mojab, and Judith Whitehead, eds. Of Property and Propriety: The Role of Gender and Class in Imperialism and Nationalism. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001. 182–222.

The Finno-Ugric scholar Kaarina Kailo examined matriarchal traces in the Finnish medieval epic, “Kalevala.”

Kailo, Kaarina. “The Helka Festival: Traces of a Finno-Ugric Matriarchy and Worldview?” In H. Goettner-Abendroth, ed. Societies of Peace, Toronto: Inanna Publications, 2009. 334-348.

Kailo sought out evidence of matriarchy in the Finnish “Helka Festival.”

Kuokkanen, Rauna. “Indigenous Women in Traditional Economies: The Case of Sami Reindeer Herding.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 34.3 (2009): 499–503.

Herself Sami, the anthropologist and social critic Kuokkanen used the example of the reindeer economy of her culture to present ideas of the gift economies, central to all matriarchies.

Annine van der Meer. The Language of MA, the Primal Mother, printed in Holland: self-published, 2015.

Van der Meer continued the research into Neolithic figurines and created a typology of poses and positions, including their changes during patriarchal times.

Oral Traditions and Landscape Mythology

The rejection of oral traditions as unbelievable stories and of symbolic landscape as unsuitable for serious research, as is common in Western Science, is not accepted in modern Matriarchal Studies. This recognizes both areas as valuable sources, especially when interpreted by people regarding their own culture. Michael Dames 1976 and 1977/1996 opened the research on landscape mythology in southern England, joining oral sources and folklore with archaeology, comparative cultural studies and the linguistics of local geographical names. Influenced by Dames, Derungs 1997 and 2000 used the same method, including explicitly matriarchal mythology in his research on landscape mythology in Switzerland. The archaeologist Stella Souvatzi 2013 described how Neolithic people transformed the landscape into a social one through their permanent burial structures. Heide Goettner-Abendroth 2014 and 2016 explicitly developed the “matriarchal landscape mythology,” using it to explore landscapes in Germany and the Alpine countries for signs of matriarchal cultures.

Dames, Michael. The Silbury Treasure: The Great Goddess Rediscovered. London: Thames&Hudson, 1976.

With this book, Dames started his groundbraking studies on two important megalithic sites in South England. He presented a new interpretation for “Silbury Hill,” suggesting it was deliberately constructed in the shape of a reclining goddess.

Dames, Michael. The Avebury Cycle. London: Thames&Hudson, 1977/ 1996.

Soon afterwards, Dames published a new interpretation of the monumental stone circles of Avebury Henge, which he saw as structures for the worship of the Great Goddess. He demonstrated the spiritual range of not only Neolithic technology, but also Neolithic religiousness. With the help of folk customs and folk narratives in southern England, he also reconstructed some of the content of the Avebury religious system.

Derungs, Kurt. Mythologische Landschaft Schweiz. Bern: Verlag Amalia, 1997.

In this work (“Mythological Landscapes of Switzerland”), Derungs coined the term “landscape mythology” to describe his methodological combination of archaeology, mythology and folklore. He examined some Swiss landscapes by finding ancient traces on cult stones, old churches, and astronomical lines, and interpreted these within the context of the matriarchal epoch.

Derungs, Kurt. Landschaften der Göttin. Avebury, Silbury, Lenzburg. Bern: Verlag Amalia, 2000.

In this work (“Landscapes of the Goddess”), Derungs, similar to Dames, also interpreted the Swiss landscape of Lenzburg as a reclining goddess. He thus showed that matriarchal cultures had a tradition of re/forming the landscape symbolically in order to worship a divine ancestress or landscape goddess within it.

Souvatzi, Stella. “Land Tenure, Social Relations and Social Landscapes.” In: Relaki, Maria/Catapoti, Despina, eds.: An Archaeology of Land Ownership, New York-London: Routledge, Taylor&Francis, 2013.

Independently of the previous research, the archaeologist Souvatzi described how Neolithic people transformed the landscape into a social one. She showed how, for generations, the burial structures remained in the same place, documenting as “homes of their ancestors” the connectedness of people with the landscape, which for them contained the history of their clans and granted them a permanent identity. However, the symbolic-religious characteristics of the landscape were not mentioned by her.

Goettner-Abendroth, Heide. Matriarchale Landschaftsmythologie. Von der Ostsee bis Süddeutschland. Stuttgart: Kohlhammer publisher, 2014.

Goettner-Abendroth, Heide. Berggöttinnen der Alpen. Matriarchale Landschaftsmythologie in vier Alpenländern. Bozen/South Tirol: Raetia publisher, 2016.

Based on modern Matriarchal Studies and on her guided study trips to archaeological sites, Goettner-Abendroth developed matriarchal landscape mythology, which she used to explain, in specific locations, the social order and religion of Neolithic cultures in Central Europe. In these two books (“Matriarchal Landscape Mythology” and “Mountain Goddesses of the Alps”), she applied the same interdisciplinary method and published her research on landscapes in Germany and the Alpine countries.


Paleo-linguistics is also a field used interdisciplinarily by modern Matriarchal Studies, as it refers to the great importance of women in the earliest epochs of becoming human. Richard Fester 1962 and 1979 showed that all human languages have a primordial vocabulary that expresses the maternal, indicating the leading role of women in the genesis of languages. Doris F. Jonas 1979 noted the important idea that language arose from the voiced intimacy of mother and child, contradicting prior assumptions that it sprang from men shouting during the hunt. Harald Haarmann 2006 examined the linguistic abilities of the earliest humans and described the development of the diversity of languages. Following the linguist J. P. Mallory before him, 1989 and 2006, he also studied the development of Indo-European languages (see Mallory and Haarmann, below, in The Rise of Patriarchy).

Fester, Richard. Sprache der Eiszeit. Berlin-Grunewald: Herbig, 1962;

Feste, Richard. “Das Protokoll der Sprache.” In: Fester, R./Koenig, M./Jonas, D. F./Jonas, A. D., eds.: Weib und Macht, Frankfurt/Main: Fischer Verlag, 1979.

In his paleo-linguistic work of 1962 (“ The Language of the Ice Age”), Fester demonstrated that, in most of the world's languages, the same root syllables and root words refer directly to the feminine and to motherhood. He discovered no comparable examples of root words indicating the masculine. This led him, in 1979, to his conclusion that language originated between mother and child and that the female was of greater importance for the social order during primeval epochs.

Jonas, Doris F.: Das erste Wort. Wie die Menschen sprechen lernten, Hamburg: Hoffmann and Campe publisher, 1979.

In this book (“The First Word. How Humans learned to speak”), and even earier, since 1970, the anthropologist Doris Jonas, together with her husband David A. Jonas, has published several books dedicated to the development of humanity, with Doris Jonas paying special attention to women. Despite good insights, the socio-biological approach is a fragile one.

Rise of Patriarchy

Various explanations have been offered on the rise of patriarchy in Europe, but few are consistent with the scientific data from various disciplines. Linguistics has long researched into the origins of Indo-Europeans, with J. P. Mallory 1989 publishing a fundamental work that describes the Indo-Europeans as cattle breeders from the Eurasian steppes. In her groundbreaking work– repeated here because of its importance – Marija Gimbutas 1991 presented a theory for the rise of patriarchy based on archaeological data, suggesting a warlike invasion of the Indo-Europeans in Europe. Gimbutas's hypothesis was also violently attacked, claiming that the Indo-Europeans had immigrated to Europe as farmers in the Neolithic period, which should render the idea of a pre-Indo-European, matriarchal epoch of Europe obsolete (Colin Renfrew). However, this claim was criticized right from the beginning by linguists such as J. P. Mallory/D. Q. Adams 2006 and Harald Haarmann 2006, who confirmed Gimbutas' thesis through their research. Confirmation also came from steppe archaeology, as reported by David W. Anthony 2007, and the most recent DNA analyses have definitely helped to clarify the matter within the meaning of Gimbutas's theory; see W. Haak et al. 2015 and A. Goldberg et al. 2017. Unaffected by this discussion, James DeMeo 1998 presented his hypothesis on the rise of patriarchy in Central Asia and the Sahara, which he substantiated with ecological arguments such as desertification. Cristina Biaggi 2005 produced an anthology on the subject which includes both well-founded and unfounded theses on the rise of patriarchy. Heide Goettner-Abendroth 2019 draws her explanation of the rise of patriarchy both from Gimbutas's work and recent research in archaeology, as well as ecology, pointing out the ecological consequences for societies (see Europe – Archeology).

Mallory, J. P. In Search of the Indoeuropeans. Language, Archaeology and Myth, London 1989, Thames&Hudson.

Using early Indo-European words that describe the conditions of the steppe and a livestock economy, the linguist, Mallory, demonstrated that the homeland of the Indo-Europeans lay in the Eurasian steppes. The early Indo-European language was spoken in the period of 4,500-2,500.

Gimbutas, Marija. The Civilization of the Goddess: The World of Old Europe, San Francisco: Harper, 1991.

Based on her archaeological analyses, Gimbutas described three waves of invasion by Indo-European mounted cattle-herding warriors from the Eurasian steppes, extending as far as Europe in wide-ranging raids. According to the author the collision of these patriarchal warrior groups with ancient farming cultures ended in a violent conquest and the destruction of the matriarchal epoch of Europe. Gimbutas named her hypothesis “Kurgan-Theory,” a term that was not generally accepted because of its inaccuracy.

Mallory, J. P. /Adams, D. Q. The Oxford Introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the Proto-Indo-European World, Oxford-New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.

The linguists Mallory and Adams pointed out that the early Indo-European vocabulary referred to a nomadic way of life and livestock breeding, but did not contain any words for agricultural activities. Words for agricultural activities were only added some time later to the Indo-European vocabulary, through acculturation with the earlier, agricultural peoples of Europe.

Haarmann, Harald. Weltgeschichte der Sprachen. Munich: Beck publisher, 2006.

In this work (“ The World History of Languages”), Haarmann examined the linguistic abilities of the earliest humans, describing ways in which linguistic complexity developed. In emphasizing the development and spread of Indo-European languages, he showed they formed a later layer over the pre-Indo-European languages, thus corroborating Gimbutas's theory of Old Europe as being conquered by waves of Indo-European migration from a paleo-linguistic perspective.

Anthony, David W. The Horse, the Wheel, and Language. How Bronze Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes shaped the Modern World, Princeton & Oxford: Princeton University, 2007.

Anthony's book is an outstanding work on the archaeology of the Eurasian steppes. He demonstrated that horses were first tamed and ridden in the Uralic cultures, and that the increase in status symbols, such as long flint daggers, stone axes and “horse-head scepters” found in the individual graves of men, indicated a male-dominated herding culture, which he identified with the Indo-Europeans. Later, a metal trade monopoly developed which was run by the chiefs, whose power grew enormously with the arrival of a new weapon: the chariot.

Haak, W. et al. “Massive migration from the steppe was a source for Indo-European languages in Europe.” In: Nature, Vol. 522, June 11, 2015. Goldberg, A. /Guenther, T. /Rosenberg, N. A. /Jakobsson, M. “Ancient X chromosomes reveal contrasting sex bias in Neolithic and Bronze Age Eurasian migrations,” W. Haak (Ed.), Max Planck Institute For the Science of Human History, Jena/Germany, January 12, 2017. In:

The DNA analyzed by Haak et al. and by Goldberg/Guenther/Rosenberg/ Jakobsson clarified this area considerably as they discovered two major waves of immigration to Europe: first, a massive wave of Neolithic immigration in the 7 th millennium with men and women who were not Indo-Europeans; and second, from 3,500, strong invasion of Indo-Europeans. In this second wave, only men arrived, and with new technologies: weapons and objects made of bronze. The results of the DNA-analyses definitely confirmed Gimbutas's migration theory.

DeMeo, James. Saharasia: The 4000 BCE Origins of Child Abuse, Sex-Repression, Warfare and Social Violence in the Deserts of the Old World, Greensprings/Oregon: Orgone Biophysical Research Lab., 1998.

In his extensive study, DeMeo introduced the factor of ecology, showing that disasters such as desertification and its social consequences can lead to patriarchalization. He proposed the thesis that hunger leads to violence and thus to patriarchy. His hypothesis was criticized as too simple, since patriarchal societies with warrior elites were not starvation societies but well-organized in order to prevail against other cultures. And his thesis would only apply to the Eurasian steppes, but not to the Sahara desert.

Biaggi, Cristina, ed. The Rule of Mars: Readings on the Origins, History and Impact by Patriarchy. Manchester: KIT (Knowledge, Ideas & Trends), 2005.

In her anthology, Biaggi presented a wide range of perspectives with more or less well-founded explanations for the rise of patriarchy, as well as a discussion of the intrinsic governing principles of this type of society.

Societies with matriarchal traces

The Celtic peoples

Due to the position of Celtic woman, the Celts were often associated with “Mother Right,” creating a certain confusion. Heinrich Zimmer 1894 figured out the social order of the Picts, while Josef Weisweiler 1939 studied the islanders Celts. Jean Markale 1972 focused on Celtic Mythology. Harry Mountain, 1998 in his voluminous work, called the Celtic peoples “matriarchal,” while Claire French-Wieser, 2001 in her critical study, analyzed the degradation of goddesses among the Celts.

Zimmer, Heinrich. Das Mutterrecht der Pikten, Zeitschrift der Savigny-Stiftung für Rechtsgeschichte, Romanische Abteilung, Vol. 15, Weimar: Boehlau publisher, 1894.

In his publication (“The Mother Right of the Picts”), Zimmer succeeded in discovering the matriarchal social order of the Picts, although the Picts did not belong to the Celts but to the pre-Celtic indigenous population.

Weisweiler, Josef. Die Stellung der Frau bei den Kelten und das Problem des “Keltischen Mutterrechts”, Zeitschrift für keltische Philologie, Vol. 21, Halle: Niemeyer publisher, 1939.

In his issue (“The Position of Woman among the Celts and the problem of ‘Celtic Mother Right' ”), Weisweiler presented the glorious phenomena, which have been told about the islanders' Celtic women, such as powerful queen mothers, reigning queens who led the army after their husbands' death, as well as influential female judges and priestesses. He showed, however, that these phenomena were confined to the British Isles and even restricted there, as rare exceptions, to the ruling class, while the status of ordinary woman was not ideal.

Jean Markale. La femme celte, Paris: Editions Payot, 1972.

In his book (“ The Celtic Woman”), Markale emphasized Celtic mythology and customs, which contain many references to a pre-Celtic matriarchy. He placed the Celtic culture between matriarchy and patriarchy, although his definition of these terms remains unclear.

Mountain, Harry. The Celtic Encyclopedia. 5 Vols. Aveiro, Portugal: Unpublish. Com, 1998.

Mountain labeled the Celtic peoples as “matriarchal” by generalizing from various cultural elements in his five-volume encyclopedia. As in his work, today's discussion favors a matriarchal interpretation of the Celts, which is a problematic claim due to its unclear definition.

French-Wieser, Claire. Als die Göttin keltisch wurde. Ursprung und Verfall einer alteuropäischen Mythologie, Bern: Edition Amalia, 2001.

In her critical analysis of Four Branches of the Mabinogi (“When the Goddess became Celtic”), French-Wieser has excellently pointed out how the gradual degradation and humiliation of goddesses took place among the Celts and how the feminine divine was dismantled until it became an artificial figure created by a male magician.

Germanic peoples

As early as 1920, William Albert Aron had already claimed “matriarchy” for the Germanic peoples. More cautious than Aron, Jakob Amstadt 1994 portrayed the position of the woman among the Germanic peoples according to the marriage laws and demonstrated “matriarchal traces” in the mythology.

Aron, William Albert. Traces of Matriarchy in Germanic Hero-Lore. Madison: University of Wisconsin Studies in Language and Literature, no. 9, 1920.

Aron explored traces of matriarchy in Germanic hero-lore, making what was, for his time, the avant-garde claim that the “existence of the matriarchate” in Old Germania could “hardly be denied by anyone.” He speculated that matriarchy was “much more widespread” in Old Germania than Western scholarship had allowed. However, his unclear concepts mixed up matriarchal cultures and Indo-European warrior cultures.

Amstadt, Jakob. Die Frau bei den Germanen, Stuttgart: Kohlhammer Verlag, 1994.

In his work (“Women among the Germanic peoples”), Amstadt showed that upper class Germanic women could become priestesses presiding over religious communities, while ordinary women remained dependent and restricted according to Germanic clan law. In his analysis of Germanic mythology, showing that it contains an older, pre-Germanic, matriarchal layer, he relied on Goettner-Abendroth 1980 (see Mythology, Symbols and Religion).


Karl Felix Wolff 1913 was the first to gather and write down the treasure of legends of the Raetians and Ladins in the Dolomites, including the Fanes-Cycle, whose matriarchal content was not recognized by him but, in 1975, by Claire French-Wieser. Ulrike Kindl 1983 and 1997 mapped out the matriarchal core of the Fanes-Cycle and other Dolomite sagas in a scholarly way. Christian Caminada 1992 gathered customs, legends and songs with matriarchal elements in the Raetian areas of Switzerland.

Wolff, Karl Felix. Dolomitensagen, Innsbruck-Vienna-Munich: Tyrolia-Verlag, 1957, 9 th edition (first published in 1913).

Wolff was the first to write down the legends of the Dolomites, including the Fanes-Cycle, but he distorted this remarkable cycle through his own romanticized view which, moreover, is patriarchally biased by its clichés of gender roles.

French-Wieser, Claire. “Das Reich der Fanes. Eine Tragödie des Mutterrechts,” in: Der Schlern, Bozen: Verlag Athesia, 1975.

French-Wieser fully detected the patriarchal ingredients of Wolff. She was the first to recognize the matriarchal content of the saga-cycle of the Fanes queendom in the Dolomites and its decline.

Kindl, Ulrike. Kritische Lektüre der Dolomitensagen von Karl Felix Wolff, 2 vols., San Martin de Tor: Institut Cultural Ladin, 1983 and 1997.

Kindl identified the matriarchal content of the legends about the Fanes queendom and its prominent heroines by using scholarly methods, and she showed that these legends contain a historical core referring to the early history of the Ladins.

Caminada, Christian. “Das Rätoromanische St. Margaretha-Lied,” in: Christian Caminada: Graubünden. Die verzauberten Täler. Die urgeschichtlichen Kulte und Bräuche im alten Rätien, Disentis: Desertina Verlag, 1992.

In his book (“Grisons. The Magic Valleys. Primal Cults and Customs of Old Reatia”), the Raetoroman, Caminada, wrote down the customs and cults of his Swiss homeland, which contain further elements of the early history of the Raetians, o f particular importance being the Reatoroman Margareta song, in which the goddess of the Raetians still appears in later form. Sardinians

The authors Buerge/Minoja/Reusser/Salis/Usai 2016 described the elaborate megalithic culture on the island of Sardinia, but without any reference to the early history and social order of the Sardinians, a pre-Indo-European people. A representation of the Neolithic, matriarchal culture of the Sardinians and their fusion with the also pre-Indo-European Ligurians can be found in Marija Gimbutas (see Europe - Archaeology). The legend of the origin of the Sardinians, collected and repeated by Francesco Enna 1994, confirm this matriarchal connection of both peoples in legendary form.

Buerge/Minoja/Reusser/Salis/Usai, eds.: Sardinien. Land der Türme, Exhibition catalog Universität Zürich, Zurich: Universität Zürich, 2016.

The authors of this catalog (“Sardinia. Land of the Towers”) depicted the Bronze Age culture of the Sardinians through the thousands of round towers that cover the island. They included the earlier forms and the sacral use of these towers, as well as the sanctuary wells and megalithic tombs.

Enna, Francesco. Miti, Leggende e Fiabe della tradizione popolare della Sardegna, Sassari: Carlo Delfino editore, 1994.

This collection of Sardinian myths and legends contains the very interesting legend of the origins of the Sardinians: “La leggenda di Norace” (in Sardinian: “Sa fabula de Noraxi”), which confirms the archaeologically detected link between the matriarchal original people and the megalithic Ligurians and provides evidence of matriarchal customs, for ex. marriage politics.


In his large-scale encyclopedia, Jose Miguel de Barandian 1973 collated and presented the remarkable, oral traditions of the Basques. Michel Lamy 1980 chronicled the ancient history of this people, dating back to at least the Neolithic era. In her outstanding field research, Isaure Gratacos 1987 has gathered evidence regarding the current social order of the Basques.

Barandian, Jose Miguel de. Obras completas, Eusko-Folklore, Vol. I and II, La Gran Enciclopedia Vasca, Bilbao 1972 and 1973.

In his extensive work (“The Great Basque Encyclopedia”), Barandian presented all the oral traditions of the Basques including mythology, legends, and customs. They include, amongst many other things, very old archaic goddess conceptions, a strong belief in fairies and a lunar calendar, which was in place up to the 20 th century. From this he reconstructed the religion of the Old Basque culture.

Lamy, Michel. Histoire Secrète du Pays Basque, Paris: Edition Albin Michel, 1980.

Based on the language and traditions of the Basques, in his work (“Secret History of the Basque Country”), Lamy proved that their history dates back at least to Neolithic times, as their language is pre-Indo-European and unique in Europe and the vocabulary of their tools dates back to the Stone Age. He pointed out that the Mesolithic natives in Spain had already taken their own path in evolution and that it is not coincidental that the Basques live in the mountains on the border between France and Spain, where there are numerous Palaeolithic cave paintings.

Gratacos, Isaure. Femmes Pyrénéennes, Toulouse: Editions Privat, 1987.

The Basque Gratacos dedicated her research book (“Women of the Pyrenees”) to the present social order of the Basques, which has been matriarchal for millennia, as some patterns still suggest. She showed that the Basques have no paternal surname but the name of the house, which probably was the name of the maternal clan. Today, in each generation, the first-born is the sole heir or heiress of house and land, which discriminates against the younger both economically and politically. Consequently, it cannot be claimed that there is an egalitarian, matriarchal social order still today.


The discussion above sampled only the most important works to date in the field of matriarchal studies. Literally hundreds of articles, chapters, and books have been produced since the mid-nineteenth century, with increasing scholarship in the twenty-first century, now offering a sufficiently academic platform to invite and support the growing literature on matriarchal societies and cultures, worldwide.